The “Remote” vs. “Close” Theological Fallacy

Someone has gone again and propounded a misunderstanding about God. Like many theological misunderstandings, its basis is the reduction of God to human terms.

Catherine Pepinster says that there has been a tension

between those who want to describe God as a remote, awesome being and others who want to encourage a more intimate, personal connection

I would argue instead that the tension is between those who believe that God is so awesome, good, and desirable that we want Him to be our intimate Lord, and those who would rather do liturgy and life on their own human terms without much input from God at all, thank you very much. The first desire sings with St. Thomas Aquinas, “Dare to praise as much as you can, for He is greater than all praise, and no praise will ever be enough.”

His greatness, His ineluctable distinction from our way of being, is our happiness and good, because through this distinction He can be close to us. He has power to take to Himself our nature, elevating it immeasurably by the Incarnation. He has power to live in us and change us from the inside, because He is so different from us that He cannot be subsumed by us. Through the life of the sacraments, both the “sendings” of the awesome God, the missions of the Son and Holy Spirit, become real for each of us personally.

God lives in us because He is different from us.The life of intimacy with God depends upon the distinction of the orders of being.

We see this closeness in the prayers according to the new translation time and time again. Instead of asking for a vague kind of help from beyond the beyond so that we can help the world, we ask for moment-to-moment grace so that we may be faithful. Instead of sending a memo to a truly remote deity, we are whispering earnestly to the One who is close: “Lord, who have helped us in the past [You whom we know and trust], help us in our present need of salvation.”

24 Replies to “The “Remote” vs. “Close” Theological Fallacy”

  1. Thank you! The section I quote is on the "teaser" transcript that is publicly available.

  2. I think the malady is an over-developed sense of unworthiness. From the very beginning, our Jewish ancestors were very intimate as well as bold with their exchanges with God. Jesus clearly encouraged us to continue, and many Christians over the centuries have expressed the combination you eloquently described.

    I think the English MR3, however, is a catastrophe in terms of fostering intimacy. It is an artificial vocabulary unhinged from good English grammar. It is decidedly non-artistic, especially at a time when Catholics need more artistry in the Mass. Not less. MR1 wasn'[t great in that regard. But at least it wasn't an obstacle.

    Catholics will likely turn even more to Scripture-based songs and other compositions. I would even submit that maybe MR3 will turn out to be one of the final nails in the coffin of the propers.

  3. A significant figure in the promotion of the "remote" vs. "close" fallacy was another Catherine, the feminist constructionist theologian Catherine Mowry LaCugna, who followed Rahner on this pint. LaCugna's egalitarian theology went so far as to propose a single perichoresis for both divine and human persons. But again, the Incarnation and the divine indwelling–God's almost incredibly gracious self-giving for our elevation and good–are impossible under such a scheme.

  4. Well, I have to confess I didn't ruin a good essay with a foray into MR3 politics. Once Kathy brought it up, I figured it was fair game.

    And are you suggesting Kathy was "self-contradicting?" I wasn't quite following your point on that one, bro.


  5. Nope, the original Catherine lady in her podcast. And then she did the clever British thingy at the end of her talk, using the now hopelessly vetted "ineffable" in her own description of God. The lady ought bend the knee and thanketh MR3 for having reinstated said word to a working vocabulary.. 😉

  6. Makes more sense then. The link wasn't working and I didn't take the time to impersonate a Brit.

    By the way, Vox Clara had a mastery of neither forest nor trees on MR3. They gave us sawdust when we needed flowering dogwoods. Or a white bottlebrush tree.


  7. Now that's poetry!
    But you're still stuck in the LitAuth. autocratism morass, then? How much time do we have left on the planet again?
    Could you remind me brother?
    Y'know, if you need yet another "TRUE STORIES" of dysfunctional catholicism, give me a call Monday.

  8. I think we have to keep the "development" of God in mind. The original Semetic/ Hebrew origin of God as a God greater than all gods, recognizing other gods. ( By the way, according to a Jewish friend of mine,this makes the 10 commandments one of the most liberating documents in history.) By the time of Jesus and St Paul, I would argue that the concept changed ( 1 true God) 300 or so years later, we had the concept of the Trinity, which in itself boggles the ordinary mind; at least mine.
    What does this boil down to? A God who is 3 persons, a God who is human and divine ( in the person of Jesus)….a God who is intimate and remote.
    Todd, how does this out a nail in the Propers' coffin? If we're composing new music based on Scripture, the settings should then be overflowing! I have to admit, we used hymns this week, and a song setting of the Communion Proper…

  9. BTW…I thought I should mention we use hymns and songs most Sundays…shoot I'm ready to go to battle with my pastor tomorrow as to why we should be singing the Gloria on Sundays during the summer/ Ordinary time!

  10. Nothing really new with me. I was pining for MR2 all through the 80's and 90's. I was one of those liturgists who kept hanging on for that new translation with red strapping tape.

    Hey, I figure if the Rev Zed gets a whole cottage industry bashing MR1, I can at least get a few steps on a front porch on MR3. I know I've got lots of company. Especially the people who shared 4:45 Mass tonight. Our poor associate pastor was really having a rough time of it.


  11. "Thought for the Day" on BBC Radio is a bit of a joke. "Ma Pepsi" is even more of a joke. Todd describing himself as a liturgist has me rolling on the floor.

  12. I just can't restrain myself. You surely can't mean what you just said. If, and I don't grant that it does, the new translation obscures good English grammar, at least it doesn't obscure sound doctrine the way the old translation tended to do. There was nothing particularly interesting about the English of the old translation. BTW, there is little need to turn to "Scripture-based songs" when one can use the Simple English Propers of Adam Bartlett. What has proven to be an obstacle to the faithful engaging and becoming intimate with the new translation and chant based scriptural propers is the constant filling of their heads from on high by the nonsense espoused in your post. You are feeding it to them and keeping them from the proper intimacy with the liturgical text. Rather than encouraging them to submit themselves to the gift of the liturgy just as it comes from Holy Mother Church.

  13. Pseudonymous internet commentators: keeping it classy in the name of traditional Christianity.


  14. Deacon, you've got it wrong (and so have recent popes and real liturgical scholars). The liturgy is not a gift of the Church, it is something worked out on an ad hoc basis at parish level so that the community can get on with the real business of celebrating itself. "Nonsense" is really a misnomer. It makes perfect sense in the parallel universe these people inhabit. It is, however, profoundly mistaken.

  15. The new translation has even more theological obscurities than MR1 did. And that's assuming the clergy don't trip over their words. In the Mass ordinary, they couldn't decide between cup and chalice. The All Saints formal blessing is almost heretical. The virtue (one of the few) of the MR1 over the third is at least English listeners knew what was being said.

    By the way, we receive and accept gifts. The notion of submission is just too much. We submit to Christ and his Lordship. We don't have to submit to a vocabulary test running off the rails.


  16. JP, no link. No last name. No idea who you are. Pseudonyms have a meaning for the person who hides behind them. It's nice to know you were baptized under the patronage of two apostles. So you hide behind the apostolic tradition while you lob bombs at others. Good show for traditional Catholicism. Good show.


  17. Todd, you set yourself up for all he bombs you have thrown at you, because of your sanctimony, your pretentiousness, your 1970's liturgical assumptions, and the fact that you talk bollocks.

  18. Ah yes–the justification of our modern age: level insults at others, then blame them for the provocation. Galatians 5:16ff might have some wisdom. Would you consider the apostle Paul sanctimonious because he criticized your methods?


  19. The notion of submission goes hand in hand with the notion of obedience. You stand on the cusp of making the same sorts of arguments that lead to the SSPX (albeit in the opposite direction), which eventually lead to their unacknowledged children the SSPV, CMRI, and more often than you might think, either atheism or agnosticism. No submission for me is the cry that has resounded from time immemorial and always with disastrous consequences. Remember that every time you cry out in such a way, that you give the enemy a chance to corrupt the hearts of those who follow your voice. Having taken my promise of obedience and respect to my Bishop, and, yes, through him to Rome, their is nothing servile about my submission to either. I have, in fact, never been more free. If you submit only to Christ and refuse to submit to Him through those appointed over you, beware that your subjection to Him not become something in the abstract. A mere idea of submission that eventually is realized as a cry of "Credo in me!" and "Non serviam!"

  20. No, but it is sanctimonious to attribute to oneself charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity; and to attribute to one's opponents fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatory, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. I don't think St Paul was doing this.

    I don't attack you, but I do attack your opinions and assumptions, and you are quite good at hurling brickbats yourself. What I don't do is mix pious platitudes with the brickbats. Caritas non conturbat me (to quote Hilaire Belloc).

  21. I'm also on unsteady ground as a parent being a skeptic on "deep" obedience.

    I can implement MR3 and urge the clergy and parishioners I serve to adhere to it. But I don't have to like it. Nor it is necessary for me to give a blind intellectual or theological assent to the many, many flaws in the translation.

    I think there is room in the Church for a healthy dissent from matters such as incompetence, unprofessionalism, and other such qualities. I'm as much in league with evil by not identifying it accurately, and warning other people off. The key is careful discernment, and with people whom I trust as spiritual advisors. Chiefly my wife, pastor, and spiritual director.

    Thanks for engaging and keeping me honest. This sort of exchange is really the best of the Café. and what I look forward to when I come here.


  22. Your reading comprehension is lacking, my friend. You assume much–too much in our exchanges. Your personal insults go far beyond my criticism of positions, opinions, and judgments. Let's dial back for a few days and see what happens.


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