Monday, April 07, 2008

"Only the best will do"

An interview with Fr. Aidan Nichols at Zenit, on re-evangelizing England. His book is now on the "to read" list. Rah! Rah!

Father Nichols: The remarkable number of conversions of major or relatively major figures in the period 1850 to 1960 is to be explained by their common perception of Catholicism as a presentation of truth, goodness, and beauty that was at once a powerful philosophy, a comprehensive ethic, and a vision of spiritual delight.

The absence of such conversions in the period after 1960 is to be explained by the ensuing doctrinal disorientation -- "So where does that leave truth?" -- echoing of fashionable human rights discourse -- "So where does that leave goodness, at any rate in terms of a comprehensive ethic?" -- and liturgical banality -- "So where does that leave beauty and spiritual delight?"

What the Church can do today is to reform herself by repeating like a mantra the words "only the best will do": the best intellectually, morally, aesthetically.
(Emphasis added) Other quotes:
Father Nichols: The single most urgent need is the re-launching of an adequate doctrinal catechesis at all levels.

Putting anything else first is like trying to make bricks without straw.
I agree whole-heartedly. And doing this, without the context of a relationship with Christ, a formation into the "mind of Christ" would be equally futile. And
Father Nichols: The example of the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England shows the efficacy of a missionary scheme that combines representatives of the indigenous population with canny outsiders.

To convert or re-convert a culture one needs both the long, instinctive familiarity of the native, along with the more detached and objective critical gaze of the newcomer.

In contemporary English Catholicism, there is a "native" community consisting of the descendants of recusants, converts and the anglicized Irish, along with a potpourri of recent, or fairly recent, immigrants from many parts of the world.

As a reservoir for mission, that recreates the successful Dark Age formula.

Contrast the Church of England, for which it is difficult not to follow national trends wherever they may lead.

Or contrast the Orthodox Church in England, which remains too bound to other ethnicities to have much inner feel for the English situation.


Anonymous said...

You are presenting a false dichotomy here. Presenting doctrinal catechesis does not preclude an authentic friendship with Jesus. In fact, you cannot have one without the other.


Gashwin said...

Dear Janice,

Perhaps you should direct your critique to Fr. Nichols, one of the most orthodox writers and thinkers out there.

I never said anything about valuing one without the other, simply pointed out, what you did, that the two go together.


Anonymous said...

No, my point is that love of Christ comes about, not simply from our subjective "personal relationship", as people as wont to put it nowadays, but out of following his example and his commands. That's doctrine. I was not critiquing Fr. Nichols. I think he's right on target. Too often, people only respond to Jesus as though he's their peer. That's one of the inglorious legacies (in the US, anyway, of evangelical Protestantism). Jesus Christ is also the Son of God. And I think an emphasis on doctrine goes a long way to amplify this.

Gashwin said...

Thanks for the clarification, Janice. After rereading what I wrote, I think I follow your point a little better.

Just to reiterate: I was not presenting a dichotomy between "doctrinal catechesis" or knowledge and "authentic relationship." I guess, in that brief comment, I wanted to point out, that doctrinal catechesis without a relationship with Christ would be equally futile as everything else we've been seeing. I will say that it is quite possible to get a well developed knowledge about Christianity, without actually being a Christian. The latter implies a subjective submission on the part of the individual to Christ, and a sense of discipleship and so on. I didn't mean to imply that this is what doctrinal catechesis necessarily leads to ... in the context that Fr. Nichols describes it, I don't think it would, either.

I think what you were saying is that one can't have an authentic relationship with Christ without being properly rooted in doctrine. I think you're also reacting against a Protestant-sounding, subjective, "Jesus-and-me and that's all that matters" connotation to the phrase "relationship with Christ."

I think we probably both agree here.

However, to amplify my original comment, "doctrinal knowledge" is not identical to "relationship with Christ." It is a part of it, an important part, but not the same.

I hope this makes my point a little clearer.

Here's what Cardinal Ratzinger said in a homily at the funeral of Msgr. Giussani, the founder of Communion and Liberation, about the priority of a relationship or encounter with Christ to everything else. "Only Christ gives meaning to the whole of our life. Fr Giussani always kept the eyes of his life and of his heart fixed on Christ. In this way, he understood that Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism, Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event.

This love affair with Christ, this love story which is the whole of his life was however far from every superficial enthusiasm, from every vague romanticism. Really seeing Christ, he knew that to encounter Christ means to follow Christ. This encounter is a road, a journey, a journey that passes also—as we heard in the psalm—through the "valley of darkness." In the Gospel, we heard of the last darkness of Christ's suffering, of the apparent absence of God, when the world's Sun was eclipsed. He knew that to follow is to pass through a "valley of darkness," to take the way of the cross, and to live all the same in true joy."

It's a very profound and beautiful homily (what does he write or say that isn't?), and worth reading in full.