Monday, March 15, 2010

A Request to His Holiness, Pope Benedict

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For a Document on Original Sin

May it please Your Holiness that word about Your Holiness' interest in furthering the Church's meditation on the doctrine of Original Sin has met me, Your unworthy servant, with great interest and hope.

Like Yourself, I am a student and disciple of Saint Augustine. I have written a doctoral thesis on Augustine's interpretation of the Book of Job and the Pelagian Controversy, where, of course, we find Augustine making his defense of the universal fact that salvation comes through grace. It was during the writing of this work that I became aware of the sizable force of neo-pelagianism, if i may so speak, in the world and in the Church today. It is the tendency or the bias of people today to hypothesize God as a force against or outside of man. As Your Holiness has suggested, part of the problem lies in the modern tendency to think of man as essentially an individual, not as being-in-relationship, like the Blessed Trinity. Thus, we can observe a peculiar change of late in the fact that Pelagius who has always been regarded as the heretic par excellence by both Catholics and Protestants is now suddenly enjoying a sort of 'cultus' scattered here and there. And it is not only with liberal Protestantism that this is so, but certain both radical and subdued parties within Catholicism itself. The latter are more of a cause for concern since it is not malingnity of will but a lack of familiarity with our tradition that has misdirected an otherwise fully-praiseworth sort of Catholic. There is a tendency with certain students of St. Thomas - since it simply cannot be accounted for in Aristotle - to fail to comprehend the sheer magnitude of the consequences of our fall in Adam. Sometimes it is the case that advancement in theology has not kept apace with advancement in philosophy. But Original Sin is truly a datum fidei, even if certain of its effects can be known by reason. Yet inasmuch as the full truth of our eternal vocation cannot be grasped by reason, neither can the full consequences be grasped of that which puts it in jeopardy.

Your Holiness would no doubt acknowledge that in the matters of the baptism of infants, the salvation of the non-believer, the destiny of the unrepentant, and, indeed, even belief in hell, limbo and purgatory, the minds of many have been vexed by and, understandably, have been by the very force of their consternation driven to revisit and challenge the traditional soteriological paradigm handed on to us from Augustine. It is precisely here that the Church seeks the guidance of Your Holiness. Modern man not only lies in need of Your Wisdom to steer the hearts and minds back to the safe shores of the long-cherished teaching of our father, Augustine, but indeed, even to be counselled as he moves down paths that could not have been forseen by him. And just as Augustine had always himself relied on upon the authority and strength of the Holy Apostolic See to steer the Church through the darknesses which beset her, so do Catholics today - and no one more so than this unworthy servant, lay in need of Your great wisdom in these sensitive matters.

I appeal, not for those who would set aside the difficult matters at stake, but for those who, like myself, although not armed with great wisdom, are yet unwilling to have matters so crucial to our happiness - both the happiness of this life and that of the next - set aside for facile and spurious solutions that appeal only to the unreflective and to those who neither love mankind nor our sacred tradition. I appeal to Him, who possesses both by grace of authority and by His natural genius, every intellectual and moral virtue required for so subtle a matter. I appeal to Him who possesses the zeal to comfort and confirm all the children of the Church and of the world with the truth that is none-too-easy to discover and cling to in this age of confusion.

We, Your children, are convinced that the age-old truths of our Faith are ever able to satisfy the deepest longing of the heart and the most exacting scrutiny of the intellect. We know that it is not that the Doctrine of the Faith lacks anything required of it by the men of today. We are convinced that the problem lies in our own poverty, our misguided sensibilities, and the fact that we have wandered far away from Him who is life and light. For everywhere we have heard and been convinced by words that please the ears but which can neither make sense of the doctrines we have received from our ancestors nor to the deepest truth of the human person - a person incomplete outside of the God in whose image he has been made, and yet ennobled by having been endowed with that radical power by which he may even definitely divorce himself from his ultimate good. Nor are we unaware of the great dilemmas in which this understanding of man places us. We are not insensitive to the great desire of the many kind-hearted people who would desire that all be saved despite the truth of sin.

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