Friday, December 27, 2013

III.2, Hypostases and more

Question 2 in the Tertia Pars is all about the mode of union in the Incarnation.

Having read Maximus and things about Maximus lately, I've been careful to listen for any important distinctions between hypostasis and persons, but as far as Saint Thomas is concerned, person only specifies the nature of the hypostasis--he repeats this several times in this question. At one point, he distinguishes individual substance from hypostasis which are not commonly distinguished, but hypostasis adds the notion of completion. It seems that St Thomas is calling the humanity of Christ an individual substance, but not a hypostasis since it is in the Word that it exists. In 2.6, Thomas makes the interesting claim that the hypostasis is "midway" between the nature and the accidents, so that substantial union or accidental union are extremes of which the hypostatic union is a mean. This is interesting. Hypostasis is a mean at least in that it shares something with the accounts of nature and accident: both nature and hypostasis share the name "substance" and are not in something, whereas hypostasis is closer to accidents than nature in that hypostasis is the subject of accidents.

And so there is then the question of Christ's esse. When Thomas talks about whether the union of the Incarnation is created, he says that it is created because it begins to be. So there is created esse in the humanity of Christ. And yet it is the hypostasis that exists completely, and later on (17.2, though I didn't look closely) where Thomas will say that Christ has only one esse and not two. So then which will it be? The esse of the Word is uncreated and the same with the Father and the Spirit, no? Yet the humanity and union itself is created, so does not Christ have created esse? I suppose I will find out in due time... Another note, St Thomas talks about "personal esse" (Christ's union) and how this cannot be merited, unlike habitual grace (like we have in our soul) which can be merited in a certain way. One more note: In 2.7.ad3, to-be-created pertains more to esse than to relation; here esse refers to the union/nature whereas relation indicates the person. More familiar example: that I am created has to do with my esse and not my relation (neither to my parents nor even to God, since that relation is logically consequent to my esse).

In 2.9, there is a rare case in the Summa of Thomas replying to the Sed contra and disputing the authority of St Augustine! Augustine claims that humanity is more in the Son than the Son is in the Father. St Thomas says he is wrong, and yet says the humanity of Christ is united to the Son in a hypostasis (they are the same person) whereas the Father and the Son are not the same person, but wholly one according to nature and power. I'm inclined to agree with St Thomas, and yet there's something that makes me want to consider it further (and perhaps read Augustine in context). Earlier in the Summa, Thomas says the "Father" is said per prius of the person and per posterius of the Godhead. So would the unity of the person somehow be greater than that of the Godhead? (Remember, God is absolutely one; the only distinction within God is relative--real, but relative.)

At this point, I am looking forward to question 17 which contains only two articles: Is Christ one or two? And does he have only one esse? I also want to write something clear and consistent (and true) about the distinction between in re and in ratione. This distinction is very important in understanding God's tri-unity, and does not stop being important in considering the incarnation. It is surprising to read how created the Incarnation is, and yet how thoroughly divine. His treatment of Nestorius position is helpful as well, since he gleans a lot of the positive things in his teaching. He even calls one position in the Sentences worse than Nestorius. Oh my.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tertia Pars Begins

I recently received the 8 vol. Latin-English Summa for Christmas! Since in taking Christology next semester, I will be taking along the Tertia Pars, hopefully reading the whole if it. I couldn't wait to get started, so I already read the first quaestio. A couple points stood out.

The first is St. Thomas' main reason for the fittingness of the incarnation: it is fitting for the invisible to be made visible so that it may be known. The incarnation is what comes to mind right away when one heard this premise, but this also the purpose of every word we speak and even every action we do. The material world is really at its best when it serves as a sign of a hidden reality, whether it is the nature of a thing, the mind or heart of a man, or God in his wisdom and power. Our bodies (although truly parts of us and not mere instruments) are signs of our interior life: where they go, whether they are healthy, what they do, who they are with. Certainly there accidental things that happen to them inasmuch as they are bodies an engage other bodies, but as long as they are our bodies, we are incapable of communicating without them. In the incarnation, God communicates himself completely through taking on a body (and soul!) which men can see, feels, and hear. This is what we celebrate on Christmas!

One more quick point is his arguments for why Christ did not come at beginning or at the end of the world. Christ is at once what is perfected and what perfects, so it is fitting that he come in the middle. He a perfected in being united to God, he perfects by uniting humanity to himself. One person! It is interesting that St. Thomas gets at the core of the incarnation in this first question, that seems at first to be merely a preface. Christ is God and man, perfected and perfected, beginning and end. Now he will explain what this means.

So that I stay consistent this semester and really absorb what I am reading, I now resolve to write at least a brief post each time I finish a question. This is my first one.

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Maximus, Concrete Universals

Lately, I'm reading a book by von Balthasar on St Maximus the Confessor. It is sometimes very difficult, and my current difficulty is on the meaning of the "concrete universal".

For background, when I first encountered philosophy, it was through the mind of Plato. I was convinced that there were "separated substances" (I didn't yet know that phrase) also known as the Platonic forms, and that every being was what it was through participating in one of these many forms. They were a cause of both being and of knowing. In college, I read lots and lots of Aristotle. As time went on, I refined my use of the word "universal" to what is said of many and to the idea in my mind after I have abstracted it from the here and the now, from its particular conditions. So when I see concrete universal, I think, "A contradiction in terms?" But there's probably more to it than that...

If the universal (the whole) only exists in the mind or in speech, then is there no real unity among the human race? If there were an Idea that caused all men to be such, then they would be one through having a common cause. As it is, I do not think there is some immaterial form between us and God that we participate in to be what we are. We certainly all exist inasmuch as we participate in God's essence, but this is had in common with all creatures. This concern for the unity of humanity is also related to the question of our redemption. "What is not assumed is not redeemed," is the famous axiom of Irenaeus and many early fathers. Therefore, Christ must completely assume human nature--but how can this affect us unless there is some real unity between our nature and his that goes beyond speech and thought?

One thought I had is that relation exists through action/passion or quantity according to Aristotle. Therefore it seems that it is through the action/passion of begetting/begotten that the whole human race is united (or at least related, which would mean some kind of unity). Having Aristotle in mind, I thought of two possibilities:
  • The human race has always existed.
    • This is almost certainly not held by anyone.
    • Yet Aristotle would have held this view, which makes me wonder if he could have thought that all men are related through generation. Perhaps infinite time would mean that inevitably everyone is related to everyone, and actually through infinitely many cycles of ancestors. So I suppose that would do it.
  • The human race began to exist.
    • This is less messy: all humanity traces back to a pair of parents.
    • It can be a little messy since certain evolutionary takes will allow that different communities of men arose in different regions at different times. But do these accept that man is essentially different from other animals? I'm going to assume that. Many of these will reduce all biological operation to the chemical and that to the physical, so that "birth" is not even a category of the real. I'm not talking to those people...not right now.
    • So then there are a single pair of parents from which all men sprung.
Now it is said that "in Adam all men sinned." This is bizarre, but because the "universal" was only said of him, whatever he did in the particular was true of all men. (I'm not going to talk about Eve right now...again, too messy. But I do think that will be important.) So when Adam sat, it was true that all men sat. When Adam sinned, all men sinned. So if anyone was ever a "concrete universal," it was probably Adam. And Christ too, who "recapitulated all humanity in himself" and was the second Adam or the last Adam. One problem is that Christ is not related to men through generation (unless somehow his actions affect us through him being a distant relative of our through Mary...not likely). Somehow this notion is involved with our salvation--that's why we are baptized, that is, born again.

Another difficulty with action/passion as basis of unity is that once that action is completed, is the relation only in the past? That seems wrong, since I am the son of my father, but it's not as though he is currently begetting me. Generation is complete. So it seems odd to me that we are related because of an action that is no longer happening.

Now I need to talk about matter. We talked about formal cause (which is only united in the mind, or if Platonic then they are also agents) and agent cause (whether Platonic forms or through generation), but matter is probably bound up with the problem and the solution of what a concrete universal is and if there is such a thing. It is interesting that the form which exists in the mind, gets there by abstracting from matter and material conditions; and yet the only reason there are many individuals under a universal in the first place is because of matter. Material things are necessarily separate on account of having diverse matter--no two material things can be in the same place at the same time. The mind is one place where two material things come together. Bob and George are two distinct beings and will never be in the same physical place, but I can think both of them at once (so they are both in my mind) or can think about their nature (and in this way they are one, in my mind). The matter keeps them apart outside of my mind. The matter does allow for them to be potentially one, like...if Bob ate George. George would cease to be George and Bob would be a little bigger. So probably not the unity we're looking for.

Going back to the concrete universal, Maximus talks about diastole and systole within a universal. The flux of individuals under a universal spreads out or compresses a universal. This is where things start to get confusing, but some simple sentences will (I think) manifest it a bit. If there are no men in America, then "No men in America is true." But through the actions of particular men, universal statements about man change. So if Bob and George discover America, it is now true to say, "Some men are in America." They have changed what is universally true of man!

All right, I think this is making sense. So is concrete universal opposed to abstract universal in that it takes into account all the particularities of individual men whereas the abstract does not take into account any? If that's all, then that's far more clear! There's still the interesting question I have about what really united all men, but at least I'll know what a concrete universal is.

This probably has implications for questions about male and female. It's odd that it belongs to man to be sexed, but that at least two individuals are required to express this diversity and even to reproduce, which is an essential action of man insofar as he is an animal. (Too difficult to think about.) Something to do with matter, why only material things reproduce, and more. This also makes a little sense of why Thomas might have said a female is a defective male--that is, to safeguard the unity of what man is. Most people would probably hope for a better solution to that problem...

Over break, I hope to finish the Maximus book, begin a book on Gregory of Nyssa and then read Thomas on how Christ assumed our nature. Von Balthasar also quotes Hegel more than I would expect (sometimes critically). I do not expect to pick up Hegel soon, but that may be somewhere down the line.

Oh, and final cause does not seem to be sufficient to unite us. All creatures aim at God in some way, but that seems to general to define man (just as with God as our exemplary cause or agent cause). Then again, through the grace of Christ, we do turn to God as our end in a more perfect way than the general natural tendency to good, and this is a cause of the unity of the Church, the body of Christ.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Writing a comprehensive theology?

I recently finished writing a paper on the text Theology Today by the International Theological Commission. The main point of the document was to establish what unifies Catholic theology in the midst of so many diverse "theologies" that are taught all over the place. The document says theologians need to be aware of the profound unity of all theology, since God is its subject, and at one point it seems to suggest the need for a unified account of theology. Being wholly incompetent for the task, yet interested in making sure that I have a unified understanding of theology, I started thinking about how I would write a unified account of all theology. I thought of a few different approaches to theology:

St Thomas' Summa (written for beginners in theology)

  • God himself and his creation
  • How man returns to God
  • Christ, who is God and man, the means of returning to God

The Gospels (written for all)
  • The Son is sent by the Father in Spirit
  • He reveals by means of words and deeds
  • The Paschal Mystery
  • Glory

The Philokalia authors (written for monks seeking perfection)
  • The purpose of the Christian life
  • The means for attaining it
  • Doctrine is introduced as needed

I added the last because it really does seem to be the most practical theology I've ever read, answering the question, "What must I do to see God?" In answering this question, a doctrine about God, angels, and the human person ends up being developed fairly thoroughly. All three of these models involve somehow the key doctrines of the faith and the most important information about how to live. One also sees in them instruction and examples about how to read Scripture (the Gospels interpret the OT). So here's my tentative model that I want to consider more thoroughly:
  • Faith--primarily an explanation of the Creed
  • Hope--about Heaven, the Kingdom of God, and the Beatitudes
  • Charity--an exposition of Christian life
    • Prayer--relationship with God
    • Fasting--relationship with things
    • Almsgiving--relationship with men
    • (or)
    • Poverty--things
    • Chastity--body
    • Obedience--mind/will
  • Instruction on how to read Scripture
Faith, hope, and charity are necessary for salvation, so they serve as an excellent model. Hope is a nice transition between pure doctrine and its application to our life, since hope requires that we know what Christ has done for us, and yet this hope allows us to then live according to Christ's teaching.

The division that comes after charity is not some arbitrary one, but is based on the truth that Christian life is not merely following laws, but it involves a greater excellence and true relationship with God. Therefore the life of charity is not fittingly divided into the commandments (although these are certainly part of it!), but better divided into the counsels (which all Christians must follow according to their state) or into the spiritual actions named in Matthew 6. These are related to a far greater perfection, and as long as Christians are only aiming at the "good enough" of the commandments, they will probably not actually succeed in keeping the commandments and even forget the reason for which they tried to in the first place.

Finally the instruction on how to read Scripture could be difficult, but I think it is very important. The Theology Today document pointed to the Word of God as the source of all Catholic theology, and so no one can be a theologian without reading and knowing how to read that great gift from God. It seems especially fitting that a book which intends to teach about God should conclude by pointing to a book far greater than itself and more rich in wisdom and spirit. Perhaps it could be placed within the context of the main divisions, but it seems like more of a really important appendix than something that fits naturally within the main work.

It won't be as thorough as the Summa and it won't be as terse as the Gospels or the Philokalia, but will somehow serve to see theology in one vision and apply it in life. And I probably won't actually get started for a very long time...

St John of Damascus, doctor of the Church, pray for us!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pauline Anthropology: Handful of quotes

[This is a just a collection of quotes from the Fathers to help consider one passage. More complete understanding will follow later...]

Reading excerpts from St Irenaeus on the nature of man, the following verse from St Paul showed up:

"And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess 5:23)

The author of the excerpt collection is unable to determine whether "spirit" here refers to a spirit of man which constitutes his nature or to the Spirit of God by which he shares in the divine life. Here are some other Fathers on this question:

John Chrysostom, Homily 11 on 1 Thessalonians:
Sanctify you wholly, he says, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. What does he here call the spirit? The gift of grace. For if we depart hence having our lamps bright, we shall enter into the bridechamber. But if they are quenched, it will not be so. For this reason he says your spirit. For if that remains pure, the other remains also. And soul and body, he says. For neither the one nor the other then admits anything evil.

Fourth Council of Constantinople, Canon 11 (some make spirit and soul two different souls):
While the Old and New Testaments teach that man has one rational and intellectual soul, and this is the teaching also of all the fathers and doctors of the Church, some persons, nevertheless, blasphemously maintain that he has two souls. This holy and general council, therefore, anathematizes the authors and adherents of that false teaching. Anyone presuming to act contrary to the decision of this great council, shall be anathematized and cut off from the faith and society of Christians.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.6:
Now the soul and the spirit are certainly a part of the man, but certainly not the man; for the perfect man consists in the commingling and the union of the soul receiving the spirit of the Father, and the admixture of that fleshly nature which was moulded after the image of God. (the first paragraph has more explanation)

Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians:
On account of these words, certain people maintained that the spirit in man is one element and the soul another, thus positing two souls in man, that is, one which animates the body and another which carries on the function of reasoning. These opinions are rejected in the Church’s teaching. For it should be realized that these two elements [which are really one] do not differ essentially, but only by reason of the powers present in them. There are certain powers in our soul which are linked to bodily organs, such as the powers of the sensitive part of the soul. And there are other powers which are not linked to bodily organs, but function apart from the body, insofar as they are the powers of the intellectual part of the soul. The latter powers are regarded as spiritual powers in that they are immaterial and separated in some manner from the body in that they are not functions of the body but are referred to as the mind. “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Eph. 4:23). Yet it is called the soul insofar as it animates the body, for this is proper to it. Paul speaks here in a specific sense.

Augustine, On the Soul and its Origin 4.36 (see also 4.37, he essentially agrees with Thomas):
It now remains for me to show how it is that while the designation spirit is rightly predicated of a part of the soul, not the whole of it—even as the apostle says, Your whole spirit, and soul, and body; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 or, according to the much more expressive statement in the Book of Job, You will separate my soul from my spirit, Job 7:15 — yet the whole soul is also called by this name; although this question seems to be much more a question of names than of things. For since it is certainly a fact that there is a something in the soul which is properly called spirit, while (this being left out of question) it is also designated with equal propriety soul, our present contention is not about the things themselves; mainly because I on my side certainly admit, and you on your part say the same, that that is properly called spirit by which we reason and understand, and yet that these things are distinguishingly designated, as the apostle says your whole spirit, and soul, and body. This spirit, however, the same apostle appears also to describe as mind; as when he says, So then with the mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:25 Now the meaning of this is precisely what he expresses in another passage thus: For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. Galatians 5:17 What he designates mind in the former place, he must be understood to call spirit in the latter passage. Not as you interpret the statement, The whole mind is meant, which consists of soul and spirit,— a view which I know not where you obtained. By our mind, indeed, we usually understand nothing but our rational and intellectual faculty; and thus, when the apostle says, Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, Ephesians 4:23 what else does he mean than, Be renewed in your mind? The spirit of the mind is, accordingly, nothing else than the mind, just as the body of the flesh is nothing but the flesh; thus it is written, In putting off the body of the flesh, Colossians 2:11 where the apostle calls the flesh the body of the flesh. He designates it, indeed, in another point of view as the spirit of man, which he quite distinguishes from the mind: If, says he, I pray with the tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 1 Corinthians 14:14 We are not now, however, speaking of that spirit which is distinct from the mind; and this involves a question relating to itself which is really a difficult one. For in many ways and in various senses the Holy Scriptures make mention of the spirit; but with respect to that we are now speaking of, by which we exercise reason, intelligence, and wisdom, we are both agreed that it is called (and indeed rightly called) spirit, in such a sense as not to include the entire soul, but a part of it.

Origen, Commentary on Matthew 13.2 (he takes spirit as something of man and of God; also distinguishes from soul; read on in the link):
For, observe, he did not say in the soul of Elijah, in which case the doctrine of transmigration might have some ground, but in the spirit and power of Elijah. For the Scripture well knows the distinction between spirit and soul, as, May God sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and the passage, Bless the Lord, you spirits and souls of the righteous as it stands in the book of Daniel, according to the Septuagint, represents the difference between spirit and soul. Elijah, therefore, was not called John because of the soul, but because of the spirit and the power, which in no way conflicts with the teaching of the church, though they were formerly in Elijah, and afterwards in John; and the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, 1 Corinthians 14:32 but the souls of the prophets are not subject to the prophets, and the spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha. 2 Kings 2:15 But we ought to inquire whether the spirit of Elijah is the same as the spirit of God in Elijah, or whether they are different from each other, and whether the spirit of Elijah which was in him was something supernatural, different from the spirit of each man which is in him; for the Apostle clearly indicates that the Spirit of God, though it be in us, is different from the spirit of each man which is in Him, when he says somewhere, The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God; Romans 8:16 and elsewhere, No one of men knows the things of a man save the spirit of the man which is in him; even so the things of God none knows save the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 2:11 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

How to be a good minister

Every so often while reading Scripture, there will be a verse that stands out as though it says the most important thing in all of Scripture. Perhaps my favorite one of these is when Jesus speaks to Martha, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-42). How wonderful to know the only thing necessary! Yet, of course, we must look at the context to see what that one thing is. In this case, it is sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him with love. If we only did this and lived accordingly, we'd be doing just fine.

Now the verse that stood to me earlier was of a more limited scope. It was a verse from Paul saying what one must do to be a good minister: If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus (1 Tm 4:6). So that is what a good minister must do: put these instruction before the brethren. The next question is, what does these refer to? It might seem to refer to the 5 preceding verses, but Paul goes on to say more and then says, Command and teach these things (v. 11). And then the last verse of the chapter also has a general scope, saying what will bring about salvation for both Timothy and those who hear him, Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (v. 16). 

Looking before and after chapter 4, some clues indicate where this section begins and ends. [This is where I get distracted by the letter as a whole, but thankfully I can narrow down the consideration.] In rough outline, here is what Paul discusses up to this point:
  • 1. Thanks to God for all
  • 2. Exhortation to prayer
  • 3a. The offices of bishop and deacon
Because section 3a seems to be so particular a consideration, but what follow is more general I'm taking it as a break. Section 3b starts at 3:14 which says, I am writing these instructions to you. Those are probably the same instruction referred to in 4:6, the ones which will make Timothy a good minister if he teaches them. The consideration gets more particular again at the start of chapter 5, when Paul discusses how to treat elders, widows, slaves, etc. The instructions of Paul are divided as follows:
  • 3b. Mystery of our faith
  • 4a. False doctrine about creation
  • 4b. True doctrine about creation
  • 4c. Commands to Timothy
Mystery of our faith
Here is the text from St. Paul on "the mystery of our religion" (from 3:16):
  • He was manifested in the flesh, 
  • vindicated in the Spirit, 
  • seen by angels [messengers?], 
  • preached among the nations, 
  • believed on in the world, 
  • taken up in glory. 
This is a very brief summary of what we believe about Jesus Christ. God became man (in the flesh) accomplished the work of teaching and suffering, his divinity was manifested by many signs (in the Spirit), witnesses brought this word to men who believed in him, and then he was taken up into heaven. This is our faith.

Teaching about Creation
The task of teachers is not only to teach those things which God has revealed to men in Christ Jesus, but even to teach things concerning the natural order which relate to God, and which are not seen by men who are deceived.

An interesting side note. In Patristics class, we are currently reading about the Gnostics and the Christian response to them. The Gnostics basically held that they were taught by spirits, some forbid marriage and certain foods, and they all taught that the material created universe is evil, born out of sin. Marcion, one of these Gnostics, held (most of) the Gospel of Luke and 10 of Paul's letters to be canonical. He did not include this letter. Why? Probably because it speaks directly against him about the goodness of creation and the fact that God is the one who created (Gnostics taught that an evil god, the Demiurge, created all material things). One other stab at the Gnostics was in the preceding chapter when he calls the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth. Not Gnostic teachers who learned from spirits, but the church, those who saw received the witness of Christ's resurrection.

In summary though, God created everything and therefore all things are good if they are received with thanksgiving. One can use creature for godlessness (and then your action are evil, not the things), but creatures are meant to lead us to God and they will be as good as they can be if they succeed in doing this.

[Bad teaching] 1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  
[Good teaching] 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; 5 for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. 6 If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have followed. 

Commands to Timothy
I always find it helpful to see lists of things in Scripture actually formatted as a list. The Medievals always use numbered lists as a memory tool (12 steps of humility, 7 virtues go with 7 gifts of spirit go with 7 beatitudes). It helps me remember too.
  • 7 Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths. 
  • Train yourself in godliness; 
    • [reason] 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 The saying [namely, that there is a life to come] is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 
    • [another reason] 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.  
  • 11 Command and teach these things.  [what things? all of them]
  • 12 Let no one despise your youth, but 
  • set the believers an example 
    • in speech 
    • and conduct, 
    • in love, 
    • in faith, 
    • in purity.  
  • 13 Till I come, attend 
    • to the public reading of scripture, 
    • to preaching, 
    • to teaching. 
  • 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you.  
  • 15 Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, 
    • [not a reason, but a desired effect] so that all may see your progress.  
  • 16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, 
    • [reason] for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 
In summary, to be a good minister teach and do according to what you have received concerning Christ and all creation.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rule of Life (and some more on freedom)

I saw that I had recently written a post about freedom which reminded me of further thoughts I had on freedom, which lead me further to think about writing a rule of life.

In the early centuries of the Church, whenever Christians got serious about following the teaching of the Gospel, this often led them to write a rule of life as a measure for how to live. The most famous of these is probably The Rule of St. Benedict, and before this came the Rule of St. Basil (which is mostly an organized list of Gospel passages) and the Institutes of St. John Cassian.

Why write or follow a rule? Here's a passage from Habakkuk:

Write the vision;
make it plain upon the tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its time;
it hastens to the end--it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.

It's easy to think about how one should live and even to talk about every so often, but by actually writing it down you can now hold in your hands and see the standard of your life before you. When you pick it up and review it, you can see "Oh man, I haven't been doing that lately..." or if your rule includes the reasons for why you live as you do (and all the best rules have this!), you will say, "Oh yeah, that's why I do that!" and thereby be renewed in your zeal. So the purpose of the rule is to attain the goal sought more perfectly.

But will this not restrict freedom? Yes and no. Inasmuch as a rule will bind you to do something and forbid you to do others, indeed this is a restriction on the endless capacity of your freedom. Yet by this same restriction, one is more free to do and attain that for which one has any freedom at all.

Every action limits or determines your freedom in some way. When you make a decision, you no longer had the unlimited freedom which you had before making that decision. But we have no choice with respect to one thing: we must make our choice. The question is whether we shall make a choice that leads to more freedom or a choice which cuts off and limits our path to higher freedom. Back to rules of life...

Sin, the devil, and the cares of this world are 3 things which are always drawing near and taking hold of our freedom. When you choose to sin, you exchange your freedom for the consequences of sin--anxiety, punishment, and loss of communion with God and one another. So the freedom dedicated to sin is thereby lost. By a Rule of Life, one orders the exercise of freedom so as to maintain it and increase it. The setting aside of time for prayer, study and work keeps keeps the world and its charms (which are often quite meager, really only distractions). By constant examination of conscience, the devil is foiled in his devices and the vices are rooted out and replaced by virtues.

And what are virtues? They are firm dispositions of character by which one is capable of exercising freedom. Really? Yes. Here are the chief virtues and how they contribute to this:
  • Temperance: By this virtue we use the things of this world for the sake of our own ends, without becoming overly attached to them and making them ends themselves
  • Fortitude: By this virtue we have the vigor to actually strive for those things we desire most in life; this is opposed to the slavish habits of laziness, fear, and so on
  • Prudence: By this virtue we consider what means are most apt for attaining our end, so that our freedom is not wasted doing in a sloppy manner what could have been done neatly and reasonably
  • Justice: Yeah, this is always listed as a cardinal virtue by the ancients and medievals, but it does seem a little different. It's often characterized as that virtue by which we give each man his due. Certainly if we don't do this, our conscience will plague and we will thereby lose any authentic freedom. Also, people aren't like any other objects in the world. Ultimately, the greatest use of freedom is when it is ordered to other persons. Anything less would make us subject to some inanimate body. An idol. But I'll need to think about this more. The first three should be clear enough.
So then, what should I write in my rule? Pretty much anything that will help. But here are three general rules that will factor into any authentic Christian rule, keeping it from going astray:
  • Rule of Faith: Believe all that is contained in the Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition as taught by the Pope and all the bishops in communion with him. This is the norm of faith, and whatever else someone believes, this is always to be upheld.
  • Rule of Hope: Our final end and purpose is eternal life in heaven with God and the saints. Whenever we sin and fall from this end, we must not despair, but confess our sins and seek eternal life once again.
  • Rule of Love: Jesus taught only two commands. Love God with all your soul, strength, mind, heart. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is the regula vitae for every Christian, and everything else must be ordered to living these two principle commandments more perfectly.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I'm kind of like Descartes sometimes...

(Just so you know, I'm just kind of typing stuff as it comes to mind...)

I've been thinking about Descartes lately and problems I have with him. But then I thought about it more and realized that a lot of his problems are my problems too. Among the many things Descartes learned was the philosophy of Suarez. He probably studied his Disputationes Metaphysicae, where Suarez summarizes all the opinions available on basically every metaphysical topic there is. Descartes sees all of these opposed positions and thinks "Oh no, how can we know who's right?" He responds by taking a radical move--he rejects them all and decides to figure it out by himself. Now it's one thing to try to confirm what one is taught by critiquing the argument or by reducing it to first principles, but to reject being handed on anything from another teacher is problematic.

On the other hand, having picked up Suarez the other day, I now see why he was so intimidated. Whereas in math, you can follow the steps of a proof back to principles or in natural science, where you can (hopefully) repeat experiments that you hear about. It is very easy (in some true sense) to be certain about mathematical and physical matters. Now when one starts talking about the principles of things, it can be much more difficult to attain certitude. A comment or critique that is often thrown at philosophy is "Aren't you just arguing about words?" Unfortunately, this is many times the case! One is merely looking for logical coherency in a set of ideas (Kant?), but a true philosophy looks at things and tries to understand them by their causes.

Descartes not only rejects the teaching of others but he even rejects the evidence of the senses. That's definitely when he goes too far (I'll explain why in a minute...). But my purpose isn't just to point out why Descartes is wrong, but it is to be sympathetic with him. This isn't just Descartes being all, "Teehee, I'm going to destroy perennial philosophy on a whim, and cast the world into doubt and mistrust!" His reaction to Suarez (there are others; I don't want to blame Suarez, but it's a lot easier to say one name) and an over-convoluted philosophy (and I really can't claim to know much about the truth/false of Suarez or how it was presented--excuse the over-generalizations) was mistrust. It's like when someone you trust lies to you and now you don't trust anyone. Or perhaps closer, it is like having two parents who teach you opposite things about the most important matters--it causes a confusion that is difficult to reconcile. The mass of contradictions makes one seek refuge in what is closest--myself.

So Descartes' new starting place, Cogito ergo sum, is now a very lonely one. "Look at me, I'm doing philosophy all by myself with no help from anyone!" Kant too makes it his project to place the a priori principles of all things in his mind so that it is possible to be certain about all without relying on another. He realizes the consequence of what he's doing though: you can't have knowledge about any thing. Eek. Descartes does this thing where he proves God's existence and that God would deceive him, and therefore he an trust his senses and everything is back to normal. Kant realizes that if you start with yourself alone you can only end with yourself alone--that's why Kant makes sure you're mind is pre-programmed with a lot of cool stuff to keep you occupied in the mean time.

But the reason for all this is a desire for certitude! And who doesn't want certitude? I like certitude... The problem is that reality isn't always so certain, so you need to trust. "Oh no, but what if I trust the wrong person?" Yeah, that is a good question. That's why lying is always evil... The fact is that you need to trust someone and you have done so regardless! An infant is wholly dependent, receiving food, comfort, and basic education from others. Within this basic education is language, the tool by which we will communicate with all of those whom we may possibly trust and learn from.

Oh yeah, and the world! Kant eventually gets very particular about what "sense experience" we can trust (it ends up just being the "forms" of sensation, space and time). So what of this world? What of the purpose of philosophy itself which initially sought to understand the meaning of this world, of life, of anything at all? Yeah, it's problematic. Kant keeps it fun by making everything a priori, and I think we can probably learn a lot from what he did, especially about structure of thought and (by coincidence) of things. But it ends up being all form and no content! But we must be contentious. Not really. I was just running out of time and that pun came to mind. I apologize. I'll probably write about this more later, since philosophy, its purpose, our purpose, and so on have all been on my mind lately!

An exhortation: The best philosophy of all is about the best things! So for example, thinking about God is the best because he is the best. Be excellent! Do excellent things! Give people something good to wonder about! It is too often that people begin philosophy in times of doubt or of terror. Let wonder and joy be the beginning!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Freedom is Relative

This may sound obvious, but it seems that whenever one speaks of freedom, it must be understood as freedom from something.

These thoughts are inspired in part by my Trinity professor and this letter by Charles DeKoninck:

My professor, since the beginning of the year, has dropped hints here and there about the fundamental important of the notion of freedom. My first thought upon hearing this is to look into the Scriptures to see what freedom means there. In the Old Testament, it is freedom from slavery or from one's enemies. In the New Testament, it is freedom from sin and the things of this world. In both cases, it is a freedom from something for the sake of worshiping God. Every morning at prayer we say, "He has set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life." And this seems to be the notion of freedom present throughout the Scriptures.

The question then comes of God's freedom. It is interesting that St Thomas does not set aside a quaestio for the consideration of God's freedom. This makes more sense though if we notice that the first 43 questions of the Summa consider God as he is in himself, i.e., from all eternity. Obviously we must begin with creatures in our understanding of goodness, perfection, life, love, and and so on. Yet from these many created realities, we come to understand more fully the one unchanging divine nature. So excluded from this section are any considerations of God as Lord, Creator, and as Free. God is certainly free, but what does this mean but free from the power of any creature? All creatures depend on him. The Psalm for evening prayer tonight is 139. This Psalm emphasizes the thoroughness of God's knowledge regarding his creatures:

O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you.

Before ever a word is on my tongue
you know it, O Lord, through and through.
Behind and before you besiege me,
your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
too high, beyond my reach.

This knowledge referred to by the Psalm is that God knows even those things that depend on human freedom. Going on, the Psalmist talks more about how all of our actions are known by him, "written in his book."

Already you knew my soul,
my body held no secret from you
when I was being fashioned in secret
and molded in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw all my actions,
they were all of them written in your book,
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being.

To me, how mysterious your thoughts,
the sum of them not to be numbered!
If I count them, they are more than the sand;
to finish, I must be eternal, like you.

So whatever kind of freedom man has, it seems that we never have a freedom from God, in the sense that we are apart from him in a way that allows to do what we otherwise could not. Truly all of our freedom is from God insofar as he makes us free, but only insofar as he makes us free from sin and from attachment to creatures. Now some will hear this and think that God is being violent or forceful, but this is comes from thinking of God as a creature or as something else opposed to our happiness. Other cases of the higher leading the lower make clear that the lower is elevated by this. The soul/will/mind moves the body--if it didn't, the body would lie in a heap. The parent moves/feeds/changes the child and this leads to the health and benefit of the child. God does more, far more, and for every creature, and the only ones that in some way can turn away from this are men and angels. Yet even they do not escape God altogether, for the Lord orders all things sweetly and he will dispose even sin unto his glory. Jesus Christ manifests his glory most brilliantly in freeing us from sin.

I will have to go back to St Thomas and consider carefully what he says regarding freedom in the places where he talks about, especially when he talks about the freedom of God. One question that I always have is how it is that God freely creates? I had a brief post asking that earlier. It is at least certain to me that creation does not itself cause him to create it, i.e., nothing outside of him forces him to create. For then what is this thing that has a power over God? So no. But can it be said that God necessarily creates, though not necessitated from without? I don't like how it sounds, but I haven't yet seen the problem with it. Surely St Thomas considers this in various places as well. I'll post some findings later if I have time.

The DeKoninck letter has more interesting considerations of person, nature, incommunicability, and so on. That in God the Word proceeding is identical with the Son begotten is interesting. In the Old Testament, it was through begetting offspring that the promise was passed on; in the New Testament, it is through the preaching the word that men inherit the promise. This is all contained in God's interior life. Nature communicates itself. Knowledge is to have the other as other. So many things to consider.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ode to Joy

A while back, I read a translation of the Schiller poem which Beethoven set to music in his 9th symphony. It's far more dramatic than any of the words often set to the Ode to Joy tune. Here are the words (from Wikisource):

Joy, beautiful sparkle of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, fire-drunk,
Heavenly one, your shrine.
Your magics bind again
What custom has strictly parted.
(1785 version: What custom's sword has parted.)
All men become brothers
(1785 version: Beggars become princes' brothers.)
Where your tender wing lingers.
Be embraced, millions!
This kiss to the entire world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
Must a loving Father reside.

Whoever has succeeded in the great attempt
To be a friend's friend;
Whoever has won a lovely woman
Add in his jubilation!
Yes, who calls even one soul
His own on the earth's sphere!
And whoever never could achieve this,
Let him steal away crying from this gathering!
Those who occupy the great circle,
Pay homage to sympathy!
It leads to the stars
Where the unknown one reigns.

All creatures drink joy
At the breasts of nature,
All good, all evil
Follow her trail of roses.
Kisses she gave us, and the vine,
A friend, proven in death.
Pleasure was given to the worm,
And the cherub stands before God.
Do you fall down, you millions?
Do you sense the creator, world?
Seek him above the starry canopy,
Above the stars he must live.

Joy is the name of the strong spring
In eternal nature.
Joy, joy drives the wheels
In the great clock of worlds.
She lures flowers from the buds,
Suns out of the firmament,
She rolls spheres in the spaces
That the seer's telescope does not know.
Happy, as his suns fly
Through the heaven’s magnificent plain
Run, brothers, your track
Joyfully, as a hero to victory.

From the fiery mirror of truth
She smiles upon the researcher,
Towards virtue’s steep hill
She guides the endurer’s path.
Upon faith’s sunlit mountain
One sees her banners in the wind,
Through the opening of burst coffins
One sees them standing in the chorus of angels.
Endure courageously, millions!
Endure for the better world!
There above the starry canopy
A great God will reward.

Gods one cannot repay
Beautiful it is, to be like them.
Grief and poverty, acquaint yourselves
With the joyful ones rejoice.
Anger and revenge be forgotten,
Our deadly enemy be forgiven,
No tears shall he shed
No remorse shall gnaw at him
Our debt registers be abolished
Reconcile the entire world!
Brothers, over the starry canopy
God judges, as we judged.

Joy bubbles in the cup,
In the grape’s golden blood
Cannibals drink gentleness
The fearful, courage --
Brothers, fly from your perches,
When the full cup is passed,
Let the foam spray to the heavens
This glass to the good spirit
He whom the spirals of stars praise,
He whom the seraphim’s hymn glorifies,
This glass to the good spirit
Above the starry canopy!

Courage firm in great suffering,
Help there, where innocence weeps,
Eternally sworn oaths,
Truth towards friend and foe,
Mens’ pride before kings’ thrones --
Brothers, even if it costs property and blood, --
The crowns to those who earn them,
Defeat to the lying brood!
Close the holy circle tighter,
Swear by this golden vine:
Remain true to the vows,
Swear by the judge above the stars!
(The 1803 version ends here; the 1785 version continues with the following.)
Escape the tyrants’ chains,
Generosity also to the villain,
Hope upon the deathbeds,
Mercy from the high court!
The dead, too, shall live!
Brothers, drink and chime in,
All sinners shall be forgiven,
And hell shall be no more.
A serene departing hour!
Sweet sleep in the shroud!
Brothers—a mild sentence
From the final judge!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Meltha in the Syriac NT

So lately I've been trying to learn more about Syriac/Aramaic. I found this great resource:

One word in particular that I've been looking at is Meltha, which is used in John 1:1 for Logos or Verbum or Word. This stood out to me because the Hebrew word for "word" (and therefore the Aramaic word which is cognate with it) is dabar, or something like that. So what is this word? That website above has a nice concordance built into it, so I was able to find other passages that use it.

Here are a couple passages:

"But I say unto you, that whosoever looseth his wife, except on account of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery; and whosoever taketh her who is sent away, committeth adultery." (Matthew 5:32)

The RSV says "ground" for the word which the Peshitta translation calls "account". (It keeps switching to Green...don't know why, just going to ignore it..) This keeps its meaning close to "logos" which often means account. The Greek uses "logos" and the Latin "causa".

"And every one who shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but every one who against the Spirit of Holiness shall speak, it shall not be forgiven to him, neither in this world nor in the world to come." (Matthew 12:32)

I thought this passage was interesting since it talks about a "word" against the Son of man, who is indeed the Word. Other languages use "logos" and "verbum".

"Wherever a man hears the word by which the kingdom is preached, but does not grasp it, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart; his was the wayside sowing." (Matthew 13:19)

 Another instance of meltha/logos/verbum, where it seems that "word" can easily refer to the Word. "But does not grasp it" reminds one of John 1:5 where the light shines in the darkness but the darkness does not grasp it. 

I must needs go now, but it's comforting to see the correspondence of meanings across the ancient versions of texts. More than the Syriac (which is still very foreign), it was interesting to see other places where logos and verbum fit together. Sometimes people think Word is a bad translation of Logos at the beginning of John, but the ancient translation looks good to me.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Unity in Diversity

Lately I've been thinking about what it means to be one and how it is possible for many to be one. This is just going to be a handful of thoughts...

Here's one article that made me think about it:

Even before reading that, I had lately been thinking about how diversity is the condition for the greatest forms of unity. An illustration: what is more one, a cup of water or a man? Now certainly the water is more uniform in its constitution, whereas man is made up of so many diverse parts which are sometimes more less essential. Yet the man has a unity which the water does not. You can take a cup of water and divide it in two without having changed it very much--you could put the parts back together and it would be as if nothing happened. Man on the other hand has such a unity that if you cut something off, it will probably not attach as easily and (depending on what you cut off) it might make that man cease to be a man altogether.

It's interesting that the greatest mysteries of the Faith also involve unity, not unity without distinction, but a higher sort of unity. I believe in one God. A fairly simple statement. Yet of God I will say The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God and also The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. One in essence, one in everything, except that by which they are opposed: relative opposition. This relative opposition is all that distinguishes the persons who are one God.

Then the other great mystery of the Faith: the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is true God and true man, yet he is not two persons on account of this. Jesus Christ is one person who is eternally God and assumed human nature to himself, not such that he was joined to a person distinct from himself, but so that he the divine Word was indeed man without ceasing to be God.

Those are the most extreme cases, where the unity and the distinction are greater than found anywhere else.

Another example where distinction is necessary for unity: producing offspring. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of evolutionary biology is the how the diversity of sexes came to be. If asexual organisms are capable of reproducing without aid from another, why would they change so that diversity of sex would be necessary for reproduction? Similar questions have come to my mind: Is it better to be a plant than to be an animal since you're able to make your own food without moving? Or even as above, is it better to be water since you don't need to eat at all? The answer is probably no. Although being a man is far more difficult than being any other kind of material creature, it is certainly worth the effort.

Yes, a live-action picture of mitosis
So also for sexual diversity. At first, it seems like a step backwards. Now two creatures different in kind must interact in order to propogate the species. But upon reflection (and I would like to read more in this area), there are tons of benefits. First, it allows for diversity in a genetic pool so that if there is some sort of disease, it is more likely that some part of the species will outlive it. Second, with two sexes, there is a kind of specialization that occurs, a sort of "division of labor". The male animal (creature?) produces many, many small sex cells. This ability to produce many and more often allows him to be more mobile, more active. The female animal produces one large, sex cell (or perhaps a sacful) which is rich in nutrients and will be the place where the next organism develops.

[I'm skimming Wikipedia as I write this. Found a great quote: "A third theory is that sex evolved as a form of cannibalism. One primitive organism ate another one, but rather than completely digesting it, some of the 'eaten' organism's DNA was incorporated into the 'eater' organism." That's pretty gnarly...]

Having looked at sexuality on merely a biological level, there is also the social level. Skipping person to person friendships (not because they're unimportant), some of the greatest things simply speaking involve the diversity of many members. Three examples: the universe, the state, and the Church. St Thomas argues that the greatest good in the universe is the very order of the universe itself (God is the greatest good outside the universe). Because this includes every creature, but in such a way that each one is fittingly related to every other creature, this will certainly outdo any other order of diverse things to be found in the universe.

The state is another important example. This is hard to see for many, since our government is pretty lame sometimes, etc. But a state is more than its government! It's you and me, and the people who own the grocery store, and the people who work at McDonald's, and the people who start and educate and study and schools. A state is constituted by many persons who all share a common life in some way or another. Whatever problems there are, this order is present and always at work even if you do not notice. I'm not in constant fear of my life. Not because I could take on anyone who came at me with a knife, but because I'm surrounding by people who are formed in virtue (to the extent that they wouldn't do that) and those who would like to do it are dissuaded by the laws and the customs that bring upon them all sorts of unpleasant consequences. Also, if I didn't live in a state, I would have to kill/grow/scavange for everything I ate. Ain't nobody got no time for that. And learning too: I would have to discover everything on my own.

And then there is the Church. This is what is described in 1 Corinthians 12, especially with the image of the Church as the Body of Christ. We started by contrasting the human body with the uniformity of water. This ordered diversity, as it is assumed in Christ, then becomes the image of the unity of the entire community of those in the Church. In a later post, I will go back to considering the kingdom of heaven (especially as in Matthew) and how the descriptions of Christ always involve, not only the God, but also the bad who have a role in the story of the kingdom of heaven. This resolving of the good and evil (which is always involved in the kingdom of heaven) is still distinct from the unity of the members in the body of Christ (who are apostles, prophets, teachers, etc.) and also the unity of the head with the body, of Christ with Church, of a husband and his spouse.

And there's always more... Like friendship. And how this all relates to the mind. And music. And art. And Hegel, "Matter is to gravity as spirit is to freedom." But more later.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed..."
I was thinking about heaven earlier today, and so I turned to the Gospel of Matthew (which mentions the kingdom most of all) to see what it said. You would expect it to say somewhere, "The kingdom of heaven is this really awesome place with a lot of angels, no pain, everyone is happy, no fighting, your favorite food, and um...yeah! It's pretty awesome!" But it never reads quite like that (though sometimes a banquet is mentioned).

Early on, the kingdom is referenced in the Sermon on the Mount, in the first and last beatitude,
  • "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
  • "Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
 When he describes the kingdom itself, it is always in the manner of the parable. Here's some from Matthew 13:
  • 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow." (he says later that this refers to the kingdom)
  • 24 Another parable he put before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field;" (A different parable, still with seeds)
  • 31 Another parable he put before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field;" (Hey look, another seed..)
  • 33 He told them another parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." (Not a seed, but growing)
  • 44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
  • 45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,"
  • 47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind;" 
All right, so we have 7 distinct parables about the kingdom of heaven all in a single chapter of Matthew. And he doesn't stop the parables there. Here are some more:
  • 18:23, "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants."
  • 20:1, "For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard."
  • 22:2, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son,"
  • 25:1, "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom."
  • 25:14, "For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property;"
 And then other references come by other means than parables. Those like this child will be the greatest. Some make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom. Peter, I give you the keys of the kingdom. And finally (or initially), Matthew 3 and 4 have John the Baptist and Jesus respectively preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

I'm starting to run out of time (yes, I always start a blog post right before I'm supposed to be somewhere), but I would like to go into the parables with some more detail to see what they teach about the kingdom of heaven and why. Jesus himself (thankfully) gives us his interpretation of a couple of them, the one about the sower is interpreted by him, as well as the wheat and the chaff. But things really are never that simple. The devil often shows up in his interpretation. And he compares the kingdom to "10 maidens"; yet we know that only 5 of them actually make it to the wedding feast!

Thy kingdom come! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thoughts on Sacraments as Signs

Typically when considering the sacraments, I think about what they effect and not so much about what they signify, yet these are closely related. Most definitions of sacrament will somehow include sign, whether be "an efficacious sign of grace" or "an outward sign instituted by Christ for giving grace" (Baltimore Catechism) or "a sign of a sacred thing, with determinate words and a determinate matter" (St Thomas).

Lately I've been thinking about the question, "Why not women priests?" I'm thinking more and more that the answer is that a woman (as woman) is not a sufficient sign of Christ the Priest. It seems that it has to be on account of the sign. As far as offering sacrifice (which is the chief act of a priest), this is not something only men do. We are all called to be "a nation of priests" and "offer sacrifice" in all of our thoughts, words, and actions. Yet when people talk about the capacity to become priests, they are referring to the sacramental priesthood, the priesthood which is a sign of the priesthood of Christ.

Now I'm talking about signs a lot and some might think, "If it's just a sign, then doesn't that mean it doesn't really matter?" The answer is no, it really does matter. Think about baptism: the washing with water signifies the washing away of sins--no water, no sacrament. But all the other liquids may complain, "If it's just a sign, can't you use beer or coffee to baptize someone just as well?" Christ, in his wisdom, instituted the sacraments with determinate things and with determinate words so that they might have determinate effects. The tendency to attend only to the effect of the sacrament and not to the sign might be a result of a kind of utilitarian mindset, but without attending to the sign we cannot understand the reality effected by means of the sacrament.

Marriage is another example of a sacramental sign. Why can't two men marry each other in a church? (at all really, but especially not sacramentally.) Because marriage is primarily a sign of the union between Christ and the Church, a union which requires a both diversity in kind and a total self-giving of the one to the other. You do not have this in two men. Perhaps two men can have the holiest of friendships and can even spend a whole of service together (these aren't typically the men that seek such a union...), yet their friendship does not sufficiently signify the union of Christ and the Church, a union which is signified by bride and bridegroom, male and female.

Another example intrigues me in the sacrament of Confirmation. At the Council of Trent, it was declared "If anyone says that the ordinary minister of holy confirmation is not the bishop alone, but any simple priest, let him be anathema." I always thoughts this was an odd canon since it is only about an ordinary minister of a sacrament. Simple priests can administer confirmation, yet the Church declares that bishops are the only ordinary minister. Why? Because the bishop more perfectly signifies the one who sends the Holy Spirit. I will have to read more on this, but St. Ignatius of Antioch (2nd century bishop in Syria) often compares the bishop to God the Father, priests to Christ or the company of Apostles, and deacons to the ministry of the Apostles. Both the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit, thus both the bishop and the priest have this capacity, and yet all the Son has he has from the Father (including, if I am not mistaken, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from him), thus it is proper that the bishop be the ordinary minister of the sacrament by which the Holy Spirit is confirmed in souls. (A note: these are just top-of-head thoughts, if I say something that sounds heretical, check the catechism and disregard what I said as needed)

After considering the sacramental priesthood to some extent, there is also the question of other ministers at Mass. Many argue that these should be male whenever possible, citing what appears to be the meaning of Canon Law but also arguing that the other ministries are in some way a participation in the priesthood. There is certainly more leeway here, since these are ministers (besides the priest and deacon) do not receive a sacrament, yet the principle of a significant sign should still apply. Thus, when the Epistles of St Paul or any of the Apostles is read, it does seem fitting that a male should read these so as to signify the Apostle better. Another example of a sign beyond the sacraments: I know a priest who always has the gifts brought up from the congregation (although this is not required) since this better signifies the contribution of man in the divine sacrifice.

Must go to class. Signs--very important.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

1 Corinthians 14, first look with St Thomas

Chapter 14 of First Corinthians is an extended consideration of two charismata in particular: prophecy and speaking in tongues (and a brief mention of interpretation of tongues). Speaking in tongues is the gift most often associated with the "Charismatic Movement", so it will be helpful to understand that better. And also, since prophecy is a better gift and St Paul wants us all to seek it (Desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy), this too is worth considering.

In the commentary on 12, St Thomas said about these gifts:

  • prophecy is the grace to manifest what is known to God alone (such as future contingents)
  • speaking in tongues allows one to overcome the barrier of language
  • interpretation of tongues allows one to understand the difficult words of Scripture
In Chapter 14, however, St Paul talks about speaking in tongues as not understandable by men and as only edifying oneself, rather than the whole community. Let's see what St Thomas has to say about this... An outline is always a good way to start.

  • Prophecy excels the gift of tongues
    • reasons on account of the nonbelievers
      • More useful in exhortation (5-12)
      • More useful in praying (13-17)
    • reasons on account of the believers
  • How the gifts of prophecy and tongues should be used
Early on, St Thomas says "For the explanation of the entire chapter, three things need to be known beforehand: (1) what is prophecy, (2) how many kinds of prophecy are in Scripture, (3) what is speaking in tongues."
  • Prophecy is the sight or manifestation of future contingents or of things transcending human understanding
  • Four things are required for this
    • An image in the imagination which is the likeness of the thing shown
    • Intellectual light which allows the intellect to know beyond natural knowledge
      • Nebuchadnezzar and Pharoah had dreams but were not prophets; Daniel and Joseph interpreted the dreams and were prophets
    • Courage to announce the things revealed
    • Working of miracles which lends certitude for prophecy
  • Prophets differ inasmuch as they possess these four things differently
  • The prophecy referred to in this chapter belongs to one who "has the intellectual light to explain imaginary visions made to himself or someone else"
  • The gift of tongues is the actual speaking of foreign languages
  • As for this chapter, "When the Apostle mentions here about speaking in a tongue, he means an unknown language not interpreted; as when one might speak German to a Frenchman without an interpreter, he is speaking in a tongues. Hence, all speech neither understood nor explained, no matter what it is, is properly called speaking in a tongue." St Thomas says "whatever speech" because any speech that is truly such (and not just noise) has some meaning, whether it is known or not.
What is meant by speaking in tongues becomes more clear when he comments on verse 5 (I'm paraphrasing):
  • He says that men are sometimes moved by the Holy Spirit to speak something mystical, which they do not understand--this person has the gift of tongues
  • One who speaks in tongues and interpret is better than one who is prophet--because to interpret difficult things is what the prophet does (so St Thomas here seems to identify the prophet and the interpreter of tongues); so such a one is both a prophet and has the gift of tongues
In verse 6, St Paul talks about his own gift to speak in tongues:
  • This can mean either foreign languages or any speech (sign) that is not understood
  • Things about which Paul speaks:
    • revelation, by which the mind is enlightened to know divine things
    • knowledge, that is, about earthly things that leads to building up of faith (Thomas interestingly excludes geometry and astronomy...)
    • prophecy, which is about future events (this is more particular than the sense above)
    • doctrine, which is about moral acts
He finishes his account of verse 11 by exhorting us, "Don't be barbarians to one another."

That's all I'm going to do for now. I'll probably write more on this later.

Evagrios Quote

Interesting passage from Evagrios the Solitary On Discrimination:

We have learnt, after much observation, to recognize the difference between angelic thoughts, human thoughts, and thoughts that come from demons.
  • Angelic thought is concerned with the true nature of things and with searching out their logoi. For example, why was gold created and scattered like sand in the lower regions of the earth, to be found only with much toil and effort? And how, when found, is it washed in water and committed to the fire, and then put into the hands of craftsmen who fashion it into the candlestick of the tabernacle and the censers and the vessels from which, by the grace of our Savior, the king of Babylon no longer drinks? A man such as Cleopas brings a heart burning with these mysteries.
  • Demonic thought, on the other hand, neither knows nor can know such things. It can only shamelessly suggest the acquisition of physical gold, looking forward to the wealth and glory that will come from this.
  • Finally, human thought neither seeks to acquire gold nor is concerned to know what it symbolizes, but brings before the mind simply the image of gold, without passion or greed.
[end quote]

He frequently mentions the work of the angels and says that one way to cast out the devil is to consider the angels, what they are, how they work; once the devil is found out, he says, he can no longer work as effectively. That makes sense out of why St. Thomas spent so much time considering the angels...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Charismatic Gifts, Division of 1 Corinthians 12

Recently I've talked with many who associate themselves with the "charismatic" movement in the Church. Seeking clarity in understanding, I go to St. Thomas to see what he has to say... The following is from his commentary on First Corinthians, the place in Scripture that deals most with the charismata. Outlines will now commence.

After the greeting, the main division is:
  • Things pertaining to all: the sacraments (ch. 1-15)
  • Things pertaining to some (ch. 16)
Under that first heading is considered:
  • The sacraments themselves (1-11)
    • Baptism (1-4)
    • Matrimony (5-7)
    • Eucharist (8-11)
  • The thing signified and contained by them: grace (12-14)
    • Charismatic graces (12)
    • Charity, which is prefered above all these (13)
    • Comparison of charismatic graces (14)
  • The thing signified but not contained: glory (15)
All right, things to notice: Whoever would have characterized the sacraments as the main purpose and the ordering principle of this whole letter? This is intersting and worth considering more later. As for our present purposes (which are chapters 12-14), we should probably note one translation detail.

What the translator calls "charismatic graces" are called "gratiis gratis data" by St. Thomas. Graces given by grace? Another translation I found was "gratuitous graces", which means about the same. The word "charismatic" comes from the Greek for gift or grace, so that's probably a good translation too. I'll keep calling them "charismatic graces", since that's easier and more normal sounding than the Latin or the phrase "gratuitous graces". Also, it will hopefully have a connection with what is meant by those in the charismatic movement.

Now the whole commentary on chapter 12 is about 20 pages (really 10, since the pages are Latin/English). First, I'm going to just copy and paste the text, outlining according to St. Thomas. This could be messy. I will provide explanation within it, in brackets. And I'll probably break up the outline as convenience requires.

  • [He states his intention]
    • 1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be uninformed.  
  • [He follow his intention]
    • [He shows the need for spiritual graces]
      • 2 You know that when you were heathen, you were led astray to dumb idols, however you may have been moved.  
      • 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.  
    • [He presents the distribution of graces, v. 7-31]

[Distribution of graces]
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. 
  • [Manifestation of the division of graces]
    • [Division of specific graces]
      • [Lays down condition of charimatic graces]
        • 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  
      • [Distinguishes them, v. 8-10] 
      • [Describes their action, responds to errors]
        • 11 All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
    • [He applies a likeness]
      • 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single organ, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, 25 that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
  • [Division of operations {ministrationum}]
    • [Assigns order of ministries]
      • [Principal ministries]
        • 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers,
      • [Secondary ministries]
        • helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.
    • [Manifests distinctions among them]
      • 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
    • [Orders their affections for ministries and graces]
      • 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Charismatic graces are ordered to the salvation of men. Only God can work this internally, but men can aid in this only by outwardly persuading.
[Distinction of specific graces, 12:8-10]
  • [Faculty of persuading]
    • [about divine things] 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom,
    • [about creatures] and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
    • [about matters of faith] 9 to another faith by the same Spirit,
  • [Faculty of confirming persuasion through divine signs]
    • [Something only God can do]
      • [with benefit] to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
      • [without benefit] 10 to another the working of miracles,
    • [Something only God can know]
      • [future contingents] to another prophecy,
      • [the human heart] to another the ability to distinguish between spirits,
  • [Faculty of proposing persuasion intelligibly]
      • [to overcome language barrier] to another various kinds of tongues,
      • [to explain what is obscure in Scripture] to another the interpretation of tongues.
Later, I will probably gather together key passages on understanding the charismatic gifts in general. Verses 7-10 in this chapter are probably the most important for understanding the charismatic gifts in themselves, but chapter 13 is most important for understanding their worth--which is subordinate to that of charity. Most of chapter 13 is spent showing that charity (1) avoids all evil and (2) accomplishes much good. And he then considers the vision of God.

Chapter 14 and its commentary is somewhat longer, but goes into detail about two particular charismata: prophecy and speaking in tongues, comparing the two and explaining their proper use.