Tuesday, February 15, 2005

from Karen Armstrong's new book

I am presently reading The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness by Karen Armstrong. Armstrong, a well-known writer on religion, spent seven years of her early adulthood as a Catholic nun. Below is a quotation from the book. I will probably have other quotes from this book to post later.

There has been a moment early in the postulantship when I had heard a warning bell. We were doing a little course in apologetics, which explained the rational ground for faith. I was set an essay: "Assess the historicla evidence for the Resurrection." I had read the requisite textbooks, could see what was required, and duly produced a discussion of the events of the first Easter Sunday that made Jesus’ rising from the tomb as uncontroversial and unproblematic historically as the Battle of Waterloo. This was nonsense, of course, but that did not seem to matter in apologetics.

"Yes, Sister, very nice." Mother Greta, the pale delicate nun who was supervising our studies, smiled at me as she handed back my essay. "This is a very good piece of work."

"But Mother," I suddenly found myself saying, "it isn’t true, is it?"

Mother Greta sighed, pushing her hand under her tightly fitting cap and rubbing her forehead as if to erase unwelcome thoughts. "No, Sister," she said wearily, "it isn’t true. But please don’t tell the others."

This did not mean that Mother Greta did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, or that she had lost her faith. But she had studied at the prestigious Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium and knew that the kind of essay I had written was no longer regarded as a respectable intellectual exercise. A careful study of the resurrection stories in the gospels, which consistently contradict one another, shows that these were not factual accounts that could ever satisfy a modern historian, but mythical attempts to describe the religious convictions of the early Christians, who had experienced the risen Jesus as a dynamic presence in their own lives and had made a similar spiritual passage from death to life. As I stared wordlessly back at Mother Greta, I knew that, if it had been up to her, she would have scrapped this course in apologetics and introduced us to a more fruitful study of the New Testament. But, like any nun, she was bound by the orders of her superiors. What I had written was not true, because the insights of faith are not amenable to rational or historical analysis. Even at this early stage, in a confused, incoherent way, I knew this, and Mother Greta knew that I knew it.

1 comment:

John E. Cother said...

VERY interesting.