Friday, September 30, 2011

Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Dissent, Conversion, and Knowledge

'Converting the converted'1 may sound redundant, but it's the way Catholics live. Or the way we should live. We're all 'works in progress' at this point, a handful of saints possibly notwithstanding: and they probably don't see it that way. Which is another topic.

Pope Benedict XVI talked about this sort of 'redundant' conversion while he was in Germany. He talked about other things too, but those are also other topics.

My take on what Pope Benedict XVI told folks in Germany would have been an overly-long post, even by my standards, which is why it's coming in installments. This is the fifth of seven posts:
  1. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Hope, Confidence, and Looking Forward"
    (September 27, 2011)
  2. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Liberation, Transformation, and Getting Personal"
    (September 27, 2011)
  3. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Scandal, Abuse, and the Cross"
    (September 28, 2011)
  4. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Harlots and Pharisees, Agnostics and Routine Believers"
    (September 29, 2011)
  5. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Dissent, Conversion, and Knowledge"
    (September 30, 2011)
  6. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: We're Not About 'Joyless Saints' "
    (October 1, 2011)
  7. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: 'Where God is, There is a Future' "
    (October 3, 2011)
Now, about the Pope, dissent, truth, and getting a grip:

Dissent, Conversion, and Knowledge

(If this excerpt looks familiar, it should. I quoted the last paragraph yesterday, under the Destination: Kingdom of God heading.)
"...Predicted anti-papal protests have largely failed to materialize during the four-day visit, but the Pope still seemed acutely aware of those Catholic voices in Germany who dissent from Church teaching.

" 'The Church in Germany will overcome the great challenges of the present and future, and it will remain a leaven in society, if the priests, consecrated men and women, and the lay faithful, in fidelity to their respective vocations, work together in unity,' he said. He added that 'the baptized and confirmed, in union with their bishop,' should 'lift high the torch of untarnished faith and allow it to enlighten their abundant knowledge and skills.'

"This renewal of the Church in Germany will 'only come about through openness to conversion and through renewed faith,' said Pope Benedict. Jesus Christ 'is always close to us, especially in times of danger and radical change, his heart aches for us and he reaches out to us,' he added...."
(CNA (September 25, 2011))

Dissent, 'Vox Populi,' and the Catholic Church

Dissent isn't anything new. Gnosticism, with a new name and added features, has been coming back for about 18 centuries now.2 It's one of the heresies, dissenting opinions, and assorted daft notions that folks occasionally prefer to what the Catholic Church got from my Lord. Like the idea that public opinion alters reality. And I've mentioned "vox populi, vox dei" before.3

The flip side of 'popularity reality' is thinking that if 'the Masses' like something, it can't be worthwhile. I'm on the same page as G. K. Chesterton there.4

The 'we're not like the Masses' mindset may be part of the reason that the expected "anti-papal protests" didn't happen. My guess is that the dedicated dissenters form a rather small group: who tend to be highly vocal. Or maybe a conspiracy is involved. And that's another topic.5

Then there's this set of quaint assumptions:
  1. Ideas that have outlasted civilizations
    • Are probably wrong
  2. An idea imagined by one person
    • If contrary to #1
      • Is probably true
Boiled down to essentials as I did, maybe that sounds daft. Padded with several thousand words of turgidly erudite blandishment? Maybe not so much.

A remarkable number of folks have bought into the notion that 'new' ideas are, necessarily, preferable to ones that have endured for thousands of years. That can be a problem:
"...The Magisterium has drawn attention several times to the serious harm done to the community of the Church by attitudes of general opposition to Church teaching which even come to expression in organized groups. In his apostolic exhortation Paterna cum benevolentia, Paul VI offered a diagnosis of this problem which is still apropos....

"...Here arises the tendency to regard a judgment as having all the more validity to the extent that it proceeds from the individual relying upon his own powers. In such a way freedom of thought comes to oppose the authority of tradition which is considered a cause of servitude. A teaching handed on and generally received is a priori suspect and its truth contested...."
("Instruction | Donum Veritatis | On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (May 24, 1990))
What could possibly go wrong, just because folks start believing that something's true because they imagined it? This means that the Church is against freedom and wants to enslave everybody, right?

I'll get back to natural law and consequences. As for 'freedom:' I have to support freedom of religion, because I'm a practicing Catholic. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2104-2109) For everybody. (Catechism, 2106) It's in the rules.

'Freedom' is important. But I think truth is important, too:
"...Ultimately, freedom of judgment understood in this way is more important than the truth itself. We are dealing then here with something quite different from the legitimate demand for freedom in the sense of absence of constraint as a necessary condition for the loyal inquiry into truth. In virtue of this exigency, the Church has always held that 'nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will' ...."
("Instruction | Donum Veritatis | On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (May 24, 1990))
"Nobody is forced...?" Maybe you've heard of a Catholic who tried to ram Catholicism down someone's throat. Maybe you knew one. There are around 1,100,000,000 Catholics alive today, we've been around for two millennia, and some of us are jerks.

Natural law is the annoying way the universe has, of not conforming to the preferences of whoever's currently on top of the cultural heap. It's why laissez faire capitalism didn't work; and why Tea Party people enrage establishment types.6 Don't take my word for it, though:
"...The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie..."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1954)

"In Union With Their Bishop:" Like We Got a Choice

The Pope said that Catholics in Germany should stay "in union with their bishop," which I think is pretty good advice.

As I implied earlier, I don't think popular opinion alters reality. 'If three hundred million people really believe in a stupid idea, it's still a stupid idea.' The trick is knowing the difference between a stupid idea that's also unpopular: and an unpopular idea that's true. Getting prompted by God helps, I think.

Folks didn't always agree with what's true two millennia back, any more than they do today. For example, many of His disciples quit after Jesus said, in effect, 'eat me:'7
"'...Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him....'"
(John 6:56)
Then we read this exchange:
"Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.' "
(John 6:67-69) [emphasis mine]
About two thousand years later, I learned that the authority Jesus had given Peter had been passed along in unbroken succession to the current Pope. That was when I somewhat grudgingly decided that, like it or not, I'd better sign up with the outfit that my Lord had established.

I'd already decided that Jesus:
The source of Papal authority explained why, through the rise and fall of empires, and occasionally-appalling management, the Catholic Church was still here. They had help. Or, now, we had help. I still think becoming a Catholic was possibly the smartest thing I've done.

In my case, conversion wasn't the sort of ethereal 'spiritual experience' I've heard about. It was a more matter-of-fact evaluation of what happened to the 'keys of the Kingdom' authority that Jesus gave Peter: and where I'd prefer spending eternity.

Keys of the Kingdom, and the 'Bark of Peter'

Coat of Arms of the Holy See and of the State of Vatican City, used w/o permission

That's Holy See's and Vatican City's coats of arms: distinctive, easily-recognized emblems. Sort of like the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals we started using recently. Since the late 1970s, which is "recent" for me. The Holy See's two crossed keys didn't become an official insignia until the 14th century. Which is "recent," too, on another time scale.

In common with most 'decoration' used by the Church, there's symbolism involved:
"...The symbolism is drawn from the Gospel and is represented by the keys given to the Apostle Peter by Christ...."
(Coat of Arms of the Holy See and of the State of Vatican City (March 15, 2006))
And that's almost another topic.

Here's where Jesus gave Peter a whacking great set of responsibilities called "the keys to the kingdom of heaven:"
"8 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi 9 he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist, 10 others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' 11 Simon Peter said in reply, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.' Jesus said to him in reply, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood 12 has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, 13 and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. 14 Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' "
(Matthew 16:13-19) [emphasis mine]
The man who holds that authority now? Yeah: I'd say joining that fellow's outfit makes sense.

Another symbol - metaphor, actually, for the Catholic Church is "Bark of Peter," which doesn't have all that much to do with trees. Although trees were vital to the sort of "bark" involved.

The "Bark of Peter" refers to a three-masted sailing ship. (Princeton's WordNet) I like the imagery: the Bark of Peter sailing across time; destination, Kingdom of God.

And I'm definitely wandering off-topic.

Back to what the Pope said.

"Openness to Conversion and Through Renewed Faith?!"

I've already said that we're 'works in progress.' Conversion is an ongoing process.1 I'm a convert to Catholicism, so I experienced "conversion" as an adult. I've had quite a few more "conversions" since then: every time I participated in the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1422-1424) Americans, myself included, generally call it "confession." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1422-1424)

I'm not bothered by the idea that I need to keep working at my 'conversion.' Unlike the fellow in Robert Burns' "Holy Willie's Prayer," I'm all to aware of my imperfections. Which gets me into ideas like faith and works. That's and works, not "or."8 More topics.

Knowledge isn't a Four-Letter Word

It wasn't hard, at least in my part of the country, to get the impression that memorizing Bible verses was about as much knowledge as a Christian should have. I still run into folks who seem determined to prove that Christians live in a tiny, old-fashioned, and imaginary world: one in which the universe is a few thousand years old.

I think I understand why folks, Catholics included, feel that rejecting much of what's been learned since about 1850 is a virtue. But I'm not bothered by the idea that God thinks and acts on a scale that's vast - both in time and space. And I'm certainly not bothered by the thought that:
  • We still have a great deal to learn about God's creation
  • Much of what we thought we knew falls far short of the grandeur we're discovering
I've posted about assumptions, reality, and faith before. Bottom line? I do not think that God made a world that we weren't supposed to study.10 Refusing to learn about God's creation doesn't make sense to me.

Neglecting to learn about God seems even less advisable.

The Pope gave Catholics in Germany a goal, and outlined ways they could work at achieving it. I think we can all learn from what Benedict XVI said:
"...'We need to open ourselves to him so that the power of his mercy can touch our hearts. We have to be ready to abandon evil, to raise ourselves from indifference and make room for his word,' he said.
(CNA (September 25, 2011))
Come to think of it, I went over this yesterday.

"We Need Have No Fear. God is Good"

"...'As we pray the Angelus, we may join Mary in her 'yes,' we may adhere trustingly to the beauty of God's plan and to the providence that he has assigned to us in his grace,' said the Pope.

" 'Then God's love will also, as it were, take flesh in our lives, becoming ever more tangible. In all our cares we need have no fear. God is good.'"
(CNA (September 25, 2011))
Someone could be a 'good Catholic' and not get involved in a single Marian devotion. On the other hand, many of us involve the mother of our Lord in our lives. I think that's a good idea, because for the last two millennia she's been telling us pretty much what she told the servers at Cana: "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5)9

As for that last sentence in the CNA article?
"...In all our cares we need have no fear. God is good.'"
I couldn't have put it better myself.

More posts in this series:Other related posts:
In the news:

1 Conversion is an ongoing process:
2 Gnosticism has a definite appeal: particularly for folks who want to be part of an 'in' crowd, and think biology is icky. More about this attractive heresy:
Bearing in mind that I've got the (limited) authority of "some guy with a blog," here's more about gnosticism, from the Catholic Church:
And see:
3 "Vox populi, vox dei," Latin phrase, and attributed to Thomas Hobbes: who seems to have argued against "voice of the people - voice of God." I've been over this before, very briefly:
4 Actually, I agree with Chesterton on quite a few points, including this observation:
"By a curious confusion, many modern critics have passed from the proposition that a masterpiece may be unpopular to the other proposition that unless it is unpopular it cannot be a masterpiece."
"On Detective Novels," Generally Speaking: a Book of Essays, London: Methuen (1928) via "Quotations of G. K. Chesterton," The American Chesterton Society
(and see National Library of Australia Catalog)
I've use that quotation before:
5 I've enjoyed stories about vast conspiracies: fictional stories. When 'conspiracy theory' assumptions get taken seriously, the results aren't so entertaining:
6 I think natural law sounds cooler when it's wrapped up in an engagingly non-Western term like karma: and is necessarily involved in any system of belief that lasts more than a few decades. Natural moral law often takes longer than, say, the law of gravity to deliver consequences: but it's just as real:
"Man participates in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator who gives him mastery over his acts and the ability to govern himself with a view to the true and the good. The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie:
The natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man, because it is human reason ordaining him to do good and forbidding him to sin . . . But this command of human reason would not have the force of law if it were not the voice and interpreter of a higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be submitted.5"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1954)
There's a whole lot more to say about natural law, including 1954-1960 in the Catechism.

I've given my opinion about natural law and the wisdom of jumping off reality without a parachute before:It's not just Americans who have trouble dealing with reality:7 Given what we know about the classical Greek verb used in this part of John 6, I've wondered why the NAB doesn't read "...Whoever gnaws my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life...." This footnote clears up why so many of my Lord's disciples walked away. Cannibalism was as distasteful for them, as it is for Americans today:
"[54-58] Eats: the verb used in these verses is not the classical Greek verb used of human eating, but that of animal eating: 'munch,' 'gnaw.' This may be part of John's emphasis on the reality of the flesh and blood of Jesus (cf ⇒ John 6:55), but the same verb eventually became the ordinary verb in Greek meaning "eat.""
(Footnote 19, John 6, New American Bible)
8 I'm a practicing Catholic, so I know I can't 'work my way into heaven.' I've been over this before:9 Even before my conversion, I had a soft spot in my heart for Mary. Partly, I think, because I understood the kind of guts it took to say 'yes.' And what she said at Cana:More, about:10 Religion, Reason, and Reality:


Brigid said...

'possibly notwithstanding'??? "a handful of saints possibly notwithstanding"

Noncapitalized sentence and nonsuperscripted footnote: "conversion is an ongoing process.1"

Double punctuation: "since then.: every time I participated"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...



Brigid said...

Okay, I'm confused. this is showing up as having been published today.

Brian Gill said...


The date/time stamp on the Blogger post itself - not what shows up in various readers - is the 'official' date/time stamp.

I think we've discovered that services which deliver posts are not entirely reliable, from the 'time stamp' point of view.

Thanks for bringing this up, though.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.