Sorry for my delay in replying. This past week [May 2-9] has been pretty busy. Wednesday was my wife's birthday. Saturday was my own. Sunday was obviously Mother's Day. I'm starting a new shift at work this week, so hopefully that will give me more time and energy--rather than nights all the time...
Anyway, you wrote in your last letter, first, affirming that you agree with me that the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses make a false claim to a relationship with Jesus, but then you ask "What if their claim was true? What then?"
First of all, I'm not sure what relevance the question has, since we both don't believe their claims. "What if" questions like this are usually attempts at sophistry. However, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and answer your question.
If the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses actually had a true relationship with Jesus, then I would have a false one. Only one of us can be right (it's also important to remember that the Mormons would disagree as much with the Jehovah's Witnesses about Jesus as they would with you or me). That's why it's important to seek and to know the Truth, so that we're not led astray by every wind of doctrine, as Ephesians 4 tells us. And Ephesians 4 also gives us the antidote to being so tossed about: the Church--namely, the leaders, Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. Each serves in their own role the function of preserving, proclaiming, and clarifying the Faith for the people, so that we can be sure of the Truth, so that when someone comes up with a new cockamamie concept of God, we can say "This is not true, because it does not line up with the historic faith handed down from the Apostles until now, faithfully and without change." Nowhere is such a consistent tradition preserved except in the Catholic Church. Every other Christian denomination, and every cult that has split off from Christianity, has changed their beliefs in some radical way since their inception. I'm not trying to sound arrogant or prideful in saying this--it's a matter of historical record.
You then state that if a particular dogma doesn't accurately describe the one with whom we are seeking a relationship--namely, God--then that dogma should be clarified so that it more truthfully describes the relationship, and not partially or incompletely.
If a Dogma doesn't fit the relationship, then yes, the Dogma should be clarified. But clarification doesn't equal rejection or change to the Dogma. What the Dogma says, if it's True, is True. But the fact that it's True doesn't mean it's easily understood. The role of the Pastor and Teacher of Ephesians 4 is precisely to help explain the Dogma so that, on the one hand, more people can easily understand it, while on the other hand, the truth of the Dogma is not lost. It's a very difficult tension to maintain. And, frankly, sometimes it's not the explanation that needs further simplification, but it's a matter of the learner becoming more educated.
When St. Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa Theologica, it was written in such a way that those in the 13th Century who read it could easily understand it, even if they were only beginning to study theology. Now, some 800 years later, even with modern translations, it takes some effort to figure out. That's not because Thomas failed to make his Summa easily understandable, but because our society, quite frankly, doesn't have the same level of education in theological and philosophical matters as they did in the 1200s. So, on the one hand, we can seek to simplify the Summa even further, but there comes a point where we simply have to try to educate its readers.
But stepping back a second, this is why, even though Dogma doesn't change, it nevertheless develops. From the Early Church until now, the faith once for all handed down to and through the Apostles is the same as taught today in the Catholic Church. But what we believe today has expanded upon and clarified what the Early Christians believed in seed form. Even the dogma of the Trinity took many hundreds of years to really describe properly, avoiding one heresy on the left and the other on the right. But the core truth of the Trinity was believed by the very first Christians, even if it wasn't fully explained at that time.
This is why we can attempt to puzzle through the mystery of how there can be One God subsisting in three Persons, and seek to better explain and understand this mystery; and it's why we cannot and must not deny that there is One God subsisting in three Persons, either by saying there are actually three gods, or that there is only One God and He expresses Himself in three modes or representations. Neither of these is true, even if they are easier to understand.
The very incomprehensibility of One Being in Three Persons itself speaks to the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity. If infinite God could be truly comprehended, He wouldn't be infinite. In the end, if we can really fully understand God, it's because He isn't actually God.
May the God who is greater than anything we can conceive, richly bless you beyond all that you can ask or imagine.
(Category: Theology Proper: The Holy Trinity.)
Friday, June 04, 2010
Posted by Gregory at 7:24 am