Friday, January 18, 2008

On Blind Faith and Obedience to Holy Mother Church

I am posting this e-mail I just sent to a friend because I thought it might be useful to my readers.


Hey ______________,

Last night I was walking back from my friend’s apartment and thinking and praying about what we had said at Sons about faith and I thought that I should e-mail you with my thoughts that I was trying to convey but explained more thoroughly. When you said that you thought that blind obedience could be a bad thing after I spoke, I kind of assumed that it was a reaction to what I had said, as I’ve had people tell me before that I do favor of blind obedience, especially when I say things like, “Lord, I have no reason to cast my net again but because it is You who tell me, I will cast.” That’s why I jumped back in by saying that there is a role for understanding, and you were making a very good point, but the understanding comes after faith, as Saint Anselm wrote.

After further reflection, this was what I thought of. You know we live in a society affected by moral relativism and hedonism. Many times this causes people to appeal to their conscience and the fact that they don’t understand what our Church teaches to justify various behavior which we cannot condone. I am not judging these people, far from it, I was once one of those people, and I understand the difficulty and temptation of all of this, but I can certainly in hindsight say that for me thinking that I could understand everything about right and wrong was rooted in an intellectual pride.

The appropriate response to a Church teaching we don’t understand is not to disregard it until we understand it. (I am not saying that this is what you were suggesting, but I just wanted to clarify on this matter what I was trying to say.) The appropriate response is to accept it and to then seek to understand why. This often seems like blind faith but it is not. We have a good reason to trust our Lord and to believe His Church because He promised to guide her in what she teaches us. If we believe in our Lord (which isn’t blind, as it can be strengthened through reading books like the Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Father Tacelli and Peter Kreeft or Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis) and we believe in His promise, then everything follows from that. This is supernatural faith. On a more natural level we might similarly say, for example, I understand every other teaching on Mary but this one in particular I don’t. However, since the Church has been right on everything else on Mary, I can assume she is right on this one as well.

Saint Ignatius Loyola is a great model for us here. At the end of the spiritual exercises, he provides for those who have made the exercises with eighteen rules for having correct sentiments we ought to maintain within the Church. The rules are not to be given to everyone but only to those the retreat master thinks should receive them. The rules are given at the end of the retreat because without the radical foundation of a personal relationship and encounter with Christ, they are meaningless, but they are useful here, and so we should look at them even though I don’t know if you have done the exercises. The first rule is, “Always to be ready to obey with mind and heart, setting aside all judgment of one's own, the true spouse of Jesus Christ, our holy mother, our infallible and orthodox mistress, the Catholic Church, whose authority is exercised over us by the hierarchy.” The thirteenth is “That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. For we must undoubtedly believe, that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of the Orthodox Church His Spouse, by which Spirit we are governed and directed to Salvation, is the same.” And the ninth is, “To uphold especially all the precepts of the Church, and not censure them in any manner; but, on the contrary, to defend them promptly, with reasons drawn from all sources, against those who criticize them.”

I find this very important, ______________, because many people do not want to listen to the Church to see if what she preaches is correct. I once did a little experiment (which had been done before me, I was not original in doing this) where I asked a group of practicing Catholics if they accepted the Church’s teaching on contraception as taught in Humanae Vitae, and they all said no. I then asked if they had ever read Humanae Vitae, and no one had read it. No one had even read any books that summarize or try to defend Humane Vitae. Faith, in their case, was not seeking an understanding. Interestingly enough, many had read books against the Church’s teaching. Without making any judgment of their character, we can say that in this instance, this is not the right posture to have towards the Church and the teaching of our Lord which she transmits to us. Our Lord has given us the Church as a teacher and guide, and we should treat Mother Church as such because we have faith in Him.

Please forgive my rambling. I hope this e-mail contained something that was of meaningful. If you would like to share your thoughts, I would love to hear them.

Keep the faith.

1 comment:

John K said...

The teaching authority of the Church is under attack even by those who support Humanae Vitae. Some say that the way to support that teaching is by teaching that contraception is an offense against the dignity of the human person. I agree that it is, but I think the argument from human dignity is weak in the context of the birth control controversy. The minority of the papal birth control commission pointed out that the acceptance of contraception entailed the acceptance of non-marital relations, oral and anal copulation, masturbation, and direct sterilization. The majority pro-contraception position replied that it too rejected oral and anal copulation because "in these acts there is preserved neither the dignity of love nor the dignity of the spouses as human persons created according to the image of God." Agreed, but they offered no argumentation to show that the other contraceptive behaviors DID respect the dignity of the human persons while these copulations did not, and they still kept arguing for the other forms of contraceptive behaviors.
My point is this: when both sides of an argument claim that their position upholds the dignity of the human person, how can the question be settled with certainty? The only way is by an authoritative decision by an authority recognized to be guided by the Holy Spirit. That is, the question can be decided only by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.
Obedience to such a divinely instituted authority is not blind obedience. It is RELIGIOUS obedience, based on the reasons for being Catholic in the first place.
You can find much more on this in my book listed in my signature below. Keep up your good work.

John F. Kippley
"Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality" (Ignatius)
"Natural Family Planning: The Question-Answer Book" available at