Because of Dogma . . . Not

Just back from my Saturday morning men’s group at St. Mary Star of the Sea. A great group of guys, usually about fifteen strong; a mixed group, agewise, smartswise, even faithwise. Protestants slip over the fence once in a while, and Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, even atheists are welcome. Some members, like Ferde, Bill, and Jonathan, are extraordinarily knowledgeable about scripture and Catholic doctrine. Ferde founded the group three or four years ago, and it has grown successfully under his leadership.

But boy, it drives me nuts sometimes—while redirecting me, graciously, to the sources of my own personal faith.

This morning, Bill presented on the Eastern Orthodox interpretation of Mary. Within ten minutes, we were arguing (arguing!) about such matters as:

  • the precise meaning of the Immaculate Conception
  • whether Mary died or merely fell asleep before the Assumption
  • whether Jesus’s “brothers” were really brothers, or only cousins
  • the meaning of the filioque clause
  • the meaning of Theotokos
  • the meaning of until (as in Matthew 1:25—”And [Joseph] did not know her until she had brought forth her firstborn son”)

It got to the point where I wondered if someone wouldn’t quote St. Bill of Clinton on the meaning of the word is.

This is what occurred to me, as I slumped back in my chair, knowing that I had neither the knowledge of dogma nor the intellectual firepower (at least at this hour, 8 a.m.) to enter the fray. It is entirely enough for me that:

  • God so loved us that he gave us his own son;
  • That this son, the incarnate Word of our Heavenly Father, actually appeared here on earth and showed men just like me His face;
  • That He was born from the womb of a virgin;
  • That He spoke to us and told us what to do; and
  • That, as St. John of the Cross wrote, God has nothing more to say.

Wow! This is enough for me. It’s all I need, Lord. To contemplate this, to fully understand and appreciate these facts. I ask nothing more.

The argumentation, the dogma, and all the puffed-up reasons for the split between Eastern and Western Churches—all that’s for someone smarter than me, and with way more time on his hands.

  • Wine in the Water

    I wanted to tell you that I've really come to enjoy your blog.Wow! This is enough for me. It's all I need, Lord. To contemplate this, to fully understand and appreciate these facts. I ask nothing more.I don't think it is a matter of choosing. These finer points of theology and dogma may seem nit-picky or unimportant, but if we shift our perspective a little, perhaps not so much. When we consider that our faith is a relationship, a relationship with God, then the details take on a different light. I think that anyone who has ever been in love can understand this. What lover would be satisfied with just the big-picture attributes of their beloved? What lover could ever have their desire to learn more about the other satisfied? What lover would not be eternally fascinated, delving ever deeper and casting their considerations ever wider? So, to the lover, these finer details are important, because nothing about their beloved is unimportant. So it is with our relationship and love of God. Perhaps we are only capable of understanding so much, perhaps we only have so much time and/or capacity to devote to pondering. But that doesn't affect whether or not the finer points are important or valuable, only how we approach them.But the notion of relationship aside, we might also say that we should focus on the big ideas first – that God so loved us that He gave us His only Son, etc. – and work our way to the finer points when we have have the foundation/time/energy/understanding. However, one of the great strengths of Catholic theology is how integrated everything is. Everything bears on everything else. So we don't believe what we believe about Mary because of Mary, we believe what we believe about Mary because of Jesus and what these realities about Jesus mean about His mother. Just like we can learn a lot about the greater reality of a tree by studying its bark, we can learn a lot about the big picture from the details, we can learn a lot about the Incarnation by studying the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption. For me, no single thing has garnered more understanding and appreciation in the great idea of salvation than really examining what Thomine "substance" means in the Real Presence.So I think we sell ourselves short when we are tempted to discount the details for the "big ideas."(Of course, none of this is to say that sometimes the details don't just become fodder for posturing, or a rat-maze distraction, or a surrogate for partisanship. The value of the details is that they draw us ever closer to the Truth, when they don't, it is better to step away.)

  • Webster Bull

    Many thanks for this long thoughtful comment. Wine in the Water is a very fine blog. WB