Monday, January 14, 2008

An irregular declension: My "faith", your "deeply held belief", his/her "superstition"...

Jeff Tan and LP Cruz are discussing an event non-Filipinos know little about: the Feast of the Black Nazarene.

I thought I would look up what Wikipedia had to say about "superstition" (some would regard the idea that Wikipedia can give you authoritative statements as itself a superstition, but we won't go there).

I discover that in fact, "superstition" appears to be one of those "irregular nouns" that Bernard Woolley was so fond of in "Yes, Minister" (eg.: "That's one of those irregular verbs, isn't it? I give confidential security briefings. You leak. He has been charged under section 2a of the Official Secrets Act."). Here's what Wiki had to say:
Superstition indicates something standing above, or set up above. The earliest English uses of the word in the modern era refer critically to Catholic practices such as censing, rosaries, holy water and other practices that Protestants believed went beyond - or were set up above - their own interpretation of the New Testament practices of Christianity. From there the uses of the term expanded to include non-Christian religious practices, and beliefs that seemed unfounded or primitive in the light of modern knowledge.
So it seems that Lito is using the noun (and its adjective) in the original and purest form: to deride acts of faith that are different from your own.


At Tuesday, January 15, 2008 11:46:00 am , Blogger Jeff Tan said...

I must confess that my reflex concerning this feast is to think of it also as superstition; it may be a sign of elitist thinking in me. But by God's grace, I also recognize that this knee-jerk reaction is unfair and unfounded because I cannot read the hearts and minds of those people. I am also happy to report that I can immediately trounce my own reaction by pointing out the many folks in the New Testament who believed in touching the hem of the Lord's garment or similar recourse to Apostle's shadows and articles of clothing. And they were not derided for such thinking.

Lito believes that this is proof that the Catholic Church deliberately caters to superstition in order to keep the masses happy, while catering to the educated with more educated catechism. He blogged about this thesis originally proposed by a former priest a few centuries ago, who saw two layers of Catholicism in Rome. I disagreed with the conspiracy theory, but agree that there are different levels as they appeal to different groups of people. Not necessarily a bad thing nor something that can be (nor should be) repaired. Most of the people who throng to such feasts in the Philippines do not have the opportunity to be catechized in theology, hermeneutics, etc. They may not have time for daily Mass. They may not own a Bible, nor would they necessarily be able to read. If I were pastoring such a group of people, I wouldn't know where to begin. Although the bishop's conference president had indicated that he may have to do something in order to effect better catechism. God help him, and I mean it!

There is also the danger of confusing the people into thinking that physical matter is therefore anathema to holiness. There is also the possibility that such devotions feed the faith of these people, in which case, good for them. They might actually have a more personal relationship with Christ than I do, since their faith is simpler, they lead harder lives, yet they soldier on and continue to believe.

So, yes, it would be tragic for skeptics in the feast who connect with the supernatural aspects without any benefit to their faith and sanctification, but I wouldn't know if this was true or for how many this was true. I'm sure, however, that for many if not most, they do make the connection with Christ, not the wooden material, and their faith is enriched. I wouldn't pass judgment (if I can help it) since this is between God (in his mysterious ways) and these people of simple (not necessarily little) faith.

And that might be what keeps priests and bishops from dissuading people like those.

After all, Jesus did not berate the woman for touching the hem of his garments. Instead, he blessed her.

At Tuesday, January 15, 2008 1:02:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

The thing about folk Christianity is that at least it reaches the masses.

While I greatly admire Lutheranism's dedication to teaching and catechisation and pray to God that we could emulate it in the Catholic Church, nevertheless, if the Christian faith really is for all people, then we cannot exclude the fact that there are going to be very many people who will grab hold of it by the extremities rather than by the centre.

These too belong to the body.

At Tuesday, January 15, 2008 2:47:00 pm , Anonymous pauljub said...

I have met many delightful Catholic Christians. The only problem is, the Catholic "faith" believes that the "Church" has authority over scripture, thus potentially nullifying the very basic tenets of Christianity as set forth by Jesus and the original Apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit to write scripture, which the Spirit then uses to teach Christians with.

My Christianity blog

At Wednesday, January 16, 2008 4:36:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Hi pauljub,

Here's a few snippets from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, "but as what it really is, the word of God". In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.

God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."

The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.

Still, the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book." Christianity is the religion of the "Word" of God, a word which is "not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living". If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures." All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, "because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ" (Hugh of St. Victor, De arca Noe 2,8:PL 176,642: cf. ibid. 2,9:PL 176,642-643).

The Catholic "faith" is the Christian faith from apostolic times on. Our "Catholicity" refers to our universality in one Lord, one Faith and one Baptism.

There is really only one true "Word" of God and that is the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ. Sacred Scripture testifies to him.

It is good to see Christians in Canada standing firm for Jesus Christ.

Jeff and David, there truly has to be room in the one body for people at many levels of faith. I've learned to love the maternal nature of the Catholic Church; like all good mothers as long as there is life and breath she never gives up on any of her children.

At Thursday, January 17, 2008 8:28:00 pm , Blogger Jeff Tan said...

there truly has to be room in the one body for people at many levels of faith

Yes, certainly. Within the Church past, present and future is a diversity across different kinds of faiths, different lives of faith, different devotions. Some are simpler than others. Some are more scholarly, some are less so. Love is the great equalizer, and I think that this is God's foremost measure.

At Friday, January 18, 2008 1:28:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Love is the great equalizer, and I think that this is God's foremost measure.

Well put, Jeff. St. Paul teaches us that in the end what remains is love.

We are all one in Christ but the Spirit distributes gifts as and to whom he will and no one has to the right to judge someone else's level or clarity of faith. While we live we are all on our pilgrim journey. I am not at all suggesting, however, that where rampant heresy exists it should not be addressed but that's a different matter.

And then, of course, there is that little admonition in Scripture that to whom much is given, much will be required.


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