Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A Mature Faith

I came across this article by George Sim Johnston today (via Fr Ethan) and it made a lot of sense to me. Do read it!

In my study of the documents of Vatican II, and reading the encyclicals of the previous Pope, it had occurred to me that some people struggle in this post-Conciliar era because they'd prefer a prescriptive religion, which was the post-Trent model. But Vatican II was the fruit of an age of (public) education and it appealed to people to be educated about their faith. This instructive religion is actually more demanding because we have to learn the ins and outs of our faith, understand it, internalise it and apply it to our lives. Nowhere is this more difficult than in the moral life, whereby we are called to a life in Christ.

This doesn't mean that the rules don't apply or that we have radically changed anything. Neither has the Church abandoned anything of value and Truth from her past. It just means that the 'rules' are communicated in such a way that we learn to love them, appreciate why they are there and what God asks of us. We internalise the rules and thus transform ourselves and our very hearts, not just in our outward observances.

In the immortal words of Pope John XXIII, at the Opening Speech of the Second Vatican Council:

"What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men's moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else.

This, then, is what will require our careful, and perhaps too our patient, consideration. We must work out ways and means of expounding these truths in a manner more consistent with a predominantly pastoral view of the Church's teaching office."
This difference in approach is that of just going to Sunday Mass because we have to, on pain of mortal sin, and doing so because we want to for love of God. This is not to say that the prescriptive model does not bring one to the latter (eventually). However, a secular analogy may shed some light on why the instructive model is more desireable (and life changing): Some of us wear seat belts because it is prescribed by the law - we have to, even if we don't want to. Others wear them even if they don't have to (eg, in the back seat in Malaysia) because they realise it's a wiser and safer thing to do.

Hence, Johnston calls it 'spiritual maturity': it's the difference between a child who paints by numbers and an adult artist who creates his own oeurves. It's rather like me and HTML: In a prescriptive model, I look at the code, copy down what I need to do but I don't actually understand why I do it or what is happening (in the code). I simply copy the code because it works and achieves the desired effect! However, the instructive model expects me to learn to read and understand the code and then apply it so that I can create my own highly original blog site!

The instructive model (as any teacher knows) takes time, patience and understanding. Mistakes are made and one must allow for these. Every teacher has a feel for students who truly know their lessons and those who merely rattle them off by rote. So too, does the Church, who is Mater et Magistra. Thus, Pope John XXIII taught in his encyclical of that name at para.262:

"For here Our concern is with the doctrine of the Catholic and Apostolic Church. She is the Mother and Teacher of all nations. Her light illumines, enkindles and enflames. No age but hears her warning voice, vibrant with heavenly wisdom.

She is ever powerful to offer suitable, effective remedies for the increasing needs of men, and the sorrows and anxieties of this present life. Her words re-echo those of the Psalmist of old—words which never fail to raise our fainting spirits and give us courage: "I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me: for he will speak peace unto his people. And unto his saints: and unto them that are converted to the heart. Surely his salvation is near to them that fear him: that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed. Truth is sprung out of the earth: and justice hath looked down from heaven. For the Lord will give goodness: and our earth shall yield her fruit. Justice shall walk before him: and shall set his steps in the way."

As such, the Church is a Teacher par excellence for she teaches with the authority and wisdom of Christ, her Head. A good student and one who wishes to grow in Christian spiritual maturity heeds her lessons.

People who think that the Vatican II model is 'soft' are mistaken. This model is far more demanding on the person because it requires total and holistic transformation; it calls for integrity. Granted it is not as clear-cut as the Tridentine model with its lists of anathemas and doctrinal propositions and I agree that sometimes this is missed. In fact, many of us simply need the rules etc as a framework and support on which to build our lives. Hence, the recent publication of the Catechism in the traditional Q&A format.

But these are just props. Ultimately, we have to walk the Christian life with hearts transformed, as the saints did. For our goal is Love and that is not learned or feigned. At the Judgment Seat, Christ will not ask us to recite the commandments or article 565 of the Catechism or how many copes there should be at Solemn Vespers! He will ask if we have loved as much as we should and can... We have to live the life of the Spirit and make Christian decisions and choices from our hearts; not because the rules say so but because we live the rules. Religious life has this attitude towards formation and regular observance too: the rules are there to form us and make us become more fully alive in Christ.

Vatican II has that as its goal, that we may live fully in Christ by the Spirit. We have still many steps to make, even paths to backtrack upon, but this is a Road still to be travelled upon. The problem is not the Council but the fact that many did not heed the Teacher's voice. Any teacher has been in a situation when kids don't listen to instructions and get things wrong; it's the same here. But this Teacher (unlike me!) is ever patient and loving and ceaselessly and untiringly instructs all people, whether they listen or not. As Pope John XXIII said again at the Opening of Vatican II:

"The great desire, therefore, of the Catholic Church in raising aloft at this Council the torch of truth, is to show herself to the world as the loving mother of all mankind; gentle, patient, and full of tenderness and sympathy for her separated children. To the human race oppressed by so many difficulties, she says what Peter once said to the poor man who begged an alms: "Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, that I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk." In other words it is not corruptible wealth, nor the promise of earthly happiness, that the Church offers the world today, but the gifts of divine grace which, since they raise men up to the dignity of being sons of God, are powerful assistance and support for the living of a more fully human life. She unseals the fountains of her life-giving doctrine, so that men, illumined by the light of Christ, will understand their true nature and dignity and purpose. Everywhere, through her children, she extends the frontiers of Christian love, the most powerful means of eradicating the seeds of discord, the most effective means of promoting concord, peace with justice, and universal brotherhood."

Holy Mother Church has a sacred duty and obligation to teach us. Let us be good students, desiring to mature in faith and learn our lessons well!


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8:38 am  
Blogger Julie D. said...

Fabulous post! I never thought about the difference in responsibility required by the Church of her people pre- and post-Vatican II.

12:50 pm  
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1:52 pm  
Blogger happyguy7 said...

Very moving insight Paul, I'm very impressed. It's so important to actually go back to the words of the Council and not just accept the "chinese whispers" version that is passed down by the uninformed. Very good of you to pull us up by our ears. Keep up the good work,

2:40 pm  
Anonymous SJM said...

Bravo, my brother-to-be for telling us about this excellent, on-the-mark article, and for your splendid commentary! I am doing a slow reading of "Lumen Gentium" and this really informs my reflections. Thank you!

3:54 pm  
Anonymous Juan Pilgrim said...

Is it not perhaps a bit condescending to claim that the 1962 years of catechesis before the Council were mostly prescriptive? Perhaps you believe that the Baltimore Cathechism was used for that long, in all places.... A statement like "it had occurred to me that some people struggle in this post-Conciliar era because they'd prefer a prescriptive religion, which was the post-Trent model" is exactly the kind of statement that radical traditionalists pounce on whenever they want to attack the "neocon catholics" who "interpret the tradition in the light of modernity, and not the other way around." Quoting the words of Blessed JXXIII is commendable, but your diagnosis of the pre-Council situation approaches caricature.

4:31 pm  
Anonymous Juan Pilgrim said...

HappyGuy, those aren't the words of the Council. Those are the words of the opening address before the Council.

4:32 pm  
Blogger Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Dear Juan Pilgrim,

Thank you for your comments. However, I am at a loss... how did you surmise that I thought that the past 1,962 years of catechesis have been "mostly prescriptive"? This was never stated nor intended. Indeed, you then (rightly) quote me as saying that it was the post-Trent model, which by my reckoning accounts for only less than a third of the time-frame you suggested above.

That was all I intended to say and perhaps I should add a qualifier: It was the predominant poost-Trent model.

As for your reference to the Baltimore Catechism... most of the civilised world (ie: non-USA) did not have recourse to it.

I have little respect for radicals of any kind, be they traditionalist or progressive so what they choose to pounce on or whatever their selective reasoning construes is of little concern to me.

I appreciate your criticism that my analysis of the pre-Vatican II situation approaches caricature and concede that this is a weakness inherent in any attempt to characterise something as complex as the Church and human relationships with God and one another within a reasonable length. Were this a thesis, I would have attempted to be more nuanced but I think we have to accept this limitation and recognise there is also some truth in the picture I paint.

As for the assertion that 'neo-cons' (whatever that may be, for the notion is ridiculous and smacks of political polemics) interpret the Tradition in the light of 'modernity' (which itself needs a qualifier - what notion is one referring to here?), there is no shame in that.

Indeed, that is my understanding of Blessed John XXIII's call for 'aggiornamento': to apply the modern sciences to aid us in understanding the Tradition better. As he said, "this certain and immutable doctrine" is to be "studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms." If this is inaccurate, the onus lies on you or so-called 'traditionalists' to show otherwise.

But I suspect such people never liked Pope John or his Council anyway and they continue to betray their bias.

4:52 am  
Anonymous Juan Pilgrim said...

I jumped the gun there, I should have noticed that you said, "post-Trent." Not very attentive on my part. You are right about traditionalists.

8:21 pm  

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