I have spent the last three Saturday mornings taking our oldest daughter to her swimming lessons. I like watching the care and devotion of the teachers. I am always struck by the care the teachers take in explain the correct technique. The poor children do lap after lap correcting the position of their elbow, or the position of their hand upon entry into the water, etc. Experience has taught people that to go really fast in the pool requires much more than a collection of training drills or past philosophies of swimming. It requires the correct technique now.
Theology, to face the problems of today and tomorrow, must be much more than a systematizing and collection of datum. The task of theology is surely much broader than proof texting the official pronouncements of any particular denomination. Theology aims for the perfect technique – the perfect mindset. That technique will help us face the future with the help of the past but will fight the temptation of staying in the glory days of yesteryear. That technique will make us see the world from outside of ourselves – from God’s perspective – but will not ignore the blight and pain of the people around us. It will be grounded in God himself and not any idea or philosophy about him. It will not be afraid to ask the hard questions and explore them to their extreme but it will know when things have gone too far.
Theology, to be truly productive, must be more than a collection of information. Maybe technique does make perfect.
I have been slow reading (more about that later) the opening couple of chapters (Habit and Task of Theology) of Aidan Nichols’ majestic work The Shape of Catholic Theology.
In the opening chapter Nichols examines the relationship between the fides quae (objective) and fides qua (subjective). He points out that the theologian is one who strikes a balance between the two: the theologian neither over-emphasizes nor under-values either. (Of course, the same could be said about any person who is in a relationship with God!) The theologian is one who is able to enter into God’s mystery in an intimate way and so communicate that inwardness of divine revelation to others(17).
It made me think: can we really ever have a fides quae without some form of magisterium?? The doctrine of justification by faith alone assumes the right object of my personal faith. My faith that a particular sporting team will eventually have a successful season has no immediate impact on my relationship with God however hard felt that faith might be. It is the object, in the above example, that is invalid. Yet who decides that the object is correct? Does not the very nature of an object require an external verification?
Scene 1: Lutheran Baptism
We went to a Lutheran baptism this Sunday. (We went to the Vigil Mass on Saturday, in case you were wondering.) The service was very nice, especially the music. The sermon was (surprisingly) good. Alas, a little disembodied: is it really the Gospel of Jesus that challenges us or Jesus himself??
The liturgy was classical Western in shape and was done within the established rite of the Lutheran Church of Australia. The Baptismal Rite replaced the Penitential Rite at the start of the service – that is, it followed the Sign of the Cross – and included the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. These two were then omitted in the service – that is, there was no Creed after the Sermon, nor was the Lord’s Prayer said during the Eucharistic Liturgy.
Scene 2: Perpetual Rosary
Our parish had a Perpetual Rosary on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. For three hours before Mass, parishioners gathered before the Blessed Sacrament to pray for the defeat of the Abortion Law Reform Bill.
I admit that I have not spent that amount of time on my knees for many years. Our kids joined us for the last hour. The oldest three kneeled for the whole hour to say the Rosary. (No 2 is especially effected by it all!) I have not been that effected by a devotion for a while. (The last time was when I was exposed to the Divine Mercy Chaplet.) After it was all over I wanted it to start again.
The two could not be further apart. I admit that the first created a emotional response more to do with our particular past rather than any theological problems. But it did make me wonder: is repetition fundamentally wrong?? Our kids seems to enjoy and flourish in a daily routine that is largely based on repetition – they have the same breakfast, we say our prayers together in the evening, etc. No 4 is especially attached to routine and repetition.
One may quote Matthew 6:7 (KJV) in this connection: But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. To my simple reading (I am no Scripture scholar and I have not looked at the Greek) the end defines the act as wrong not vice versa. (And, just stating the obvious, I do not think any Catholic every things that the number of Rosaries makes the prayer worthy but rather the attitude.)
So I ask again: is repetition fundamentally wrong in a religious context??
Faith is a personal act – the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone.
You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. the believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbour impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 166.
From Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI by Tracey Rowland.
In addition to those who attack the whole notion of Tradition there are those who to some degree accept it but who do not allow it to develop organically. They want to cut off its validity at some particular point. Here he [Ratzinger] speaks of the problem of liberal and conservative archeologisms. For liberals it is often a case of no longer being satisfied with limiting Tradition to what can be dredged out of the Scriptures. They regard with suspicion everything that comes after St Paul. For traditionalists the cut-off is often the papacy of Pius X (1905-1914), or even the Council of Trent (1545-1563). (55)
From the General Audience: 3 September 2008 (with emphases and comment).
Today’s catechesis focuses on Saint Paul’s conversion. In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke recounts for us the dramatic episode on the road to Damascus which transformed Paul from a fierce persecutor of the Church into a zealous evangelizer. In his own letters, Paul describes his experience not so much in terms of a conversion, but as a call to apostleship and a commission to preach the Gospel. In the first instance, this was an encounter not with concepts or ideas but with the person of Jesus himself [Or, an encounter with the Jesus-event]. In fact, Paul met not only the historical Jesus of the past, but the living Christ who revealed himself as the one Saviour and Lord. Similarly, the ultimate source of our own conversion lies neither in esoteric philosophical theories nor abstract moral codes, but in Christ and his Gospel. He alone [NB!!] defines our identity as Christians, since in him we discover the ultimate meaning of our lives. Paul, because Christ had made him his own (cf. Phil 3:12), could not help but preach the Good News he had received (cf. 1 Cor 9:16). So it is with us. Transfixed by the greatness of our Saviour, we – like Saint Paul – cannot help but speak of him to others. May we always do so with joyful conviction!
Christianity is an encounter with the Jesus-event that is life-giving and life-changing.
Obedience (to the Church) is like medicine.
One does not take medicine for the pleasure but for the effect. The medicine is not an end in itself but a means to an end. The act of taking is an expression of the believe that the medicine can have the desired effect.
Obedience is not an end in itself but the expression of a deeper reality. Obedience is the outward expression of the believe that the Holy Spirit works through the Church.
Not perfect, I know, but what analogy is. So the post is more personal but I thought I would throw it out there.
There is an extremely interesting analysis of the seeker-sensitive movement, typified by Rick Warren‘s book The Purpose Driven Life, on the American Thinker website: ‘Seeker-Sensitive’ Conservatism by Alan Roebuck
I’ll just highlight a couple of points:
One result is that the deep and challenging teachings of traditional Christianity must never be presented in the Sunday morning worship service that has traditionally been the cornerstone of Christian fellowship. Not only will non-Christian seekers probably not want to hear that God regards them as sinners, but they will have no interest in what Warren (and theological liberals) dismissively call “doctrine,” that is, the actual content of the religion preached by Christ and the Apostles. The result is a Christianity that retains the rituals and some of the language of traditional Protestant Christianity, but is effectively stripped of its content.
Of course, there is a Catholic equivalent: Catholic-lite – pretty on the outside but nothing on the inside.
But this is what really scared me:
For example, seeker-sensitive clergy will allude to the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation, but they will describe this “salvation” primarily in terms of personal life-enhancement. They will rarely mention, and certainly not elaborate on, the traditional Christian doctrines that salvation is necessary because God punishes unforgiven sinners by sending them to Hell, that forgiveness was achieved by the death of Christ on the Cross, and that all this is made possible because of the sovereign and supernatural work of God. These teachings would be too challenging to the seeker, so they are removed, resulting in a desiccated Christianity.
Oprah with a bit of religion??
What sort of God is this proclaiming?? A god who asks nothing of me?? Or a god who helps me to think more positively and act in my own best interest?
Terra has an interesting post about Traditionalism: What is a traditionalist? Last part!. Terra is to be congratulated for wrestling with the question of identity for traditionalists (something, btw, I have raised before). I am no theologian, nor am I a philosopher, but my simple reading of the post leaves me a little unimpressed. I somehow feel the answer raises more questions. Allow me to ask a couple:
A traditionalist is loyal to the Pope but believes that (1) Tradition is a quite distinct concept from the Magisterium, and (2) there are limits, prescribed by the Church, to papal infallibility.
The problem remains: who says? Is separation of Tradition from Magisterium traditional? Is it not, in fact, the opposite?? Without a doubt there are limits but who decides where these are??
Tradition has content that is distinct from Scripture and to the Magisterium.
This begs the question: which is? Jesus is the Word of God that is transmitted through Tradition, Scripture, and the Church. Jesus communicated himself to the apostles and this communication continues in the Church through the line of bishops in communion with the successor of Saint Peter. What exactly is the content that is distinctive from the Magistrium?
I wonder how the above stands with Dei Verbum?
My issues with the above is the flip-side of my argument with Protestantism: why the absolutes? Protestantism absolutizes the Word of God in Scripture, Traditionalism the Word of God in Tradition. Both separate the Word of God from the Church and have no choice but to elevate private judgement. Further, I wonder where the starting point is: what has led these people to adopt this position within the Church?
The constant name-calling and triumphalism does not help endear me to it. (Okay, I will now be called a neo-con or a Magisterialist!) Maybe work with people rather than against everyone who does not conform to your ideas. There are many faithful Catholics who happily attend the Ordinary Usage who would be more than happy to help their fellow Catholics who are attached to the Traditional forms of the liturgy but are put-off by the negativity and name-calling.
I have recently discussed the use of Sola Scriptura as a reference point for ecumenical apologetics. I do not think that a narrow Biblicistic attitude is helpful in exploring the differences that still separate us. I also think that it is most unhelpful to accuse each other of all sorts of heresies and prophesy eternal calamities. So it falls to me to suggest another Reference Point.
So my suggestion as a Reference Point are the three commonly accepted symbols of the Faith:
- The Apostles’ Creed
- The Nicene Creed
- The Athanasian Creed
There are some issues (filique etc) but these are commonly accepted statements of faith that have a continuity of use.
What do you think?