Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Catholic Both/And, or, The Deion Sanders Principle in Theology

Many of my readers may know I'm currently in the thesis-writing phase of a dual master's program in philosophy and theology; fewer readers may know my topic, and may they consider themselves blessed for it. For the curious, though, I will say that, generally, I'm writing on the subject of tradition, specifically as it appears in the writings of the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer and the theologian Yves Cardinal Congar, as there is some overlap in their thought. I have refrained from discussing the subject of my master's thesis in this space, both because I'm not quite far along enough to share succinctly any blog-sized bites of it, and because many things I might share would require several posts' worth of introduction in order to be appreciated. So I have spared you.

But, I just ran across a paragraph in Congar's master work Tradition and Traditions that touches upon the perpetually vexing subject of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition which I thought was worth sharing and briefly reflecting upon. Congar notes
           “a consistent pattern in God’s actions: namely, the proceeding by means of pairs or doublets. The more I think of this, the more I am persuaded that there is in this recurrent pattern something very profound, a kind of rule of the divine Poetics, of which the antiphonal form of the inspired poetry of the Hebrew Bible appears as a kind of reflection. Why are there man and woman, father and mother, why two sides of the body, two eyes, two hands, etc.? Why two Testaments, Law and Grace, and communion under two kinds? Why are there in the physical world, a negative and a positive pole? Could this not be a sign that, according to the structure of God’s plan, one reality must always be complemented in another, and by another? God is Communion in unity, Unity in plurality. Must plenitude be realized in his creation only in a fusion of the one and the many? Why had there to be two witnesses to assure the validity of a testimony, and why was this testimony, as a result, decisive? Is it not because there exists at the heart of reality a kind of structure of things based on duality in unity, agreement and completeness in difference? I think so, and I believe also that this is an element of tradition which is rarely noticed, but everywhere presupposed, and that it is a fact which could explain much in the monuments of this same tradition. The Reformation kept, or re-established, eucharistic communion under both kinds; it was not wrong in doing that. But there exists also a communion with the Gospel under the two kinds—of the text, and of life in the Church. That communion, too, needs to be kept or re-established.” (374-75)
This is a beautiful and deep exposition of something I've heard from many a Catholic apologist: the "both/and" principle. One could say that virtually every heresy in the Church's history has been a result of isolating some part of the truth away from the whole. Christ's humanity alone! Christ's divinity alone! God is really one! God is really three! Scripture alone! Faith alone! And so on. But the truth is found when we discover that these are not mutually exclusive contraries, but halves of a whole. Both divinity and humanity are present in their fullness in Christ. Both Scripture and Tradition present us with God's revelation. Both faith and works are required for salvation. Both nature and grace persist in the individual. Both Trinity and Unity are necessary ways of describing God. We need both.

Call it the Deion Sanders principle of theology.

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