Catholic Obedience and New Age Thinking

Traditional Latin Mass - FSSP

Traditional Latin Mass – photo courtesy of  the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, available from http://fssp.org.

Roger has recently posted a long piece, on the traditional nature of the Catholicity of Valentin Tomberg. This piece was written largely in response to questions and comments by a reader of the site.

Having read the article, I am struck by the theme of obedience, of giving oneself over to the authority of a Priest.

This is something I have wanted to communicate for a long time, particularly to my old New Age friends.

Many years ago now, Roger and I were visiting some old New Age friends. These people had been very close to us, very close indeed. We had worked with them, in our New Age project in Cambridge.

Together we had sought a New Spirituality, for a New Age and a New World, ‘free of dogma and belief systems’ as we put it back then. Our friendships had been very deep.

Then, when Roger and I entered the Catholic Church, on Easter Night, 2000, these friends were far away, both in proximity and in understanding.

It was not understood how Roger and I could give ourselves so completely to a church that was seen as male-oriented: a church with a male Hierarchy that held ‘such power over us’.

This was incomprehensible.

Yet, a particular friend wanted to understand and perhaps share something of what was happening to us. She attended Mass with us, at a Monastery. After Holy Mass, I went to pray in the Lady Chapel, where I began my Rosary.

Our friend was unhappy and wanted to leave, so we departed from the Church and she exclaimed, ‘I really don’t understand!’

She found the Mass aloof, with the monks too far away. They were all male, obviously. She didn’t understand why I wanted to remain in that place and pray.

It was incomprehensible to her that Roger and I could give ourselves over to this.

Obedience, what is this? What is this first vow of the Catholic Faith, of which our secular, free-thinking world has such horror?

Valentin Tomberg says:

The vow of obedience is the practice of silencing personal desires, emotions and imagination in the face of reason and conscience; it is the primacy of the ideal as opposed to the apparent, the nation as opposed to the personal, humanity as opposed to the nation, and God as opposed to humanity.

One could therefore say that obedience is the act of relinquishing one’s own will, for the greater good: the will of God. Valentin Tomberg also states, that ‘the hierarchical order is eternal and obedience is indispensable.’

Obedience – where one gives oneself to God, through obedience to the Hierarchy: I think it is only the heart which can understand this and therefore obedience cannot be fully understood outside of the Faith.

For, without a surrendering of the heart to authority, obedience is not possible. Whilst mentally, one can understand that the priesthood acts as ‘mediator’ between God and the laity, it is a very different thing, to know of the tenderness of a surrendered heart – surrendered to the will of God in this way …

The person of the Priest, when ordained, steps aside in a certain way, in order that God can flow through him, to us – through the Sacraments and sacramentals, through prayer and authority.

The Sacrament of Ordination gives this very special role to the Priest.

One time at Holy Mass, having taken Communion, these words came to my mind, ‘the person of the Priest must be concealed, in order that Jesus Christ be revealed.’

Now, when the Priest puts on his vestments (which within the Traditional Mass, is a prayer beginning the Liturgy of the Mass itself) the Priest conceals himself in the symbolic clothing, which represents that of Jesus Christ, High Priest. He becomes representative of Jesus Christ.

Those beautiful vestments of Holy Mother Church conceal his personality and he steps forth, as representative of Jesus Christ, mediating our Lord, to us, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

To repeat, obedience is so naturally understood in our hearts. It is a total surrender to that which is higher, the will of God, mediated through the Hierarchy to us.

Just as the heavenly realms form a Hierarchy, from God Himself down to the Angels and Saints, it is natural for us here on earth to mirror that divine pattern.

Now, unlike heaven, we here on earth are fallen. Therefore, whilst I am here laying out the ideal, the form in which the Catholic Church functions, the persons who make up that institution are themselves, fallen.

Therefore, things go wrong, and by golly they have. For, the evil one is constantly tempting us through the will-to-power, and we all have fallen and still do fall into that temptation.

Yet, that in no way means that the actual Hierarchical structure of the Church in and of itself is wrong.

It is here that I see the danger and difficulty, within New Age thinking. That the traditional systems of belief are being rejected.

Rejected, because of the all-too-human problems presented by the fact that the members of the Church are always fallen. Rejected without any understanding of what the structures in themselves actually are and why they are so important.

But, perhaps most of all, rejected simply because they do not fit into the New Age belief system.

Just as we (Roger, myself and our friends) were looking for a New Age, free from belief systems, we were unaware that we were creating our own system of belief.

I fear that unless we are unable to actually ‘give ourselves over’, then we will always stand alone. We will be divided because we will not be united in something greater of higher than ourselves. We will not be united together in Truth, or in Faith.

We will always have our own interpretation of what is truth, what is right etc.

A short while ago, when I was making a confession, I spoke about differing opinions within the Church. The Priest responded, ‘We are Catholic, therefore our opinions don’t matter, for we stand with the Pope, we stand with Rome. We all have our opinions, but they don’t matter’.

This is what it is to be Catholic, to ‘give oneself over’ to the will of the Father, mediated through the Hierarchy of Pope, Bishops and Priests, of Abbots, Abesses, Mother Superiors and so on.

It is a spiritual process, incomprehensible to the mind. And it softens the heart, as God weaves His way through the Hierarchy, protecting us from the evil one, by means of His will, cleaving us to the Faith.

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4 Comments

  1. David Carter
    Posted 30 August 2012 at 16:07 | Permalink

    Hello Kim,

    Good to see you writing…

    As an old Protestant friend rather than an old New Age one, I’m bemused by one aspect of what you write. Tomberg says, “The vow of obedience is the practice of silencing personal desires, emotions and imagination in the face of reason and conscience.” And yet your priest says, “We are Catholic, therefore our opinions don’t matter, for we stand with the Pope, we stand with Rome.” You seem to quote both with full approval.

    But what happens when Rome says or does something that is against reason or conscience? If you rule out that possibility a priori, doesn’t “reason” degenerate to accepting whatever Rome teaches, and “conscience” to approving whatever Rome approves? What is left of individual responsibility in that case? I cannot believe Tomberg would have been comfortable with your priest’s statement. Giving ourselves over to God is one thing, but to a human hierarchy with all its failings, quite another.

    • kim
      Posted 3 September 2012 at 12:00 | Permalink

      Dave, Sorry I’ve taken so long, but my computer time is very limited for reasons you realise and so I have to be very selective.

      Yet, Roger has said that he’s already started to respond to you, as you brought up similar things with him, so I’ll let him continue.

      As far as your question to me, it seems to me that what I was trying to communicate has not been understood.

      Perhaps this is my own fault, I’m not sure.

      I’ll repeat two of my original paragraphs to illustrate.

      ‘Obedience – where one gives oneself to God, through obedience to the Hierarchy. I think it is only the heart which can understand this and therefore obedience cannot be fully understood outside of the Faith.

      For, without a surrendering of the heart to authority, obedience is not possible. Whilst mentally, one can understand that the priesthood acts as ‘mediator’ between God and the laity, it is a very different thing, to know of the tenderness of a surrendered heart. Surrendered to the will of God in this way.’

      What I was trying to say is, that within Catholicism, obedience to the Will of God and obedience to the Hierarchy are inseparable.

      In terms of faith and morals, one is obedient to the will of God, through hierarchical authority. And yes, as you say, ‘a human hierarchy with all its failings’.

      And whilst your question focuses on what Tomberg would say, I’ll quote this from him (in Lazarus Come Forth)

      The Holy See alone can make decisions in questions of faith and morals – a majority of the Bishops cannot do so and even less can a majority of Priests or congregations do so; the Church is hierarchic-theocratic … and will be so in all future times; the Church is the Civitas Dei (’the City of God’) and not a superstructure of the will of the people belonging to the Church; as little as the shepherd follows the will of the herd does the Holy Father merely carry out the collective will of his flock; the shepherd of the Church is St Peter, representing Christ – his pronouncements ex cathedra are infallible, and the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven belongs to him and him alone.

      I hope this makes it clearer.

      Again, I think I need to let you and Roger continue this.

      Best wishes to you old friend, Kim

  2. soren dalsgaard
    Posted 14 September 2012 at 07:10 | Permalink

    KIM @ Apart from Christ as the Savior of the world – what is the difference between the total devotion and faith – which the believer entrusts to a priest or a guru?
    The path of devotion – also called Bagthi-yoga – This is a Mysterious discipline who develop heart forces – compassion for all living creatures – you could call this way for obedience way – to surrender themselves to the deity.
    If this is done on faith – it is a universal human quality – as realized.
    The question still remains the same – but the priest or guru is the one condition for the realization of “The God of our Heart” – or are they unnecessary intermediaries?
    I think often we forget the path that led St Paul to Christ – he never knew the apostles personally and had never met Jesus –
    and yet he receives the Holy Spirit on the road to Damascus.
    I really have confidence in the Universal Church of Christ or the Mystical Body of Christ – and the personal relationship with disse manifestation of the Father Spirit – through Jesus and the Holy Spirit and by that I mean “direct access”.

    thank you for being who you are

    • kim
      Posted 18 September 2012 at 17:09 | Permalink

      Dear Soren,

      I thank you for your efforts to try to communicate with me, for I think that English is not your first language.

      I hope that I have understood you correctly. I think you are stating that like Saint Paul, one can come to God alone, without the priesthood.

      I would absolutely affirm this.

      My blog was an attempt to explain something about Catholicism and the role of the priesthood, which establishes its relationship with the laity. This relationship is based around obedience.

      So although obedience to the hierarchy is very important, this does not cancel out what you are saying about instances of more immediate access.

      I hope this addresses your comment sufficiently.

      God bless you, Kim

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