Friday, April 22, 2016

Fides Quaerens Intellectum

Father Romanus Cessario, O.P. preached this wonderful homily on the Feast of Saint Anselm just a few days ago.  It is provided here for your reading pleasure.

No seminary should neglect the optional memorial of Saint Anselm. To this monk, archbishop, and Doctor of the Church, seminaries owe their basic charter for operation. Fides quaerens intellectum. Each word is important. Everything that a seminarian does to contribute to his formation as a priest finds its mooring and its fulfillment in this phrase. True enough, Anselm considered “faith seeking understanding” a definition of theology. The Church, however, makes the expression a lesson for life. “St. Anselm,” writes Pope Saint John Paul II, “underscores the fact that the intellect must seek that which it loves.” (Fides et ratio, no. 42) Do you want to know what you love? Then acknowledge what your mind goes after. Saint Anselm helps us to see that every priest must be a theologian. Not in the professional sense, as in the university theologian, but in the original sense of one who holds firmly a word (logos) about God (theos).

First, Fides, faith. The man of faith assents to the truths that God reveals to his Church. Assent points to the personal act of faith, as when we say at the Baptismal liturgy, “Do you believe...? I do.” Faith also means the body of truths to which we must assent on God’s word precisely because truths of faith cannot be seen or demonstrated. The Catechism of the Catholic Church contains this body of truths. We speak about the Deposit of Faith. Priests must learn every number of the Catechism. True enough, there are many people who say, “Well, I do not accept this teaching and that teaching.” If the rejected teachings are those envisaged by the Profession of Faith that every cleric must take before ordination, then no Catholic and surely no priest can declassify and ignore them. That would be to sin against the First Commandment: incredulity.

Second, Quaerens, seeking. The truths of faith should make of those who believe them enquirers. About what does one enquire? The mysteries of faith: The Church, the Trinity, the Eucharist, the Priesthood itself... In other words, belief moves us to think, to ponder, to wrap our minds around the truth that we lovingly assent to. Coerced belief would show itself oxymoronic, a contradiction. Whom do we seek when we believe? The answer is simple: God. God whose truth we receive and God whose word we trust. Seeking is a movement of love, a going out of ourselves, an embrace. As the Canticle says, “On my bed at night I sought him whom my heart loves” (Sg 3:1).

Third, Intellectum, to be understood. Love is not blind. Love grows in proportion to the knowledge we enjoy of the beloved. Think of the differences in human friendships. The seminarian applies himself to his studies in order to love more the Word he must preach. Who can read Paul’s address at Antioch (see Acts 13:13-25) and think that he meant only to share a few experiences? He gives a reasoned account of Christ’s Davidic lineage. No captationes benevolentiae otherwise known as attention getters for Paul. He motions with his hand. Who may reasonably deny that Paul loved that which he understood? In one sense, today’s priest faces a more difficult challenge than what Paul met. There is more to learn. More to ponder (materially). Should we say to ourselves, “I can get by with a few platitudes; after all, the parishioners do not know theology”? Not if we heed the lesson that Saint Anselm teaches. Not if we want to love that which we believe. Not if we want to avoid the calamitous circumstance that arises when our minds veer towards, embrace even, error. Then we risk hearing Christ say to us, “The one who ate my bread has raised his heel against me” (Jn 13:18).