Sunday, 14 February 2010

Archbishop Fulton Sheen; The Spirit of the Age and the Romance of Truth (Part 1)

I just watched another brilliant episode of Archbishop Sheen's "Life is Worth Living" on EWTN. This programme was about how to think. As the great man spoke I couldn't help but think about the problems in the Anglican Church. He took a few examples to show the mistakes we often make in constructing theories and dealing with the questions that arise because of different "modes" of thinking and the different scientific methods. One example was Einstein's theory of relativity. When this became popular, said the Archbishop, we had the relativity of this and that - including the idea that "God is a creature whose matrix is space/time".
He went on to say how dangerous it is to "marry the spirit of this age" and "be a widow in the next". I began to think about feminism and the damage it has done to the Church. The idea that men and women are "interchangeable", and not just complimentary has caused much heartache, false guilt and mistaken ambitions. The equality of the sexes is in Holy Scripture: it did not have to be "read into it" - it was already there (this is me speaking, not Sheen, by the way). The application of a social "mood" - a theory or a set of theories about how men and women should be reconciled has been applied to church order and many have read Scripture through a pair of feminist spectacles, interpreting this passage and that reference in the light of a 20th and now 21st century "understanding" about the subjugation of women and their rightful place in society.
To question this is to be branded "out-dated", "patriarchal" "afraid" or "misogynistic".
Where is the Truth in all this? To develop a "mind-set" or a method of interpretation with regard to Scripture suggests the possibility that one ends by exalting a theory rather than the Truth itself. An interpretation - a view - a perspective - becomes THE truth, whereas the real Truth is no longer sought because it has been displaced by a way of thinking. Feminism as a social and political force has its place in society, and, by God's grace, has perhaps made us look at the way we treat each other in society AND in the Church, but when applied to the study of Scripture and made into a branch of Theology it can lead to confusion and tragic errors such as the ordination of women. I can already sense the critics thinking "this poor man just doesn't understand" or even, "he is prejudiced". The discussion ended long ago because those who were against the ordination of women were not treated as equals. Isn't this one of those strange paradoxes - that a movement in the Church for a kind of equality actually led to an inequality when it came to those who disagreed with it?
But just to show that there are arguments against the ordination of women to the episcopacy and the priesthood, I am going to post an essay on my other blog giving Scriptural references and presenting what I think is a strong case against it. For now, I think I'll just leave you with the thought that applying a method of thinking or "mood" from one aspect or science (such as politics or sociology) to another science (such as theology) could be dangerous. We might also suggest that one of the major difficulties in this and other debates is that so many Christians have begun from the wrong place; that is, they have begun with the "wisdom of the world" and tried to apply that to Holy Scripture, instead of beginning with the Word of God and viewing the world in the light of Truth.
Of course, it could be argued that Aquinas applied a way of thinking to theology - adapted from the philosophy of Aristotle, but the real danger is in the starting point - is it the "wisdom" of the world or the Word of God? Aquinas began with faith.

1 comment:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree, particularly with the last section.
    The "wisdom of the world" proclaims that 'Seeing is believing'; this requires evidence and applies a worldly scientific approach.
    If that is turned on it's head and we proclaim "Believing is seeing" then we might be able to interpret life from a faith perspective and this can change everything.
    Elisha in 2Kings Ch 6 v15-19; Saul on the road to Damascus; Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration and many other scriptural examples, show that viewing situations from a perspective of "believing is seeing" may lead us to a greater depth of Faith.
    Oh that we could all have the scales removed from our eyes to see "Truth".