Category Archives: Theology

“Be zealous for true religion” in a time of theological narcissism requires a different orientation

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I came across a portion of Saint Basil the Great’s Letter 90 addressed to the bishops of the West. I like reading these types of letters because they give a great sense of the history of Christian salvation history. In 2000 years we’ve been exposed to some things more than once. Apparently, Basil is responding to reports of some members of the Church allowing certain influences of society, politics, and unorthodox teaching of the Faith to enter into, to penetrate, the life of the Holy Church. What came to mind was the phrase of Pope Francis a couple of months ago when he warned the Church about theological narcissism. It’s not all about me! There are times when a Christian can be too cozy with the culture in which he or she lives.


Saint Basil isn’t writing today, he inhabits the 4th century. His words, though, are timeless; his description of the currents are applicable today. It makes no sense to me to merely identify the problems of today without saying that the change can’t applied to all others and not be a provocation to my own conversion. Reform is not the responsibility of all others, but conversion of mind and heart is also my own spiritual work before the Divine Majesty.


The zeal for true religion that Basil wants to propose is two fold: the work of God acting in the world today, and our sharing what we have received from Jesus Christ. Zeal for the Kingdom is about God’s work, not my own; it is God’s creation, God’s Church, God’s people –not mine. Basil is rejecting a theological narcissism. Isn’t that what we face today? The faith we’ve been given by the Lord is transferred to the life of the Church, as another “Great” once said, Saint Leo. As the Lord Himself turns toward the Father in prayer, so must our orientation be set on the Trinity.


The doctrines of the Fathers are despised; apostolic traditions are set at nought; the devices of innovators are in vogue in the Churches; now men are rather contrivers of cunning systems than theologians; the wisdom of this world wins the highest prizes and has rejected the glory of the cross. Shepherds are banished, and in their places are introduced grievous wolves hurrying the flock of Christ. Houses of prayer have none to assemble in them; desert places are full of lamenting crowds. The elders lament when they compare the present with the past. The younger are yet more to be shown compassion, for they do not know of what they have been deprived. All this is enough to stir the pity of men who have learned the love of Christ; but, compared with the actual state of things, words fall very far short. If then there be any consolation of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, any bowels of mercy, be stirred to help us. Be zealous for true religion, and rescue us from this storm. Ever be spoken among us with boldness that famous dogma of the Fathers, which destroys the ill-famed heresy of Arius, and builds up the Churches in the sound doctrine wherein the Son is confessed to be of one substance with the Father, and the Holy Ghost is ranked and worshipped as of equal honor, to the end that through your prayer and co-operation the Lord may grant to us that same boldness for the truth and glorying in the confession of the divine and saving Trinity which He has given you.

Desiring to do everything the Father desired

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Saint Hilary of Poitiers: “He who said ‘I have come not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me’ hastened to fulfill the task he had undertaken out of obedience, though in such a way as to remind us that he possessed a will of his own. In fact, he willed whatever the Father willed. His saying ‘I have come not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me’ revealed who had sent him and whom he obeyed, but without detriment to his own power of willing. Desiring to do everything the Father desired, Christ hastened to carry out his wishes with regard to his passion before the wicked could hinder him or prevent his doing so. He had a great longing to eat the Passover with his disciples, and he celebrated the paschal meal in haste. He had an intense desire to drink the cup of his passion, for he said: ‘Shall I not drink the cup which my Father has given me?’ When the search party came to arrest him and asked which man was Jesus, he stepped forward of his own accord. He asked for the sour wine which he knew he was destined to drink, and having drunk it and achieved his great purpose he said: ‘It is accomplished’, thus expressing his joy at obtaining his heart’s desire.”

Cultivating Peace –the Benedictine way

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You be interested in this video presentation, “Cultivating Peace in One’s Own Life and in Society” by Abbot James Wiseman of St Anselm’s Abbey (Washington, DC).

PAX!

Hanging Concentrates the Mind

Be sure to have enough sleep and at least have eaten one meal today before you read and give some serious consideration to what Father George Rutler, pastor of the Church of Our Saviour (NYC) has to say about the death penalty. A recent essay was published today in Crisis Magazine online.


MOST Catholics, the informed and untrained, have no idea what the Church teaches about the subject. Many will recall that Pope John Paul II taught in Evangelium vitae (1995) and that he frequently spoke against the death penalty and it was the subject of intervention when he would visit a country where the death penalty was utilized (think of his visit to Missouri). A papal encyclical doesn’t change the teaching of the Church; it is however authoritative and it needs to be received. The matter of what level teaching an encyclical is, and to what degree it would bind conscience. For our purposes here, let’s say that a papal encyclical is authoritative and it involves the virtue of prudence but that it doesn’t contravene but it does nuance the teaching of the Church. Prudential judgment is just that, prudential. The Pope never changed the teaching of the Church. The blessed pope did try to reorient our thinking and the practice of killing legitimately convicted criminals. Remember, too, several years the heated debated between Cardinal Avery Dulles and Justice Scalia on the subject in First Things?


Father Rutler’s article is helpful in giving us yet another understanding of how we might understand the death penalty. Do we actually accept Christian belief in the salvation of one’s soul, that is, do we want to go to heaven? Read the article with openness, with a critical mind. As Saint Ignatius would teach, approach with the best of intentions to truly understand the other person. Knee jerk reactions are unacceptable for a Catholic who holds the integration of faith and reason. Father Rutler’s argument is Catholic on all levels.


The article…


Capital punishment does not inspire roaring humor in healthy minds, so wit on the subject tends to be sardonic.  Two of the most famous examples, of course, are: “In this country it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others,”  and “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

The first, “pour encourager les autres,”  is in “Candide” where Voltaire alludes to the death by firing squad of Admiral John Byng in 1757 for having let Mincorca fall to the French.  The second was Samuel Johnson’s response to the hanging of an Anglican clergyman and royal chaplain William Dodd for a loan scam.  Byng’s death was the last instance of shooting an officer for incompetence, while Dodd’s was the last hanging at Tyburn for forgery. Dodd’s unsuccessful appeal for clemency was ghostwritten by Dr. Johnson.

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Treachery to the truth today?

Theologians are after divine truth and not mere human opinions. There is a danger and a difficulty about this point. We are in danger of modern disregard of theology. . . . The danger nowadays is overemphasis on non-intellectual elements. This means a kind of treachery to the truth. It used to be assumed that man is a reasonable animal. The modern idea seems to be that man is first and foremost a creature with a heart. I am not prepared, however, to give up my reason in connection with the things of God.


Father Georges Florovsky

Remarks made at the Second World Conference on Faith and Order

Edinburgh, August 4, 1937


Is Father Florovsky correct in his perception? I tend to think so….

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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