Tuesday, April 24, 2012


From an e-mail from Andrew Matt, editor extraordinaire at Magnificat:

I’ve been meaning to send you a few things that I came across that relate back to your Therese Part I post, and some of the ensuing debate in the combox about the relationship between doctrine/dogma and love. In my view, the two need not be opposed but should rather mutually reinforce one another, all the while maintaining, with Saint Paul, the priority on love: “if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2). This also relates to the topic in your same post about prayer, and how one doesn’t even need to believe in God to pray, which dovetails with the very complex topic of membership in the Church and what that means.

Anyway, without further ado, I’ve assembled a ramshackle assortment of snippets, mainly from Flannery O’Connor, that spring from your Therese Part 1 post, and that I just wanted to share finally:

Flannery: “For me a dogma is only a gateway to contemplation and is an instrument of freedom and not of restriction. It preserves mystery for the human mind.” (The Habit of Being)

Flannery: “There is no reason why fixed dogma should fix anything that the writer sees in the world. On the contrary, dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality. Christian dogma is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery… The Catholic fiction writer is entirely free to observe. He feels no call to take on the duties of God or to create a new universe. He feels no need to apologize for the ways of God to man or to avoid looking at the ways of man to God. For him, to 'tidy up reality' is certainly to succumb to the sin of pride. Open and free observation is founded on our ultimate faith that the universe is meaningful, as the Church teaches.” (Mystery and Manners)

“Among those 1.2 billion Catholics are many who inwardly are not there. Saint Augustine said there are many outside who seem to be inside, and there are many inside who seem to be outside. In a matter like faith – like membership in the Catholic Church – inside and outside are mysteriously intertwined with each other.” (From Light of the World, a recent book-length interview with Benedict XVI)

Flannery: “This is a peculiar thing - I have the one fold, one Shepherd instinct as strong as any, and to see someone I know out of the Church is grief to me, it's to want him in with great urgency. At the same time, the Church can't be put forward by anybody but God and one is apt to do great damage by trying; consequently Catholics may seem very remiss, almost lethargic, about coming forward with the Faith. (Maybe you ain't observed this reticence in me.)” (The Habit of Being)



  1. I'm heading into Flannery O'Connor RIGHT now. This is great food for the soul. Beautiful posts...again.

  2. Love that first quote from O'Connor. Exactly.

  3. Hi Heather! Of course this is good, but when you get down to actual doctrines, things get sticky. The whole issue of development of doctrine within continuity of faith is not easy. For a glimpse into this, check out this website of traditionalists who swear JPII and BXVI are/were heretics. http://www.traditioninaction.org/ProgressivistDoc/A_029_RatzingerRazeBastions.htm

    They swear that both of these Popes (and others) contradicted established doctrines of the Church. Also check out http://www.waragainstbeing.com/. This guy argues very intelligently why Ratzinger is in a war against being (as St. Thomas understood it). These guys are radical for claiming such things about Popes, but they are working right from what they consider the unchangeable dogma of the Church. I doubt Flannery would feel at home in their company. They seem to give the lie to Flannery's claim that "dogma...is an instrument of freedom and not of restriction."

  4. I passed a librarian reading Wise Blood yesterday and I congratulated her on a great reading choice!

  5. Yeah, that Andrew Matt is pretty darned amazing! Super-smart, learned, husband, father of two, and a huge broad-and-wide heart. I'm so glad you enjoyed his comments.

    Thanks, Nathan, good to hear from you--my head always starts swimming when I read those kinds of pieces! I'm sure it's my own lack of intelligence/theology, but I have trouble following the arguments, and the purpose of making them. My own experience has been that dogma is an instrument of freedom and not of restriction. And that's way good enough for me...

  6. I hear you Heather, and I even felt a little guilty complicating things. But I think it is important for those of us who have experienced the restriction (not of dogma, but of something else). I think this is what von Balthasar was speaking about in Razing the Bastions:
    To honor the tradition does not excuse one from the obligation of beginning everything from the beginning each time, not with Augustine or Thomas or Newman, but with Christ. And the greatest figures of Christian salvation history are honored only by the one who does today what they did then, or what they would have done if they had lived today. The cross-check is quickly done, and it shows the tremendous impoverishment, not only in spirit and life, but also quite existentially: in thoughts and points of view, themes and ideas, where people are content to understand tradition as the handing-on of ready made results. Boredom manifests itself at once, and the neatest systematics fails to convince, remains of little consequence. The little groups of those who have come to an understanding with one another and cultivate what they take to be the tradition become more and more esoteric, foreign to the world, and more and more misunderstood, although they do not condescend to take notice of their alienation. And one day the storm that blows the dried-up branch away can no longer be delayed, and this collapse will not be great, because what collapses had been a hollow shell for a very long time.


I WELCOME your comments!!!