The Role of Doctrine in Inspiring Believers to Moral Greatness | Fr. Daniel Richards | HPR
In order to demonstrate this essential coexistence of nature and grace in the life of the Church, and the life of the believer, it must be shown that doctrine is necessary for salvation, not superfluous, but essential to the Church’s mission given by Christ.
St. Robert Bellarmine proposed as a mark of the true Church the efficacy of doctrine in inspiring believers to moral greatness. That this should be so is due to the hypostatic nature of the Church, which is the body of Christ. Human and divine, it is necessary that members of the Church, if they are to live in full unity with God and one another, be transformed through that same mode of existence, inflating neither at the expense of the other. In order to demonstrate this essential coexistence of nature and grace in the life of the Church, and the life of the believer, it must be shown that doctrine is necessary for salvation, not superfluous, but essential to the Church’s mission given by Christ. Secondly, it must also be shown that, of itself, doctrine is inefficacious without the subjective element of faith that makes it salvific. From the proper delineation of doctrine established by the above, the role of the Church in proposing doctrine for belief becomes clear. Finally, the dynamic of faith and action comes forth, by which the believer is indeed inspired to moral greatness.
Whereas in the natural sciences, purpose is self-evident, inquiry finding its justification in the results, the sacred sciences can seem arbitrary to the one whose assent is demanded. What does it matter whether Jesus Christ was God-made-man, man-made-God, or one appearing to be the other, so long as I believe in Jesus Christ and, therefore, am saved? Certain consequences of opposing belief can be demonstrated, but given that there is much more we cannot know than that which we can, it seems complete certainty will always evade us. 1 To espouse this position does avoid the rightly eschewed narrowness of dogmatism, but at the cost of leaving theological inquiry stunted, and ultimately, the life of faith, short-sighted.This work of codifying, clarifying, and amplifying doctrine is the task of theology. Its justification, however, is not found in the result, the action that follows inquiry. St. Thomas Aquinas addresses this point in his Summa Theologiae. 2 It is objected that sacred doctrine is a practical science, since it is not enough only to hear the word, but also to act upon it. While admitting the truth of this point, St. Thomas clarifies that the action following sacred doctrine is subordinate to the primary object which is God. The primary concern of doctrine is not the created world, but the uncreated God, after which it is able to treat of the created world and, only then, have practical consequences.
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