A man in his mid-sixties sits at his desk with his head in his hands. The sunlight bounces off the Spanish mountains. It brightens up the room as the heat of the afternoon brings warmth to the tiny study behind the vicarage. But there is no trace of light in the heart of San Manuel Bueno, and he weeps upon his papers. He knows that his soul is dark and cold.
Spanish author Miguel de Unamuno considered his life’s work as “devoted to shaking his readers out of their complacency and forcing them to face the tragic contradictions of the human condition.” To confront, in other words, precisely those truths which his hero, Don Manuel, so assiduously suppresses in San Manuel Bueno, martir. Don Manuel, vicar of the church in the quiet Spanish town of Valverde de Lucerna, is an unbeliever who nonetheless wishes to preserve his flock from the painful implications of the faithlessness by which he himself is haunted. He will delve into the books in order to present a flawless dissertation of the gospel of Jesus, leaving his congregation breathless, deeply touched and maybe even changed. He spends time in the village going from home to home, blessing the families, working in their gardens, or just loving on the children. The people adore him. He seems to be the ideal example of a man who can integrate scholarship and ministry in his life. But there is that one problem. He does not believe in God.
One wonders how many ministers of the gospel find themselves protecting the church from the doubt they possess or protecting themselves from the doubt the church might have in their ability. What causes this frame of mind to occur, this lack of faith that makes one so respected weep upon his life’s work? What laid the foundation for this tragedy? Let us not assume this time that the answer lies simply in belief and unbelief, death and resurrection, or truth and falsehood. Instead, let us look at the tragic paradox of human personality, torn between a public self which is the prisoner of a human’s external image and an intimate self who feels he or she is condemned to having no significance, no reality.
One might seek to blame this “tragedy” on scholarship itself. Do you know at least one person son lost his faith studying theology.” Can one study his or her way out of belief? It is possible that one may be so caught up in studies that ministry suffers. Many of us have seen ministers who master the texts yet fumble through life. One might blame the loss of faith on ministry. Most theologians are frustrated at the church’s “ambivalent attitude” toward scholarship. It is often heard that one can be so caught up in the freedom that he or she forget to what we are originally bound. Many of us have seen ministers who master life yet fumble through the texts.
On what should we cast the blame (or should we)?
More to come….