In discussions on the Biblical and historic case for Roman Catholicism, friends and family almost always rest their position on their personal relationship with Jesus. It is defended so enthusiastically that I seriously wonder whether the next generation will not profess sola scriptura but rather sola my personal relationship with Jesus because He will lead me into all truth. Will the next generation even want the Bible?
This dynamic has made me wonder about what a personal relationship with Jesus should mean? Does having a personal relationship with Jesus automatically equate to knowing true doctrine?
Enter Robert Hugh Benson.
In his book The Friendship of Christ, he wrote about the danger and responsibility of attaining an intimacy with Christ. In chapter IV he wrote this.
Of course, since every advance in spiritual life has its corresponding dangers — since every step that we rise nearer to God increases the depth of the gulf into which we may fall — a soul that has reached the stage of the Illuminative Way which we have called Ordinary Contemplation (and which is, in fact, the point at which the State of Union is reached) has an enormous increase of responsibility. The supreme danger is that of Individualism, by which the soul that has climbed up from ordinary pride reaches the zone in which genuine spiritual pride is encountered, and, with spiritual pride, every other form of pride — such as intellectual or emotional pride — which belong to the interior state.
For there is something extraordinarily intoxicating and elevating in the attaining of a point where the soul can say with truth, “Thou lightest my lamp, O Lord.” It is bound, in fact, to end in pride unless she can finish the quotation and add, “O my God, enlighten my darkness!” Every heresy and every sect that has ever rents the unity of the Body of Christ has taken its rise primarily in the illuminated soul of this or that chosen Friend of Christ. Practically all the really great heresiarchs have enjoyed a high degree of interior knowledge, or they could have led none of Christ’s simple friends astray. What is absolutely needed, then, if illumination is not to end in disunion and destruction, is that, coupled with this increase of interior spiritual life, there should go with it an increase of devotion and submission to the exterior Voice with which God speaks in His Church: for, notoriously, nothing is so difficult to discern as the difference between the inspirations of the Holy Ghost and the aspirations or imaginations of self.
For non-Catholics it is almost impossible to avoid this elevation of self, this reliance upon interior experience — those elements in fact which still keep Protestantism in being, and still endlessly subdivide its energies: for they are aware of no such Exterior Voice by which their own experiences may be tested. But it is possible, too (as our own days shew), for even educated and intelligent Catholics to suffer from this disease of esotericism, to imagine that the Exterior must be avoided by the Interior, and that they are better able to interpret the Church than is the Church to interpret herself. Vae soli Woe to him that is alone! Woe to him who having received the Friendship of Christ, and its consequent illumination, believes that he enjoys in its interpretation an infallibility which he denies to Christ’s outwardly commissioned Vicar!
For the stronger the interior life and the higher the degree of illumination, the more is the strong hand of the Church needed, and the higher ought to be the soul’s appreciation of her office.
It is, we are bound to remind ourselves, from the inner circle of Christ’s intimates, from those who know His secrets and have been taught how to find the gate of the Inner Garden where He walks at His ease with His own, that the Judases of history are drawn.