Source: Brian Holdsworth via YouTube
Music written and generously provided by Paul Jernberg. Find out more about his work as a composer here: https://pauljernberg.com
The word Rigid or rigidity has become something of a buzzword and specifically a hammer to use, indiscriminately against orthodox or traditional Catholics who want to hold fast to the teachings of the Church, without compromise.
I’ve heard pastors and bishops using it a lot these days and what I find interesting is that this term doesn’t appear among lists of sins in scripture or in tradition. When St. Paul enumerates who will not inherit the kingdom of Heaven in 1 Corinthians, the rigid don’t appear there. When we think of the 7 deadly sins, it doesn’t appear there either, so it raises the question, is this something new or.
The first thing to notice about it is that the word rigid, is a metaphorical word. It doesn’t describe a literal trait that someone could have, unless you’re talking about diseases like Parkinson’s… but I doubt that’s what clerics mean when they are accusing people of being rigid.
Now, the thing about metaphorical language is that it is drawn from objects which are not human and is therefore, imprecise when it is applied to us… which means, it needs a lot of clarification when it is used. It needs to be related back to traits that are, literally, human traits.
This is the thing about metaphorical language. It can help expand our understanding of something literal, by providing references and associations to other things that we might already be familiar with.
Because, as Catholics, grounded in the knowledge of scripture and revelation, as well as the great wisdom of the tradition of reason which gave us virtue ethics, we have a fairly comprehensive list of qualities that we can be confident are precise and accurate in defining good qualities, what we might call virtues, and bad qualities, what we might call vices.
If we want to use metaphorical words like Rigid to expand or enhance our understanding of a literal vice or virtue, then it can be a welcome rhetorical device as long as it’s accurately applied in a way that brings clarity rather than ambiguity and confusion.
Unfortunately, when I’ve heard this term used by Catholic leaders, it often appears divorced from the kind of clarity that I think is necessary. It’s tossed out in vague allusions which can be seized on by anyone who wants to use it to condemn people they don’t like.
So, I think we need to be more precise with this term by clarifying what literal vices or sins we are associating it with or stop using it altogether because of how easily it can be associated with qualities that are not only not sins, but virtues, in fact.
As a side note, notice that the definition of virtue is, a stable disposition to good. The catechism substitutes stable for firm but whichever word you use, it means unfaltering.
Header image: Brian Holdsworth via YouTube