The Scandal of Faith | Carl E. Olson | Catholic World Report | Editorial
The Year of Faith and the 50th anniversary of Vatican II are occasion for self-examination and bold proclamation.
"It was by no means only yesterday that truth became embarrassing." With those rather wry words, Jean Daniélou, S.J., opened his book, Scandaleuse Vérité, published in English as The Scandal of Truth in August 1962. Daniélou, whose father was a Communist, was not taken in by the starry-eyed optimism of the early Sixties; on the contrary, he saw clearly that a humanism divorced from faith in Jesus Christ ends in despair and ruin, for "while man may be destined for happiness, he has been injured by sin, and can be healed only by the Cross."
And, in an introductory remark that is just as appropriate today as it was fifty years ago, he stated:
Above all I want to say to young Christians that they should not allow themselves to be over-awed by the false vestiges of modern-day doctrines, who murkiness masks the uprightness of eternal truth. The shocking bankruptcy of Marxist optimism and of the philosophies of despair as well has nothing about it that should impress them.
This, of course, was written before "Marxist optimism", in various forms, set the Western skies aflame and send shockwaves through campuses and governments in the late Sixties, as the supposedly best and brightest of a generation jumped off the crumbling cliff of Western civilization into the murkiness of modern-day doctrines. Much has changed in the years since, but the murkiness remains. Truth is still embarrassing; worse, it is increasingly mocked and savaged as an affront to "progress", "tolerance", and a hundred other empty buzz words co-opted by the post-modern sophists who dominate popular culture, media, and politics.
The Challenge of the Council
Two months after the publication of Daniélou's book—fifty years ago today—the Second Vatican Council opened. In his opening address. Blessed John XXIII stated:
The major interest of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred heritage of Christian truth be safeguarded and expounded with greater efficacy. That doctrine embraces the whole man, body and soul. It bids us live as pilgrims here on earth, as we journey onwards towards our heavenly homeland. ...
John XXIII has sometimes been criticized for an apparently naive optimism. If the Pope's optimism is perceived as merely earthly or pragmatic in nature, the critics are correct. But John XXIII was not merely optimistic, but authentically hopeful, and the difference is essential. The key here is in John XXIII's emphasis on living as pilgrims, as people who, as he stated in the same address, "have a twofold obligation: as citizens of earth, and as citizens of heaven." Christians who live as if this world is all that matters fail their divine vocation, while Christians who live as if this world matters not all also fail their divine vocation, which is to be a disciple amidst the dust and trials of this world. "The Christian optimism," wrote G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy, "is based on
the fact that we do not fit in to the world. ... The optimist's pleasure was prosaic, for it dwelt on
the naturalness of everything; the Christian pleasure was poetic, for it dwelt
on the unnaturalness of everything in the light of the supernatural."
This light, John XXIII emphasized, is the light of divine revelation passed down through the Church, in continuity with herself, if such a qualification need be expressed (alas, it does):
What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men's moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else.
Nearly twenty years ago, I was a young Evangelical Protestant who had, by God's grace, survived a couple of crises of faith (one of them while in Bible college), each of which forced me to confront, question, and wrestle with the assumptions of my childhood faith. (Eventually, in 1997, I entered the Catholic Church; for more on that, see my April 2012 editorial, "On Fifteen Years a Catholic".) At the heart of these crises—and I don't use the word "crises" dramatically or loosely, just frankly—were two basic questions: Why do I exist? And does Jesus Christ provide the answers to that question and every question that follows?