Flannery O’Connor’s personal remedy for “vague belief” is similar to Pope Benedict’s (and mine).

There’s nothing vague about Jesus Christ!

At the center of what I have termed vague belief is the notion that Jesus is simply one religious figure among many and that God is without a name and therefore cannot enter into relationship with the world—nor would he want to, even if he could. Put simply, vague belief is a denial of revelation—a denial of the specificity of Christ.

The way back to specific belief, therefore, will come by way of exposing the naiveté of vague belief, specifically by addressing the power of God’s name and proposing an adequate understanding of the person of Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior of the world. Of course, this has been Benedict’s life-long project, beginning with Introduction to Christianity all the way to his latest volume of Jesus of Nazareth. But, this return to specific belief is a major component of O’Connor’s project as well.

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Life, death, resurrection … and some heavy-duty summer reading

Flannery O’Connor, in a letter to William Sessions, wrote of the different presuppositions we must make when we deal with Protestants and Catholics:

When the Protestant hears what he supposes to be the voice of the Lord he follows it regardless of whether it runs counter to his church’s teachings. The Catholic, on the other hand, suspects that the voice may in fact come from the devil, unless it’s in accordance with the teachings of the Church. You are judging the old man as if he should act like a Catholic. The prophets were Jews and old Tarwater is a Protestant and his being a Protestant allows him to follow the voice he hears which speaks a truth held by Catholics. One of the good things about Protestantism is that it contains the seeds of its own reversal. It is open at both ends — at one end to Catholicism, at the other to unbelief.

Here, the big problem returns as the need to contrast our own freely chosen picture of the world — which we create for ourselves by our actions and the thoughts from which they flow in order to explain or justify what we do — over and against that picture of the world that we find in reason and revelation.

The Catholic bets that the picture held in the tradition of the Church about the highest things, about what is, is better for him than anything he might concoct for himself, even if it comes from a “voice” in the wilderness. The Catholic’s wager, to recall Pascal’s famous word, is that his ultimate well-being — including his very physical well-being as reflected in the doctrine of the resurrection of the body — is the true picture of the world in which he is to live. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, stated the issue succinctly: “For if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Faith in the heart leads to justification; confession on the lips to salvation” (10: 9-10). In these brief words we are asked clearly to state what we believe — that Jesus is Lord and that He rose from the dead. And we are asked to state these things not only to ourselves in private but to confess them to the world; so both words and deeds are expected of us.

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George Weigel on Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor


Flannery O’Connor’s relentless, faith-driven unsentimentality extended to the Church as well as to the world: “I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it…” And this, mind you, was written in 1955—to certain Catholic minds, the high water mark of Catholic life in these United States. One can only imagine what Flannery O’Connor would say today.

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Check out O’Connor’s work at Amazon.com