Wednesday, May 16, 2007

No need of teachers...

From today’s Office of Readings:

As for you, this anointing you received from him remains in your hearts. This means you have no need for anyone to teach you. Rather, as his anointing teaches you about all things and is true-free from any lie-remain in him as that anointing taught you. (1 Jn 2:27)

I have had people use this verse to justify their own “private interpretation” used as an excuse to oppose and reject the constant teaching of the church; maintaining that they are immune from the obligation of believing truth taught with authority; claiming a "private line to God". But is that what is going on here? If St. John meant that we don’t need teachers to teach us the faith, then one has an immediate conflict with the very mission of Jesus: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mt. 28:19) An lest the answer be, “yes, teach, and once baptized, the Holy Spirit will teach all things without the need of other teachers,” continue, do not divide the words of Jesus from the words of Jesus, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Mt. 28:20). If we are not to need any teachers at all, it is nonsense to commission teaching!

I believe it to be instructive to consider the operation of this principle which the beloved disciple has enumerated in First John above. Let us consider how the disciples are depicted to us in the gospels during the three years which they accompanied Jesus. Do not the gospel authors paint a picture of a rather thick-headed and slow of understanding group? Like spectators at a sporting event shouting to the players, do we not in our hearts almost cry out to them, saying “Why don’t you get it, it is so clear!” And do we not in our hearts, and sometimes in our words, say exactly the same thing to those about us who do not have faith? Because we have faith, because the Holy Spirit has been given to us, we can read these words, and we believe them and know what they mean (at least at the level of the literal, but there is so much more!). Yet I can remember looking at the words of scripture before the coming of faith and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, and being as thick-headed, no more so, than those same disciples. Like the disciples at Pentecost, it takes the assistance of the Paraclete for meaning of these words of Jesus to sink in and enter the understanding.

But, without the commission to teach, the heart would have no access to the words to be able to understand them at all; How can they believe, if they have not heard? St. Augustine referred to this in his explanation of this passage of John, a passage as abused in his day as in ours. The teacher gives the word, opening it up with deeper explorations, but it is the Holy Spirit who grants the understanding. Some will hear with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and understand, others will hear and fail to understand, just as the disciples did before Pentecost, as I once did, and as so many do today. The Spirit that grants this understanding is One, and is Holy, and is God. The spirits which give other but different understandings, understandings which lead to the offense against Charity known as schism, and offense against faith known as heresy, are not. But that is not where I want to go at this time.

I’d like to for a moment consider the woman at the well, and the remarkable conversation she had with Jesus. A Samaritan, she and her people were awaiting the advent of “The prophet,” which was the extent of the revelation of the savior which can be obtained from the Pentateuch, the scriptures received and accepted by the Samaritans. It is interesting that Jesus does not simply announce “Hey, look at me! I’m the Prophet whom you await.” Rather, he leads her by small steps to the recognition of this reality.

Was it St. Bernard (I think, I may be confusing this story with someone else; and if so, forgive me and correct me), who early in his religious life, on fire with the faith, was novice master, but had a very high rate of washouts among the novices. Confused about this, he asked the Abbot why this was so. The Abbot asked him to consider the image of standing on a cliff high above the valley. From this vantage point, the view of all is clear and unimpeded, but for those in the valley, all they can see is the face of solid rock. Such is the nature of faith, that God sometimes takes an individual, and lifts their soul from the valley to the heights in a single swift motion, but this is not the case for the majority of men, who must scale it with great effort. The Abbot said, “Your job is to build the staircase.”

Jesus showed us how to do this with the Samaritan woman, who (relatively) swiftly ascended the staircase unfolded by Jesus, as her heart had been prevented(1) by the assistance of the Holy Spirit. If you think about it, the heart that is ready usually displays itself differently from the heart that is not ready, granting the clue as to the steps which we can help them take, or simply leave the calling card to the door of the staircase.

1. WORD RECLAMATION. "pre"-"vented" - having the heart opened by the Holy Spirit in advance, prevenient grace.


  1. I'm not sure I understand the Word Reclamation. Is it supposed to go back to the Latin?

  2. The term prevented, while no longer in currency, is a good word which needs to be reclaimed from it's current anti-faith understanding. Partly because when you read Catholic spiritual classics you will run into it.