Archive for August, 2009


Book Recommendation: St. Thomas Aquinas, The Dumb Ox by G. K. Chesterton

August 31, 2009

TA the dumb ox book coverPerhaps the first thing one should say about this book is that it is written by G. K. Chesterton – both a caveat and an enthusiastic recommendation. Chesterton’s books can occasionally only marginally be about their titles. He is not a scholar nor making a sober appraisal yet the book shimmers with a profound knowledge of its subject. It is filled with digressions and allusions that threaten to trash the whole project but miraculously add to it in the end and make the reading experience unforgettable.

As one reader pointed out, Chesterton is probably not sure of most of the biographical details of his subject because in his own autobiography, which has much the same candid dearth of dates and details, he commented that if he had denied such careful treatment to St. Thomas and St. Francis, so how could he justify it for himself? It is conceivable that the book is as much about Chesterton as it is about Aquinas.

In spite of all this, the book is a wonderful read and may become one of your all time favorites. “Toast it with your best wine,” acclaimed one reader, “Chesterton, for me, is the embodiment of ‘A Man in Full’; he is the polar opposite of C.S. Lewis’ ‘Men without Chests’. He is so full of good sense, penetrating insight, sound moral judgment, and the joy of life that it is all spilling out in every direction. Anyone who has read his book of literary criticism on Dickens will understand what I mean: this is criticism in an old key; it is appreciative criticism; it is an encounter with a writer by an entire man, and not just by a theory. It is wonderfully refreshing. I don’t know of anyone writing today in a similar vein.”

You are in the company of someone who loves his subject and who can bring it to a kind of life that the normal author could only hope to. I forget who it was, an Aquinas scholar who confessed that after a lifetime of scholarship in his field and an acknowledged authority, he felt in awe of Chesterton’s contribution — which seems to affirm that old saw that talent is about hitting the mark and genius concerns hitting the mark that no one sees yet.

Following my usual practice, what follows are reading selections that impressed me, that had me saying “Oh that’s good, I can’t forget that. Let me write that down.” I highlight the good stuff.

About this medieval movement there are two facts that must first be emphasized.  They are not, of course, contrary facts, but they are perhaps answers to contrary fallacies.  First, in spite of all that was once said about superstition, the Dark Ages and the sterility of Scholasticism, it was in every sense a movement of enlargement, always moving towards greater light and even greater liberty. Second, in spite of all that was said later on about progress and the Renaissance and forerunners of modern thought, it was almost entirely a movement of orthodox theological enthusiasm, unfolded from within.  It was not a compromise with the world, or a surrender to heathens or heretics, or even a mere borrowing of external aids, even when it did borrow them.  In so far as it did reach out to the light of common day, it was like the action of a plant which by its own force thrusts out its leaves into the sun; not like the action of one who merely lets daylight into a prison.  

The Enlargement Of Medieval Theology: A Catholic Development
When we say that a puppy develops into a dog, we do not mean that his growth is a gradual compromise with a cat; we mean that he becomes more doggy and not less. Development is the expansion of all the possibilities and implications of a doctrine, as there is time to distinguish them and draw them out; and the point here is that the enlargement of medieval theology was simply the full comprehension of that theology. And it is of primary importance to realize this fact first, about the time of the great Dominican and the first Franciscan, because their tendency, humanistic and naturalistic in a hundred ways, was truly the development of the supreme doctrine, which was also the dogma of all dogmas.

It is in this that the popular poetry of St. Francis and the almost rationalistic prose of St. Thomas appear most vividly as part of the same movement. There are both great growths of Catholic development, depending upon external things only as every living and growing thing depends on them; that is, it digests and transforms them, but continues in its own image and not in theirs.  A Buddhist or a Communist might dream of two things which simultaneously eat each other, as the perfect form of unification.  But it is not so with living things. St. Francis was content to call himself the Troubadour of God; but not content with the God of the Troubadours.  St. Thomas did not reconcile Christ to Aristotle; he reconciled Aristotle to Christ.   

Thomas Aquinas On Reason Fed By The Senses
Far be it from a poor friar to deny that you have these dazzling diamonds in your head, all designed in the most perfect mathematical shapes and shining with a purely celestial light; all there, almost before you begin to think, let alone to see or hear or feel. But I am not ashamed to say that I find my reason fed by my senses; that I owe a great deal of what I think to what I see and smell and taste and handle; and that so far as my reason is concerned, I feel obliged to treat all this reality as real. To be brief, in all humility, I do not believe that God meant Man to exercise only that peculiar, uplifted and abstracted sort of intellect which you are so fortunate as to possess: but I believe that there is a middle field of facts which are given by the senses to be the subject matter of the reason; and that in that field the reason has a right to rule, as the representative of God in Man.  It is true that all this is lower than the angels; but it is higher than the animals, and all the actual material objects Man finds around him.  True, man also can be an object; and even a deplorable object.  But what man has done man may do; and if an antiquated old heathen called Aristotle can help me to do it I will thank him in all humility.  

St. Thomas And The Reformation
Thomas was a very great man who reconciled religion with reason, who expanded it towards experimental science, who insisted that the senses were the windows of the soul and that the reason had a divine right to feed upon facts, and that it was the business of the Faith to digest the strong meat of the toughest and most practical of pagan philosophies.
It is a fact, like the military strategy of Napoleon, that Aquinas was thus fighting for all that is liberal and enlightened, as compared with his rivals, or for that matter his successors and supplanters. 

Those who, for other reasons, honestly accept the final effect of the Reformation will none the less face the fact, that it was the Schoolman who was the Reformer; and that the later Reformers were by comparison reactionaries. I use the word not as a reproach from my own stand-point, but as a fact from the ordinary modern progressive standpoint. For instance, they riveted the mind back to the literal sufficiency of the Hebrew Scriptures; when St. Thomas had already spoken of the Spirit giving grace to the Greek philosophies.  He insisted on the social duty of works; they only on the spiritual duty of faith. It was the very life of the Thomist teaching that Reason can be trusted:  it was the very life of Lutheran teaching that Reason is utterly untrustworthy.  

Strengthening The Doctrine Of Incarnation
It seems to be strangely forgotten that both these saints were in actual fact imitating a Master, who was not Aristotle let alone Ovid, when they sanctified the senses or the simple things of nature; when St. Francis walked humbly among the beasts or St. Thomas debated courteously among the Gentiles. Those who miss this, miss the point of the religion, even if it be a superstition; nay, they miss the very point they would call most superstitious.

I mean the whole staggering story of the God-Man in the Gospels.  A few even miss it touching St. Francis and his unmixed and unlearned appeal to the Gospels.  They will talk of the readiness of St. Francis to learn from the flowers or the birds as something that can only point onward to the Pagan Renaissance. Whereas the fact stares them in the face; first, that it points backwards to the New Testament, and second that it points forward, if it points to anything, to the Aristotelian realism of the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas.  They vaguely imagine that anybody who is humanizing divinity must be paganizing divinity without seeing that the humanizing of divinity is actually the strongest and starkest and most incredible dogma in the Creed. 

St. Francis was becoming more like Christ, and not merely more like Buddha, when he considered the lilies of the field or the fowls of the air; and St. Thomas was becoming more of a Christian, and not merely more of an Aristotelian, when he insisted that God and the image of God had come in contact through matter with a material world. These saints were, in the most exact sense of the term, Humanists; because they were insisting on the immense importance of the human being in the theological scheme of things.  But they were not Humanists marching along a path of progress that leads to Modernism and general skepticism; for in their very Humanism they were affirming a dogma now often regarded as the most superstitious Superhumanism. They were strengthening that staggering doctrine of Incarnation, which the skeptics find it hardest to believe.  There cannot be a stiffer piece of Christian divinity than the divinity of Christ. 

Four Instances Of Thomist Thought: (1) Resurrection Of The Body
 For instance, it was a very special idea of St. Thomas that Man is to be studied in his whole manhood; that a man is not a man without his body, just as he is not a man without his soul. A corpse is not a man; but also a ghost is not a man.  The earlier school of Augustine and even of Anselm had rather neglected this, treating the soul as the only necessary treasure, wrapped for a time in a negligible napkin.  Even here they were less orthodox in being more spiritual.  They sometimes hovered on the edge of those Eastern deserts that stretch away to the land of transmigration where the essential soul may pass through a hundred unessential bodies; reincarnated even in the bodies of beasts or birds. 

St. Thomas stood up stoutly for the fact that a man’s body is his body as his mind is his mind; and that he can only be a balance and union of the two. Now this is in some ways a naturalistic notion, very near to the modern respect for material things; a praise of the body that might be sung by Walt Whitman or justified by D H. Lawrence: a thing that might be called Humanism or even claimed by Modernism. In fact, it may be Materialism; but it is the flat contrary of Modernism. It is bound up, in the modern view, with the most monstrous, the most material, and therefore the most miraculous of miracles. It is specially connected with the most startling sort of dogma, which the Modernist can least accept; the Resurrection of the Body. 

Four Instances Of Thomist Thought: (2) Revelation
Or again, his argument for Revelation is quite rationalistic; and on the other side, decidedly democratic and popular.  His argument for Revelation is not in the least an argument against Reason. On the contrary, he seems inclined to admit that truth could be reached by a rational process, if only it were rational enough; and also long enough.  Indeed, something in his character, which I have called elsewhere optimism, and for which I know no other approximate term, led him rather to exaggerate the extent to which all men would ultimately listen to reason.

In his controversies, he always assumes that they will listen to reason.  That is, he does emphatically believe that men can be convinced by argument; when they reach the end of the argument. Only his common sense also told him that the argument never ends. I might convince a man that matter as the origin of Mind is quite meaningless, if he and I were very fond of each other and fought each other every night for forty years.  But long before he was convinced on his deathbed, a thousand other materialists could have been born, and nobody can explain everything to everybody.

St. Thomas takes the view that the souls of all the ordinary hard-working and simple-minded people are quite as important as the souls of thinkers and truth-seekers; and he asks how all these people are possibly to find time for the amount of reasoning that is needed to find truth. 

The whole tone of the passage shows both a respect for scientific enquiry and a strong sympathy with the average man. His argument for Revelation is not an argument against Reason; but it is an argument for Revelation.  The conclusion he draws from it is that men must receive the highest moral truths in a miraculous manner; or most men would not receive them at all. His arguments are rational and natural; but his own deduction is all for the supernatural; and, as is common in the case of his argument, it is not easy to find any deduction except his own deduction. And when we come to that, we find it is something as simple as St. Francis himself could desire; the message from heaven; the story that is told out of the sky; the fairytale that is really true. 

Four Instances Of Thomist Thought: (3) Free Will
It is plainer still in more popular problems like Free Will. If St. Thomas stands for one thing more than another, it is what may be called subordinate sovereignties or autonomies.  He was, if the flippancy may be used, a strong Home Ruler.  We might even say he was always defending the independence of dependent things.  He insisted that such a thing could have its own rights in its own region. It was his attitude to the Home Rule of the reason and even the senses; “Daughter am I in my father’s house; but mistress in my own.” And in exactly this sense he emphasized a certain dignity in Man, which was sometimes rather swallowed up in the purely theistic generalizations about God.  Nobody would say he wanted to divide Man from God; but he did want to distinguish Man from God. In this strong sense of human dignity and liberty there is much that can be and is appreciated now as a noble humanistic liberality. But let us not forget that its upshot was that very Free Will, or moral responsibility of Man, which so many modern liberals would deny. Upon this sublime and perilous liberty hang heaven and hell, and all the mysterious drama of the soul.  It is distinction and not division; but a man can divide himself from God, which, in a certain aspect, is the greatest distinction of all. 

Four Instances Of Thomist Thought: (4) Variety
Again, though it is a more metaphysical matter, which must be mentioned later, and then only too slightly, it is the same with the old philosophical dispute about the Many and the One. Are things so different that they can never be classified: or so unified that they can never be distinguished? Without pretending to answer such questions here, we may say broadly that St. Thomas comes down definitely on the side of Variety, as a thing that is real as well as Unity.

In this, and questions akin to this, he often departs from the great Greek philosophers who were sometimes his models; and entirely departs from the great Oriental philosophers who are in some sense his rivals.  He seems fairly certain that the difference between chalk and cheese, or pigs and pelicans, is not a mere illusion, or dazzle of our bewildered mind blinded by a single light; but is pretty much what we all feel it to be. It may be said that this is mere common sense; the common sense that pigs are pigs; to that extent related to the earthbound Aristotelian common sense; to a human and even a heathen common sense. But note that here again the extremes of earth and heaven meet. It is also connected with the dogmatic Christian idea of the Creation; of a Creator who created pigs, as distinct from a Cosmos that merely evolved them.

Thomas Recovered Through Aristotle:  The Wedding of God with Matter
The Thomist was free to be an Aristotelian, instead of being bound to be an Augustinian. But he was even more of a theologian; more of an orthodox theologian; more of a dogmatist, in having recovered through Aristotle the most defiant of all dogmas, the wedding of God with Man and therefore with Matter.  Nobody can understand the greatness of the thirteenth century, who does not realize that it was a great growth of new things produced by a living thing.  In that sense it was really bolder and freer than what we call the Renaissance, which was a resurrection of old things discovered in a dead thing. In that sense medievalism was not a Renascence, but rather a Nascence. … St. Thomas was making Christendom more Christian in making it more Aristotelian.  This is not a paradox but a plain truism, which can only be missed by those who may know what is meant by an Aristotelian, but have simply forgotten what is meant by a Christian.

The Crusaders wanted to recover the place where the body of Christ had been, because they believed, rightly or wrongly, that it was a Christian place.  St. Thomas wanted to recover what was in essence the body of Christ itself; the sanctified body of the Son of Man which had become a miraculous medium between heaven and earth.  And he wanted the body, and all its senses, because he believed, rightly or wrongly, that it was a Christian thing. It might be a humbler or homelier thing than the Platonic mind that is why it was Christian.  St. Thomas was, if you will, taking the lower road when he walked in the steps of Aristotle. So was God, when He worked in the workshop of Joseph. 

The Development Of Thought In The Early Church
The truth is that the historical Catholic Church began by being Platonist; by being rather too Platonist.  Platonism was in that golden Greek air that was breathed by the first great Greek theologians. The Christian Fathers were much more like the Neo Platonists than were the scholars of the Renaissance; who were only Neo-Neo-Platonists. For Chrysostom or Basil it was as ordinary and normal to think in terms of the Logos, or the Wisdom which is the aim of philosophers, as it is to any men of any religion today to talk about social problems or progress or the economic crisis throughout the world. St. Augustine followed a natural mental evolution when he was a Platonist before he was a Manichean, and a Manichean before he was a Christian. And it was exactly in that last association that the first faint hint, of the danger of being too Platonist, may be seen. 

The Moderns And The Ancients
From the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, the Moderns have had an almost monstrous love of the Ancients. In considering medieval life, they could never regard the Christians as anything but the pupils of the Pagans; of Plato in ideas, or Aristotle in reason and science.  It was not so. On some points, even from the most monotonously modern standpoint, Catholicism was centuries ahead of Platonism or Aristotelianism. We can see it still, for instance, in the tiresome tenacity of Astrology. On that matter the philosophers were all in favour of superstition; and the saints and all such superstitious people were against superstition.  But even the great saints found it difficult to get disentangled from this superstition.  Two points were always put by those suspicious of the Aristotelianism of Aquinas; and they sound to us now very quaint and comic, taken together. One was the view that the stars are personal beings, governing our lives: the other the great general theory that men have one mind between them; a view obviously opposed to immortality; that is, to individuality. Both linger among the Moderns:  so strong is still the tyranny of the Ancients.  Astrology sprawls over the Sunday papers, and the other doctrine has its hundredth form in what is called Communism: or the Soul of the Hive.  

The Aristotelian Revolution
What made the Aristotelian Revolution really revolutionary was the fact that it was really religious.  It is the fact, so fundamental that I thought it well to lay it down in the first few pages of this book; that the revolt was largely a revolt of the most Christian elements in Christendom.  St. Thomas, every bit as much as St. Francis, felt subconsciously that the hold of his people was slipping on the solid Catholic doctrine and discipline, worn smooth by more than a thousand years of routine; and that the Faith needed to be shown under a new light and dealt with from another angle. But he had no motive except the desire to make it popular for the salvation of the people.  It was true, broadly speaking, that for some time past it had been too Platonist to be popular. It needed something like the shrewd and homely touch of Aristotle to turn it again into a religion of common sense.

Eastern Christianity
Byzantium slowly stiffened into a sort of Asiatic theocracy, more like that which served the Sacred Emperor in China. But even the unlearned can see the difference, in the way in which Eastern Christianity flattened everything, as it flattened the faces of the images into icons.  It became a thing of patterns rather than pictures; and it made definite and destructive war upon statues. Thus we see, strangely enough, that the East was the land of the Cross and the West was the land of the Crucifix. The Greeks were being dehumanized by a radiant symbol, while the Goths were being humanized by an instrument of torture. 

Only the West made realistic pictures of the greatest of all the tales out of the East. Hence the Greek element in Christian theology tended more and more to be a sort of dried up Platonism; a thing of diagrams and abstractions; to the last indeed noble abstractions, but not sufficiently touched by that great thing that is by definition almost the opposite of abstraction:  Incarnation.  Their Logos was the Word; but not the Word made Flesh. 

In a thousand very subtle ways, often escaping doctrinal definition, this spirit spread over the world of Christendom from the place where the Sacred Emperor sat under his golden mosaics; and the flat pavement of the Roman Empire was at last a sort of smooth pathway for Mahomet.  For Islam was the ultimate fulfillment of the Iconoclasts.  Long before that, however, there was this tendency to make the Cross merely decorative like the Crescent; to make it a pattern like the Greek key or the Wheel of Buddha. But there is something passive about such a world of patterns, and the Greek Key does not open any door, while the Wheel of Buddha always moves round and never moves on. 

The Quarrel Of Science And Religion
For instance, in the matter of the inspiration of Scripture, St. Thomas fixed first on the obvious fact, which was forgotten by four furious centuries of sectarian battle, that the meaning of Scripture is very far from self-evident and that we must often interpret it in the light of other truths.  If a literal interpretation is really and flatly contradicted by an obvious fact, why then we can only say that the literal interpretation must be a false interpretation.  But the fact must really be an obvious fact. And unfortunately, nineteenth century scientists were just as ready to jump to the conclusion that any guess about nature was an obvious fact, as were seventeenth-century sectarians to jump to the conclusion that any guess about Scripture was the obvious explanation. Thus, private theories about what the Bible ought to mean, and premature theories about what the world ought to mean, have met in loud and widely advertised controversy, especially in the Victorian time; and this clumsy collision of two very impatient forms of ignorance was known as the quarrel of Science and Religion. 

And yet, even in this isolated apocalypse of anger, there is one phrase that may be commended for all time to men who are angry with much less cause.  If there is one sentence that could be carved in marble, as representing the calmest and most enduring rationality of his unique intelligence, it is a sentence which came pouring out with all the rest of this molten lava. If there is one phrase that stands before history as typical of Thomas Aquinas, it is that phrase about his own argument: “It is not based on documents of faith, but on the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves.”  Would that all Orthodox doctors in deliberation were as reasonable as Aquinas in anger!

Would that all Christian apologists would remember that maxim; and write it up in large letters on the wall, before they nail any theses there.  At the top of his fury, Thomas Aquinas understands, what so many defenders of orthodoxy will not understand. It is no good to tell an atheist that he is an atheist; or to charge a denier of immortality with the infamy of denying it; or to imagine that one can force an opponent to admit he is wrong, by proving that he is wrong on somebody else’s principles, but not on his own. After the great example of St. Thomas, the principle stands, or ought always to have stood established; that we must either not argue with a man at all, or we must argue on his grounds and not ours. We may do other things instead of arguing, according to our views of what actions are morally permissible; but if we argue we must argue “On the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves.”

St. Thomas And Manicheanism
It was something that might alternatively be called his moral attitude, or his temperamental predisposition, or the purpose of his life so far as social and human effects were concerned: for he knew better than most of us that there is but one purpose in this life, and it is one that is beyond this life. But if we wanted to put in a picturesque and simplified form what he wanted for the world, and what was his work in history, apart from theoretical and theological definitions, we might well say that it really was to strike a blow and settle the Manichees

What is called the Manichean philosophy has had many forms; indeed it has attacked what is immortal and immutable with a very curious kind of immortal mutability.  It is like the legend of the magician who turns himself into a snake or a cloud; and the whole has that nameless note of irresponsibility, which belongs to much of the metaphysics and morals of Asia, from which the Manichean mystery came.

But it is always in one way or another a notion that nature is evil; or that evil is at least rooted in nature.  The essential point is that as evil has roots in nature, so it has rights in nature. Wrong has as much right to exist as right.  As already stated this notion took many forms.  Sometimes it was a dualism, which made evil an equal partner with good; so that neither could be called an usurper. More often it was a general idea that demons had made the material world, and if there were any good spirits they were concerned only with the spiritual world.  Later, again, it took the form of Calvinism, which held that God had indeed made the world, but in a special sense, made the evil as well as the good:  had made an evil will as well as an evil world.  On this view, if a man chooses to damn his soul alive, he is not thwarting God’s will but rather fulfilling it. In these two forms, of the early Gnosticism and the later Calvinism, we see the superficial variety and fundamental unity of Manicheanism.

The old Manicheans taught that Satan originated the whole work of creation commonly attributed to God.  The new Calvinists taught that God originates the whole work of damnation commonly attributed to Saran. One looked back to the first day when a devil acted like a god, the other looked forward to a last day when a god acted like a devil. But both had the idea that the creator of the earth was primarily the creator of the evil, whether we call him a devil or a god…..

To understand the medieval controversy, a word must be said of the Catholic doctrine, which is as modern as it is medieval. That “God looked on all things and saw that they were good” contains a subtlety which the popular pessimist cannot follow, or is too hasty to notice.  It is the thesis that there are no bad things, but only bad uses of things.  If you will, there are no bad things but only bad thoughts; and especially bad intentions.  Only Calvinists can really believe that hell is paved with good intentions. That is exactly the one thing it cannot be paved with. But it is possible to have bad intentions about good things; and good things, like the world and the flesh have been twisted by a bad intention called the devil.  But he cannot make things bad; they remain as on the first day of creation. The work of heaven alone was material; the making of a material world. The work of hell is entirely spiritual.   

Platonic Love
It is a very queer thing that “Platonic Love” has come to mean for the un-lettered something rather purer and cleaner than it means for the learned.  Yet even those who realize the great Greek evil may well realize that perversity often comes out of the wrong sort of purity.  Now it was the inmost lie of the Manichees that they identified purity with sterility. It is singularly contrasted with the language of St. Thomas, which always connects purity with fruitfulness; whether it be natural or supernatural.  And, queerly enough, as I have said, there does remain a sort of reality in the vulgar colloquialism that the affair between Sam and Susan is “quite Platonic.” It is true that, quite apart from the local perversion, there was in Plato a sort of idea that people would be better without their bodies:  that their heads might fly off and meet in the sky in merely intellectual marriage, like cherubs in a picture. …

Anyhow, it is historically important to see that Platonic love did somewhat distort both human and divine love, in the theory of the early theologians.  Many medieval men, who would indignantly deny the Albigensian doctrine of sterility, were yet in an emotional mood to abandon the body in despair; and some of them to abandon everything in despair.  …

[They] could not deny that a good God had created the normal and natural world; he could not say that the devil had made the world; because he was not a Manichee.  A thousand enthusiasts for celibacy, in the day of the great rush to the desert or the cloister, might have called marriage a sin, if they had only considered their individual ideals, in the modern manner, and their own immediate feelings about marriage. 

Fortunately, they had to accept the Authority of the Church, which had definitely said that marriage was not a sin. A modern emotional religion might at any moment have turned Catholicism into Manichaeism.  But when Religion would have maddened men, Theology kept them sane.  In this sense St. Thomas stands up simply as the great orthodox theologian, who reminded men of the creed of Creation, when many of them were still in the mood of mere destruction. It is futile for the critics of medievalism to quote a hundred medieval phrases that may be supposed to sound like mere pessimism, if they will not understand the central fact; that medieval men did not care about being medieval and did not accept the authority of a mood, because it was melancholy, but did care very much about orthodoxy, which is not a mood.  It was because St. Thomas could prove that his glorification of the Creator and His creative joy was more orthodox than any atmospheric pessimism, that he dominated the Church and the world, which accepted that truth as a test.

Catholic Authority And Asceticism
In short, a real knowledge of mankind will tell anybody that Religion is a very terrible thing; that it is truly a raging fire, and that Authority is often quite as much needed to restrain it as to impose it. Asceticism, or the war with the appetites, is itself an appetite. It can never be eliminated from among the strange ambitions of Man. But it can be kept in some reasonable control; and it is indulged in much saner proportion under Catholic Authority than in Pagan or Puritan anarchy.

The Primary And Fundamental Part Of Thomist Philosophy
Now nobody will begin to understand the Thomist philosophy, or indeed the Catholic philosophy, who does not realize that the primary and fundamental part of it is entirely the praise of Life, the praise of Being, the praise of God as the Creator of the World….

Catholic And Oriental Asceticism
Any extreme of Catholic asceticism is a wise, or unwise, precaution against the evil of the Fall; it is never a doubt about the good of the Creation.  And that is where it really does differ, not only from the rather excessive eccentricity of the gentleman who hangs himself on hooks, but from the whole cosmic theory which is the hook on which he hangs.  In the case of many Oriental religions, it really is true that the asceticism is pessimism; that the ascetic tortures himself to death out of an abstract hatred of life; that he does nor merely mean to control Nature as he should, but to contradict Nature as much as he can.  

The Optimism Of St. Thomas
Now there is something that lies all over the work of St. Thomas Aquinas like a great light: which is something quite primary and perhaps unconscious with him, which he would perhaps have passed over as an irrelevant personal quality; and which can now only be expressed by a rather cheap journalistic term, which he would probably have thought quite senseless.  Nevertheless, the only working word for that atmosphere is Optimism. …

He did, with a most solid and colossal conviction, believe in Life: and in something like what Stevenson called the great theorem of the livableness of life.  It breathes somehow in his very first phrases about the reality of Being.  If the morbid Renaissance intellectual is supposed to say, “To be or not to be–that is the question,” then the massive medieval doctor does most certainly reply in a voice of thunder, “To be–that is the answer.”  The point is important; many not unnaturally talk of the Renaissance as the time when certain men began to believe in Life.  The truth is that it was the time when a few men, for the first time, began to disbelieve in Life. The medievals had put many restrictions, and some excessive restrictions, upon the universal human hunger and even fury for Life. Those restrictions had often been expressed in fanatical and rabid terms; the terms of those resisting a great natural force; the force of men who desired to live.  Never until modern thought began, did they really have to fight with men who desired to die. That horror had threatened them in Asiatic Albigensianism, but it never became normal to them–until now.   

Sublime Despair; Divine Audacity
The more we really appreciate the noble revulsion and renunciation of Buddha, the more we see that intellectually it was the converse and almost the contrary of the salvation of the world by Christ. The Christian would escape from the world into the universe:  the Buddhist wishes to escape from the universe even more than from the world. One would uncreate himself; the other would return to his Creation: to his Creator.  Indeed it was so genuinely the converse of the idea of the Cross as the Tree of Life, that there is some excuse for setting up the two things side by side, as if they were of equal significance. They are in one sense parallel and equal; as a mound and a hollow, as a valley and a hill.  There is a sense in which that sublime despair is the only alternative to that divine audacity. It is even true that the truly spiritual and intellectual man sees it as a sort of dilemma; a very hard and terrible choice.  There is little else on earth that can compare with these for completeness. And he who will not climb the mountain of Christ does indeed fall into the abyss of Buddha.  

Arguing Honestly
If you argue honestly, as St. Thomas always did, you will find that the subject sometimes seems as if it would never end. He was strongly conscious of this fact, as appears in many places; for instance his argument that most men must have a revealed religion, because they have not time to argue.  No time, that is, to argue fairly. There is always time to argue unfairly; not least in a time like ours. Being himself resolved to argue, to argue honestly, to answer everybody, to deal with everything, he produced books enough to sink a ship or stock a library; though he died in comparatively early middle age. Probably he could not have done it at all, if he had not been thinking even when he was not writing; but above all thinking combatively. This, in his case, certainly did not mean bitterly or spitefully or uncharitably; but it did mean combatively.  As a matter of fact, it is generally the man who is not ready to argue, who is ready to sneer. That is why, in recent literature, there has been so little argument and so much sneering. 

Being And Becoming
I may be allowed to throw out a sort of rough version of the fundamental question, which I think I have known myself, consciously or unconsciously since my childhood. When a child looks out of the nursery window and sees anything, say the green lawn of the garden, what does he actually know; or does he know anything?  There are all sorts of nursery games of negative philosophy played round this question. A brilliant Victorian scientist delighted in declaring that the child does not see any grass at all; but only a sort of green mist reflected in a tiny mirror of the human eye.  …

St. Thomas Aquinas, suddenly intervening in this nursery quarrel, says emphatically that the child is aware of ens (vocab: “ens” was a term the scholastics used to indicate existence without category, in the abstract, as distinguished from essence.). Long before he knows that grass is grass, or self is self, he knows that something is something.  Perhaps it would be best to say very emphatically (with a blow on the table), “There is an Is.”  That is as much monkish credulity as St. Thomas asks of us at the start. Very few unbelievers start by asking us to believe so little. And yet, upon this sharp pin-point of reality, he rears by long logical processes that have never really been successfully overthrown, the whole cosmic system of Christendom.  Thus, Aquinas insists very profoundly but very practically, that there instantly enters, with this idea of affirmation the idea of contradiction.  It is instantly apparent, even to the child, that there cannot be both affirmation and contradiction. Whatever you call the thing he sees, a moon or a mirage or a sensation or a state of consciousness, when he sees it, he knows it is not true that he does not see it.  …

But in a general sense there has entered that primeval world of pure actuality, the division and dilemma that brings the ultimate sort of war into the world; the everlasting duel between Yes and No. This is the dilemma that many skeptics have darkened the universe and dissolved the mind solely in order to escape. They are those who maintain that there is something that is both Yes and No. I do not know whether they pronounce it Yo.  The next step following on this acceptance of actuality or certainty, or whatever we call it in popular language, is much more difficult to explain in that language.  But it represents exactly the point at which nearly all other systems go wrong, and in taking the third step abandon the first.

Aquinas has affirmed that our first sense of fact is a fact; and he cannot go back on it without falsehood. But when we come to look at the fact or facts, as we know them, we observe that they have a rather queer character; which has made many moderns grow strangely and restlessly sceptical about them. For instance, they are largely in a state of change, from being one thing to being another; or their qualities are relative to other things; or they appear to move incessantly; or they appear to vanish entirely. At this point, as I say, many sages lose hold of the first principle of reality, which they would concede at first; and fall back on saying that there is nothing except change; or nothing except comparison; or nothing except flux; or in effect that there is nothing at all. Aquinas turns the whole argument the other way, keeping in line with his first realization of reality. 

There is no doubt about the being of being, even if it does sometimes look like becoming; that is because what we see is not the fullness of being; or (to continue a sort of colloquial slang) we never see being being as much as it can.  Ice is melted into cold water and cold water is heated into hot water; it cannot be all three at once. But this does not make water unreal or even relative; it only means that its being is limited to being one thing at a time. But the fullness of being is everything that it can be; and without it the lesser or approximate forms of being cannot be explained as anything; unless they are explained away as nothing… 

There is a fullness of being, in which it could be everything that it can be.  Thus, while most sages come at last to nothing but naked change, he comes to the ultimate thing that is unchangeable, because it is all the other things at once. While they describe a change which is really a change in nothing, he describes a changelessness which includes the changes of everything. Things change because they are not complete; but their reality can only be explained as part of something that is complete. It is God. 

Historically, at least, it was round this sharp and crooked corner that all the sophists have followed each other while the great Schoolman went up the high road of experience and expansion; to the beholding of cities, to the building of cities.  They all failed at this early stage because, in the words of the old game, they took away the number they first thought of.  The recognition of something, of a thing or things, is the first act of the intellect. But because the examination of a thing shows it is not a fixed or final thing, they inferred that there is nothing fixed or final.

Thus, in various ways, they all began to see a thing as something thinner than a thing; a wave; a weakness; an abstract instability. St. Thomas, to use the same rude figure, saw a thing that was thicker than a thing; that was even more solid than the solid but secondary facts he had started by admitting as facts.  Since we know them to be real, any elusive or bewildering element in their reality cannot really be unreality; and must be merely their relation to the real reality.

A hundred human philosophies, ranging over the earth from Nominalism to Nirvana and Maya, from formless evolution to mindless quietism, all come from this first break in the Thomist chain; the notion that, because what we see does not satisfy us or explain itself, it is not even what we see.  That cosmos is a contradiction in terms and strangles itself; but Thomism cuts itself free. The defect we see, in what is, is simply that it is not all that is. God is more actual even than Man; more actual even than Matter; for God with all His powers at every instant is immortally in action.  

The Incompleteness Of Being
This second step in the great argument about Ens or Being; the second point which is so desperately difficult to put correctly in popular language.  That is why I have introduced it here in the particular form of the argument that there must be a Creator even if there is no Day of Creation.  Looking at Being as it is now, as the baby looks at the grass, we see a second thing about it; in quite popular language, it looks secondary and dependent. Existence exists; but it is not sufficiently self-existent; and would never become so merely by going on existing. The same primary sense which tells us it is Being, tells us that it is not perfect Being; not merely imperfect in the popular controversial sense of containing sin or sorrow; but imperfect as Being; less actual than the actuality it implies. 

For instance, its Being is often only Becoming; beginning to Be or ceasing to Be; it implies a more constant or complete thing of which it gives in itself no example. That is the meaning of that basic medieval phrase, “Everything that is moving is moved by another;” which, in the clear subtlety of St. Thomas, means inexpressibly more than the mere Deistic “somebody wound up the clock” with which it is probably often confounded. Anyone who thinks deeply will see that motion has about it an essential incompleteness, which approximates to something more complete.  The actual argument is rather technical; and concerns the fact that potentiality does not explain itself; moreover, in any case, unfolding must be of something folded. 

Suffice it to say that the mere modern evolutionists, who would ignore the argument do not do so because they have discovered any flaw in the argument; for they have never discovered the argument itself.  They do so because they are too shallow to see the flaw in their own argument for the weakness of their thesis is covered by fashionable phraseology, as the strength of the old thesis is covered by old-fashioned phraseology. But for those who really think, there is always something really unthinkable about the whole evolutionary cosmos, as they conceive it; because it is something coming out of nothing; an ever-increasing flood of water pouring out of an empty jug. Those who can simply accept that, without even seeing the difficulty, are not likely to go so deep as Aquinas and see the solution of his difficulty. 

In a word, the world does not explain itself, and cannot do so merely by continuing to expand itself. But anyhow it is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.    

Creative Evolution and the Notion of Change
There is a much deeper inconsistency in them as theorists in relation to the general theory called Creative Evolution. They seem to imagine that they avoid the metaphysical doubt about mere change by assuming (it is not very clear why) that the change will always be for the better.  But the mathematical difficulty of finding a corner in a curve is not altered by turning the chart upside down, and saying that a downward curve is now an upward curve. The point is that there is no point in the curve; no place at which we have a logical right to say that the curve has reached its climax, or revealed its origin, or come to its end.  It makes no difference that they choose to be cheerful about it, and say, “It is enough that there is always a beyond;” instead of lamenting, like the more realistic poets of the past, over the tragedy of mere Mutability. It is not enough that there is always a beyond; because it might be beyond bearing. 

Indeed the only defense of this view is that sheer boredom is such an agony, that any movement is a relief. But the truth is that they have never read St. Thomas, or they would find, with no little terror, that they really agree with him. What they really mean is that change is not mere change; but is the unfolding of something; and if it is thus unfolded, though the unfolding takes twelve million years, it must be there already.  In other words, they agree with Aquinas that there is everywhere potentiality that has not reached its end in act. But if it is a definite potentiality, and if it can only end in a definite act, why then there is a Great Being, in whom all potentialities already exist as a plan of action.  In other words, it is impossible even to say that the change is for the better, unless the best exists somewhere, both before and after the change.

Otherwise it is indeed mere change, as the blankest skeptics or the blackest pessimists would see it.  Suppose two entirely new paths open before the progress of Creative Evolution. How is the evolutionist to know which Beyond is the better; unless he accepts from the past and present some standard of the best?  By their superficial theory everything can change; everything can improve, even the nature of improvement. But in their submerged common sense, they do not really think that an ideal of kindness could change to an ideal of cruelty. It is typical of them that they will sometimes rather timidly use the word Purpose; but blush at the very mention of the word Person.   

The World Of The Christian Creator
He has seen grass and gravel; that is to say, he has seen things really different; things not classified together like grass and grains. The first flash of fact shows us a world of really strange things not merely strange to us, but strange to each other. The separate things need have nothing in common except Being. Everything is Being; but it is not true that everything is Unity. It is here, as I have said, that St. Thomas does definitely one might say defiantly, part company with the Pantheist and Monist. All things are; but among the things that are is the thing called difference, quite as much as the thing called similarity. And here again we begin to be bound again to the Lord, not only by the universality of grass, but by the incompatibility of grass and gravel.

For this world of different and varied beings is especially the world of the Christian Creator; the world of created things, like things made by an artist; as compared with the world that is only one thing, with a sort of shimmering and shifting veil of misleading change; which is the conception of so many of the ancient religions of Asia and the modern sophistries of Germany.  In the face of these, St. Thomas still stands stubborn in the same obstinate objective fidelity. He has seen grass and gravel; and he is not disobedient to the heavenly vision. 

To sum up; the reality of things, the mutability of things, the diversity of things, and all other such things that can be attributed to things, is followed carefully by the medieval philosopher, without losing touch with the original point of the reality. There is no space in this book to specify the thousand steps of thought by which he shows that he is right. But the point is that, even apart from being right he is real. He is a realist in a rather curious sense of his own, which is a third thing, distinct from the almost contrary medieval and modern meanings of the word.  Even the doubts and difficulties about reality have driven him to believe in more reality rather than less.

The deceitfulness of things which has had so sad an effect on so many sages, has almost a contrary effect on this sage. If things deceive us, it is by being more real than they seem. As ends in themselves they always deceive us; but as things tending to a greater end, they are even more real than we think them.  If they seem to have a relative unreality (so to speak) it is because they are potential and not actual; they are unfulfilled, like packets of seeds or boxes of fireworks. They have it in them to be more real than they are. And there is an upper world of what the Schoolman called Fruition, or Fulfillment, in which all this relative relativity becomes actuality; in which the trees burst into flower or the rockets into flame. 

The Essence of  Thomist Common Sense
According to St. Thomas, the mind acts freely of itself, but its freedom exactly consists in finding a way out to liberty and the light of day; to reality and the land of the living.  In the subjectivist, the pressure of the world forces the imagination inwards. In the Thomist, the energy of the mind forces the imagination outwards, but because the images it seeks are real things.  All their romance and glamour, so to speak, lies in the fact that they are real things; things not to be found by staring inwards at the mind. The flower is a vision because it is not only a vision. Or, if you will, it is a vision because it is not a dream. This is for the poet the strangeness of stones and trees and solid things; they are strange because they are solid.

I am putting it first in the poetical manner, and indeed it needs much more technical subtlety to put it in the philosophical manner. According to Aquinas, the object becomes a part of the mind; nay, according to Aquinas, the mind actually becomes the object. But, as one commentator acutely puts it, it only becomes the object and does not create the object. 

In other words, the object is an object; it can and does exist outside the mind, or in the absence of the mind. And therefore it enlarges the mind of which it becomes a part. The mind conquers a new province like an emperor; but only because the mind has answered the bell like a servant.  The mind has opened the doors and windows, because it is the natural activity of what is inside the house to find out what is outside the house.

If the mind is sufficient to itself, it is insufficient for itself. For this feeding upon fact is itself; as an organ it has an object which is objective; this eating of the strange strong meat of reality.  Note how this view avoids both pitfalls; the alternative abysses of impotence.  The mind is not merely receptive, in the sense that it absorbs sensations like so much blotting-paper; on that sort of softness has been based all that cowardly materialism, which conceives man as wholly servile to his environment.

On the other hand, the mind is not purely creative, in the sense that it paints pictures on the windows and then mistakes them for a landscape outside.  But the mind is active, and its activity consists in following, so far as the will chooses to follow, the light outside that does really shine upon real landscapes. That is what gives the indefinably virile and even adventurous quality to this view of life; as compared with that which holds that material inferences pour in upon an utterly helpless mind, or that which holds that psychological influences pour out and create an entirely baseless phantasmagoria. 

In other words, the essence of the Thomist common sense is that two agencies are at work; reality and the recognition of reality; and their meeting is a sort of marriage. Indeed it is very truly a marriage, because it is fruitful; the only philosophy now in the world that really is fruitful. It produces practical results, precisely because it is the combination of an adventurous mind and a strange fact. 

God Made Man Capable Of Contacting Reality
M. Maritain has used an admirable metaphor, in his book Theonas, when he says that the external fact fertilizes the internal intelligence, as the bee fertilizes the flower.  Anyhow, upon that marriage, or whatever it may be called, the whole system of St. Thomas is founded; God made Man so that he was capable of coming in contact with reality; and those whom God hath joined, let no man put asunder. 

Faith About A Fact
For he has thrown out a bridge across the abyss of the first doubt, and found reality beyond and begun to build on it. Most modern philosophies are not philosophy but philosophic doubt; that is, doubt about whether there can be any philosophy. If we accept St. Thomas’s fundamental act or argument in the acceptance of reality, the further deductions from it will be equally real; they will be things and not words.  Unlike Kant and most of the Hegelians, he has a faith that is not merely a doubt about doubt. It is not merely what is commonly called a faith about faith; it is a faith about fact.

The Return Of Manichaeism
Thomas Aquinas had struck his blow; but he had not entirely settled the Manichees.  The Manichees are not so easily settled; in the sense of settled forever.  He had insured that the main outline of the Christianity that has come down to us should be supernatural but not anti-natural; and should never be darkened with a false spirituality to the oblivion of the Creator and the Christ who was made Man.  But as his tradition trailed away into less liberal or less creative habits of thought, and as his medieval society fell away and decayed through other causes, the thing against which he had made war crept back into Christendom. A certain spirit or element in the Christian religion, necessary and sometimes noble but always needing to be balanced by more gentle and generous elements in the Faith, began once more to strengthen, as the framework of Scholasticism stiffened or split.

The Fear of the Lord, that is the beginning of wisdom, and therefore belongs to the beginnings, and is felt in the first cold hours before the dawn of civilization; the power that comes out of the wilderness and rides on the whirlwind and breaks the gods of stone; the power before which the eastern nations are prostrate like a pavement; the power before which the primitive prophets run naked and shouting, at once proclaiming and escaping from their god; the fear that is rightly rooted in the beginnings of every religion true or false: the fear of the Lord, that is the beginning of wisdom; but not the end. ….

It [Manichaeism] came out of its cell again, in the day of storm and ruin, and cried out with a new and mighty voice for an elemental and emotional religion, and for the destruction of all philosophies. It had a peculiar horror and loathing of the great Greek philosophies, and of the scholasticism that had been founded on those philosophies. It had one theory that was the destruction of all theories; in fact it had its own theology which was itself the death of theology.  Man could say nothing to God, nothing from God, nothing about God, except an almost inarticulate cry for mercy and for the supernatural help of Christ, in a world where all natural things were useless.  Reason was useless.  Will was useless. Man could not move himself an inch any more than a stone. Man could not trust what was in his head any more than a turnip. Nothing remained in earth or heaven, but the name of Christ lifted in that lonely imprecation; awful as the cry of a beast in pain. 

Martin Luther
We must be just to those huge human figures, who are in fact the hinges of history.  However strong, and rightly strong, be our own controversial conviction, it must never mislead us into thinking that something trivial has transformed the world. So it is with that great Augustinian monk, who avenged all the ascetic Augustinians of the Middle Ages; and whose broad and burly figure has been big enough to block out for four centuries the distant human mountain of Aquinas.  It is not, as the moderns delight to say, a question of theology. 

The Protestant theology of Martin Luther was a thing that no modern Protestant would be seen dead in a field with; or if the phrase be too flippant, would be specially anxious to touch with a barge-pole. That Protestantism was pessimism; it was nothing but bare insistence on the hopelessness of all human virtue, as an attempt to escape hell.  That Lutheranism is now quite unreal; more modern phases of Lutheranism are rather more unreal; but Luther was not unreal.  He was one of those great elemental barbarians, to whom it is indeed given to change the world. To compare those two figures hulking so big in history, in any philosophical sense, would of course be futile and even unfair.

On a great map like the mind of Aquinas, the mind of Luther would be almost invisible.  But it is not altogether untrue to say, as so many journalists have said without caring whether it was true or untrue, that Luther opened an epoch; and began the modern world.  He was the first man who ever consciously used his consciousness or what was later called his Personality.  He had as a fact a rather strong personality.  Aquinas had an even stronger personality; he had a massive and magnetic presence; he had an intellect that could act like a huge system of artillery spread over the whole world; he had that instantaneous presence of mind in debate, which alone really deserves the name of wit.  But it never occurred to him to use anything except his wits, in defense of a truth distinct from himself. It never occurred to Aquinas to use Aquinas as a weapon. There is not a trace of his ever using his personal advantages, of birth or body or brain or breeding, in debate with anybody. In short, he belonged to an age of intellectual unconsciousness, to an age of intellectual innocence, which was very intellectual.  Now Luther did begin the modern mood of depending on things not merely intellectual. It is not a question of praise or blame; it matters little whether we say that he was a strong personality, or that he was a bit of a big bully. When he quoted a Scripture text, inserting a word that is not in Scripture, he was content to shout back at all hecklers: “Tell them that Dr. Martin Luther will have it so!”  That is what we now call Personality.  A little later it was called Psychology. After that it was called Advertisement or Salesmanship.

But we are not arguing about advantages or disadvantages. It is due to this great Augustinian pessimist to say, not only that he did triumph at last over the Angel of the Schools, but that he did in a very real sense make the modern world. He destroyed Reason; and substituted Suggestion.  It is said that the great Reformer publicly burned the Summa Theologica and the works of Aquinas;

A Philosophy Of Common Sense
Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody’s system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody’s sense of reality; to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense. Each started with a paradox; a peculiar point of view demanding the sacrifice of what they would call a sane point of view. That is the one thing common to Hobbes and Hegel, to Kant and Bergson, to Berkeley and William James. A man had to believe something that no normal man would believe, if it were suddenly propounded to his simplicity; as that law is about right, or right is outside reason, or things are only as we think them, or everything is relative to a reality that is not there. The modern philosopher claims, like a sort of confident man, that if we will grant him this, the rest will be easy; he will straighten out the world, if he is allowed to give this one twist to the mind…

Against all this the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkelian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists, since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled eggs by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplication of eggs. The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God.”


Marriage and Family

August 28, 2009

CAPUCHIN PRIEST DELIVERS HOMILY DURING CHARISMATIC GATHERING INA lengthy address by Fr. Cantalamessa on Marriage and family. The first part, as related in the Old Testament, focuses on God’s initial plan for marriage and family and how it came about through the history of Israel. The second is the renewal of the plan through Christ in the New Testament. The last applies this biblical revelation to the problems of today. The Biblical context is very different from today’s culture which is awash with broken or dysfunctional families. Placing ourselves in relation to the Biblical context may become an occasion for healing.

Part I: Marriage and Family: the Divine Project And Human Achievements in the Old Testament

1. The Divine Project
We know that the Book of Genesis has two different accounts of the creation of the first human couple, which go back to two different traditions: the yahwehist (10th century B.C.) and the more recent (6th century B.C.) called the “priestly” tradition.

In the priestly tradition (Genesis 1:26-28) man and woman are created at the same time, not one from the other. Being man and woman are related to being an image of God: “God created mankind in his image, in his image he created them, man and woman he created them.” The primary purpose of the union between man and woman is found in being fruitful and filling the earth.

In the Yahwehist tradition (Genesis 2:18-25) the woman is taken from the man; the creation of the two sexes is seen as a remedy for solitude: “It is not good that man be alone; I will make him an adequate helper;” The unitive factor is highlighted more than the procreative: “The man will cling to his wife and the two will be one flesh;” Each one is free with regard to their own sexuality and to the other: “Both were naked, the man and his wife, but they were not embarrassed by each other.”

Neither of the two accounts references any subordination of the woman to the man, before sin: The two are on a level of absolute equality, although it is the man who takes the initiative at least in the Yahwehist account.

I’ve found the most convincing explanation for this divine “invention” of the difference between the sexes not from a biblical scholar, but from a poet, Paul Claudel:

“Man is a proud being; there was no other way to make him understand his neighbor except introducing him in the flesh. There was no other way to make him understand dependence and need other than through the law of another distinct being (woman) over him, due to the simple fact that she exists.”

Opening oneself to the opposite sex is the first step toward opening oneself to others, our neighbors, and to the Other with a capital O, which is God. Marriage is born under the sign of humility; it is the recognition of dependence and therefore of one’s condition of being a creature. Falling in love with a woman or a man is the completion of the most radical act of humility. It is becoming a beggar and telling the other person, “I’m not enough for myself, I need your being.” If, as Schleiermacher said, the essence of religion is the “sense of dependence” (Abhaengigheitsgefuehl) on God, then human sexuality is the first school of religion.

Thus far we have examined God’s plan. Nevertheless, the rest of the Bible’s text cannot be explained without also including the account of the fall in addition to creation, above all what was said to the woman: “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16). The rule of the man over the woman is part of man’s sin, not of God’s plan; with those words God predicts it, he does not approve it.

2. Historic accomplishments
The Bible is a human and a divine book, not just because its authors are both God and man, but also because it describes, weaved throughout the text, both God’s fidelity and man’s infidelity. This is especially evident when we compare God’s plan over marriage and family with the way it was put into practice in the history of the Chosen People.

It is useful to be aware of the human deficiencies and aberrations so that we’re not too surprised by what happens around us and also because it shows that marriage and family are institutions that, at least in practice, evolve over time, as any other aspect of social and religious life. Following the book of Genesis, the son of Cain, Lemek, violates the law of monogamy taking two wives. Noah, with his family appears as an exception in the middle of the general corruption of his time. The very Patriarchs, Abraham and Jacob have children with a number of women. Moses authorizes the practice of divorce; David and Solomon keep a veritable harem of women.

Nevertheless the deviations appear, as always, more present at the higher levels of society, among the leaders, than at the level of the people, where the initial idea of monogamous marriage was likely the norm, not the exception. In order to form an idea of the relationships and family values that are held and lived in Israel we can turn to the wisdom books: Psalms, Proverbs and Sirach. These help us more than the historical books (which deal precisely with the leaders). They highlight marital fidelity, education of offspring and respect for parents. This last value is one of the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and mother.”

The deviation from the initial idea can be seen in the underlying idea of marriage in Israel, even more than in particular individual transgressions. The principal involution is related to two basic points. The first is that marriage changes from being an end to being a means. Overall, the Old Testament considers marriage to be “a patriarchal structure of authority, primarily driven to the perpetuation of the clan. In this sense we must understand the institutions of the levirate (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), concubine (Genesis 16), and provisional polygamy.”[2] The ideal of a communion of life between man and woman, founded on a reciprocal and personal relationship, is not forgotten, but becomes less important than the good of the offspring.

The second great deviation refers to the condition of women: She goes from being a companion of man, gifted with equal dignity, to appearing more and more subordinated to man and serving a function for man. This can be seen even in the famous eulogy of a woman in the Book of Proverbs: “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies …” (Proverbs 31:10) It is a eulogy of woman made completely in terms of man’s needs. Its conclusion is: Happy the man that possesses such a woman! She weaves him beautiful clothes, honors his house, she allows him to walk with his head held high among his friends. I don’t thing that women today would be very excited about this eulogy.

The prophets played an important role by shedding light on God’s initial plan for marriage, especially Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah. They posited the union of man and woman as a symbol of the covenant between God and his people. As a result of this, they once again shed light on the values of mutual love, fidelity and indissolubility that characterize God’s love for Israel. All the phases and sufferings of spousal love are described and used in this regard: the beauty of love in the early stage of courtship (cf. Jeremiah 2:2), the fullness of joy on the wedding day (cf. Isaiah 62:5), the drama of separation (cf. Hosea 2:4) and finally the rebirth, full of hope, of the old bond (cf. Hosea 2:16, Isaiah 54:8).

Malachi shows the positive effect that the prophetic message could have on human marriage, and especially, on the condition of women. He writes:

“The Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth” (Malachi 2:14-15).

We have to read the Song of Songs in the light of this prophetic tradition. This represents a rebirth of the vision of marriage as eros, as attraction of the man to the woman (in this case, also of the woman to the man); it presents the oldest account of creation.

On the other hand, certain modern exegesis is mistaken when it tries to interpret the Song of Songs exclusively in terms of human love between a man and a woman. The author of Songs writes from within the religious history of his people, where human love was assumed by the prophets to be a metaphor for the covenant between God and his people. Hosea turned his own marital situation into a metaphor for the relations between God and Israel. How could we imagine that the author of Songs would leave all of that behind? The mystical interpretation of Songs, beloved in the tradition of Israel and the Church, is not a later imposition, but rather it is in some way implicit in the text. Far from detracting from human love, it confers upon it new beauty and splendor.

Part II : Marriage and Family in the New Testament
I. Christ’s renewal of marriage

St. Irenaeus explains the “recapitulation (anakephalaiosis) of all things” performed by Christ (Ephesians 1:10) as a “taking things from the beginning to lead them to their fulfillment.” The concept implies continuity and novelty at the same time and in this sense it is fulfilled in an exemplary way in Christ’s work with regards to marriage.

a. The continuity
Chapter 19 of the Gospel of St. Matthew alone is enough to illustrate the two aspects of renewal. Let us see first of all how Jesus takes things anew from the beginning.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’ ‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” (Genesis 1:27) and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’
 (Matthew 19:3-6).

The adversaries move in the restricted confines of the case-based reasoning proper to different schools (is it licit to divorce the woman for any motive or is a specific and serious motive required); Jesus responds by tackling the problem at the root, going to the beginning. In his response, Jesus refers to the two accounts of the institution of marriage; he takes elements from both, but above all he highlights the aspects of the communion of persons present in both accounts.

What follows in the text, regarding the problem of divorce, also follows this same direction; in fact he confirms the fidelity and indissolubility of the marital bond above even the good of offspring, on the basis of which polygamy, levirate and divorce had been justified in the past.

“‘Then why did Moses command that a writ of dismissal should be given in cases of divorce?’ He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted, that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning. Now I say this to you: anyone who divorces his wife — I am not speaking of an illicit marriage — and marries another, is guilty of adultery’” (Matthew 19:7-9).

The parallel text of Mark shows how also in the case of divorce, man and woman are on a level of absolute equality according to Jesus: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too” (Mark 10:11-12).

I will not spend time on the “illicit marriage” clause (“porneia”), which is absent in Mark’s text and could be a later addition of Matthew to adapt the saying of Jesus to the situation of his community. Instead I want to emphasize the “implicit sacramental foundation of marriage” present in Jesus’ response. The words “What God has joined” say that marriage is not a purely secular reality, fruit of human will; there is a sacred aspect to marriage that is rooted in divine will.

The elevation of marriage to a “sacrament” therefore is not based solely on the weak argument of Jesus’ presence at the wedding of Cana, nor in the text of Ephesians 5 alone. In a certain way it begins with the earthly Jesus and is part of his leading all things to the beginning. John Paul II is also right when he defines marriage as the “oldest sacrament.”

b. The novelty
Thus far we have focused on the continuity. What is the novelty? Paradoxically it consists in making marriage relative. Let’s listen to the following text from Matthew:

The disciples said to him, ‘If that is how things are between husband and wife, it is advisable not to marry. But he replied, ‘It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted. There are eunuchs born so from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs made so by human agency and there are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can’”
 (Matthew 19:10-12).

With these words Jesus institutes a second state of life, justifying it by the coming to earth of the Kingdom of Heaven. It does not eliminate the other possibility, marriage, but it makes it relative. What happens to it is similar to the idea of the state in the political sphere: It is not abolished, but rather radically limited by the revelation of the contemporary presence, within history, of the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, voluntary continence does not need to deny or despise marriage so that its own validity can be recognized. (Some ancient authors made this mistake in some of their writings on virginity). What’s more, it derives its meaning from none other than contemporary affirmation of the goodness of marriage. The institution of celibacy and virginity for the Kingdom ennobles marriage in the sense that it becomes a choice, a vocation, and not just simply a moral duty to which it was impossible not to submit oneself in Israel without exposure to the accusation of trespassing God’s commandment.

It’s important to remember something which is easily forgotten. Celibacy and virginity mean renouncing marriage, not sexuality, which retains all the richness of its meaning, even though it is lived in a different way. The celibate person and the virgin also feel attraction, and therefore dependence on people of the opposite sex, and it is precisely this which gives meaning to their choice for chastity.

c. Jesus, an enemy of family?
Among the many theses posited in recent years in the so-called “Third Quest on the historical Jesus”; we find the idea that Jesus rejected the natural family and all parental bonds in the name of belonging to a different community, in which God is the father and the disciples are all brothers and sisters, proposing an itinerant life, as was lived in that time outside of Israel by the cynic philosophers.

In effect, in the Gospels, Christ uses words that at first glance cause bewilderment. Jesus says: “Anyone who comes to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Certainly harsh words, but the evangelist Matthew hurries to explain the sense of the word “hate” in this case: “No one who prefers father or mother to me is worthy of me. No one who prefers son or daughter to me is worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). So Jesus does not ask us to hate our parents or children, but rather that we not love them to the point to which we refuse to follow him because of them.

Another episode causes confusion. “Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me,’ replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the Kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:59). For some critics this is a scandalous request, among them the American rabbi Jacob Neusner, with whom Benedict XVI has a conversation in his book about Jesus of Nazareth.It is disobedience to God, who orders that we take care of parents, a flagrant violation of filial duties.

What we have to give to Rabbi Neusner is that Christ’s words, such as these, cannot be explained while we consider Christ a mere man, as exceptional as may be. Only God can ask that he be loved more than a parent, and to follow that up, to give up attending a burial. For the believers this is further proof that Jesus is God. For Neusner, it is the reason why he cannot be followed.

The confusion caused by these requests from Jesus also come from not keeping in mind the difference between what he asks all without distinction and what he asks of only some that are called to share in his life entirely dedicated to the Kingdom, as continues to happen today in the Church. The same should be said about the renunciation of marriage: He does not impose it, nor does he propose it to all without distinction, but rather only to those who accept to put themselves at the complete service of the Kingdom as he does (cf. Matthew 19:10-12).

All these doubts about the attitude of Jesus toward family and marriage fall apart if we keep in mind the other passages of the Gospel. Jesus is most rigorous regarding the indissolubility of marriage; he heavily stresses the commandment to honor father and mother, to the point of condemning the practice of excusing oneself from the duty to assist them under religious pretexts (Mark 7:11-13). How many miracles Jesus works precisely to step forward to meet parents in their suffering (Jairo, the father of the epileptic), mothers (the Canaanite, the widow of Naim), or of relatives (the sisters of Lazarus), therefore, to honor the family bonds. On more than one occasion he shares the pain of the relatives up to the point of crying with them.

In a moment such as the present, in which everything seems to be conspiring to weaken the bonds and values of the family, we would only need to oppose Jesus and the Gospel to them! Jesus has come to give marriage back its original beauty, to reinforce it, not to weaken it.

2. Marriage and family in the Apostolic Church
Just as we have done with God’s original project, also concerning the renewal worked by Christ we intend to see how it was received and lived in the life and catechesis of the Church, limiting ourselves to the reality of the apostolic Church for the moment. Paul is our primary source of information, having had to dedicate himself to the problem in some of his letters, above all in the First Letter to the Corinthians.

The Apostle distinguishes between what comes directly from the Lord and the particular applications that he himself makes when required by the context in which he preaches the Gospel. The confirmation of the indissolubility of marriage is part of the first type: “To the married I give this ruling, and this is not mine but the Lord’s: a wife must not be separated from her husband or if she has already left him, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband — and a husband must not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11); the guidance regarding marriage between believers and nonbelievers and the provisions regarding celibates and virgins is part of the second type of the Apostle’s teaching: “I have no directions from the Lord, but I give my own opinion” (1 Corinthians 7:10;7:25).

The Church has received from Jesus also the element of novelty which consists, as we have seen, in the institution of a second state of life: celibacy and virginity for the Kingdom. To them, Paul, he himself not married, dedicates the final part of Chapter 7 of his letter. Based on the verse: “I should still like everyone to be as I am myself; but everyone has his own gift from God, one this kind and the next something different” (1 Corinthians 7:7), some think that the Apostle considers marriage and virginity as two charisms. But that is not accurate; virgins have received the charism of virginity, married people have other charisms (understood not that of virginity). It’s meaningful that the Church’s theology has always considered virginity a charism and not a sacrament, and marriage a sacrament and not a charism.

The text of the Letter to the Ephesians will have a noteworthy effect in the process that will bring about the recognition of the sacramentality of marriage: “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and the two become one flesh. This mystery (in Latin, “sacramentum”) has great significance, but I am applying it to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:31-32). This is not an isolated occasional assertion, based on a loose translation of the word “mystery” (“mysterion”) with the Latin “sacramentum.” Marriage as a symbol of the relationship between Christ and the Church is based on a series of statements and parables in which Jesus applied the title of spouse to himself, attributed to God by the prophets.

As the apostolic community grows and consolidates, we see how an entire familial pastoral practice and spirituality flower. The most meaningful texts in this regard are the letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians. Both of them show the two fundamental relationships that constitute family: the relationship between husband and wife and the relationship between parents and children. With regard to the first relationship, the Apostle writes:

Submit to each other in the fear of Christ. Women to their husbands, as to the Lord … As the Church is submissive to Christ, so also should wives submit to their husbands in all. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.

Paul recommended that husbands “love” their wives (and this seems normal to us), but then he recommends that wives be “submissive” to their husbands, and this, in a society that is strongly (and rightfully) conscious of the equality of the sexes, seems unacceptable. On this point St. Paul is, at least in part, conditioned by the customs of his time. The difficulty, on the other hand, changes if we keep in mind the phrase from the beginning of the text: “Be submissive to one another in the fear of Christ,” which establishes reciprocity in submission and in love.

With regard to the relationship between parents and children, Paul emphasizes the traditional advice of the wisdom books:

Children, be obedient to your parents in the Lord — that is what uprightness demands. The first commandment that has a promise attached to it is: Honor your father and your mother; and the promise is: so that you may have long life and prosper in the land. And parents, never drive your children to resentment but bring them up with correction and advice inspired by the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4).

The pastoral letters, especially the Letter to Titus, offer detailed rules for every category of person: women, spouses, bishops and priests, old people, young people, widows, owners and slaves (cf. Titus 2:1-9). In fact slaves were also part of the family in the broad understanding of the time.

In the early Church as well, the ideal of marriage that Jesus proposes will not be put into practice without shadows and resistance. In addition to the case of incest of Corinth (1 Corinthians 8:1), this is borne out by the need the apostles feel of insisting on this aspect of the early Christian life. But overall, the Christians presented the world a new family model that became one of the principal factors in evangelization.

The author of the letter to Diognetus, in the second century, says that the Christians “marry as every one else does and have children, but they do not abandon the newborns; they have a common table, but not a common bed” (V:6-7). In his Apology, Justin constructs an argument that we Christians of today should be able to make our own in dialogue with political authorities. In essence he says the following: You, Roman emperors, multiply the laws about family, which have proven to be incapable of stopping its dissolution. Come to see our families and you will be convinced Christians are your better allies in the reform of society, not your enemies. In the end, as is known, after three centuries of persecution, the Empire accepted the Christian family model in its own legislation.

Part III
What the Bible Teaches Us Today
Rereading the Bible in a conference like this one, which is not of biblical scholars, but rather of pastoral workers in the field of family care, cannot be limited to a simple reminder of revealed knowledge, but rather it should be able to enlighten current problems. “Scriptures, as St. Gregory the Great said, grow with the one that reads them” (cum legentibus crescit); they reveal new implications to the measure in which new questions are posed to them. And today there are many new and provocative questions.

1. Objection to the biblical ideal
We are confronted by a seemingly global objection to the biblical plan for sexuality, marriage and family. Monsignor Tony Anatrella’s research, which was given to the speakers in preparation for this congress, provides a well-thought and highly useful summary of this subject. How should we react in the face of this phenomenon?

The first error we should avoid, in my opinion, is spending the whole time fighting contrary theories, in the end giving them more importance than they deserve. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagita noted a long time ago that the exposition of one’s truth is always more successful than rebutting the errors of others (Letter VI, in PG 3, 1077A). Another error is to focus all efforts on the laws of country to defend Christian values. The first Christians, as we have seen, changed the laws of the state through their lifestyle. We cannot do the contrary today, hoping to change lifestyles with the laws of the state.

The Council opened a new method, that of dialogue, not confrontation with the world: a method which does not even exclude self criticism. One of the Council documents said that the Church can benefit even from the criticism of those that attack it. I believe that we should apply this method also in discussing the problems of marriage and the family, as “Gaudium et Spes” did in its own time.

Applying this method of dialogue means trying to see if even behind the most radical attacks there is a positive request that we should welcome. It is the old Pauline method of examining everything and keeping the good (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21). This is what happened with Marxism, which motivated the Church to develop its own social doctrine, and it could also happen with the gender revolution which, as Monsignor Anatrella observes in his research, presents more than a few similarities to Marxism and is probably destined to the same end.

The criticism of the traditional model of marriage and family, which have led to the current, unacceptable, proposals of deconstructionism, began with the Enlightenment and Romanticism. With different intentions, these two movements objected to traditional marriage, seen exclusively as its objective “ends” — offspring, society, Church; and to little in itself — in its subjective and interpersonal value. Everything was asked of the future spouses, except that they love each other and choose each other freely. Marriage as a pact (Enlightenment) and as a communion of love (Romanticism) between the spouses was proposed to contradict such a model.

But this criticism follows the original meaning of the Bible, it does not contradict it! The Second Vatican Council took in this request when it recognized as equally central to marriage both mutual love and support of the spouses. John Paul II, in a Wednesday catechesis said:

The human body, with its sex, and its masculinity and femininity seen in the very mystery of creation, is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, as in the whole natural order. It includes right from the beginning the nuptial attribute, that is, the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift and — by means of this gift — fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.

In his encyclical “Deus Caritas Est,” Pope Benedict XVI has gone even farther, writing deep and new things with regards to eros in marriage and in the very relationship between God and man. “This close relationship between eros and marriage that the Bible presents has practically no parallel in literature outside itself.”

The unusually positive reaction to this papal encyclical shows to what degree a peaceful presentation of the Christian truth is more productive than rebutting the error of others, even though we should find room for this as well, at the proper time and place. We are far from agreeing with the consequences that some today draw from this premise: for example, that any type of eros is enough to constitute a marriage, even that between persons of the same sex; but this rejection gains greater strength and credibility if it is connected to the recognition of the underlying goodness of the request and as well with a healthy self criticism.

We cannot in effect silence the contribution that Christians made to the formation of that purely objectivist view of marriage. The authority of Augustine, reinforced on this point by Thomas Aquinas, ended up shedding a negative light on the carnal union of the spouses, considered the means of transmitting original sin and in itself sinful “at least venially.” According to the doctor of Hippo, spouses should engage in the conjugal act with disgust and only because there was no other way of giving citizens to the state and members to the Church.

Another request we can make our own is that of the dignity of women in marriage. As we can see, it is at the very heart of God’s original plan and Christ’s thought, but it has almost always been neglected. God’s word to Eve: “You will be drawn to you spouse and he will dominate you” has been tragically played out throughout history.

Among the representatives of the so-called gender revolution, this idea has led to crazy proposals, such as that of abolishing the distinction between sexes and substituting it with the more elastic and subjective distinction of “genders” (masculine, feminine, variable) or that of freeing women from the slavery of maternity, providing other means, invented by man, for the production of children. (It is not clear who would continue to have interest or desire at this point in having children.)

It is precisely through choosing to dialogue and engage in self criticism that we have the right to denounce these projects as “inhuman,” in other words, contrary to not only God’s will, but also to the good of humanity. If they were to become common practice on a large scale, they would lead to unforeseeable damages. The book and the movie “The Island of Dr. Moreau” by H. G. Wells could prove to be tragically prophetic, this time not only among animals but also among human beings.

Our only hope is that people’s common sense, together with the “desire” for the other sex, with the need for maternity and paternity that God has written in human nature, resist these attempts to substitute God. They are inspired more by belated feelings of guilt in men than by genuine respect and love for women. (Those who propose these theories are almost all men!)

2. An ideal that must be rediscovered
Christians’ task of rediscovering and fully living the biblical ideal of marriage and family is no less important than defending it. In this way it can be proposed again to the world with facts, more so than with words.

Let’s read today the account of the creation of man and woman in the light of the revelation of the Trinity. Under this light, the phrase: “God created mankind in his image, in his image he created him, male and female he created them” finally reveals its meaning, which was mysterious and uncertain before Christ. What relation could there be between being “in the image of God” and being “male and female?” The God of the Bible does not have sexual connotations; he is neither male nor female.

The similarity is this: God is love and love demands communion, interpersonal exchange; it needs to have an “I” and a “you.” There is no love that is not love for someone. Where there is only one subject there can be no love, only egotism and narcissism. Where God is thought of as Law and as absolute Power, there is no need for a plurality of persons. (Power can be exercised alone!). The God revealed by Jesus Christ, being love, is one and only, but he is not solitary; he is one and triune. In him coexist unity and distinction: unity of nature, of will, of intention, and distinction of characteristics and persons.

Two people that love each other, and the case of man and woman in marriage is the strongest, reproduce something that happens in the Trinity. There two persons, the Father and the Son, loving each other, produce (“breathe”) the Spirit that is the love the joins them. Someone once defined the Holy Spirit as the divine “Us,” that is, not the “third person of the Trinity,” but rather the first person plural.

Precisely in this way the human couple is an image of God. Husband and wife are in effect a single flesh, a single heart, a single soul, even in the diversity of sex and personality. In the couple, unity and diversity reconcile themselves. The spouses face each other as an “I” and a “you”, and face the rest of the world, beginning with their own children, as a “we,” almost as if it was a single person, no longer singular but rather plural. “We,” in other words, “your mother and I,” “your father and I.”

In light of this we discover the profound meaning of the prophets’ message regarding human marriage, which is therefore a symbol and reflection of another love, God’s love for his people. This doesn’t involve overburdening a purely human reality with mystical meaning. It is not a question simply of symbolism; rather it involves revealing the true face and final purpose of the creation of man and woman: leaving one’s own isolation and “egotism,” opening up to the other, and through the temporal ecstasy of carnal union, elevating oneself to the desire for love and for happiness without end.

What’s the reason for the incompleteness and dissatisfaction that sexual union leaves within and outside of marriage? Why does this impulse always fall over itself and why does this promise of infinity and eternity always end up disappointed? The ancients coined a phrase that paints this reality: “Post coitum animal triste”: just like any other animal, man is sad after carnal union.

The pagan poet Lucretius left us a raw description of this frustration that accompanies each copulation, which should not be scandalous for us to hear at a congress for spouses and families:

“And mingle the slaver of their mouths, and breathe
Into each other, pressing teeth on mouths -
Yet to no purpose, since they’re powerless
To rub off aught, or penetrate and pass
With body entire into body”

The search for remedy to this frustration only increases it. Instead of modifying the quality of the act, the quantity is increased, moving from one partner to another. This is how God’s gift of sexuality is ruined, in the trend of culture and society today.

As Christians, do we want to find an explanation once and for all for this devastating dysfunction? The explanation is that sexual union is not lived in the way and with the purpose in which God intended it. The purpose was, through this ecstasy and fusion of love, that man and woman would be elevated to the desire and have a certain taste for infinite love. They would remember from whence they came and where they were going.

Sin, beginning with the biblical sin of Adam and Eve, has gutted this plan; it has “profaned” this gesture, in other words, it has stripped it of its religious value. It has turned it into a gesture that is an end in itself, which finishes with itself, and is therefore “unsatisfactory.” The symbol has been separated from the reality it symbolizes, bereft of its intrinsic dynamism and therefore mutilated. Never as much as in this case is St. Augustine’s saying true: “You made us, Lord, for you and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Even couples that are believers, sometimes more than others, don’t come to find this richness of the initial meaning of sexual union due to the idea of concupiscence and original sin associated with the act for so many centuries. Only in the witness of some couples that have had a renewing experience of the Holy Spirit and that live Christian life charismatically do we find something of that original meaning of the conjugal act. They have confided with wonder, to friends or a priest, that they unite praising God out loud, and even singing in tongues. It was a real experience of God’s presence.

It is understandable why it is only possible to find this fullness of the marital vocation in the Holy Spirit. The constitutive act of marriage is reciprocal self-giving, making a gift of one’s own body to the spouse (or, in the words of the Bible, of one’s whole self). In being the sacrament of the gift, marriage is, by its nature, a sacrament that is open to the action of the Holy Spirit, who is the Gift par excellence, or better said, the reciprocal self-giving of the Father and the Son. It is the sanctifying presence of the Spirit that makes marriage not only a celebrated sacrament, but a lived sacrament.

The secret to getting access to these splendors of Christian love is to give Christ space within the life of the couple. In fact, the Holy Spirit that makes all things new, comes from him. A book by Fulton Sheen, popular in the 50s, reiterated this with its title: “Three to Get Married.”

We should not be afraid of proposing a very high goal to some especially prepared couples, who will be future Christian spouses: that of praying a while the wedding night, as Tobias and Sarah, and afterward giving God the Father the joy of seeing his initial plan realized anew, thanks to Christ, when Adam and Eve were nude in front of each other and both in front of God and they were not ashamed.

I end with some words taken once again from “The Satin Slipper” by Claudel. It is a dialogue between the woman of the drama and her guardian angel. The woman struggles between her fear and the desire to surrender herself to love:

- So, is this love of the creatures, one for another, allowed? Isn’t God jealous?
- How could He be jealous of what He Himself made?
- But man, in the arms of the woman, forgets God…
- Can they forget Him when they are with Him, participating in the mystery of his creation?


Book Recommendation: Handbook of Christian Apologetics – Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli

August 27, 2009

handbookofCAA reviewer at Amazon wrote: “Christianity is a worldview that is based on historical evidence and rational arguments. The Handbook of Christian Apologetics provides a firm basis for defending Christianity by offering a wide range of reasons for belief. It is aimed at both believers and non-believers alike. Its goal is to help believers defend their faith and to help non-believers see the reasonableness of believing in Christianity.” There is a great deal within its 400 pages but one should be aware that the book is not exhaustive but systematic and comprehensive. For me it made a bridge between the issue I was looking up and the Catechism where I often come to rest when dealing with understanding problems of faith. References are replete to Aquinas, Pascal, Lewis, Kierkegaard, as well as more modern Christian scholars and apologists. A “Handbook” is in the nature of something you make reference to, read and reread. This volume fulfills its title.

Let the book speak — my notes and reading selections follow:

Restoring An Older Notion Of Reason
(We need to) restore an older notion of reason, to turn back a clock that is keeping bad time by (1) seeing our subjective, psychological, human processes of reasoning as participations in and reflections of an objective rational order, a logos, a reason with a capital “R”; and (2) seeing reason not as confined to reasoning ,calculating – what scholastic logic calls “the third act of the mind” but as including “the first act of the mind”; apprehension, intellectual intuition, understanding, “seeing,.” insight, contemplation…. Aristotelian logic is a logic of linguistic terms, which express mental concepts, which represent real essences or the natures of things. Many modern philosophers are suspicious and skeptical of the venerable and commonsense notion of things having real essences or natures and of our ability to know them. Aristotelian logic assumes the existence of essences and our ability to know them, for its basic units are terms, which express concepts, which express essences. But modern symbolic logic does not assume what philosophers call metaphysical realism (that essences are real), but implicitly assumes instead metaphysical Nominalism (that essences are only nomina, names, human labels) since its basic units are not terms but propositions. Then it relates these propositions in argumentative structures just as a computer can do: if p then q; p; therefore q….Reason should not usurp the primacy of faith, hope and love…Classical Christian orthodoxy as expressed in medieval formulas like fides quarens intellectum (“faith seeking understanding”) and credo ut intelligum (“I believe in order that I may understand.”). That is to say when faith comes first, understanding follows, and it is vastly aided by faith’s tutelage…The classical position’s contention [is] that many of the things God has revealed for us to be believed, such as his own existence and some of his attributes, can also be proved by human reason, properly used.

Faith And Reason
Faith for a Christian is faith in a God who is himself love, our lover and our beloved; and the more our hearts love someone, the more our minds want to know about our beloved. Faith naturally leads to reason through the agency of love. So faith leads to reason and reason leads to faith…friends, wedded partners, allies.

A Christian Warning
Our civilization may last for another century, but you will not. You will soon stand naked in the light of God. You had better learn to love and seek that light while there is still time, so that it will be your joy and not your fear forever. It is unfashionable today to put such things in print – an act that says volumes about the spiritual sanity of our ostrich-like age.

The Act of Faith Vs. The Object Of Faith
The object of faith means all the things believed. For the Christian, this means everything that God has revealed in the Bible; Catholics include all the creeds and universal bindings of the Church as well. This faith is expressed in propositions. Propositions are not expressions of the act of believing but expressions of the content believed. Liturgical and moral acts express the act of believing.  However the propositions are not the ultimate objects of faith, but only the proximate objects of faith. They are manifold, but the ultimate object of faith is one….the propositions are the map or structure of faith…God is the author of faith – both the revealer of the objective doctrines believed and the one who inspires the heart to make the free choice to believe them.

It is equally wrong to stop at propositions and not have your faith reach out to the living God or to denigrate propositions as dispensable or even harmful to living faith. Without a live relationship to the living God, propositions are pointless, for their point is to point beyond themselves to God (“A finger is good for pointing to the moon, but woe to him who mistakes the finger for the moon.”)

Heart Faith
Faith begins in that obscure mysterious center of our being that Scripture calls the “heart.” Heart in Scripture (and in Augustine) does not mean feeling or sentiment or emotion, but the absolute center of the soul, as the physical heart is at the center of the body. The heart is where God the Holy Spirit works in us. This is not specifiable as a kind of interior object, as emotions, intellect and will are, because it is the very self, the I, the subject, the one whose emotions and mind and will they are. “Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it will flow the springs of life.”(Prov 4:23) With the heart we choose our “fundamental option” of yes or not to God, and thereby determine our eternal identity and destiny…The faith works controversy that sparked the Protestant Reformation was due largely to equivocation on the word “faith”…If we use it to mean intellectual faith – as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 13 [if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing] – then faith alone is not enough for salvation for “Even the demons believe and shudder Jas(2:19). But if we use faith as Luther did and as Paul did in Romans and Galatians, that is as heart-faith, then this is saving faith. It is sufficient for salvation for it necessarily produces the good works of love just as a good tree necessarily produces good fruit. Protestants and Catholics agree on this.

A Matrix Of Reason Faith And Revelation  

The Three Acts of Mind: I. Understanding II. Discovering III. Proving
Reason Alone What a star is made of Pluto exists Pythagorean Theorem
Reason + Revelation Why the universe is well-ordered Historical Jesus The soul does not die
Only by Faith and Revelation God’s plan of salvation How much Go loves us   God is a Trinity


Fideism contends that the only knowledge, or at least the only certain knowledge, we can have is by faith. While rationalism denies the existence of any truths of faith improvable by reasoin, fideism denies the existence of any certain truths attainable by reason without faith….Pascal, for instance, argued that to trust reason in the first place must itself be an act of faith, and not rationally provable. For if trust in reason were proved by reason, we would be committing the logical fallacy of “begging the question,” assuming what we are supposed to prove. Pascal further argued that if the source of our reason is not an intelligent and trustworthy God, but blind chance of some untrustworthy evil spirit, then our reason is not trustworthy at all. Who would trust a computer programmed by chance of a deceiver? But how do we know there is a a good and trustworthy God who created and designed human reason? If we try to prove such a God by our reason, we again beg the question and argue in a circle. We try to validate reason by God and God by reason. The only way out is a non-rational leap of faith in the beginning…The argument shows that the ultimate theoretical justification for reason cannot be reason itself.

Apologetics, Reason And Faith
Three kinds of truths:
(a)Truths by faith alone are things revealed by God but not understandable, discoverable or provable by reason (e.g. the Trinity or the fact hat Christ’s death atoned for our sins).
(b) Truths of both faith and reason are things revealed by God but also understandable, discoverable or provable by reason (e.g. the existence of one God, of an objective moral law, or life after death).
(c) Truths of reason but not of faith are things not revealed by God but known by human reason (e.g., the natural sciences).
If this is the correct position, then the role of the Christian apologist is to prove all the propositions of class (b) and to answer all the objects to the propositions in class (a). The doctrine of the fall teaches that human nature, and thus human reason is corrupted but still valid and usable – like a crippled body. It can walk perhaps but not well…Reason can persuade you to walk to the beach, but you must make the leap of faith into the sea of the living God. Fideism says it can’t even bring you to the beach; rationalism says it can put you in the sea.

How Much Of The Faith Can Reason Prove? Thomas Aquinas
The truth that the human reason is naturally endowed to know cannot be opposed to the truth for the Christian Faith. For that which the human reason is naturally endowed is clearly most true; so much so, that it is impossible for us to think of such truths as false. [If we only understand the meaning of the terms in such self-evident propositions as “The whole is greater than the parts” or “What has color must have size,” we cannot think them false.] Nor is it permissible to believe as false that which we hold by faith, since this is confirmed in a way that is so clearly divine. [It is not our faith but its subject, God, that justifies our certainty.] Since therefore only the false is opposed to the truth, as is clearly evident from an examination of their definitions, it is impossible that truth of faith should be opposed to those principles that the human reason knows naturally. Thus, either Christianity is false, or reason is false, or – if both are true – there can never be any real contradiction at all between them, since truth cannot contradict truth.

How Much Of The Faith Can Reason Prove? Thomas Aquinas II
That which is introduced into the soul of the student by the teacher is contained in the knowledge of the teacher — unless his teaching is fictitious, which it is improper to say of God. Now the knowledge of the principles that are known to us naturally [rationally self-evident propositions] has been implanted in us by God; for God is the author of our nature. These principles, therefore, are also contained by the divine Wisdom. Hence, whatever is opposed to them is opposed to the divine Wisdom and therefore cannot come from God,. That which we hold by faith as divinely revealed, therefore, cannot be contrary to our natural knowledge.

How Much Of The Faith Can Reason Prove? St. Paul [1 Corinthians 1:20-25]
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Existence Of God I [Change]
If there is nothing outside of the material universe, then there is nothing that can cause the universe to change. But it does change. Therefore there must be something in addition to the material universe. But the universe is the sum of all matter, space and time. These three things depend on each other. Therefore this being outside the universe is outside matter, space and time. It is not a changing thing; it is the unchanging Source of change.

Existence of God II [Efficient Causality]
The hypothesis that all being is caused, that there is no Uncaused Being is absurd. So there must be something uncaused, something on which all things that need an efficient cause of being are dependent…Existence is like a gift given from cause to effect. If there is no one who has the gift, the gift cannot be passed down the chain of receivers, however long or short the chain may be. If everyone has to borrow a certain book, but no one actually has it, then no one will ever get it. If there is no God who has existence by his own eternal nature, then the gift of existence cannot be passed down the chain of creatures and we can never get it. But we do get it; we do exist. Therefore there must exist a God: an Uncaused Being who does not have to receive existence like us – and like every other link in the chain of receivers.

The Dilemma of Evil
To love evil is to succumb to it. But to hate evil is to also succumb to it. Jesus’ answer was forgiveness. Forgiveness neither condemns nor condones. It admits that evil is evil…It dissolves the glue between the sinner and the sin and sets the sinner free. Repentance does the same thing from the side of the sinner. Repentance and forgiveness work together like a reverse epoxy…God solves this dilemma on Calvary. Full justice is done: sin is punished and the very punishment of hell itself – being forsaken by God is exacted…One body cannot be in two places at once, but two different bodies can. The sinner with his sin cannot receive simultaneously just punishment and merciful forgiveness; but Christ’s vicarious atonement separates the sin from the sinner. We can only mentally distinguish the sin from the sinner. Christ really separates them. The sin receives its just punishment in his own divine person on the Cross and we sinners receive mercy and forgiveness in our own persons. That is why the biblical formula for what we must do is to be saved from sin in to “repent and believe.” Objectively salvation was accomplished by Christ on the cross, but subjectively we must accept him and his separation of sin from sinner. Our repentance and faith is our “Yes.” to this; our impenitence and unbelief is our no.

Augustine On Divine Grace and Free Will
Augustine came to realize two things [about divine grace and free will]…first grace is an “interior master” rather than an exterior one; grace deals with nature according to its nature, “grace perfects nature.’ And ‘nature’ for humans means human nature, which includes free will as part of its essence. Second, true freedom is not just indetermination, freedom from all influence, but self-determination, self-realization, self-perfection; freedom for the realization of our end and destiny. And this comes from God, our Author and Designer, our savior from the sin that blocks this self-realization. Thus the two parts of the problem become the two parts of the solution.

Evil And Genesis 3
Evil is real, but it is not a real thing. It is not subjective; but it is not a substance. Augustine defines evil as disordered love, disordered will. It is a wrong relationship, nonconformity between our will and God’s will. God did not make it; we did. That is the obvious point of Genesis 1 and 3, the stories of God’s good creation and humanity’s evil fall….The origin of human free will is sin. The immediate origin of suffering is nature, or rather the relationship between ourselves and nature….we are not ghosts in machines, souls imprisoned in bodies, or angels in disguise, but soul-body (“pycho-somatic”) unities…if the soul becomes alienated from God by sin, the body will become alienated, too and experience pain and death as sins’s inevitable consequences…there are two powerful arguments for the historical truth of Genesis 3. First, nearly every tribe, nation and religion throughout history have a similar story. One of the most widespread myths (sacred stories) in the world is the myth of a past paradise lost, a time without evil, suffering or death. The mere fact that everyone innately believes the same thing does not prove that it is true of course; but it is at least significant evidence…we behave like kings and queens dressed in rags who are wandering the world in search of their thrones. If we had never reigned, why would we seek a throne? If we had always been beggars, why would we be discontent?…The evil we do is not just spiritual but physical, bodily evil, for our bodies are parts of us. So the evils we do – sins – are also evils others suffer. Each evil is like a stone thrown in a pond, sending consequences rippling out to the farthest limits of physical interconnectedness.

Free Will And Moral Responsibility
Heredity plus environment plus free will equals the human act. Heredity and environment condition our acts, but they do not determine them, as the paints and the frame condition a painting but do not determine it. They are necessary causes but not sufficient causes of freely chosen acts…C.S. Lewis had one of the simplest and clearest ways of expressing the doctrine of human free will and moral responsibility that is implied in the Genesis 3 account of our “free fall.” He said, “If there are other intelligent beings on other planets, it is not necessary to suppose that they have fallen like us.”

Omnipotence: God And Self-Contradiction
To ask why God didn’t create such a world [a world with genuine possible freedom and no sin] is like asking why God didn’t create colorless color or round squares…It is a misunderstanding of God in that it is not a divine perfection to create or perform a meaningless self-contradiction. It is rather God’s consistency – his never contradicting himself – that is perfection. There is also a misunderstanding hereof what logic means. It is not an artificial rule, like playing nine and not ten innings in baseball. It is an objective truth about everything. We discover it, we do not invent it.

Wisdom Through Suffering
God allows suffering and deprives us of the lesser good of pleasure in order to help us toward the greater good, moral and spiritual education. Even the pagans knew that: the gods teach wisdom through suffering. Aeschylus wrote:

Day by day, hour by hour,
Pain drops upon the heart
As, against our will, and even in our own despite
Comes wisdom from the awful grace of God.

God let Job suffer not because he lacked love but precisely out of his love, to bring Job to the point of the Beatific Vision of God face to face [Job 42:5] which is humanity’s supreme happiness. Job’s suffering hollowed out a big space in him so that a big piece of God and joy could fill it. Job’s experience is paradigmatic for all saintly suffering.

The older deeper meaning of happiness is evident in the Greek word eudaimonia (eudemonia). This is first of all an objective state, not just a subjective feeling. It’s not true that if only you feel happy, you are happy. A grown man sitting in the bathtub all day playing with his rubber ducky may be content, but he is not happy…Happiness is to the soul what health is to the body. You can feel healthy without being healthy and you can feel happy without truly being happy. You can also be happy without feeling happy, Job was, learning wisdom through suffering. Jesus saying “Blessed [objectively happy] are those who mourn [feel subjectively unhappy].” assumes such a distinction.

Deep Happiness
Deep happiness is in the spirit, not the body or even the feelings. It is like an anchor that holds fast and calm on the bottom even while storms rage on the surface, God allows physical and emotional storms to strengthen the anchor; fires to test and harden our mettle. Our soul must become like bright, hard, sharp swords. That is our destiny and our design. We are not toys; we are swords. And that requires tempering in the fire. The sword of the self is to sing in the sun eternally, like the seraphim. If we could catch even a glimpse of this heavenly destiny, if we understood why we are destined to judge angels [Paul, 1 Corinthians 6:2,3:  Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!]

The Problems of Evil
The nature of spiritual evil is sin, separating ourselves from God.

(1)  The origin of spiritual evil is human free will
(2)  The end for which God allows spiritual evil is to preserve human free will that  is, human nature.
(3)  The nature of our physical evil is suffering
(4)  The origin of physical evil is spiritual evil. We suffer because we sin.
(5)  The end or use of physical evil is spiritual

Guilt And Shame
Guilt can be removed only by God, because guilt is the index of a broken covenant with God. Shame is only the index of a horizontal, human fear or fracture, but guilt is vertical, supernatural. A good psychologist can set your free from shame but not from guilt. He can even set your free from guilt feelings, but not from real guilt. He can give you anesthetics but cannot cure your disease, Psychology can make you feel good, but only religion – relationship with God – can make you be good…That’s why God sent his Son; no one but Jesus Christ could take away our sin and guilt. Faith in his atoning sacrifice is the only answer to the real problem of evil. Our only hope in not a good answer but “good news,” the gospel. The great theologian Karl Barth was asked in his old age what was the most profound idea he had ever had, in his many years of theologizing. He instantly replied, “Jesus loves me.”

Christ’s Trustworthiness
Did anyone believe Jesus’ claim to be God? The psychological, personal, motivational reason – as distinct from the objective, logical, theological reason – is because he was so good and wise and trustworthy…. They believed the Buddha’s doctrine not because it seemed true but because Buddha seemed true. How could he deceive or be deceived? He was “holy to the fingertips.” The same psychological principle explains how Christians from twelve apostles 2000 years ago to a billion believers today, believe this even more astonishing claim : they believe it because they believe him. To deny it, you would have to  deny him. And that is unthinkable…There is an instructive parallel in Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Lucy has entered another world, Narnia, through a wardrobe and told her siblings about it. They disbelieve her, of course. A wise old professor adjudicates the argument by asking Peter, Lucy’s older brother, whether Lucy is a liar. Peter is confident she is not; he knows her too well. Well, then, is she insane? It is obvious from her behavior that she is not. Then there is only one possibility left, concludes the professor: Lucy must be telling the truth…If Peter knows Lucy better than he knows the universe, it is more reasonable for him to believe Lucy and change his beliefs about the universe than vice versa. If we know the humanity and trustworthiness of Jesus better than we know what is possible for God to do, it is reasonable for us to believe Jesus and change our theological expectations, rather than vice versa.

The Alternative To Not Believing In The Incarnation
What force sent Christians to the lions’ den with hymns on their lips? What lie ever transformed the world like that? What lie ever gave millions a moral fortitude and peace and joy like that? Christianity conquered the world mainly through the force of sanctity and love. Saints not theologians converted the world. You can fake theology, but you cannot fake sanctity, Saints are not liars and liars are not Saints….Aquinas argues that if the Incarnation did not really happen then an even more unbelievable miracle happened: the conversion of the world by the biggest lie in history and the moral transformation of lives into unselfishness, detachment from worldly pleasures and radically new heights of holiness by a mere myth.

Reliability of New Testament Manuscripts
The state of New Testament manuscripts is very good. Compared with any and all of other ancient documents, the New Testament stands up as ten times more sure. For instance we have five hundred different copies earlier than A.D 500. The next most reliable ancient text we have the Iliad, for which we have only fifty copies that date from 500 years or less after its origin. We have only one very late manuscript of Tacitus’s Annals, but no one is reluctant to treat that as authentic history. If the books of the New Testament did not contain accounts of miracles or make radical, uncomfortable claims on our lives, they would be accepted by every scholar in the world. In other words it is not objective neutral science but subjective prejudice or ideology that fuels skeptical Scripture scholarship.

The Style Of Myth vs. The Style Of The Gospels
The style of myth is not the style of the gospels, but that of real, though unscientific, eyewitness descriptions. Anyone sensitive to literary styles can compare the Gospels to any of the mythic religious literature of the time, and the differences will appear remarkable and unmistakable—for instance the intertestamental apocalyptic literature  of both Jews and Gentiles, or pagan mythic fantasies like Ovid’s Metamorphoses or Flavius Philostratus’s story of the wonder worker Appolonius of Tyan (A.D. 220). If the events in the Gospel did not really happen, then those authors invented modern realistic fantasy nineteen centuries ago. The Gospels are filled with little details, both of external observation and internal feelings that are found only in eyewitness descriptions or modern realistic fiction. They also include dozens of little details of life in first-century Israel that could not have been known by someone not living in that time and place. And there are no second century anachronisms, either in language or content….There are also telltale marks of eyewitness description, like the little detail of Jesus writing in the sand when asked whether to stone the adulteress or not. No one knows why this is put in; nothing comes of it. The only explanation is that the writer saw it.

C.S. Lewis On The Necessity of Traditional Christian Imagery
“Men are reluctant to pass over from the notion of an abstract and negative deity to the living God. I do not wonder. Here lies the deepest taproot of Pantheism and of the objection to traditional imagery. It was hated not, at bottom, because it pictured Him as man but because it pictured Him as king, or even as a warrior. The pantheist’s god does nothing, demands nothing.  He is there if you wish for him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that heaven and earth shall flee away at his glance. If he were the truth, then we could really say that all the Christian images of kingship were an historical accident of which our religion ought to be cleansed. It is with a shock that we discover them to be indispensable. You have had a shock like that before with smaller matters – when the line pulls at your hand, when something breathes beside you in the darkness. So here: the shock comes when the thrill of life is communicated to us along the clue we have been following. It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. “Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive.” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back—I would have done so myself, if I could – and proceed no further with Christianity. An impersonal God – well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads – better still. A formless life force, surging through us, a vast power we can tap – best of all. But God himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at infinite speed, the hunter, the king, husband – that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s Search For God”) suddenly draw back. Suppose we really found Him! We never meant it to come to that! Worse yet, supposing he had found us?”

The Christian Alternative
The data of Christianity (The New Testament) is intrinsically possible. It has no internal or external inconsistencies. Not one fact of history, science, philosophy, or common knowledge refutes it. It is probable. God could well have done this. A good wise clever living God might well do just what the Gospels say he did in Christ: become human and die to save us. It works. It has enlightened and transformed lives. It has created Saints who lived and died for this “lie” or “lunacy” or “myth.” It has been believed by the wise, lived by the holy and longed for by the skeptical. Even Freud saw it as wishful thinking, as fairy tale, that is as desirable, as too good to be true. As Tolkien put it, “There has never been a tale which men more wished was true.” It gives greatest hope and meaning and purpose ever proposed to human life. We are to become Saints here and little Christ’s hereafter. What a destiny! It is the only rational, honest alternative.

Pascal On The Conspiracy Theory
The apostles were either deceived or deceivers. Either supposition is difficult for it is not possible to imagine that a man has risen from the dead. While Jesus was with them, he could sustain them; but afterwards, if he did not appear to them, who did make them act? The hypothesis that the apostles were knaves is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end and imagine these twelve men meeting after Jesus’ death and conspiring to say that he had risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them has only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would have all been lost. Follow that out.

Why Many Are Not Persuaded To Christianity
The reluctance is usually moral. To admit that Jesus is divine is to admit his absolute authority over your life, including your private life, including your sex life. Can a drug addict think clearly and objectively about moral truth when it comes to drugs? Why should a sex addict be different? We are all addicts to something – to selfishness, at least. That is the meaning of sin, the very disease Jesus came to cure. Of course the cancer is going to fear the surgeon. That is exactly what you would expect. That is not the reason to disbelieve the surgeon’s claim to be the specialist. Just the opposite. The old self in us is no fool. It sees that Christ comes to kill it. It knows Christianity is not a harmless theory, but something alive and dangerous.

Fabricating The Resurrection
The Gospels were written in such temporal and geographic proximity to the events they record that it would have been almost impossible to fabricate events…The fact that the disciples were able to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem in the face of their enemies a few weeks after the crucifixion shows that what they proclaimed was true, for they could never have proclaimed the resurrection (and been believed) under such circumstances had it not occurred.

The Lack of Evidence For The “Christian Myth Theory”
The Gospels are a miraculous story, and we have no other story handed down to us than that contained in the Gospels…the letters of Barnabas and Clement refer to Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. Polycarp mentions the resurrection of Christ, and Irenaeus relates that he had heard Polycarp tell of Jesus’ miracles. Ignatius speaks of the resurrection. Puadratus reports that persons were still living who had been healed by Jesus. Justin Martyr mentions the miracles of Christ. No relic of a non-miraculous story exists. That the original story should be lost and replaced by another goes beyond any known example of corruption of even oral tradition, no to speak of the experience of written transmissions. These facts show that the story in the Gospels was in substance the same story that Christians had at the beginning. This means that the resurrection of Jesus was always a part of the story.

The Gospels Have Not Changed Over Time
With a single exception, no apocryphal gospel is ever even quoted by any known author during the first three hundred years after Christ. In fact there is no evidence that any inauthentic gospel whatever existed in the firs century, in which all four Gospels and Acts were written….No other ancient work is available in so many copies and languages, and yet all these various versions agree in content….The text has also remained unmarred by heretical additions. The abundance of manuscripts over a wide geographical distribution demonstrates that the text has been transmitted with only trifling discrepancies. The differences that do exist are quite minor and are the result of unintentional mistakes.

The Importance of The Fall (Genesis 3)
Genesis 3 is the crucial example in the Old Testament. There are three reasons why the Fall can’t be mere moral parable or fiction. First, if the Fall is not historical at all, then its effects – suffering and death – also are not historical. If sin is historical in its effects, it must be historical in its cause. Second, if Adam’s fall didn’t really happen, then Christ’s salvation need not have rally happened either. Paul deliberately juxtaposes and parallels these two in Romans 6, calling Christ the New Man or Second Adam. If the first Adam was not historical, why must the second Adam be? If the disease is merely mythic, not historical, then the cure can be merely mythic, not historical. Finally, if the Fall didn’t really happen in history, then God rather than humanity is to blame for sin, for God must have created us as sinners rather than innocents. If there was never any real unfallen state, then we were sinners from the first moments of our creation, and God was wrong to figure everything he made “good.”

Historical Questions Are Critical To Christianity
It is misleading to suggest that historical questions are irrelevant to religion. This may be true for other religions, but not for Orthodox Judaism or Christianity. Buddhism, for instance, is independent of the historical Buddha. Platonism is independent of Plato. But without a historical Christ there is no Christianity. There is no such thing as “Christianism” There is no abstract theory which just happened to have been taught by a man named Jesus. ..Christianity is not a set of timeless truths but a faith in a historical person and historical events, the most important of which were miraculous: God’s creation, lawgiving and prophet-inspiring, and Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection.

Evolution vs. The Bible
There is no logical contradiction between the Bible’s claim that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and the claim that once the earth was here, species evolved by natural selection. Science is like the study of the inner ecology of a fishbowl; the Bible is like a letter from the person who set up the fishbowl. Far from being logically exclusive, the two ideas of creation and evolution easily include each other, or at least suggest each other. On the one hand, the Bible does not say that God created” (bara) each species by a separate act, but that he said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures.”{Gen 1:24]On the other hand, a theory of evolution that confines itself to empirical science does not claim to know whether or not there is a divine Designer behind these natural forces. But surely such an elegant and ordered design strongly suggests a cosmic Designer.

The Christian Connection With Their Bodies
Christians believe in a special connection between themselves and their bodies. Without their bodies they are not really complete. Christians also believe that God made them to live with him forever, not in disembodied souls, but in the glorified body raised up in he resurrection on the last day. …what you believe about life after death depends very much on what you believe abut God. If God exists, and if God has destined us for eternal life, then there is really no problem about the means for self-conscious experience. God will provide them. At the death of the body and before the general resurrection, God is fully capable of providing the means by which we enjoy his presence. No doubt …this will be very unlike the way we now experience…Christians also believe that the human person is a mysterious unity of matter and spirit. There is part of us that is extended in three dimensions and takes up space: this we call “matter.” But there is another facet of the unity we are which cannot be thought of in that way; this is the part of us we call “spirit.”  Scripture says that God breathed life into lifeless matter, and that image of breath and life is most appropriate to the nature of spiritual being. The human spirit animates matter, gives it what vital energy and gathers it into a living organic unity. That is what God created it to do. Thus Christians believe that a human spirit exists for a body; it was made to exist in matter as its life-giving principle. This means that all those parts of human life that seem most essentially spiritual, like knowing and choosing also involve the body; the spirit experiences through the body. And so human life involves a most intimate relation between these two sides of our being: matter needs spirit to bind it into a functioning unity; spirit needs matter to release its potential for pursuing and enjoying all the goods, moral and intellectual, proper to human life. That is why Christians look forward to the resurrection of the body. It is part of their belief that the soul without the body is incomplete; that the full and complete person is present on the last day when matter and spirit, transformed and redeemed, are joined together in the resurrection of the just.


Book Recommendation: Literary Converts by Joseph Pearce

August 26, 2009

literary convertsA reader at Amazon wrote: “Starting with Oscar Wilde (of all people) and ending more or less with the rather sad deaths of Evelyn Waugh, Hugh Ross Williamson, and Alec Guiness, Joseph Pearce has created an enjoyable, readable, and enormously fun history of English converts and near-converts to Catholicism. It’s hard to even recall how many names wander about this book. There are so many of them – Chesterton & Belloc, of course, but also Waugh, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Ronald Knox, Roy Campbell, Graham Greene, Dorothy Parker and many others wander in and out of the narrative. His writing style is very rapid – some chapters are only a few pages long, and the book is a very quick read. More an introduction than in-depth biographies, the author aims at breadth rather then depth. As he has written many other biographies on the same subjects and includes many footnoted sources, if you want more info you can easily find it. One complaint is a total lack of goodies aside from the footnotes mentioned above -no forward or intro, no conclusion, no photos, and, what really would have been helpful, no list of works these authors wrote.”

A trade publication added: “This erudite book vividly contrasts the faith that marked the lives of many of Great Britain’s more prominent writers of the 20th century with the unbelief that, the author believes, largely marked their times. Many of the book’s “converts” began life as Anglicans and then converted to Roman Catholicism, though some, such as C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, remained with the Church of England. Pearce is at his best when he situates writers within the frameworks of a changing Church and a changing world. For example, he claims that the Catholic Church’s move away from the Latin mass hastened the emotional deterioration that directly preceded Evelyn Waugh’s death. Pearce suggests that because of communist attacks on Catholics in Spain, Scottish poet Roy Campbell supported Franco and was somewhat sympathetic to Nazism. In discussing the post-World War II era, Pearce loses some of his focus: too many minor figures, including Ronald Knox and novelist Robert Hugh Benson, crowd the stage and detract from his more compelling descriptions of such deeply influential authors as G.K. Chesterton, Waugh, Eliot and Graham Greene. Despite its flaws, this volume nonetheless will edify and absorb the reader.”

Kirkus Reviews noted: “This century has seen a decline in church attendance, but as Pearce shows in this fascinating book, many great figures have been deeply influenced and inspired by Christianity. In his study of Christian responses to the ‘age of disbelief’, the author conducts a biographical exploration of believers such as Evelyn Waugh, Oscar Wilde, T S Eliot and G K Chesterton, while drawing into the debate the thoughts of non-believers such as George Bernard Shaw and H G Wells. An intriguing work, whatever your own beliefs.”

I captured a lot of quotes from writers I was unfamiliar with, so there is little of Joseph Pearce here as much as the subjects of his writings. One of the reasons I liked the book was the swift surveys and introductions leaving the authors themselves in their own words. One of the things that will make you sad is when you go to look for their books – too many out of print or not circulating in the public library because of age.

The Subjectivity of Depression; The Objectivity of Prayer
As regards depression….I meant that the cause of depression is subjectivity, always. The Eternal Facts of Religion remain exactly the same, always. Therefore in depression the escape lies in dwelling upon the eternal truths that are true anyhow; and not in self-examination, and attempts at ‘acts’ of the soul that one is incapable of making at such a time….I would say that ‘subjective prayer’ and self-reproach, and dwelling one one’s temporal and spiritual difficulties, is not good at such times; but the objective prayer, e.g. intercessions, adoration, and thanksgiving for the Mysteries of Grace, is the right treatment of one’s soul. And of course the same applies to scruples of every kind.
Robert Hugh Benson

Robert Hugh Benson: Poem
I cannot soar and sing my Lord and love;
     No eagle’s wings have I,
No power to rise and greet my King above,
No heart to fly.
Creative Lord Incarnate, let me lean
     My heavy self on Thee;
Not let my utter weakness come between
     Thy strength and me.

I cannot trace Thy Providence and place,
     Nor dimly comprehend
What in Thyself Thou art, and what is man,
     And what the end.
Here in this wilderness I cannot find
     The path the Wise Men trod;
Grant me to rest on Thee, Incarnate Mind
     And Word of God.

I cannot love, my heart is turned within
     And locked within; (Ah me!
How shivering in self-love I sit) for sin
     Has lost the key.
Ah! Sacred Heart of Jesus, Flame Divine,
     Ardent with great desire,
My hope is set upon that love of Thine,
     Deep Well of Fire.

I cannot live alone another hour;
     Jesus be Thou my Life!
I have not power to strive; be Thou my Power
     In every strife!
I can do nothing – hope, nor love, nor fear,
     But only fail and fall.
Be Thou  my soul and self, O Jesus dear,
     My God and all!
Robert Hugh Benson

Despair Is The Anti-Christ of Humility
…there was the conflict of which I have spoken, There was that in him, which we name will, which continued tense and strong, striving against despair. Neither his mind nor his heart could help him in that night; his mind informed him that he had sinned deadly by presumption, his heart found nowhere God to love; and all that, though he told himself that God was lovable , and adorable, and that he could not fall into hell save by his own purpose and intention. Yet, in spite of all, and when all had failed, his will strove against despair (which is the antichrist of humility)…
Robert Hugh Benson, The Light Invisible

The Reformation Was Rooted In Error
It was a classic example of emptying out the baby with the bath (water). The reformers revolted against the externalism of medieval religion, and so they abolished the Mass. They protested against the lack of personal holiness, and so they abolished the Saints. They attacked the wealth and self-indulgence of he monks and they abolished monasticism and the life of voluntary poverty and asceticism. They had no intention of abandoning the ideal of Christian perfection, but they sought to realize it in Puritanism instead of Monasticism and in pietism instead of mysticism.
Christopher Dawson

The Fundamental Unity Of Catholic Theology And Life
It was by the study of St. Paul and St. John that I first came to understand the fundamental unity of Catholic theology and the Catholic life. I realized the Incarnation, the sacraments, the external order of the Church and the internal work of sanctifying grace, were all parts of one organic unity, a living tree whose roots are in the Divine Nature and whose fruit is the perfection of the Saints…
Christopher Dawson

Spirit and Matter
Your main difficulty seems to me to lie along the old eternal difficulty of he relation between matter and Spirit, the inner and the Outer, Ideas and History. Now of course I agree frankly that the Spirit, the inner, and the idea are primary. So I need not say anything about that. But the next fact is that this Inner Side, does, as a matter of fact, express itself in outer ways. ‘God is Spirit,’ but ‘The Word was made flesh.’ Further, it is quite evident that the outer is always inadequate to the inner. But though it is inadequate to Spirit, this does not mean that it is necessarily inadequate to our conceptions of Spirit, nor that its analogies are not ‘true.’

What therefore Catholics believe with regard to such things is (a) the spiritual principle, (b) that the spiritual principle did, as a matter of fact, express itself in (material) terms. And the more one contemplates the Gospels, the more it becomes evident that no other religion in the world links together in so amazing a way the deepest thoughts we can receive from God and outward events as their expression.
Christopher Dawson

Poem (2nd Sonnet)
One day I heard a whisper: ‘Wherefore wait?
Why linger in a separated porch?
Why nurse the flicker of a separated torch
The fire is there, ablaze beyond the gate.

Why tremble, foolish soul? Why hesitate?
‘However faint the knock, it will be heard.’
I knocked and swiftly came the answering word,
Which bade me enter to my own estate.

I found myself in a familiar place;
And there my broken soul began to mend;
I knew the smile of every long-lost face –

They whom I forgot remembered me;
I knelt, I knew – it was too bright to see –
The welcome of a King who was my friend.
Maurice Baring

Foundations of Modern Thought
The modern thinkers take their rise, practically, from the religious upheaval of the sixteenth century… little by little there came into existence the view that the ‘true religion’ was that system of  belief which each individual thought out for himself; and, since these individuals were not found to agree together, ‘Truth’ finally became more and more subjective; until there was established the most characteristically modern form of thought – namely that Truth was not absolute at all, and that what was true and imperative for one was not true and imperative for another.
Robert Hugh Benson

The Conversion of Wilfred Blunt
Blunt was finally convinced by a personal admission  by Belloc that he himself often went to the sacraments ‘feeling little’. This was a revelation to Blunt, a mystical moment springing from a skeptical statement. Depth in the dryness of dust. Suddenly he perceived that the faltering, flickering candle of the sincere sinner was as much in need of the oxygen of grace as was he flaming faith of the saints. Since Belloc’s faith seemed also to be only a flickering candle, he was ideally suited to help an old man groping in the dark…

The Reality of Beatitude
I am by all my nature of mind skeptical, by all my nature of the body exceedingly sensual. So sensual that the virtues restrictive of sense are but phrases to me. But I accept these phrases as true and act upon them as well as a struggling man can. And as to the doubt of the soul I discover it to be false: a mood not a conclusion. My conclusion – and that of all men who have ever once seen it – is the faith. Corporate, organized, a personality, teaching. A thing, not a theory, It is to you who have the blessing of profound religious emotion, this statement may seem to desiccate…But beyond this there will come in time, if I save my soul, the flesh of these bones – which bones alone I can describe and teach. I know, without feeling (an odd thing in such a connection) the reality of Beatitude; which is the goal of Catholic living.
Hillaire Belloc

The Distributist Creed
The Distributist believes in the distribution of property and the means of production. He insists that the love of property, particularly property in land, is a sane and enduring instinct which needs both to be fostered and controlled… he is opposed to the subordination of the producer to the financier, and of the countryman to the townsman, and he would agree with Burke and Spengler that modern democracy is too often a mask for securing the dominion of the urban proletariat over the peasant. He is convinced that the health of the nation depends very largely on the proportion of men owning their own land or their own small businesses, and he resents the tendency to transform the small owner into the employee of the State or of the chain stores.
Arnold Lunn

St. Thomas’ Objectivity
I was impressed by the fairness which St. Thomas summarized principal arguments which tell against his theses. Professor Thomson, F.R.S., somewhere comments on the contrast between the objectivity with which St. Thomas states and meets the arguments against the Faith and the evasive conspiracy of silence with which the arguments against evolution are ignored. The contrast between the confident rationalism of St. Thomas and the timid emotionalism of our modern prophets was the theme of my book, The Flight From Reason.
Arnold Lunn

The Principal Characteristic Of Modern Philosophy
The principal characteristic of modern philosophy is an implicit premise which, in effect, denies the validity of all philosophy. If Marx and Freud are to be believed, neither Freud nor Marx is to be believed. Marx maintained that the religion, philosophy, art and art of a given period are the by-products of its economic processes. Scholastic philosophy is nothing more that the mirror of the feudal system of land tenure. But, if this be true, Marxist Communism is nothing more that the mirror of the laissez-faire liberalism and industrialism of Victorian England. It has no objective validity. Freud maintained that he reasons with which a man justifies his beliefs are nothing more than the rationalizations invented, post hoc, to justify beliefs imposed upon him by his environment and sexual complexes. We can safely ignore the reasoned arguments with which a man defends his belief, for we shall discover all that is worth knowing about those beliefs by psycho-analyzing the man in question. If this be true, we shall learn all that is worth knowing about Freudianism by psycho-analyzing the Freudian. These modern thinkers are busy sawing off the branch on which they are sitting.
Arnold Lunn

A Reaction Against the Chaos of Modern Thought
There is…one influence that grows stronger every day, never mentioned in the newspapers, not even intelligible to people in the newspaper frame of mind. It is the return of the Thomist philosophy; which is the philosophy of common sense, as compared with the paradoxes of Kant and Hegel and the Pragmatists. The Roman religion will be, in the exact sense, the only Rationalist religion… the return of  the scholastic will simply be the return of the sane man… to say that there is no pain, or no matter, or no evil, or no difference between man and best, or indeed between anything and anything else – this is a desperate effort to destroy all experience and sense of reality; and men will weary of it more and more, when it has ceased to be the latest fashion; and will look once more for something that will give form to such a chaos and keep the proportions of the mind of man.
G.K. Chesterton

Accepted Sorrow
One has to accept sorrow for it to be of any healing power, and that is the most difficult thing in the world…A priest once said to me, “When you understand what accepted sorrow means, you will understand everything. It is the secret to life.”
Maurice Baring

Sex Obsession Of Modern Life
To the majority of people the word “immorality” has come to mean one thing and one thing only…A man may be greedy and selfish; spiteful, cruel, jealous and unjust; violent and brutal; grasping, unscrupulous and a liar; stubborn and arrogant; stupid, morose and dead to every noble instinct – and still we are ready to say of him that he is not an immoral man. I am reminded of a young man who once said to me with perfect simplicity:’ I did not know there were seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, pride, sloth, wrath, envy): please tell me the names of the other six.
Dorothy Sayers

The Conversion Of Douglas Hyde
While Hyde was reading ….a thought struck him…If the unequal distribution of private property led to great injustice it didn’t necessarily mean that private property was wrong, as the Marxists claimed, but merely that its unequal distribution was wrong. Such a view was at the heart of the Distributist message…was it really so certain as Marxists had imagine that the world must inevitably progress, that the past was necessarily less good and civilized than the present and still less so than the future?…the culture of the Middle Ages had not died with feudalism but was still alive the modern world, a ‘living Catholic culture’…Father Devas replied that the Church existed for sinners…if one could not be a good Catholic, one could at least be a bad one; that even a bad Catholic had a great deal the communist had not got.
Douglas Hyde, news editor of the Daily Worker

Chesterton’s Warning
To put it shortly the evil I am trying to warn you of is not excessive democracy, it is not excessive ugliness, it is not excessive anarchy. It might be stated thus: It is standardization by a low standard…the chief danger confronting us on the artistic and cultural side and generally on the intellectual side at this moment. Whereas the social remedies to this danger were political, the deeper remedies where theological.
G.K. Chesterton

The Soulless Future
The specter of a colossal planned boredom – classless, faithless, frontierless, rootless, deprived of poetry, of historical consciousness, of imagination, and even of emotion; a Wasteland governed, if governable at all, by an elite of dull positivists and behaviorists and technicians, knowing no standards or aspirations but those of their own narrow trade; a world utterly impoverished in spirit, and therefore soon to be impoverished in flesh – this apparition stalks through the calm admonitory pages of T.S. Eliot’s Notes Towards the Definition of Culture
Russell Kirk, Eliot And His Age

C.S. Lewis On the Ordination of Women To The Priesthood
I am guessing that you like me disapprove of something that would cut us off so sharply from all the rest of Christendom, and which would be the very triumph of what they call ‘practical’ and ‘enlightened principles over the far deeper need that the Priest at the Altar must represent he Bridegroom to who we are all, in a sense, feminine….The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life. To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is toe say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant…One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and seminal figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures….With the Church…we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather we are not dealing with them, (but we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us.

Muriel Spark on Her Conversion
In 1953 I was absorbed by the theological writings of John Henry Newman through whose influence I finally became a Roman Catholic…When I am asked about my conversion, why I became a Catholic, I can only say the answer is too easy and too difficult. The simple explanation is that the Roman Catholic faith corresponded to what I had always felt and known and believed; there was no blinding revelation in my case. The more difficult step explanation was the step by step building up of a conviction; as Newman himself pointed out, when asked about is conversion, it was not a thing one could propound ‘between the soup and the fish’ at a dinner party: ‘Let them be to the trouble that I have been to,’ said Newman.

Introduction To An Unfinished Translation
My God, when I dedicate something I have written to any human creature, I am taking away something which does not belong to me, and giving it to one who is not competent to receive it.

What I have written does not belong to me. If I have written the truth then it is God’s truth; it would be true if every human mind denied it, or if there were no human minds in existence to recognize it….if I have written well, it is not because Hobbs, Nobbs,  Noakes and Stokes unite in praising it, but because it contains that interior excellence which is some strange refraction of your own perfect beauty; and of that excellence you alone are the judge. If it proves useful to others, that is because you have seen fit to make use of it as a weak tool, to achieve something in them of that supernatural end which is their destiny, and your secret.

Nor is any human creature in the last resort, competent to receive the poorest of our tributes, then we dedicate a book to any name that is named on earth, we owe it (or so we tell ourselves) to the love we bear him or the admiration he excites in us ,or the aid he has given us in the writing of it. But all we can live or admire in him is only some glimpse of your glory that peeps through the ragged garments of humanity;  all the contribution he has made is only a part, and a small part, of the sufficiency which is your gift…

Into your hands then I remit this book, undedicated …But some of us – and perhaps , a the roots of our being, all of us — cannot forego that search for truth in which full satisfaction is denied us here. We apprehend that there is no encounter with reality, from without or from within, that does not echo with your foot fall. We scrutinize the values, and can give no account of them except as a mask of the divine. Something of all these elusive considerations finds a place in my book. And you, who need nobody’s service, can use anybody’s . So I would ask that, among all the millions of souls you cherish, some few, upon the occasion of reading it, amy learn to understand you a little and to love you much.
Robert Hugh Benson, introduction to his unfinished translation of Story of A Soul

Evelyn Waugh’s Opposition To Vatican II
His dislike to the reform movement was not merely an expression of his conservatism, nor of aesthetic preferences. It was based on deeper things. He believed that in its long history the Church had developed a liturgy which enabled an ordinary sensual man (as opposed to a Saint, who is outside generalization) to approach God and be aware of sanctity and the divine. To abolish all this for the sake of up-to-datedness seemed to him not only silly but dangerous…he could not bear the thought of modernized liturgy. ‘Untune that string,’ he felt, and loss of faith would follow…Whether his fears were justified or not only ‘the unerring sentence of time’ can show.
Christopher Sykes

Reflections on Vatican II
We were concerned to sacrilize the world, not to secularize the Church. We may have wished do simplify the altar, in so far as we bothered about such things at all; we had no desire to displace it for a kitchen table. The Latin of the Mass was not only familiar but numinous, and we had no wish to barter it for a vernacular which has justified our worst fears. We did not wish priests to dress like parishioners, anymore than we wished judges to dress like jurymen. We were anti-modernist and even, except in aesthetics, anti-moderns; radical only in the sense that we wanted to get down to roots, not in the sense that we wanted to pull them up. We were more anxious to preserve the values of an ancient civilization than to set about the construction of a new one….Something has happened far beyond the intention of the Councilor Fathers and thir attendant periti…the psychology of adherence to Catholicism has subtly changed; authority is flouted; basic doctrines are questioned; and the boundaries of what is understood by the church are almost indefinitely extended. The vernacular Liturgy, popular and pedestrian, intelligible and depressing, has robbed us of much that was numinous in public worship; there is less emphasis on prayer and penitence; and the personal relationship between God and man.. is neglected in flavour of a diffused social concern.
Robert Speaight, The Property Basket

The Inferno And Today’s Society
That the Inferno is a picture of human society in a state of sin and corruption, everybody will readily agree. And since we are today fairly well convinced that society is in a bad way and not necessarily evolving in the direction of perfectibility, we find it easy enough to recognize the various stages by which the deep of corruption is reached. Futility; lack of a living faith; the drift into loose morality, greedy consumption, financial irresponsibility, and uncontrolled bad temper; a self-opinionated and obstinate individualism; violence, sterility, and lack of reverence for life and property including one’s own; the exploitation of sex, the debasing of language by advertisement and propaganda, the commercializing of religion, the pandering to superstition and conditioning of people’s minds by mass-hysteria and ‘spell-binding’ of all kinds, venality and string –pulling in public affairs, hypocrisy, dishonesty in material things, intellectual dishonesty, the fomenting of discord (class against class, nation against nation) for what one can get out of it, the falsification and destruction of all the means of communication; the exploitation of the lowest and stupidest mass-emotions; treachery even to the fundamentals of kinship, country, the chosen friend, and the sworn allegiance; these are the all-too-recognizable stages that lead to the cold death of society and the extinguishing of all civilized relations
Dorothy Sayers, Introductory Papers on Dante

Malcolm Muggeridge On Christianity
I love the paradoxes of Christianity. Christianity is to life what Shakespeare is to literature; it envisages the whole. It sees the necessity for man to have spiritual values and it shows him how to get at those through physical sacraments.

Edwin Muir On Grace
I think that if any of us examines his life, he will find that most good has come to him from a few loyalties, and a few discoveries made many generations before he was born, which must always be made anew. These too may sometimes appear to become by chance, but in the infinite web of things and events chance must be something different from what we think it to be. To comprehend that is not given to us, and to think of it is to recognize a mystery, and to acknowledge the necessity of faith. As I look back on the part of the mystery which is my own life, my own fable, what I am most aware of is that we receive more than we can ever give; we receive it from the past, on which we draw with every breath, but also – and this is the point of faith – from the source of the mystery itself, by the means which religious people call Grace.

Edwin Muir on Ancestral Patterns
Hugo von Hofmannsthal once said that true imagination is always conservative. By this he may have meant that it keeps intact the bond which unites us with the past of mankind, so that we can still understand Odysseus and Penelope, and the people of the Old Testament. Or he may have meant something more: that imagination is able to do this because it sees the life of everyone as the endless repetition of a single pattern. It is hard to explain how we enter into past lives if this is not done. We become human by repetition. . . . Every human being . . . will pass through the ancestral pattern, from birth to childhood and youth and manhood and age and death. He will feel hope and fear and love and hate and perhaps forgiveness.

Edwin Muir On A Child’s Mind
I have often fancied, too, that in a child’s mind there is at moments a divination of a hidden tragedy taking place around him, that tragedy being the life which he will not live for some years still, though it is there, invisible to him, already. And a child has also a picture of human existence peculiar to himself, which he probably never remembers after he has lost it: the original version of the world. I think of this picture or vision as that of a state which the earth, the houses on the earth, and the life of every human being are related to the sky overarching them; as if the sky fitted the earth and the earth the sky. Certain dreams convince me that a child has this vision, in which there is a completer harmony of all things with each other than he will ever know again.

Edwin Muir On The Imagination
Time wakens a longing more poignant than all the longings caused by the division of lovers in space, for there is no road back into its country. Our bodies were not made for that journey; only the imagination can venture upon it; and the setting out, the road, and the arrival: all is imagination. … To the mind’s eternity I turn, With leaf, fruit, blossom on the spray, See the dead world grow green within Imagination’s one long day.

Edwin Muir, The Horses
Barely a twelvemonth after The seven days war that put the world to sleep, Late in the evening the strange horses came. By then we had made our covenant with silence, But in the first few days it was so still We listened to our breathing and were afraid. On the second day The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no  answer. But on the third day a warship passed us, heading north, Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth  day A plane plunged over us into the sea.  Thereafter Nothing. The radios dumb. And still they stand in corners of our  kitchens, And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million  rooms, All over the world. But now if they should  speak, If on a sudden they should speak again If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak, We would not listen, we would not let it  bring That old bad world that swallowed its  children quick At one great gulp. We would not have it again.


Reading Selections on the Topic of Resurrection

August 25, 2009

HandbookWhat Does It Mean To Believe That Jesus Rose From The Dead?
What does it mean to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? For one thing, it means that those who follow him will do the same. 1 Corinthians 15:12-23: But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

But what do the words mean?…The words in the earliest creeds are anastasis sarkos and anastasis nekron which mean the standing up (or getting up) of the flesh” and “the standing up of the corpses” Both expressions are as concrete as possible. Anastasis is a word of bodily posture, Sarkos and Nekron mean that the real concrete bodies of the dead will rise. What kind of body this resurrection body wil be , is not a simple question. Jesus’ resurrection body evidently had something very strange about it, for his disciples and close friends did not recognize him at first, yet later they did. Paul’s analogies in 1 Corinthians 15 do not remove the mystery: But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall webear the likeness of the man from heaven.

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.Where, O death, is your victory?”

Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

C.S. Lewis On The Resurrected Body
The best description may come from C.S. Lewis: “The best picture is not what we expected…It is not the picture of an escape from any and every kind of Nature into some unconditioned and utterly transcendent life. It is the picture of a new nature in general, being brought into existence…That is the picture – not of unmaking but of remaking. The old field of space, time, matter and the senses is to be weeded, dug and sown for a new crop. We may be tired of that old field; God is not…A new nature is being not merely made but made of an old one. We live amid all the anomalies, inconveniences, hopes and excitements of a house that is being rebuilt. Something is being pulled down and something is going up in its place. It is at this point that awe and trembling fall upon us as we read the records. If the story is false, it is at least a much stranger story than we expected, something for which philosophical “religion,” psychical research and popular superstition have all alike failed to prepare us. If the story is true, then a whole new mode of being has arisen in the universe.”

C.S. Lewis On The Resurrection
The Resurrection was not regarded simply or chiefly as evidence for the immortality of the soul. It is, of course, often so regarded today: I have heard a man maintain that “the importance of the Resurrection is that it proves survival.” Such a view cannot at any point be reconciled with the language of the New Testament. On such a view Christ would simply have done what all men do when they die; the only novelty would have been that in his case we were allowed to see it happening. But there is not in Scripture the faintest suggestion that the Resurrection was new evidence for something that had in fact been always happening. The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the “first fruits” the “pioneer of life.” He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because he has done so.

From the earliest times the Jews, like many other nations, had believed that a man possessed a “soul” or nephesh separable from the body, which went at death into the shadowy world called Sheol ….like the Hades of the Greeks…In much more recent times there had arisen a more cheerful belief that the righteous passed at death to “heaven.” Both doctrines are doctrines of the “the immortality of the soul” as a Greek or a modern Englishman understands it; and both are quite irrelevant to the story of the Resurrection. The writers looked upon this event as an absolute novelty.

Modernists On The Resurrection
The resurrection of Christ must be clearly distinguished form what the modernists put in its place: a “resurrection of Easter faith” in the hearts of the lives of the disciples. “Easter faith” without a real Easter is a self-contradiction or a self-deception. It is faith in what is not rather than faith in what is. And if it is a faith in faith, then we ask: faith in faith in what? Faith is like knowledge; it is essentially intentional. It needs an object other than itself. Otherwise it is a hall of mirrors. Faith in faith is also perverse and unnatural. It is an attempt to get the taste of the meat without eating it, and is related to faith in facts as masturbation is related to copulation. It is spiritual auto-eroticism. There is no other.  The disciples could never have experienced such a resurrection of faith and hope without a literal resurrection, If it wasn’t the risen Jesus, then who transformed them and converted the world?

The Christian Connection With Their Bodies
Christians believe in a special connection between themselves and their bodies. Without their bodies they are not really complete. Christians also believe that God made them to live with him forever, not in disembodied souls, but in the glorified body raised up in he resurrection on the last day. …what you believe about life after death depends very much on what you believe abut God. If God exists, and if God has destined us for eternal life, then there is really no problem about the means for self-conscious experience. God will provide them.

At the death of the body and before the general resurrection, God is fully capable of providing the means by which we enjoy his presence. No doubt …this will be very unlike the way we now experience…Christians also believe that the human person is a mysterious unity of matter and spirit. There is part of us that is extended in three dimensions and takes up space: this we call “matter.” But there is another facet of the unity we are which cannot be thought of in that way; this is the part of us we call “spirit.”  Scripture says that God breathed life into lifeless matter, and that image of breath and life is most appropriate to the nature of spiritual being. The human spirit animates matter, gives it what vital energy and gathers it into a living organic unity. That is what God created it to do.

Thus Christians believe that a human spirit exists for a body; it was made to exist in matter as its life-giving principle. This means that all those parts of human life that seem most essentially spiritual, like knowing and choosing also involve the body; the spirit experiences through the body. And so human life involves a most intimate relation between these two sides of our being: matter needs spirit to bind it into a functioning unity; spirit needs matter to release its potential for pursuing and enjoying all the goods, moral and intellectual, proper to human life. That is why Christians look forward to the resurrection of the body. It is part of their belief that the soul without the body is incomplete; that the full and complete person is present on the last day when matter and spirit, transformed and redeemed, are joined together in the resurrection of the just.


Freedom in the Bible

August 24, 2009
The Isenheim Altar

The Isenheim Altar

One of the things I find in reading forum discussions is a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of freedom, particularly as it applies to the human being from the standpoint of God and the Bible. So I revisited a thin volume, The Christian View of Humanity by John Sachs, which I had read on Christian anthropology for one of my classes. Here is a reading selection on that idea of freedom:

“For the Bible, God’s sovereignty and human freedom go hand in hand. Human freedom, as a sharing in God’s dominion, is grounded in God’s own sovereignty, before which it is, therefore, ultimately responsible. God, not the human creature, is alone Lord of heaven and earth.

The mystery of creation is that there can be anything which is different from the infinite, boundless God. Christian faith understands the existence of the created world as the utterly free and gracious action of God. But according to biblical faith, God’s Word does not call creation into some kind of merely factual existence, but to being-with-God. To be means to live with God, to participate in some way in God’s life. When the Priestly writer tells us that God found all that God had made to be good, he is not referring to a moral quality or transcendental characteristic. He is speaking about the desire and delight that God has in relationship with creation. The smile of a mother holding her baby at the breast (Isaiah 49:15) images God’s delight in her creation: “It is good that you are here.”

This means something quite astounding, something which we don’t often take seriously. We are really free to be, free to be ourselves, different from God. The real freedom of the world is what God most intensely desires and is its greatest good. For, only in freedom can there be a real relationship of love in which each of the lovers takes delight in the mystery of the other. The Covenant and the history of its fulfillment bring this to expression. This is a matter of the heart, of personal relationship. The Lord freed the people from slavery in Egypt and called them to abandon the false gods in whom there is no life. “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). The sovereignty of the Lord over the cosmos is of secondary interest to Israel. What is of utmost importance is the fact that God has created a people and, like a husband speaking tenderly to his wife, has betrothed it to himself in faithfulness and steadfast love (Hosea 2). creation and Covenant find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, whose own person reveals what loving union between God and humanity really means, and in his Spirit, who is God’s love poured out into our hearts (Romans 5:5). “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Freedom is from God and for God. On its deepest level, it is the capacity and responsibility to be in loving relationship with God. It is the gift of love, the capacity for love and it finds its only true fulfillment in love.

Action, Desire and Choice
According to the Scriptures, in creating the world out of love in order to be its lover, God made a partner not a puppet. Meaningful talk about freedom is rooted in the experience of ourselves as real agents. If we were not capable of real action, if we were completely determined in our activity by forces over which we have no control, then it would not make sense to speak of freedom. What we do matters. If our actions were of no real consequence for ourselves and for the world, it would make no sense to speak of freedom.

We experience ourselves as agents; our action is characterized by intentionality and self-conscious choice. This is one of the key things which distinguishes us from the other creatures. Of course, not everything that we do, or all of the things happening while we act, are intentional. At this very moment, my cardiovascular system is working away. Since I am in good health, I am completely unaware of it most of the time. But as a result of it and many other processes I am able to write this book. That is a matter of intention and choice. It is action in the strict sense of the term. And it is an experience of freedom.

Intentional agency is the basic experience of freedom. It cannot be demonstrated or disproved by neutral observation. On its simplest level, it presupposes real options and the ability to choose from among them what it is I decide to do. Of course, none of us has an unlimited range of options. We exist in a particular context and are determined to some extent by a whole matrix of relationships within it. For example, our genetic make-up is a given, as is the particular place and period of history in which we are born and live. From earliest childhood, we are all shaped in profound ways by familial and cultural forces about which we have no choice and over which we can exercise little control. They greatly influence the development of character and personality and evidently predispose us to certain kinds of interests and patterns of behavior. But our genetic, historical and cultural heredity does not determine in advance precisely what each of us will do in a given situation. Within such parameters there is a wide range in which I can determine what I want to do and how I desire to live.

Our ordinary experience of freedom is in making such choices. Of course, some choices matter more than others. Students like the freedom to choose which of several questions they will answer on a final exam. All of us like the freedom to decide what clothes we are going to wear and what we are going to eat for lunch. But after student days have passed, exams do not seem so important. And decisions about food and clothing (so the birds of the air and the lilies of the field are meant to remind us) ought not to be the most important choices we make. Such things usually have little impact on the world or on ourselves as persons. The freedom to choose one’s religion, country, home, profession, friends, and partner is considerably more basic to human life and dignity. The choices we make in these matters have a substantial and lasting impact.

The most important exercise of freedom, the most important choice we make in life, however, does not have to do merely with a particular thing or course of action. It has to do with our very selves. Freedom is the capacity to choose who I am going to become as a person. Life is not only a gift, it is a task as well. We are not merely objects thrown into existence, determined by others and outside influences. We are also subjects, responsible agents, persons who are challenged to say something, to do something, to become someone. At times, it can seem so overwhelming that we try to run away from it, either asking others to tell us what we should do or become or simply resigning to a fatalistic determinism. Freedom may be scary and unsettling at times, but we do have real choices to make about our lives. We cannot avoid them.

According to thinkers as diverse as Maurice Blondel, Karl Rahner, John MacMurray, and Eric Erikson, we are constituting our very selves through such choices. The values I choose to live by, how I deal with those aspects of myself and the world which I can’t change, the profession I choose to dedicate most of my time and energy to, how I choose to treat my family and respond to the needs of those around me — all have a profoundly formative influence, both upon myself and upon others. The “real me” is not a predetermined statistic of heredity. Each of us is becoming a certain person in a process of self-actualization which takes place in the concrete choices he or she makes throughout life. Moreover, experience teaches that human action has an enduring, cumulative effect. The capacity for good and evil, for loving and hating grows in action. Our freedom itself is always on the line. Through our actions we are always becoming more or less human, more or less free to be in the life-giving relationships of love with others and with God for which we were created.

You are what you do? In a certain sense, yes. Of course, not everything we do is conscious and intentional. Not everything we consciously choose to do involves our deepest self and even if it does, there is always the possibility of a change of heart, for better or for worse. Consequently, no person can be reduced to a single action he or she performs, or even to the sum of all past actions. Nonetheless, many theologians correctly point out that in the important choices of life, taken together as a whole, each of us makes what might be called a fundamental option which forms the deepest core of our personal identity. It expresses our basic attitude toward self, others and God and informs subsequent particular decisions we make. Thus, it is clear that for real human growth in freedom, attention to the basic direction and underlying attitude which is taking shape in my life is much more important than any particular choice or action in itself. For precisely in my free responses, I am deciding to be in a particular way and, therefore, to become a certain person. We see, therefore, that beyond the level of choice among options, human freedom is the capacity and responsibility for self-determination.

While freedom certainly entails the ability to change one’s mind or to have a real change of heart, its goal is not infinite options or endless revision. As a matter of fact, change just for the sake of change is often a sign of immaturity or great unfreedom. In many respects, we are freest when, no longer torn in different directions by a multitude of possibilities, we can at last surrender to one of them whole-heartedly. We have moved from a superficial level of freedom as the ability to change constantly to the depth dimension of freedom as the ability to “get it all together,” to reach some kind of personal wholeness and integral identity which lasts. Freedom is really the capacity finally to commit oneself, to “become somebody,” not to be somebody different every day. As the great catholic theologian Karl Rahner put it, “freedom is the capacity to dispose finally of oneself, to make oneself once and for all.” This is the central project of our adult lives.

At any given moment in life, we stand between a past already determined by the choices we have made and an undetermined future of different possibilities. The very existence of options and the importance of choosing make us aware of deeper questions:

What do I really want? What am I hoping to accomplish? Who do I wish finally to become? These are the questions of desire and they are fundamental to our understanding of freedom. Desire is the affective side of freedom. Freedom is the capacity to desire.

What is it that we most deeply desire? I suppose the most basic answer is “life.” Life is found only in relationships with others. To be alone is to die. Our basic desire for life and fulfillment is what leads us outside of ourselves. Freedom is the capacity for such self-transcendence, the power to reach out beyond ourselves. We desire to know about other things and persons and to be in life-giving relationships of love with them. If we pay attention to these experiences, we can see that our desire is open-ended, unbounded. It never comes to rest. Learning and loving always seem to leave us restless, hungry for more. Our desire for life is unrestricted; no single object or person completely satisfies it. Moreover, our experiences of life and love, as deep and life-giving as they might be, are all fragile, often damaged, sometimes destroyed by human failures and ultimately threatened by death itself. Throughout our lives, the desire which drives us in our interaction with other people and things is looking for life and love which is full and lasting. This is what Augustine meant when he said that our hearts will never come to rest until they rest in God. What we most deeply desire is God. God alone is life and love in unsurpassable fullness.

But can the infinite God really be the fulfillment of human beings, who as finite creatures remain radically different from God? Is the divine life a real goal and end which can be reached, or does God remain a silent, ever-receding and unattainable horizon? Christian faith proclaims that in Jesus Christ, God has drawn near, become human. The infinite capacity of human “nature” is revealed definitively and irrevocably in the humanity of Jesus, far beyond all notions of intimacy and partnership which we found in the stories of Genesis. Created human freedom is ultimately a real capacity for God. Its unrestricted openness is truly an image of and capacity for God’s infinity; its never-ending desire made for eternal life and love. If we are really capable of being one with God, then nothing else but loving union with God will make us whole and entire. Only God can be the “object” of a complete, unconditional, final, and finally fulfilling choice.

This is what human freedom is finally for. This is where human freedom comes to its fulfillment. But how do we “choose” God, how do we enter more fully into God’s love? God does not appear on the scene as one distinct “object” among many others to be chosen and loved. God’s presence is mediated. The fundamental and abiding medium of our real relationship with God is this world, God’s beloved creation. The only mode we have of experiencing God, of relating with God, of accepting God in love or turning from God in selfishness, is in terms of this world and our action in it. In all that we do, we are at least implicitly taking a stand with respect to God and God’s offer of life.

Edith Stein, a Carmelite philosopher who was gassed by the Nazis, once said that those who search for the truth are looking for God whether they know it or not. Modifying this slightly we could say that whenever we really love this world or any part of it, truly and honestly for what it really is; whenever we respect it, hope for it, care for it; whenever we attend to the needs of the least of our brothers and sisters — we are meeting and loving God, whether we realize it or not. This seems to be the message of Matthew 25, especially as we ponder the surprise expressed by the just, who did the loving, human, everyday things, without experiencing them explicitly in a religious way. This is why Karl Rahner and Piet Schoonenberg stress that the love of God and the love of neighbor are really one. Only love can make us truly free and bring us the wholeness we call salvation.

In Jesus Christ, and in the Kingdom which he preached, Christians may see the freedom to which they are called. None of the apostles preached this more passionately than Paul, who exhorted the Galatians to hold fast to the freedom which was theirs in Christ, a freedom which builds community and enables loving, creative service (5:13). He makes it clear that true freedom is not merely freedom from; it is a freedom for. It is not merely the autonomy of the Enlightenment. It goes far beyond the “rights” of the individual in modern society. It is a freedom for others, a freedom for service, a freedom for love. It is the freedom to be with and for the others, the freedom which is the heart of true community.

This is what God wills; this is all God desires. It sums up the Law. In everything else God has truly made us free. Can we really believe that Christ has set us free for freedom (Galatians 5:1), with no other “hidden agenda,” no new set of rules and regulations. God wishes us the real freedom to become lovers and so enter into the fullness of life. I do not think it matters much to God how exactly each of us desires to do that. Augustine put it beautifully: “Love and do what you wish.”

It is clear that our freedom is itself something which needs to be set free. In some manner, each of us suffers from the imprisoning effects of sin in the world. All of us are to some extent caught up in ourselves, unable to reach out freely to others. It is hard to love, especially when it requires sacrifice and promises no romantic payoff. Disordered affections or addictions often frustrate or prevent loving relationships. It is not always easy to get in touch with the deepest desires of our hearts, to know what I really want to do or become. In this context, it is easy to understand why the NT almost always speaks about freedom as a grace of God, the gift of the Spirit which overcomes the selfishness and slavery of sin. We shall consider this in greater detail in subsequent chapters.

In the end, therefore, freedom does not refer so much to the rights of private, individual human beings, as it does to the foundation of a living communion of love. Freedom is the capacity and responsibility for human community and divine communion.



August 21, 2009
You Can't Handle The Truth?

You Can't Handle The Truth?

Christians are people dedicated to living in the truth, because Jesus described himself as the Truth (John 14:6). We who worship Jesus cannot live in falsehood, because he is the criterion by which true and false are discriminated, the light in which the difference between good and evil is seen. Those who wish to live in the shadows must marginalize him, as Pilate did rhetorically — “What is Truth?” (John 18:38) — and as his own townspeople did more directly:

“They led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff” (Luke 4:29). But if we accept him as Messiah and Son of God, we must live the truth that he is, even when it costs us.

A key aspect of the peace treaty that emerged after the wars of religion and that helped to define modernity was a sweeping tolerance with regard to moral and metaphysical viewpoints. Because Europeans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were not able to adjudicate such questions without violence, it was deemed wiser simply to accept a wide variety of opinions on ultimate matters, and this agreement has been largely accepted in the modern (and postmodern) West, What this has led to, of course, is a suspension of conflict (at least in some cases) but also a bland relativism, or even indifferentism, in regard to the most compelling and interesting questions that face us.

In the social theories of John Rawls and Stanley Habermas, we find the modern peace treaty vividly on display. In order to secure real justice for all, Rawls argues, the participants in a society must operate behind a “veil of ignorance,” setting aside their personal convictions, preferences, and commitments. Thus they produce, at least in theory, a community without prejudice in favor of any particular person or group. Of course, in the process, they also produce an utterly beige society, void of those very depth-level commitments that make human life interesting and rich.

And Habermas holds that the good and just community is tantamount to a place where the dynamics of effective, open communication are fostered and respected. In his ideal scenario, the many representatives of a pluralistic society are assembled around the table of democratic conversation, and persuasive argument based solely upon a generally accessible reason is the guiding method. The problem here is that the voices of those who hold convictions through faith (and who do not therefore accept the canons of reasonableness proposed by Habermas) are systematically excluded from the conversation. The assumption behind both theories is the typically modern one that religious commitments are essentially unjust and violent and must, accordingly, be marginalized.

In the film The Contender, this modern hostility to religion is, refreshingly, out in the open. One of the characters comments to another: “Church and state were separated in this country, not to protect religion from the state, but to protect the state from religion.” But nowhere is the peace treaty more radically expressed than in the extraordinary PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF SOUTHEASTERN PA. v. CASEY decision of the United States Supreme Court in regard to abortion. Carrying the modern setting- aside of religious and metaphysical truth to its logical extreme, the justices commented: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, of the mystery of human life.” In the interests of holding together a pluralist society, the justices leave the determination of the deepest and most important questions wholly to the whim of individuals, freedom having completely trumped truth.

But Christians can have no truck with this form of liberalism, for we do not think that Christ’s truth can be bracketed or set aside for the purposes of an ersatz peace. In fact, we sniff out behind the rhetoric of inclusion and tolerance a rather fierce violence against religion in general and Christianity in particular. Rather, we are convinced that authentic peace and liberty will be achieved only in correlation to the Word of God which appropriately grounds them. Paul can say, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” and he can proclaim himself “a slave of Christ Jesus” (Romans. 1:1), because he is not saddled with a modern conception of freedom. He knows that when we are enslaved to the truth that appeared in Christ, we are free to realize who God wants us to be. Pope John Paul II stands in this Pauline tradition when he insists, in Veritatis Splendor, that freedom and truth must always be yoked together, lest freedom lapse into arbitrariness and truth devolve into oppression.

George Weigel has written that the Beatitudes — with their promise of eternal happiness for the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted — teach us that our acts have the most profound consequences, because what we do makes us into the kind of people we are. And what we are determines what we can be; for God calls into the happiness of his own beatitude all those who have made themselves into a gift living the Beatitudes…Lord Acton insisted Freedom is not the power to do whatever we like. Instead freedom is having the right to do what we ought. Freedom and goodness are intimately, inextricably related…like learning the piano…anyone is free to pound away at the piano…a rudimentary savage sort of freedom which cloaks an incapacity to play even the simplest pieces accurately and well. Those who have done their exercises have really mastered the art of playing the piano and by becoming artists they have acquired a new freedom. This deeper, richer, more human freedom is a matter of gradually acquiring the capacity to do what we choose with perfection….We are made for a freedom that is lived by developing the habits of mind and heart — the virtues that enable us to satisfy our natural attraction to happiness, our natural disposition toward the good….To grow in a moral life is to develop our moral habits so that we know and do what is good almost as a matter of instinct. That is how we grow into the kind of people who can live with God who is all goodness

Hence, a key practice of the Christian church is the telling of the truth, even when it hurts – it helps us grow. Stanley Hauerwas reminds us that one of the first pastoral interventions described in the Acts of the Apostles is a truth-telling that shames two people right into their graves. So much for the Christian minister as one-sidedly kind and gentle! And it is surely significant that the entire coterie of Jesus’ apostles (John excepted) died martyrs’ deaths. Disciplining one’s speech in the interests of getting along did not seem to be, for them, a high priority. Can we read that terrible and wonderful book of martyrs, the Apocalypse of John, without seeing the power of bold, truthful proclamation in the early Christian church? And the cloud of witnesses grows up and down the Christian centuries, taking in a huge number in the century just concluded: Padre Pro shouting “Viva el Cristo Rey” to his executioners; Franz Jaggerstatter and Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenging to their dying breaths the lies of Nazism; Dorothy Day enduring taunts, imprisonment, and marginalization because she spoke of Christ’s nonviolent love in the midst of a war-loving society; Martin Luther King taking an assassin’s bullet because he insisted on being a drum major for New Testament justice.

And in the last decades of the twentieth century, Christian truth-telling was, once again, dangerously at work. Václav Havel, the president of the Czech Republic and one-time dissident playwright, commented on the role that he and his fellow writers played during the dark years of communist domination in eastern Europe during the 1970s. In a society dominated by lies, they decided simply to tell the truth. They knew that Communism thrived on untruths concerning God, human nature, and social structures, and they realized, furthermore, that the tissue of deception held together only because of the constant threat of arrest or, in direst circumstances, military intervention. Like the guileless child in the tale of the emperor’s new clothes, Havel and his companions resolved not to cooperate with an illusion supported by fear. For their troubles they were, of course, arrested and persecuted, but through their speaking and writing they, in Havel’s words, “cleared out a space for the truth,” And into that space people came and found they were able to move; and soon, more joined them, then more and more — until the society of lies was no longer able to sustain itself

Something very similar happened in Poland during the l980s. When John Paul II arrived in his homeland for his first visit as pope in 1979, his countrymen came out by the millions to hear him, despite numerous obstacles — physical and psychological — thrown up by the communist regime. In a remarkably prescient editorial, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said that, in the wake of that visit, communism in Poland was finished. This was before the formation of the Solidarity trade union and a full decade before the actual fall of the Soviet-backed regime. But what Brzezinski saw was millions and millions of people moving into a space of truth that the pope, by his words and presence, opened up. In the face of that, the illusion simply could not be maintained, no matter how many tanks and bombs defended it. And the forced dispelling of the illusion is precisely what took place throughout the eighties in Poland, aided and abetted at key moments by a pope who wasn’t afraid to speak the truth about God and humanity.

What I hope these last few paragraphs have made clear is that Christian truth-telling in the twentieth century has challenged both of the great ideological options of the modern era. Both liberalism (by bracketing the truth in the name of freedom) and communism (by distorting it in the name of justice) have become the enemies of Christ’s truthful church. And this is why both have tried — the first more subtly and the second more brutally — to silence that dangerous community.

Now having seen the necessity of prophetic speech in the Christian church, what can we say about the rules that ought to govern and limit that speech? Because the central message of Jesus is compassion, because the Lord names sin clearly and then reaches out in love, the discipline of Christian truth-telling must be this: even true speech, offered in a spirit of retribution and hatred, is to be avoided because it undermines itself, becoming spiritually false in the very act of utterance. Or to state it more positively: Christian speech is true, not only to its object, but to itself only when it is realized in love. John Shea formulated a principle in this regard that is as helpful as it is difficult: criticize someone precisely in the measure that you are willing to help that person deal with the problem that you have raised. If your commitment to help is nil, you should remain silent; if your willingness to help is moderate, your critique should be moderate; if you are willing to do all in your power to address the situation with the person, speak the whole truth. This is not unrelated to Aquinas’s point about relating anger to justice: one could be perfectly right in one’s criticism, but morally wrong if that critique is not made in the real desire to ameliorate the problem.

Another extremely helpful guide to the practice of truth-telling is found in Matthew 18, where we find a sort of moral application of the principle of subsidiarity. Jesus is instructing his community in the difficult task of correcting an errant brother or sister: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one” (Matthew 18:15), Avoid the practice of gossiping and complaining to others about a grievance; rather, confront the person who has offended you directly and courageously. That way, the difficulty is addressed, the loving concern of the complainant is evident, and the process of rumor, attack, counterattack, innuendo, and scapegoating is arrested.

Now, if the person does not respond to this loving intervention, “take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Matthew 18:16). Thus, the wider community is involved, but only minimally — enough to bring the offender to repentance. Only if this small circle of the church is ignored should one bring the complaint to the whole community. What is so rich here is the pursuit of the issue (since speaking the truth, even when it is dangerous, is essential), coupled with a deep care for the person in question and also for the entire family of the church (since love is our constant call).

And then the wonderful conclusion: “and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). This sounds, at first, like a total rejection, but then we recall how Jesus treated the Gentiles and tax collectors — eating with them, pursuing them, drawing them into the circle. There might be a moment of rejection and expulsion in the process of fraternal correction (as we can see, for example, in the Pauline epistles), but it is only provisional and only for the sake of eventual reconciliation,

St. Augustine, who was never afraid to speak the hard truth when necessary, followed the recommendations of Matthew 18 very concretely. Over the table in his episcopal residence where he dined with the priests of his diocese hung a sign that read: “If you speak ill of your brother here, you are not welcome at this table.” And it is said that the bishop of Hippo would enforce the rule, pointing to the sign when one of his charges began complaining or gossiping.

Most of the above was adapted from The Strangest Way by Fr. Robert Barron with the asides and additions duly noted.


Avery Cardinal Dulles on Love, the Pope, and C.S. Lewis

August 20, 2009
The late Cardinal Avery Dulles

The late Cardinal Avery Dulles

Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, has two clearly distinct parts. In the first it deals with the nature of love and of charity, the highest form of love; in the second it treats the charitable activity of the Church. Most of the commentaries have focused on the second part, which raises interesting questions about the relation of Church and state, charity and justice. But the first part also merits careful study, for the encyclical is not primarily concerned with ethical problems but rather with communicating a philosophical worldview in which the Church’s ethical teaching concerning love, marriage, and sexuality is intelligible.

In a famous 1908 study of the theology of love in the Middle Ages, the French Jesuit Pierre Rousselot identified two basic approaches: the more self-centered and the more altruistic. Some medieval thinkers emphasized love as desire (amor concupiscentiae); others emphasized love as benevolence or friendship (amor benevolentiae or amor amicitiae). Rousselot did not find two clear-cut schools in the Middle Ages, but he did find two tendencies. Theologians heavily influenced by Aristotle, such as Thomas Aquinas, argued that creatures who are imperfect continually seek to perfect themselves by embracing what is congenial to their nature. Rousselot called this theory of love “physical” in the sense of natural. The opposite theory, which emphasized self-forgetfulness and sacrifice, Rousselot called “ecstatic.” He found it in certain writings of the Victorine and Cistercian schools and especially among the Franciscans (Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus).

St. Thomas, though he exemplified the natural theory, was more successful than others in reconciling the two points of view. Taking his departure from Aristotle, he held that everything seeks its own good, but he added that God was the common good of the whole universe and that human beings, by their spiritual nature, were open to union with God. “Just because every creature belongs to God naturally by everything it is,” wrote St. Thomas, “it follows that by the very movement of its nature a man or an angel must love God more than itself.” Human beings, in particular, are made in the image of God and thus tend to the divine likeness as their own perfection. St. Thomas, then, while remaining fundamentally in the Aristotelian tradition, escaped the trap of egocentrism.

Some twenty years after Rousselot, the Swedish Lutheran theologian Anders Nygren gave a different analysis in his well-known book Agape and Eros. He agreed that there are two types of love: the self-seeking, which he called eros, and the self-giving, which he called agape. Holding that only agape was truly Christian love, he argued that such thinkers as Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius, under the influence of Neoplatonism, had taken the wrong path. They improperly commingled the biblical idea of agape with the Greek philosophical idea that the soul was in quest of the divine as the supreme goal of its innate longing. Medieval theologians, therefore, mistakenly thought that God drew all things to himself by his infinite goodness. In Nygren’s estimation, Augustine and the whole medieval tradition failed to grasp the true Christian idea of agape, which meant a totally free gift, unmotivated by any need or desire on the part of the recipient. For Nygren, we are faced by a clear choice between two types of love; no compromise or synthesis between eros and agape is possible.

Writing in France about 1939, Denis de Rougement, son of a Swiss Protestant pastor, also drew a sharp contrast between eros and agape. The idea of eros as a frenzy or divine delirium, he maintained, was characteristic of the mystery religions, Plato, and the Neoplatonists. Love as a dark passion continued to make its appearance in various forms of Manichaeanism and medieval legends such as that of Tristran and Isolde. Whereas eros seeks to escape from the flesh and flee into a world beyond, agape represents God’s embrace of this world and is symbolized by the marriage of Christ and the Church. De Rougement, like Nygren, confronts us with a stark choice between eros and agape.

And yet, as Martin D’Arcy points out in his fine work The Mind and Heart of Love, Nygren and de Rougement have different conceptions of both eros and agape. De Rougement characterizes eros as an irrational passion that is always discontented with earthly and temporal existence; it moves the lover to a total surrender of self and absorption into the All. For Nygren, on the other hand, eros is an intellectual and possessive form of love. As for agape, de Rougement sees it as an affirmation of this world and an acceptance of human limitations, including human life in its concrete conditions. Nygren, on the other hand, sees agape as an act of sovereign freedom, arbitrary in nature, totally unconcerned for human needs and values.

In summary, Christian thinkers tend to integrate the love of desire with the love of generosity or friendship. They grapple with the problem of showing how a love originating in desire can rise to the point of becoming purely disinterested and sacrificial. The Protestant thinkers we have examined set up an unbridgeable gulf between eros, as a passion arising from below, and agape, as a totally altruistic gift from on high. Catholicism, here as elsewhere, stands for a both/and; Protestantism, for an either/or.

In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict does not narrate the history of the problem but goes directly to the issues, taking eros and agape as the two principal forms of love, thus accepting the problematic of Nygren (though he reaches a different solution). He begins by distinguishing various meanings of eros. Citing Friedrich Nietzsche as a champion of eros as a passion for the infinite, he asks whether Nietzsche was right in charging that Christianity has poisoned and destroyed eros, forbidding us to taste the happiness God has prepared for us.

Nietzsche, Benedict says, is not wholly wrong. The Old Testament firmly rejects eros, if by it one means the “divine madness” that flourished in the fertility cults of ancient paganism and in rites such as temple prostitution. Biblical religion declared war on this intoxicated and undisciplined eros because, instead of elevating its votaries to the divine, it degraded them and stripped them of their dignity. Christianity equally opposes the modern tendency to equate eros with sexual and sensual self-indulgence, turning the body into a mere instrument of pleasure, an object to be bought and sold. The body in this hedonistic view is separated from the spirit and reduced to the status of a thing to be exploited at will.

Quite different, however, is the idea of eros that prevailed in classical philosophy, including in Plato and the Neoplatonists. Accepting this view in modified form, Christian spiritual writers have maintained that all men and women are born with a longing for a beatifying vision of God. They harmonize biblical passages on the ecstasies of Moses, the prophets, and Paul with the Neoplatonist mysticism that found its way into the patristic tradition.

Eros in this theological sense, according to Benedict, is not incompatible with agape. Eros inclines us to receive the gifts of God; agape impels us to pass on to others what we ourselves have received. Eros, then, corresponds to the ascending moment in the spiritual life whereby we turn to God, from whom every perfect gift descends. Eros and agape belong together as two phases of the same process. If we did not receive, we would have nothing to give; and if we were not disposed to give, we would be spiritually unprepared to receive.

In their highest expression, the two types of love reinforce each other. Contemplation of the divine gives us the spiritual strength to take upon ourselves the needs of others. Pope Gregory I explained how Moses, by engaging in dialogue with God in the tabernacle, obtained the power he needed to be of service to his people. Similarly, to become sources from which living waters flow, we must drink deeply from the wellsprings of life. The more deiform we become, the more capable we will be of agape. Conversely, the more concerned we are with service to others, the more receptive will we be to the gifts of God. This will become more evident if we examine what revelation has to tell us about the divine love, the next stage of our investigation.

For Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, God was the supreme object of love, but he was not himself a lover. Biblical revelation, however, gives us a totally different picture of God. John in his first letter makes the bold statement “God is love.” According to Christian theology, all God’s actions regarding the world are motivated and ruled by love. He does not create because of any need in himself but solely out of desire to share something of his own perfection with creatures. God’s action in salvation history is dominated by the mercy and forgiveness that proceed actively and freely from him.

Benedict describes even divine love in terms of agape and eros. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God is and displays agape. His goodness communicates and diffuses itself. But because God lacks nothing, some theologians deny that there is anything in him corresponding to eros. The encyclical gives a more nuanced answer. It says that God’s love for man “may certainly be called eros.” (In a footnote, it cites Pseudo-Dionysius as calling God both eros and agape.) Because Scripture describes God’s love by metaphors such as betrothal and marriage, the pope thinks it important to recognize that God has a true affection for the persons he loves. But, Benedict adds, God’s eros for man is also totally agape.

The pope is careful to note that God’s love is not selfish and acquisitive. It is not the “ascending” love usually called eros. It corresponds neither to the egocentric desire described by Nygren nor to the dark passion described by de Rougement under the name of eros. But God’s love for creatures includes an element of desire (concupiscentia). He lovingly wills that persons still on the way to salvation achieve the blessedness to which they are called. In saying that God’s eros is also agape, the pope recognizes that God’s desires for his creatures are for their good, not his own.

When reading the English translation, I was surprised to find that the encyclical describes God as “a lover with all the passion of true love.” After speaking of God’s “passion for his people,” it later calls God’s love “passionate.” I asked myself with some anxiety whether the pope was contradicting Thomas Aquinas and the normative theological tradition, which denies that there can be any passion or passivity in God. But, on consulting the original Latin text, I found that the pope never uses passio or its cognates in this context. In the passages just mentioned, he calls God’s marital affection for his people not a passio but a cupiditas (desire) that is fiery (flagrans), not passionate, and has the vehemence (impetus), not the passion, of true love.

This being said, we must recognize that the pope is on guard against allowing the realism of the Bible to be attenuated by the detachment of the philosophers. In his early book Introduction to Christianity, Professor Ratzinger, as he then was, charged that the philosophical idea of God was too self-centered and intellectualistic. God’s love, he contended, was not an unfeeling idea. Now, as pope, he insists that God, far from being self-enclosed, involves himself in the world he has created. The prophets speak of God’s relationship to Israel as that of a bridegroom to a bride, or a parent for a child, and the New Testament depicts Christ as the bridegroom of the Church. These metaphors imply bonds of deep affection.

It is by no means accidental, the pope believes, that Holy Scripture fixes on the metaphor of marriage to express the relationship between God and Israel and later between Christ and the Church. Among creatures, he declares, eros begins with a kind of passionate seeking but leads on to a communion with the other that can satisfy the lover’s craving and supply what the lover lacked. The Song of Songs was accepted into the Hebrew canon because it was read as an allegory of the soul’s mystical marriage with God. Marriage could not fulfill its purpose except by being a permanent and exclusive bond, making the two lovers “one flesh.” “Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love.”

The extravagance of God’s love, according to Deus Caritas Est, is dramatically shown forth in the Incarnation and Redemption. “God so loved the world,” says St. John, “that he gave his only Son.” The gospel parables express the way in which God goes in search of the lost sheep. The death of Jesus on the cross is love in its most radical form.

Pope Benedict notes that as love grows it becomes less covetous and more concerned with the good of the other. The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might. Our love of God must be continually purified. In order to love God with a pure, unselfish love surpassing our affection for any creature, we need the help of divine grace. Love of God in the sense of friendship with him could not be commanded unless it were first given. Twice in his encyclical, the pope refers to the statement in John’s first letter, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.”

Besides emphasizing the priority of grace, Deus Caritas Est is remarkable for the emphasis it places on the palpability of God’s love as it comes to us through the Incarnate Word. This emphasis is also characteristically Johannine. John in his first letter speaks of how he and others have seen and heard the Word of Life whom he proclaims. Benedict dwells on the many ways in which God makes himself tangibly present to us: through the love story encountered in the Bible, through the public life of Jesus culminating in the mystery of the cross, through Christ’s risen life; through the saints who reflect his loving presence; through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist; and through the Church’s whole life of prayer and worship. All these manifestations of God’s extravagant love for us evoke on our part a response of generous and grateful love
for him.

In the final sections of Part I, Benedict speaks of the ways in which the mutual love between God and humanity results in new relationships of love within the human family. Jesus links the first commandment given in Deuteronomy with the commandment to love one’s neighbor given in Leviticus. The two commandments, says Pope Benedict, are so intertwined that they become one.

St. Thomas Aquinas, who works in terms of an Aristotelian virtue ethics, explains that charity is a single infused virtue but that it expresses itself in two distinct acts: love of God and love of neighbor. God is to be loved simply because of himself, but creatures are to be loved because they actually or potentially reflect divine perfections or because they are means that lead to God.

Working more from Scripture and experience, Pope Benedict reaches similar conclusions. Love of God and neighbor, he says, support each other. Religion becomes rigid and formalistic if it is divorced from communion with our neighbors. Relations with our neighbors, conversely, have no depth unless we can find in them the image of God. If we have learned to encounter others based on a genuine communion with God, we can truly love those whom we do not like or even know. We become capable of looking on them from the perspective of Jesus Christ and, as it were, with his eyes. Thinking and willing in union with the Lord, we experience a spiritual communion of minds and hearts with others who are also in communion with him.

Love of neighbor and love of God are most strikingly realized in the Church as the body of Christ. The sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist are social in nature. Besides uniting us vertically, as it were, with Christ, they unite us horizontally with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Holy Communion draws us out of ourselves and thus toward union with all other Christians. In the words of Saint Paul, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” It is impossible, says Benedict, to possess Christ simply for ourselves, for we belong to him only in company with all who have ever belonged to him. Every authentic celebration of the Eucharist therefore passes over into concrete acts of love.

Part I of the encyclical ends on this note. The concluding sentence reads, “Love is ‘divine’ because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a ‘we’ which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is ‘all in all’ ” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Deus Caritas Est, in its first part, maps out the elements of a rather complete theology of love. In my estimation, the encyclical should be classified as a theological rather than a philosophical document. The sources it cites as authorities are for the most part biblical and patristic. When it cites philosophers, it does not treat them as authorities. It speaks of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, but in each case the purpose is to point out how they failed to attain the full truth of biblical revelation. Patristic theologians such as Augustine, Gregory I, and Pseudo-Dionysius, by contrast, are always cited with the intention of reaffirming their views.

Interestingly, the encyclical makes no reference to scholastic authors, not even to Thomas Aquinas. The pope does not disagree with St. Thomas, so far as I can see, but he concentrates on the biblical and patristic roots, perhaps to make his theology more accessible. It is also noteworthy that the encyclical does not mention modern scholars who have traced what they have called the “problem of love” in its medieval and modern history. The pope, I suspect, does not wish to embroil himself in the scholarly disputes between Protestants and Catholics, or even among Catholics themselves. On the whole, his position resembles that of Rousselot, but he does not mention Rousselot or follow his debatable reading of St. Thomas and the medieval tradition.

Benedict instead moves the question forward by showing that the positive features of eros and agape can be combined in the highest expressions of human and divine love. In order to effect this synthesis, he is of course required to exclude certain sensual and demonic forms of eros. Although some authors prefer to say that God’s love is not erotic, the pope prefers to assert that eros in God coincides with agape.

A further question is whether the reality of love is exhausted by eros and agape. Pope Benedict mentions a third Greek term, philia (“friendship”), but he does not indicate whether it is reducible to the other two. In his well-known 1960 book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis has chapters not only on eros and agape but also on friendship, which he treats as a distinct species of love. Friends, he says, are not oriented primarily toward one another, as lovers are, but toward a common task or area of interest. Erotic love is exclusive and jealous, whereas friendship is open and inclusive. Two friends are normally pleased to find a third and a fourth to join them.

Aristotle and other ancient philosophers praised friendship as the highest form of love. Cicero, among others, wrote a treatise on it, as did medieval authors such as Aelred of Rievaulx. In the gospels, Jesus calls his disciples friends and expects them to be ready, as friends must be, to lay down their lives for one another. The virtue of friendship has fallen into neglect since the rise of the romantic theory of love in the nineteenth century. Even today, friendship is little esteemed. Friendship with persons of the same sex, Lewis remarks, is sometimes disparaged as a hidden form of homosexuality. But Lewis shows that the properties of friendship and sexual love are very different, even contrary to each other. Perhaps, at some future time, Benedict will supplement Deus Caritas Est with a deeper examination of friendship.

The doctrine of the encyclical could also be developed by a discussion of the Latin term caritas, which appears in the title but is absent in the first part of the encyclical, except in several quotations from Scripture. For Augustine, St. Thomas, and their followers, caritas, or charity, is the highest form of love. It is an infused theological virtue, inclining us to love God and our neighbor with an affection that is a participation in the love proper to God.

C.S. Lewis communicates the same idea in less technical language. Eros and agape (which he prefers to designate as “Need-love” and “Gift-love”) can exist, he says, on either the natural or the supernatural plane. When, with God’s help, our Need-love rises to the point where we recognize our total dependence on God’s love for us, it can become a form of charity. And so likewise, when our Gift-love is so graced that it goes out to include persons who are naturally unattractive and unlovable, it deserves to be called charity in this theological sense of the word. Pope Benedict, it seems, has something similar in mind when he says that love at its most perfect combines in itself the qualities of eros and agape.

At the end of The Four Loves, Lewis makes an important statement that he does not develop at the length it deserves: Grace can arouse in us a higher kind of love than either eros or agape as he understands them. God, according to Lewis, “can awake in man, towards Himself, a supernatural appreciative love. This is of all gifts the most to be desired. Here, not in our natural loves, nor even in ethics, lies the true center of all human and angelic life.”

Earlier in the book, Lewis had drawn a helpful contrast among three forms of love: “Need-love cries out to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says ‘We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.” Corresponding to what the Scholastics called amor complacentiae, it rejoices in the consummate perfection of the divine. As Lewis’ citation from the Gloria indicates, the Church’s earthly liturgy contains anticipations of the hymns of the angels before the throne of God. They no longer seek from him anything that they do not have, nor do they intend to give him anything he might desire. They worship and praise him with loud hosannas, not because they thereby benefit either God or themselves but simply to express their love.

In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI makes no mention of appreciative love, nor does he discuss the love of the saints in heaven. Nevertheless, from his writings on the liturgy, one may suspect that he would be open to the idea that caritas tends to an eschatological fulfillment that, in the opinion of Lewis, transcends the earthly realizations of eros and agape alike.

 A “Fan Page” for the late Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.  is  at with articles, videos, etc.


The Spirit of Early Christian Thought

August 19, 2009

Robert_Louis_Wilken_The_Spirit_Of_Early_Christian_Thought_smROBERT LOUIS WILKEN is William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia. Wilken is interested in the history of Christianity and Christian thought, particularly the use of the Bible, how it was read, and how it shaped culture. I enjoyed one of his books, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, immensely. In the introduction Willken writes: “The intellectual tradition that began in the early Church was enriched by the philosophical breadth and exactitude of medieval thought. Each period in Christian history makes its own unique contribution to Christian life. The Church Fathers, however, set in place a foundation that has proven to be irreplaceable. Their writings are more than a stage in the development of Christian thought or an interesting chapter in the history of the interpretation of the Bible. Like an inexhaustible spring, faithful and true, they irrigate the Christian imagination with life-giving water flowing from the biblical and spiritual sources of the faith. They are still our teachers today.”

Previous (mid nineteenth century and earlier) interpreters of early Christian thought felt that it was so Hellenized by cultural osmosis that it has been the standard interpretation to view it from the standpoint of Greek thought and not the other way around. The latter, namely that it was Christianity which radically changed the secular world is what Wilken demonstrates in this gem of a book. While the book is informative and authoritative for students of theology, it is also inspiring for those of us who seek lectio divina in readings outside the Bible as well. Here are a listing of the Table of Contents: 1. Founded on the Cross of Christ 2. An Awesome and Unbloody Sacrifice  3. The Face of God for Now 4. Seek His Face Always 5. Not My Will But Thine 6. The End Given in the Beginning 7. The Reasonableness of the Faith 8. Happy the People Whose God is the Lord 9. The Glorious Deeds of Christ 10. Making This Thing Other 11. Likeness to God 12. The Knowledge of Sensible Things

Following my custom, here are reading selections from the book to give you some things I was mulling over as I read it and a taste of what is between the covers.

Christianity and Thought
Christianity is more than a set of devotional practices and a moral code: it is also a way of thinking about God, about human beings, about the world and history. For Christians, thinking is part of believing. Augustine wrote: “No one believes anything unless one first thought it believable…Everything that is believed is believed after being preceded by thought…Not everyone who thinks believes, since many think in order not to believe; but everyone who believes thinks, thinks in believing and believes in thinking”

How God Is Known
When speaking of how God is known, the Bible seldom speaks of insight or illumination or demonstration; rather it says that God appeared, did something, showed something, showed himself or spoke to someone, as in the beginning of the book of Hosea: “The word of God spoke to Hosea” (Hos 1:1). Accordingly, the way to God begins not with arguments or proofs but with discernment and faith, the ability to see what is disclosed in events and he readiness to trust the words of those who testify to them.
By presenting his embrace of Christianity as a conversion to a way of life that is “sure and fulfilling,” Justin let his readers know that the truth of Christ penetrates the soul by means of our moral as well as our intellectual being. The knowledge of God has to do with how one lives, with acting on convictions that are not mere premises but realities learned from other persons and tested by experience.

The Expression “Seeing God”
The expression “Seeing God” is to be understood in the sense of the words from the Gospel of John: ”Who sees me, sees the Father.” …If the logos truly became flesh, there is a sense in which whoever sees Jesus, sees the Logos, whether pure of heart or hard of heart, whether in unbelief or in faith….In the Scriptures, seeing something is never simply beholding something that passes like a parade before the eyes; it is a form of discernment and identification with what is known. What one sees reflects back on the one who sees and transforms the beholder. As Gregory the Great will put it centuries later, “We are changed into the one we see.” There can be no knowledge of God without a relation between the knower an God. To see light is to share in light and to be enlightened. In the words of Irenaeus, “just as those who see the light are illuminated by the light and share in its brilliance, so those who see God are in God and share his splendor.” In the scriptures, says Origen, the term know means “to participate in something” or to be “joined in something.”…in response to Celsus’s mocking question as to why God descended to human beings, Origen says that it was ”to implant in us the happiness which comes from knowing him.”

Christian Thinking
Christian thinking did not spring from an original idea, and it was not nourished by a seminal spiritual insight. It had its beginnings in the history of Israel and the life of a human being named Jesus of Nazareth, who was born of Mary, lived in Judea, suffered and died in Jerusalem, and was raised by God to new life,. That the history was the history of God’s self-disclosure does not make it any less historical, but it does mean that what is seen with the eyes is not the fullness of what there is to see.

Res Gestae and Res Liturgicae
As Christina thinking was grounded in the events that happened in the Bible, the res gestae, the things that had taken place, so it was nourished in worship by the res liturgicae, the things enacted in the liturgy… ”present grace” [a phrase used in res liturgicae] refers not simply to the grace that f lows from Christ’s Resurrection, but to the actual liturgical celebration of the Resurrection…Nothing in the mind can ever have the solidarity and mystery of what is seen and touched. By constant immersion in the res liturgicae, early Christian Thinkers came face to face with the living Christ and could say with Thomas, the apostle, “My Lord and God.“ Here was a truth so tangible, so enduring, so compelling that it trumped every religious idea. Understanding was not achieved by stepping back and viewing things from a distance but by entering into the revealed object itself.

The Holy Scriptures
…the word that came forth from Jerusalem, the “heavenly word’ was the divine Logos who had become flesh in the person Christ and lived on this earth. Through his song men and women had been brought back to life, the eyes of the blind had been opened, the ears of he deaf unstopped, the lame had learned to walk, the rebellious been reconciled to God, and through him.. We were able to “see God.” Generation after generation this Word of God, the Divine Logos had spoken to God’s people in the words of Moses, in the oracles of the prophets, in the exhortations of the proverbs, and finally in the writings of the apostles, particularly the gospels. These writings Clement calls the “holy scriptures” or “divine scriptures” and he sees them as a guide to a holy life and a source of truth. “Free of pretensions of style and elegant diction, of useless and beguiling words, they raise up those who have been drawn down by vice and offer a firm path amidst the treacheries of life.”

Imitation of Christ
Ideas do not exist disembodied from language. When Plato’s “likeness” is paired with the biblical expression “image of God” and interpreted as “imitation of Christ” it acquires a meaning that cannot be found in Plato. Likeness to God has become concrete, visual, human, accessible. No longer is it simply a philosophical ideal; it was embodied in the life of an actual person who lived on this earth, Jesus Christ. The goal toward which human strive has already been reached by someone who shared human life an suffering, and by looking at Christ it is possible to know what likeness to God meant for human beings.

The Bible
The Bible is a book of events with consequences, not only for those who lived through them or were influence by them, but for all men and women. Its meaning turns on the history it records, whether it be God’s creation of all things at the beginning of time, the sin of Adam, the giving of the Law to Moses, Christ’s birth from a virgin, or his resurrection on the third day…”Just as through the disobedience of one man, the first made from the virgin earth, many were made sinners and lost life, so it was necessary that through the obedience of one man, the first born of a Virgin, many should be made righteous and receive salvation.” [Iraneus]

Key To Understanding the Bible
The key to understanding the Bible, then, was what had happened in Christ. In Augustine’s words, the “dispensation of divine providence in time” that is, “what God has done for the salvation of the human race to renew it and restore it.”…It is a story, in medieval theology, of a going out from God, an exitus, and a return to God, a reditus. “This then is the ordering of our faith…God the Father, uncreated, incomprehensible, invisible, one God. Creator of all. This  is the first article. The second is the Word of God, God the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord who was revealed to the prophets…At the End of Times, to sum up all things, he became man among men, visible and palpable, in order to destroy death, and bring to light life, and bring about holy communion with God. And third is the Holy Spirit, by which the prophets  prophesied and the patriarchs were taught about God and the just were led into the path of justice, and who in the end of times was poured forth in a new manner upon men all over the earth renewing man to God.” [Iraneus]

Seeing Oneself In What Is Written
Gregory took he phrase to be an interpretation of the prodigal son, who had journeyed to a far country only to squander his inheritance, When the country was ravaged by a great famine he became so hungry that he would gladly have eaten the slop fed of swine. At that point in the parable he realizes how grievously he has sinned against his father and the evangelist says, “He came to himself” (Luke 15:17). How is it, asks Gregory, that a person who is always with himself can be said to have “come to himself” The phrase, says Gregory, means search one’s soul continuously and see oneself always in the presence God and attend to one’s life and actions. Job came to himself when he heard the words of God, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 28:4)…it is right for us to be brought back to our own hearts by the things that were said to holy Job. For we understand the words of God more truly when we ‘search out ourselves in them’

Reading and Growing With The Scriptures
Gregory’s …statement of the mysterious relation between reader and text occurs in his homily on the famous allegory of the living creatures and the wheels in the first chapter of the prophet Ezekiel. The text reads “Now as I look at the living creatures, I saw as wheel upon the earth beside he living creatures…And when he living creatures went, the wheels went with them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose” (Ezekiel 1:15-19). Gregory took the wheels o be the Scriptures and he living creatures to be readers of the Scriptures…the Scriptures grow with the reader. The more profoundly one understands the Scriptures the more deeply one penetrates into them. The wheels would not be lifted up if the living creatures had not been lifted up. But if the living creature moves and seeks the path that leads to a virtuous life, and through the footsteps of he heart learns to do good works, the wheels keep pace with him. You will progress in understanding the Holy Scripture only to the degree that you yourself have made progress through contact with them.

My Lord and my God!
….at the very beginning of Christianity when Jesus’s disciples were still observing Jewish  traditions yet following Christ. During Christ’s lifetime his followers did not grasp fully who he was. Even though some of his sayings imply that he had a unique relation to God, and he performed miracles and revealed his heavenly glory to his most intimate followers at his Transfiguration on the mount, his disciples did not have eyes to see who he was. They had sound theological reasons for their opacity. They knew by heart the words of the Sh’ma, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord.”…How could a faithful Jew who had recited the Sh’ma since childhood, whose prayers were addressed to God the King of the universe, address Christ as God or Son of God, as the earliest Christians did?. ..the answer is that the Resurrection of Christ transfigured everything. When Jesus came and stood among the disciples and put his finger in his side, Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!”. When confronted with the risen Christ, one does not say “How interesting.”…

God Is Not Alone: Hilary of Poitiers
Because  of the resurrection Thomas recognized that the one he knew, who had lived among them, was not just an ordinary human being but the living God, “No one except God is able to rise from death to life by its own power.” writes Hilary. But his argument runs deeper…not only that the Resurrection revealed something about Christ to his disciples, namely that he is God…but also caused them to think about God differently…Thomas understood the whole mystery of the faith, for “now” that is, in the light of the Resurrection, Thomas was able to confess Christ as God “without abandoning his devotion to the one God”. .his confession is a recognition that God was not a solitary God or a lonely God. God is one says Hilary [The Trinity] but not alone.

Only after the Resurrection did Thomas and others know what Jesus meant when he spoke of his unique relation to God. In the same way it wa only after the Resurrection that the followers of Jesus knew what to make of passages from the Old Testament on Wisdom. Wisdom leaped, as it were, out of the shadows into the clear light of day. Now Christians were able to identify Wisdom with an actual historical person, with events that had taken place in time and space, and give Wisdom a name, Jesus Christ  As a consequence Wisdom acquired features that were not apparent before the coming of Christ, that is before the economy (Knowledge of the Triune God: Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost in the early Church) and reflection on the nature of wisdom helped Christians to understand the mystery of God.

The New Testament and Divine Relations
Augustine wants to say more than that the gift of the Holy Spirit creates a communion between God and the believer; he insists that “relation” is also characteristic of the divine life. For the spirit is the “bond of love” and the “communion” between Father and Son, and the sending of the Holy Spirit not only reveals the Spirit’s role in bringing human beings into fellowship with God, but also displays to us the love that unites the Father and the Son in a divine communion. In some passage biblical writers speak not only of the work of the Spirit in the economy (Knowledge of the Triune God: Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost in the early Church), but also of the spirit within the life of God. A key text is Corinthians: “…but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:  For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?  But we have the mind of Christ.”…As God is revealed in human beings, so is the life of God. .. The New Testament makes the divine relations constitutive of God…If God is Father, not only creator, and Christ is son, not only redeemer, then the relation between them  is an essential feature of the divine life. If God is not solitary and exists always in relation, there can be no talk of God that does not involve love. Love unites Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, love brings God into relation with the world, and by love human beings cleave to God.

St. Augustine on Seeking God
There can be no finding [God] without a change in the seeker. Or minds must be purified he (Saint Augustine) says and we must be made fit and capable of receiving what is sought. We can cleave to God and see the Holy Trinity only when we burn with love…”Seek as those who are going to find, and find as those who are going to go on seeking.”…“When a man has finished, then it is that he is beginning.”

Christ’s Life Is A New Way
Matthew:  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
The acceptance of the cup of suffering was Christ’s free act. The salvation that the eternal son had willed “in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit.” …Christ now shows himself to be a new kind of human being. The human will is not less human but more human because it is in harmony with the divine will…Christ’s life was new, not only because it was strange and wondrous to those on earth, and was unfamiliar in comparison to things as they are, but also because it carried within itself a new energy of one who lived in a new way” (Maximus the Confessor)

The account in Genesis shows that the world did not come into being “spontaneously as some have imagined” but rather was “brought about by God”. If one is to understand what is seen with the eyes, one must first have eyes to see what the eye cannot see: “Anyone who does not …enjoy fellowship and intimacy with God is unable to see the works of God.”…unless one recognizes that God is the creator of the universre, they will see noting as it truly is…”The starting point says Basil [Basil Bishop of Caeserea], “must be that an intelligent cause stands behind the birth of the world” When it is recognized that the intelligibility of he world is derived from something beyond itself, everything comes into focus. Creation displaces cosmology. When the scripture says that “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” it rules out any form of naturalism. The world is not random or disordered, it came into being not by chance or spontaneously, but by God’s wisdom and love. …But the term arche does not mean beginning in the sense that beginning implies time…beginning means that creation was a single divine act in which matter was created as well as knitted together. Matter does not exist without form. Moses does not say that “God worked” or God formed”, but “God created”…Basil sets forth the Christian teaching that the world was created ‘out of nothing” by a free and gratuitous act of God: The creator of the universe, whose creative power is not bound by one world but transcends all bounds, brought into being the vast extent of the visible world solely by the movement of his will…Creation is the work of God’s wisdom, of “artistic reason”, not a matter of arbitrary chance or power. When the text of Genesis says Spirit of God, it does not mean the movement of air…it refers to the Holy Spirit…The Holy Spirit is like a bird that covers her eggs with her body and by her body’s warmth imparts the vital force that will give them life.

The Nature of God and the Nature of the Human Mind
Let those who reflect on the nature of God ask themselves whether they “know the nature of their own mind.” The mind of man is no less a mystery than the nature of God. We do not know ourselves, said Augustine, for “there is something of the human person that is unknown even to the ‘spirit of man which is in him.’” The mystery of the human mind is evidence that human beings are created in the image of God: “because our mind is made in the likeness of the one who created us, it escapes our knowledge. That is why it is reasonable to think that the human mind accurately resembles God’s superior nature, portraying by its own unknowability that nature is beyond our comprehension.”

Freedom in Christian Thought
Gregory of Nyssa speaks of human freedom as moral freedom, the freedom to become what we were made to be. Freedom, as he puts it, is the “royal exercise of the will,” but will is much more than choice, than deciding to do one thing in preference to another. It is an affair of ordering one’s life in terms of its end, freedom oriented toward excellence (the original meaning of virtue) and human flourishing. As we grow in virtue we delight in the good that is God. Hence freedom is never set forth in its own terms but rather is always seen in relation to God. Because Human beings were made in the image of God, our lives will be fully human only as our face is turned toward God and our actions formed by his love. Freedom is as much a matter of seeing, of vision, as it is of doing. We know ourselves as we transcend ourselves and we find ourselves as we find fellowship with God. Happiness, the happiness that gives fullness to life, will be ours only as our will conforms to God’s will. And that finally is found in Christ.

Intellectual Underpinnings Of Christianity
One of the most remarkable features of the intellectual life in the Roman Empire is not only that the church attracted gifted thinkers from the society but also that the writings became the object of serious criticism of the best philosophical minds of the day…The persistence of argument and debate between Christians and pagans over the course of several centuries lays to rest the view that Christianity undermined confidence in the power of reason [Greek/Roman thought].

Origen of Alexandria On Truth
A desire to know the truth of things has been implanted in our souls and is natural to human beings…When our eye sees the work of the craftsman, especially if the object is well made, at once the mind burns with desire to know what sort of thing it is, how it was made and for what purpose, Even more, indeed incomparably more, does the mind burn with desire and ineffable longing to know the design of those things which we perceive to have been made by God. This desire, this love, we believe, has been implanted in us by God. For as the eye by nature seeks light and sight and our body instinctively craves food and drink, so our mind nurtures a desire, which is natural and proper to know the truth of God and to learn the causes of things. Moreover we have not been given this desire by God in such a way that it should not or cannot be satisfied. For if the love of truth were never able to be satisfied, it would seem to have been implanted in our mind by the creator in vain.

The Reasonableness of Belief
Psalm 19: “[Christ] was born, he grew, he taught, he suffered, he rose, he ascended.” Through these events God was made known, hence the truth of Christianity was dependent on things that took place long ago “in one particular region of the earth” and “in time.” It cannot, however, be established as certain and beyond doubt that the events on which Christian faith rests took place. As John Henry Newman once observed, “It is the same fault to demand demonstration of an historian as to be content with probabilities from a mathematician.”

St. Augustine: Religious Knowledge Acquired by Faith
Augustine wishes to say that the knowledge acquired by faith is not primarily a matter of gaining information. The acquiring of religious knowledge is akin to learning a skill. It involves practices, attitudes, and dispositions and has to do with ordering one’s loves. This kind of knowledge, the knowledge one lives by, is gained gradually over time. Just as one does not learn to play the piano in a day, one does not learn to love God in an exuberant moment of delight. If joy does not find worlds, if it does not exercise the affections and stir the ill, if it is not confirmed actions, it will be as fleeting as the last light out of the black west. The knowledge of God sinks into the mind and heart slowly and hence requires apprenticeship. That is why, says Augustine, we must become “servants of wise men.”

St. Augustine: Authority is Part of Knowledge
By making authority a necessary part of knowing, Augustine shifts the question away from What Should I Believe? that is, What teachings should I accept? to the question Whom Should I believe? That is, Which persons should I trust…There are two ways the soul is led to God, by authority and by reason. Authority invites belief and prepares man for reason…The place to begin is not with the truth or falsity of certain teachings, but with the persons whose lives are formed by the teachings…he is speaking about placing one’s confidence in men and women whose examples invite us to love what they love.

Integrity of Christian Authority
One of the most distinctive features of Christian intellectual life is a kind of quiet confidence in the faithfulness and integrity of those who have gone before…We are sustained by the saints an  trail our thoughts behind the truths of others.

The Nature of Christian Knowledge is Based on More Than What The Eyes See
Historical knowledge is not the primary object of faith…First Epistle of John: THAT which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;  (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)  That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.  And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.  This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. …The unusual wording of passage: For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us John saw Jesus with the eyes but he testifies to seeing the eternal word of God, so what he saw with the eyes was not all there was to see.

The Veracity of the Resurrection
Saint Paul’s list of witnesses to the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 only mentions the followers of Christ. Indeed, he begins with those who knew him best. Celsus [Greek Philosopher who questioned Christianity] challenged the veracity of the Resurrection of Jesus on the grounds that all the witnesses were disciples. ….Origen’s answer is that Jesus appeared only those who wee capable of knowing what they were seeing. .When Christ came into the world he did not simply display himself to men and women as an actor on a stage, “He also concealed himself.” God’s voice is not audible to all. Someone who is hard of hearing in the soul will not hear God speaking. Christ said, “Let those who have ears to hear, hear” (Matt 11:15). It is an interior knowing that transforms the knower. As Origen of Alexandria explains, it is not enough to say “Christ was crucified.” ; one must say with Saint Paul, “I am crucified with Christ.” Likewise it is not enough to say “Christ was raised.” One who knows Christ, says, “We shall also live with him” (Romans 6:10).The witnesses to Christ’s resurrection are not reporters who tell of the interesting things that happened one morning in Jerusalem. Without persons who see and believe, God’s mighty deeds are only ancient prodigies and wondrous tales….The text must pass through the life of the lector so that it becomes a living word to the present not a recitation of what someone said long ago. Only then can the congregation hear the lesson as the Word of God.

St. Augustine on Believing in Christ
It makes a great deal of difference whether someone believes that Jesus is the Christ, or whether he believes in Christ. After all, that he is Christ even the demons believed, but all the same the demons didn’t believe in Christ. You believe in Christ, you see, when you both hope in Christ and love Christ. If you have faith without hope and without love, you believe that he is the Christ but you don’t believe in Christ. So when you believe in Christ, Christ comes into you, and you are somehow or other united to him and made into a member of his body. And this cannot happen unless hope and love come along, too.

Imitation And The Virtuous Life
The elementary activities of fashioning a clay pot or constructing a cabinet, of learning to speak or sculpting a statue have their beginnings in imitation. The truth is as old as humankind, but in the West it was the Greeks who helped us understand its place in the moral life, and in the Roman  period it is nowhere displayed with greater art than in Plutarch’s Lives. “Virtuous deeds,” he wrote, “implant in those who search them out a zeal and yearning that leads to imitation…The good creates a stir of activity towards itself and implants at once in the spectator an impulse toward action.”

Redemption And The Incarnation
At one point in the Paradiso Dante asks Beatrice why God willed “precisely this pathway for our redemption,” namely, the Incarnation. Beatrice begins her response by reminding Dante that what she is about to explain to him “is buried from the eyes of everyone whose intellect has not matured within the flame of love.” Unless we invest ourselves in the object of our love, we remain voyeurs and spectators, curiosity seekers, incapable of receiving because we are unwilling to give. With God irony is blasphemy. Only when we turn our deepest self to God can we enter the mystery of God’s life and penetrate the truth of things. If love is absent, our minds remain childish and immature, trying out one thing and another, unable to hold fast to the truth,. Human beings said Dante, are those creatures who “have intelligence and love.”

Christian Life As a “Holy Desire”
Augustine had described the Christian life as a “holy desire”:  “That which you desire you do not yet see; but by desiring you become capable of being filled by that which you will see when it comes. For you as in filling a leather bag…one stretches the skin…and by stretching it becomes capable of holding more; so as desire increases it stretches the mind, and by stretching, makes it more capable of being filled.”


Faith and Sexual Identity

August 18, 2009

therapistThe following is an article from the Wall Street Journal several days ago (August 6th). It traces new developments that run against the corrosive trend in counseling labelled “gay affirming” therapy. “We have to acknowledge,” intones Judith Glassgold, who chaired the American Psychological Association’s task force on the issue, “that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it may transcend everything else.” Oh really? Are we finally acknowledging that gay men and women have a right to join “some people,” that is, people of faith? I’ll hold my breath on that announcement.

Suffice to say, the following article ties itself in knots trying to navigate the essentially unnavigable position that a lifestyle that embraces the “intrinsically disordered” is just fine, unless of course you want to have a life of faith or wish to “frame a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God”  as the journalist who had the thankless task of having to write this article phrased it.

I remember in the 2000 election George W. Bush speaking to the problem of race in America referred to the “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” I admire a well-turned phrase, particularly when it is accurate, and recalled it when reading this article. If you think of it, to all those therapists who deal in “gay affirming therapy,” aren’t they basing their approach on another form of bigotry against people of faith?

Elsewhere on this site you will see my fascination with “acedia,” a form of sin that parodies depression. My therapist allowed me to end my happy pill regimens and begin a life of “prayerful therapy,” if you will. One wonders if this will help allow my gay brothers and sisters in Christ to follow their hearts and to free themselves from the dehumanizing idea that one’s core identity is determined by one’s sexual desires, the grim determinism which motivates those who promulgate the “gay affirming” agendas in our society.

A New Therapy on Faith and Sexual Identity

Psychological Association Revises Treatment Guidelines to Allow Counselors to Help Clients Reject Their Same-Sex Attractions

The men who seek help from evangelical counselor Warren Throckmorton often are deeply distressed. They have prayed, read Scripture, even married, but they haven’t been able to shake sexual attractions to other men — impulses they believe to be immoral.

Dr. Throckmorton is a psychology professor at a Christian college in Pennsylvania and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He specializes in working with clients conflicted about their sexual identity.

The first thing he tells them is this: Your attractions aren’t a sign of mental illness or a punishment for insufficient faith. He tells them that he cannot turn them straight.

But he also tells them they don’t have to be gay.

For many years, Dr. Throckmorton felt he was breaking a professional taboo by telling his clients they could construct satisfying lives by, in effect, shunting their sexuality to the side, even if that meant living celibately. That ran against the trend in counseling toward “gay affirming” therapy — encouraging clients to embrace their sexuality.

But in a striking departure, the American Psychological Association said Wednesday that it is ethical — and can be beneficial — for counselors to help some clients reject gay or lesbian attractions.

The APA is the largest association of psychologists world-wide, with 150,000 members. The association plans to promote the new approach to sexuality with YouTube videos, speeches to schools and churches, and presentations to Christian counselors.

According to new APA guidelines, the therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn’t signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation.

But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says. That might require living celibately, learning to deflect sexual impulses or framing a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God.

“We’re not trying to encourage people to become ‘ex-gay,’” (Oh, God Forbid!) said Judith Glassgold, who chaired the APA’s task force on the issue. “But we have to acknowledge that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it may transcend everything else.”

The APA has long endorsed the right of clients to determine their own identities. But it also warned that “lesbians and gay men who feel they must conceal their sexual orientation report more frequent mental health concerns.”

The new approach allowing therapists to help clients transcend their sexual orientation was developed by an APA task force of six academics and counselors, some active in gay-rights causes, and endorsed by the group’s governing body. Their original mandate was to respond to the growing visibility of sexual orientation “change therapists” who claim it is possible to alter arousal patterns. The task force reviewed scientific literature on change therapy and found no evidence it worked.

But the task force also gained an appreciation for the pain some men and women feel in trying to reconcile their sexual attractions with their faith. There are gay-affirming churches. But the task force acknowledged that for those from conservative faiths, affirming a gay identity could feel very much like renouncing their religious identity.

“They’re faced with a terrible dilemma,” Dr. Glassgold said. The profession has to offer alternatives, she says, “so they don’t pursue these ineffective therapies” promising change.

It isn’t a step to be taken lightly, added Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist and member of the APA task force. “We try to find a balance between what the patient says he wants, what we think is best for the patient, and what is reasonable and feasible,” Dr. Drescher said.

The APA report mentions as one possible framework the approach taken by Dr. Throckmorton, who teaches at Grove City College and has a Ph.D. in community counseling. He starts by helping clients prioritize their values. Then he shows them stock video of a brain responding to sexual stimuli. When the clients see how quickly the brain lights up, they often feel relieved, he said, because they realize that their attractions are deeply rooted.

Dr. Throckmorton says at that point, some clients choose to accept a gay identity. Others, however, say they prefer to live in accordance with their faith.

In therapy that can last years, Dr. Throckmorton says he tries to help these clients accept that their attractions will not go away — but need not define them. Many clients, he said, learn to override sexual impulses, reminding themselves that what looks like an oasis will only “take me farther away from what I really want to be,” as he puts it.

Other sexual identity counselors take a far different approach, teaching that homosexuality stems from an emotional deficit — often caused by bad parenting or childhood abuse — that can be repaired through therapy.

After reviewing 50 years of literature, the APA found no evidence that this type of “reparative therapy” is effective. The studies that claim to show success tend to be small and deeply flawed, the APA said. For instance, some rely on the therapist who has treated a patient to subjectively evaluate how well the therapy worked.

The belief that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice” has faded significantly. But there is little consensus about how sexual orientation develops; the APA suggests it is a complex blend of genetic, hormonal and social influences.

Some gay-rights activists are skeptical of the APA’s new stance, saying they fear for the mental health of men and women who seek to suppress their sexual identity.

“It’s incredibly misguided,” said Wayne Besen, who runs a group called Truth Wins Out, which fights conversion therapy. He says trying to fight their same-sex attractions can cause immense suffering. “People have their lives destroyed,” Mr. Besen said.

Dr. Glassgold, of the APA, said there has been little research about the long-term effects of rejecting a gay identity, but there is “no clear evidence of harm” and “some people seem to be content with that path.”

Alan Chambers, author of a new memoir called “Leaving Homosexuality,” counts himself among the contented. Mr. Chambers, who runs the ministry Exodus International, which teaches people “freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ,” says he still struggles at times with same-sex temptation. But he finds strength and grace in resisting those impulses. When critics say he is in denial, he agrees. But it is healthy self-denial, he says, which he likens to a recovering alcoholic resisting a drink.

“There are a lot of us out there,” Mr. Chambers said, “who simply want to live in congruence with our faith.”

Corrections & Amplifications
This article on the American Psychological Association’s new approach to faith and sexuality incorrectly stated that the APA plans a broad outreach campaign. The chairwoman of the task force on sexuality said she hopes to do such a campaign, but plans have not yet been approved by the APA.


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