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You Don’t Need to Be a Theologian (Unless God Calls You to Be a Theologian)

Sometimes the post-Vatican II push for lay participation can become onerous. What is really needed to be fully Christian? Does everyone need to be a theologian, liturgist, and apologist?


Cy Kellett:
Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. And this time, an apologetic defense of a simple life of faith, I guess that’s how we could put it, a defense of a simple life of faith, or a life of simple faith, or just simply being faithful. We’ll go with any of those. Our guest, Father Hugh Barbour. Hello, Father.

Fr. Hugh:
Hello, hello.

Cy Kellett:
Father, former prior of St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, a Norbertine priest, and also our chaplain. Okay, we’ve got this thing about full, active participation. We’ve got this thing about everybody’s a missionary, we’re all missionaries, especially that’s been emphasized since the Second Vatican Council. A church of the lay faithful more than ever, I guess, taking their place since the Second Vatican Council. So, we can sometimes have the notion that everyone’s got to be a combination theologian and liturgist, that you have-

Fr. Hugh:
And apologist.

Cy Kellett:
And apologist, right. You’ve got to have these intellectual tools in order to be fully Christian, I guess. Is that right, or is there some way we should be maybe a little suspicious of that?

Fr. Hugh:
Well, more than a little suspicious. That would just be outright wrong.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, okay.

Fr. Hugh:
Wrong, because by that description, no one ever lived an authentic Christian life, hardly anybody.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, right.

Fr. Hugh:
And even among the people who do have theological and liturgical and canonical and apologetic qualifications, they would be, enough of them so disedifying that they wouldn’t qualify either, just because they have the normal human [crosstalk 00:01:51] sins.

Cy Kellett:
That’s an awful narrow door.

Fr. Hugh:
Right. It’s very, very narrow, right, right. And so, what comes to mind, and this is a really beautiful passage of St. Thomas Aquinas. Now of course, he’s a great theologian and a very lofty and deep one and complex, learned, all those things. But in his commentary on The Apostle’s Creed, which is the most basic profession of faith that we have, that’s given to us at baptism, The Apostle’s Creed has the 12 articles for each of the 12 apostles according to tradition. There we are.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God, the father almighty. From thence, he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic church, communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen. That’s the summary of the faith, right there.

Cy Kellett:
That’s it, yeah.

Fr. Hugh:
Every child learns that. We learn it when we learn how to pray the rosary, that’s usually when people memorize it. It’s contained in the rosary, it’s contained in the divine mercy chaplet. It’s recited in the rite of baptism at least in some form or another, and it may even now in the contemporary form of the mass, it may be used in place of the longer Nicene Creed at mass, especially during lent they say. But, in his commentary on the Apostle’s Creed in the very beginning, he says that because of the revelation given by Christ, the simplest old grandmother… the simplest old grandmother, in his dispensation, possesses in virtue of her Christian faith, more wisdom than all the sages of antiquity just by her profession of the Catholic faith.

Cy Kellett:
Aristotle included.

Fr. Hugh:
That means Aristotle, Plato, the pre-Socratics, the-

Cy Kellett:
Well, we know how he felt about Aristotle.

Fr. Hugh:
The Stoics, the Epicureans… well, St. Thomas loved both Plato and Aristotle. You have to love them both otherwise you don’t know what you’re talking about, but a lot of people don’t. So, but any case, that’s another question. The fact is that St. Thomas knew very well what was meant by all the sages of antiquity, said that a simple grandmother by the procession of faith and the revelation of Christ has more wisdom than all the sages of antiquity. There you are.

Cy Kellett:
Okay, so how are we supposed to understand that? What does that-

Fr. Hugh:
Well, what it means very simply is that all the sages of antiquity with all their efforts, and they were long efforts over a great period of time, they were not able to arrive at the full exposition of the truth, such that could guarantee human life being ordered towards an eternal salvation, which is supernatural and everlasting. And that’s what Christ’s revelation offers to us. That is, what truth we know about God by our own unaided human reason is known, as St. Thomas says, by a few over a long period of time and with a great admixture of error. So, what human beings can come to know about God is very difficult on their own. But if God reveals the truth about himself, then we accept it by grace of faith and we have it all at once, and faith is infused with charity.

And so, we have the essence of eternal salvation as soon as we accept the teachings of the Catholic faith simply, without any learning, without any instruction, other than just the basics. Right? When the missionaries who went out and converted the whole world, especially after the Renaissance, when they converted India, they covered large portions of China, they came very close to converting Japan, the Philippines, you name it, all over the world, Latin America… What did they teach people? What was necessary for them to be in the Catholic church? They needed to know about the Trinity of God is one of the three divine persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And then you needed to know that God the Son took upon himself a human nature, so as to redeem us on the cross from our sins, and that he would come to judge the living in the dead after his glorious resurrection. And then, that basic set of trues was expressed in the reception of the sacraments whereby we have our sins forgiven and whereby we’re nourished with our Lord’s own life and the Eucharist and so on. So, the Christian faith can be possessed and a heroic and perfect degree of holiness can be obtained without having scientific theological knowledge or any kind of professional expertise.

Cy Kellett:
And this is wisdom because it’s not just knowledge in the sense of technical knowledge or something. It’s actually, I guess, performative knowledge that it makes a difference in our lives.

Fr. Hugh:
Right. It changes the human soul in such wise that it’s called theological virtue, like faith and hope and charity, theological virtue because they have God as their object, which means not an object of study but of union. That is, when you believe and you love God, you’re united to him in a way which no other human endeavor could accomplish, so that you’re actually one with him and you possess divine wisdom. Wisdom is a way of knowing that’s the result of union with the one known. It’s not like study, like understanding or science is based upon examining something and learning all about it and having it in your head. But wisdom is more question of the adhesion of our heart and mind to the one in whom we believe and whom we love.

And that’s a different… it’s like maternal love or the love between a husband and his wife or children and their parents. It’s an instinctive, intuitive union that makes us know things and have a sense of things simply because of our love for the other. That’s what it ends up being. So, because faith, even though it has to do with our minds, assent to God’s truth, God infuses faith with love, not without it. I mean, it is possible to fall into sin and still believe, but be without God’s grace. Well, that’s so that our soul is pointed back to how to get back into God’s grace by receiving the sacrament of being sorry.

But in point of fact, faith and love go together. And there’s that, what’s called by theologians co-natural knowledge, whereby we just simply have a sense of divine things that’s very, very wise because we’re united to him. Similar like a mother, say there’s a mother with 11 children and they’re in a room there and she knows that one of them is missing without even counting them.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, she just knows.

Fr. Hugh:
Intuitively. That kind of-

Cy Kellett:
That’s very real, too, that motherly knowledge.

Fr. Hugh:
Definitely. Or any kind of thing where we’re actually one with the object we know, like a great pianist doesn’t have to reason out scales and all that kind of thing. It just sort of comes by intuitive union with the object known. The more close you are to the thing you know, and divine charity makes us actually of one very life, our Lord came to give us his very life through the grace of the sacraments, that makes us wise indeed through union with God. It’s the wisdom of the saints.

Cy Kellett:
This brings to mind, sometimes a contemporary, it seems to me, affliction of the Catholic mind, which is this idea that we somehow see ourselves as better than or in a better position than, probably not better than but in a better position than those people of the past who just went to mass every Sunday, they didn’t really understand all the liturgical stuff, they’re often praying their rosary, but we’re not necessarily in a better position than those people because they just believed it. They went to-

Fr. Hugh:
They believed it and they were praying, and after all, and this is controversial, but what’s wrong with saying your rosary during mass? What’s wrong with… Everybody who goes to mass is going to be distracted. Okay? And I do believe that people who go to mass they should all equally participate fully, so they should sing the hymns and perform the gestures and whatnot. But there are periods during the mass where you could easily say some prayers or think about, as long as you’re thinking about God and the things of God, what’s wrong with it?

St. Francis de Sales used to pray the rosary while he was celebrating Pontifical high mass. He was just sitting there with the throne and the glory is going on and on and on, and so he said the rosary while he waited for the music to end. I mean, and in the Eastern churches who are supposed to be always the model of liturgical ideal, in the Eastern churches and the monasteries, all the monks have a rosary around their wrist and they’re constantly praying the Jesus prayer or most Holy Mother of God save us, or some other aspiration while the liturgy is going on. Now you can say, “Oh, these liturgists got it all wrong about liturgy.” Okay, fine. Have your dry, undevout, heady liturgy.

Cy Kellett:
That’s the thing is, right, that’s, I guess, the danger that I’m concerned about in this conversation with you is that there is a great value to understanding and knowing and learning. I’m not diminishing any of that, but if it becomes too heady, which it seems to me that we are in that territory, and we don’t have a simple faith anymore. We have a faith that is constantly, worried about am I doing the details correctly? Or I don’t know.

Fr. Hugh:
There are various forms of it. I mean, you can have kind of a too much attention to the details or the rules or whatever, and it’s typical nowadays you have modern day liturgists going, “Well, in the old days all they cared about was rules,” and then they’ll chop your head off-

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, because they got so many rules.

Fr. Hugh:
… because you didn’t do one of the things that they tell you to do. I mean, it’s really ridiculous. “No, we don’t do that anymore. No, no, we do this. Don’t kneel here, stand here.” All that kind of stuff. And so there’s legalism in every epoch. All right? But the fact is, the simple faithful, they keep going no matter what because they’re there to receive the graces of God and the power of Christ’s cross and passion administered to them through his holy sacraments, and that they keep doing in spite of the fact that sometimes it’s presented in a way which is not attractive, or as some teenagers might say, boring.

Cy Kellett:
If I may, Father, it seems to me that we, and I don’t remember who I’m drawing on it… I think I read a little bit of this so, and maybe you’ll know who I’m referring to, but there’s a way in which it becomes… The Catholicism that we’re creating now, this heady Catholicism, is actually cutting off the very people who Christ most loved: the worker, the mom at home, the person of everyday life. If you have a church without beauty in it, it’s just some austere kind of, I don’t know, it’s almost looks like Ikea in there.

Fr. Hugh:
One French liturgist told me it’s spirituality of the void, and he meant that seriously. And I know-

Cy Kellett:
So, the liturgist will say, “Well, that’s because we’re trying to direct all the attention up to what’s happening at the altar.”

Fr. Hugh:
To what? Father Bob with his microphone?

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, but why are you doing that? Because the person that needs the closesness of Christ and deserves it, is actually being denied that because there’s no statues to look at, because there’s no stained glass windows. Am I-

Fr. Hugh:
No, you’re not wrong at all. There’s a kind of what is liturgical Jansenism that was part of the program of the rigorous Jansenists in the 17th century. They were rigorous in morals, but they’re also rigorous about liturgy. Only one statue in a church of a given saint. That’s a rule now. But I mean, it’s kind of kooky, you can only have one image of Our Lady in a church? Go to the Eastern Rite church and see if they’ll go by that. Go to a Russian church and see if you’re not allowed to multiply images, and somehow that harms the liturgical sense. It’s nonsense.

Cy Kellett:
I know. I just walk into some of these centuries old churches that are just, they’re ridiculous in the amount of images, but it’s so overwhelming with beauty, when walk in you know where you are. You know exactly where you are.

Fr. Hugh:
I mean, because heaven is so great to attempt to imitate on earth is already, not going to be enough, but it’s better to do that than not to try at all. But the key there is just that the mysteries of faith are accepted to us with simplicity of heart. That is, that our heart is a unifying reality. And St. Thomas, when he discusses love in the Summa of theology, he says love begins when knowledge ceases. Now, that doesn’t mean that they’re incompatible, but just that when you come to the limit of our knowledge, then love has to take over. And of course with supernatural mysteries of the faith, like that God became man, or that Our Lady is the mother of God or the blessed Trinity, those are so far beyond understanding that the only way to get them really is by loving them.

And the liturgy conveys invisible signs and through rites of the words of sacred scripture and all that, the mysteries of faith, but we can never exhaust them with our mind or our senses. And so, it’s meant to draw us to love. That’s the point. That’s why the old grandmother has more wisdom than this age of antiquity because she loves you because of her faith and her concern for you, which is just like that of God in whom she believes, in whom she imitates. This is the point.

Cy Kellett:
Yes, okay. So, the other danger that we have with this kind of heady faith is that if our head fails, if our sense of the thing fails, it’s hard for us to go, “Well, why am I going to mass this Sunday?” Because you go to mass every Sunday, that’s why you’re going to mass this Sunday. “Well, I don’t feel anything. I’m in a bad place right now.” You just go to mass every Sunday. The simpler faith is the better faith there.

Fr. Hugh:
Right. It’s a greater guard against the self deception that comes from judging the realities of faith by our current emotional and psychological state. And that’s also true with morality. I mean, the things that… there was a time when divorce and remarriage was just unthinkable, so you just soldiered on in spite of the difficulties of a particular marriage.

Cy Kellett:
And then you get a great prize when-

Fr. Hugh:
Or like for example, I mean, there were always people with same sex attraction for centuries, but they didn’t marry each other and they didn’t justify because it just was unthinkable. It was wrong. Fornication was wrong. Now fornication is practically a right. Try to tell some people-

Cy Kellett:
No, it’s not practically a right, people will assert it as a right.

Fr. Hugh:
Right, right, and at an earlier and earlier age. The point is that to have a strong sense that certain things must be done and certain things must not be done is very, very helpful in life. That’s what we do with children and we are children in God’s sight.

Cy Kellett:
Give me something from St. Thomas or from yourself, but the two peers, I think of you.

Fr. Hugh:
Oh, gosh.

Cy Kellett:
And then, both with little brother St. Augustine and over there. The two of you up here.

Fr. Hugh:
He’s our father. Little St. Augustine, we follow his rules and [crosstalk 00:18:01] my father.

Cy Kellett:
When I do flattery, man, I do it right. Okay?

Fr. Hugh:
Yes, you do, a little too far-

Cy Kellett:
A little too far that time? Okay. But help me then. If I say, look, I would like the simple life of faith. I would like that. So, give me some practical advice on fostering within myself this thing that Thomas himself recommends and I’ll go so far as to say Christ himself recommends.

Fr. Hugh:
Simple solution?

Cy Kellett:
All right.

Fr. Hugh:
Start praying the rosary.

Cy Kellett:
Okay.

Fr. Hugh:
And don’t complicate it. Don’t start and go like, “I get distracted. I don’t know what I’m doing.” Fine, just keep doing it. And meditate as you can on the mysteries that you’re considering.

Cy Kellett:
And if you can’t, just keep going.

Fr. Hugh:
And if you’re distracted, just keep going and do it. That’s the thing. These are things that are effective. They’re powerful. And it’s like the rituals of day to day life. You come downstairs and you say, “Good morning mom, love you.” And you may be thinking of something else entirely, but your words to her are not insincere. In fact, they would be expected. You wouldn’t want to admit them, even if you’re distracted at the time because you’re thinking that you’ve got to put gas in the car or something, or you have to deal with someone at work or whatever it might be. So, we do lots of things by habit that are still significant and real and effective. And our prayers are no different. We don’t wait until we’re feeling a special fervor before we start praying. And that’s what the devil does, because then we develop that attitude and then we fall into sin, and then it’s like, “Oh, well, I guess I just won’t pray until I get to confession because you know what’s the use.”

And he deceives us completely. Whereas if you have, that’s why all those wonderful stories with St. Ignatius where this horrible sinner is doing all these horrible things, he always said his Hail Marys every day and he was saved at the end. That’s because people back then didn’t see some great contradiction between committing a lot of sins and still turning to God and Our Lady for help. [crosstalk 00:19:53].

Cy Kellett:
No, this is called life.

Fr. Hugh:
I mean, what are you going to do? What are you going to do if you’re a sinner, but do that? I mean, it’s the Catholic thing to do, anyway, pray the rosary. Pray the rosary. Just do that.

Cy Kellett:
Father Hugh Barbour, thank you.

Fr. Hugh:
God bless you.

Cy Kellett:
And you as well. The Mount Rushmore, Augustine, Aquinas, Alphonsus the glory, Father Hugh Barbour. That’s our Mount Rushmore.

Fr. Hugh:
The three A’s and an H, ahh.

Cy Kellett:
Look at that, you don’t fit there. I’m sorry Father, I got-

Fr. Hugh:
This one was ahh.

Cy Kellett:
Ahh Father Hugh, thanks so much. Thank you to all of our listeners. I am Cy Kellett, your host, and don’t forget to give us five stars where you get your podcasts if you are so inclined, because it really does help to grow this podcast and we’d like to do nothing more with this then to grow it and get it out to as many people as we can so they can meet Father Hugh Barbour and all the other folks who come in here and answer our questions for us. We’ll see you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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