God does not ask of us virtue, moralism, blind obedience but a cry of assurance and of love from the depth of our hell–Paul Evdokimov
It is very easy to simply let the Magisterium tell you what to believe. I have a couple of friends who keep insisting that Rome should take care of many things, such as liturgical abuses or implementing her decree on the Old Latin Mass. Recently someone asked me why the Church does not define such and such a doctrine. For example, the question of in vitro and frozen embryos are very important and it would be great to hear from Rome about these issues. Someone recently asked me why the Magisterium has not defined anything about ensoulment. I wonder, however, whether there are tendencies to substitute reasoning with the Magisterium. The response I gave to the person who asked me about ensoulment was, “Who cares?” The Magisterium is not a substitute for critical thinking. It is not a substitute for the heart.
A couple of years ago, Fr. Julian Carron made some stirs when he spoke of the heart as infallible. Of course this is not at all new in Christian tradition since God created the human person to desire the Infinite. Obedience, then, is first obedience to our hearts, that is, our fundamental experiences. Reason is not reduced to logical or scientific analysis. We all know what it feels when people try to systematize our desires. It just becomes suffocating. Pope Benedict, in his great Regensburg Address, proposes that we broaden our reason, that the reduction of reason comes from the attempt of dehellenize the culture. The attempt to dehellenize ourselves, seems to me, a form of reduction. There is a tendency to neglect the growth of culture and to go back to the theologies and lives of the past. Some place their hopes in the past thinking that all will be well. Of course there is a validity to going back to the sources. The 20th century theologians were suffocated by the manual theologians of the day because it got rid of the beauty and majesty of God; this is what happens when we try to systematize doctrine, systematize God and our lives. Even the Summa of Aquinas was not a fixed theology but a starting point; its intention is for beginners. Since the Reformation, there was an attempt at overthrowing traditions that got in the way of true faith in Christ. What they wanted was to get rid of the hellenistic influences and come back to the Biblical word, the inspired word of God. Of course I do not agree that we should just get rid of hellenistic influences. First of, Christianity was always hellenistic in that her foundations come from a people influenced by Greek life and thought. Martin Hengel has shown that second temple Judaism is hellenistic. To think of a pure Judaism without Greek influences is nonsense. Second, although some Church Fathers may be oversimplistic in their condemnation of Greek philosophy and other influences, we cannot deny that they too were influenced by Hellenism. There was always an admiration for true philosophers, those who seek wisdom honestly (cf. Justin Martyr 2nd Apology 13; Clement of Alexandria Stromata bk. 1 chs.2-7). But put these things aside, what is important to realize is that when people revolt against anything, it is a manifestation of the reduction of reason, of the heart. The drama comes about when the heart desires more and the content of faith must be accepted. This is really the problem of inculturation. As J. Dupuis pointed out, when the early Christians were formulating Christology after Christology, it wasn’t even hellenization but a de-Hellenization of content in a Hellenization terminology. Reason only works in a context, within a tradition, and yet desires to surpass that tradition. This is the drama of human thinking.
Magisterial teachings are insufficient for human life. What they are is a guide to surpass our limitations. It is an office which is an expression of salvation. Paul Evdokimov pointed out that in Hebrew, to save is to free. The Magisterium, then, is that which guides us to freedom. Hans Urs von Balthasar pointed out,
[I]t will seem not only appropriate but necessary for the entire community of the Church to be equipped with a special organ to serve as a regulatory principle for maintaining the integrity of revelation; its function is to indicate any serious interference with the balance of the Church’s organism, any loss of substance or weight…The “teaching office” will react–like a seismographical instrument–when some substantial underground tremor threatens the totality or catholicity of revelation. (TD vol. 2 100, 101)
The teaching office, then, does not take away the dynamism of human life but preserves it. It is not preserved when human life is reduced to it.
What happens when the Church teaches us something incomprehensible? Take the doctrine of the Assumption. The point I will make is that there must be a foundation why the person is in the Church in the first place. Why is the person attracted to the Church in the first place? I know many Catholic apologists who have made a name for themselves for converting to the Church when they themselves have not left Protestantism. The problem here is not that they still have a legalistic or fundamentalist mentality, but that they never understood themselves in the first place; they are not certain of their hearts. I remember I asked an Anglican why he was attracted of becoming Catholic. He told me, “The Theology of the Body.” Of course I cannot condemn this since this is the attraction God is working with. However, it is clear that it is just insufficient. If you are to become Catholic because of a theology, get yourself a book and do not waste your time in the Church.