Monday, June 10, 2024

The Study

 James Chastek has a nice post on Thomas Aquinas's answer to the question of why Christ wrote nothing, and it ties in to something that I have often thought about in recent times. Theological and religious terms are sometimes associated so strongly with solemn contexts that the very solemnity can start interfering with our understanding of them, and this is very much the case with the word 'disciple'. The Greek word, mathetes, just means 'student'; the same is true for the Latin translation that gives us the English word, discipulus. Jesus gathered a bunch of students. In the Great Commission, he laid upon them the charge to go to all the peoples and make them students, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey what Christ commanded. Why did Christ not write anything? To reduce that perpetual danger of pedagogy, the one who parrots rather than thinks and studies.

One occasionally finds various programs and the like devoted to "discipleship"; some of these are quite salutary, but there's not actually any great secret to being a disciple. It all amounts to this: Always be learning. That's fundamentally the standard for any Christian life: Is it a study of Christ? The Pharisee in the parable was by almost every standard a better person, but his attitude made him unable to be a genuine student, as he thought himself already dikaios, just or right, whereas this was still open to the publican, who had the humility to know that he wasn't getting things right, and because of that he, and only he, went away dedikaiomenos, having been deemed just or right. We are not expected to be angels; we are expected to be learners. To be sure, there is a significant practical component to this (the same word can also mean 'apprentice', i.e., a practical student); one of Christ's explicit clarifications of what is involved in making students of the nations is that it involves teaching to do what Christ has required, so naturally being a disciple involves not just learning about Christ but learning actually to do what Christ has required. But the standard to which we are held is the standard to which one holds a student, because the lives we are to lead are the lives of students. As Christ says in John 15:8, "My Father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My students."