Monday, July 18, 2011

Benedict XVI, Parables, Perspicuity, and Freedom

The Vatican Information Service provided the following partial account of Joseph Ratzinger's (aka Benedict XVI's) remarks from 10 July 2011:
"Yet this Gospel narrative also highlights the 'method' of Jesus' preaching; in other words, His use of parables", the Holy Father added. "His disciples ask Him: 'why do you speak to them in parables?' Jesus replies by distinguishing between the disciples and the crowds: to the former, who have already chosen to follow Him, He can speak openly of the Kingdom of God, but to others He has to use parables in order to simulate [sic] a decision, a conversion of heart. This is because parables, by their nature, require an effort of interpretation, they appeal to our intelligence but also to our freedom. ... In the final analysis the true 'Parable' of God is Jesus Himself ... Who, in human form, both hides and reveals divinity. Thus, God does not force us to believe in Him; rather, He draws us to Him with the truth and goodness of His incarnate Son. Love, in fact, always respects freedom".
(ellipses in VIS's report)

I. Parables

Ratzinger (B16) is wrong about the reason why Jesus spoke in parables, with respect to the crowd. Jesus himself explained his reason for speaking to them in parables:

Matthew 13:10-17
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

Likewise, in the parallel account in Mark:

Mark 4:10-12
And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

And in Luke:

Luke 8:9-10
And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.

The point, therefore, of the parables was not either to "simulate" [sic] or stimulate a decision or to convert their hearts. The point was not provide the crowd with an intellectual challenge, but to leave them in ignorance. The point wasn't to free the people, but to leave them bound up in their blindness.

II. Perspicuity

It is interesting, though, to reflect on B16's apparent view of perspicuity, in which even Jesus' parables are sufficiently clear that human reason/freedom is sufficient to divine their meaning. That goes beyond the Reformed view of perspicuity, in that we maintain that Jesus' explanation of the parables was necessary for us to understand their meaning. Moreover, one expects that B16 is not consistent in this principle of perspicuity, since consistency would leave no room for an infallible magisterium as a necessity.

III. Love Respects Freedom

B16's final comment sounds familiar to those who frequently deal with non-Calvinist presentations on God's love: "Thus, God does not force us to believe in Him; rather, He draws us to Him with the truth and goodness of His incarnate Son. Love, in fact, always respects freedom."

The idea that "love always respects freedom" is not a Biblical tenet. Biblical love seeks what is best for others. Thus, for example, the good Samaritan is not praised because he respected the freedom of the robbed man, but because what he did was in the robbed man's best interest - and specifically because he put the robbed man's interest ahead of his own interest.

While we would not insist that God forces people to believe against their wills, it is by God's mercy and grace that our wills are changed, that we are converted, so that we love God and believe on His name. Thus, it is true that we are drawn with the truth and goodness of Christ.

Nevertheless, we are hard pressed to say that the love of God always respects freedom. After all, we must not forget that the gospel message has a coercive edge to it. If you will not repent and believe on the Son for salvation, you will perish. Thus, those to whom we preach are not threatened with merely physical death (like a bandit pointing a gun at someone's head) but with the eternal torment.

Moreover, there is even a constraining aspect to God's love for those of us who love God:

2 Corinthians 5:10-15
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart. For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

But remember, that the service of the Lord is true freedom, for it is written:

Matthew 11:28-30
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

And again:

John 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

Therefore, we ought not to say that "Love always respects freedom," but that that the Love of God produces freedom in men who were all their lives in the bondage of sin.

-TurretinFan

4 comments:

natamllc said...

TF: "Therefore, we ought not to say that "Love always respects freedom," but that that the Love of God produces freedom in men who were all their lives in the bondage of sin."

There is a pleasant irony in those words in light of these Words:

Rom 15:1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Rom 15:2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Rom 15:3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me."
Rom 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Rom 15:5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,
Rom 15:6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

...

1Co 7:21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)
1Co 7:22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ.
1Co 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.

...

1Co 9:19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.


...

Gal 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
Gal 1:9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Gal 1:10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.


One perhaps can realize that not only Jesus was not constrained to call Satan's seeds/weeds sons of evil, the Apostle Paul took it to another level as you did with the verses from 2 Corinthians by saying let everyone be accursed who does not have the Gospel.

It is just a fact that some people are weeds, sons of the devil and accursed and so the idea of the parables being a utility for their soul's salvation is an error and a sin!

Thankfully, we who are called enter into His Rest knowing that the Angels will go forth on that great day and gather out of the world all who offend and are law-breakers at heart!

John Bugay said...

So what you are saying, TF, is that BXVI is not the Augustinian he is advertised to be?

Once again, in one of a myriad of ways, modern Roman Catholicism is showing itself to have uncoupled itself from genuine historical Christianity.

Ron said...

Well Done TF,

Have done a chapter by chapter analysis of Kenneth Bailey's perspective on parables (Jesus Though Middle Eastern Eyes)on my blog.
Same as B16's perspective that you have noted.
How, 'if only we understood the culture at that time we would surely understand His parables'!

And these are scholars?

Keep up the great work TF!

Turretinfan said...

Nice point, Ron.