The Elephant in the Room

by Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P. Rosary Center Director and Promoter of the Rosary Confraternity, Light and Life Newsletter V77n3, May-June 2024

I think that everyone has probably heard some version of the story of four or so blind men around an elephant, which goes something like this:

Four blind men are standing around an elephant. The first man grabs the elephant’s tail and says, "This is obviously a rope." The second man grabs a leg and says, "Nonsense, this is most certainly a tree." The third man grabs the elephant’s trunk and counters, "No, it’s long, thin, and moves sideways, so it must be some kind of snake." The last one grabs a hold of one of the ears, and says, "No, this is soft, and the shape and size of some sort of palm leaf."

The moral of this parable is to say that no one person has a full grasp of the truth. This is true, to a certain point. I certainly am not capable of explaining every facet of theology, much less every currently accepted scientific theory. However, the parable, like many analogies, tends to fall apart if we press it further. Although St. Paul says that "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7), he is not saying that we are as the blind men here, but that we have an advantage given to us by faith that goes beyond that of physical sight. The healing miracles of Our Lord that involve sight are physical signs pointing to or leading someone to a greater spiritual reality. The greatest example might be St. Paul himself, as we hear in Acts that after Ananias laid his hands on then-Saulsoon-to-be-Paul, "Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized…" (Acts 9:18).

But if the elephant in the room is God, then we, by Faith do have a greater overall vision of the elephant in the room. We see the tail, the leg, the trunk, and the ear, and we put it all together and can with perfect certitude say, "Well, I can see that this is an elephant." Now, do the blind men have nothing to add? No, we would never say such a thing. One of the earliest post-apostolic apologists for the Faith, St. Justin Martyr, spoke of the idea of these parts of the Word (Logos) being in every "race of men." In his Second Apology, he writes that, "Our doctrines, then, appear to be greater than all human teaching; because Christ, who appeared for our sakes, became the whole rational being, both body, and reason, and soul. For whatever either lawgivers or philosophers uttered well, they elaborated by finding and contemplating some part of the Word. But since they did not know the whole of the Word, which is Christ, they often contradicted themselves" (The Second Apology of Justin Martyr, Chapter 10, emphasis mine).

We all, through our human nature, have some contact, as it were, with God, this elephant in the room. It would be impossible not to. We all, every human soul, have some idea of the Natural Law in every human heart. St. Paul teaches the Romans that. "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them" (Romans 2:14-15). Even someone entirely sociopathic or psychopathic would know it, but would just pay it no mind, or derive pleasure from intentionally breaking such rules for personal gain.

But even we, with the eyes of Faith, can always learn something from our less visually capable brethren. In our parable, we can come to perhaps learn more about the texture of each elephant part, or the sounds of the elephant’s heartbeat or breathing, or the smells – all things which the blind men, by being deprived of one sense, might even be more capable than us of capturing through our own experience. Regardless, no new knowledge or insight gained can take away from our certitude that, "Yep, that’s an elephant."

Scripture is not meant to be a philosophical work, but the Church has always used philosophies and reason to explain the Faith. Recall that St. Paul, when he preached in Athens, spoke with philosophers and regular folks on their terms, saying: "People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you" (Acts 17:22-23).

Even when someone is professing some kind of heresy, we can still gather the seed of truth within the heresy. Heresies are often an exaggeration of one point and ignoring other vital points of the Faith to the detriment of the heretic. It is generally easier to begin on where we agree, as we see with St. Paul’s preaching in the Areopagus in Athens.

All this is to lead us to the main point and the real elephant in the room: In our present times we have a lot of folks denying, in some way or fully, that the Catholic Church holds the fullness of truth necessary for salvation, against the very Ecumenical Council they proclaim to be "inspired by," namely:

This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity. (Lumen Gentium, 8, emphasis mine).

The "elements of truth," sadly, often seem to be sources of division, not "forces impelling toward catholic unity." Some take advantage of the current theme of Synodality as an excuse, then, to tear down the fabric of Truth and make their own errors, all under the guise of a false kind of diversity, as if multiple errors, illnesses, or problems make for a healthier Body of Christ.

Thus, I feel compelled to state, or rather, re-state as plainly as possible, the fullness of the whole truth, and nothing but THE Truth. Because of copyright issues, and for the sake of simplicity, I will use the Baltimore Catechism (1891 edition), attempting to go through most of the articles and expanding on them with whatever Church teaching I can find. This will be the first issue of Light & Life to engage in this endeavor, and God willing, we will all come to a greater grasp of that fullness of the Faith.

Novena-Sacred & Immaculate Hearts-2024

Feature Article - Theology for the Laity

In the Beginning

Note from the Director

Dear faithful supporters of the Rosary Center & Confraternity, THANK-YOU! to all who have already donated to help us. We cannot do this without you! We rely on your ongoing support. May God bless you for your generosity!
Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.

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