Showing posts with label Orthodoxy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Orthodoxy. Show all posts

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Practicality of the Church as Mother

[i]When one is little, one sees one’s mother as practically omniscient. It is not out of experimentation that I trusted my mother when she said not to dip my hand in the boiling water, it was because I have always found her to be a reliable source of knowledge. When invariably I tested something my mother had told me, like that the steaming chocolate cake was far too hot to eat, without exception she turned out to be right. Moreover, my mother is a living repository of knowledge: even when my understanding of theoretical physics far surpasses hers, if I want to know what temperature to roast a chicken at, or the smell of cheap hotels in the Soviet Union, I would make haste to ask my mother.

I have learnt to trust my mother, because even when her answers seem perfectly counter-intuitive (indeed, never surprisingly in such cases) her responses to my questions are dependable. These experiences, at least, I share with the great G.K. Chesterton, who shares similar stories in the last chapter of Orthodoxy. After reviewing all sorts of odd doctrines the Church has and finding them to align, upon reflection, most markedly with reality, he draws the point that:

This… is my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true.[1]

If you want to know what insights and facts he found that the Church had revealed to him and had turned out to be true against all odds, you ought to read the book – I have never met anyone who has lamented reading Orthodoxy. It is not my task at present to describe his points in summary, but instead to explain my own relationship to the Church as Mother.

I have learnt to trust Mother Church for precisely the same reason I trust my biological mother: both turn out to be right whenever they speak about their area of expertise. For this reason, I have learnt to trust the Church even when she appears to be in doctrinal error, because it always turns out that she is right and I am wrong.[2] Just like my own mother and the warnings about the cake being too hot to eat, I ignore the Church’s teaching more at my own peril than at hers. It certainly may seem that I am correct in opposing her, but indubitably there comes the time when I realize my error. Rhetorically brilliant counters to her teaching often overlook some crucial piece of data which, when considered, either produces repentance or increased bitterness. The former is appropriate; the latter is dangerous and unfortunately far more common.

Though I have much faith in the teachings of the Church, just like I can have confidence in my mother’s advice, the Church-as-Mother view has recently made me realize something far more interesting: from the fact that I am a child of the Church, and that the Church has other children, it follows that I have siblings – and one thing I have been taught by growing up with a brother is that such a conclusion is as inescapable as it can be unfortunate.

Much as I appreciate my brother most of the time, like any other human, he has faults. He sometimes snores. He wants to play this or that. He acts like he is six even though he is almost sixteen. He shouts across the whole house with no regard to the sleep of others. He is nonetheless my brother, and any plea to deny it would result simply in contradicting reality: I am stuck with him.

In the same way, I am stuck with other annoying Catholics. Were I to be Protestant, I could simply deny the familial bond to anyone outside my church, but if the Church is universal, that is, if the Church is Catholic, her children’s faults are my own family’s faults. Being almost-Catholic for a few months has taught me at the very least that I will not get along very well with a lot of my family – but unlike more fluid churches, in the Catholic Church that means I will have to put up with it. I cannot leave her, because at the end of it all, she is still my Mother.

What conclusion may I draw from this consideration? I must remember the inevitability and finality inherent in the word “brother” and “sister” – they are not terms that I can assign to some people but not to others at whim. Much like biological siblings, the other children of the Church are my own brothers and sisters. I am obliged to recognize this and so treat them accordingly. In fact, just like being true children of Abraham has less to do with the flesh and more to do with imitating his faith, my brothers and sisters in the Church are similarly more my siblings for being in Christ than they ever could be by having inhabited the same womb. This bond is what moves Jesus to say:

            “As you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.”

[1] Chesterton, G.K., Orthodoxy, Dover Publications, New York, 2004, p. 150.

[2] Doctrinal and moral errors are very distinct – the Church is pure in her teaching, but she is certainly not without sin as a corporate People of God, in her members or in her more structured positions. Indeed, it is the essence of the doctrine of Original Sin that these two are distinct categories: if humans were not sinful, we would not by hypocritical either.

[i] Similar considerations to the ones in this blog post probably apply (in modified form) to God as Father. I have chosen to express it instead in terms of Mother, both to emphasize my relationship with the Magisterial teaching of the Church, in addition to making a more marked point about how even the peskiest member of the Church, even when that member is the priest, bishop or Pope, is not and cannot be grounds for leaving the Church.