Oh, For Some Saints
A Sidebar in David Mills’s “LatCons Revisited”
by John Thompson
“LatCons II: Further Thoughts on Latitudinarian Conservatives” leads me in two directions. The first is to consider the “comfort index” people expect from Christianity. Do people expect that being a Christian will cause them to suffer? Well, sure they do, but how much? Are we prepared to be alone or nearly alone in certain parts of our struggle? Are we prepared to invest what may seem to be disproportionate energy toward keeping our souls spiritually pure and morally upright?
Typical middle class Christians especially expect that their suffering should be “reasonable” or “proportionate.” To put it bluntly, we have tried to minimize the pain and hassle and reproach of bearing the cross. We may say with St. Paul “I am crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), but we may be less eager to follow him when he says, “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). A voluntary, daily martyrdom is implied here. None of us has attained it, but so many do not feel that it is even worth striving for.
Second, so many of the questions that define LatCons related to behavior that should be dealt with by the priests and bishops. But these pastoral leaders also have their own “comfort index.” It is tempting to be more lenient toward them and their need for a “high” comfort index because the conditions of their stressful work are made worse by a refusal to follow a LatCon line. At the same time, the presence in the Church of godly leadership is extremely critical, for the pastoral leadership bears ultimate responsibility for determining when someone is bending too far.
Mills mentions the need for a scripturally informed soul, and the need for a person to be in community. But for many pastoral decisions—which all address “extenuating circumstances,” don’t they?—there is no substitute for godly advisors, or better yet, saints if you can find them. I think that it is less than the best for us to be relying on our wits for determining when and how to bend.
If no saints are available to advise us, something is wrong. Perhaps just for this reason we can see more clearly the need for a call for holiness on the part of all and holiness also on the part of some. In the Orthodox Church and other churches some of these people are monks and nuns. I think that it is time that we realize how much we lose when there are few or none.
John Thompson is Touchstone’s book review editor.
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