Flannery O’Connor on Dogma

“Dogma can in no way limit a limitless God. The person outside the Church attaches a different meaning to it than the person in. 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. Henry James said the young woman of the future would know nothing of mystery and manners. He had no business to limit it to one sex.”

—Flannery O’Connor, “Faith and Mystery” from Spiritual Writings

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • http://davensjournal.livejournal.com/ davensjournal

    Just as a question, what are your thoughts on His Holiness dying? I could be snarky here but I think I’ll keep my decorum. Just wondering.

    • http://anamchara.com/ Carl McColman

      Are you asking me to comment on John Paul in general, or on the circumstances of his death? Since I’m not sure, I’ll speak to each of these briefly. JPII is a fascinating and complex figure: a poet, a gifted athlete, actor, musician, sculptor, polyglot (8 languages, one of which he learned after becoming pope), scholar (doctorate in philosophy); truly an ubermensch. He certainly deserves at least as much credit as Reagan or Walesa for the dismantling of Eastern European communism. And I suspect the fact that his life was forged under Nazism and tempered under communism explains as well as anything how such a great mind could also be so intractable on issues such as the ordination of women or the proper use of artificial contraception. In many ways my values are squarely opposed to those that JPII championed; but in the grand tradition of the Celts, I must honor the pope as a most worthy opponent (heh! He’s the worthy one; my mind is small and self-absorbed by comparison). As for his dying, I am not surprised at the attention it is receiving, for certainly he has been a greatly loved figure by Catholics and non-Catholic conservatives alike. For his sake, I hope his passing is peaceful. And for the sake of the church and the world, I hope the next pope will be his equal in terms of presence, while also finding a way to bring a new progressive spirit into the church.

      Thanks for asking!

      • http://spirit_blooms.livejournal.com/ spirit_blooms

        As a non-Catholic, myself (and as a non-conservative :) ), one thing that impresses me about Pope John Paul II is his forgiveness of his would-be assassin. When I first heard he’d forgiven him, I seem to recall making some snide remark, then not thinking about it much. I can’t say I even believed it as more than a bit of PR for the Church.

        Years earlier a close family member of mine had been murdered by another family member. Forgiveness didn’t exist in my heart for that particular crime for a long time. I haven’t forgiven it, completely, to this day. But the Pope’s forgiveness made an impact on me that I wasn’t even aware of at the time, and now that I’m older and I realize how much that death in our family affected my parents, causing them constant bitterness for years, I realize at least I don’t have to let this one person hi-jack my emotions or my memory of the one who was killed. I don’t have to allow him back into my life, but I can let go and move on. I think this is a place a lot of victims (and family of victims) get stuck in their grief, and the Pope’s example provides an open door to release of that binding emotion for many people, if they let themselves walk through it.


      • Anonymous

        a both/and person…

        The Pope was a figure both liberal and conservative at the same time, depending on which topic was under discussion. I found it to be a strange experience, to very much agree with him on some things and so strongly, vehemently disagree with him on others. We will see what the future brings. In the meantime, may he be blessed as he moves into the West.