Saying the Truth Falsely

Can truth ever be communicated through arrogance?

Saint Gregory the Great insists that it's impossible, in yesterday's second matins reading glossing the first, from the Book of Job, in which the young gun and hothead Elihu breaks in to rebuke Job.

Saint Gregory clarifies how only humble words can be existentially true to the Word Who humbles Himself. We cannot evangelize the world by speaking from a height of self-righteousness. We cannot be good teachers, and certainly not good theologians, if we take the true and use it like a club. The true is falsified by a pharisaical existential stance.

Quoting Elihu, Saint Gregory explains him: "'Listen, Job, to what I say and ponder all my words.' The teaching of the arrogant has this characteristic: they do not know how to introduce their teaching humbly, and they cannot convey correctly to others the things they understand correctly themselves. With their words they betray what they teach; they give the impression that they live on lofty heights from which they look down disdainfully on those whom they are teaching; they regard the latter as inferiors, to whom they do not deign to listen as they talk; indeed, they scarcely deign to talk to them at all--they simply lay down the law."

Pope Francis? No, just another faithful pope reminding his flock how self-contradictory it is to try to communicate the self-abasing God from a stance of superiority.

There is a pride in the world that must be humbled, the pride that refuses to submit to the One Who has submitted Himself to our godforsakenness out of love for us. But a Christian replays this pride when convinced he or she owns the infinite truth gratuitously infused in baptism, rather than being owned by that truth such that the baptized are obligated to respect the appearance of truth wherever it appears, even should an atheist speak it. To thunder proudly against the pride of the world, is to double the world's sin with sacrilege. Authentic Christian teaching requires utter humility--not humility as a pose, but bone-deep poverty of spirit, an absolute conviction that I am master of no truth and that truth must always master me.

I must always be about meditating upon the truth, catching up to it, being secondary to it, always letting the truth give rise to thought. This generates peace and peaceableness, and makes true doctrine possible:

"...true doctrine all the more effectively shuns the voice of arrogance through reflection, in which it pursues the arrogant teacher himself with the arrows of its words. It ensures that the pride which it attacks in the hearts of those listening to the sacred words will not in fact be preached by arrogant conduct. For true doctrine tries both to teach by words and to demonstrate by living example--humility, which is the mother and mistress of virtues. Its goal is to express humility among the disciples of truth more by deeds than by words."

For the teaching of the Word is always only through incarnation. To speak in a way that abstracts from the flesh of everyday life is to speak mere words, merely our little words and privatized versions of the truth.

True teaching communicates self-emptying love, radical in its abject unrequital--bending, kneeling, begging hearers to hear what is freely offered to all.