A Week of Catholicity III: The Importance of Orthodoxy
"Catholic": of or including all Christians • of or relating to the historic doctrine and practice of the Western Church.
Christians are Committed to Truth.
Today's thoughts are borrowed from our Contributor Eirenopoios- they appeared earlier at another Blog, under the subtitle I Know Why the Caged Christian Sings. Hee hee. He begins...
Why the insistence on orthodoxy? This is a question I get often these days. Actually, it’s usually not put like that. It’s usually more like…
“Why are you so close minded?”
“When did you become such a fundamentalist?”
“What happened to your activism?”
“Why are hot dogs sold in packages of ten while hot dog buns are sold in packages of 8?”
Er… all but that last one…
And it’s true, I admit, that I can be shrill or insensitive sometimes. In fact, I can be downright, dumbfoundingly, absolutely dimwitted about what is and is not an appropriate way to share my faith. And this is the danger that all of us who strive not just for Christianity but for Christian orthodoxy have to face. The devil tempts us with what is tempting to us. Sometimes even orthodoxy itself can be a temptation to sin.
MM has written a nice post (on this). She apologizes for a lack of charity in a previous message and then proceeds to answer the very question I am trying to address here, that is, why does orthodoxy matter?
One of her thoughts which is worth pondering (and mirrors some of my own thinking):
We care about orthodoxy because God hates idolatry. He forbids the worship of any semblance of Himself that is not truly Himself in actuality. He has thus revealed Himself in propositions that speak mercifully to our reason and our human language, and thus invites us to worship in spirit- and in truth. There is no other God, and He will have no semblance put before Him. So we must be clear. A mistaken notion of Him is not Him. And when we worship with false, mistaken notions of who He is, we fail to worship Him as He really is, and instead accept a dim image merely.
I agree to a great extent, although I might explain slightly differently. I believe that God has created us to exist in the fullness of love in his embrace. In other words, the fullness of our being comes out of the fullness of knowing God. When we replace God with something that is not God, even and especially including ideas of God that are foreign to who God really is, we lose both God and ourselves in the process. Therefore, if one preaches Christ but says that Christ is hate rather than love, it is imperative that we try to correct that person, both for his own sake and for the sake of those whom he may lead into misery and destruction by way of his false gospel.
On the other hand, as I said, orthodoxy itself can become an idol. Our image of God, even when it follows the biblical example to the letter, can become an idol if we start to mistake the image we have for the real thing. God is not good feelings about God. God is not right thoughts and right words describing God. God is God. Or, more aptly, God is.
The great thirteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart understood this well. Reading through his sermons can be an exhilarating and frightening experience. He challenges our notions of God like no other. It’s like falling head first into the burning bush. In one place he writes:
God is nameless, because no one can say anything or understand anything about him. Therefore a pagan teacher says: “Whatever we understand or say about the First Cause, that is far more ourselves than it is the First Cause, for it is beyond all saying and understanding.” So if I say, “God is good,” that is not true. I am good, but God is not good. I can even say “I am better than God,” for whatever is good can become better, and whatever can become better can become best of all. But since God is not good, he cannot become better. And since he cannot become better, he cannot become best of all. For these three degrees are alien to God: “good,” “better,” and “best,” for he is superior to them all….
…About this, Saint Augustine says “The best that one can say about God is to keep silent out of the wisdom of one’s inward riches.” So be silent, and do not chatter about God. For when you do chatter about him, you are telling lies and sinning.
This is just one small passage in a large body of sermons that are equally perplexing. It’s ultimately this kind of language that led to Eckhart’s heresy trial. Yet many scholars do not believe that Eckhart’s intention was ever heresy. Rather, it was to help break us free from the idol that we can make orthodoxy into. Eckhart was a Dominican friar. He didn’t preach these sermons to lay people. He preached them to groups of nuns who spent their whole lives praying and studying. He knew the sin that they were prone towards better than they did.
So does this mean that we give up on orthodoxy? By no means. For again, as MM points out, we must do what we can to bring others and ourselves out of the slavery of idolatry. Sometimes this means sacrificing our own egos, even risking the most unkind words to be said about one’s self. “He is so exclusive” or “She is so judgmental.” But the reality is that what swells up in us when God comes into our hearts, when we come into a place where we know God personally and not just intellectually, that love of God cannot abide the suffering of others even when they are unaware that they are inflicting it upon themselves.
By the same token, our charge is always to have charity and love. And we who embrace Christian orthodoxy must remember that orthodoxy is about creating a safe space in which to be drawn into God, not about coming up with the perfect theological arithemitic. Sometimes we must do as Eckhart says and empty ourselves totally of all our images, even our thoughts about God, in order to truly become one with the truth we seek to proclaim.
Check out this Blog's response to the "Just Give Them Jesus" suggestion of postmodern Evangelicalism while you are at it.