Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

2/20/2013 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Metanoia is the sine qua non of the Christian life. You cannot be a Christian without it.

What is involved in metanoia is what might be called a spiritual paradigm shift, a spiritual revolution.  We encounter the Lord Jesus, and He personally invites us to change as persons: metanoei!  He calls us each and everyone by name.  "I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine."  (Is. 43:1)  Live that way!

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/20/2013 (1 year ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: metanois, repentance, Benedict XVI, Paul VI, John Paul II, Andrew M. Greenwell, Tres Linguae Sacrae


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - The first word which we shall focus on in our series Tres Linguae Sacrae (Three Sacred Languages) is Greek in origin.  The Greek word is metanoia, a noun.  In the New Testament, however, it is almost always found in verb form; in its most basic form it is found in an imperative, active sense, i.e., as a command, a warning, a tocsin, or a hue and cry. 

The word is found, for example, on the lips of Jesus as He proclaims the coming of the Kingdom and begins his public ministry.  It is the first, essential step to believing in the Gospel. 

"Repent (metanoeite) and believe (pisteuete) in the Gospel." (Mark 1:15; cf. Matt. 4:17)

In his 1966 Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini, Pope Paul VI observed: "These words constitute, in a way, a compendium of the whole Christian life."  They are the sum and substance of being Christian.  This is the Gospel in a nutshell.

The same message is found on the lips of St. Peter, who, in one of the first sermons of the Church after the gift of the Holy Spirit, proclaims the same message as His Lord:

"Repent (metanoesate), therefore, and be converted (epistrepsate), that your sins may be wiped away." (Acts 3:19)

If repenting and believing in the Gospel is the "compendium of the whole Christian life" as Pope Paul VI put it, then it follows that the concept of metanoia is fundamental to the Christian believer.  Recognizing the importance of this concept is why, in his book Credo for Today: What Christians Believe, Pope Benedict XVI called metanoia the "fundamental datum of Christian existence." 

Metanoia is the sine qua non of the Christian life.  You cannot be a Christian without it.

What, then, does the word mean?  The verb metanoeo is a compound word formed by the joinder of the prefix meta, a preposition meaning "with" or "after," or even "beyond," and noieo, "I think."  The verb metanoeo therefore means "I change my mind."  Literally, then, metanoia is the state of thinking differently, a state where I have changed my mind, one occurring after some sort of encounter with reality. 

It is apparent from the Scriptures, however, that the change involves more than the adoption of an attitude, a philosophy, or a manner of life because it involves an encounter with God in the Person of Jesus Christ.  "We are Christian only if we encounter Christ," Pope Benedict XVI said in one of his audiences.  "Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians."  "The Gospel," John Paul II said succinctly in an address in Guatemala, "is somebody: it is Jesus Christ, the Lord." 

Metanoia, at least in its Christian sense, is the change that occurs upon one's encounter with the person of Jesus and our affirmative response to his call.  The change in us occurs because of our encounter with the Lord and his calling out to us radically to change and our saying, "yes."

Since it is clear from the context of the word's use in Scripture that more than mere "change of mind" is at issue, the English word most often used to translate the Greek is the verb repent, an intensive form of regret or sorrow for evil done accompanied with a resolution to change one's life and to do good. 

However, the words "repent" or "be converted" or "do penance," while they might be the best we have in English, do not quite capture the fullness of meaning of the Greek word metanoia.

As Pope Benedict XVI observed in his book Credo for Today: What Christians Believe, the concept of metanoia as it is understood in Scripture is difficult to translate with one word.

"When one tries to translate the word metanoia, one immediately runs into difficulties: change of mind, reconsidering, remorse, repentance, turning back, conversion are available, but none of these words exhausts the contents of the original meaning, even though turning back and conversion indicate most clearly the radical character of what we are talking about: a process that affects one's whole life and affects life wholly, that is, definitively, in the totality of its temporal extent, and that means far more than just one single or even a repeated act of thinking, feeling, or willing."

In Paenitemini, Pope Paul VI defined the concept of metanoia as a "change of heart," which he explained was "that intimate and total change and renewal of the entire man--of all his opinions, judgments, and decisions--which takes place in him in the light of the sanctity and charity of God, the sanctity and charity which were manifested to us" in Jesus, and "communicated fully" to us by Jesus. 

What is involved in metanoia is what might be called a spiritual paradigm shift, a spiritual revolution.  We encounter the Lord Jesus, and He personally invites us to change as persons: metanoei!  He calls us each and everyone by name.  "I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine."  (Is. 43:1)  He tells us, "Live that way!"

As Pope Benedict XVI put it in his book Credo for Today: "[M]etanoia . . .  is actually the fundamental Christian act, understood, of course, in terms of one very definite aspect: the aspect of change, the act of turning, of becoming new and different.  In order to become a Christian, a human being must change, not merely in one place or another, but unconditionally, down to the very bottom of his being."

The person of Jesus is very clearly at the heart of metanoia.  We encounter the Lord Jesus who calls us by name.  We have two options: continue on our way, or metanoiaTertium non datur.  There is no third way.  This is an either/or decision.  Either metanoia, or not.

If we decide for metanoia, we opt for a radical, interruptive change of our entire being, our becoming changes so that, turning to the Lord, we change who we are to become, and we gain an entirely new perception of reality.  The person who encounters and decides to follow Jesus resolves to give the Lord Jesus his all.  There is nothing--nothing--we hold back.  Metanoia means a resolve to turn to Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind and strength throughout our entire lives.

It is obvious, then, that metanoia is not a one-time change of heart, a one-time action, but a continual, constant, perpetual, habitual resolve to change one's heart to follow only one master, and one master alone: Jesus.  That decision therefore includes a rejection of anything that opposes itself to this decision, whether it is something in ourselves or something outside of us.

"Since 'no one can serve two masters' (Mt. 6:24)," Blessed John Paul II stated in his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, "the change in mentality (metanoia)," required by the Gospel, "means striving to assimilate the values of the Gospel, which contradict the dominant tendencies of the world." 

For this reason, there is a continual and perpetual imperative attached to metanoia, and that imperative is "to renew constantly 'the encounter with the living Jesus Christ,'" as it is Jesus who leads us always to metanoia, to "continuing conversion."  Ecclesia in America, No. 28.  St. Paul calls it a race, a battle.

John Paul II continues: "Conversion (metanoia), to which every person is called, leads to an acceptance and appropriation of the new vision which the Gospel proposes.  This requires leaving behind our worldly way of thinking and acting, which so often heavily conditions our behavior.  As Sacred Scripture reminds us, the old man must die and the new man must be born."  Ecclesia in America, No. 32.

Metanoia therefore is all about "change" and all about "progress."  But here Benedict XVI issues a warning, a spiritual caveat.  These words mean something different to a Christian than they mean to a secularist, to a non-believer.   Pope Benedict XVI asks: "How is the Christian willingness to change, that is, metanoia, related to the modern will to change?" 

Harkening to the Dietrich von Hildebrand's Trojan Horse in the City of God, Benedict XVI rejects the "cult of movement [Kult der Bewegung]" that is part of modern society as an authentic form of metanoia

The "inner unity of radical change and radical fidelity that metanoia implies" in Christians may, in large part, require us reject modern progress, because the Christian sees it for what it is: a sham progress.  The Christian metanoia hears but one voice--the voice of his or her Beloved--and that is not the voice of "everybody," of prevailing standards, of the majority, of a particular political party, of academia, of celebrities, of ever-shifting convention, or even our laws.  No.  The Christian metanoia does not result in us turning into reeds shaken by the wind.  (Cf. Matt. 11:7)

"The willingness to change for the sake of following Christ has nothing to do with the lack of direction evident in the reed that is swayed by every wind; it has nothing to do with an existential indecisiveness, a facile susceptibility to influence that allows itself to be pushed around in any direction," Pope Benedict XVI explains.

The Christian metanoia, while it demands a total change, makes us also firm in faith.  In fact, Benedict XVI states that "Christian metanoia is objectively identical to pistis (faith, fidelity), a change that does not exclude fidelity but rather, makes it possible."  The Christian change--metanoia--has a backbone of steel.  It has all the resolve of a faithful spouse.

The fidelity to the Lord that is part of metanoia gives the Christian the "courage to make the break," a break from all false convention, all peer pressure, all false standards and ideals, so as to gain true freedom, a freedom the world does not, cannot offer.  Pope Benedict XVI concludes: "This courage to make the break is called, in biblical language, metanoia." 

While metanoia bespeaks of great willingness to change, it also has a hard center core.  "It is at the same time a process of becoming firm in Christ," Pope Benedict XVI says quoting von Hildebrand, "'a hardening in relation to all tendencies toward being change from below--a flexibility in relation to all formative influences 'from above.'"

Metanoia "makes Christians," Pope Benedict XVI says, but if it is allowed to bear the fruit it is intended to bear, it also "creates saints" of those Christians.  The product of metanoia when rigorously lived is succinctly expressed by St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians: "I no longer live I, but Christ lives in me."  (Gal. 2:20)

"I no longer live I, but Christ lives in me."  If we can honestly say that as to every part of our lives, then we have accomplished metanoia.

-----

Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2014
Christmas, hope for humanity:
That the birth of the Redeemer may bring peace and hope to all people of good will.
Parents: That parents may be true evangelizers, passing on to their children the precious gift of faith.



Comments


More Living Faith

No one should be hungry during the Christmas season

Image of

By Tony Magliano

In early December, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) stopped feeding 1.7 million Syrian refugees. For two weeks these poor, battered fellow human beings who had fled the misery of civil war, and the barbarism of the "Islamic State," were told there is no ... continue reading


HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPE FRANCIS! Beloved Pontiff turns 78 today Watch

Image of Happy Birthday, Pope Francis!

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPE FRANCIS! Today is Pope Francis' 78th birthday and well-wishers celebrated the day singing and dancing for the Holy Father in St. Peter's Square. VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - Born on December 17, 1936, the man who would become Pope Francis has ... continue reading


Turned into the wild, Pope Francis offers hope to displaced faithful in Middle East Watch

Image of Patriarch Younan said a major focus of their synod was on priestly formation since their communities have faced so much upheaval.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Times are hard and arduous for those who practice their Catholic faith in the Middle East. In a special audience with Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Younan, along with about 350 of his faithful from the Syriac Catholic Church, Pope Francis offered words ... continue reading


Mary hailed as 'great missionary' who brought Gospel to Americas by Pope Francis Watch

Image of Pope Francis and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis along with thousands of Catholics from across the Atlantic celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Vatican. The Pope celebrated Mass to the sounds and rhythms of many of South America's indigenous peoples. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - ... continue reading


Your Friday Feel Good Story: Watch what happens when the mic goes out during the American National Anthem at a hockey game in Canada! Watch

Image of Ina  heartwarming gesture of respect, Canadians sing the Star Spangled Banner when the microphone game out before a game featuring a team from the USA.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Here's your Friday Feel Good story! Enjoy your Friday and don't forget to share! During a hockey game in Canada between American and Canadian players, the microphone failed, silencing the singer. Without audio, the Americans would be without their national anthem, but ... continue reading


Irenaeus of Lyon on Eve and Mary

Image of An Icon of Ireneaus of Lyon

By Ireneaus of Lyon

The Lord, coming into his own creation in visible form, was sustained by his own creation which he himself sustains in being. His obedience on the tree of the cross reversed the disobedience at the tree in Eden; the good news of the truth announced by an angel to ... continue reading


Taking the Kingdom by Force: Learning from John the Baptizer Watch

Image of The choice is ours. Just as it was with John the Baptizer. He shows us the way to give away our freedom in love - and then find it anew in the One who truly sets us free. (John 8:36). The kingdom of heaven is still being taken by force. The force of love. The Lord is seeking men and women in this hour who will take the kingdom by force like John the Baptizer.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

John the Baptizer was a man of Joy because he was a man of true humility! Humility is a powerful weapon when wielded by a soldier of love like John. He was a man who understood that life wasn't all about him. He emptied himself willingly and was thus able to ... continue reading


Faith restored in humanity! A random act of kindness changes a woman's life forever during the Christmas season Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While protests are wreaking havoc all around the world, wars are being fought, and people are being brutally killed, the warm sensation and fuzzy feeling of Christmas gets overshadowed. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Although good deeds and random acts of kindness ... continue reading


Do We Really Believe in the Resurrection of the Body and the Life of the World to Come? Watch

Image of Seated at the right hand of the Father, he works unceasingly in the world, to draw men into the Church and through it to join them more closely to himself.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. His salvation is offered extended to all men and women. That salvation is not only about our souls, but about the whole human person. It will only be complete when we are raised from the dead and dwell in the kingdom to come. He ... continue reading


A Christmas gift for suffering South Sudan

Image of The people of South Sudan have the same feeling and love for one another we do. Now is the time for us to extend our arms in compassion.

By Tony Magliano

The world's newest nation is in big trouble. After more than 20 years of civil war between the southern and northern areas of Sudan, the southern part of that country on July 9, 2011, became the independent nation of the Republic of South Sudan.But the situation on the ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 7:10-14
10 Yahweh spoke to Ahaz again and said:11 ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 [Psalm Of David] To Yahweh belong the earth and all ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 20th, 2014 Image

St. Dominic of Silos
December 20: Benedictine abbot and defender of the faith. Born in Canas, ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter