I wonder if the early church really knew how subversive of itself it really was? Emulating a highly authoritarian Roman Empire, it formed clear lines of religious authority. Establishing rigid beliefs, it hounded or expelled heretics. Adding to its authoritarian system and inflexible beliefs, it established an official body of books which we call the New Testament. Unknowingly, the latter item made the carefully constructed structure vulnerable.
When the Church included four stories of Jesus-Matthew, Mark, Luke and John-it was saying that the story of Jesus was so large that one voice could not give it full expression, that four individuals telling their story from different points of view, even with contradictions, was the best way to get at the truth of Jesus. What they unwittingly declared was that important truths come not from one authoritative voice but out of the conversations that take place among humans.
For example, at the time of death, if I want to get at the truth of a person's life, I must listen to family members, coworkers, friends and my own experience of that person. (Even so, a sense of incompleteness is always present since all of us have within a private place to which no one is allowed entry.)
In addition to the conversational approach to truth, the quadrilateral nature of that conversation impresses me. For example, I find that Christian truth comes as I consciously carry on a conversation among Scripture, Tradition, Personal Experience and Insight/Inspiration. Each has an importance in itself, but together they give a wellrounded sense of truth and leaving out any one voice skews my thinking.
I view our government in quadrilateral terms. There is, of course, Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court. Added to this is the People. As Mr. Dooley wrote in 1900, "No matter whether th' constitution follows th' flag or not, th' supreme coort follows th' illiction returns." Each is independent of the other, yet all are dependent on each other,
Keeping the quadrilateral in mind, I use it to avoid the debate of us vs. them and the tripartite conversation characterized by: I am a person of convictions; you are stubborn; he/she is pigheaded. The quadrilateral keeps me seeking for the opinion that is too often missing or unexpressed in important conversations.
"Love is a Many Splendored Thing"
declared the once popular song. Truth also.
--Robert H. Tucker
9 February 1998