“Do not think that I have come to abolish
the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish
but to fulfil”
Perhaps the most tragic misunderstanding of Christian faith is to think that it’s all about rules and regulations. This reduction of faith soon becomes moralism and legalism which are more evidence of fear than of relationship with Jesus Christ.
A superficial reading of today’s gospel risks reinforcing this misunderstanding with Jesus teaching that “not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.”
But as recent popes have repeatedly emphasised, “Christianity is not a collection of truths to be believed, of rules to be followed, or of prohibitions. Seen that way it puts us off. Christianity is a person who loved me immensely, who asks for my love. Christianity is Christ.” (Pope Francis at Panama World Youth Day 2019 quoting Oscar Romero)
This does not mean that the law is not important, but rather that adherence to good law is not itself the goal.
“The proclamation of the saving love of God, comes before moral and religious imperatives.” Pope Francis in 2013
You might be thinking that this is of course the kind of thing that Pope Francis would say – and Pope Benedict’s view would be different?
I want to emphasise that these two popes (so often unfairly contrasted) are on the same page when it comes to emphasis on growing from childish blind obedience to the letter of the law to mature experience of the law fulfilled in Christ.
Pope Benedict began his first encyclical letter (on Christian love, in 2005) with the reminder that:
“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. Deus Caritas Est 1.
Commenting on Benedict’s attitude to moralism, Australian theologian Tracey Rowland recalls a question young Fr. Ratzinger asked in 1964 in which he sought to get beyond superficial moralism to the heart of Christian faith:
“What actually is the real substance of Christianity that goes beyond mere moralism?”
Rowland adds that Ratzinger’s “rejection of moralism of every kind remained a constant in his writings.”
As Thomas Aquinas (13th century) wrote promoting a move beyond moralism and legalism: “The new law is the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
Good law is essential because it provides sound direction giving a consistent and objective measure of our internal spiritual health.
A world without law is not a paradise of freedom, It is a land of anarchy.
Good law is a beacon that points us to to a destination and enables us to journey safely through life.
Let’s give Benedict the last word:
“An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.”