Friday, February 5, 2010

Gospel Poverty is NOT .... (#5)

Gospel poverty is not detachment (merely).

Father Dubay says that detachment, inner freedom, unclutteredness of intention are important conditions of Christian living. Detachment, furthermore, often bears fruit in what he calls a "sparing/sharing" lifestyle. And finally, factual poverty embraced in faith results in a Christian spirit of poverty.

However, he says, the New Testament is not content with a spirit of poverty alone; it is indispensable, but more is needed.


My notes:

Detachment is a concept I'd never been much aware of before becoming Catholic, so perhaps it could use a bit of explanation. It comes straight from the Gospels, as the Catholic Encyclopedia explains in its section on asceticism:

approving detachment, there is the text, not to cite others: "if any man come to Me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). It is scarcely necessary to note however, that the word "hate" is not to be taken in its strict sense, but only as indicating a greater love for God than for all things together.
It seems to refer primarily to our natural attachment to those we are fond of. CS Lewis, in Screwtape Letters and the Four Loves, discusses the differences between natural loves and supernatural. Natural loves can be beautiful reflections of and gateways to supernatural love but they can also become distorted -- everyone can think of examples, like Woody Allen leaving his wife for another woman and saying in defense, "The heart wants what the heart wants", or the mother who becomes so attached to her children that she can't let them live their own lives, or becomes bitter against God when her child dies or enters a convent. Augustine in On Christian Doctrine makes the case that we are to love others for the sake of God, not allow love to divert us from our true and common goal -- to reach heaven.

But of course, detachment in this sense is nothing like "detached parenting" that pushes the child away. It denotes an attitude which can perhaps be evoked by the Gospel episode in which Jesus stays in the temple at Jerusalem and his parents seek Him for three days. It is a recognition that we must all be "about our Father's business," not just our own. But it doesn't mean that love and concern don't still flourish, just that they are not dragged down by purely natural concerns.

And if this is even true of our dearest loved ones, to whom we owe high duties and who have souls of their own, then it is much more true of our relationship with objects, material things created for our proper use. This things do not have value of their own -- as St Ignatius said, they are good or evil insofar as they help or hinder us in our journey to heaven.

Moving on now -- Father Dubay says that this detached spirit is essential but he focuses on the inconsistency of feeling detached without acting detached. This was a stumbling block for me at first reading because the Church teaches that rich people can go to heaven and you can think of lots of saints who were kings and queens or wealthy folk. From the Catholic Encyclopedia, again, on the moral doctrine of poverty:

Jesus Christ did not condemn the possession of worldly goods, or even of great wealth; for He himself had rich friends. .... Nevertheless it is true that Christ constantly pointed out the danger of riches, which, He says, are the thorns that choke up the good seed of the word (Matthew 13:22). Because of His poverty as well as of His constant journeying, necessitated by persecution, He could say: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests: but the son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20), and to the young man who came to ask Him what he should do that he might have life everlasting, He gave the counsel, "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor" (Matthew 19:16-21).
I think that the point Father Dubay is making is the point that I've bolded above. We do our best to dispose of our surplus in order to live a freer, more simple life.

It still leaves questions in my mind about how we apply the principle. But then, that's why I'm studying the book : ).

Thomas Aquinas seems to say that voluntary poverty corresponds to justice. I know that this correspondence has been corrupted to some extent by liberation theology and the like. But the truth of it comes from Scripture:

It is written (Job 36:6): "He saveth not the wicked, and He giveth judgment to the poor." Further, a gloss on Matthew 19:28, "You who have left all things' [Vulgate: 'You who have followed Me']" says: "Those who left all things and followed God will be the judges; those who made right use of what they had lawfully will be judged," and thus the same conclusion follows as before.
Here is a long quote explaining his reasons why it is the poor who are able to judge:

First, by reason of congruity, since voluntary poverty belongs to those who despise all the things of the world and cleave to Christ alone. Consequently there is nothing in them to turn away their judgment from justice, so that they are rendered competent to be judges as loving the truth of justice above all things.

Secondly, by reason of merit,
since exaltation corresponds by way of merit to humility. Now of all the things that make man contemptible in this world humility is the chief: and for this reason the excellence of judicial power is promised to the poor, so that he who humbles himself for Christ's sake shall be exalted.

Thirdly, because poverty disposes a man to the aforesaid manner of judging. For the reason why one of the saints will be said to judge as stated above [Cf. 1], is that he will have the heart instructed in all Divine truth which he will be thus able to make known to others. ....Thus judicial power corresponds to poverty, in so far as this is the disposition to the aforesaid perfection. Hence also it is that this same power is not promised to all who are voluntarily poor, but to those who leave all and follow Christ in accordance with the perfection of life.

He also says:

Now in the advancement to perfection, the first thing that occurs to be renounced is external wealth, because this is the last thing of all to be acquired. And that which is last in the order of generation is the first in the order of destruction: wherefore among the beatitudes whereby we advance to perfection, the first place is given to poverty.
I was going to quote more Aquinas, but this is already too long. It seems that he implies, like Father Dubay, that voluntary poverty gives clearer vision (better judgment), and that voluntary poverty implies action to "sell what you have and give to the poor", not just a feeling of detachment, but an actual discipline of giving and generosity.

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