Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 7--Ecclesia Docens

THERE IS A STRAIN of the radical in Christ's teaching, in the original sense of radical. The Lord's teaching goes to the roots* of who man is, why he was created, and what his end and eternal destiny is intended to be. Unfortunately, this radical message of Jesus has often been misconstrued so as to place it at odds with, or in contradiction to, the natural law and the expression of that law through the Mosaic Ten Commandments. In the early Church, for example, Christ's radical teachings were so misinterpreted by the Gnostic sects that the God of the Old Testament was considered but a Demiurge,** an evil God of law, whereas the God revealed in the New Testament was the true God, God the Father, a God of love. In rejecting the Demiurge of the Old Testament, the Gnostics scrapped the entirety of the Mosaic law, and tended toward the extremes of vicious ascetism or equally vicious, if opposite, libertinism.

Depictions of God the Father and the Demiurge
The Dualism of the Gnostics

Quite the contrary, Christ's radical message does not mean a rejection of law. It does not advance a sort of Christian antinomianism:
The gift does not lessen but reinforces the moral demands of love: "This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another just as he has commanded us" (1 Jn 3:32). One can "abide" in love only by keeping the commandments, as Jesus states: "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love" (Jn 15:10).
VS, 24. Love and law are not at odds, but work hand in glove, outside and inside man as it were, governing both act and intent. Love is found in and about the law, in its interstices, in its reason, and in the power to keep it. The law of Christ allows us to live the commandments, to become, in the words of St. John Chrysostom invoked by John Paul II, "by his grace a living law, a living book." VS, 24.***

In introducing his subject of the Christian's moral life in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II seized on the Gospel story of the rich young ruler and Christ. He explains on why the story is not merely a historical story of a dialogue between a young man and Christ, it is a conversation that occurs every day, all the time. It is a universal story:

Jesus' conversation with the rich young man continues, in a sense, in every period of history, including our own. The question: "Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?" arises in the heart of every individual, and it is Christ alone who is capable of giving the full and definitive answer. The Teacher who expounds God's commandments, who invites others to follow him and gives the grace for a new life, is always present and at work in our midst, as he himself promised: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20).

VS, 25.

How, then, does this Christ confront us today? Where do we see our Lord? The Pope continues:
Christ's relevance for people of all times is shown forth in his body, which is the Church. For this reason the Lord promised his disciples the Holy Spirit, who would "bring to their remembrance" and teach them to understand his commandments (cf. Jn 14:26), and who would be the principle and constant source of a new life in the world (cf. Jn 3:5-8; Rom 8:1-13).
VS, 25.

It is one of the tragedies of our age, however, that men are not as morally advanced as the rich young man. He could say in clear conscience that he had kept all the commandments identified by Christ. The young man had been brought up in a traditional Jewish home, had been trained in the Law, had been strengthened in that "second nature" which is virtue, had the buttress of social custom. He was well-rooted.

Modern man is not similarly rooted, but finds himself, as a result of decades of "enlightened," "progressive," and "liberal" thought, in the sloughs of moral relativism. Unlike the young man who recognized the legitimacy of the commandments, and turned away from Christ's demand to sell everything he had and follow him, modern man cannot even get to the stage of keeping the commandments.

The rich young man left in sorrow. Modern man, incapable of following the commandments, and in, with his false sense of freedom perceiving (wrongly) the commandments to be impositions on his autonomy, leaves in anger. The Church, then, when she teaches the moral precepts as a predicate and concomitant of the Gospel, infuriates modern man to the extent that he rejects God. Modern man seems to hate the message of the Church, though that is the message of which he is most in need:

The moral prescriptions which God imparted in the Old Covenant, and which attained their perfection in the New and Eternal Covenant in the very person of the Son of God made man, must be faithfully kept and continually put into practice in the various different cultures throughout the course of history. The task of interpreting these prescriptions was entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles and to their successors, with the special assistance of the Spirit of truth: "He who hears you hears me" (Lk 10:16). By the light and the strength of this Spirit the Apostles carried out their mission of preaching the Gospel and of pointing out the "way" of the Lord (cf. Acts 18:25), teaching above all how to follow and imitate Christ: "For to me to live is Christ" (Phil 1:21).

VS, 25.

The Church, in particular that part of the Church that may be called the teaching Church (the ecclesia docens), claims Christ's authority to teach and guide the faithful in both faith and morals. This authority was exercised by the Apostles from the inception of the Church: in their moral teachings, in their epistles urging and prohibiting certain conduct, in applying the Gospel teachings to new situations confronting the Church. "From the Church's beginnings, the Apostles [and their successors], by virtue of their pastoral responsibility to preach the Gospel, were vigilant over the right conduct of Christians, just as they were vigilant for the purity of the faith and the handing down of the divine gifts in the sacraments." VS, 26. The apostolic authority over the morals of the Christian faithful is, historically, indisputable. It was part of Christ's foundation of the Church, and part of his gift of the Holy Spirit that would guide his Church into all truth.

Just as there is a unity in the Faith (as St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Ephesians (4:5): "There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism"), so is there a unity in morals among the faithful. The Church which is one, and for which Christ prayed to be one, "is damaged not only by Christians who reject or distort the truths of faith but also by those who disregard the moral obligations to which they are called by the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor 5:9-13)." VS, 26. A unity of morals, of moral life, of behavior in essentials is part of the Church's unity. The Church is one not only in its beliefs, but in what she considered to be good, and as a necessary adjunct, by what she considers to be against that good.

The teaching office of both faith and morals was given by Christ to the Peter and the other Apostles; that is, it is Apostolic. It is part of God's revelation, part of the Tradition of the Church. And it has been passed down to the successors of the Apostles who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have custody of the teaching and authority over its authentic understanding.
Within Tradition, the authentic interpretation of the Lord's law develops, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who is at the origin of the Revelation of Jesus' commandments and teachings guarantees that they will be reverently preserved, faithfully expounded and correctly applied in different times and places. This constant "putting into practice" of the commandments is the sign and fruit of a deeper insight into Revelation and of an understanding in the light of faith of new historical and cultural situations. Nevertheless, it can only confirm the permanent validity of Revelation and follow in the line of the interpretation given to it by the great Tradition of the Church's teaching and life, as witnessed by the teaching of the Fathers, the lives of the Saints, the Church's Liturgy and the teaching of the Magisterium.

In particular, as the [Second Vatican] Council affirms, "the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether in its written form or in that of Tradition, has been entrusted only to those charged with the Church's living Magisterium, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ".† The Church, in her life and teaching, is thus revealed as "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" ( 1 Tim 3:15), including the truth regarding moral action. Indeed, "the Church has the right always and everywhere to proclaim moral principles, even in respect of the social order, and to make judgments about any human matter in so far as this is required by fundamental human rights or the salvation of souls".††
VS, 27.

Christ and his teaching, then, are to be found within the Church. To the extent modern man wants to find the answer to the question, "Good Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?" he must turn to the only institution on earth given such authority by God: the Church. And specifically, every rich young man (and he is everyman) must turn to that part of the Church--the Pope and those bishops in communion with him--who have been given the authority to answer that question with authenticity in the name of Christ. Christ had all authority given to him, and he had the right to demand that the rich young man follow him, a right which no human being has. That right Christ has given his Church, and so, as John Paul closes this part of his encyclical quoting Canon 747, § 2 of the Code of Canon Law, "the Church has the right always and everywhere to proclaim moral principles, even in respect of the social order, and to make judgments about any human matter in so far as this is required by fundamental human rights or the salvation of souls." VS, 27.

To turn anywhere else for the answer to this fundamental question is to turn around from Jesus, sorrowful, that is, unhappy. It is already a rejection of Christ and a rejection of eternal life. It is a departure from light unto darkness. It is a rejection of the splendor of truth.

*Root = Latin radix, s., radices, pl.
**The word Demiurge comes from the Latinized form of the Greek δημιουργός,
dēmiourgos. It literally means "public worker", and originally meant "craftsman" or "artisan." The word eventually was generalized and meant "producer" and even "creator." The "creator" was one who worked with preexisting matter. That last sense of the term was used in philosophical, particularly Platonic or neo-Platonic, literature, and we see it used thus by Plato in his dialogue Timaeus, which was written around 360 B.C. The neo-Platonists (e.g., Plotinus) distinguished the Demiurge from the "the One," τὸ ἕν, to hen. Though the Gnostic Christian sects were far from consistent, in their most dualistic manifestations or strains, the material universe was considered evil, a product of the Demiurge, while the non-material, spiritual world, a product of God the Father, was considered good. The Demiurge was seen therefore as malevolent, and was associated with the God of the Old Testament, and so matter and law were considered evils to be shunned. In its extreme situations, the Gnostics became antinomian (anti-law), often lapsing into extremes of rigorous ascetism (even advocating suicide as a release from the evils of the material world, or birth control to prevent a soul from being captured into the material) or libertinism on the grounds that what happened in the material world was irrelevant, unreal, as it could not damage their spiritual reality. Under its libertine form, all sorts of evils and indulgences were thus excused. Gnosticism resurges from time to time. It re-appeared in religious forms, for example, in Spain among the Priscillianists, and in Italy with the Cathars.
***In Matthaeum, Hom. I,1: PG 57,15 (ipsi quoque libri viventes atque leges per gratiam effecti) (βιβλία καὶ νόμοι γινόμενοι διὰ τῆς χάριτος ἔμψυχοι)
†Quoting Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 10.
††Quoting Code of Canon Law, c.747.2.

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