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

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Short Discourse on Method

We're only mouth. Who sings the distant heart
that dwells whole at the core of all things?
Its great pulse is parceled out among us
into tiny beatings. And its great pain
is, like its great jubilation, too much for us.
So, again and again, we tear ourselves loose
and are only mouth. But all at once
the great heartbeat secretly breaks in on us
so that we scream-,
and then are being, transformation, visage.

-Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Edward Snow)

Perhaps doctrine in the Church is not developing, but rather degenerating.

That is a bold statement that has to be qualified. For of course the Church is no less the Church now than it was in the past. Nor is it the case that the Holy Ghost is any less present. But the reason for His presence may be increasingly one of trying to preserve what we have, and not developing our understanding in a dialectical, ascending, and linear fashion.

The definition of dogma is only done in the face of challenges to the Christian truth. Usually, it is also accompanied with anathemas and even excommunications. These occasions are no more a cause for rejoicing than are criminal trials and police arrests in secular society. An effecient court system and an effective police force are things to be coveted in a large society, but they are not necessarily a cause for rejoicing.

I am not arguing that we are falling away from a primitive peace that the Church once had and at some point lost. Even during the time of the Apostles there was strife and discord among the Churches. Perhaps it was when Our Lord finally ascended into Heaven to stand at the right hand of the throne of God that our problems really began. We also forget the Our Lord did not say that the Church's understanding and fervor of Faith will increase with time. He said rather, "when I return, will I find faith on earth"?

There is also an issue of something that can be analogous to memory. How "fresh" does the Holy Ghost keep the Gospel message in our hearts, and how much of it is up to us and the elders who teach us? While things may not be getting any worse, they are probably not getting any better. The further we get from the type of society where the Gospel was first preached, complete with kings, kingdoms, bushels, and drachmas, the more faint, it could be argued, the message could be getting, at least on our end.

If the goal of the Faith, then is an ever increasing set of defintions and rules, then we are definitely improving. If the aim of the Magisterium is to make the Enchiridon Symbolorum of Denzinger-Schonmetzer ever longer, then we are definitely doing a good job. But that would be akin to saying that the best sign of progress in a society is the number of laws it produces. Laws are a symptom of problems, not prosperity. As in conservative political rhetoric, perhaps small Church government is really a sign of good Church governement.

There is thus for me very little cause for triumphalist optimism. If we are to glory, it is in the Cross of Christ, not in the strength of our forces and institutions. We must glory in the weakness of the Church and the mercy of God. That is why you will see very few doctrinal and theological disputes on this blog. There is room for that, and many sites that I have linked to do this, and I try to follow some of the more interesting controversies. My project, however, is not to solve these problems. It is to ask why we are arguing. That is the negative side.

On the positive side, I would like to show that there are things that I do glory in when it comes to the Church of Rome. I glory in little children receiving Holy Communion. I glory in old, shaky hands clutching rosaries. I glory in young couples kneeling in prayer in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother. For these are the day-to-day workings of the Holy Ghost in the Church, His day-to-day manifestations. What we often tend to argue about are only His very fleeting, occasional and necessary doctrinal appearances in Ecumenical Councils, Papal documents, and other events of that kind. If I felt that the former "mundane" appearances were more appreciated and understood, I wouldn't be writing this blog. I do, however, feel some necessity to do so.

I do not wish you, dear reader, to think that I am denigrating theology, argumentation, dogmatic definitions, or apolgetics. All of these things are very necessary, perhaps more necessary now than they were in the past. But these things are necessary evils, and necessary evils are still evils. I am indeed thankful that they exist, just as I am thankful that the police exist in order to prevent someone from breaking into my home and stealing my belongings. This is not, however, the primary cause of my joy.

Of all the people who read this blog, I can include such diverse groups as pagans, atheists, Calvinists, Lutherans, Orthodox, and various flavors of Roman Catholics. Some would argue that I am creating a space on the Internet for a bland, superficial irenicism that does not know what it believes. Perhaps there is something to that argument. However, the main idea that drives my writing is that in spite of our nature so wounded by original sin, in spite of our mortality, our darkened intellects, and malevolent wills, there is still a spark in all of us that longs for the eternal life that the Catholic Church imparts. It is this light, this longing to return to the Father's house, this desire for the true, the good, and the beautiful that I appeal to. It is this longing, I hope, that will do my arguing for me....

(to be continued)


At 4:11 PM, Blogger AG said...

Do you not glory in the truth? Is truth (however imperfectly imparted) not present in all those "definitions" that the Catholic Church has decreed over the centuries? Is the witness of the Holy Spirit to that truth through the Church (that old "pillar and foundation of truth") not a cause for celebration?

"The further we get from the type of society where the Gospel was first preached, complete with kings, kingdoms, bushels, and drachmas, the more faint, it could be argued, the message could be getting, at least on our end."

Huh? Most people rejected the Gospel message where it was first preached. And most people do so today. Here you seem to be arguing that the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of early Christians and the Church in a way the Spirit no longer does. From where Christ was, there wasn't much faith at that time either.

I don't think you mean to say that dogmatic definitions (or theology or apologetics) are evil. As responses to evil, it is regrettable that they are necessary, but they are in no way "necessary evils." Unless you mean to say that in the world to come and for the Church Triumphant they are no longer necessary, but that still doesn't make them evil. It is a gift from God that he confirms us (and the Church) in the truth, so the analogy about the police and burglary is lost on me.

I'm not going to get into the "Can we know Christ, the cause of our joy?" knowledge arguments, so I'll just stop here.

At 4:16 PM, Blogger AG said...

Or maybe not.

"Some would argue that I am creating a space on the Internet for a bland, superficial irenicism that does not know what it believes."

Well, it can't say what it believes because truth is intuitive. Indeed, P-I, there is no point, in your philosophy, to preach the Gospel (through word or deed) except as following a command of God - it should have no efficacy. Let's just hope everyone experiences that burning in the bosom!

At 9:55 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...


The truth, simply put, is Jesus Christ. Defintions only help us to know Jesus Christ by knowing what we can and cannot say about Him. So I certainly glory in the Truth, since the Truth is the beautiful Face of the Suffering Christ. I do not glory, however, when those who distort the Man-God of Jesus Christ must be corrected by church authorities for their distortion. That is a different issue.

I also agree that the fifth paragraph that you cited is poorly written and expressed as is. What I was trying to get across is that our society may be becming anti-natural and anti-Christian to the point that we cannot understand the basic social and metaphysical ground of the Gospel. And I emphasize the "may" aspect in this statement.

As for the truth being intuitive, that is also stated a bit ambiguously in what I have recently written. All I can refer you to is the analogy of having a person described to you and having the person being actually shown to you. As Plotinus insinuates in a part of the Enneads, when we know the object on the outside, we bring it into ourself and realize its beauty and concord. We realize that it is a friend. And that is intuitive; in a sense, it is falling in love with that object, if it be the moon, a person, or a number. That is why truth in the end is intuitive, since that which is outside sparks the truth in us as if it was always inside, as if it lights the fire of love in us. That is, in my opinion, how all knowledge occurs, from mathematical solutions to the highest supernatural ecstasy.

And of course we should preach the Gospel, in and out of season, since we never know when the fire of the Spirit will indeed spark someone's heart. But it is never primarily our argumentation that does this, but it does co-operate in the workings of grace. To not do so would be the most slothful presumption.

At 6:54 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Also, the phrase, "necessary evil", should be better read as "a result of an evil", that is, the distortion of the doctrine of Christ by the few.


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