I came across something rather interesting in a book about the Fatima apparitions by Cardinal Bertone. In it, Bertone presents the notes of Albino Luciani who met with Sr. Lucia, one of the Fatima visionaries, on July 11, 1997. Of course, Luciani soon became Pope John Paul I. The quote I am extracting from the notes deals with Sr. Lucia’s advice to theologians. Here it is:
- “We should pray the holy Rosary. Naaman, the great Syrian general, disdained the simple bath in the Jordan suggested to him by Elisha. Some people act like Naaman: ‘I am a great theologian, a mature Christian, who breathes the Bible with both lungs and sweats liturgy from every pore–and they tell me to pray the Rosary?’ And yet the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary are biblical; the Pater, the Ave Maria, and the Gloria are Bible passages transformed into prayer, and they are good for the soul. Bible study solely for the sake of scholarship could puff up the soul and leave it in a state of sterile aridity. Bible scholars who have lost their faith are hardly are rare breed.”
-Luciani Albino, [notes], quoted in Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, The Last Secret of Fatima (New York: Doubleday, 2008) 60.
I suppose we Bible students should take these words to heart. It does seem that many lose zeal for their faith after many years of studying it intensely. I think over-studying the Faith is similar to over-studying music or butterflies or something. One can easily lose the joy of discovery, the sense of wonder when he thinks he knows something.
I am not exactly sure why this happens. I mean, why should studying give way to pride, puffing up and lack of faith? But these symptoms do seem very common. It seems to me that they derive from the basic functions of human pride. After many years of gaining knowledge through study, a person may think that he knows something–that is, that he knows more than others or is less naive than the regular Joe. Then his mind makes this false leap: “If I know about something I must have conquered it in some way.” So he forgets the fact that he must pray, do good, give alms, serve the poor and live out the basics of the Christian life. Knowledge thus leads to pride and pride leads to apathy and apathy leads to aridity.
Oddly, this process contradicts the way that knowledge should function. A person with a deeper knowledge of poetry, literature and acting should be able to put on a much more convincing performance of Shakespeare than a hormone-ridden teenager. Yet hormone-ridden teenagers often outperform aged literature professors on stage. A serious student of the Bible (or of theology in general) ought to live a more convinced and convincing spiritual life than a person who has not had the luxury of study.