Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Love and True Doctrine

Back when I first started blogging, I posted a piece entitled "The Radical Creed." Among other points, I noted that "Christian faith entails certain non-negotiable truths that make a claim on our loyalties and our lives," "the faith of the Church as expressed in the Nicene Creed is the norm against which individual opinions and judgments are measured and found more or less adequate, or wrong" and "reciting the Nicene Creed in the context of the liturgy invites us to live more deeply ... into the mystery of a God whose being and willing we mere mortals can never fully fathom."

I also expressed my belief in both the limits and the reliability of the Nicene Creed:

The mysteries of God cannot be contained by rational explanations. But like a compass that always points north, the Nicene Creed points us in the right direction. The compass is not the destination just as the Creed is not God. But it would be much easier to get lost as to what is truly essential for reaching the goal of the Christian journey without it.

As Bishop Frank E. Wilson puts it, "The Creed is not your faith - it is an expression of your faith. Your faith is in God, not in any combination of words, however venerable they may be."

The bishop is right: the ultimate object of our faith is God, not the Creed.  It follows that the truth of orthodox doctrine is not an end in itself.  Rather, true doctrine is a means to the end of putting us in right relation to the Truth, which is the triune God. Central to this Truth, and at the core of the mystery of God's being, is love.  And that love is not a mere idea, but an activity of selfless concern for the good of others that reflects the life of the three Persons of the Trinity.  St. John the Apostle says it beautifully: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8).  It would be difficult to sum up the purpose of true doctrine better than that!

Writing from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, Fr. Stephen Freeman amplifies these points by noting that the final goal of the Christian life is not merely the knowledge obtained from true doctrine, but the instilling of God's love in our hearts that overflows in our actions.  He writes:

True doctrine is of great importance because it reveals the nature and truth of God and the world to us. But such knowledge is not the final goal of the Christian life. Our final goal is indeed the true faith – that is – the love of God towards all the world dwelling within our hearts. ...

There is no opposition to rationality in any of this and certainly no opposition to true doctrine. But there is a recognition that the very simplist of all things – available to children and the weak minded (perhaps more truly available to them than the rest of us) – is the love of God dwelling in our hearts. Without this there is no true faith, no true salvation, no theosis, no true conformity to the image of God. ...

The words spoken by the Deacon at every liturgy when he summons us to repeat the Nicene Creed say everything: 'Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.' We may say the words for the rest of eternity – but unless and until we love one another we will not truly know or believe a word of it.

Fr. Stephen's words are critically important for all who take true doctrine seriously lest, lacking the love of God, our talk of orthodoxy become nothing more than "a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1).


Anonymous said...

in Love we were conceived and created
in Love we walked side by side
in Love we were told we were free
in Love, we were left to walk away

by Love we were pursued
by Love we were nurtured and guided
by Love we were welcomed back
in Love, we were left to walk away

so Love came to find us
so Love came to walk side by side with us
so Love came to show us how to be free
in Love, Love walked to the cross for us

Love is in love
Love knows no other way
Love cannot give up for to do so Love would be something other

BC said...

I had forgotten about the deacon's introductory words to the Nicene Creed in the Orthodox liturgy - a beautiful expression of the vocation of orthodoxy and creedal faith.