A Social Religion by Frank Sheed

I have been finishing reading Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed.  It has been a long chore because he is taking my mind to heights I did not realize we would ascend when first we set out.

The following is a section called “A Social Religion” which I found fascinating enough to post.  Why this section and not others probably more worthy?  Not a clue.  Perhaps because my old Protestant individualist thinking still holds sway in some areas and therefore this section impacted me particularly.  Whatever the reason, it seems a good reminder to Catholics in an individualistic religious culture.

Enjoy!

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Looking at man, almost the first thing we see about him is that he is not an isolated unit independent of others, but a social being bound to others both by needs which cannot be satisfied and by powers which must remain unused save in relation to other men.  It would be strange if God, having made man social, should ignore the fact in His own personal dealings with man.  To treat man as an isolated independent unit would be as monstrous in religion as it would be in any other department of human life.  It would be to treat man as what he is not.  But the one being who would not be likely to do that is God, who made man what he is, and made him so because that is what He wanted him to be.  A religion which should consist in an individual relation of each person directly to God would be no religion for man.  A social being requires a social religion.  Within that social religion the individual will have his own religious needs and experiences, but they will be within and not external to, or a substitute for, his approach to God and God’s approach to him in union with other men.

Individualist religious theories there have always been, even among Christians.  They have never been able to carry out the full logic of their individualist theory because their nature as men stood too solidly in their way.  Something in religion that have had to get from other men.  So the Bible Christian, despising the priesthood and minimizing the Church, has yet had to fall back upon the Bible, and the Bible, although it is given to us by God, is given through men, the men who under His inspiration wrote it.  A religion wherein the soul finds and maintains a relation with God with no dependence upon men is impossible, and what makes it impossible is the nature God gave man.  The only question then is whether religion shall do its very utmost to elude the social element in man’s nature, accepting only so much as it can by no possibility avoid; or whether it shall wholly accept and glory in the social element as something given by God, something therefore to be used to the uttermost in religion as in the rest of man’s life.  In giving man the religion of the Kingdom, God showed what His own answer is.

Christ did not leave His followers free at their discretion to form their own groups if it seemed good to them or to remain isolated if it seemed good to them.  He banded them into a society, a Church.

“He gave Himself for us, to ransom us from all our guilt, a people set apart for Himself.”

What the Jews had been, the Church now is.  We remember Moses’ words:

“This is the blood of the covenant.”

But now we have Christ’s words:

“This is My blood in the new covenant.”

There is a new covenant and a new people: not just millions of redeemed individuals: a people.  The brotherhood of every Christian with Christ involves the brotherhood of all Christians with one another.  His normal way of giving them His gifts of truth and life was to be through the society: in other words, the whole Christian life was not to be a solitary relation of each soul to Christ, but of each to all in Christ, this is what the Apostles’ Creed means by the Communion of Saints.  In solidarity with other men we fell in Adam and rose again with Christ; in the same solidarity we live the new life.

God can and does give this or that man what he individually needs.  But the great needs of the soul are not peculiar to the individual, but the same for all.  There is the need for the Life which Christ came that we might have more abundantly; and the need for Knowledge—knowledge of what God is and what man is, and of the goal of life and how we are to attain it.  It is through the society that God offers men the spiritual gifts by which these needs common to all are supplied.  The relation of Christians with one another is essential in their relation with Christ.  They are related to Him not one by one, but in virtue of their membership of His Kingdom.

–Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity; chapter 21 Dispensing the Gifts, section 1

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