Wednesday 23 October 2019

The First Commandment

In the light of recent events in the Vatican, and the various reactions to them, I have been pondering the First Commandment.

And the Lord spoke all these words:
I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.
Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth.
Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me:
And shewing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Of course, the modern enlightened mind realises that the idea of God being jealous is clearly a nonsense, so we can disregard this passage...

However, I have an old-fashioned, unenlightened mind, so I treat it differently.  Of course, God as jealous is anthropomorphic - a metaphor. So, of course, what I want to understand is what the passage really means; and to inform that, how has the Church, the guardian and interpreter of Sacred Scripture, under the tutelage of the Holy Ghost, understood this.

The Penny Catechism is always helpful (I am a simple, as well as old-fashioned and unenlightened, soul).  It explains the first commandment (in part) thus:

181 The first Commandment does not forbid the making of images, but the making of idols; that is it forbids us to make images to be adored and honoured as gods.

182 The first Commandment forbids all dealing with the Devil, and superstitious practices such as consulting spiritualists and fortune tellers, and trusting to charms, omens, dreams and such-like fooleries.

Which is pretty clear.

And reflecting further on this, I was thinking about the folly of thinking that one can break God's commandment.  In one sense, one can, of course; but at a deeper level, one can only break oneself against the commandment.

If one takes the Law of Gravity as an analogue: one can defy the Law of Gravity by throwing oneself from a high building; but actually, the law takes effect, and one is damaged - or indeed killed - by the subsequent fall.

I think that the Commandments of God are the same; the implicit second half of each commandment is '... or you will bring spiritual death on yourself, (and harm to others).'

And these Commandments apply to all humanity. It is true that the subjective guilt may be less if one is genuinely ignorant, but these are bad things for people to do.  Not bad (only) because they offend a jealous God (to talk in metaphor - as that is the principle way in which we can talk about God) but bad because they are bad for us, in just the same way that jumping off a high building is bad for us - they will damage us (and normally, hurt others, too).

That is why any enculturation that encourages the pagan to persist in pagan practices is wrong; and any enculturation that encourages Catholics to indulge in pagan practices is even more wrong. Not only is it offensive to God, but it is necessarily damaging to the spiritual welfare of all involved.

However much indigenous people may revere Pachamama, we may not do so, nor encourage them to continue to do so, even out of the wish to befriend them.  We may not do evil that good may come of it.

Not to mention the small matter of scandal...

I end with my usual caveat: I am no theologian, merely an old-fashioned, unreconstructed and rather simple Catholic: I am always open to correction by those better informed.