Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Faith begins with the recognition of mystery

Over the course of the day I've had the opportunity to reflect a bit more over the conversation between Jean-Louis and Vidal in Rohmer's Ma Nuit Chez Maud. Since the conversation happens near the beginning of the movie, it becomes clear pretty quickly that Pascal's "wager" forms what might be called the thematic center of the film.

What Jean-Louis says about Pascal- "I feel I know him almost by heart, yet he tells me nothing. It all seems so empty. I'm a Catholic, or at least try to be, but he doesn't fit in with my notion of Catholicism. It's precisely because I'm a Christian that his austerity offends me. If that's what Christianity is about, then I'm an atheist"- has bearing on a great number of things of concern to a Catholic, a Christian, not least among which is evangelization, which we often reduce to mere apologetics. It seems to me a fairly safe bet that for most Catholics today, especially in the United States, the only utility for doctrine is in apologetics, which quickly becomes a dry, historical discourse. It seems that the days are long gone when a leading theologian like August Adam could write a book such as Tension and Harmony: About the Value of Dogma for Personal Life and expect it to sell well. It is a source of consolation to me that many of Dietrich Von Hildebrand's books, like Liturgy and Personality: The Healing Power of Formal Prayer, remain in print and are still read, albeit by a small group of Catholics.

Éric Rohmer

With Jean-Louis' expressed view on Pascal, Rohmer shows his viewer, even if unintentionally, why most atheistic critiques of Christianity aren't worth the time of day. It's not that Pascal is incorrect, or his reasoning is faulty. While consonant with and even complementary to reason, it is easy to forget that faith, being a theological virtue, is a gift.

How often do we treat it as such? Is it fair to say that beauty is both the mediator of truth and goodness and between truth and goodness? It seems fitting here to once again employ an observation of Hans Urs Balthasar, one I used when I wrote about Pasolini's Mama Roma last summer: "Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance."

Faith begins with the recognition of mystery, which leads to a refusal to reduce everything to my own measure. In this context by insisting on recognizing faith as a gift, I mean to imply the rejection of it as a product of our own deductive calculation and/or inductive insight. It is an event borne of an encounter and so it changes everything.

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