Friday, May 04, 2012

Vow of poverty

9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
(Mk 7:9-12)
15  Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2  “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7  You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8  “‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
(Mt 15:1-9)

i) This is a classic prooftext against Catholic traditionalism. And I think that’s perfectly valid as far as it goes.

However, using it as a general argument against Catholic traditionalism, while legitimate, can blind us to the specific force of the passage.

ii) This is a classic case of an unlawful vow. According to Jesus, an implication of the 5th commandment is the duty of grown children to care for aging parents who can no longer care for themselves.

This also requires foresight. Planning for a rainy day. The vow is unlawful because the son no longer has enough in reserve to provide for his elderly parents in case they need his financial assistance at a future date. By taking the vow, he’s no longer in a position to discharge his filial duty.

iii) In several respects, this is clearly analogous to a monastic vow of poverty. A vow of poverty is a more drastic example of the same principle–a minore ad maius.

iv) Just as, in Jewish culture, vows were generally considered irrevocable, solemn monastic vows are perpetual. It takes a special dispensation (or laicization) to nullify the vow.

v) This is directed at a religious authority. And in that respect, it's also analogous to the vow of obedience. However, we don't have the right to sign away our duties to a second-party. 

vi) It can be undertaken for pious motives. The monk may genuinely believe that he is honoring God by taking the vow, when–in fact–this is impious rather than pious.

vii) Implicit in Christ’s condemnation is the principle that unlawful vows ought to be annulled–Jewish custom notwithstanding. There can never be a moral obligation to do something immoral.

viii) Now, I think the obligation is subject to certain caveats. If your parents are rich, then the issue is moot. Likewise, if you’re one of four able-bodied, gainfully employed brothers, then it’s permissible for one of you to take certain risks which would be impermissible if you might be your parents’ sole means of support.

For instance, if you’re one of four brothers, you could be a missionary in a dangerous theater of operation. If you die in the field, your parents have three other sons to fall back on–if need be.

There are also complications in a divorce culture. If your mother or father walks out on the family, and a stepmother or stepfather takes up the slack, your primary obligation is to those who raised you. Likewise, in a divorce culture, you must sometimes be more supportive of one parent than another.

Furthermore, as Jesus mentions elsewhere, if your parents disown you for being a Christian, then your religious duties trump your filial duties (10:37-30). There is, however, a fundamental difference between divinely-sanctioned religious obligations and man-made religious obligations. And that’s the point of Jesus’ indictment.

No comments:

Post a Comment