Unconditional Love and Ecclesiology

In my jaundiced way, I often suspect the coiners of fashionable phrases of having taken perfectly unexceptional ideas and given them a twist that empties them of all real meaning. Many are plundered from religion, and when they find their way back into the Church they act as a substitute for genuine thought. Take, for example, that wonderful phrase ‘unconditional love’. It sounds splendid, and the idea behind it is splendid, but the more I think about the actual phrase, the less sure I am what it means. God loves us infinitely, tenderly, forgivingly, but unconditionally? Isn’t part of his love for us to want us to respond, to want us to behave in ways that reflect his goodness? We may not think of these as conditions, because clearly we are loved by him no matter how badly we behave, but spreading the notion of God’s unconditional love can come close to implying that we can do what we like. I am loved unconditionally by God, so how can the Church or anyone else demand that I conform to their ideas of right and wrong? I am an autonomous being, and my own ideas are what count if I am to be authentic (another buzz word).

One of the troubling aspects of our online engagement is that we are frequently confronted with the problem of what to say to those who have constructed their own version of Christianity. I’m tempted to call it Christianity Lite, a Christianity with all the difficult and painful bits taken out. Words like ‘sacrifice’ and ‘suffering’ seem to have no place, and the notion of authority and obedience is very circumscribed. It is love without asceticism, and regular readers will know what I think about that.

I believe I can truthfully claim that the community to which I belong is a compassionate and generous one, so I don’t think it’s simply a case of my being an old curmudgeon or religious martinet, with a sour outlook on life and immune to every new idea. It goes deeper than that. A wise friend once remarked that many of the difficulties Christians experience boil down to conflicting understandings of the Church. I think there is a lot of truth in that. People routinely talk about ‘the Church’ as something other, something vaguely opposed  to everything good and beautiful in their lives. Very few seem to have grasped that she is a mother. Maybe what we all need is a better understanding of ecclesiology. Now there’s a thought to conjure with!

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9 thoughts on “Unconditional Love and Ecclesiology”

  1. I like “Christianity Lite”. In my day it was called “folk religion”.
    I suppose the unconditional idea may have come from the notion that we do not “earn” God’s love by works. But I seem to remember that I am required to love God with all my heart, and soul, and strength, and mind – and then further to love my neighbour as much as I love me, which is quite a hard condition sometimes.
    I wish I saw more comprehension of the incident where the Samaritan became the Good Neighbour to the presumably Jewish traveller who had fallen among thieves. An understanding of loving your neighbour which seems to be sadly lacking in our country at the moment when there are so many need of a few pence at the inn.

  2. I bump up against this all the time, friends who believe but don’t belong to a parish or attend Mass, who think as long as they believe they’re home free. There is also a mistaken belief that the Church is entirely man-made so therefore something to be wrestled with where teachings clash with self-centered preferences. There is a lack of understanding of ecclesiology to be sure but more to the point a failure to grasp that Christ founded this church and is still active and directing its movement through the Holy Spirit.

  3. What a good description Dame Catherine.
    I also like the term ‘spirituallidy’…. which I define as a preocupation with the ‘warm and fluffy’ bits of religion together with and absolute rejection of any awkward reqiurements or suffering.
    However it is entirely a counterfeit. Sadly this exists in the church too, a parallel ‘faith’ of sorts that has little to do with the Gospel and won’t lead to salvation. It has a lot to do with the ‘spirit of vatican 2’ (as opposed to what the Council Documents actually said). It has aspects of good things woven into it such as respect for the environment and appreciating the beauty of the earth and ‘lurve’ for all mankind…. and I feel that something of that zeitgeist is at the current Synod. Thankfully there are orthodox voices which are preaching/proclaiming the Truth, and we need those voices to continue that proclamation especially where there is this idea that everything is acceptable and cool….divorce, re-marriage, gay marriage, co-habitation, women priests etc, etc.
    You do not truly love someone and want their salvation if you push a lie that might make them feel warm and fluffy/included at the time, but leads ultimately to hell.
    Tough love.
    maryclare.

    • I hope you have read my blog post on the Synod? Not because I think it is paticularly insightful, but because I believe that, while the Synod is in progress, our business is prayer rather than comment.

      • I stand duly admonished…..and I’m sorry if you felt that my comment was inappropriate therefore. I apologise unreservedly.
        Yes I did read your post, and I have just gone back and re-read it. However I said what I did from very very painful personal experience. I know very deeply what it has cost to be obedient to the Gospel interms of relinquishing something which this ‘inclusiveness’ might suggest it was possible to continue with and still remain a fully practising member of the Church. I am very glad that my parish priest at the time was comletely unequivocal that it was simply not possible to do so…he literally saved me by proclaiming the truth, and gently leading me to repentance and Confession. Had I listened to those both friends and Clergy who were trying to be ‘loving and caring’ by telling me that where I was was OK, I would still have remained in mortal sin.
        I should have explained myself a little better.
        I will keep praying.
        maryclare

        • Thank you. I’m sorry if it felt as though I were admonishing you, but both our inbox and this blog have received a large number of polemical emails/comments and I’m trying to stem the flood as it is wearing to have to sift through them to decide what can be published and what can’t because it is libellous.

          • Re ‘feeling admonished’….you showed me true love by your candour so I do not feel diminished by it. Thank you for your direction therefore. I spent around a couple of hours thinking about the first comment…obviously not long enough, and I should have used the delete button more effectively and more liberally!
            Love and prayers,
            maryclare.

  4. Thanks,Sister. I hope you will think about some future posts on developing a better understanding of ecclesiology or offering some suggestions for reading/ learning about the subject

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