“Veritas,” or, “Christianity is for them”

I sometimes page through religious books of other denominations. Not long ago, I picked up a Lutheran text. It was called Christianity Is For You, by Milton L. Rudnick.

Disclaimer: my comments are simply my personal impressions of what I read. I am not qualified to speak generally about Lutherans of whatever confession (and there are several).

Christianity Is For You is a catechetical handbook, mostly but not exclusively for youth ministry, published in 1961. On page 1, Rudnick states his intent: “We are going to study the entire Christian religion in a rather thorough and systematic way.” As somebody with a bachelor’s degree in theology, I have to say I consider that an astonishing feat for a 110-page paperback.

On page 3, Rudnick begins his “study of the entire Christian religion” with this:

Christ can bring us to God because he has taken away our sins. Sin keeps us apart from God. The evil urge that makes us disobey God was put into our hearts by the devil. Because of our sin, the anger and judgment of God have come upon us. He is pure goodness. God cannot stand anything evil. On account of our sin, He cannot associate with us; He must withdraw from us in horror and disgust. This attitude of God toward sin is called His “wrath.”

The next paragraph goes on, “In addition to His wrath, however, God also has great love for us.” Still, your starting point tells me what you prioritize. Wrath, God’s “horror and disgust,” was the priority. Love was not.

German liberation theologian Dorothee Solle wrote, “God and love are inseparable.  It is not possible—and this is probably the gravest error of all conservative theologies—to tear God and love apart and to say that God is primary and permanent while love is some secondary, derivative thing.”

It’s not so much that God is primary. God needs descriptors and modifiers, so we take some quality ascribed to God, supposedly more fundamental than love, and make that primary. In Christianity Is For You, it was righteousness expressed as wrath. In the Catholic Church, the hierarchy emphasizes Truth, with a capital T.

This has been explicit in the reigns of the last two popes. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have often framed their missions as calling us back to a crisp, rigorous, detailed Truth.

Benedict’s motto is Cooperatores veritatis (“Co-workers of the Truth,” 3 John 8). John Paul devoted an entire encyclical, Veritatis splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”), to the concept. Benedict wrote an encyclical titled Caritas in veritate (“Charity in Truth”), which is a reflection on socio-economic problems, but I find that title interesting: charity, or love, as a subset of Truth.

Consider the two. Love, whether euphoric and romantic or the “harsh and dreadful thing” of Dostoevsky, is about relationships. Love is regard for flesh and blood, flesh and blood that cries and laughs and sweats and burps, that demands respect in and of itself, for itself. People must be approached carefully, gently, individually.

Truth, however, is abstract. It is Plato defining a chair in its ultimate chair-ness. It is about coolly contemplating perfection. Perfection comes before people, and things may be done to people in perfection’s name.

One need not ask too many questions about what it means for a man to fall helplessly in love with another man, or for a woman to fall helplessly in love with another woman. Since tab A so obviously fits slot B, one may simply file such people under “intrinsically disordered.”

Nor does a bishop need to look too closely at a nun, a hospital administrator, who reluctantly approves an abortion to save the life of a mother of four. Rather, the bishop can confidently excommunicate her, and strip the title of Catholic from her medical center, depriving it of liturgy and sacrament a few days before Christmas.

“Truth,” strangely, doesn’t require you to think too much. In the end it is about implementation, not reflection. As John Paul told the Vatican Supreme Court, the Sacred Roman Rota, in 1992, “There can be no question of adapting the divine norm or even of bending it to suit the whim of a human being.”

Jesus, in the recent cycle of daily Mass readings from Mark, associates with lepers excluded by the “divine norm” and exercises his “whim” to heal and include them. He also heals the sick and lets his hungry disciples pick grain on the Sabbath day, thereby transgressing the “divine norms” of the Sabbath so egregiously that he signs his own death warrant.

If “Truth,” or wrath, or anything but love is really first in Christianity, then Jesus says Christianity is not “for you.” Let “them” keep it.

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9 thoughts on ““Veritas,” or, “Christianity is for them”

  1. Ok, but what about Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he tells us that “love rejoices in the truth?” That suggests that truth and love are intimately connected, and that love leads to truth. (And probably truth leads to love.)

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the heirarchy’s biggest fan by a long shot. I do think they spill far too much ink on defining truth (with a lowercase t) and then condemning everyone else. But Truth with the big T is NOT so easily defined, and it is that Truth that Jesus was tapping into when he reached out to the lepers in spite of religious directives to do otherwise.

    There is Truth, because Love is it.

  2. As John Paul told the Vatican Supreme Court, the Sacred Roman Rota, in 1992, “There can be no question of adapting the divine norm or even of bending it to suit the whim of a human being.”

    I’m not sure where you got that quote, because you don’t link to the original source. However, I did search the Vatican archives for Pope John Paul II’s speeches to the Rota, and I found this from his <a href="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/1992/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19920123_roman-rota_en.html1992 one:

    “In this search, as in the Church’s uninterrupted tradition and the ceaseless work of this Apostolic See, there is a continual effort to harmonize, on the one hand the supreme demands of God’s unavoidable and immutable law, confirmed and perfected by Christian revelation, and on the other hand the changeable conditions of the humanity, its particular needs, its most acute weaknesses.

    Obviously, it is not a matter of modifying the divine law, and still less of bending it to human caprice, because that would mean the very denial of the former and the degradation of the latter. It is rather understanding people of today; placing them in proper harmony with the absolute demands of the divine law; of pointing out the most consistent way of conforming to it.” (I bolded what I’m presuming to be the ‘quote’ you were referring to)

    That’s quite a bit different from what you paraphrased, and then tried to cite it as a direct quote of the late Holy Father. Bad form. The whole context of the speech is rather important.

    Also – you’re setting up a false dichotomy of Truth v. Love. God is equally and simultaneously both. As Christ said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”; Christ came to “testify to the Truth”; Christ said “…you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Not only that, you might have forgotten that Pope Benedict’s first encyclical was ‘Deus Caritas Est’. Kinda shoots a hole in your “truth is primary with the hierarchy” theory.

    In short, what you’re comparing here is a distorted interpretation of the Truth with your equally distorted interpretation of Love.

    FYI – your link to the Dorothee Solle quote is misdirected.

    • With regard to “paraphrasing,” the quote of John Paul speaking to the Rota is taken from page 511 in His Holiness: John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time by Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi (New York: Doubleday, 1996). In their “Sources” section, on page 559, they attribute the quote to the Vatican’s Italian-language annual, L’Attivita della Santa Sede.

      Their English translation admittedly differs from the Vatican translation—I suspect Politi, an Italian journalist, likely did the Italian-to-English himself. But the text corresponds well to your bold text, up to the clause beginning with “because.” If something is “obviously” true, “there can be no question.” “Modify” and “adapt” equally convey change. I certainly should not “even” do what is “still less” appropriate. If I have a “whim,” it could be considered my “caprice.” And “bend” somehow survived intact both times.

      The additional text you include actually elaborates on the quote I use, and the way I frame it: amid “the changeable conditions of the humanity [sic],” the Holy See and its officers have privileged access to Truth, they are to teach it, and we are obliged to conform. But indeed, the very intent of this blog is to be “safe space” for those of us who question that.

      As to the rest, I will say merely that there is an unspoken elephant in the room, an elephant bigger than any proof-texting you and I could exchange. Is Jesus’ way of life normative, or not? Are we radical enough to welcome the “unclean” to the table (even the “apostates”), or do we leave them outside while composing lucid, reasoned arguments about why they are “unclean”? Do we remember that Jesus reserved blistering, even terrifying outbursts for supremely self-confident religious authorities? Or do we become the same people who so frustrated Jesus? Is his example replicable in the lives of his disciples today, or not?

      • Hello from actsoftheapostasy.blogspot.com

        The issue is that when one rejects truth, they reject God. We all are constantly calling the people to the table. We are not the ones locking the door, they are the ones huddling outside in their sin because they do not wish to open the door which would mean accepting that truth.

        When we do not adapt ourselves to the truth contained in the church we only lock ourselves outside of the door. When someone commits sin, they walk out the door. The door is always open to them however through the sacrament of penance and a true contrition for their actions. Same thing goes for the doctors and nurses who committed and were complicit in the murder of that innocent child.

        It is ridiculous to say that the Church does not accept. The Church will take all into communion who give themselves to God, and this means that they must adapt themselves to His truth contained in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

      • Thank you for pointing out the source of John Paul II’s quote. If that had been noted in your post, I wouldn’t have accused you of paraphrasing – so I apologize for that.

        Let’s just cut to the chase, though, and apply the Truth and Love thing to the practical and every day:

        Christ says in Mt 5:32 – “But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” This verse, along with others in the NT, are rather explicit, and forms the basis of Church teaching that prohibits remarriage after divorce (sans annulment) – because marriage is permanent til death. Thus, in the eyes of God, the couple, though divorced civilly, is still “one flesh”. That’s Truth.

        Now, Love, as I interpret you to mean it, would say “but if a divorced man and a divorced woman fall helplessly in love with each other, then they should be allowed to get married, regardless of an annulment – because God is Love, and Love is primary.”

        But such a view would be inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching – remarriage is adultery, and adultery is a major sin, and sin separate us from God, who is Love – and since Jesus’ teaching is Truth, then a situation arises in which Love – a particular definition of it, at least – is pitted against Truth. Which is correct?

        Love is an act of the will – a decision. It is wanting what is best for the other person – and the best we can want for someone else is for them to reach heaven. That’s the Ultimate Best. If it means sacrificing something good for something better – although in my example, it’s avoiding evil for the sake of the good – then isn’t that worth it?

        We all have questions and difficulties at some point in our lives about Church teaching and living the Gospel life – that’s part of the journey. But as Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once said, “Ten thousand difficulties do not one doubt make.” Don’t doubt that the Church has got it right on issues of faith and morals, even if you struggle with particular teachings. The Church’s aim is to get souls to heaven – a great and wonderful sign of Love if I ever knew one.

  3. If you read the Pope’s latest book (the interview book) you will find the word ‘love’ and various concepts associated with it (including God and the Church) used more often than the word ‘truth’.
    When LarryD mentioned that Pope Benedict’s first encyclical was called God is Love, I don’t think that was prooftexting. I think it sort of undermines your whole argument, unless it really is only about the St Joseph’s Hospital and gay marriage.

  4. Pingback: Transparency and “the intention of the bishop” « Young Adult Catholics

  5. You wrote: “Love, whether euphoric and romantic or the “harsh and dreadful thing” of Dostoevsky, is about relationships.”

    If one thinks that it is somehow self-evident that love will seek to smooth over “reluctant abortions” and the like, the “harsh and dreadful” nature of love ought to be reflected upon more carefully.

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