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Home Op-Ed There is such a thing as truth and error

There is such a thing as truth and error

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Everyone is guided by their own internal moral compass
by Fr. David Bellusci, OP


Photo Caption: Fr. Bellusci writes that his neighbour used a geometrical compass to slice her pie in even pieces to avoid argueing amongst her children. Just as a compass always points north, our concience should always point to what is good and just. (wikipedia.org)

My next-door neighbours at a Catholic mission in Zimbabwe explained to me how they resolved tension in the home caused by pie slices.

When Mrs. Y bought apples in town, she would bake a delicious apple pie for her family. They all loved the apple pies – a weekend treat – especially the two children who were in high school.

The challenge for the parents was trying to prevent their two children bickering over who got the bigger slice of dessert, with “that’s not fair” turning into an argument. Mr. Y’s solution was to divide the pie using a compass! Using the geometrical instrument to accurately slice the pie avoided fighting and tears.

The children were happy and, with a peaceful end of dinner, so were the parents.

What is the issue here? It is neither greed nor gluttony, but simply a question of justice. We seem to know inherently when something appears “unjust.” Why should someone else receive more than me? Why the exception or privilege?

Just try taking a toy away from a child. The child understands that something that belongs to him or her has been removed without understanding why. The same is true for adults, with fights over the TV and the remote control.

We can even take the principle into the larger context of community and rights. Because justice is an exercise of human intelligence, we react, protest, and revolt when something appears unjust. One of the fundamental attributes of a good king, government, or society is that it is just.

So, from justice in the home we can also expect justice in our communities. But justice involves some big questions: What is just or unjust in a community? Who decides what is just or unjust? How is this justice rewarded/enforced, and unjustness punished/prevented?

All these questions suggest an underlying premise – that there is such a thing as truth and error, good and evil, and authority.

It could be argued that because human beings are rational creatures they could work together and decide what is just and unjust, and therefore what is permitted or prohibited, rewarded or punished.

This is the challenge of government: to introduce and uphold laws that are just, and to prevent the violation of these laws. The loaded word here is “just.” How can we know and be sure what is just? And if a law is truly just, can it ever become unjust?

If any question has caused division within Christianity it is precisely the role of government.

The teachings of Christ came to us through the circulation of texts based on an oral tradition. We have the assurance that these texts serve as both a road map to our destination, and also the way to spiritually equip ourselves to get there.

But we soon discover that different readers of the religious texts – the road map – come to understand the words, symbols, and their meanings differently.

Think of the numerous disputes that divided early Christians: Whether male circumcision was needed for baptism. Whether a Christian who was excommunicated for adultery, idolatry or murder could be reconciled with the community. Did any one apostle have authority over the others, as Jesus had over all the apostles? Was Christianity meant to be a collegial group of apostles and bishops who exercised authority as a college?

These questions continue to divide Christianity. Even the universal authority Christ gave to St. Peter in an explicit biblical reference (Mt 16:18) is challenged.

The question of authority and jurisdiction has manifested in the relationship between the Church and the state, leading to a very thorny issue throughout Church history.

Pope Boniface VIII (d. 1308) declared in the bull Unam Sanctam (1302) that both spiritual and temporal power were under the jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff. When, a century later, the Council of Constance subordinated the papacy to decisions made by a council (conciliarism), it paved the way to the Reformation.

Which raises the question: How much authority should the Church exercise in a secular state? I may be a Canadian citizen, but my conscience can be violated by laws that are unjust because they are in conflict with a higher good, natural order, or divine law. Then, according to my conscience, the state is no longer educating or acting in a manner that is just.

We cannot believe the Church is merely a human institution comprised of the whims of human desires. The Catholic Church only makes sense – its teachings, sacramental life, and salvific mission expressed in Church government and community of believers – when we acknowledge the Church is guided and moved by the Holy Spirit.

At work in the Roman Catholic Church through the baptism of the faithful, the ordained priesthood, and the Eucharist, is the Holy Spirit.

Father David Bellusci is a Dominican priest at St. Thomas Aquinas Priory, Toronto.

 

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 June 2017 10:59  

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