Posted by Eric (February 22, 2006 at 5:02 pm)
I am (or was) an English major, which means I can take any two subjects, however remote they may appear to be, and weave them together into some kind of coherent thesis—or at least a thesis that will seem reasonably coherent for as long as it takes a graduate assistant to grade my paper. So today I’m going to link up those little Sudoku puzzles with divine revelation.
If the connection between the two is not already obvious to you—in other words, if you are not an English major—allow me to explain.My explanation will necessarily be a rather round-about because I also have a masters degree in creative writing (though I have to admit the only thing really creative about my writing in grad school was its ability to earn me the degree despite a manifest lack of talent).
So lately I’ve been reading Henri Daniel-Rops’ Church of the Apostles and Martyrs, the first in his ten-volume history of the Catholic Church. I almost literally stumbled upon these books while emptying a bookcase at my grandmothers house; she recently died and I inherited some of her furniture.
It was a great find. I’d been hoping to score those out-of-print volumes since reading the brilliant volume on the High Middle Ages, Cathedral and Crusade several years ago. I’ve now got my hands on seven of the ten volumes (where the other three went I don’t know) and I’m working my way through them.
Daniel-Rops tells the fascinating story of how the Church gradually organized herself under the institutional structures we are familiar with (diocese, parishes, patriarchates, etc.), carefully defined her theology under the pressure of various heresies (especially Arianism), and developed her devotions and liturgies. In doing so, she always fell back upon what she had received from the Apostles, both in scripture and in the teachings handed down through the apostolic succession (for example, from St. John the Apostle to St. Polycarp to Ss. Irenaeus of Lyons and Ignatius of Antioch).
And this is where I am reminded of Sudoku. You see, the Church is often criticized by Protestants and secularists as “making up” such things as devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the Sacraments and the Communion of Saints.
But it seems to me, reading Daniel-Rops, that this process of development is more like filling out the grid in a Sudoku. Like the Sudoku puzzle-solver, the early Church filled in the liturgical, theological, eclessial gaps that remained after the Ascension, based always on what Christ had told them. They really were doing the work, but they weren’t “making it up” any more than you’re making it up when you fill in the squares of a Sudoku puzzle.
The answers needed to be figured out. It took a lot of hard work, but it all developed rationally from what had been provided in the first place; and in fact the answers they achieved were as logically necessary as the answers of a Sudoku.
So where does it say in the Bible (which was of course written by the Church decades after the Ascension and is perhaps analogous to those first couple of Sudoku squares you fill in that are really obvious) that we must venerate Mary, or that she should be called the Mother of God?
It doesn’t say it anywhere, but it follows inexorably from what we do know from Scripture—that Jesus was True God and True Man, that His body was the body of a real man, and therefore he had a real mother who really was, then, the Mother of God. And so forth. Fill in the blanks.