Saturday, November 12, 2005

Truth: Conquering the Dictatorship of Relativism

...Catholicism is not based upon our opinions. Rather it is something we must conform to.

With these words from Kevin‘s post, I’d like to jump into what I feel to be the focal point that all Catholics must embrace if we are to be effective in bringing others to Christ. That focal point is the question of truth.

Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke vehemently against the ’dictatorship of relativism’ in the days following Pope John Paul II’s passing, has aptly written:

Beyond all particular questions, the real problem lies in the question about truth. Can truth be recognized? Or, is the question about truth simply inappropriate in the realm of religion and belief? But what meaning does belief then have , what positive meaning does religion have, if it cannot be connected with truth?” (emphasis mine)

When it comes right down to it, this one little word - Truth - needs to become the most important word in the vocabulary of the Christian today. In response to this statement you might be tempted to say, “But isn’t love the most important aspect of the Christian life? Shouldn’t love be our number one priority? Well, yes. Love is the summit of the Christian life, as the Catechism so aptly says. But, we would do well to direct our attention to two of the ways the Catechism says we arrive at this Love:

The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love. (emphasis mine)

The Catechism says that there are two things that direct us toward Love, namely, doctrine and teaching. It is the aim of Catechetics - as well as theology and apologetics - to lead us toward our goal of being fully-formed in Love. Without the doctrines that teach us about God, Who is Love, we have no knowledge of Him other than the superficial; our knowledge of Him becomes nothing more than a vague ”inner sense” of who He is and what He expects of us - a “Subjectivist’s Cathechism.” as I like to think of it.

Therefore, the question of truth reaches paramount importance. Knowledge cannot be effective in saving souls if it is not grounded in truth. One can indeed have great love for others, but know nothing more than a lot of untruths and/or half-truths as regards how to save one’s soul and the souls of others. This is definitely a situation in which one can’t use the excuse, “Well, it’s the thought that counts.” Leading others to God is serious business; one needs to “do theology on their knees.” If we want to get others to Heaven, we need to be grounded in the truth if we’re to be effective and honest in our carrying out of the “Great Commission.” Genuine Love is always grounded in Truth, not in mere fuzzy-feelings about Jesus or in a spirit of timidity that avoids witnessing to the faith because, it is believed, truth is too “difficult to define.” Too often in our day, the handing on of the faith is done with the subjectivist and relativistic spirits mentioned above, and we need to begin to look closely at how we as Christians can effectively fulfill our mission to bring to Christ’s Love to the world without sacrificing the truth.

Fortunately for us, we have a Pope who has addressed this exact problem. Pope Benedict XVI, while still in his position as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, released a book titled, “Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions.” This book is essentially a collection of essays, lectures, articles, etc. that Cardinal Ratzinger compiled for the sole purpose of addressing the problem of The Truth of Christianity vs. World religions and the modern viewpoint on religion and it’s purpose. Though a lot more could be said about this book, I would like to just briefly point out the implications the idea ‘truth’ has on the meaning of being Catholic. Our final aim as Catholics is He who is the ‘Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Those in our society don’t have much qualms with words “Way” and “Life,” but “Truth” is not a popular one. Before anyone will be able to accept Christ in totality, they will need to be able to accept that truth not only exists but is objective as well. Without this groundwork, any progress in evangelization is impossible because anything that is to be believed about Christ and our relationship with Him is leveled to the status of “opinion.” To become effective Catholics we must embrace the battle to stand up for truth, and live that truth as well.

God Bless,
Patrick Morris


Surprised by EWTN!

For all those who wonder just how geeky I really am (name one other northerner who would set up his indoor firing range next to his computer so that he can target practice while writing articles about canon law), please check out EWTN Bookmark this week.  Doug Keck and and I will be discussing Surprised by Canon Law.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Case for Traditional Principles: Part II: The Reality of the Catholic Church

Some might think this is a rather odd title I have chosen for this. I am a firm believer in the concept that all ideas have consequences. When one calls themselves Catholic, there are consequences to such. It is not a title that people can appropriate for themselves as they see fit. Belonging to the Catholic Church is no right, but rather an honor bestowed upon you by God. About the only right humanity has before God is that of damnation for our sins and offenses against him. Yet God, in His infinite mercy chose to call us to Himself, to belong to His ekklesia, the Greek word for Church. It is something far richer than a simple membership in a worship community. Rather, it means we are called from this world, to partake in something greater. There are many responsibilities that come with being able to call yourself a member of the Catholic Church. While there are dogmas one must believe to be a Catholic, there is also an attitude that one must have to be an active member God's ekklesia.

Part of that recognizes ones limits, and their contribution to that overall Church. This is primarily what separates our Protestant brethren from Catholics. Protestants essentially boil it down to themselves being the ultimate authority. Such is not the same for Catholics. We Catholics understand that there are those who govern, and those who are governed. Each have their own rights and responsibilities, and such is by God's design. For the Protestant, he is both governor and the subject being governed.

This principle is outlined splendidly in Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 18:

But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.

While that offense can come about as points of doctrine, this is not necessarily so. The difference between Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18 is the context is that of scandalizing your brother, not an issue of revelation (the identity of the Christ). We are offered practical ideas on how to resolve such scandals, and they almost always involve the least amount of authority possible. First comes a private rebuke. Then comes the witnesses, then finally the manner is taken before the Church. Just like in manners of doctrine, when the Church rules on issues regarding scandal, the issue is settled. Catholicism is more than just following the Gospel. It accepts that there is an authority that can settle disputes that arise, even if it is not necessarily about doctrinal issues.

In these situations, whether or not one likes the result is irrelevant. They are still compelled to listen to the Church. Just as the Jews were not at liberty to resist laws that the High Priest had passed. One may think such laws are silly, but they are still compelled to obey. A lot of times this is overlooked because of a failure to see a certain aspect of the Church: that of the Church being a society. As that society, it has it's laws and regulations, which it's members must obey. For example, if one decides to exceed the speed limit when they are driving, and they get pulled over, are they free to say "well I don't like this law, so I don't have to obey it" or "well in times past this law prevailed, therefore I'm justified in doing so?" The answer is no of course not. One would never think of arguing that line of law.

The same principle applies in this situation. When the leaders of the Church, the government of that society, make a judgement, people are required to follow it. If they refuse to even listen to what the Church says, they are to be treated as an outcast. Even if they might believe all that is necessary to believe as a Catholic, but do not follow the laws of the Church, they are still an outcast. So when we think of "What it means to be Catholic" we should not only think about "Does this person believe the Immaculate Conception or transubstantiation" but also "is his mindset in line with the Church, and respectful of authority?" Believing the dogmas of the Church without the authority of the Church is nothing different than a high Protestantism. It is a bunch of thelogical presuppositions and beliefs. What it is not is Catholic.

God Bless,
Kevin M. Tierney