Naaman, the Nazarenes, and the Germans
To vary Oscar Wilde, the Church's liturgical life often imitates art by being strikingly appropriate to a particular moment. That was certainly true on Monday of the Third Week of Lent, 2023 -- a day when the Scriptures of the Eucharistic liturgy invite us to ponder the greatest of the capital sins, pride, through the story of Naaman, the Syrian general, and Jesus's confrontation with his fellow-Nazarenes. This year, Monday of Lent III immediately followed the concluding meeting of the German "Synodal Way." And while there are many reasons why institutional German Catholicism is hurtling into apostasy, and may go off the cliff into schism, pride is one of them.
Naaman seeks a cure for his leprosy from the "man of God," Elisha, successor to Elijah as "prophet in Israel" (2 Kings 5:8). The Syrian is willing to make a long and difficult journey to gain what he seeks. He is prepared to compensate the prophet for a cure with gold and silver. But when Elisha tells him to bathe seven times in the Jordan, Naaman balks. Why should this piddling Israelite stream have more curative power than the greater rivers of Damascus? He's about to return home in a huff when his servants plead with him to bathe in the Jordan, arguing that, as he would have done something difficult if the prophet asked, why not do something easy?
Naaman bathes as Elisha instructed, is cured, and then declares that "I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel" (2 Kings 5:15). Naaman's pride had been the obstacle to his cure, and ultimately to his faith in the one true God.
The Gospel reading for Monday of Lent III offers the Church a New Testament parallel to the tale of Naaman and Elisha. Just before the passage from St. Luke's Gospel read that day, Jesus had taken the scroll of Isaiah the prophet at a sabbath service in his hometown synagogue, read about the one who would "proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord," declared that "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" -- and won the plaudits of all, "who spoke well of him" (Luke 4:20-22). The atmospherics quickly change, however, and the story as read on Monday of Lent III displays a different face of the Nazarenes.
For, in their pride, they start wondering about this upstart. Isn't he Joseph's son, a carpenter? Who does he think he is? And what kind of messiah is this? We had something different, something better, in mind. So they drive Jesus out of Nazareth and are about to throw him off a promontory when, "passing through the midst of them, he went away" (Luke 4:30). Pride, once again, has been an obstacle to faith. We, the Nazarenes, know what kind of messiah God should have sent -- just as Adam and Eve, in their pride, thought they knew better than God about what was good and evil, displaying an arrogance that drove them out of Paradise in Genesis 3.
When the German Synodal Way declares that it knows better than God about what makes for righteous living, happiness, and ultimate beatitude -- which is what the Synodal Way did when it rejected the biblical anthropology of Genesis 1 and embraced gender ideology and the LGBTQ agenda -- the Germans were behaving exactly like Adam and Eve, Naaman before his conversion, and the Nazarenes. When the German Synodal Way endorses a kind of parliamentary system of Church governance in defiance of the order that Christ himself established for his Church, the Germans were doing precisely what every prideful sinner from Adam and Eve through the leprous Naaman and the scornful Nazarenes had done: rejecting divine revelation. Thus the remarkable, artful symmetry of those readings for Monday of the Third Week following immediately after the conclusion of the German Synodal Way, which deconstructed Catholicism in the name of the allegedly superior culture of today.
Some months after John Paul II issued his 1993 encyclical on the reform of Catholic moral theology, "Veritatis Splendor," a book of commentaries on that text -- all negative -- was published by German theologians. The book's editor wrote in the foreword that the book was being published because Germany had a special responsibility for theology in the Catholic Church. To which one wanted to say, "Says who? When was the election?"
That is the kind of pride that led many German theologians to regard the brilliant John Paul II as a pre-modern, reactionary Slav, not quite up to their enlightened standards. That same pride has infused, and thoroughly corrupted, the German Synodal Way.
- George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.