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Advice that goes both ways (or the ecclesiastical spirit of play)


By Dr Jeff Mirus (bio – articles – email) | 02 Aug 2021

I hope the time will come soon when those bishops and theologians who prefer to think with the mainstream culture will be ignored as fundamentally deceptive and even abusive. Consider two short stories that illustrate a seemingly deliberate reversal of the truth to produce results patently opposed to the gospel.

First of all, let’s take this seemingly innocuous story: Pope Emeritus Benedict warns against “flight to pure doctrine”, underlines the Vatican spokesperson. It seems that the editorial director of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication wanted to place in a particular context the rather striking public expression of Benedict XVI that the German “synodal path” is essentially derailed, suffering from what must be for Catholics an “internal contradiction”. ”. In other words, the goals of many Catholics in Germany are incompatible with the Catholic faith.

But Andrea Tornielli’s remarks actually seem to distort Benedict’s intentions, perhaps seeking to align the Pope Emeritus with the likely thought of Pope Francis, in other words, suggesting that Catholic practice should not reflect so much the “Pure doctrine” as the lived experience and values ​​of the community which, in effect, deny this doctrine. On the contrary, all we know from the statements and previous writings of the Pope Emeritus suggests that his whole argument was that we cannot have a “pure doctrine” on the one hand and a living faith on the other, as if the two could happily coexist. in contradiction: “Yes, yes, the Church teaches X, but real human persons in real human situations see only a kind of ideal.

It would be a specious leak in pure doctrine – the artificial separation of doctrinal formulations from lived Catholicism, the separation of what we might call a ideal the orthodoxy of the complexities of a real “Orthopraxy”. But we know from long experience that it is a theological-sociological game whose goal is to embrace within the Church those culturally accepted sins that, in a shameful reality, too many Catholic voices present in reality as goods. In other words, it shifts the proper purpose of sinner’s love to the protection and encouragement of sin.

This is an example of advice going both ways, if we allow it. It can be argued that a “flight into pure doctrine” is an artificial attachment to Catholic truth without any sympathy for human weakness, and it is very convenient to maintain such a pretext. This creates a straw man, very easy to cut down. But the real “break” of Benedict’s advice, of course, is that we cannot separate doctrine from life precisely because we must strive to have our faith in the teachings of Christ to inform our behavior, and not the reverse.

Divisions on the Eucharist

Or take another equally common example of another seemingly innocuous report: The American Bishops’ Eucharist document should unite, not divide, the Church, the panelists advise. This is something CatholicCulture.org picked up from the Catholic News Service. But what does a “unite” document mean – a concept that, again, is a double-edged sword?

We live today in an ecclesiastical culture in which the argument “to unite” is always advanced precisely to justify the failure to effectively witness to Catholic faith and morals. It is considered a source of contention to insist on the real and deliberate implementation of Catholic truth, as we cannot expect people to approve of it. Wouldn’t such an insistence be, once again, a misinterpreted escape into pure doctrine? But there is no unity when statements are made to ignore divisions. The whole point of being a Catholic is to bear witness to the truths revealed by Christ and taught by the Church precisely so that there is a true unity of mind and heart. There is no value in a testimony that seeks unity in ensuring that Catholics will avail themselves of a false freedom to believe what they want and to act according to any set of beliefs they want. they choose.

No, the only thing it accomplishes – and we’ve had a lot over the last couple of generations or so – is paralysis of the Church as it bleeds souls in the lay pool. A Church that refuses to unite around Christ as a sign of contradiction is a Church with a truly evil will to death. By promoting a false cultural unity, by again separating orthodoxy and orthopraxy, it signs its own death warrant. We usually call the thirst for social acceptance “relevance” when what we are really talking about is the approval of those who matter in this world.

Side with the winner

Heavily popular detective story writer Erle Stanley Gardner, who created Perry Mason, told some pretty good stories in some pretty bad prose. Nevertheless, in his 1933 Sulky Girl case he managed to write the following:

In many, a sporting instinct is implanted to side with the underdog, but it is in man, the individual. Crowd psychology is different from individual psychology, and pack psychology is all about taking down the weak and devouring the wounded. Man can sympathize with the underdog, but he wants to side with the winner.

The whole problem with the Catholic Church is that somehow it is her lot to side with the ultimate oppressed – the Crucified – against the constant tantrums of the people of the world. who will not be associated with him unless he approves and encourages their desires. . Consequently, these same worldly people criticize the testimony of the Christian faith as a “flight into pure doctrine” and any testimony of Christian morality as (all together, the 3) DIVISIBLE.

But Catholics are not supposed to run away in pure doctrine; they are supposed to live this doctrine in an act of continuous love. Nor should they seek a unity rooted in opposition to what is true: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather the division ”(Lk 12, 51). It is easy for insincere people to take the gospel out of context so that it can cut both ways. Our job is to know which side Our Lord seeks to cut.

So a final example: when our Lord explains that his disciples are like salt, which, if it loses its flavor, is only worthy of being trampled on (Mt 5:13), we can think that we can do very well in this world as Christians. But that is not at all the direction of his cup, as he is not talking about what the world will do with us in this life, which is to honor us not when we are as faithful as tasty salt but rather when we lose that flavor by giving up the Faith. Instead, he explains how his Father will judge us for eternal life.

The key to the riddle is the injunction of Our Lord which begins: “I will warn you who to fear” (Luke 12). This is the key to spotting which side the truth really cuts, whenever it is used to cut the other way.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a doctorate. in Intellectual History from Princeton University. Co-founder of Christendom College, he was also the pioneer of Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See the full biography.

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