Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday sermon ...

Among the readings at Mass this morning was a passage from I Thessalonians in which Paul says that "our gospel hath not been unto you in word only." This immediately brought to my mind the notion that Scripture is the sole repository of faith, which in turn raises the question as to how there could have been any faith prior, for an instance, to the writing of the Gospels. But that's an old controversy that I have no interest in addressing, if only because my train of thought led elsewhere. We like to think that by writing something down we achieve a certain degree of certainty regarding it. That is what was said and here it is in good old black ink on a clear white page. But suppose someone makes a mistake while copying that text - or has made a mistake in writing it down in the first place? That mistake will be perpetuated. Why, a copyist might even take it upon himself to emend a text so that it reads more to his satisfaction.
In oral societies accuracy and precision in what is committed to memory is a sacred trust, and it has been found that one generation after another remembers what they have been taught in exactly the same way.
So what I ended up thinking about was the need so many of us seem to have for certainty in what is pretty obviously a world filled with uncertainty. A fixed text provides only the simulacrum of certainty. As do fixed doctrines and unwavering moral precepts. Now I happen to be fond of dogmatic theology. A system of dogmas provides a sound framework of symbol and image whereby to ponder one's faith. But it can also get in the way of faith. For to live in faith means to embrace both the uncertainty of being and the non-necessity of oneself. Faith takes courage. The craving for certainty is a sign of timidity.

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