Sunday, July 20, 2008

Paul Addresses the Areopagus: Intellectual Pride

Acts 17: 19-33

A meditation on Saint Paul by Father James E. Sullivan, m.s.:

"Some of the philosophers seemed anxious to hear more of Paul's strange teaching so they invited him to address the Areopagus,* the famous council of learned men which decided on all questions religion, culture and education. Paul was happy to consent, although he felt a little uneasy in that setting which was purely pagan. In his speech to the semi-circle of scholars, Paul tried very hard to be 'a Greek to the Greeks.'

He spoke with kindness: 'Men of Athens, I see are extremely religious.' He incited their curiosity about 'the Unknown God' whom he would proclaim to them. He spoke in philosophical terms. All the beautiful things of nature must have been made by Someone. That Someone is the Lord of heaven and earth - not an image in gold or silver; not aloof from us or disinterested in us, whom He made in His own likeness; not in need of anything from us - as the false, childish gods they had been worshipping. - Up to this point they listened attentively. But when Paul implied that their religious ideas were childish, they began to seethe. Who was this funny little Jew to be teaching them, the intellectual lights of the world!

Paul continued. It wasn't exactly their fault and God had certainly forgiven these mistaken ideas. But now they were able to understand the true God because He had sent a messenger to men. And He had given this messenger unmistakable credentials by raising Him from the dead. Paul was about to mention the name of Jesus and tell of His life, but 'some began to sneer' openly. Paul stopped. He couldn't mention that Sacred Name to scoffers. The president of the Council tried to be polite: 'We will hear thee again on this matter.' Paul nodded. Disheartened and sad, he left the Council.

Lord, there is no armor harder to pierce than this shield of intellectual pride. St. Paul would preach in cities that were moral cesspools - like Corinth and Antioch in Syria. He would address men with little education as in Galatia and Beroea - And all these he could reach, influence for good, win for Christ. But not the Athenians! Not the men who thought they knew it all! Their pride was an armor plate which deflected Paul's sincerest points and most brilliant proofs as though they were little toy arrows.

The proud man is basically insecure, Lord. The only way he can have any peace is to imagine that he is self-sufficient, that he knows all that is important to know. The moment someone comes along with fine ideas different from his own, the proud man is threatened! His dream-world of all-sufficiency is about to be torn down. So up go his defenses! He laughs and sneers at the other's ideas. 'That man's a fool,' he cries out. 'He doesn't know what he's talking about. Might as well end the conversation here and now!' His defenses become impenetrable.

What peace humility would bring to the intellectually proud! We are none of us self-sufficient. All of us have things to learn - Once we are honest enough to admit this, new ideas are never a threat! We learn and we grow!

Dear Master, humility is truth. And truth is the key to freedom and peace. Let me listen then without anxiety to each person's ideas. Whatever is good or beautiful or true in what they have to say enriches me - and also them for sharing it with me! Lord, how can that be a threat! Let me love truth - and open my arms wide to it, wherever I find it!"

- My Meditations on St. Paul, pp. 243-246.


Anonymous said...

I've encountered such intellectual pride at my parish - which is in the Diocese of Worcester. More anxious to preserve the status quo than to defend Catholic truth, the laity are viewed more as a threat than as collaborators in spreading the Good News.

To me, it is sad.

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

Jessica, I hear you. In this week's CFP editorial, we are [correctly} reminded that, "Prophets see things many of us don't...Wise Christians at the head [of the Mystical Body of Christ] need to discern which prophecies come from God and how to respond to them.."

Unfortunately, although the Lord Jesus sent prophets to the Diocese [and throughout the Church in the United States] warning of the effects of widespread dissent and homosexuality, these were largely ignored by those who should have been discerning the truth rather than despising prophecy.

Often, prophecy is rejected because we don't consider the messenger to be very attractive or to be one who suits our own tastes and preferences. But we are told in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29: "..God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God."

How quickly men, in their vanity, forget this.

Michael Cole said...

The proud man (or woman) is incapable of growth. To such a person, nobody else has anything to offer. Only themselves. Imagine how sad this is. To honestly believe that others do not possess gifts of any kind and that they have nothing to contribute is nothing short of arrogance and pride.

All of us can learn from one another. When we exclude others because we deem them "unworthy" we sin. We harm the Body of Christ and His love is not in us.

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