Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Truth and love revisited

Just as St. Anselm of Canterbury's definition of theology, faith seeking understanding, gets things the right way around by beginning with faith, so does the exhortation to speak the truth in love, by putting truth before love. In both pairings the two things are distinct from one another. However, like loving God and loving our neighbor, they are inextricably bound up. In the fourth chapter of the New Testament Letter to the Ephesians, under the heading, at least the most recent edition of the New American Bible, "Rules for the New Life," in verse 15, we read: "Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another."

Msgr. Giussani had a unique way of stating this: we love another person by loving her/his destiny, which, at least to my mind, is a way of saying that friendship is not about telling my friend what s/he wants to hear, but the truth. While the truth requires me to make a judgment, it is not merely giving my opinion, a piece of my mind, or the world according to Scott. Of course, how I speak the truth matters and the circumstances under which I speak the truth also matter. Of course, there must be a relationship of trust, a friendship. As St. Paul writes, as members of Christ mystical Body, His Church, "we are members of one another."

Last night I finished reading David L. Schindler's article in the most recent issue of Communio, "America's Technological Ontology and the Gift of the Given: Benedict XVI and the Cultural Significance of the Quaerere Deum". Quaerere Deum, a Benedictine and, hence, monastic quest, meaning to seek God. The Holy Father gave a remarkable talk on how the Quaerere Deum is at the root of European culture in Paris during his visit there in September 2008. This speech is Schindler's starting point.

Schindler contends that in the U.S. our "historically dominant understanding of man embeds a voluntaristic idea of freedom, an instrumentalist idea of human reason, and a positivistic idea of religion: in a word, what may be termed a technological conception of the human act." Schindler terms this dominant American understanding "ontological pelagianism." He goes on to note that the anthropology set forth by the American theologian John Courtney Murray, SJ exemplifies how these conceptions have crept into Catholic theology and thought in the U.S. Murray was one of the main architects of the groundbreaking declaration of religious freedom issued by the Second Vatican Council, Dignitatus Humanae. It is a fascinating article, one that resonated with me because it takes aim at the theological aiding-and-abetting of Western liberal democracy by viewing God and man as extrinsic to each other, instead of God being immanently present in each and every human person as her/his constitutive origin. Giussani expressed this truth by saying that the human person is a direct relationship with the Mystery. This is no trivial point. It is fundamental. It is axiomatic. The truth about the human person matters.

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity (only because I have been thinking of martyrs all day)

To hopefully bring this post back full-circle, the question is, "What is the truth about the human person?" Schindler's contentions flow from what he sees as an inadequate "sense of the original givenness of the creature’s relation to the Creator, and, inside this relation, of each creature’s relation to other creatures." "This givenness of relation," for Schindler is "constitutive" of the human person. This relation, he insists, "is first established in us by God in his act of creating us and thus reaches to the inmost depths of our being. The relation to God, in other words, is not something first created or contracted by the creature, is not added simply posteriorly to an already constituted substance. The creature, I wish to propose, is the origin." He goes on to cite 1 John 4:10 as "the scriptural ground" for a more authentic Christian ontology: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us . . . ." "At the ontological level and in terms of human being," he continues, "this implies that man’s first act is a 'filial' act which somehow grasps that his being is from another, even if he himself is unaware of the full implications of this fact."

Genuine love, what is most often referred to in the New Testament as agapé, is rooted in the truth about ourselves, others, and the whole of the cosmos. The fundamental truth about the human person is that s/he is a direct relationship with the Mystery. As I see it, truth makes love concrete instead of abstract. After all, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life" (John 3:16).

It is in the light of this truth, consciously grasped and not sentimentally intuited, that we are to live. As martyr Fr. Daniel Systoyev said in one of his last interviews before being shot to death inside his Church back in October 2009:
Trust in God alone is most important. If we do not have trust in God, then our prayer turns into a torturous rule. A spiritual father turns into a psychoanalyst. Everything else becomes only empty development. We need to trust God personally. We must remember that we are under the care of God and He is with us. God truly holds us in His Hands. And no one can separate us from Him; as the Apostle Paul says, Who shall separate us from the love of God? [Rom. 8:35] Truly, if we are with God, all the remaining virtues will be formed. Prayer will become communion with God Who is with us. Obedience will become the ability to hear His Holy Word-to make it out in the uproar of this world

No comments:

Post a Comment