Saturday, 23 February 2013

Dialogue and freedom

The sixth conversation between Fr. Tischner and Jacek Żakowski goes deeper into the concept of dialogue. It begins with Żakowski reading a quote from the current post-Vatican Council catechism:

"Man must freely respond to God with faith. No one should be coerced against his will to embrace the faith." This statement, I note, is quite at odds with the activities of the Teutonic Knights, the Crusaders, the Conquistadors or the Spanish Inquisition; we must accept that ecclesia semper reformanda. This is official thinking of the Catholic Church, and the Radio Maryja crowd had best accept that, before sending death threats to the Polish TV regulator.

"God chooses man, turns to him, and then it is the voluntary choice of man that becomes the mark of faith," comments Fr. Tischner, "...or lack of faith," counters Żakowski.

"Where there are two beings of free will, there is no permanent bridge between them. Every bridge can be destroyed. Because they are both free, one cannot dominate over the other. One can only attempt to influence the other by speaking. The importance of speech is greater where freedom is experienced as the only tie between two free individuals," says Fr. Tischner. "In the beginning was the Word. Not only at the beginning of the world, but at the beginning of any relationship between any free beings."

But are all people equally able to engage in dialogue with God?

"To each according to his capacitas, to that which he as capable of understand," says Fr. Tischner. "Through the catechism, through the Bible..." Through - plants?" asks Żakowski. "No! There must be speech - talk - otherwise instead of God, we'd have the cosmos," replies Fr. Tischner.

[Time for a reflection here. Fr. Tischner is separating God from the Cosmos - I rather see the Cosmos - and all the creations therein - as manifestations of the existence of God. Do plants speak to me? Probably not. But their existence - especially in the wild - do remind me of the existence of a higher Being.]

"Does this have to be the Good News?" asks Żakowski. "Yes," replies Fr. Tischner." And here he begins to talk about the specific nature of the language, which two free beings use in relation to the Good News. It is the language of Symbol. "The language of religion is that of symbolism, to speak of that which is supernatural. We cannot speak of supernatural things using literal language, as we have not seen them. And so, as poets, we use symbolic language, so that words having physical designations could transport us to the world of the invisible."

It is not about description, only about evoking an idea in our imagination. "Imagination which can transport our thoughts beyond experience. Symbol, the speech of symbols, is the speech of extended language." Fr. Tischner takes a look at what is meant in religious language by 'Adam'.

The original man, the ur-father, the prototype of Man. And Eve, the ur-mother. "The drama of Adam and Eve is the drama of every human being. And when we speak of "God the Father", then suddenly the word 'father' becomes expanded by a new dimension - the dimension of infinity. It means then, that God is like a human, similar to a father - but at the same time infinitely different".

So - what does the Holy Trinity symbolise? Mystery? Żakowski asks Fr. Tischner the question, who backs off, to be asked it again. And again Fr. Tischner digresses rather than address the Trinity. Instead, he considers the metaphor of the Church as a body, indeed, the body of Christ. He sees metaphors working both ways. Presenting the Church as as mystical body means spiritualising our human body. "Making spiritual that which is physical".

"The speech, the language of religion is 'the language of life', whether in the catechism or in the Sunday sermon - there is the language of life, there is the Good News. I'd say this: the language of religion differs from every other in that there is always in it some especially good news," he says.

Returning to the St John of the Cross's metaphor of our life being a journey up a mountain, it is the word that gives us strength in our eternal wanderings. "You reach a certain level, and the word says to you: 'Go further, go higher, I am waiting for you.' So you go higher. And every step is a step into  darkness. Because you don't even know whether you will have solid ground beneath you . You don't know what lies ahead, but you go, because you hear the word: 'Come, come to me'. St John of the Cross says that among the words heard on the journey are specific words. He calls them substantial words. These are words that don't describe reality, but create it... For example, as you proceed, higher and higher, your anxiety mounts; what will be, when you have gone so far - you hear the words 'Be calm, be at peace'. Then - says St John of the Cross - tranquillity overcomes your aching soul. Or - you are walking in darkness, you are afraid, unease, and you hear 'love me'. Love can overcome your soul. This is the core of religious language. Speech that edifies the person who's down. Edifying language is that which becomes the body within your soul."

Żakowski asks how all this fits into that revolution that lies at the heart of the difference between the Tridentine and the current catechism. "The revolution depends on the fact that the Tridentine catechism was afraid of those words."

In the Tridentine scheme of things, access to the edifying words of the Holy Scriptures, was through the Church, that read the Scriptures and interpreted them to the faithful. It was the Reformation that made the Holy Scriptures compulsory reading - without the intermediation of an institution.

"As 'with your mind you'll not understand that which is innate', then don't bother trying, because you'll only understand it foolishly?" asks Żakowski.

"That's how it was during the Tridentine era. The Vatican catechism opens us all to the very language of the Word. You cannot read the new catechism without reading the Bible. Because the key is in the Holy Scriptures, and the catechism is there only to help us understand them. Which is why on every page, there are quotes from the Bible," replies Fr. Tischner. [I'm left pondering the doctrine of Papal Infallibility: surely Popes Paul III, Julius III and Pius IV couldn't have been wrong?]

"In all my meetings with people who doubt, who seek, who do not believe, I have come across those who have not experienced the word of being chosen. It is extremely difficult to convert a person if that person has not encountered the Living Word, coming from God, having never read a fragment of the Gospel". Here, I'm forced to say that I have read more than a fragment, and have my doubts that it represents The Word of God pure and simple. No doubt the Gospels  were written by men experiencing some form of spiritual transformation through having had contact with the person of Jesus; but subsequent editing has left a text that has political and social messages as well as purely divine ones therein.

Żakowski asks Fr. Tischner whether the very beautiful idea of faith in the direct contact of man with God is not terribly risky. Is the explanation of faith simple - or complicated? "With a good guide, it is simple." "If the revolution in the catechism means that man's contact with the Scriptures no longer require the filter of the Magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church), and that one should read them for oneself... then the Church can only attempt to help you understand that which you have read," says Żakowski.

"The road to simplicity," replies Fr. Tischner. "We humans have a constant temptation to complicate things which by their nature are entirely straightforward." "so you claim the Holy Scriptures are straightforward?" asks Żakowski. "The Scriptures are rather sanctum than sacrum - holy rather than sacred. And sanctum is the expression of good; of great metaphysical good that sits at the very foundation of all being. That is why immersion into the Scriptures is a great school of good, a school of being good," replies Fr. Tischner.

"When God made the world, and made man, he said "And it was good" - then - despite everything - was He right?" asks Żakowski.

Fr. Tischner replies: "Yes. For five days, He made no errors, and neither on the sixth day did He make errors. In our understanding of the human drama, and of our own personal drama, look within, you see what you have experienced, what you have suffered, how much you've lost, you see this all, what you've won, and suddenly - maybe towards the end of your life - you are enlightened by the awareness that 'it was good'. Then you reach the core of our faith, to the core of the catechism. You repeat the words of God, saying 'it was good'. Maybe that's why we are on this world, so that at the end we can repeat those most beautiful words that God said on the day of our creation: 'It was good'. And let it stay that way."

Well, I think this conversation wandered a long way from the title, Dialog, but the ending is positive and optimistic. How does God speak to us? A good question.

This time two years ago:
On the road to Węgrów

This time three years ago:
One week into Lent

This time four years ago:
In the stillness of a winter forest

This time five years ago:
Over the fence

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