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Orthodoxy, worship, and Saint Augustine

Doctrine exists for worship and not simply for itself. Doctrine apart from worship is barren.

Detail from "Saint Augustine" (1645-50) by Philippe de Champaigne (1602–1674). []

When one asks a person to lead the Doxology, the respondent usually begins: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son…” In Catholic tradition, a doxology is an act of praise and self-surrender to God. It is an act of worship to the Most Holy Trinity in which one remembers, understands, and loves God and so becomes more like God in the exercise of the infused theological virtues. We become like what we worship. Notice that when one asks a person to begin the Doxology, the respondent does not begin to pray: “Doctrine be to the Father, and to the Son…” The “dox” in “doxology” is about “glory” (and worship) while the means to this authentic worship is a concern about doctrine.

Too often the etymology of the word “orthodox” is glossed over in popular definitions and so its full relevance is missed. When asked what “orthodox” means, people will often respond “correct doctrine,” but such a cursory and popular meaning stops short of the purpose and end of orthodoxy. Well-intentioned protagonists are defining the means without the end. This can lead to a truncated appreciation for the value of worship and the place of doctrine. Doctrine exists for worship and not simply for itself: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren” (Jms 2:19-20)? Doctrine apart from worship is barren. The liturgy is the “public work” (CCC #1069) and doctrine without worship (including charitable works as worship) is not the point of orthodoxy.

“Ortho” has its root in the Greek word for “straight” or “correct”. However, “dox” has its root not in the Greek word for doctrine διδασκαλία (didaskalia) but rather in “glory” from the Greek word δόξα (doksa). The etymology of “orthodox” is “correct glory” or more to the point… “correct worship”. After all, we become what we truly worship; that which directs all our love and work. A definition of orthodox or orthodoxy which does not end in “correct [authentic] worship,” and does not understand that worship must involve man’s intelligence and volition for transformation, will not serve well the Catholic faith.

Jesus came to give us correct worship through correct doctrine

Jesus is very clear on the question of Cur Deus homo (Why the God-man?):

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth. (Jn 4:23-24).

Jesus came to reveal the inner mystery of the Trinity: that he is “from” the Father from all eternity (cf. Augustine, De Trinitate, V) reveals the mystery of the three divine Persons. God is a mystery of infinite goodness…a mystery of three eternal Persons who love infinitely; each living as the gift of self to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Heaven is the creature’s participation in these divine Persons; ultimately an ecstatic indwelling and joy which realizes and fulfills created persons by these humans (“in the image of God”) entering into the gift of self to God by means of personal freedom.

The three divine Persons want to bring humans to partake in their one divine nature (cf. 2 Pet 1:4) and share their infinite joy because they are a mystery of goodness and love. Jesus wanted to show and reveal this love (this eternal life) and impel the image of God in man to enter willingly into this eternal life of the Trinity. Jesus came to empower man to do what God does from eternity…know and surrender to infinite Tri-Personal goodness (worship) and so bring man to consolidate this goodness in himself (cf. Veritatis splendor, 39). The Catechism spells this participation and consolidation in terms of becoming God by grace (cf. CCC #460). The end of the Incarnation was to move humans into loving as God loves so as to initiate humans into the higher Life; and the means is the Truth who is our Way and Life (cf. Jn 14:6).

The Thomistic principle that one cannot love what one does not know, means that true knowledge of God, one that is unitive, was necessary for one to move from inadequate earthly knowledge of God to a heavenly and necessary knowledge for salvation and participation in divinity; a heavenly knowledge that elevates the soul when the mind is moved to abide in divine love (cf. STh I, 93, 4; 43, 5). So correct doctrine is very important! Jesus came to reveal that God is a mystery of self-giving and affirming fatherly love and he called every human made in his image to receive and enter into this love: “This is eternal life, to know Thee the one true God; and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent” (Jn 17:3). Orthodoxy can only be complete by the inner and hidden knowledge of God (revealed in Christ) moving us into surrender to the God who is love so that unity of wills and mutual indwelling can occur. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that all who believe in Him may not perish but may enter eternal life” (John 3:16). Through faith in Jesus, humans can do the works of God (cf. Jn 14:12) and abide in eternal life; the human will elevated into the Divine Will.

Entering the Divine Liturgy through the Eucharistic Sacrifice

Jesus, First Truth, is unlike any other kind of truth and word of knowledge. To accept him and his Incarnation is to have a kind of knowledge within one’s soul that “breathes forth love” (cf. STh I, 43, 5, ad.2) and brings about God’s indwelling in the soul and the soul in God; elevation of the soul into the supernatural Life. Authentic knowledge of Jesus is from the Spirit and brings the Spirit to move the will to surrender to God and so develop the soul into a supernatural share and abiding in God (cf. Jn 15:9-11); a participant “in the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). “Nobody knows the Father but the Son and anyone to whom the Son reveals him” (Mt 11:27b). To know Jesus is to know God and it is the beginning of eternal life in the soul (cf. Jn 1:12). For this reason, God the Father told Saint Catherine of Siena in her Dialogue, “I make heaven wherever I dwell by grace.”

The Mass, the Liturgy, “the work we must do to have eternal life” (cf. Jn 6:28-29), is to believe in Jesus Christ and enter his work (Jn 6:29;14:12). One cannot love what one does not know, so correct doctrine is absolutely essential to orthodoxy; but living-faith (cf. Jms 2:19-20), one which develops the image of God into the very likeness of God through a participation in the divine nature that requires surrender to God in every aspect of one’s life and abiding in it. This surrender is obedience, or rather a “believing in” every “word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (cf. Matt 4:4). It is about realizing the New Law, the grace of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, received through faith in Christ and working in charity (cf. STh I-II, 106, 1). Developing in charity is the work that has been given to everyone born of God (cf. Jn 1:12-13) because God wishes his children to take hold of his nature and mature in this share in Him so as to have life more abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10). This can only be completed through human freedom and freely giving ourselves to God; truly meaning the divine surrender signified by “Thy Will be done”.

The Liturgy is a memorial of the saving actions of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by which our minds listen to and understand God’s saving love for us and we believe in His love (cf. Jn 3:16) and we abide in it. This act of faith in Jesus is an act of worship and surrender to the Truth. This Truth—that is, Jesus Christ—is unlike any other truth because it carries within it true knowledge of the Father and not just earthly knowledge. This Truth “breathes forth love” and lets our human wills enter Christ’s human willing at the Sacrifice of the Mass. Here, human willing, one with the Divine Will in Christ, is transformed and developed into the likeness of Christ’s saving virtues (cf. 2 Pet 1:5; Heb 10:9-10). We live in Jesus and Jesus lives in us and we are fitted for eternal life.

In Jesus’ love, in this climax of correct worship (orthodoxy) which is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen gentium, 11), the gathered baptized persons touch and abide in the love with which Jesus knew the Father before this world began. We are made sons in the Son (filii in Filio) and partakers of eternal life. Entering the great “Amen” of the Mass, we worship in Spirit and in truth because we have “believed in Him whom God has sent” and accepted Jesus (cf. Jn 6:29; 17:3). We are transformed and impelled by love through true worship, through orthodoxy and correct glorification, and our hearts are opened to receive further Jesus’ Life in Holy Communion. Through human freedom, this act of faith and worship (which Christ instituted) makes what was external to us become internal to us; God’s life becomes our own inside our very souls. Heaven and earth are bound more closely in the human soul and orthodoxy is realized in the union of the human will within the Divine Will.

Saint Augustine ends his great doctrinal work of the De Trinitate (Book XIV) by exhorting us that it is through the union accomplished in rational (volitional) worship (unifying our remembering, understanding, and loving in God) that we are actually made wise. Correct doctrine is completed in true worship and glorification, in orthodoxy:

Let [the mind] then remember its God to whose image it was made, and understand and love him. To put in a word, let it worship the uncreated God, by whom it was created with a capacity for him and able to share in him. In this way it will be wise not with its own light but by sharing in that supreme light, and it will reign in happiness where it reigns eternal. [trans. Edmund Hill]

(Editor’s note: This essay was originally published on August 28, 2018.)

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About Matthew Tsakanikas, STD 3 Articles
Dr. Matthew Tsakanikas is Chair of the Department of Theology, Christendom College, Front Royal, Virginia. His doctorate was from the Pontifical University of the Lateran’s John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, Rome. He has taught for Benedictine College, Saint Meinrad Seminary’s Permanent Diaconate Program, and Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you Dr Tsakanikas for explaining so beautifully, the depth of the union we are called to and, are so unspeakably privileged to enter into with God: when we give ourselves over wholeheartedly to the true worship of God in the Mass. As far as I can recall; I have never heard the correct meaning of the word orthodox explained before. Breaking the word down and, explaining it’s connection to the word doxology was very helpful.
    Stephen in Australia.

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