20 November 2017
"They have uncrowned Him" (2) False Religions?
Continuing to consider Archbishop Lefebvre's book, from my own background in Catholic Anglicanism, I discern in it more than a whiff of that admirable Anglican Ulsterman, C S Lewis. Not that Archbishop Lefebvre, I am sure, will have read him; but because first-rate Christian thinkers so often, laudably, converge. Take a particular tricky theological problem: explaining how souls rooted in a false religion may find their way to God, without asserting - or leading others to think you mean - that all religions are more or less as good as each other: 'syncretism' or 'indifferentism'. Mgr Lefebvre writes " ... in the false religions, certain souls can be oriented towards God; but this is because they do not attach themselves to the errors of their religion! It is not through their religion that these souls turn towards God, but in spite of it! Therefore, the respect that is owed to these souls would not imply that respect is owed to their religion". And: " ... these religions [he has just mentioned Islam and Hinduism] can keep some sound elements, signs of natural religion, natural occasions for salvation; even preserve some remainders of the primitive revelation (God, the fall, a salvation), hidden supernatural values which the grace of God could use in order to kindle in some people the flame of a dawning faith. But none of these values belongs in its own right to these false religions ... The wholesome elements that can subsist still belong by right to the sole true religion, that of the Catholic Church; and it is this one alone that can act through them"*.
I think this is admirably expressed, and it reminds me strongly of the penultimate chapter in Lewis's The Last Battle. A young Calormene, brought up in the worship of the false god Tash, meets the Lion Aslan, the Christ-figure in Lewis's rich narrative. "Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days, and not him. ... But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true ... that thou and Tash art one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. ... Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I also said (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek".
Whatever in the cult of Tash predisposed the young man to seek the Glorious One still belongs by right to the sole true religion, that of the Catholic Church; it does not belong of right to the cult of Tash. It is not through what is proper to the cult of Tash that he comes to Christ: that is to say, through its errors, but in spite of it. Because Tash and Aslan are opposites.
And it is worth being precise and reminding ourselves that Nostra aetate does not say that we respect the Islamic religion; but Moslems.
To be continued.
*I think it is clear that Mgr Lefebvre has here in mind the wise teaching of Unitatis redintegratio para 4. " ... haec omnia, quae a Christo proveniunt et ad Ipsum conducunt, ad unicam Christi Ecclesiam iure pertinent" where iure was added to the text on the orders of Pope Paul VI.