Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

2/20/2013 (2 years 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 (2 years 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'


Copyright 2015 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for February 2016
Universal:
That prisoners, especially the young, may be able to rebuild lives of dignity.
Evangelization: That married people who are separated may find welcome and support in the Christian community.



Comments


More Living Faith

Oldest copy of Old Testament recognized as world treasure Watch

Image of The oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew Bible has been officially recognized.

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The oldest surviving copy of the Old Testament was officially recognized as a world treasure by the United Nations Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Aleppo Codex is the oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew ... continue reading


More than a thousand 'super confessors' released by Pope Francis to tackle 'reserved sins' Watch

Image of One of the Pope's

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Those who commit "reserved sins," transgressions that are deemed especially egregious by the Catholic Church, will have another chance this Jubilee Year. Those who have committed such sins previously only pardonable by the Pope may now seek out the 1,142 ... continue reading


'What could happen if every church would rise up in prayer': Christians join before U.S. Supreme Court to call for prayer Watch

Image of Texas Loves Life stands to protect the unborn (bound4life).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Christians stand together outside the U.S. Supreme Court to call other believers to pray the pro-life law passes. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - While the Supreme Court considers a Texas pro-life law, Texas Loves Life calls for Christians to pray for the fates of ... continue reading


If 'Jubilee doesn't arrive to the pockets, it's not a true Jubilee,' Pope Francis says Watch

Image of In his continued catechesis on mercy as seen in Scripture, the Pope noted how the Jubilee year is an

By Elise Harris, CNA/EWTN News

For Pope Francis, mercy is not just spiritual, but is something that ought to be expressed in concrete acts of service and in sharing one's goods with the poor, which was a key tradition during Jubilee years throughout Scripture. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - ... continue reading


'You can't have Jesus': NASA accused of censoring use of Christ's name Watch

Image of NASA announces the use of Jesus' name in e-communications is a violation of the First Amendment (SacredHeart).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Members of the Praise and Worship Club, composed of NASA employees, were shocked to receive a notice from NASA ordering they cease to include Jesus' name in their religious e-mails. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The use of Jesus' name came up in May 2015, when ... continue reading


MAKE YOURSELF COUNT! Complete this quick Ash Wednesday survey

Image of Take the Ash Wednesday survey so we can better serve your needs.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online is conducting a global survey on Ash Wednesday practices. Each reader is asked to participate once. The survey will take less than a minute to complete. The results of the survey will help Catholic Online determine how best to serve your needs in the ... continue reading


Santa Muerte gains popularity throughout Mexico - Will Pope Francis react during his visit? Watch

Image of Santa Muerte's popularity has spread throughout South America (Pinterest).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Despite the Catholic Church openly saying Santa Muerte is not recognized as a saint, the death saint continues to spread in popularity among Mexican citizens. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Santa Muerte is an absurdity," Cardinal Norberto Rivera, Mexico's ... continue reading


Bible-themed luxury resort to be built in San Diego? Watch

Image of Televangelist seeks to build Bible-themed resort (YouTube).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Televangelist Morris Cerullo has been attempting to build a Bible-themed luxury resort for the past few years - and now there is only one more hurdle to jump. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - After purchasing a foreclosed Mission Valley hotel, Cerullo's plans for ... continue reading


What the Catholic Church should do about this new serious problem among the young Watch

Image of Deacon Flanigan confirmed that the recent surge in overdoses among young whites have been linked to controversial medical guidelines that called for a more aggressive approach to treating both acute and chronic pain.

By Joan Frawley Desmond, National Catholic Register

When recent headlines marked a spike in drug overdoses for white, middle-class Americans, the news saddened but did not surprise Deacon Timothy Flanigan, an HIV specialist at Brown University medical school in Providence, R.I. Providence, R.I. (National ... continue reading


Pope Francis gives priests advice on being good confessors Watch

Image of

By CNA/EWTN News

Priests who are good confessors must recognize their own sins in order to forgive and comfort penitents, Pope Francis said one day before the start of the Lenten season. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - "I speak to you as a brother, and through you I would like to ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

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

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 58:1-9
1 Shout for all you are worth, do not hold back, raise your voice like a ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 51:3-4, 5-6, 18-19
3 For I am well aware of my offences, my sin is constantly in ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 9:14-15
14 Then John's disciples came to him and said, 'Why is it that we and the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for February 12th, 2016 Image

St. Buonfiglio Monaldo
February 12: He was one of seven Florentines who had joined ... Read More