Serious Theology

Your religion is mine, and my religion is yours

I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I’m not putting that in quotes, because this is my own profession, not someone else’s. It’s not just the faith of the Church, it’s my faith, and I take a great deal of delight in it. So, please let me elaborate on this beautiful aspect of my faith.

What this means, in the most simple terms, is that your religion is mine, and my religion is yours. The religion of John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene, Ignatius of Antioch, Clare of Assisi, Anselm of Canterbury, Catherine of Sienna, Ignatius of Loyola, Therese of Lisieux, Maximilian Kolbe, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Pope Francis, is all mine!

We are united in our relationship with Jesus. We relate to Jesus as one. All the theology, all the spirituality, all the life of the entire Church, belongs to me! We are truly one body; the Body of Christ. Every time we approach God, in prayer, sacrament, or service, we do so as one, in the one love of Christ.

Here is the authority of Church: that because we are one in Christ, we can never reject the religion of our brothers. If I refuse your relationship with Christ, I have become a schismatic and a heretic, and have rejected Christ Himself. Heresies aren’t born from creative insights, but from narrow-minded and prideful rejection of the divine mysteries that the Church lives. Every single time, without fail, heresy has belonged not to the inquisitive or open minded, but to the proud, judgmental and closed minded.

But how is this to be enacted and maintained throughout the world and across the ages? By the Apostolic succession of the Bishops, who have been entrusted with the whole of the Catholic faith, to guard and pass it on in its entirety. It is the incredible task of the Bishop to contain within himself the entirety of the Church. If that seems impossible, remember that the entirety of the Church is contained in the Holy Eucharist, the Body of Christ, and in the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bishop is, in simple terms, the reference point for the Church. They are the ones entrusted with the faith by Jesus, and they deserve our complete trust too.

So the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. She is one: united in one religion, who is named Jesus Christ; she is Holy: by the holiness of Jesus Christ that she shares in, and that is the source of all she is; she is Catholic: by accepting the wholeness of the truth of Jesus Christ, the truth of God, as found in the whole of the Church and the whole of the world; she is Apostolic: authorised and sent out by Jesus Christ, who was Himself sent by the Father, and by His authority she goes out to whole world, preaching and practising unity, holiness, and wholeness.

Pope Francis Holds Weekly Audience - May 22, 2013

Pope Francis: the Successor of St. Peter

Father, let us be one, as You are one with Jesus Christ Your Son. Amen

 

God bless you!

Trinity Time!

Yesterday, I had two thoughts about the Holy Trinity. The first concerns the three words that characterise Mary’s life in the Bible: Ecce- Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; Fiat- Let it be done to me, according to the word of the Lord; Magnificat- My soul magnifies the Lord.

What I noted is, that Ecce relates to the Father, who we all belong to by our very existence. Fiat relates to he Son, the Word of the Lord, who acts in all creation and is to act in fullness in us. And Magnificat relates to the Holy Spirit, in who we go out, bringing Christ to the world and bring Him glory!

We have received all from the Father. We live and must live fully, in the Son. We must live out, and so be united to, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.

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This is pretty…

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Not how I imagined the Trinity…

The second thought follows on from this: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, also correspond to the past, present and future. The Father is the firm foundation of all existence, from whom we receive all things. The Son is the revelation and presence of God in the world, through whom we have all things. The Spirit is the revealing of God, Father and Son, by whose power God is being conceived and brought forth in creation, in whom all things are.

The past, the present, and the future are intimate united and interwoven (and I’d argue, not as linear as we might suppose). Each is fully present within the others two. The past is revealed not in itself, by in the future, as time passes and the past bears its fruit. It is by the present that we know time (or anything in it) at all. The future is the power of motion within the past and the present, it is the motion and life of them, and the world of possibilities.

To be united with God the Father, who is the source and origin of all Being, all life, all everything, we must be united His Son, the Word of God, the Divine Wisdom, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the ever present expression of God the Father throughout creation. And to be united to the Son and the Father, we must be subject to the Holy Spirit, the divine breath of life, the one moving all creation forwards in God, bringing forth God, forming matter into the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Well, what do you think?

Thanks for reading, and God bless you!

How is Scripture to be read?/What is Scripture?

This question has kept on cropping up for me, whether I consider Catholic interactions with protestants, other faiths, or complete non-believers. A common issue in all such dialogues, is that they consider our Scriptures differently.

An easy example is a non-believer laughing at how, in the Genesis story, the character known as “God” doesn’t want us eating some random apple (which was actually the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”). But this is to read it as a mere story, when it is far, far more.

I think a large part of the blame lies with the protestant dogma of Sola Scriptura, saying that the Bible alone has authority. The basic issue with this is, that no interpretation of the Bible can then have authority, and without interpretation, the Bible literally means nothing. Of course, you can’t read the Bible without interpreting it, so they end up either abandoning any idea of certainty in belief, or only accepting the interpretation that seems to involve the least interpretation (though often this will be ignorant of the nature of what it is supposed to interpret). They must swing between liberalism and fundamentalism; between uncertainty and narrow-mindedness. There is no room for mysticism.

But Scripture is made to be interpreted! I’d go so far as to say that it’s made to have many (true) interpretations. The Scriptures are all, to varying degrees, art. At the time of writing, I believe the distinction had yet to be made between “mere art” and “mere fact”. Indeed, within a theistic universe, such a separation is incoherent! Truth cannot be separated from beauty, nor beauty from truth. All things are thoroughly a part of the whole, and all things must be understood in terms of each other.

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‘I have put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.’

I believe Scripture is the inexhaustible artwork. The Church with one heart and mind has been meditating upon it for near 2,000 years, and is still finding new depths! You may have found some yourself. The works of Shakespeare or Van Goph or Tolkien or Mozart may move us deeply, reveal truths even the artist didn’t perceive, and even transform us, but each has its end. Even if it might seem inexhaustible to us, nothing but Scripture can be meditated upon by a whole society (the Church in this case) for millennia, and consistently surprise us with its depths.

Another way to put it, is that all artwork is a window into a mind. The craftsmanship of the artist determines how clear or opaque the glass will be, and the contents is everything of their mind they open to us. Its worth noting that the artists don’t know or understand everything in their minds, and so are often more profound than they know.

Scripture, then, is a window into the Mind of God. It is mediated through the minds of men, and so is also a window into the minds of its authors, and of the cultures they lived in. But thankfully, these are also God’s creation, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit their minds provided a special window in God’s Mind.

“The Mind of God”… What does this actually mean? I would equate it with the Wisdom of God, the Word of God, the divine Logos: Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the complete and perfect revelation of God. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

All of Scripture serves primarily to reveal the person of the Son of God/Son of Mary. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, He is brought to us, even as by the same Holy Spirit He was incarnate of the Virgin. And by the exact same Holy Spirit, He is to be conceived in you and me.

So, how is Scripture supposed to be read? As a Christian. As a mystic. As personal encounter with God. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Word of God can be opened to us. It is only by the light of Christ that we see Christ.

There is no objective, “scientific” manner of interpreting the Scriptures as Scripture. Not even a little bit. Any doctrine gleaned in such a lifeless way, might or might not be correct… But either way, it will bring the reader no profit, no knowledge of the Truth. We should not read Scripture as a non-believer would (except for God’s grace intervening).

Theology must always be subject to mysticism. Every time this rule is refused, a heresy is born. How do we subject theology to mysticism? By always listening in humility for the Word of God, especially in His body, the Catholic Church. It is through the apostolic Church that Jesus desired to give Himself to the world, and it is there we must seek Him. The Church that is called to encounter God, is simultaneously called to be the encounter with God.

When we read the Scriptures, or do any theology, the only rule is to listen with humility to Jesus, wherever He is speaking to us. The powers of our intelligence are welcome, but they must sit at Jesus’ feet.

 

God bless you

Looking sin in the eye

‘1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbour caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”

‘1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.” Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,” knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.” In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.’
–Catechism of the Catholic Church 1849-50

I wanted to write about sin, so I looked it up, and I was not disappointed. The Catechism is a bit lofty and distant, but in that very way it has such beauty. I don’t say much about sin on this blog. It makes me uncomfortable. But I believe it is good to take a better look at sin, since it’s lent. Here, then, are my reflections:

Sin is separation from God; that is, sin is separation from the deepest Source of all things, and so is separation from all things. There is no harmless sin. Sin cuts us off from everything in existence, including ourselves. Sin is death.

Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it.’ Sin blinds us to God’s love, which is in fact the truth of all things. The whole world and everyone within it look ever more dead and cold, and as such more like objects to be used for ourselves.

Sin is when our will is set against God’s will, which is Himself. God’s will is not a matter of choosing one thing over another like our wills so often are. God’s will is life and love itself. Disobeying God isn’t just proud, it’s absurd. We choose what won’t last, and wouldn’t satisfy even if it did, over life itself! We try to be “gods”, but in doing so, we make the lives we are “gods” over, as pointless and futile as our small-minded desires.

Sin is both the action of separating ourselves from God, by an act of the will, and the resulting state of being separated from Him, in our wills and our living experience. When Jesus was upon the cross, he “became sin”, by truly experiencing the separation from God that is the wages of sin. But he was also perfectly without sin, completely obedient to God, even in this separation from God. He brought righteousness to sin, and brought God to Godlessness.

 

‘1851 It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate’s cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas’ betrayal – so bitter to Jesus, Peter’s denial and the disciples’ flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world, the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.’
–Catechism of the Catholic Church 1851

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This lent, let us turn ever more fully from sin in all its forms, to the Lord Jesus Christ our redeemer. Amen

God bless you!

The Holy Trinity

According to a certain sociology model, in each person there exists an I, a Self and a Me. As I understand it, the I is the person, as they truly are, looking out on the world; the Self is their reflective self-image, their idea of who they are; and the Me is the person they present to the rest of the world. The Self originates from the I, and the Me comes from the Self and the I together. To help explain, I will use an example:

Say someone decides to take a selfie. The I takes the picture; the Self is captured/expressed within the picture, reflecting the I; and the Me posts the picture online, sharing the life of the person with others.

Now to talk Trinity. God knows Himself perfectly, and cannot be deceived, so God’s Self is perfectly identical with God’s I, and so both are wholly God. God’s Me, by which God presents God to the world, is the fulness of God, because God is all good, and loves Himself perfectly, and so has no bad to hide and no good to forge. God’s Me, then, is the love of the I for the Self and the Self for the I, and proceeds from both the I and the Self. The Father corresponds to the I, the Son corresponds to the Self, and the Me corresponds to the Holy Spirit. They are perfectly united, and yet truly distinct. Three in One and One in Three.

The I, Self and Me model can also, I believe, help to explain how people come to be united, and so, by extension, how we come to be united with God. As the Me shares the person’s inner life, if it is accepted, those it is shared with begin to take part in this inner life; they spend more and more time with the person, talking more and more intimately. As this goes on, the outsider grows to be ever more closely identified with the person, entering into the person’s idea of their Self; they consider each other as themselves (even to neglecting their own self), and take ever more joint selfies. And as they enter into the person’s Self, they are even drawn into the I, where they live and work as one, with a single set of desires.

Between people, this process can be bumpy to say the least. Sin and the stain of sin place barriers between us at each point, and our own I, Self and Me are not perfectly united. But with God, He removes all such barriers along the way, and brings us to internal unity. And as a wonderful bonus, this removes the same barriers from our relationships with others, enabling true communion on earth also.

We see this growing into unity with God throughout the scriptures, and especially in the Blessed Virgin, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, whose flesh was made the flesh of the Word, who was united most profoundly to God and so made Queen of Heaven. The Holy Spirit is credited with making the Church the Body of Christ, and with consecrating the Holy Eucharist. It is by the Holy Spirit that we know God’s life, so that we are united to Jesus (especially on the cross), so that we are offered in perfect obedience to the Father.

May God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit bless you

The Ontological Argument for God’s Existence

[This is my favourite argument for God’s existence. I love the idea that God’s existence should be demonstrable, and even undeniable, from absolutely nothing but logical thinking.]

Consider in your mind, the idea of That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought. Whatever That may be, it is impossible to think anything greater.

You have conceived this concept, and so That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought may be said to exist in your thoughts.

Now, either That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought exists outside of your thoughts also, or it doesn’t.

But if it doesn’t exist beyond your thoughts, it would be greater (in thought), if it did exist outside of your mind. But then there could be a greater thought than that which, by definition, is That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought, which is a contradiction. To think of That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought existing outside of our thoughts is greater than to think of That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought, being confined to mere thought.

Hence That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought must exist also beyond our thoughts, in reality.

What about islands?

How about That-Island-Than-Which-No-Greater-Island-Can-Be-Thought? Must that exist too?

No. As a creation, Islands are necessarily limited, and so we must consider them as at most times and in most places, not existing. Now, an island would be greater if it was, beyond mere thoughts, in every place and time (it’s a lot more convenient to me, at least). However, then it would no longer be an island at all (it would be upon its own coast!).

And so, That-Island-Than-Which-No-Greater-Island-Can-Be-Thought, is a contradiction, and cannot exist, either in or beyond thought. While the thought of the verbal formula [That-Island-Than-Which-No-Greater-Island-Can-Be-Thought] does exist in the mind, the actual thing, even as a conception of logic, cannot exist in the mind, because it contradicts the definition of an island.

And the same goes for all finite things.

To help illustrate, consider that there does not, and cannot, exist a greatest finite number. By virtue of being finite, it has a boundary, an end (fin), and hence, it is always possible to exceed that boundary.

In fact, all definitions impose boundaries, and so, the argument does not work for anything that is defined. And so we arrive at the conclusion, that That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought, cannot be defined. And how extraordinarily great It must be, to be too great for our definitions!

St. Anselm of Canterbury, pray for us.

God bless you!

The Present Moment: Living in it and God in it (innit)

What is the present moment? Where is the present moment?

The past is knowable, but can’t be changed. The future is changeable, but can’t be known. Is the present possibly both? The present is given to us, and we have no time in which to either know or change it. Yet at the same time, it is where we live: and living is both knowing and changing. The present cannot be known, but it is the only moment that can ever be lived. The present cannot be changed, but it is the only moment we can ever change the world from. The present is both past and future, with the weaknesses of both, and yet a great power all of its own.

In this infinitely small gap between the past and the future, there is no time for change to occur. And yet, occasionally, a change will occur. Miraculously, each thing becomes something it wasn’t; what was off turns on; and although “trees are green”, trees become golden. Miracles can only happen in the present. While it is future, we have only possibility; once it is past, we have only history; in the present, we have neither, and the impossible can occur.

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I would find it tempting to simply conclude that the present does not and cannot exist, if only it wasn’t where I myself lived. This is possibly the most important fact about the present: I live there, and can’t live anywhere else. The past and the future both reject me, as long as I live, and so I’m forced into this paradoxical moment. It may well be true, that the present only exists for people. Objects make no attempt to know or decide; they just react; they just are. To them, the past, present, and future are all as unknowable and unchangeable, and, ultimately, non-existent.

On the abyss of the present, where we stand both blind and powerless, we exist. Our life makes a paradox of time, and this is its power. The only time we are given is this moment in which we can know nothing and do nothing, and yet, we live: we know ourselves and we change ourselves, and thus we change the world. In the present, we have nothing to give but ourselves.

I’ve heard that the present moment is closest to eternity. I’m not entirely sure how. To God in eternity, all things are known, and yet all are subject to Him. To God, past and future do not exist. Perhaps what they mean, is that God knows and acts, as we do in the present. There exists nothing antecedent to God for Him to know. As we live, and so work, “on the abyss of the present”, so God Himself works “ex nihilo”-out of nothing. God does not know anything as “given”; to God there is no history. God knows us completely and perfectly, but not as facts, but as His own present work: God’s knowledge of us is contained in God’s knowledge of Himself, in His Logos, His Word, His Wisdom, His only begotten Son, through Whom He creates all things.

God is with us in the present. Even in its emptiness, He is with us intimately and profoundly, living and creating ex nihilo, and enabling us to live and create with Him. He dares even to live and create within us.

As the saints and wise people throughout the ages have been telling us, we ought live in the present moment, for the glory of God.

“Jesus, I will not wait; I will live the present moment and fill it with love.”
Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan

“I simply recall that I must live each day, each moment as if it were the last one of my life. I leave aside everything accidental and concentrate only on the essential; then each word, each gesture, each telephone call, and each decision I make is the most beautiful of my life.”
Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan

“It is not the number of our works that are important, but the intensity of the love that we put into every action.”
Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God”
1 Corinthians 10:31

“Happy the soul who reposes in the bosom of God (in sinu Dei), without thinking of the future, but managing to live moment by moment in him, without any other preoccupation than doing well his will in every event.”
St. Paul of the Cross

God bless you!

P.S. I wrote this after reading a chapter of Testimony of Hope, by Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, on the present moment. The more philosophical rambling on time is mine, but the whole thing is inspired by this brilliant chapter of a (so far) brilliant book. I can’t recommend it enough.

I’ve also began (yesterday) to look into “mindfulness”. So far, it seems like its a very good thing, getting people to live in and appreciate the moment. It seems like a welcome remedy for our hectic world. But it seems sad to me, that this is coming from eastern religions and psychologists, when Christians have been doing it for a long time, and with reference to God (which, I believe without evidence, must improve it). It seems we have failed to offer the world the solution it needs, even though we have it plentifully.

Thank you for reading the post-script. God bless you again!!

Why do we love God? Part 2

[Part 1]

We cannot love for anything except love. Then what about the one without love? How could someone without love, ever begin to love? Perhaps, with no choice on their part, they might spontaneously begin to love. But if they don’t choose to, and so it doesn’t come from them, is it really them that loves? If they suddenly have a new will for something, ex nihilo, is it not a different will, and so a different person?

But they could not choose to love on their own either, as they don’t have the love necessary to motivate the choice, and so they are “slaves to sin”, incapable of love (but, according to St. Anselm, still have free will, as they couldn’t lose love without their consent, if they had it). The only way they could ever love again, is by the great miracle known as grace, somehow implanting love with free consent.

I believe grace is the mysterious working of God’s own love, deep inside the sinner, revealing true love to them, and revealing love’s absolute supremacy. It is an experience so radical that the will voluntarily surrenders itself, taking on a new foundation beyond its imagination. The will realises that God’s love is greater than it. In a moment of awe, the will drops all its desires, and accepts God’s love as its own.

In the depths of the sinner, Jesus Christ is revealed, encountered even, and yet revealed as a mystery so profound, it is impossible to grasp, except by its own light- “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” (Is 7:9). The reason we can trust this light, is not because it reflects whatever light we had before, but because it illuminates everything else so gloriously.

‘We love because he first loved us.’
1 John 4:19

‘Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes.’
Lumen Fidei n.26

Perhaps the analogy of a heart transplant applies here. Thanks to modern technology, we can actually live off of mechanical “hearts” (although maybe it’s not quite “living”, as there’s not a real heartbeat…), but eventually, we’ll need to have a heart of flesh transplanted.

‘A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’
Ezekiel 36:26

We cannot give ourselves a heart transplant. When we finally receive a living heart, the difficulty arrives of whether our bodies accept the new heart, or reject it, to their own destruction. The new heart is foreign, and the original body must give a verdict; yet if it chooses to accept the new heart as a part of itself, and so submit itself to the new heart, it will only be able to do so, because of the new life being given by the heart. And, should the body reject the new heart, it will also only have the strength to do so, because of the life from the heart- “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.”

When the heart is changed, the whole body is affected, transforming our whole realities. The heart becomes the body’s, but even more, the body become’s the heart’s, as the heart gives it life, and the body only receives it. And so, by the new heart, it becomes a new body. Likewise, by God’s grace, given entirely gratuitously, but accepted freely, the believer becomes a new creation.

So, we love God, not because if we do, He’ll be good to us, but because He has already been so good to us. “You did not choose me, but I chose you”. We love God because He first loved us.

God bless you!

P.S. This passage from St. Therese’s Story of a Soul seemed relevant, but I couldn’t find a good place for it in this post:

‘One evening, not knowing how to tell Jesus how much I loved Him and longed for Him to be served and honoured everywhere, I thought with sadness that not a single act of love ever ascended from the gulfs of hell. I cried that I would gladly be plunged into that realm of blasphemy and pain so that even there He could be loved forever. Of course that could not glorify Him, for all He wants is our happiness, yet when one’s in love one says a thousand silly things. This didn’t mean that I did not want to be in heaven, but for me heaven meant love and, in my ardour, I felt that nothing could separate me from Him who had captivated me.’

P.P.S. I should perhaps mention, that I originally wrote this with the teaching of John Piper, a leading proponent of “Christian hedonism” in mind, but was uncomfortable attacking the ideas as his, because I feel I really don’t know enough of his teaching to make judgments. Perhaps it is more subtle than it seems… The bit about salvation and condemnation just for God’s glory is definitely his teaching though.

P.P.P.S. I’d also like to say, I have here said some things on matters beyond my comprehension (particularly the end, on grace), and ask you for whatever correction you believe is needed. I feel quite confident of what I have said, but I don’t have the confidence of if I knew the exact same was taught by great saints, that I would very much like.