Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Being Catholic

There is a discussion going on at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog about whether one can be a merely "cultural" Catholic, or whether belief in certain propositions is necessary. Andrew argues that anyone who can honestly say the Nicene Creed is Catholic enough for him.

There is a problem with this though. All Orthodox and the vast majority of Protestants can also say the Nicene Creed without reservations. That alone does not make one a Catholic.

I agree that an adult Catholic should be able to agree to the propositions in the Creed, but there are problems with this approach to Catholicism.

First, it is probable that the theological meaning of many of the propositions remains obscure to most people. For example, the phrase about God's creation of all things "seen and unseen" refers not to matter and energy, but to his creation of this world and the world of angels. Such underlying meanings are present in almost every phrase. Many people "agree" with the Creed without understanding it.

Second, the idea that "faith" means "agreement to propositions" is primarily an aspect of Calvinist theology. This approach derives from the Reformation analysis that "Credo/I believe" is primarily a matter of intellectual activity. But the Greek word used in the Creed's original form is "pisteo" and means both assent to and trust in. In one way the Creed could be translated as "I trust in One God, the Father Almighty...."

Orthodoxy and Catholicism have always held that faith is as much a matter of trusting in God than asserting propositions - that's why children, catechumens (who did not know the details), and the mentally deficient have always been held to be capable of faith and indeed sainthood.

I would argue that someone who has problems with certain propositions of faith, but whose heart reaches out in poetry and art to trust in God, can be counted as faithful.

Personally I always liked John Betjeman's summary of Christian faith - trusting that
God was man in Palestine
And lives today in bread and wine.

2 comments:

Lobo said...

You can call yourself anything but that does not mean that is who you are. Creeds are minimum starting points but they are not the whole faith. You can be a member of a group or church but not a good one or a good example for the group.

People get stuck these days on saying 'does that make me a bad person' or 'but I'm still a good person, mother, husband, wife, father, etc.' People don't want to be judged on what they do or say. If you will be a Catholic then you follow what the Catholic church teaches, those things that are different from other Christian churches and different from non-Christian churches. Lots of people are 'good people' but that is not the goal - an atheist can be a good person. Christians can act like bad people.

If you are not willing to follow the structure of the group, the church, no can call yourself part of that group. Your relationship with God is something else. Being baptized in one tradition does not make you a good member of that tradition. You gotta do more.

Paul Halsall said...

I don't really think you got the point I was trying to make. Perhaps it was not clear.