The Intellect and the Church

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It has long been a protestant slander that to be a Catholic one must check one's mind at the door. Obviously any protestant who repeats this calumny hasn't paid much attention to the Church I am accustomed to attend.

If the climate at St. Blog's is any indication at all, one is far more likely to be requested to check one's heart at the door. Reading in some of the reaches of St. Blogs, one gets the impression that if you haven't spent your entire life arguing yourself into full conformity with Catholic Doctrine on the basis on Natural Law and revelation, then you've been wasting your time and your life. If I wished to live a logically consistent life with everything exactly placed and exactly reasoned, I would have requested a Skinner Box in the early stages of my childhood.

I am far more often annoyed by the rigid intellectualists who admit of no part of the emotional life in the life of the Church. Everything done is to be done on the basis of sheer intellect alone. Our assent to doctrine is intellectual. Our reception of the Eucharist is the reification of a reality that the reason has already checked out and verified. Our very emotions are to be under the complete governance of reason.

Sorry, but the intellect does not dominate most people. There are quite a few who would like to think that it does, but the emotions have a life and a will of their own. How often have you actually talked yourself out of an irrational fear? For me, I don't think I ever have. However, I have prayed my way out many a times. I have relied upon the strength and the love of our Blessed Mother, not upon her intellect, to obtain for me the graces necessary.

No, I'm afraid one of my biggest objections since joining the Catholic Church has been the virulent strain of anti-emotionalism that circulates in some corners. Any hint of religion in emotion is seen as syrupy pietism, or devotional excess. Any questioning of the strict line of reason on the basis of any other than rigid Aristotelian lines seems to be looked down upon. The Charismatic Renewal is regarded askance both for their emotionalism and for certain pockets of questionable doctrine that can sometimes arise from the origins of the Renewal in the Pentecostal movement.

The reason is a good and powerful gatekeeper. It is necessary, right, just, and required that we cultivate it to the best of our ability. At the same time the reason uncut by the love (not merely the intellectual assent of will) demanded by one Christian for another, is the recipe for a horror. By all means, we must correct the errors of our brethren. I have been thankful time and again for course corrections offered by loving, concerned, informed friends. I have had very, very infrequent occasion to thank any polemical apologist for their unwarranted intrusion into my thoughts or life.

It is about balance. The reason must rule, but lest it is a tyrant, it must be kept in check by the heart. I absolutely must assent to the truth revealed by the Catholic Church, but it is the use of that truth that becomes a sticking point. Homosexual acts are defined as gravely sinful. If I follow the Bible and the strict rule of reason, I must therefore eschew any contacts with unrepentant homosexuals. And where, may I ask, does that leave them? Isn't my first duty to love my neighbor as myself and to conduct myself in that love. Isn't the first rule to pull the beam out of my own eye before I try to remove the mote in my neighbor's?

Sometimes when I hear some of the arguments and disagreements expressed among very good Catholics, it seems to me that we have abandoned the cardinal rule of love for the tyranny of reason guided by law. Not all of the time--but I find this problem far more pervasive than I find a problem of rampant emotionalism. (Though I must admit, I have found pockets of that as well, and it is no better--though, I suppose arguably, it might be a good deal less harmful to an outsider. Rather smother them in kisses than hand them a docket, a notebook, and a slide-rule.)

Just some half-formed thoughts upon looking into certain darker corners of the world of Catholic disagreement.

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Blogworthies LXXIV from The Blog from the Core on October 29, 2005 10:14 AM

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Bravo! Bravo!

Is the hyperrationalism, the "dry faith alone" attitude you see simply a temporary reaction to the touchy-feely Rod McKuen Catholicism that's prevailed in many, maybe most, parishes from 1970 through now? I don't think it's risen in response to the Charismatics, although the guys you describe certainly look askance at them.

I want to scream when I hear nice-nice explanations coming from my parish pulpit, dampening the sword of the faith and the weight of God's Justice. My reaction should be and often is charity, but I immediately want to get the pile of books out and start TEACHING, by golly.

I'm part a team that ministers to fallen-away Catholics who express an interest in coming back but have questions. They are so under-educated and fooled by the "just be nice gospel" that we have to educate them, or at least get information into their hands, before we can get their hearts open to a true love relationship with Jesus, much less in reacting to the world with His Love.

So my overall reaction is to say "yay" for the intellectualists, the teachers. That doesn't mean that I don't agree with what you've written.

Dear Therese,

These questions are for those who have been Catholic longer. Frankly, I've never experienced a "touchy feely" Catholicism, and frankly, I suspect that it may be a vision derived from the shock of the change from Tridentine to Novus Ordo. Nothing about Catholicism in any of my experience has given me one hundredth of the touchy-feely experience I get from one Methodist "Covered Dish" Meal, or one Baptist Picnic. But then, as I said, I haven't been around long enough. In fact, I have to say that were it not for the sheer drawing force of Truth and of God's revelation, I would probably not have remained Catholic long. It is among the least personally welcoming faiths I have ever experienced. I think part of the reason for this is that Catholicism takes so many things for granted and assumes they are provided via traditional lines. But if you are new to the faith, let me tell you, it doesn't happen. And if you're not of the type to go out and find it yourself, you often don't find it at all. As a result, my attitude is a much more cautious, "Bully for the teachers, but let's make sure they don't get out of hand."

And, if as you maintain there were once an overly touchy-feely Catholicism, I could probably do with a touch more of it now. (Not much, mind you--just enough to take the chill off now and then.)

AND, you are absolutely right, the truth should never be compromised in the name of charity or being nice. People seeking to be rejoined to the Church should be rejoined to the Church not some enfeebled, weakened pixie-waif of a faith, but the robust faith of Jesus Christ.

Still, most Catholic churches I have been in, and frankly, many Catholic I have met could do with a bit of warming up and a reminder about charity beginning at (the parish) home.

But those are anecdotal, and we all have our tales of the way the people of the church have served or failed to do. All I know is that if I face one more person who is frothing about rubrics, hand-holding, when the sign of peace occurs or any number of the many edicts from the synod, I may scream. It so misses the central point of all we do--loving God in Himself and through each other.



Hi, Steven,

Thank you so much for asking these questions, especially the questions in the third-to-last paragraph, about love of neighbor and sinners. May I take a crack at them with you? I so hope to make progress in these questions; what a joy to make progress in them with a dear friend and brother . . .

I'm going to start in reverse order from the order in which you asked . . .

"Isn't the first rule to pull the beam out of my own eye before I try to remove the mote in my neighbor's?"


"Isn't my first duty to love my neighbor as myself and to conduct myself in that love?"

No! My first duty is to love God with my whole soul and whole mind and my whole heart and my whole strength. (Luke 10:27)

My next duty is to love my neighbor as myself.

It seems to me, that the difference is this: ideally - the Christian's desires and actions are centered on God alone, not on himself, and not on his neighbor. It is for God's sake that I love my neighbor, that I love even myself! And if I act accordingly, I act not so as to please my neighbor or to please myself, but to please God alone.

"Homosexual acts are defined as gravely sinful. If I follow the Bible and the strict rule of reason, I must therefore eschew any contacts with unrepentant homosexuals. And where, may I ask, does that leave them?"

Would it make sense to say that putting myself into situations in which I appear to approve of the gay lifestyle (or any other sinful lifestyle) is unworthy of a Christian? And, at the same time, that if the unrepentant homosexual were someone who I knew might listen to me, someone related to me, for example, that I might speak the "truth in love" to him - gently, privately, patiently, encouragingly?

Dear Marion,

Of course you are right in the second. And it was my oversight to say otherwise, but my intent was focusing entirely on communal effort and might explain the slip.

As to the answer about homosexuality--I don't think I can agree. My approval and support of any person does not endorse all of the ideas that the person represents. Moreover, a chllly disapproval is not likely to persuade anyone of anything different from what they presently believe. Jesus did not distance himself from sinners, nor did the great Saints. Obviously, we should not venture into areas where we might be sorely tempted--where temptation will result in sin. And obviously we cannot always clearly identify these patches; nevertheless, I don't think we can live our lives like deer paralyzed in the headlights for fear of sin. So I would say that it little matters whether my support of a dying AIDS patient or simply of a person who has been battered by the winds of society looks like support for the idea--it is, in fact, support for the person who needs that first and foremost. When asked, I would inform the person that his or her lifestyle is not what the Church teaches. But I would hope that my first witness, wholehearted love and support despite my acknowledged allegiance to Church teaching would be enough of a Christian witness to persuade whoever it was to listen more closely to those who have something cogent to say on the matter.

But I could be wrong there as well. I see "shunning" and avoidance as particularly uncivil and unchristian ways to fight a battle. And every time I do see them used, they are extreme measures between those who are already committed Christians to bring them to repentence. Would this work with someone whose commitment is uncertain? I don't know, but I doubt it.

I guess I would say that unless association with the sinner threatens to drag me into the sin or causes grave scandal to the Christian community at large (for example, I wouldn't march in a Gay Pride parage--but I would take dinner to a shut-in and sit and pray with him) that charity should always prevail.

As you point out, there is no charity without truth. But the first truth I think we need to convey is that God loves them and wants them to come to Him. We show this through our own actions in love.

But you know, I'm growing in this as well, and I come from a different tradition which may color my viewpoint.

These answers all change when we're talking about facing brother and sister Christians with hard sins. However, I don't know how much they do. The person should always get our love and the sin should always receive our rebuke. I'll leave rebuking the sinner to the Holy Spirit and to Jesus--I haven't reached a place where I would feel terribly comfortable doing so. (And I know you weren't saying that you would be either--we are talking theory, not necessarily practice.)

Thank you for writing and for helping me to think through these things. Especially thank you for the correction--our first duty is embodied in the Shema--"Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One. You must love him with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your strength, and all of your mind." Then, as a case example and certain practice, we must love our neighbors as ourselves. For the Letter of John asks a question--"How can we claim to love the God we cannot see when we do not love the brother and sister who we do see?"

Thanks again.



Oh, Steven, one blushes - not a correction - a reminder! And I need those all the time! Who of us doesn't?

Also, far be it from any Christian to say that assisting a person ill with AIDS "constitutes approval of the gay lifestyle." As you say, marching in a "Gay Pride" parade constitutes approval. Probably, attending a same-sex union ceremony, or advocating that people in same-sex sexual relationships should be accorded rights mirroring those enjoyed by married people, would constitute approval. But to comfort and to assist a seriously ill person constitutes a laudable work of mercy, and nothing more.

Thank you, Steven. I count on you to remind me of things, all the time.

If the climate at St. Blog's is any indication at all, one is far more likely to be requested to check one's heart at the door. Allow me to speculate. St. Blog's is a highly specialized subset of the general population, even of the Catholic population in general. This sample (Dappled Things, Monday, August 18, 2003, 5:30 PM, Myers-Briggs and St Blog's) is hardly representative, but I am amazed at the very, very large proportion of Introverted Thinking types among the Catholic bloggers surveyed. Those kinds of folks tend to take an approach to faith that is far, far more intellectualized than that of most people. That's the way God made them.

Dear Mr. Core,

Much of what you say is absolutely true. Although I'll note that Jamie of Ad Limina Apostolorum has written recently about the lack of community (comparatively) in the Catholic Church compared to evangelical churches. And I have to concur with his general impression.

And yes, blogging probably does tend to attract introverted types. I'll admit to being one myself. And I suppose one of the reasons I react so strongly to the idea of informing the heart is that it is the part of faith with which I have had the greatest difficult. Faith has always been an abstract intellectualized endeavor that I had to struggle to bring from head to heart--that is struggle to make real in my life in a substantive way. It's one of the reasons I chose the Carmelites rather than the Benedictines or the Dominicans. My head was already too dominant, and it was, and still is, severely hampering my ability to do what God calls me to. The Carmelites, most particularly St. Therese of Lisieux who, frankly, sickened and horrified me with her pious little mutterings, spoke to me. Now, St. Therese of Lisieux is kind of my standard in the battlefield of faith. I hear her cry "My vocation is to be love at the Heart of the Church." As a very real, very substantive call for me. I have been blessed by her time and again, and I am realizing that until the whole person is engaged, I do not act in the Body of Christ as I should. Until every one of God's children knows the love of God as a reality in life, we fail in our mission to bring the good news. And so, I suppose, this provokes the kind of reaction you see here.

Thank you for stopping by and commenting and for helping me to articulate some of the very difficult, very hidden springs that give rise to these thoughts.



Thank you for your post. Very thought-provoking. I share your affinity for the Carmelites, and for the same reasons.



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