Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Fides quaerens intellectum

The fifth conversation between Fr. Tischner and Jacek Żakowski is pivotal in understanding the rift that is currently occurring in the Catholic church in Poland. Remember, this best-selling book was published nearly 17 years ago, before Radio Maryja became the influence is has come to be.

Fr. Tischner refers to the tensions that lay behind the schism within Christianity, the reformation and counter-reformation, as boiling down to tensions between objectivism - tidying up and categorising faith - and the tendency toward subjectivism - freedom, individuality and the singular unrepeatablity of an individual's experience of God. The Tridentine catechism, he explains, was about order rather than freedom, a scholastic method of objectivising religion.

The new catechism is an attempt as finding a synthesis (note - synthesis, not balance) between objectivism and subjectivism. "It turns out that these values are not contradictory, and can be linked to one another, as the only method of religious thinking," states Fr. Tischner. In the margin, I've written in pencil: "No?" Is this really so? We continue...

St Augustine's dictum Fides quaerens intellectum ('faith seeks understanding') is key. Fr. Tischner opines that St Augustine was one of the main inspirations of the reformation. "That is why the Tridentine catechism is very careful of accepting Augustinian ideas. Quite different than the current Vatican catechism.

Żakowski now engages Fr. Tischner in a theological argument into the nature of God. God, who fashioned Man in His own image, God, unlimited, omnipotent. Fr. Tischner replies that in creating Man, God limited His own freedom, and as He is omnipotent, He can do everything, including limiting His own freedom when creating free Man. (In pencil I have written here 'debatable') This, says Fr. Tischner, is a "very beautiful, fascinating metaphor - the Word became flesh - and came to Man... Because Man was wild. Not evil, not furious - but wild. And God, looking at this wild man, has this problem - how to accustom Man with Himself."

I return here to my cosmological question, raised earlier - we live on a planet orbiting one star of 200 billion in our galaxy, one of 200 billion galaxies. God made us in God's image? Is there not a defining common factor among all life in our universe? Consciousness? Awareness? God - aware of all. Man (and other sentient beings on other worlds) aware of far, far less - but however - aware.

After an intellectually sterile cul-de-sac of a discussion about the nature of the Holy Trinity follows, ('convoluted stuff' I jotted) and then we approach the crux of this chapter. Hermeneutics - the theory of understanding, theory of knowledge. "To accustom oneself with another [oswoić not int the sense here of 'to tame'], one should ask of them - 'what is it that you seek, what are your hopes, towards what are you striving, what values do hold dear?' - in other words hermeneutics that lead upwards." This process - measuring another person by high ideals rather than - in the world of the old catechism - by measuring his deviations from a strictly defined set of regulations.

"According to the new catechism, when you meet a heretic, you should firstly ask him the question - what do you, man, want? What are you seeking? What kind of a world are you dreaming of? Do you wish to improve the world?" says Fr. Tischner. In other words, a seeker recognising a fellow seeker... Idealistic words, spoken five years before jihadists, dreaming of an improved world, blew up the Twin Towers.

Should we be bothering to look for answers to questions that we know we can't answer, asks Żakowski. "There is much we cannot possibly understand - so why bother seeking? Surely this is propagating the idea of fruitless toil. Is is this the challenge of the new catechism?" he asks.

A tough question, but a fair one. Fr. Tischner replies that he that is curious, he that seeks the answer to the mystery, should not seek alone. Rather, he should seek - together with others. We return to Fr. Tischner's continuing call for dialogue - or rather dialogues. "The new catechism aims to combine homo religiosus with homo sapiens. Because homo sapiens is the one who looks, who seeks..." he says.

"He asks... he is continually asking... quaerens intellectum... If you, as a human, do not release from within yourself the living homo sapiens, you will never be a proper homo religiosus.

And here, Fr. Tischner launches a fierce attack on those who claim they believe, yet do not think.

"Religion is for the intelligent/wise/clever/sensible (religia jest dla mądrych). And if some one is stupid/foolish/silly (głupi), and wants to be stupid, he should not use religion to hide his stupidity. Because religion is fides which quaerens intellectum. Phew! Strong stuff. I wonder how that would play to the Radio Maryja faithful, who expect to be told what to believe, and unquestioningly do so, and attack those who deviate or question as heretics.

Żakowski asks provocatively: "So - with a sharp sword you cut off the stupid masses from the road to God?"

Fr. Tischner: "God has the the right not to want among His adherents stupid people. By 'stupid' I mean those who have chosen stupidity for themselves, who have chosen to limit themselves, who want fides without the quaerens intellectum." "Believe, feel, and strive to understand", summarises Żakowski.

This seems to be the line in the sand between the two wings of the Catholic church in Poland. A combative, assertive, robust statement, calling on the faithful to think and question and seek.

This time two years ago:
To the Devil with it all! - short story, Part II

This time three years ago:
Building the bypass as the snows melt

The time four years ago:
Two weeks into Lent

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