Intellectual Pride Cuts Us Off from Christ

July 6, 2014: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Zechariah 9:9-10
Psalms 145:1-2, 8-11, 13
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30

Hidden inside today’s beautiful Gospel passage is a very serious warning.

Jesus is speaking to His Apostles returning from their first missionary journey, which had been wildly successful.

They are full of joy and the satisfaction of victory: in Christ’s name and with His grace they had finally been able to do something worthwhile, meaningful, and wonderful.

Jesus rejoices with them. These Apostles have believed in Christ, trusted Him, and followed His teaching. Now they are reaping the benefits, experiencing the kind of interior peace and satisfaction that comes only to the humble, to the “childlike,” the ones willing take Christ at His word. Those who are “wise and learned,” on the other hand, arrogantly demand that God explain himself completely before they agree to trust in Him. That may be a reasonable expectation to have from a politician, but it is a diabolical attitude to take in relation to God.

The “wise and learned” referred to in the Gospel are the Pharisees and Sadducees, the successful people and the intellectuals — the very same people who eventually would demand that Jesus be nailed to a cross instead of “taking His yoke upon them.” They cannot imagine that maybe; just maybe, God knows a little bit more than they do, and so they should accept His teaching with faith, the way children trust in their parents. As a result, they cut themselves off from the joy, interior peace, and deep satisfaction that only Christ can bring. By refusing to take up Christ’s yoke, they have refused to let Him give them rest. They are committing a sin we do not hear much about these days, maybe because it is so widespread: the sin of intellectual pride.

Intellectual pride is diabolical because it tries to put the creature into the place of the Creator.

After all, we were the ones created to reverence and obey God, not the other way around.

Through the ages, many of the people who have done the most damage to Christ’s Church have been heresiarchs — a fancy word for people who starts new heresies. A heresy tears people away from the family of God by convincing them that Christ’s Church is wrong about some important teaching. Some heresies say that we do not need God’s help to get to heaven, or that Jesus was just a good guy and not really divine, or that the Holy Eucharist is only a symbol and not the real presence of Jesus Christ. Heresies have been used as an excuse to wage war, as in Europe during the 1600s. They have led to widespread immorality, abuse, social decadence, and civil strife, as in southern France in the 1200s. Some historians even say that the horrible crimes of twentieth-century Europe — the 13 million tragic deaths in Nazi concentration camps and the 20 million deaths under Stalinism — can be traced to the breakdown of Christian culture that occurred as a result of heresies that divided western civilization at the beginning of the modern period.

Heresies have caused literally incalculable damage, physically, socially, and spiritually.

So heresies have caused all this damage, but what causes heresies?

The sin of intellectual pride. The most widespread, long lasting and destructive heresies have almost all been produced by Catholic priests who gradually decided that they knew more about Christ than Christ’s own Church. Arius, Pelagius, Nestorius, Martin Luther — even John Calvin began his career as a Catholic seminarian. Instead of humbly following and building upon the ancient, unified, and unbroken teaching of the popes and the councils, these and other heretics arrogantly defied the divine authority of the Church, interpreted the Bible in some new and flashy way, and painfully tore flesh away from the Mystical Body of Christ.

We are all vulnerable to the sin of intellectual pride.

The best way to counteract the tendency towards intellectual pride, towards putting God’s teachings on trial with our own limited and prejudiced intelligence acting as the judge, is not what we may think.

God gave us minds for a reason, and He wants us to use them. Other religions teach that God is so transcendent that His truth has nothing to do with the truth that we can discover through human reason. However, that is not Christianity. Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, but He is also the “Word of God,” which is “the true light that enlightens all men.” That is what St. John writes in the very first Chapter of His Gospel. It means that God is the author of all truth. Therefore, the truths of our faith can never contradict the truths accessible to human reason.

Thus, for the Christian, the antidote to intellectual pride is neither blind, mindless obedience, nor arrogant, sterile judgmentalism.

Rather, it is childlike wonder. Jesus praised His Father, “… for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” We welcome the gift of faith because it helps us see things that our weak human reason cannot see all by itself, but it does not make us shut off our reason. As St. Anselm explained 1000 years ago, Christians use their intelligence to understand the truths of their faith more thoroughly, to catch up, in a sense, with what God has revealed to them.

The next time we do not understand the reason behind some part of Church teaching, therefore, instead of closing our minds against it, like the Pharisees, we should use our minds to learn the reasons behind it.

Today, during Mass, let’s thank God for the great gift of our faith, and ask him to keep always us humble and full of wonder, like true children of God.

One Response to “Intellectual Pride Cuts Us Off from Christ”

  1. Benjamin Says:

    This is an interesting interpretation of negative space left by what is said to encourage the followers on their way. I think it’s often easy to overlook negative space in academics, physical and metaphysical, as an important part of perceiving the whole and understanding distinguishes the whole from everything else.

    Heresy is such a fine line for followers to walk, we interject ourselves and experiences into every idea we receive and so color, even if only just so, each idea or form presented for mental evaluation. Therein lies the need of childlike wonder; experience and self are heresies when we forget all come from God first, and the Word is original way of being.

    I think you could add on that many heresies are found based on sin or heresy a priori. Much of the belief in abortion comes from the prior acceptance of sex before marriage as not only normative but acceptable, which comes from other prior intellectual heresies of the individual as distinct from God and His works.

    Here is where pride in intellect feels most powerful to me: during prayer. It really eats away at your ability to come to God entirely, without reservation, when your mind is wrestling with ideas contrary to The Word. Perhaps suggest ways to come to God as a child in prayer and getting around those nagging doubts of experience and self. Maybe starting with the prayers of our childhood, instead of contemplative ones, and rediscovering their importance of God given when our own contemplation distracts us?

    Good sermon, though at mass it seems you went a different direction with the idea of burdens, which was itself a more obvious question of the scripture: Why is the burden not easy, like Jesus described it?

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