More on the Difficulty of Orthodoxy

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I started this note as a response to Talmida's cogent comment below about how one should read and understand one verse of the decalogue--often translated "Thou shalt not kill." It was getting too lengthy, and it started to raise issues that I wanted to discuss in more detail anyway.

You raise a good point in your first point regarding the technical translation. This has, of course, been said many times and I don't necessarily disagree with it. However, in the judgment of what it is actually saying,the question arises as to what is "murder." We tend to view it in a very technical legal fashion--however, when the state unjustly takes the life of a man who committed no crime, has murder been committed? I think so--a great many do not. When a person has been killed in the course of killing enemy combattants has murder been committed? I think so--a great many do not.

The point isn't so much who is right in the debate, but rather the extended difficulties of orthodoxy. The meaning of every verse of the Bible is (thank heavens) not explicitly spelled out. As a result, much is left to us to formulate. I read "Thou shalt not murder" in a much broader way than some might. "Thou shalt not deprive the innocent of life" would more accurately reflect my understanding. Now, I cannot ask anyone else to accept my interpretation, but as I read the Catechism, this seems to be the understanding they come up with for this verse of the decalogue. Problem is, someone else can read the same source and come to a different conclusion. Three priests explaining what is meant by this will come up with three different conclusions. Which one reflects orthodoxy? Usually, I assume the one that is closest to what I already believe. And that's part of the problem with orthodoxy--there is a tendency to take the answer closest to what we already believe.

However, there is a plus to this. Even if we accept the answer closest to what we already think, by accepting the authority of a voice outside ourselves, we have already shifted our own viewpoint to some degree. By slow steps, one hopes one reaches orthodoxy without stumbling into rigidity.

And there is another stumbling block. Is it possible to be orthodox without being rigid? By that I do not mean that a person holding to orthodoxy should be willing at a moment's notice to jump ships. But does being orthodoxy carry with it a certain baggage that might be off-putting to people who are not so far down the line? I don't think it necessarily must--but I do think, unfortunately, it often does. I think of some of my experiences with some apologists for the faith whose whole demeanor and approach is so alienating that I wonder what they think they are about. They are impolite, impolitic, and inconsiderate. (This does not by any means apply to everyone in the field of apologetics, merely a subset who so thoroughly alienated me early on that (1) I nearly didn't become Catholic in the face of such arrogance; and (2) the whole term Apologetics carries with it certain very strongly negative overtones for me.) The people I speak of were extremely orthodox; indeed, orthodox to the point that they no longer knew how to speak to someone who was not in a way that honored the sincerity of the convictions that they held. Not every person who is in error is stupid or is consciously following an agenda against the faith.

I've wandered off-track here for a moment, but one of the problems of Orthodoxy is the amount of time and study it takes to be and remain orthodox, and the wide spectrum of conflicting opinions as to what consitutes orthodoxy. Who has the clear definition? Where does orthodoxy lie? Some tell me Karl Rahner is a perfectly orthodox theologian--others imply that anyone after Garrigou-Lagrange is suspect. I know nothing of theology--how do I decide? If my opinion is shaped by some neo-rahnerian effusion, how am I to know it?

The desire for believing as the Church believes is real, but fully understanding precisely what it is the Church believes is a much more difficult task than it might first seem. For example, see below some comments about biblical inerrancy and what is required for it to be true. Who is right in the matter?

And with this I come back to my favorite theme. Some people are not daunted by the prospects I have outlined here. They wade in and sort things out fairly capably. Often they don't so in any way that makes sense to me, and so I'm left on the short wondering who is winning this alligator wrestling match. Most of us don't have the time or the inclination to study every point of doctrine in all of its nuances. As a result we don't study much of any point of doctrine, or study those that most need to resolved for us to find a comfortable place to sit.

The reality is, the only comfortable place to sit is at the feet of Jesus. And sitting on the ground, in the dust is only comfortable so long as we are caught up in adoring love. The solace comes from Kierkegaard who, paraphrased out of context, said, "Those who are comfortable with Jesus do not know Him." So a comfortable Jesus isn't really something we will every find. Perhaps this whole struggle with orthodoxy is a series of points and barbs that move us steadily toward the God who loves us. I have concluded that the only way I'm going to find my way is through longing, lasting, lingering, love. My brain threatens to explode every time I open a book of serious theology, so instead, I open a book of poetry, a book of nature, a book of art, a book of revelation beyond the mere word, and for a moment I am immersed in the immensity that is God. It is there that I will find Him, with the guidance of scripture and the Church, not in the thousands (millions?) of tomes of theology that threaten me like the amplifiers that towered over Quay Lood.

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Cdl Ratzinger, in "Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith" quotes St. Augustine's formula that "however much anyone loves the Church, that is how much he has of the Holy Spirit" and says that:

"We would have to admit, even so, that striking an equivalence between Church and love...does have its can lead to a dangerous narrowing of ideas as soon as using "love" to designate the Church no longer shows her relation to the Spirit as an objective standard for the Church, as a practical challenge, but appears to be the institution's self-evident content. A rigidity then develops, signs of which can already be seen in Augustine's later writings and which subsequently developed into that dangerous hardening of attitudes that medieval and modern Church history tells us about."

He goes on to say though that it is impossible to separate Spirit and the Church by virtue of the nature of the Spirit: "In the very fact of being visible, 'empirical', in the sacraments, in the Word, and in love, she is the home of the Spirit, and the Spirit grants his presence in the concrete community who support and bear with one another on Christ's account. For Augustine, the idea that the Spirit manifests himself only in what is discontinuous, only in the chance eruptions of self-taught and self-formed groups, is utterly inconceivable."

Augustine explains that the fundamental activity of the Holy Spirit is a love that unites and draws into an abiding unity. "...and, thereby the 'proper work' of the Holy Spirit - is this, that it achieves abiding. Love shows itself by being abiding, it does away with uncertainty and carries eternity within it."

Dear TSO,

This is a great comment, and a nice extension of the conversation, but I'm a bit uncertain what your conclusion is. You've done the Neil thing with extensive quoting from sources that are very interesting, and I think I catch your drift, but if you would be so kind as to elaborate, I would greatly appreciate it.



Yeah I was having a hard time encapsulating in a comment the whole chapter Ratzinger devoted to the topic. The main gist of it is that Augustine presents the Holy Spirit as an "abider"; one of love's main qualities is that it abides. It stays, it is a stable thing and we can depend on it.

Augustine was fighting the Donatists, who basically who wanted a purer, better church. No riff-raff. And so Augustine laid much emphasis on how the Spirit's desire is to unite and that necessarily a part of that will be "bearing with one another". This is my own paraphrase so much will no doubt get lost in translation.

Here's another quote that illuminates further and also shows how God can use variations and mistranslations and make it profitable for us:

"Augustine finds important two apparently opposed versions of Psalm 68[67] in the Latin Bible. According to one, it says, "You receive the gifts in men"; according to the other, which the New Testament follows, it says: "He gave gifts to men." For Augustine, the two sides of the Christological mystery itself are represented in the opposition of these variants. Christ, as the ascended One, remains the One who descended. He stands at the same time beside God who is giving and man who is receiving. He is head and body, giving from God and receiving in men. And this, again, unites ecclesiology and Christology; in the Church he remains the One who descended, the continuation of the humanity of Jesus Christ."



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 18, 2005 9:54 AM.

Why Orthodoxy Matters to Me was the previous entry in this blog.

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