Monday, 12 April 2010
Humani Generis - a quick reflection
As I am attempting to live out a traditional Catholic life (part-time at least), I thought that it would be beneficial to plow through some pre-Vatican 2 papal encylicals. Is there a disconnect between what is being taught now and what has always and everywhere been taught previously? It seems so.
Catholicism is not where 'good' people come together in order to debate to come to a knowledge of the truth. In secular thought, 'truth' or whatever they wish to call their version of it, is attained by men reaching upwards. By man's efforts alone, truth can be known. Nothing is more alien to Catholicism.
The Word of God, the Logos, came down to earth, united a human nature to His pre-existing Divine Person by the power of the Holy Spirit and became man in the womb of the Blessed Mother. This descent (katabasis) and self-empyting (kenosis) enables us to come to a knowledge of the Father, since no one on earth knows the Father 'except the Son and to whom the Son chooses to reveal him'. Since man's rational nature is given from above, our faculty of reasoning is not worthless in coming to the truth. In fact, the First Vatican Council said that 'God...can be known...by the natural power of human reason' (On Revelation). Yet, human nature alone can not know all things of the divine order. Men may blantantly ignore truths that they come to, either through reasoning or through hearing the preaching of the Gospel. Pope Pius XII explains, 'Now the human intellect, in gaining knowledge of such truths is hampering both by the activity of the senses and the imagination, and by evil passions arising from original sin. Hence men easily persuade themselves in such matters that what they do not wish to believe is false or at least doubtful.' (2).
So that men do not languish and grope hopefully about in the darkness, brandishing excuses for their behaviour, God Himself reveals Himself and to safeguard the knowledge of the Truth being distorted, founds a Church with an infallible teaching authority.
What therefore is the role of theology? Are not theologians unduly restricted by the doctrines and dogmas of the Faith? What is there left to achieve when the teaching authority (the Magisterium) exists? How can they work when they are confronting with 'a hidrance to progress and an obstacle in the way of science?' (18).
The theologians are meant to support the doctrines and dogmas of the Faith by examining the sources of them in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, and by presenting them in a coherent manner in order to increase our knowledge. He states 'the most noble office of theology is to show how a doctrine defined by the Church is contained in the sources of revelation...' (21).
As an aside, doctrines are like signposts. It is not merely enough to know the location of them or what is contained in them, but in order to arrive at our destination, we must trust them and go beyond them (which is to enter into the divine life of the Blessed Trinity).
There is a subjective side to the objective truth as these, although revealed by God (and therefore safeguarded by His divine authority), must be clothed in human language which will always be very inprecise. However, Pope Pius XII explains rightly that the traditional scholastic terminology is not to be scoffed at, for the sake of picking up the latest novelty and appearing relevant to the current wave of popular thought. In fact, when scholastic terminology or thought is rejected, the Church herself may be rejected as she has many times approved such systems of thought, especially that of Saint Thomas Aquinas. 'The method of Aquinas is singularly preeminent both of teaching students and bringing truth to light' (9). The thought of Saint Thomas is a fierce opponent of modernism as his teaching is clear, precise and is faithfully obedient to Holy Mother Church yet presents a doctrine that is not restrained but one which begs to be explored further with the aim of union with Christ, the whole purpose of the Christian life.
At that time, 'Nouvelle Theologie' was an opponent of Catholic truth. The proponents discarded Thomism, in order to appeal to a 'progressive' culture. However, their 'novelties' are 'like the flowers of the field in existence today and die tomorrow' (17). The constant desire to please the world, leads to a confusion of the faithful, and our bishops are urged to oppose such trends. Communism seemed to many people a great threat or a great hope, yet it is gone, it is not here. Yet unlike Christ, being gone does not means it is alive.
An important theme of this document in my quick reading of it, was how we should receive the Truth handed on to us. In modern times, an attempt has been made to relativise truth, either with the aim of not 'offending and isolating others' or in order to conceal our evil deeds. We have tried to make God in our own image, rather than recognising that He is our Origin and End, and that we are called to 'be holy as our Heavenly Father is holy'. This involves 'self-surrender and self abnegation' (2). Doctrine is to be gratefully received and embraced with love for our Creator and Redeemer, it is not to be tossed aside when such facts confront the prevaling opinion of the time.