The E-catechism, December 1997
|Dogma||The venture of faithfulness|
Six months ago, we launched the Electronic Catechism. We introduced texts which we thought were provisional, in view of bettering them with your co-operation, thanks to your contributions. Many have written to tell us how much they appreciate our work, but few (not enough) have made positive contributions. We are grateful that two presentations have called such commentaries. We met in July and looked at your mail. We thought the project over and we have redone the two following texts. You have them today. We thank you in advance for suggestions and criticisms. They are essential for this catechism to become our common share. And do not hesitate to suggest topics.
When Christians wanted to speak of their religious experience, either between themselves or to the people around them, they started by telling their discovery of Jesus with, as a focal point, his death and resurrection. Then they spoke of his words and actions. This "story" had to do with conversion. They then set their beliefs down in writing, which helped all believers confess their faith. Today, we call these writings "creeds" or "symbols."
Because a symbol can be understood in very different ways, they felt the need to be more precise on an intellectual level.So they transformed the symbols into more specific "dogmatic definitions," which really means "rules of faith." These rules were the beliefs that the whole community agreed on after sharing their thoughts and opinions.
Those definitions were answers to questions raised in a precise cultural milieu and their wording is dependent on their unique cultural context. The creeds are landmarks for the deepening of faith in the Church through the centuries and they remain forever points of references. They have become "official" doctrinal points (of faith). But, because they are expressed in human words, dogmas can always be improved by deepening the wording. This improvement is sometimes necessary because the meanings of words can change, can wear out and, in the end, can take on meanings opposite to their original intent, sometimes betraying and spreading misunderstanding about the concepts they are intended to convey.
Beware! Dogmas can be fossilized and cease to contain real significance for daily living. Dogmatism is a stiff attitude which sets up ready-made formulas and which claims to always be true through the centuries. But dogmas mean nothing to the lives of those who listen to them; they provide "answers" to no real questions, and consequently they prevent us from asking real and important questions. You can catalogue them and put them on a shelf, which will make them useful on the day you need to put a heretic to trial. But nobody lives by them. Those who think they know the truth (through dogmas) do not necessarily "act in truth" (John 3. 21). This kills true inner life.
Dogmas, which are the inheritance of the community's past history, are
incentive for believers to rethink anew. What is old can become novel. They
then become life giving.
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The venture of faithfulness
The elderly couple I just met - walking slowly down the street, still helping each other after a long life spent together - is for me the living image of faithfulness. To be faithful is to give your trust : trust given to others and trust expected from others. It is also faithfulness to oneself, to values which make us live, and for which one is ready to commit the best in himself.
Picture faithfulness and you will most likely envision a couple. It is obvious that sharing one's life with someone else is one of the most committed way of sharing at all levels. How could we give anything to some one else without this trust which is the foundation of love?
And if faithfulness is rightly claimed as essential for the life and deepening commitment of a couple, should it not be part of all human relationships? How can one give faithfulness its proper place and value between spouses, if it is bashed, misunderstood, despised in friendship, in the family, in the whole of human life? Where is our world going if nonstop competition is the prevailing rule of the day and if we risk losing the meaning of mutual trust in our daily lives? Faithfulness is not conservatism or the refusal to change.
Faithfulness grows and deepens only if it is creative, only if it pays attention to happenings and events. True faithfulness shares in the venture of life. It would be a mistake if, made stilted by past commitments, one could not creatively respond to the issues and events of the world today.
Calls to faithfulness are particularly important when linked to God's faithfulness. In the Eucharistic sharing, our uneasy and flickering faithfulness shares in Jesus' unquestioning faithfulness and draw from his love, trust and hope.
It is through faithfulness that we encounter the dilemma between the
ideals and the longing for everlastingness and human frailty. It is in faithfulness
that one encounters the utmost measure of his or her limitations. And it
is by faithfulness that one learns to be alive at the heart of change.
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