Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Faith excludes curiosity - One should hope it would not!

Though I would imagine the examiners find this endlessly frustrating, I cannot help but suppress a giggle when I read, in reviews of exam results, of how certain varieties of Christian (I must add - I doubt Roman Catholic in any case) use the studies and examinations as a forum for castigating the university. Though I dare say that advanced theological studies require a full scope of knowledge (and, indeed, our programme requires just that), I repeatedly read of how students use their exam responses to deliver sermons rather than arguments, and see the programme of study as dangerous to their faith. I have a feeling my readers already get the picture. You probably also realise why I am laughing.

From The Two Catholic Churches, by Anthony Archer
"In his rather luxuriant work on the Blessed Sacrament, Father Frederick Faber had described a helpless and captive God, experiencing a mournful solitude in the little dungeon of the tabernacle. This was the Jesus whose fondness for silence was known
because nothing more silent than the sacrament could be thought of; it was the God who was carried about and broken into 3 pieces by priests who washed the sacred vessels and napkins as Joseph might have washed the clothes of Christ.

All this was set against a background of speculation that Christ had given Mary the sacrament at the Last Supper, and that it had remained in her, uncorrupted, so that he could be in her during his Passion… And it evoked the desire to put 'our little crown of puny love on the long hair which covers his beautiful head.'

Newman remarked that he knew of no book that would so readily turn him into an infidel."

I believe that John Henry Newman was spot on in insisting that “Truth is wrought out by many minds working together freely. As far as I can make out, this has ever been the rule of the church until now,” provided that one considers the entire Counter-Reformation period as 'now,' rather than pnly Newman's own day. As Anthony Archer summarises: To cut the faithful off from study of doctrine and require implicit faith would “in the educated, terminate in indifference, in the poorer, in superstition.”

In the course of my studying varied documents which were either produced or largely consulted during the 19th century, I came across a manual which the Ursuline Nuns used for their schools. Teachers were cautioned about offering explanations or encouraging questions and discussions, because the goal of religious education was to
foster humble obedience and faith.

The nuns who taught me in my youth were of a congregation founded, in Ireland, directly after the period of the penal laws. Originally, the sisters (mostly educated by Ursulines), were of a certain Catholic elite - yet they wished to educate the poorer classes (sometimes referred to as 'wicked' children, but that is another topic), believing that vice stemmed from a lack of religious knowledge. That view is limited - and indeed rather naive - yet, for all my respect for those educational efforts, I see a great irony in that education was seen as the solution to the ills of the world and for fostering of the faith, yet the use of reason which is essential to true education was rather feared. (Of course, neither the secular authorities nor the bishops would have considered the first Sisters to have been particularly obedient... I must get to that topic some time. The foundress, a woman of some means, had endowed the Ursuline convent of Cork in the first place. When she wished to found her own congregation, though the bishop only had Ursulines on hand because of her generosity, she was initially denied permission because it might take away vocations from the Ursuline Order.)

In RC catechesis of children, I well remember that, in explanations of sin, the illustrations were of disobedience to church law, such as those governing Mass attendance and Friday abstinence. I had thought this was purely pragmatic, because such examples could be readily grasped by children of seven - where, for example,
explanations of the differences between gossip and calumny would be deep water. My own view was too limited. The idea of obedience as central was the natural outflow of the Council of Trent's statement that 'faith excludes curiosity.'

Newman would see a deplorable situation in which intellect "is not met with counter or stronger intellect, but by authority." I am an anarchist at heart, and could agree without such a position's truly affecting me. :) Yet would Newman or I ever even admit the possibility that some attitudes towards the faith are not intellectual in the least? (Certainly, neither of us were capable of being politically astute...)

Newman just might be canonised some day, except that, perhaps, those of us likely to favour his work are not the sorts who go around asking for miracles (and wouldn't consider them proof of anything in any case.) :) But let me raise a toast to John Henry - and to his not forgetting the valuable Anglican exhortation to having an enquiring mind!