Sunday, 24 February 2013

Tradition and faith

On to the final conversation in the first part of Tichner czyta Katechizm, which looks at tradition. Faith, says Fr. Tischner, extends in time; our faith is the faith of a small child, of a young person, of a mature adult. [It is worth noting here that scarcely a single molecule in your body has been around inside of you for longer than nine years.] And then there is historical faith. The faith of Abraham, of the Apostles, of our forefathers. This has been faith that has sought understanding - fides quaerens intellectum - "and since one is still seeking, it means that it is not to be found?" asks Żakowski. "Is time the enemy of faith or rather its ally," askes Fr. Tischner. "What is time? Historical time, time of tradition. In our world, this is the basic variable, according to which which everything around us changes.Time relativises. Our world, the world of human values, our understanding, our feeling of those values. What was once important, today is less so."

The question concerns the function of time in the process of faith that seeks understanding. "Is time a force that takes us further from the sources, or maybe it allows us to see those sources better, truer? What should we do with time? How should we live it, experience it? How can we enter enter tradition reaching far outside our times?"

Żakowski raises a good point, the clash of two narratives - one, historiosophical optimism, which holds that the world is getting better, that we are getting more intelligent, that we are getting to understand one another better, we're coping better - and a pessimistic one, that says everything's going to the dogs. He asks Fr. Tischner: "Do you have any guarantee that human understanding of faith is improving over time? That historically speaking, we are rising ever higher?"

Here we have the clash between what in Britain is called the Whig View of History (that things are constantly getting better  - maybe two steps forward, one step back - but intrinsically, there's progress) and Toryism - that doubts human nature and distrusts progress.

And how does the Church interpret human - progress? Indeed - has the march of time resulted in progress - other than technological?

Żakowski questions the notion of capax Dei as being convenient for today's individualised world, so different from the feudal, hierarchical or authoritarian world of the Tridentine catechism. Fr. Tischner replies that God created time so that we could mature in time. "And this justifies variable interpretations?" asks Żakowski. "Not only does it justify - it prescribes interpretation of the Scriptures as a response to the ills of the world," replies Fr. Tischner. "In other words," ripostes Żakowski, "constant reinterpretation. And when you are continually reinterpreting, re-reading the signs, the revelations, sooner or later, you must face the question: 'is this the same faith'? If the current catechism had appeared in say, 1900, wouldn't it have been placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum?"

In other words, Żakowski asks - "the scale of the Copernican revolution that occurred between the Tridentine and the current catechism is such that questions must arise as to the identity of this faith."

Fr. Tischner replies that the identity of the faith resides in its dogmas, and then poses the question - what is a dogma. "If we accept a relativistic version of history - then dogma is not possible. Each generation believes in its own way, each interprets the Scriptures in its own way. Could these dogmas not be converted into timeless mathematical formulae, as constant as Euclid's theorems are today, and every day since he formulated them?"

There is one core dogma, at the nucleus of faith, one dogma from which all other arise. There is only one light, which radiates in many ways. "This is love! The dogma of dogmas states that God is love," exclaims Fr. Tischner.

There are many here among us who think that God is indifferent to their sufferings, "fathers who've lost sons, people who are on their own cross. And the sense of our Copernican revolution is to show - as far as is possible - that God is love... When man suffers, God suffers with him. God does not wash His hands of human suffering... Man is finished; finite; God is infinite and by nature does not suffer. But if someone infinite loves infinitely, it means He suffers along with us, whom He loves," claims Fr. Tischner (Again, I would point out here the scale of what is meant by infinite. The observable universe is currently believed to contain between ten sextillion and one septillion - a trillion trillion - stars. Even if intelligent life is exceedingly rare, current best estimates are six billion planets similar to ours on which life has evolved.)

The image of God is ceaselessly changing, changing, suggests Fr. Tischner, along with the changes of the suffering of a given generation. (This, rather than the ever-furthering frontiers of science.)

How then is the Church today to judge St Augustine? St Thomas of Aquinas? Martin Luther? Giordano Bruno - burnt at the stake for his heretical views, including that the sun was one of many stars around which planets revolve? Archbishop Lefebvre - the conservative opponent of the Second Vatican Council? asks Żakowski.

Some came too early with their views; Lefebvre clung on obstinately to the nostrums of a bygone age. Fr. Tischner quotes German Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin: "An intelligent God does not tolerate premature inflorescence". When you propound a beautiful truth to an immature person, you waste it. First, he must grow up to it, says Fr. Tischner.

We must read the signs of the times? asks Żakowski. "Look attentively at what's happening upon the sea of human deeds, and read the sign of the times. Christ came into the world in His time, and we also come into the world for certain people," replies Fr. Tischner

"How then, can we cope with that which has occurred in our past, without striking out earlier achievements for our future? This is the entire mystery of the tradition and the presence of the Church in the current catechism," says Fr. Tischner. "But how can we be certain that the authors of the catechism that they have read the signs of the times correctly?" asks Żakowski.

"They have that certainty from their faith, which seeks understanding. And they have that certainty in the measure of today's times," replies Fr. Tischner. "The Church can err, but today it will not condemn anyone to death. The Church has forsaken the use of violence in the defence of our faith... There is no other way for man than to look into the past, know the past, read that which has been revealed, have hope for tomorrow, and maintain a dialogue with this world that surrounds us, listening not only to our followers, but also to our opponents," he concludes.

A powerful argument against fundamentalism, I think. But the tides of time move quicker than an organisation so tied to tradition like the Catholic Church. The signs of the times, the drama of our day - as opposed to what Europe endured in the last century - forms a different reality. The ease of access to information (during the course of writing this post, I've learnt much from the various links to Wikipedia articles) will undoubtedly change the world view of those who seek. We move on now to Part II of Tischner czyta Katechizm, Naprzeciw człowiekowi (which Google Translate less than helpfully gives as 'front man'!)

This time last year:
Three days into Lent


Anonymous said...

.... yawn....
Waiting for normal service to resume on this channel. Perhaps after Easter?

Michael Dembinski said...

Stick with it to Easter.