07 June 2010

The grass is greener here

Growing up, you could flip a coin as to which religion a given neighbor might be. Next door on one side were Catholics; the other side Lutherans. Farther down the block, alternately Catholic and Lutheran. Across the street, it was the same pattern. Each Sunday morning we all got in our cars and went to our corresponding church, although the Lutherans had more to pick from.

It wasn't until recently, and still not very persuasively, that I could explain why I was Catholic. Having kids, as my father used to say in slightly less than delicate words, brings stuff into focus. It prioritizes then reprioritizes again. Explaining the Faith to children and trying as best as one can to live that Faith is not a vocation for a sissy. Distilling down the four Last Things, I primarily will be judged on my short tenure as a parent.

Dad might not have been elegant in his speech, but he usually was right.

He also was big on the theme of perseverance. The decision to homeschool also boils down to me as the teacher, primary educator, "Parents are the first and most important educators of their children, and they also possess a fundamental competency in this area: they are educators because they are parents."

Which brings me off the tangent to the latest thing I read in my attempts to be informed enough to educate my children. In my ecumenical monologue with my Lutheran in-laws, I've tried to explain my Faith. I'm finally looking into what the in-laws believe, or at least what the founders of what they believe (Luther and Calvin), actually believed.

It's been illuminating and not pretty.
For Luther sin is passion, for Catholicism sin is in the will -- the act of choice. In Freudian terms Luther's sin is libido, Catholic sin is ego. From this a number of consequences flow. From the Lutheran point of view the conclusion follows that, as nobody is ever entirely passionless (least of all essentially passionate types like Luther), there can be no freedom from sin in this world. Man is born and dies in iniquity. The utmost he can attain is an assurance that this won't be counted against him -- that Christ's redemptive suffering covers all. Hence justice is only imputed -- the Lutheran concept which became the center of controversy.

In Catholic teaching, on the other hand, the work of justification is not limited to the act of faith with which it begins. It is carried on by the use of the sacraments, the life of charity and the practice of good works, so that human nature recovers the spiritual life that was lost by sin and man becomes a new creature, not by an external act of imputation but by the appropriation of divine grace -- by sanctifying grace, which is the technical theological term.

Thus there is a difference between Lutheran and Catholic teaching as regards good works and free will. Luther says that good works do not make a good man, or evil works a bad man, but that the good man does good works and the bad man does evil. This is psychologically true, but it does not cover the whole ground. The ordinary man is not wholly good or wholly bad. He is both. He does good acts and bad acts, and it is psychologically false to argue that his character is not affected by good or evil practice. Thus it is also true to say that good habits make a man good and bad habits make him bad. This second fact was ignored or underestimated by Luther. It seems that there is a certain confusion in his thought on these matters. He had become convinced of the worthlessness of pious practices -- that it is no use fasting or saying long prayers or making a pilgrimage or a vow. Good works, however, are not merely pious practices, they are simply what the words denote -- doing good -- and it is a fallacy to argue that such action has no value from a religious point of view.
~ Christopher Dawson, The Dividing of Christendom

Since I wasn't doing it much on my own, children are God's way of insisting I learn my Faith, even just a little, so that my kids may fare better than the odds of a coin flip.

No comments: