09 May 2019

On Legalism and the Place of C 603 in Eremitical Life

[[Dear Sister, thanks for explaining your position on pursuing consecration and using Canon law for that. I had always thought that people who supported canon law like you do were legalists. Also, I was convinced that this law was contrary to the Gospel because of the way I read Paul and his writings on law and Gospel. But you make good points on the importance of law serving love and that's new to me. I never heard that idea before. I also thought about your story about the non-canonical community you knew and how law was necessary to help their idealism. This was also not something I had thought about. But what do you do with Paul's teaching of Christ as the end of the law? How does someone living a Gospel life need law? Doesn't this lead to idolatry? Isn't one's heart divided as idolatry divides our hearts? I am not Catholic so maybe there is something in your Catholic faith that makes this okay --- not idolatry I don't mean, but you know, some kind of peaceful coexistence of law and Gospel.]]

Thank you very much for your comments and questions. This seems to be the week for comments on legalism. If my thanks seems a bit effusive it is because those comments contrasted significantly with the following assertions I also got by email this week. They are posted here just as they were received; nothing is left out: [[Your responses in your blog are as legalistic as those of the clergy! “Love God and do what you will.”]] followed by my response, [[Dear ___, I am sorry you think so. Could you give examples of what you mean? Do you think all recourse to law is "legalistic?]] and then, [[All !!! You quote Canon Law very very frequently. Did the Hermits of old quote Canon Law.]] There were a couple more emails after this but you get the idea. I didn't post my last post because of this email exchange (it preceded the exchange slightly) but it was very timely. In any case, your questions and your comment were and are very welcome.

Paul's Notion of τελος:

I think some who read Paul's phrase about Christ being the "end of the law" read it just as you have done, but the simple fact is the word translated as "end" is the Greek, τέλος  or telos, which means goal, fulfillment, and in this sense, end. Jesus is the human embodiment of the Law of God, the fulfillment of the Torah, the fullness of the Law and the Prophets. He is the incarnation of the Wisdom of God, the One who "shows us who God is, who we are, and what God wants us to be about" -- as one of the Communion service' texts I use reminds us. As my interlocutor above said quoting Augustine, "Love and do what you will" --- but the meaning of the term "love" is no more obvious than the meaning of the term God. We need someone to show us Who God is, and who we are. We need someone to show us what love is and to empower us to live it besides. Jesus is the one who does all these things; he is the one in whom we learn what it means to "Love and do what you will" because he is the One who loves God and does the will of God rather than his own will. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, the One is whom the Law, a very great gift of God which Paul also affirms, is allowed to be translated into loving, healing, lifegiving and empowering Presence.

In a sense what Christ reveals to us is our own vocation to become the fulfillment of Law. He empowers us to become imago Christi, the image of the Christ in whom the whole law and prophets are completed and made incarnate. When I think of things this way I understand my vocation in terms of becoming a fulfillment, an expression of the goal and a living embodiment of canon 603. If and to the extent I succeed in this with the grace of God, my life allows canon 603 to achieve the very goal of its being. But I think this is as far from legalism as one could possibly be or get. Not all laws work this same way of course, but Canon 603, by it's very nature and purpose does. It provides the lineaments of a divine and living vocation, sets this vocation off from other vocations, and even from other worlds, and when one is consecrated by the Church's mediation of God hallowing blessing and commissioned to live this way both from and on behalf of the Church, she is called and commissioned to breathe her own unique life into these lineaments and allow them to assume a human face, a human heart and soul. Legalism? No. Transfiguration? Yes.

The Ongoing Need for Law:

All of us fall short of the fullness of humanity revealed and empowered in Christ. To the extent we are imperfect and fail to love as God loves we need guidelines, reminders, boundaries, limits, and pathways. Law serves all of these roles. I have written here before that the hermit's Rule serves like a trellis which supports growth in youth and weakness, or holds a plant relatively safely in times of heavy weather or storm. I have also described it as analogous to a stair railing which  supports us when the climb is difficult and keeps us from hurtling off the stairs entirely when the descent picks up speed.  Imagine someone trying to learn to live a disciplined but also genuinely free (not libertine!) life without any law at all. Imagine trying to commute from Oakland to North Beach in San Francisco without traffic laws helping every motorist to be safe. Imagine having a physician who follows no rules, instead of acting freely within the guidelines and procedures governing an ethical and professional medical practice. Imagine trying to teach a classroom of children who have been told, "Love and do what you will!" (Even worse, imagine trying to parent a couple of teenagers who have been told the one Rule of the house is the very same thing!) Or imagine trying to play a Bach unaccompanied sonata or partita on violin if rules, technique, and exacting long-practiced discipline hadn't been applied so consistently that now the player is paradoxically freed to be able to transcend the notes on the page and, in a unique communion with J.S. Bach, play music which springs from the depths of the performer's heart and mind!!!

No one truly lives without law. Law serves a number of purposes but in most of these it serves love and allows life in community. Whether I am talking about the children in the classroom, the teenagers in the family, the drivers trying to commute from point a to point b, law serves love --- love for ourselves, for our brothers and sisters whom we know -- and those whom we do not, love for those who are weak or ill and need the support, guidance, and structure of law to help them with (and, sometimes unfortunately, protect others from) things like addictions, immaturity, foolishness and lack of judgment. The proper use of law does not imply worship of law. It does not make an idol of law. It simply recognizes a gift of God which provides space and structure for genuine freedom. (We are free to learn in a well-ordered classroom, free to enjoy a drive or road trip when traffic laws lead to safe roads, free to be ourselves and stand strong in the face of peer pressure where rules hold sway, and free to play Bach (or whatever!) because we have been subject to the constraints or norms and discipline of the art of music-making.) And for the Christian, we are free to fail and repent, and to learn more and more what it means to "love and do what you will" when our ability to love and our wills are formed with the assistance of the Ten commandments, the laws of the Church, and what we come to know of the natural and divine law.

Divided Hearts?

 My heart is not divided by Law, not canon law or any other code of norms. I am clear that I love God, that God comes first and that law must serve this love or be jettisoned. Still, I recognize that law is a gift of God to those of us (all of us!) who need help with Augustine's dictum. Christ shows us what it means to be truly human while law tends to remind us of the ways we fall short of that. Both are necessary; law serves us especially in our immaturity, weakness, uncertainty, and navigation of complex situations with others. But it serves us as do signposts on a long journey or stair rails on steep bits of the path. Again, there is no legalism here and certainly no idolatry -- just appreciation for all the ways God is present to and for us and a clear awareness of our own sinfulness and very great potential.

I hope this is helpful. All good wishes during this Easter Season.