“Duc nos quo tendimus”
Some decades ago, Albert Descamps, a fine Belgian scripture scholar and later rector of the Catholic University of Louvain, wrote a fine essay on teaching authority in the Church. With a fine touch of humor, he quoted from a verse of the Panis angelicus, “Per tuas semitas duc nos quo tendimus. Ad lucem quam inhabitas.” (“Along your paths lead us where we tend: To the light in which you dwell”), in order to make the point that there is a view that has no difficulty acknowledging the authority of a person who leads us where we already want to go–the Duc nos quo tendimus notion of authority. I thought of that when I observed how in a thread below the recently expressed views of Cardinal Schonborrn were attributed to the Holy Spirit, who blows where he will, and I hope David Gibson will forgive me for wondering whether the claim doesn’t illustrate that notion of authority. Others on the thread obviously disagree with what the Cardinal said and, not wishing to go where he leads, would also be likely to deny that the Holy Spirit was leading him.
Which all raises the question of discernment, on which there is an immense literature, starting perhaps with Jesus (“By their fruits shall you know them”; “every one who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light lest his works be reproved, while he who does the truth comes to the light so that his works may be made manifest because they are done in God”) and with St. Paul (“Extinguish not the spirit. Despise not prophecies. But test all things; hold fast that which is good; keep clear of whatever kind is evil”; I Thess 5:19-21; see 1 Thess 2:13– “we thank God that when you received from us the word of the message of God you accepted not a word of men but, what it really is, a word of God”– and the whole of 1 Cor 14) and continuing on throughout the Christian spiritual tradition. Different currents within the great river have devised their own rules for discernment, the best-known being perhaps those of St. Ignatius Loyola.
The ability to discern divine authority is itself a gift of God. The First Vatican Council, often dismissed as infected with a kind of theological rationalism, taught that saving faith is impossible without the light and inspiration of the Holy Spirit that make assenting to and believing the truth a free and meritorious act of which the word “suavitas” [pleasantness, delight] may be used. St. Augustine spoke of the need of “inner eyes”; St. Thomas said that the principal cause of faith is the inner impulse of the Holy Spirit; Pierre Rousselot wrote of “the eyes of faith” and Bernard Lonergan of faith as “the eyes of love.”
All of which I take to mean that nothing can take the place of conversion, intellectual, moral, and religious (Lonergan again). The converted are likely to discern correctly who may and should be trusted and to trust them; the unconverted are likely to trust the untrustworthy and not to trust the trustworthy. Unfortunately, it is also the case that people who occupy posts that only the trustworthy ought to occupy sometimes are not themselves trustworthy because they are not converted, intellectually, morally, religiously, and when that happens in the Church, a grave crisis can ensue. There really is no substitute for conversion, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit.