Thursday, January 28, 2010

International Treasure

I like the movie National Treasure.

I like the Catholic Church.

I can put the two together. I don't know if it should be done, but I do it anyway.

There is an issue that arises on a semi-frequent basis in conversations that I have. It is the issue of where the Church teachings come from. I say they come ultimately from Christ and can be found from the beginning of the Church's development. A non-Catholic (and in every recent conversation that I have had about this, it has been a non-Catholic that has done some serious study and whose opinion that I really respect) will say that there are things that have been added to the Church's teachings or changed from one thing to another.

The pope is the prime example of this in a couple of the different situations. In reading Acts of the Apostles and in the writings of the Church fathers (I am thinking specifically of Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch before 325 and Augustine around 400) there is evidence that supports or at least implies that the Bishop of Rome was seen to have had a special authority. It does not directly state a role that is exactly like that of the pope today, nor do I think it was exactly the same in the beginning as it is now. I would say that this is a development of what was already there, like a baby has a personality that is present from the very beginning, but it grows and develops with them as they grow to adulthood. The non-Catholics would say that this represents an addition to what was present; a change in direction, and therefore we should not follow the pope.

This is the point that I could go into a scholarly explanation of specific reasons supporting the development of Christian doctrine. I could try to address the specific points and counterpoints of each position. Instead, I'm going to use the movie "National Treasure" to try to illustrate why the development of Church teaching makes complete sense to me. I'm not out to prove anything. (Duh. If I was going to be serious, I would have picked a serious source... like the Lord of the Rings trilogy.) All I hope to do is to try to provide a little insight into why I believe as I do. If not, it will at least likely provide further insight into the fact that I am a dork. (Or maybe a nerd. Wait, no. Not a nerd; that has intellectual connotations. Dork it is.)

(Also, I think I'm going to go for a record number of parentheses. I'm off to a fantastic start!)

My thoughts about National Treasure and the Catholic Church begin as the movie ends. (Spoiler alert! I'm going to give away the ending! Hmm, except that the whole concept of the movie is kind of a spoiler... Still, if you haven't seen the movie yet- though it's years old- and you would rather not know that there was a treasure and that the main characters did find it, then you probably shouldn't keep reading this post.) The characters put the final pieces together and finally figure out how to get into the treasure room. There is a pause. A breath. Will the treasure really live up to all that was told of it? It was a treasure that was fought over for centuries. Initially, the value was primarily for the intrinsic properties of the items; the gold that they were made of. Now, these values were far outweighed by their historical significance, for the wealth of knowledge that they contained about civilizations past, for a glimpse into another time.

The characters stepped into a modest sized room crammed with odd statues, at least one treasure chest, scrolls from an ancient library, gold artifacts and so much more. They start to explore the objects before them, in a haze of awe over a treasure that is surpassing their wildest imaginations. The father, who had doubted the treasure and all the clues for most of the movie, finds a medallion that showed the origins of the clues that he had doubted. The scholarly character (and obligatory love-interest angle) found the dozens of scrolls from an ancient library.

But the geeky Riley is my favorite. He steps up to a statue with wonder all over his face. He's so beside himself with joy that he can barely speak in full sentences.

"It's a big... bluish-green. Man. With a strange looking goatee... I'm guessing that's significant..." At this he is too overcome for words and gives the statue a big old hug.

Then main character steps up and finds a trail of something flammable and lights it (always a brilliant plan when you can't see where it leads or for sure why it was there; lucky for him that he's the main character and a movie like this always leads to only good things for the main character). This causes the entire place to light up and you see that the "room" they were in was only a little balcony of an enormous cavern, and the whole thing is chock full of untold treasure.

Then the movie cuts away to wrap things up in a nice little bow for the viewers. My mind is back in the treasure room with Riley's bluish-green man. What is he made of that makes him bluish-green? Is it a precious metal of some kind? What civilization made him? When was he made? What did he mean to the makers? And what was the significance of the goatee?

It's exciting to think of the discoveries that will be made by the people that catalogue and sort and study this treasure (by the way, what kind of a job do you have to have to be one of those people? Historian? Museum curator? Professor? Archeologist?) There are probably some of the things that will be immediately obvious to them what they are, like the scrolls from the library. There are others that will likely be very obscure, especially at first and will take a lot of studying from other angles. For example, maybe they will find an object that they can't figure out, but if they set it aside and study other things for a while, maybe the knowledge that they gain on related things will finally clue them in. Or perhaps study of the scrolls with shed light on it.

Most likely there will be times that they have some working theories about what some of the treasure is. Sometimes further study will prove them right, other times it may prove them wrong. There may be times that their theory is right as far as it goes, but they may make a new discovery that shows that they were completely missing something. I don't really care about the monetary worth of the treasure that they find. I'd be far more excited about the journey of discovery. (Look! A whole paragraph without parentheses!)

Oh, right! I was supposed to bring this back to the Church at some point. Here it is. From the very beginning, there was a treasure of faith that was entrusted to us by Christ (by "us" I refer to humanity in its entirety, and not specifically Catholics). This wealth of grace is enormous, and the movie's cavern could never contain it. This international treasure is the deposit of faith left to us. It is all there from the very beginning, but the process of figuring it out is one that takes a very long time. The Catholic Church is not the source of the treasure. It is the guardian of the treasure. When there is development of doctrine, it is not because we have made new stuff up, it is because we have better understood the treasure that has been passed on.

**As I look back over this post, I realize that if you get nothing else out of this, you will at least see that I have an extraordinary talent for being long-winded on things that deserve a much smaller amount of thought, if any at all!


  1. I love this! I love National Treasure too, and I've never thought about this angle before.

    I also loved this: "If I wanted a serious source I would quote the Lord of the Rings Trilogy". haha. :)

  2. I agree with Sarah - I love this and love National Treasure before too.

    I think anytime you are looking at any churches teachings, it's important to remember that the times we live in are very different and that nothing on this Earth is perfect. While I believe (obviously?) that the Catholic Church is true, I certainly don't think we should all blindly follow and adhere to every rule created by it. Questioning and learning about the 'treasure' is the only thing that will help us grow.

  3. I love this post! This is a really cool explanation! The Church is not making new stuff up, she's striving to understand and protect all the good stuff Jesus left us. Awesome!

    Also, I'm totally with you on loving National Treasure. When my then-boyfriend first brought me to Philadelphia, I knew the landmarks from the movie and not from history lessons :-P