Betraying Charity or Truth?



Every once in a while, I find myself saying “yes” to too many people
asking me to look at their books, and I amass a rather slap-dash pile of books I feel like I will never plow through. Occasionally I miss a review “due” date, and I am never happy when that happens.

I am especially not happy to be late on The Betrayal of Charity; the Sins that Sabotage Divine Love, which the Patheos Book Club has been talking about and excerpting for over a week, and which I have almost missed, to my overbusy chagrin.

I confess, I got to the book late, and have not finished it. But the chapters I have read I have found tremendously intriguing. Matthew Levering, a rising young theologian and a Professor of Theology at the University of Dayton, is taking on several deconstructive theories offered by other young, rising theologians — for instance, on the “violence” of charity propelled by a monotheistic God-model of “empire-theology”, and the negative limitations of Trinitarian theology, to whit:

According to [Laurel] Schneider, when humans attempt to turn a nominal unity into an absolute unity, we end up oppressing others by turning from the “cacophony of embodied existence toward the serenity of unifying concepts in the hope of bringing closure to the world’s unruly shiftiness.”

[Regina] Schwartz favors the strands of the biblical narrative that she thinks “offer glimpses of another kind of deity, a God of plenitude, of generosity, who need not protect his turf because it is infinite.” This could would not be the one God of “exclusive monotheism,” because that one God, according to Schwartz, is construed over against others in terms of a “metaphysical scarcity”. For Schwartz, the answer is to rewrite the biblical canon in a way that “subverts the dominant vision of violence and scarcity with an ideal of plenitude and it’s corollary ethical imperative of generosity. It would be a Bible embracing multiplicity instead of monotheism.” Whereas monotheism serves jealousy and violence in a world of scarcity, multiplicity allows for “God’s promiscuous pursuit of lovers — of the world itself.” On this view monotheism seeks idolatrously to control and reify God, whereas multiplicity embodies a truly kenotic understanding of love.


Levering has a good time analyzing all of this
and arguing his dissent — bringing the Angelic Doctor along for the ride:

I propose that Aquinas’ valuation of loving over being loved, his recognition of God’s supreme lovability, and his connection of loving God with loving one’s neighbor result in the repudiation of teh self-seeing violence promoted by “empire-theology.” Despite their commendable goal of promoting generosity toward others, Schwartz and Schneider are mistaken about Christian theology of love
[. . .]
Since love of God is rooted in knowledge of God, however, can the one who loves God avoid dividing the world into people who share one’s faith and people who do not? As regards loving both friends and enemies, Aquinas takes and eschatological perspective, calling to mind Paul’s statement about the apostolic ministry that “each shall receive his wages according to his labors.” Only God, who calls each person to an ultimate destiny of eternal communion in Trinitarian life, can give these eternal “wages.” Thus one cannot divide one’s neighbors into sheep and goats because one cannot know how God is acting of will act in people’s lives. Instead, one simply recognizes that in each person, called to eternal communion in love, is precious.

It occurs to me, while reading these first three or four chapters, that this book is very timely, as it really is a discussion of the meaning of our human conceits vs humility. That we humans are conceited is inarguable; our self-love and self-interest has been our downfall since Eden. I would argue, in fact, that it is less an empire-theology than our own conceit that has littered history with movements intent on controlling societies and behaviors to destructive, oppressive or even violent ends — Hitler’s solution of the “Jewish problem,” Stalin’s Worker’s “Paradise”. We see the whispery hints of that same conceit in our own day –from a human conceit that our lightbulbs and candles will destroy the planet leads to the suggestion that some points of view must be suppressed, for the good of others, so we might “save” what we have neither created nor set in motion. We see it in news stories illustrating that we have championed self-esteem at the expense of self-respect.

To subject God’s own self-revelation to deconstruction in order to make his infinity fit into the finite trends of our own reasonings seem to me to be the very height of human conceit.

I love this:

Faced with evils or defects in goodness, the charitable person’s response is mercy. God has mercy upon us by bountifully healing our defects through his causal love, and in light of our defects we have mercy on each other by seeking to do good to each other. As regards outward acts, this manifests itself as beneficence-the bestowal of gifts-and the works of mercy, among which Aquinas numbers “to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to harbor the harborless, to visit the sick, to ransom the captive, to bury the dead,” as well as “to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to reprove the sinner, to forgive injuries, to bear with those who trouble and annoy us, and to pray for all.”[iii] The works of mercy also include fraternal correction, to which Aquinas gives special place because of its difficult but necessary role in sustaining the communion of the people of God.

In all these ways, we say to the beloved, whether God or our neighbor: “It’s good that you are; how wonderful that you exist!” We say this not merely on the natural level, but in light of God’s gift of a participation in his own Trinitarian life, eternal life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. With the Father, Son, and Spirit we proclaim, “It’s good that you are; how wonderful that you exist!” In this proclamation is the joy and peace of charity.

It sounds downright Ratzingerian, doesn’t it?

An excerpt from Colbert demonstrates in another way, the timeliness of the book. Check the link here

Pick up The Betrayal of Charity; you’ll like it!

Also writing:
Marcel LeJeune
Brant Pitre

Related: Colbert’s Cloak-and-Dagger Catechesis

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • jkm

    Matthew Levering is a friend of friends here in Dayton, and I have been lucky enough to listen to him talk through the amazing tangles of his gifted mind on occasion. I will definitely pick up this book (his last, on priesthood, was a challenge, but I’m sure brilliant–I found each of the footnotes could be a book of its own). In a much simpler way, I had a minor epiphany on this theme the other day. New agey folks like to say everything comes down to Love and Fear, but I think the two counterpoles of existence are really Gratitude and Entitlement (21st century names for Humility and Pride, I guess). Gratitude recognizes that all is gift, and overflows in charity. Entitlement is never satisfied, because nothing is ever as good as I deserve it to be, and hoards.