The Obedience of Faith

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:21

That, it seems to me, is the synoptic analogue for Paul’s references to “the obedience of faith” in his Letter to the Romans (1:5; 16:26). As for the Johannine echo: it’s at John 1:38. Jesus turns to the approaching disciples of John, catching them off-guard, and asking abruptly: “What do you want?” Everything depends on the answer to that question — our ethical lives, our attempts at virtue, the plausibility of our hopes, everything. We are desire; the question is only: what is the object of our desire?

Having been the source of consternation to both the theological conservatives (so-called) and the (so-called) ecclesiastical progressives, Henri de Lubac is a steady and reliable theological compass. He has a marvelous passage about the “obedience of faith,” which he contends is something entirely different from “the faith of obedience.”

Henri_de_Lubac

The latter, placing the individual in a position of purely external submission to authority, delivers him over, through his fault, to a tyranny from which he can escape only by insubordination or which he can tolerate cheerfully only through indifference. Then, as Fenelon says, “the practice of faith only amounts to not daring to contradict the incomprehensible mysteries, a vague submission to which costs nothing.” Whoever is satisfied with this is caught up in a sterile, parrot-like discourse. He “does not meddle with dogmas,” as he sometimes likes to say, but he does not live by them either. He may be a perfect conformist, but he does not know what it means to be a Christian. Obedience of faith, on the contrary, is interior; obedistis ex corde, says the Apostle. [Romans 6:17]

Only this latter obedience, de Lubac insists, “deserves to be called a theological virtue.”

The Christian Faith, p. 238-9.

(this is was first posted on our old blog Nov 28, 2006)

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