27 October 2016

"They have uncrowned Him" (2) False Religions?


Continuing to consider Archbishop Lefebvre's book, from my own background in Catholic Anglicanism, I discern in it more than a whiff of that admirable Anglican Ulsterman, C S Lewis. Not that Archbishop Lefebvre, I am sure, will have read him; but because first-rate Christian thinkers so often, laudably, converge. Take a particular tricky theological problem: explaining how souls rooted in a false religion may find their way to God, without asserting - or leading others to think you mean - that all religions are more or less as good as each other: 'syncretism' or 'indifferentism'. Mgr Lefebvre writes " ... in the false religions, certain souls can be oriented towards God; but this is because they do not attach themselves to the errors of their religion! It is not through their religion that these souls turn towards God, but in spite of it! Therefore, the respect that is owed to these souls would not imply that respect is owed to their religion". And: " ... these religions [he has just mentioned Islam and Hinduism] can keep some sound elements, signs of natural religion, natural occasions for salvation; even preserve some remainders of the primitive revelation (God, the fall, a salvation), hidden supernatural values which the grace of God could use in order to kindle in some people the flame of a dawning faith. But none of these values belongs in its own right to these false religions ... The wholesome elements that can subsist still belong by right to the sole true religion, that of the Catholic Church; and it is this one alone that can act through them"*.

I think this is admirably expressed, and it reminds me strongly of the penultimate chapter in Lewis's The Last Battle. A young Calormene, brought up in the worship of the false god Tash, meets the Lion Aslan, the Christ-figure in Lewis's rich narrative. "Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days, and not him. ... But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true ... that thou and Tash art one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. ... Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I also said (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek".

Whatever in the cult of Tash predisposed the young man to seek the Glorious One still belongs by right to the sole true religion, that of the Catholic Church; it does not belong of right to the cult of Tash. It is not through what is proper to the cult of Tash that he comes to Christ: that is to say, through its errors, but in spite of it. Because Tash and Aslan are opposites.

And it is worth being precise and reminding ourselves that Nostra aetate does not say that we respect the Islamic religion; but Moslems.

To be continued.
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*I think it is clear that Mgr Lefebvre has here in mind the wise teaching of Unitatis redintegratio para 4. " ... haec omnia, quae a Christo proveniunt et ad Ipsum conducunt, ad unicam Christi Ecclesiam iure pertinent"  where iure was added to the text on the orders of Pope Paul VI.

7 comments:

Highland Cathedral said...

I had a Latin teacher whose method was to give the strap to any pupil who got less than a certain mark for his homework. As I was a frequent recipient of that treatment you can imagine that understanding Latin is not one of my strengths. Could you please provide a translation for any statement which is given in Latin?

tradgardmastare said...

In my evangelical youth we used to quote the Tash chapter to speakers at S.U conferences.They did not like it at all and we were seen as somewhat unsound.

Rose Marie said...

The citation appears to be from Unitatis redintegratio n. 3, not n. 4. The translation on the Vatican website is "All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ."

Ben said...

I'm not quite sure what is intended by Archbishop Lefebvre's statement, 'But none of these values belongs in its own right to these false religions'.

Is he saying that for any system of religious ideas which is not the Catholic Faith, the only ideas that can belong 'in their own right' to non-Catholic sets of religious ideas, are the false ones?

Actually, I would suggest that generally speaking, nothing really belongs 'in its own right' to sets of ideas at all.

An exception - it makes sense to say, in conformity with 'Unitatis Redintegratio', that all elements of saving truth and grace belong by right to the one Church of Christ - they all derive from Christ, and truly belong to him.

But if we're talking about non-Catholic sets of ideas, does any given idea, true or false, belong 'by right' or 'in its own right' to those sets of ideas? I don't know what the content of such an assertion would really be.

Speaking in this way seems to be a way of redefining Islam, or Buddhism, or Platonism, or Aristotelianism, or whatever, so that they are only really constituted by whatever is false in them - in which case, obviously and by definition, they are not worthy of respect. But the adherents of each would not recognise the truncated system of thought that resulted as properly representing their own beliefs.

We can affirm the Catholic Faith as having the fullness and purity of truth, without requiring all other systems to be essentially pure error. So 'Nostra aetate' puts it well: 'The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life", in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.'

Indeed, precisely because, and to the extent that, other religions truly contain elements that belong 'by right' to the one Church of Christ, those religions are worthy of a certain respect: they reflect Christ.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"Is he saying that for any system of religious ideas which is not the Catholic Faith, the only ideas that can belong 'in their own right' to non-Catholic sets of religious ideas, are the false ones?"

Obviously, yes.

If Anglicans believe the Resurrection (as SOME still do, despite the Dean of Inge and all that), they share a Catholic doctrine, and are not enjoying a specifically Anglican one.

This way Catholics treat other religions is reminiscent of how Evangelicals treat Catholicism, they think "Popery" is just things like Purgatory, Mariolatry, Selling indulgences for future sins (!!!!) and things they don't share. But they acknowledge there is "some Christianity" (some true religion, not "belonging to Popery in and of itself") left within Catholic ranks ... however, unlike Catholics, they don't have unbroken apostolic succession to back this up. A certain idea of "Baptist Continuity" has the most flimsy support in historical sources.

Ben said...

I suggest there is a notable difference between a doctrine 'belonging in its own right' to the Catholic religion, and a doctrine being 'specific' to some religion.

If it is 'specific' to a religion, that means that no other religion holds it. Thus the doctrines of papal supremacy and infallibility are specific to the Catholic Faith. The belief that Muhammad is God's supreme prophet is specific to Islam.

The doctrine of e.g. Christ's divinity, on the other hand, does 'belong in its own right' to the Catholic Faith, (deriving as it does from Christ's teaching, and directly entrusted by him as a gift to his One Catholic Church).

Now (at least at first sight) it is not, however, 'specific' to Catholicism, since various non-Catholic religious bodies also profess Christ's divinity.

We might though say that the doctrine of Christ's divinity in e.g. classical Lutheranism, is a certain 'presence' of Christ's One Church within the Lutheran community. So it is true that it is above all a Catholic doctrine in this instance that is nourishing the Lutherans and helping to lead them to salvation. But this does not mean it is not also truly a Lutheran doctrine - and precisely in virtue of this shared doctrine (among other things) Lutheranism is in a certain (imperfect) communion with the Catholic Church. (In that way we might actually save the 'specificity' of the doctrine to Catholicism - but this is because Lutheranism is itself partly Catholic.)

The mistake is saying, 'Doctrine X is Catholic - therefore it is not Lutheran' - actually, it can be both. (True, the Lutherans were not the originators of the doctrine - but they were the channel through which many received it.) This is an important point, because otherwise we reduce other religions to merely their errors (contrary to social and historical reality and people's own account of what they believe and where they get their beliefs from). (It is in this way that we might be led to mischaracterise Islam simply as the cult of Tash.)

The error maybe comes partly from the temptation (of a Platonic bent?) to reduce the essence of something to its specific difference (i.e. that which makes it different from everything else). Thus the essence of man would be reduced to rationality, and would exclude animality. The essence of Islam would include the belief that Muhammad is the supreme prophet (which no one else believes in), but would exclude the belief in the unity of the divine essence (belief in which is shared by others). (And the essence of Catholicism might be imagined as reduced to the papacy (in which no one else believes in the same way), and to exclude the Trinity (belief in which is shared by many) - though here it might be replied as suggested above, that insofar as the others shared the Catholic belief in the Trinity, they were in a way 'Catholic' to a degree).

I appreciate Fr Hunwicke's main point that the 'good points' in other religions have often been overemphasised, to the detriment of evangelisation. But I think we have to get the principles accurate, and not overstate the case.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

One cannot say doctrine x is Catholic, therefore it is not believed by Lutherans.
One can say doctrine x is Catholic and is therefore not a Lutheran error or heresy.

Your distinction is of course very clear and correct.