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Divine Pedagogy (Or, Church Lingo…Made Fun!)

I love those phrases you find in Church documents that just can’t be found anywhere else. Phrases like ‘actual participation,’ ‘consubstancial,’ ‘distinct but not separate,’ ‘the Analogy of Being,’ or ‘Invincible Ignorance.’ Perhaps those outside the Church would see all this creative vocabulary as, at best, bureaucratic myth-making or, at worst, an example of ecclesiastical Double-Speak. In actuality the Church’s unique shop-talk is neither of these: its hard to be intimidated by such vocabulary when you realize that it has been expounded by a group of sincere old men groping for words to describe the ineffable.

My favorite recent discovery in magisterial documents is the phrase ‘divine pedagogy,’ roughly translated, ‘God’s teaching style.’ The phrase appears in Dei Verbum 15 as an attempt to articulate why it was God used “partial and various ways” (Heb 1:1) in the Old Covenant to prefigure Christ;

These books, though they also contain some things which are incomplete and temporary, nevertheless show us true divine pedagogy. (DV 15)

Now that I am a teacher myself, I know how difficult it can be to reveal a big idea to your students. And your own excitement is not the least of your worries. Today I got so pumped about the 4th cup at the Passover that I almost spilled grape juice all over one of my students. We were doing a living re-enactment of the last Supper, and as I intensely explained the most intimate moments of the meal, my students were daring each other to chug the bitter herbs. Clearly I needed to have better recourse to a Divine Pedagogy. That’s not to say that I despair of their having taken anything away from the experience. Rather, I now realize that more time could have been given to a proper balancing between the content and the style of the presentation.

That last sentence is a bit confusing. Let’s try it this way: Sometimes (most of the time) God’s revelation is so astounding that it results in too many words, too many images, and too many lessons. Outsiders may think that a theology teacher has to struggle to find content for his lessons. This is certainly not the case: a theology teacher is burdened with too much content and is further burdened by the prospect of having to shelve much of it for later instruction.

But what to reveal and what to conceal? How am I to be like the good scribe “who brings from his storeroom both the old and the new” when I can carry so little in my arms? It is in facing problems such as these that the thought of a Divine Pedagogy becomes miraculously attractive. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what to show to the students today, and then what to show tomorrow so that, years from now, when their all grown up and nothing makes sense, they will remember the Word and believe? According to the Council Fathers, that is exactly what the Old Testament is: a gradual reveal that establishes plot, setting and characters in so perfect a way that, when the hero arrives, we all know what’s up and who’s down.

In and of itself, the Old Testament is very unsettling. The violence, the philandering and the obscurities are problematic. Worse, however, is the lingering promises of God, who keeps saying that things will get better, only to turn around and allow things to get worse. As a great theologian recently said to me; “The most tragic real thing that can be thought of is an Old Testament without any hope of a New Testament.” Yet, it is in the Old Testament that we first witness the Divine Pedagogy. God allows his students to fail the first semester! He anticipates the fact that they will mess up, misunderstand and manipulate his plan. He’s ready for it. He knows that the story is too big to be told all at once, though, so he saves the best for last. His faith in us is that, when that last age has come, we will be ready to receive Him for real. His patience works for our salvation. That is the Divine Pedagogy. And if I am to have any hope for patience of my own for tomorrow, I should get to sleep soon…

About Daniel Lacourrege

Daniel Lacourrege is a 20-something year old theologian living in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. It is the best place in the world to be a 20-something. It is the third best place in the world to be a Catholic (Rome & Jerusalem claiming first & second).
His life has become one adventure right after another. Most of them start in a classroom or library, but very few of them finish there. He likes most things, but usually must be in the mood for them. The only thing he is never in the mood for is traffic.
If you feel so moved, you may email him at lacourrege4@archbishopshaw.us.

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