The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Dangers of "Theology"

From Henri Cardinal de Lubac's Corpus Mysticum, pg. 220:

Speaking roughly, and looking less at the letter than at the spirit, it is therefore true to say that the ancient texts are no longer understood because the spirit in which they were composed has partly been lost. The fact is that Eucharistic theology became more and more a form of apologetic and organized itself increasingly round a defence of the "real presence". Apology for dogma succeeded the understanding of faith. This evolution, this contrast, the misunderstandings and the awkward problems of interpretation that resulted from them, the incomprehension that is the price paid for new insights, all that is summed up symbolically in the two successive meanings of truth.

Sometimes I feel like a broken record on this blog, but I feel at times that I don't express the main point of what I am doing here clearly enough. This is mostly my fault. Instead, I like to put up quotes from people who think more clearly than I do. That is why I have posted the quote found above.

It reminded me of a comment someone made on this post about St. Gregory of Nyssa that I wrote over a year ago now. In that post, a commenter posted the following quote from the Cappadocian Father:

"concepts create idols, only wonder knows."

The problem lies in modern man's inability to think symbolically, to think that something can both fully be and not be something at the same time. In de Lubac's book, the Eucharistic species in the early Church were and were not the Body of Christ. They were not because the real Body of Christ is the Church: caput et corpus, Christus totus. And they were because they were powereful, efficacious icons/mysteria/sacramenta of the Body of Christ by which the Body of Christ (the Church) is constituted. The glue of reverence, of wonder, and of holy silence before such a mystery held this seemingly contradictory attitude together.

When we begin to reduce the things of God to apologetic, that is when we begin to get "theology" as we now know it, with all of its summae, catechisms, questiones disputatae, etc., etc. These things are necessary and very necessary, But they are necessary evils. If human beings did not have the blight of mortality, darkened intellect, and malice of the will, such things would not be necessary. To dwell upon them, to obsess over them, and to deify them misses the mark in so many ways.

Eucharistic theology itself within the Roman Catholic Church is in a bit of a mess. Most Catholics can be divided between two sides of a spectrum:

1. From the Patristic resourcement to felt banners: "One Bread, One Body, One Lord of All...." Catholics who take de Lubac's original vision to heart but turn the decadent society we are in into an idol. That is, they believe that the Body of Christ is anyone who happens to be standing in the Church regardless of how they live their life or if they are truly looking to repent and prepare for the Kingdom of God. People, according to them, should feel comfortable in church, so we should get rid of the smells and bells, the Latin, and all of the other evil medieval things that alientate a generation whose aesthetic taste is determined by Oprah and South Park. And of course, the Eucharist is just a symbol, because WE (emphasis on WE) are the Body of Christ.

2. Mad traditionalists who don't know that the war's over: Everything that came out of Vatican II is bad, and it just didn't start there. Too bad St. Pius X's Sodalitium Pianum didn't have police powers to break into "heretical" priests' houses in the middle of the night and "make them disappear". Every theologian in the 20th century was bad except for Garrigou-Lagrange, and even he was suspicious on some days. Reading any Father of the Church is dangerous except if he appears in a pre-1958 papal encyclical or in the Summa Theologiae. And of course, the Church is the MYSTICAL Body of Christ, but that really just means that the Church is symbolically the Body of Christ...

Two extremes, neither of them right, and both formed in the polemical agruments of last century. True, you will find few who will outwardly admit one extreme or the other totally, but that is the pull of Eucharistic theology within the Church. Thankfully, many voices, including our current Pope, are pulling things back in the right direction as the dust of liturgical reform begins to settle little by little. (If you haven't done so yet, you should read Pope Benedict's The Spirit of the Liturgy. I can't recommend it highly enough.) But we still have a long way to go, and the spirit of the time in which we live does not help matters.

We need to defend doctrines when they come under attack. The Eucharist is not just a symbol. To quote the Baltimore Catechism, in the Eucharistic species are found the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same One who was born, died, and rose again and is seated at the right hand of the Father. But that is where it all begins, not where it all ends.....


At 7:34 PM, Blogger Justine said...

Hey, wonderful blog! I just stumbled upon it tonight. I don't read much in the Catholic blog world because normally I become disenchanted with how narrow their interpretation of Catholic culture is.

PS: I am a lay volunteer working and living in community with the Christian Brothers in Oakland. I'm from New York and a big fan of the Byzantine liturgy and go to Tridentine mass at St. Margaret Mary's... would like to talk with you sometime.

At 9:21 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...


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God bless,


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