PART TWO - THE HEARTFATHER 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.