Monday, March 05, 2007

Letters to a Fundamentalist Friend - II



PART TWO - THE HEART
FATHER STEPHEN FREEMAN, whose blog I recommended to you last time, describes himself somewhere as an “ignorant person”. I must warn you that I am not only ignorant but retarded, partially as a consequence of having mistaken apologetics and arguments (of the type in which the internet abounds) for real theology - which is, as he reminds us, only ever about a Person. If you and I are shipmates, though, that's a privileged relationship: we've come aboard at quite different ports - on different continents, with utterly different cultures, I daresay. Meanwhile, our destination remains a possibility merely, a place of the imagination, until the moment when straining eyes glimpse through early morning haze the sunlight on that dome, these ramparts. Meanwhile with nothing between here and there but wide-open sea, we can be frank in a new way. So let me tell you what I think I see already:

Here is something that has tantalised and fascinated me for years: “orthodoxy” is not, in the first instance, “right belief” at all – but “right glory”. That’s what the Greek words mean. Of course a modern Greek will also understand “orthodoxy” in the sense more familiar to us; but when the choir chants Doxa Soi Kyrie, doxa Soi, he certainly doesn’t hear Doctrine to Thee, O Lord, doctrine to Thee.

Does this perhaps go to the heart of what has gone wrong with “modern” Christianity? This submerged sense of the word “orthodoxy” seems baffling to the western mind, habituated more and more, from the late Middle Ages on, to thinking almost exclusively in terms of “correct doctrine” as first in the order of precedence – to the point at which almost everything else is up for grabs. What has troubled me most of my adult life is a nagging sense of deepening divergence between the Catholicism of the Catechism and Catholicism as it actually presents itself to the believer today – as though, provided the “theory” continues to be asserted and officially upheld, it doesn’t much matter about anything else. If true, it's madness, as the most basic analogy will tell us:

How do we go about understanding our mother? Having first drawn life from her, do we begin to place the greatest emphasis subsequently on having a firm, correct theoretical understanding of the notion of maternity, childhood and the governing principles that ought to determine the interaction between them? Is the quality of our relationship with her a direct function of our having acquired a theoretically “correct” apparatus? Having done all that, do we then advance to “loving“ her – as defined essentially by approaching her in the way that seems most “correct” to ourselves (punctiliously formal or offhand and matey, according to taste), while crooning sentimental ditties at her? Would that make us good children?

Children give “right glory” to their mothers because they first of all suckled them and lived with them and loved them before it ever occurred to them to think of the relationship in terms of what was correct and what wasn’t; when a child runs to his mother in love, or joy or distress; or tries to please her with some little gift; weeps when she weeps, laughs when she laughs; or, years later, carries her to the lavatory, cleans up her vomit, closes her eyes, lays her in the earth and weeps out his heart in gratitude to and for her – does he do this because he got it all out of a book? And having done it, could some other person who’d studied the book more assiduously claim to understand the whole mysterious business better, nevertheless?

How does this apply to the way we live our lives with the God we claim to love? Do we really live with Him - or are we content merely to study Him and scrupulously measure the quality of our continuing interaction with Him according to approved theoretical models?

Prosper of Aquitaine, a pupil of St Augustine, in the fifth century provided the West with a famous axiom - one it has all but forgotten- condensed in the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi : “the law of prayer establishes the law of belief”; or to put it more directly, “as you pray, so shall you believe”; or “if you habitually approach God in a way that really isn't consistent with what you believe in theory, your beliefs will gradually conform themselves to your behaviour”. It’s obvious really - we are not angels, but men.

Correct doctrine is fundamentally important – but the manner in which we aquire and maintain it is more important still. Just as we know and love our mother as a consequence of living intimacy with her, so our sensus fidei, our instinctive “feeling for the faith” develops as we meet and live with Our Lord in His Church, and especially as together we follow Him, fasting and feasting, from cradle to Cross and beyond, in the Liturgy. “The Church is Jesus extended in time and space in the souls of those united to him.” It is the Mystical Body visibly incarnated. Christianity is not, and never can be a “home alone” affair; neither can you do it “by the book” (Fr Freeman); nor is the Church, in contradiction to the Incarnation, a purely invisible entity without a tangible body or a distinctive, audible voice. Does it speak to us of “truths” that contradict Scripture? Impossible. Truth is Truth. On the contrary, in the Divine Liturgy, all Scripture finds its true and proper context as the very voice of the praying Christ.

The central, defining, foundational act of the faithful soul is prayer. "Correct doctrine" merely, will not "transform us in Christ". Worship which, whatever we assert about it, is in reality no more than "a dance around the Golden Calf that is ourselves" (Cardinal Ratzinger) will in any case degrade it. Instead of growing into fuller personalities, by participating in the life of the True Personality, we will become the brittle, neurotic, inhibited, fearful, spiritual hypochondriacs and hygiene fetishists you described. To paraphrase Father Freeman again: pray, go to Church, receive the Sacraments, forgive and ask forgiveness, give stuff away. Stop pretending we can ever know all the answers. Then we’ll begin to know Him. Everything else will follow.

13 comments:

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Ben,

You are stealing my ideas again! This is so not fair, since you put things so much more eloquently than I do. But seriously, if you have time and you would like to condescend to my level, please read the things I have been posting in the last week.

God bless,

Arturo

Anonymous said...

You've written some lovely things here, moretben. I've also been too much of a "head" man ... all my life. I have not loved enough and my heart is withered. Lord, do not let this be my epitaph. Anything but that!

There is so much personal BS, so much ideological jetsam to dispense with before one can come close to Christ.

Chuck it all overboard!

Mr Bleaney

Ttony said...

Welcome back! Coventry hasn't been all bad if it's led to stuff like this.

“... if you habitually approach God in a way that really isn't consistent with what you believe in theory, your beliefs will gradually conform themselves to your behaviour.”

Thank you for as expressive an explanation of lex orandi, lex credendi as we're likely to see. Give Rome a couple of weeks to digest it, and we'll have the Motu Proprio!

Anonymous said...

". . . Provided the “theory” continues to be asserted and officially upheld, it doesn’t much matter about anything else."

Precisely.

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Ben,

Drop me a line, please.

vasqart3@yahoo.com

God bless,

Arturo

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry if I sounded offensive before. I realized something: I shouldn't try to give advice to anyone who has stood 25 years at the "quayside" when I myself haven't even been alive for that long.

God bless you on this journey, and thanks for these two wonderful posts.

-The First Anonymous from the last post

EYTYXOΣ said...

An Evangelical-now-Orthodox acquaintance wrote me that his first Orthodox experience was at a cathedral in Bulgaria where, in the candle-lit darkness, he intently watched a young man slowly crossing himself and bowing before an icon of the Virgin Mary. He said that it was a glimpse into the true nature of worship.

I hope my crossing myself and venerating icons are always deliberate and prayerful acts and not ones simply done quickly and out of habit.

dmartin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dmartin said...

I think your comments were very good and well spoken; even agreeable. I would like to comment though.

I understand your questions and comments on this subject. I can agree with you to a certain extent, but only so far.

I'm not sure if I understand you completely, so I thought that I would ask.

I am an RC. I love the Church. I believe it to be founded by Christ on the sure Rock of Peter. I love the Eastern Church, as well, or the Orthodox Church and believe her to be one of two "lungs". But as an RC, if I were to follow your sentiments to the fullest extent, I would think that I should leave the RC in favor of the EO because of an ineffective and/or "bad" "watered down" liturgy.

I agree, the liturgy of the RC, especially in the US, is NOT what it should be. But to leave Her, because I do not believe the liturgy is what it can and should be would, to me, be tantamount to leaving my wife because she is not what she could or should be. Even if my wife were unfaithful, I am called to love her.

Please explain, if you don't mind. I am NOT looking for an argument, just a clarification.

Thanks

EYTYXOΣ said...

dmartin said...
I am an RC. I love the Church. I believe it to be founded by Christ on the sure Rock of Peter. I love the Eastern Church, as well, or the Orthodox Church and believe her to be one of two "lungs".

A question: If the Eastern Church (the EOC) is one of the two lungs of the church, that suggests that the Roman Catholic Church is the other lung. How far is one to take this body analogy? Do RCs who believe the above believe that the EOC is a lung only, whereas the RC is not only a lung, but also, e.g., the body's heart and head, too? By calling the EOC one of two lungs, it suggests that both the RC and the EOC are equal and valid halves of Christ's one church. If, however, RCs mean that the EOC is a lung, but the RC is not only a lung, but also more of the body than the EOC, then this "two lungs" analogy is still a putdown of the EOC. But if RCs who say this mean that the RC and the EOC are equally lungs, and lungs only, then there should be no real concern by a Roman Catholic if a fellow Roman Catholic becomes Eastern Orthodox, for such RCs admit that both churches are equal in all aspects except for which side of the body they are on, or which way each side makes the sign of the cross.

Yes?

dmartin said...

I think the obvious answer for both RC and EO are the same... they are not co-equal or "halves" of the Church. I think to make that statement is to carry the analogy to far. I believe JP2's meaning was more akin to one cannot exist without the other and they belong together. But there is an obvious difference between the two and I think both would admit that.

For RC's we would allow EO's to come to the Table. EO's will NOT allow it, which tells me that the analogy of the two lungs is not mutual.

But, your true question is if there is such a kinship or positive view, even an equality, why would it be offensive for someone to go from one to the other. I push the question back to you first.

With that said, we both believe that when one joins our Communion they take on an oath. To leave it is to break it. So this is more serious than transferring your letter from the Free Will Baptist to the Southern Baptist. We believe that is similar to breaking a marriage vow because you take a vow to the Church. It's sacramental. So to break it, you must have a VERY good reason.

Also, I, as an RC, can be as Eastern as I want to be. There are 23 other rites in the RC that have Eastern ties and roots, so I believe to go from the RC to the EO when the EC is there is a slap in the face. You would be saying that their is something wrong with the RC and more than just a tasteless liturgy.

My thoughts.

EYTYXOΣ said...

Also, I, as an RC, can be as Eastern as I want to be. There are 23 other rites in the RC that have Eastern ties and roots, so I believe to go from the RC to the EO when the EC is there is a slap in the face. You would be saying that their is something wrong with the RC and more than just a tasteless liturgy.

I wouldn't call it a "slap in the face" - no more than it is a "slap in the face" against all other Christian communions when one chooses one and rejects or ignores the others. One could argue that Roman Catholics, by remaining Catholic, are a slap in the face against Protestants, and vice-versa. I.e., one can feel or act like they've been slapped in the face when the other party did no slapping but merely looked the other way or walked away.

But if one comes to believe in things that are contrary to RC distinctives like the papacy, papal infallibility, etc., and as a consequence chooses to leave the Roman communion for the EOC or even Protestantism, that person should not feel personally responsible if the RCs he left or left behind feel that they have been slapped in the face by the one who left. I guess I would say that is the RCs' problem. The same would apply if an EOC became Catholic. I don't think he should feel guilty if his former parishioners feel like he slapped them in the face. My becoming a Christian - my family is Jewish - was and is regarded by some of my family members and by some members of their congregation as being a slap in the face to them. Well, I guess I could say that their rejection of Christ is a slap in the face to God. I could say that every Jewish person who has not accepted Christ is a slap in the face to God. I could say that every non-believer I meet is a slap in the face to God.

Well, if I feel that someone slapped me in the face, my response should be what Jesus said to do - i.e., I should turn the other cheek, not get angry or upset about it or demand that they unslap me.

I guess this is all to say that the "slap in the face" attitude seems just as problematic as the "other lung" analogy.

My thoughts.

Anonymous said...

In his book, On Liturgical Theology, Aidan Kavanaugh stresses that Prosper of Aquitaine's original phrasing is "ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi." To reduce this to a mere tag line "lex credendi, lex supplicandi" starves it of real power. As Kavanaugh observes, ".. it is the law of worship that founds or establishes the law of belief -- rather as a foundation establishes a house or as the virtue of justice founds the law."