Why Orthodoxy Matters to Me

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There is a tendency on the part of some to deride orthodoxy--to see it as the strict domain of the ultra-Catholic. Not many, but some. I thought I'd spell out why Orthodoxy is so important to me and why I do try to toe the line, if not always successfully.

I became a Catholic principally because I wanted a guide to what was beautiful and true. In my other faith life, I was told to read the Bible and it would tell me all I needed to know. There was really no reason for someone else to help you understand the Bible because it really was a "priesthood of the believer." In a sense, everyone was to fashion his or her own reality, and hence, in my estimation, his or her own perfectly suited God. This is an unfair representation of the reality and comlexity of Baptist thought, but it is what I finally made of it.

Orthodoxy is valuable to me because I want to believe what is true rather than what is comfortable. My strongest desire is to grab onto the truth and hold on for all I'm worth, because the Truth, ultimately is Jesus, who told us, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." If so, then to believe the Truth is the believe Jesus and to do anything else is to miss the mark.

What I've come to discover is orthodoxy is not so simple as all that. For example, as an Orthodox Catholic, I have as a set of clear guidelines to behavior the decalogue. Among the commandments encoded therein is "Thou shalt not kill." Thus, one could conclude that the orthodox Catholic would say, "Killing is wrong." However, we then face the question of just war and the death penalty, both of which are permitted by the Church (although the latter to be exceedingly narrowly interpreted and applied). Hence, "Thou shalt not kill" is not so clear as the four words might seem to say to the orthodox Catholic. I struggle with this because I want those four words to mean precisely what they say. But nothing is so simple. Everything must be interpreted and understood as the Author intends, rather than as I understand.

Orthodox faith is exceedingly valuable to me. But its articulation is never more valuable that a person. That is to say, where orthodoxy can be hurtful, I must believe the truth, but I feel as though I must not bludgeon others with it. When my opinion or belief is not directly asked for, and where that might hurt another's ability to speak with God, I should not advance it. (TSO posted something the other day that touched upon this, and started this train of thought, but I can't seem to find it now. Later: Here it is. I had merely placed it later in the list in my mind and hadn't gone searching far enough. Thanks TSO.)

Thus, I believe that the Church teaches that homosexuality and a homosexual expression of love is sinful. (Honestly, I struggle with internalizing this truth, but I accept it as the truth.) However, in dealing with a homosexual person, I am dealing first and foremost with a person, not with a walking sin. Sometimes, people I encounter treat the sin first and foremost and the person only secondarily.

Now, I need to make clear that there are those who are called and who have the dispostion proper to reproving and correcting. I do not fault anyone for following God's way. I just am all too aware of the glass walls of my own house to begin casting stones. I know how far I am from perfection of action, thought, or word. I also know that I will be a long time (with the aid of the grace of God) hauling that beam from my own eye--so I'm not out looking for my brothers' motes.

Even writing these words sends up warning flags--as though I am trying to say something about those who do correct and teach. Believe me, I am not. I am not more fit judge for them than I am for people who sin. I am an unfit judge even for myself. So I struggle to avoid judgment and to live, as best I can the orthodox life. And I always find myself overthinking the matter.

In truth, this is the story of my journey to Carmel. Carmel encourages me not to get lost in the incredible labyrinth of my own thought, but to look at God and love Him as He is--the God of love and life. I need to know enough to know Him truly, but I do not need to worry so much about all the details. I may err in my thoughts, as I did when I started out Catholic. But I have complete faith in God and in His good people, that these errors will gradually be remedied and corrected, that I will gradually be freed from the slavery of sin, and that I will eventualy find my way home to Him.

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Dear Steven,

The correct translation of the Hebrew word in that particular commandment is "You shall not murder". To quote Rabbi Richard Elliott Friedman in his Torah commentary on Ex 20:13.

The cases of manslaughter, killing through negligence, killing in war, execution for crimes, killing animals, animals killing humans, and human sacrifice are all treated separately from this in the Torah, and terms other than "murder" are used.

I find it very helpful in struggling with the Old Testament to read modern commentaries by Jewish scholars (to say nothing of a good English translation). Although they do not look at the Scriptures through the light of Christ, they sometimes have a far better idea of what the original texts were actually trying to convey.

I often wonder whether some of the doctrines taught by the church are not based on erroneous translations. And if they were, would the Church ever admit it? or would she simply say that after all these years, it's now tradition?

Re: "And if they were, would the Church ever admit it? or would she simply say that after all these years, it's now tradition?"

That well expresses our current division and our tendency to put our faith in science (in the form of biblical exegetes) rather than in the Church. As Cardinal Ratzinger puts it in "Milestones":

Revelation is not a meteor fallen to earth that now lies around somewhere as a rock mass from which rock samples can be taken and submitted to laboratory analysis. Revelation has instruments; but it is not separable from the living God, and it always requires a living person to whom it is communicated. Its goal is always to gather and unite men, and this is why the Church is necessary aspect of revelation. If, however, revelation is more than Scripture, if it transcends Scripture, then the "rock analysis" - which is to say, the historical-critical method - cannot be the last word concerning revelation; rather, the living organism of the faith of all ages is then an intrinsic part of revelation. And what we call "tradition" is precisely that part of revelation that goes above and beyond Scripture and cannot be comprehended within a code of formulas.

To non-Catholics and some Catholics, the Church looks fallible and contradictory. And, not surprisingly, that is precisely how the Bible is perceived by non-Christians. Without faith, the result is the same.

I should have written "Vatican" instead of "Church." There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Ratzinger is right about Church in this quotation. The difficulty in our age is that the Vatican (or official church, perhaps) does not represent or speak for the body of believers - it leads and commands them.

If the "living organism of the faith of all ages" is indeed part of revelation, then shouldn't the leadership of the church be asking what that living organism reveals instead of telling it?

As an example, if the body of the faithful over time, if the members of the body of Christ believed that women have a nature that renders them fit for the ministerial priesthood, is that revelation? If not, why not?

That's what I find very confusing.

As Steven says, being orthodox can be a struggle.




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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 17, 2005 10:53 AM.

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