instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

To know and to love

Steven Riddle wonders about the dynamics that come into play when someone takes something like The DaVinci Code seriously:
If someone accused your mother of being a slut would you run for the dictionary, to show that by definition she is not? Or would you simply let love take the lead. This is not to fault those who wish to address and correct the errors that are introduced here. It is to fault whatever mechanism gives rise to so weak a love of Jesus that some are inclined to take seriously any calumny uttered against Him.
A weak love, however, doesn't cause ignorance, nor (as far as I know) are the falsehoods in the novel particularly calamnous toward Jesus. The calumnies are (as far as I know) directed against the institutional Church, and love for the institutional Church itself does not flow immediately from love for Jesus.

There's another reason that a Catholic finding Dan Brown a credible source of history is not necessarily a sign of the weakness of that Catholic's love for Jesus: A person's beliefs are not necessarily consistent. I may well have mutually contradictory beliefs and be completely unaware of it, particularly if I formed the beliefs at points in time that are far apart. I might believe, say, that the Eucharist is an outward sign of an inward grace somehow related to Calvary (a belief formed in childhood), and that St. Athanasius invented the Sacrament of the Eucharist as a way for bishops to wrest power away from the more-popular monks (a belief formed by reading some junk history last year). Even if I would recognize the theological disconnect between those beliefs if I saw it, I wouldn't necessarily see it if no one pointed it out to me.

Now, it's true that love tends to cause a desire to know more about the beloved (to say nothing of knowing the beloved more!), so a strong love of Jesus should tend to cause a desire to know more about Him. But many lifetimes can be spent getting to know more about Jesus without touching on Church history. And much can be learned about life in the sacraments without touching on them as historical phenomena.

All in all, then, I'm inclined to assume good will and even good faith on the part of those Catholics who might believe some or all of the falsehoods and absurdities of The DaVinci Code and similar bogus works. Where that assumption is true, the love for Jesus -- and for the Church He founded -- already exists, and it really is primarily a matter of historical instruction.

American Catholics are not good on Church history; we know there are dodgy bits that don't bear much scrutiny, and we're generally willing to accept the role of whipping boy society (taking over from English Protestantism) assigns us. I don't think it takes much instruction to change from the either/or of imeccability/source of all societal ills to the both/and of the Mystical Body of Christ composed of sinners.