November 8, 2006


I spent all of yesterday morning pushing myself through the ponderous, 140 page penultimate chapter of David Bosch's Transforming Mission. The book claims to be an attempt to use Thomas Kuhn's philosophy of paradigm shift to understand the history of Christian mission. I don't know if he really accomplishes this in particular, but it's a great book with a lot to think about. By the way, reading Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions made a big difference for me back when I was 19, but maybe that's for another day.

Bosch has a great statement toward the end of the book: he says our problem is that we're all Romantics and Pelagians at heart, and they amount to the same thing. I thought it was a brilliant thought and I was reflecting on it all day.

We're Romantics because rather than worship God, we would rather adore our cherished images of ourselves and the great things we imagine we will accomplish. When we desire prayer or "spirituality," sometimes what we really want is to admire our own imagined holiness.

We're Pelagians because all of these great plans for holiness and transformation of the world and inauguration of the Kingdom of God, we imagine as efforts or projects that are our own. And we want to own them as if they were worldly works.

These amount to the same thing because they are both ordered to the same goal: worship of ourselves.

Reflecting on this reminded me of the beginning of Hilaire Belloc's Pelagian Drinking Song:

Pelagius lived at Kardonoel
and taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or hell
It was your own affair
It had nothing to do with the church, my boy,
But was your own affair.


Michael Hallman said...

Friar, great post. The truth is there are times I find myself justifying things, and then I realize that I too am falling into the Pelagian trap - and as a man who claims Augustine as his spiritual father, I should know better :)

I wonder sometimes if idolatry can also be found in our despair? Maybe a sort of dark Romanticism, where we think that our sinfulness is unforgivable because no man could forgive us, thus setting man up as the ultimate judge? I don't know, maybe that's a bit off.

Crescentius said...

My dear Brother:

Your post reminds me of something I read when I was 18 1/2 years old:

"Although God's action is infinate power, it can take full possession of our souls only insofar as we are void of all confidence in our own action. For this confidence, being founded on the false idea of our own ability, excludes God's action."
Jean-pierre de caussade sj


MikeF said...

Ouch - a very to-the-point reminder of why the Third Order was originally, and most rightly, named The Brothers and Sisters of the Order of Penance!

Pax et Bonum