Theology

The River of Tradition

‘In protestantism, the believer is always looking to the fresh rain of the scriptures, but in Catholicism, the believer looks to the fresh rain of the scriptures, as well as the great torrents of the river of reflection and consideration by the saints upon those same scriptures, going back to their source in the incarnate Son of God. To take this analogy a step further, the puddle corrupts and muddies the water it receives far more than the fast flowing river.’

I wrote this in a post a couple years ago, and I just wanted to post it again on its own.

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God bless you!

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

Mary: Hinge of Salvation

“Let it be to me according to your word.” Lk 1:38

On these simple words, swing the entirety of Creation’s destiny. By Mary’s Yes, God entered and recreated the whole world. By Mary’s humble Fiat, we receive our Salvation, the God-Man Jesus Christ.

But why would God do this? Why would He make His plans so dependent on a creature? Why would He allow anyone else to assist in His plans, let alone be fundamental to them?

Because that’s God. God is humble, and has shared even His greatest work, the salvation and recreation of the universe, with His own creatures. God’s salvation is not just effective, but also intimate, acting not just upon us, but within us (if you don’t believe me, look at Mary when she was pregnant!). And so, God decided to save us from within Mary’s own freedom, so that God’s saving act would be hers too, and so she would be perfectly united to her Saviour.

God’s glory is not diminished a bit, but magnified, by Mary’s crucial cooperation, and the cooperation of all in accomplishing our salvation. By working through His lowly creatures, God makes Himself manifest in them as well as to them.

And the Virgin Mother, is the lowliest of all. That is why she accepts this life, this Son of God, from the lowly God, and why she has glorified God above all the angels in heaven.

If Jesus is the door through which we get to the Father, Mary is the hinge on which this door swings.

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God bless you

 

Catholicism is more free than protestantism

Since joining the Catholic Church, I have found that I’m much more free in my theology and spirituality. Confused? I’ll explain.

As a protestant, I couldn’t tell where orthodoxy ended and heresies began. If I was thinking or praying outside the box, I might be thinking or praying outside Christianity itself. And perhaps scarier, was that I couldn’t even know where others drew the line between orthodoxy and heresy. Without any authority on the matter, either our communion was brittle and easily broken, or our theology and spirituality had to become no more than opinions.

But now, as a Catholic, I am not scared of newness in my religion. The Holy Spirit brings new things, and they are wonderful. As Pope Francis loves to remind us, our God is a God of surprises! We don’t have to be afraid of the new, because, by God’s providence, we are sure of the ancient truths, contained in the deposit of the faith.

And if, God forbid, I say something certainly wrong, the Church can correct me. If the Church doesn’t know what to make of it, it won’t feel threatened, and we can figure it out together, knowing we are still together in the one body of Christ.

And so, Catholic theology and spirituality keeps growing ever stronger, even today. I’d like to remind you, that we too are part of the Church’s apostolic tradition, passing on and developing doctrine under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, protestant theology and spirituality is doomed to either breaking up, with each part closing itself off from others, or (more commonly seen) weakening into no more than subjective thoughts and preferences, even on what were once the hallmarks of protestant orthodoxy.

God bless you

What does it mean to be human?

What does it mean to be human?

The ancient, “in the image of God” sums it up quite nicely for me. I’d put it two ways: it is our ability to reach eternal, invisible truths, such as maths, the laws of physics, beauty, morality, love, humanity, etc. and also our ability to explore and express these in entirely new ways, through our own creativity and shared life. We bring eternity into time. I believe this is what St. Thomas Aquinas was getting at (more or less) when he claimed we each have a “rational soul”.

While animal life, even as far as they are capable of reasoning, is determined by the nature of each species, life for humans has no boundaries imposed upon it, but is capable of reaching/creating entirely new horizons. Humanity is essentially transcendent, innately seeking to go deeper, and express more fully, breaking apart old ways to create new possibilities.

But we see how terribly humans can abuse this power, these new possibilities. We see our great inhumanity. The same scientific breakthrough that allows billions of people to live today, was utilised by the Nazis in their horrific gas chambers. I would argue that our greatest atrocities follow when we sever these two ways; separating eternal truth from our self-creation, and so making our self-creation a mere perversion. Here is, I believe, the original sin, the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.

Our personhood, I believe, refers to our freedom in our relationship, both with these higher truths and with each other. We deny others their personhood (and our own too) when we refuse to relate to them in freedom, whether because we don’t understand, or we are afraid, or we wish for power.

What about those who are unintelligent, or incapable of self-expression? The definition I gave is, I believe, entirely qualitative, and so we do not become “more human” as we become more intelligent or more expressive. Intelligent people often scoff at meaningful questions, while the supposedly stupid often have profound insights (though they also often lack the confidence to recognise them as such). Regardless of intelligence or ability, we have an innate openness to eternal truths, to the divine, and for these to come to the world through us (even those without working brain cells). Indeed, at her very conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was intimately united as spouse to the Holy Spirit of God.

[This originated as a comment on the video.]

God bless you

…male and female he created them

I will begin by admitting that I myself am male, and in the standard ways. To me, women are incredible. I don’t mean they confuse me by their differences from men, or how attractive I find them, or how impressive their skill sets are. I mean that the idea of woman, much as it eludes me, takes my breath away. I really don’t know what woman is, though I feel the biological role of motherhood expresses it beautifully, almost as an analogy (in a similar way, I suspect biological fatherhood is a beautiful analogy of man, though I (as a man) have almost no idea of man at all).

In the Genesis story, Woman is created after Man, from his rib. Perhaps I spent too long accepting this literally, but I believe there is deep truth in this account. I can’t escape the feeling, that there is something primordial about man, relative to woman. Perhaps this is just because, being a man, woman is something special. But I suspect it is more than this.

Woman is created after Adam. In the creation account, perhaps the first thing to notice, is that each day creation is getting better. From just light, we get stars and suns, from just plant life, we get birds, fish, and mammals. Much as you can argue about it being “better”, creation is expanding into new dimensions of its existence, with incredible new possibilities. At the end of this upward progression, God finally creates woman. Yes; I’m suggesting that Woman is God’s finest creation.

And yet, Eve is also from Adam. Man seems to make sense on his own, in a way that woman does not (hmmm… I thought I had “almost no idea of man”…). To use my earlier “analogy”, fatherhood is conceivable without motherhood, but motherhood is inconceivable without fatherhood (pardon the pun), and in a certain way, I feel the same may be true for man and woman. That being said however, it was looking at man sitting on his own, that God said for the very first time, “It is not good…”

With trepidation, here is my suggestion: Man is the ‘wholeness’ of humanity, but woman is the ‘perfection’, though in such a way that men aren’t comparatively imperfect or women comparatively incomplete. The seed contains the wholeness of the tree, but the fruit is its perfection; yet it is ridiculous to claim one is more wholly or perfectly the tree, or that one is greater than the other. Having said that, I prefer ‘perfection’, and I prefer fruit.

Jesus, Mary, and the Church

I will further suggest, that this is why it was fitting that Jesus be male (and consequently both priesthoods, old and new covenant), so that the wholeness of humanity is embraced in him. By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus taught us what it is to be human, and is truly the most wholly human of all.

With regards to Mary, she is the most perfect creature of all, and the one most perfectly redeemed. In her, we see the perfection of humanity, yet not in such a way that she is “more perfect” than Jesus.

With regards to the Church, the Bride of Christ and our mother, its role is to bring to completion and perfection the work of our Lord Jesus. It is, after the example of our other mother, Mary, to bring Christ forth, to the end of the earth. I think it’s for this reason that Mark titled his gospel, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, as the good news is still happening in the work of the Church, “the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.”

I hope you’ve found these thoughts insightful at all. Pope Francis said, “We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman”, and I hope I’ve helped, however little. I ask for your honest criticisms and corrections, because I know how incomplete my thinking here is, and how important the subject is.

Thank you for reading, and God bless you