24 April 2015

Misericordiae vultus: an amplification

Our Holy Father, in his Bull about Mercy, observes at one point Iesus legem praetergreditur [Jesus goes beyond the Torah, the Law]. I think a rereading of Jesus of Nazareth, written by his learned and distinguished predecessor Pope Benedict, would enable Pope Francis ... and you ...  and me ... to sharpen our thinking and nuance its expression. I repeat here something which I first posted last December (with the original thread). It is the view of this Mutual Enrichment Blog that the Scholar pope, and the Pastor pope, together, have much to say to each other.

As Joseph Ratzinger engages with the eminent Jewish Rabbinical scholar Jacob Neusner to discuss the Sermon on the Mount, we enter a world in which we can breathe fresh air, set free from the fug of 'liberal' expositions. No longer are we told that Jesus is simply a teacher of an elevated morality, but a morality which nevertheless can be interestingly paralleled from the sayings of many other great moralists Eastern and Western. No; what we encounter is One who sits on Mount Sinai throned in the Teacher's cathedra as ... No; not as an appealingly 'liberal' rabbi - forerunner of all Christian liberalism - not even as a New Moses - but as the Torah Itself, God's Eternal Word to His People, God-Enfleshed-Speaking. As Benedict XVI puts it, "The issue that is really at the heart of the debate is thus finally laid bare. Jesus understands himself as the Torah - as the word of God in person." The Torah, that is, no longer as it was to be heard when it was the discriminating marker of one privileged race, but that 'fulfiment' of Torah which is equally and without discrimination for every man and woman.

I will not spoil the adventure which Neusner and Ratzinger lay out before you by giving my poor summary of their dialogue; I will simply point out that this analysis links up with the Pauline teaching that Christ is the Wisdom ... that is, the Torah ... of the Father; and with the credal chant of the Johannine prologue which we read at the end of each Mass: God's Own Utterance (Logos, Verbum) which is God, became Flesh. (So, happily, we can dump that grim orthodoxy of the old debunked 'New Testament Scholarship': the idea that the 'different strands' of the New Testament are quite unrelated to each other.)

And the Jesus who is the Torah, also is the Temple, as I have explained before. That is why he can forgive sins. True, expiation for sin could be sought, only of God, and only in His Temple ... but Jesus is that person, that place.

So how does this relate specifically to our present situation in the Catholic Church? I will attempt to explain.

The style of much modern dialogue is to set things against each other as polar opposites. Law vs Freeedom; Judgement vs Mercy; Cultus vs Prophecy; Demands-of-the-kingdom vs Compassion-and-Love. Any such cheap game needs to be exposed to the fact that Jesus is both. Writers often give me the impression that the Demands of the Kingdom, God's commandments, are something which we can't, unfortunately, get round, get out of, much as we might wish to do so. So we grit our teeth and loyally get down to compliance with as much dutiful obedience as we can muster. But ... if only we could square it with our consciences ... we would so very much rather be singing, to our congregations and to the World, great paeans of sentiment about God's Compassion, Mercy, and Love. So we do our best to circumscribe and render practically ineffective the Truth of the Gospel and the Kingdom, out of our fear that, by laying too much emphasis there, we shall be robbing people of the Compassion and Love which we would so much rather be seen to be dispensing to a waiting World. I hope I am not being unfair or too cruel when I share my fearful suspicion that the anonymous ghost-writer of that CBCEW document is, with the best will in the world, at just about that stage of thought.

But Jesus is there in both places. The Truth that you cannot divorce a spouse and then acquire a replacement, without committing Adultery, is the Merciful Love of Christ. He is like the loving and compassionate Land-owner who puts a safe fence along the edge of a dangerous cliff in countryside where people are strongly tempted to behave carelessly, and then sets up as Law the truth (which in fact is inscribed into the very situation itself) that we cannot leap over that fence without falling to destruction. Any contradicting definition of Mercy, of Compassionate Love, is a fabrication of the Anti-Christ, who decks himself with devastating plausibility in the most apparently authentic religious language so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect.

You can't set Love or Mercy against Law because Christ has you in the most unavoidable of all pincer-movements: He is both.

13 comments:

Joshua said...

In a sense, then, the fault is a fall into the false Lutheran dichotomy of Law (hard, and impossible to fulfil) and Gospel (easy, delivering one from those dread Commandments)…

Jane said...

This analysis has been most helpful Father. Thank you.

Pastoral letters were read all oover the place on the Feast of the Holy Family, and the two I have come across were clearly aimed at `softening up` the dioceses concerned to accept the new `theology` our Bishops want to teach us on Marriage. A horrible use of a holy feast.

An analysis of the tactics used by said bishops in those Pastorals would be most helpful. The letters should be available on diocesan websites.

Little Black Sambo said...

Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Mighty Joe Young said...

Jesus is love and law. Everyone has to not only take this to heart but move that truth up into the intellect where it must be frequently repeated so it will not be forgotten.


This is just great, Father; it is both simple and profound.

Kudos.

B flat said...

Someone said of the Russians that "they were baptised, but not evangelised"
Your exposition of Benedict XVI's work is wonderful.
May your feet always be beautiful!

Andrew Malton said...

"Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff's edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased." [GKC, Orthodoxy, ch. 9]

Simon Platt said...

I agree with Jane - these recent posts have been particularly useful, and the analysis she suggests would be extremely valuable.

Deacon Augustine said...

"So we do our best to circumscribe and render practically ineffective the truth of the Gospel and the Kingdom, out of our fear that, by laying too much emphasis there, we shall be robbing people of the Compassion and Love which we would so much rather be seen to be dispensing to a waiting World."

Yes, this attitude is very prevalent and is similar to the attitude of the Pharisees towards the Law. It is reflective of somebody who is bound by the Law and has not been set free from the Law by the Holy Spirit. When one is animated by the Holy Spirit, the Law ceases to be a burden and one can profess with the Psalmist: "Your Law is my delight, I hasten to keep Your ways." Thus even when one falls by failing to keep His ways, the attitude should be one of regret, repentance and firm purpose to live by those ways again.

The Holy Spirit sets us free from seeing the Law as a burden, and allows us to see it in its reality - a love letter from the Beloved who desires to show us the Way to draw close to Him.

Anybody who sees the Law as a burden which must be circumvented is not able to help others, or themselves, to draw close to God, and thus they do indeed serve antichrist.

Patrick said...

Thank you for this expostion. Not to quibble with you too much, Father, but I am not convinced of the good will of those who are trying to change the teaching.

Reader said...

Stunning. Thank you. I wish I could make my curate and my bishop read it.

motuproprio said...

I constantly thank God that at my seminary on a hill outside the City of Dreaming Spires (no not the truly dreadful one, the other one) I was taught that Jesus is never either or but always both and.

J Arrington said...

Dear Father,

Your analysis is always insightful and penetrating; here, however, I wonder if you have forgotten the common legal equivalent of "praeter legem" (obviously the translators of the bull have this in mind): nova lex ceu consuetudo quae scripta non est. It seems to me that, building on Pauline "dichotomies" and the actual words of Our Lord, there is a case for enunciating such a separation, a bit more than a distinction, I think. Yes, Jesus is God's Torah, or Doctrina/Paideusis - yet, he is so much more, and as a humble amateur Latinist I think praetergredi legem captures the words and actions of Christ quite well actually.

My two mites, for what it's worth!

Renio Araujo said...

Dear Father,
Not that your rendition isn't thoroughly inspiring, but how can I get my eyes to read the debate between the emeritus Pope and Jacob Neusner? Is it available online? I've googled it to no avail...