Christian unity requires charity through humility. Humility means to bind up one’s identity with another; to say “I am because of you. I need you.” This must first be directed toward God, then to one’s own parents and one’s neighbor.
Thus to “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” means to not have a heart except that which is God’s, to not have a soul except that which is God’s and to not have a mind except that which is God’s. Your identity cannot exist except in communion with Him.
So also to “Love your neighbor as your self” means to not have a self except that which is your neighbor’s. This is humility: the soil of charity from which Christian peace is born.
These two are inseparably bound. As St. John puts it, “He who says that he loves God and does not love his brother is a liar.” If someone loves God, he must obey God and love his neighbor. But even if he wishes to love his neighbor, he cannot do so without loving as God loves.
With these two commands the Christian is bound to find identity in both time and eternity. If he wishes to seek eternity, he cannot but know his brother here and now and love him, because he must obey God. But he cannot know of God’s commands unless he is told of them by his brother. Thus he needs the eternal God to know his brother now and he needs his brother now to know the eternal God.
For the eternal God is only known through revelation: a point in time in which He reveals Himself to men. A person must then pass on the revelation to others. In order to know God, one must listen to another who has already received Him. Only then can he know God.
This is where humility must be learned: when a man must listen to the wise and learn to know God through them. Only then can someone know God. “A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but he who heeds his correction shows prudence.” The prudent man who seeks wisdom understands that he is dependent upon the elders in order to know God. Without the guidance of the wise, man cannot even recognize God, even if He were to reveal Himself. Eli must explain to Samuel who is really calling him.
The recognition that my own abilities are ultimately inadequate is the beginning of finding my identity with another: humility. No one born of woman can deny his dependence physically. But we must learn from this physical dependency also the spiritual dependency. Then we will be humble.
The opposite of humility is pride. Pride is the refusal to share any identity with another or to depend on them. It is the refusal to love. A man who is prideful lies to himself, that he is sufficient of himself and needs no one. Instead, everyone is indebted to him.
He will claim that he has direct contact with eternity without any recourse to his brother now. But if he actually had direct contact with eternity, the eternal God would have told him to have recourse to his brother now, since the two are inseparably bound.
Instead, the prideful man avoids recourse to his brother now, and instead invents a fantasy for himself. This fantasy is neither in time (which is now) or in eternity. It is ‘antiquity.’ He claims that his revelation from God is as it was in the beginning, sicut erat in principio.
But there is no one alive who was there at that time. No one is breathing who can corroborate his story. So ‘antiquity’ is at his disposal: he may mold it however he wishes. Now everything is a matter of historical interpretation, and his, he claims, is as good as any. And so his own knowledge of God comes from his own self, instead of his neighbor. He needs only to love his own self as his self.
When our Lord came to us in the depth of humility, he bound up his identity to forty-two generations from Abraham. He claimed to know how it was sicut erat in principio, but he also spoke the amen: antequam Abraham fieret, ego sum, before Abraham was, I am. Anyone who claims to know the former must also claim the latter, or admit he is one step from the summit of pride.
The reason for this is that if he cannot claim that he existed in antiquity, he must claim instead that he is equal to or greater than the wisest person who ever lived. He must maintain that even the wisest men of old were unable to communicate the truth as well as he can now, for all of their sons could not pass down the revelation until today.
This antiquarianism is behind much of the division among Protestants (and even Catholics). In every generation there must be reformers. But there is a choice. A reformer can submit in humility to the wisdom that came before him and then seek to transmit that wisdom into transformation now. He can speak with authority because he has bound up his identity with the generations that came before him: a living connection to antiquity, not a fantasy.
On the other hand, he may choose antiquarianism: he may construct for himself his own ‘early church’ which does not obligate him to submit to anyone but himself. He need not submit to anyone’s wisdom but that of ‘antiquity’ in the Bible: his interpretation of the text on his own authority.
The former submission creates genuine renewal and unity, because it is based on humility. The latter creates schism and denominationalism, because it is one step from the summit of pride. Then the sons of antiquarianism can take the next step: reject even the authority of antiquity. But this is the last brick of Babel.
For further reading on this subject, I recommend the classic text The Catholic Controversy by St. Francis de Sales.
Timothy S. Flanders