On Faith-Authority Relations

  • We keep emphasizing that there are major chasms separating the different approaches to the Sacred as well as the Secular and the Sacred. There seems to be a difference between Christianity and Islam because of the great emphasis of the latter on Authority and Surrender relative to the emphasis in Christianity on compassion and love. In fact, the word “islam” itself means “surrender” (reportedly from the Arabic root “istaslama” = he submits, or he gives in). [Sp’15]
  • Now it is clear that Christians recognize that one must surrender to God and especially the Old Testament shared by both the Hebrew religion and Christianity make it clear that God’s authority is supreme. It is just that the emphasis on raw authority in Islam is so central relative to Christianity. Or is it? [Sp’15]
  • Consider the parable of the Roman Centurion taken in an uncommon way. The Centurion asked Jesus to cure his servant who was ill. It is remarkable that a military man would even ask a religious leader to do something for him. Here was a man trained in killing. He led roughly one hundred Roman soldiers and attendants whose express purpose was enforcing the Empire’s will on subjugated peoples. It is also remarkable that the Centurion did not ask anything for himself. He asked for a miracle for his servant. This indicates that this man had a certain RIGHT ATTITUDE about others despite his chosen profession. Further, when Jesus showed he was willing to do what was asked, the Centurion showed an even more appropriate attitude by saying, “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; only say the word and it will be done.” This impressed even Jesus who then said, “I have not found such faith in all of Israel.” And we know how highly Jesus valued “faith” as he would often say “Your faith has saved you” before performing miracles of healing. [Sp’15]
  • But this homily does not mean to focus on the usual points made of this story — showing the importance of faith — as much as it also shows something about the relation of faith and the rarely mentioned reality of authority. To really see this one has to understand the position of Centurion in those days. Roman military discipline was absolute from the top down in ways we do not understand or encounter often in modern days. For example, one often told story from the history of Rome is that of a General, his son, and a battle. The Romans were losing this one, and the General ordered a retreat. His son, in charge of a segment of the Roman legion and full of that wonderful strength and perhaps hubris of youth, instead led his troops in a vigorous counter attack that changed the course of the battle. The Roman legion won that battle instead of retreating. In the assembly after the victory, did the General praise and reward his son for turning the course of the battle? No, before all the troops, the General had his own son executed for disobeying orders. This story demonstrates how absolute was the dedication to the ancient and traditional value of “disciplinum” and authority (one of a list of Roman virtues) that arguably made Rome great. [Sp’15]
  • Now back to the Centurion and Jesus. The Centurion, immersed in this long tradition of absolute authority, simply accepted Jesus as the Son of God and in possession of absolute authority. He expected whatever Jesus said of Nature to be carried out exactly and in an instant. Jesus praised his faith, but was also praising his surrender to and recognition of great authority. But because of the normal emphases of Catholicism, this aspect of the parable is simply not often recognized. Although in Islam, there is much more emphasis on “believing” and “authority,” and “surrender.”  [Sp’15]
  • So while many in Christianity do not recognize authority and surrender as central to their practice or in quite the intensity that Islam practices daily, perhaps they should recognize that Jesus himself saw the relation and approved of it, “beyond anything else seen in even the chosen people.” As such it could become another bridge between the often separated and warring religions of Islam and Christianity. [Sp’15]
  •  All the different flavors of religion are full of these “emphasis” differences – even within and between what might be considered one family – Christianity. They all have the same “core”, but emphasize different parts of the faith and of God. As in that simple metaphor, each of the blind men felt a different part of the elephant and so had a different interpretation of what the elephant was. The sacred and disastrous wars over these differences may be extensions of the limitations of human perception and understanding rather than of features indigenous to the sacred itself. It is sad that these divisions persist and result in such bloodshed when they may be merely reflections of the many different facets possible in a diamond metaphor of the sacred. [Sp’15]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *