The Bible – Sole Arbiter Of The Christian Faith

That Holy Scripture is central to the tenets of the Christian faith is not disputed; that it is the sole arbiter of the Christian faith is. Sola Scriptura is a cornerstone of Protestant theology, but it is, in my opinion, a fundamental misconception of Protestant biblical theology.  Why?

This is the question that I would like to discuss in response the latest Alpha subject – Why and How Should I Read the Bible? This discussion will not argue on the spiritual aspect of biblical reading, covered under such subject headings as the Catholic practice of Lectio Divina, but rather on the more controversial subject, that of the Protestant doctrine of Scripture Alone!

First let us distinguish between two important aspects of scripture: 1) the more arcane characteristic referring to the intrinsic knowledge conveyed by scripture and, 2) the actual written word, more commonly referred to as the biblical word or the written word.

What is sola scriptura and what does it mean?

  1. Wikipedia describes Sola Scriptura as – “the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness.
  2. Apologist, James Akin says of Sola Scriptura, it:  “…teaches that every teaching in Christian theology (everything pertaining to “faith and practice”) must be able to be derived from Scripture alone.

Basically, sola scriptura means that any theological or religious understanding can and must only be based on scripture. It must exclude any external influence such as a centralised interpretive authority or traditional understandings etc.

This disallows any tradition handed down or any binding authority such as the Catholic Magisterium from aiding or augmenting scriptural instruction. Indeed Akin says of the Protestant dilemma, [i]If Tradition or a Magisterium could bind the conscience of the believer as to what he was to believe then the believer would not be looking to Scripture alone as his authority.” This, in my mind, is rather convenient and also smacks of a central Magisterium(!) in itself, dictating how and what the believer should believe!

Obviously in disallowing a central interpretive authority (the Magisterium) to guide the ordinary believer, Sola Scriptura must, by necessity, advocate a right to absolute private judgment.[ii] And as regards this dogma, as many as are adherents, is as many different ‘truths’ which are espoused. Taking it to a farcical level, even in one parish let alone one religious denomination, there could be many versions of the truth!

Make sense – no of course not!

In a sense this multiplicity of truths is indistinguishable from relativism, believing that the truth is whatever the private judgment of the individual conceives it to be! That cannot be true, for truth cannot be many things, it can only be one – one interpretation. This does not dispute that truth can be hard to find or that people have got it wrong but there can only be one truth. It follows then that this must be the same for the interpretation of scripture – excluding private abstract meaning there can only be one specific public meaning.

Then what other source is required for the determination of the truth: one we have already heard – is the magisterium, but the other we have not – tradition. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes tradition in the following manner:

“The word tradition (Greek paradosis) in the ecclesiastical sense, which is the only one in which it is used here, refers sometimes to the thing (doctrine, account, or custom) transmitted from one generation to another; sometimes to the organ or mode of the transmission (kerigma ekklisiastikon, predicatio ecclesiastica)” [iii]

Transmitted from one generation to the next’, a pretty obvious and innocuous statement on the face of it but which, in the context our story, was partly the cause of  the Protestant schism within Christianity. To be fairly banal, do you not possess knowledge which was passed from your parents to you, will you not pass this on to the next generation? This information is in addition to the more formal knowledge and understanding of life that we receive as instruction but is just as vital.

Likewise, the church has passed down apostolic and post-apostolic knowledge over the eons, from the apostles to the early church fathers (think of the Didache, the Shepard of Hermas, Irenaeus, Origen and many more) and beyond. Although these and other traditions were not included into the canon of scripture, this does not mean that they have no value; they represent the collective wisdom of the past.

 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. [iv]

says Paul to the Corinthians.

Paraphrasing Catholic Answers [v]  provides some context to the preservation and passing on of apostolic tradition:

On the preservation of Apostolic Tradition, Paul instructs Timothy:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. [vi]

Paul recognized the need for tradition to be passed on from generation to generation, ensuring that the true teaching of Christ was not lost. Likewise, the early Church Fathers recognized the same necessity. The following excerpts are taken from Catholic Answers article on Apostolic Tradition: [vii]

Irenaeus

“As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one and the same” (Against Heresies 1:10:2 [A.D. 189]).

Clement of Alexandria

“Well, they preserving the tradition of the blessed doctrine derived directly from the holy apostles, Peter, James, John, and Paul, the sons receiving it from the father (but few were like the fathers), came by God’s will to us also to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds. And well I know that they will exult; I do not mean delighted with this tribute, but solely on account of the preservation of the truth, according as they delivered it. For such a sketch as this, will, I think, be agreeable to a soul desirous of preserving from loss the blessed tradition” (Miscellanies 1:1 [A.D. 208]).

Origen

“Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the apostles and remains in the churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition” (The Fundamental Doctrines 1:2 [A.D. 225]).

Sola-Scriptura pre-supposes ready access to the scriptures, it pre-supposes the individuals capacity for theological thought and application in interpreting those scriptures and it pre-supposes the individuals literacy! Are these the pre-requisites for salvation? I would hope not and if they are, humankind through history would be in a rather sorry state! Why? – up until (and probably including) the 1800’s the average person was illiterate, had no access to books (let alone bibles) or theological training –  most probably because of their economic predicament. Thus the majority would rely on verbal communication, interpretation by application of tradition, visual aids depicting stories and traditions (think of the stained glass windows in churches) and a trust in the values of the local vicar/priest!

Dei Verbum the Catholic Church’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation ratifies the relationship between scripture and tradition as:

There is one source of revelation, God, with two modes of transmission – “Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture … For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity …”[viii]

In conclusion, I would posit that scripture is of prime importance but that it can and must be augmented by authentic tradition. When reading the bible and generally studying the Christian way of life and its mores, cognisance must be taken of both scripture and any related and accepted tradition, such as the church fathers etc. All of this must be governed by a central authority vested with the responsibility of providing a true public interpretation of God’s Revelation.

Bibliography

  1. Akin, J. (1996). The Practical Problems of Sola Scriptura. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from EWTN: http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/PRACTICL.HTM
  2. Wikipedia. (2013, June 9). Sola Scriptura. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sola_scriptura&oldid=559085188
  3. Akin, J. (2013). Sola Scriptura and Private Judgment. Retrieved September 3, 2013, from JimmyAkin.com: http://jimmyakin.com/library/sola-scriptura-and-private-judgment
  4. Bainvel, J. (1912). Tradition and Living Magisterium. (New York: Robert Appleton Company) Retrieved September 3, 1913, from The Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15006b.htm
  5. Catholic Answers. (1996-2013). Apostolic Tradition. Retrieved September 4, 2013, from Catholic Answers: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/apostolic-tradition
  6. The Roman Catholic Church. (1965, November 18). Dei Verbum. Retrieved September 4, 2013, from The Holy See: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html

End Notes


[i] (Akin, The Practical Problems of Sola Scriptura, 1996)

[ii] “This was a question put by Catholics to Luther and the other Protestants, who answered that, in the absence of some group of Christians who were divinely commissioned with the task of formulating the material of theology, the individual himself must be divinely commissioned with this task. Thus the doctrine of an absolute right to private judgment–to deciding for oneself what the correct interpretation of Scripture is–was created.”

(Akin, Sola Scriptura and Private Judgment, 2013)

[iii] (Bainvel, 1912)

[iv] 1 Corinthians 11:2

[v] (Catholic Answers, 1996-2013)

[vi] 2 Timothy 2:2

[vii] (Catholic Answers, 1996-2013)

[viii] (The Roman Catholic Church, 1965)

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Give Me a Chance!

I want to put forward a different perspective on prayer, a contemplative characteristic that I believe enriches us immensely. Author, Marianne Williamson said of spirituality,I deepen my experience of God through prayer, meditation and forgiveness I believe that sometimes in the exuberance and vocalisation of our prayer lives, we tend to shut God out – we don’t give Him a chance to get a word in edgewise! John Main, a very well-known Benedictine contemplative said …In contemplative prayer we seek to become the person we are called to be, not by thinking of God but by being with God.” [i]

In the norm, my petitions tend to be an incessant and sometimes confused babble, a continuous stream of one way communication; which certainly leaves me feeling rather empty, as though I have just been talking to myself! This is obviously my very human perception as God is ALWAYS listening to His children. Andrew Murray, a missionary, once said: Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue. Gods voice in response to mine is its most essential part

The Gospels seem to suggest this in reference to our attitude to prayer:

6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.[ii]

Sage advice bearing in mind that God knows what we need and want before we do. When we pray we need to put forward our petition, to ask for what we want and then to patiently listen for God’s response, instead of just prattling on. The answer may not be what we want to hear but it will always be what we need. As the poet Edward Young observed: They only babble who practise not reflection

So, what is contemplative prayer?

contemplative

Pronunciation: /kon’templativ/

adjective

expressing or involving prolonged thought:

she regarded me with a contemplative eye

¨    involving or given to deep silent prayer or religious meditation: contemplative knowledge of God

noun

a person whose life is devoted primarily to prayer, especially in a monastery or convent.

Derivatives

contemplatively

adverb [iii]

I suppose contemplative prayer has adherents in many religious disciplines, particularly those of eastern origin but obviously not all of them are Christocentric in nature. For this reason the church[iv] issued the letter “Some aspects of Christian Meditation”,[v] putting some clarity on the church’s stance on how to approach contemplation and meditation.

In essence this document says that while many Christians want to experience a richer and more profound spiritual life, many want doctrinal assurance regarding their endeavour, that they might remain faithful to the truth revealed in Christ.[vi] The document mentions: ‘The spiritual restlessness arising from a life subjected to the driving pace of a technologically advanced society also brings a certain number of Christians to seek in these methods of prayer a path to interior peace and psychic balance.’[vii]

It goes on to say: ‘Christian prayer is always determined by the structure of the Christian faith, in which the very truth of God and creatures shines forth. For this reason it is defined, properly speaking, as a personal, intimate and profound dialogue between man and God.’[viii]

In the wake of Christian contemplative prayer advocated by John Main, Thomas Merton and others and the comparisons made generally to Eastern traditions, there has been much apprehensive comment made in this regard; in some instances perhaps, quite rightly so. As a Catholic Christian I believe that ensuring I stay firmly within the doctrines of the church is of paramount important, so some of the components of centring prayer, for instance of repeating a ‘mantra’ (an Eastern religious practice) over and over seems rather alien to me and is not normally the way I would seek to proceed! The church rightly advises us to be wary of such practices.

However, does that mean one cannot be contemplative without losing that most essential Christocentric emphasis in prayer – no I do not think so.

“The contemplation of divine things and an assiduous union with God in prayer is the first and principle duty of all religious.” – Vatican II [ix]

I believe that the essence of Christian contemplation is first of all to petition, putting your needs, your worries, your worship and your thanks before God; then in quietness and in stillness, with a great love of God and an acute awareness of God, we must listen. The last point, awareness, is to me most important as it is the main objective in Christian contemplative prayer – an awareness of God Almighty, of our Saviour Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit, the Lord the Giver of Life indeed, of the Divine Trinity – being in the presence of your God.

Pray, talk to God – let Him hear what you have to say. Then, in humble manner, listen in stillness to God has to say.

Bibliography

  1. Catholic Communities of Prayer. (2012). Contemplative Prayer. Retrieved Aug 27, 2013, from Catholic Communities of Prayer: http://www.catholicspray.org/contemplative_prayer
  2. Christian Contemplation. (2013, July 16). Retrieved August 24, 2013, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Christian_contemplation&oldid=564569279
  3. contemplative. (2013). Retrieved August 25, 2013, from Oxford Dictionaries: http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/contemplative
  4. Freeman, L. (2002). John Main – Essential Writings. (L. Freeman, Ed.) New York, USA: Orbis Books.
  5. McBrien, R. P. (1994). Catholicism (New ed.). New York, USA: Harper San Francisco.
  6. New International Version®. (2011). Holy Bible in the Gospel of Matthew. Retrieved August 23, 2013 from BibleGateway.com: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%206&version=NIV
  7. The Catholic Church. (October 15, 1989). Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on some Aspects of Christian Meditation. (J. Ratzinger, Ed.) Retrieved August 26, 2013 from EWTN: http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfmed.htm

End Notes


[i] (Freeman, 2002, p. Back Cover)

[ii] (New International Version®, 2011, pp. Ver. 6-7)

[iii] (contemplative, 2013)

[iv] The Roman Catholic Church

[v] (The Catholic Church, 1989)

[vi] (The Catholic Church, 1989, p. Para. 1)

[vii] (The Catholic Church, 1989, p. Para. 2)

[viii] (The Catholic Church, 1989, p. Para. 3)

[ix] (Catholic Communities of Prayer, 2012)

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The Reality of Faith

This is the third in a series of Alpha lectures, titled “How can we have Faith?”

I wrote about faith in a recent blog entitled “Faith and Contemporary Society”, but I think it serves a purpose to make some additional comment on the matter. First off, let’s remind ourselves of the premise of the last article:

Faith is described as a relationship of trust and confidence in someone or something, in most instances without proof – but is this the right way to approach faith – without any form of reasoned contemplation? [1]

Jesus Appears to Thomas

25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

This is the reality of the modern world, ‘seeing is believing’; yet I am not unsettled by this statement and don’t find this reality to be that contrary to my Christian ideals! Before I am accused of heresy and all other kinds of impeachable treachery, I am not advocating an on-boarding of modernist idealisms. No, I am saying that faith without foundation is wishful thinking. Thomas had no grounds for accepting the outrageous suggestion of his fellow apostles, unless he saw the Lord for himself. When he did, he immediately recognised the divine kingship of Jesus and addressed him accordingly!

Then Jesus said to Thomas:

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

To paraphrase my last blog on the subject, do not mistake Jesus’ observation of Thomas as a rebuke and an approbation of blind, unquestioning faith but rather illustrative of the difference between the need for sensory proof and faith supported by reasoned deduction. So it should be with us – though sensory proof will one day be ours for we too will be with Jesus.

John says: And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.[2] To me, faith is all about seeking the truth; it is as though it is an in-built imperative in human nature!

Proverbs underscores this thought on faith: I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.[3]

God wants us to know about Him, to know the truth but you can only know the truth by studying the facts and making a reasoned judgement – that’s faith! Paul’s letter to the Hebrews provides the following explication on the Reality of Faith:

6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.[4]

But, as with the grace of salvation and in accordance with the freedom accorded His creation, man must ask, must invite God into his life.

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.[5]

Nicky Gumbel’s use of that well-known painting by Holman Hunt – The Light of the World is perhaps most illustrative of the essence of faith and grace.[6] ‘There is no handle…’ goes the famous criticism, to which Hunt replies ‘… that is deliberate, there is only one handle and that is on the inside.’ The allegory being that only the owner of that door (the door to his life) can open it and let the visitor (Jesus) in.

7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.[7]

This verse sums up what faith is all about – search, seek, find….

Faith is not about blindly accepting dogma, it is about working toward the glory of God – forever looking, forever searching, forever knocking in a quest to find the truth. That quest does not have to be academic or philosophical, it is your quest, your search to find the truth and it is the truth which gives intellectual assent to that faith!

Bibliography

1. Sturges, A. J. (2013, May 18). Faith and Contemporary Society. Retrieved August 19, 2013, from Defensio Credam: https://tonysturges.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/faith-and-contemporary-society/

2. Gumbel, N. (2010). Questions of Life (New ed.). London, United Kingdom: Alpha International.


[1] (Sturges, 2013)

[2] John 8:32

[3] Proverbs 8:17

[4] Hebrews 11:6

[5] Revelation 3:20

[6] (Gumbel, 2010, p. 56)

[7] Matthew 7:8-9

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There is a Greenhill …

Contemplation

I stood in awe at the foot of that tree –

Looking down He whispered softly to me.

All is not lost my child; I have set you free –

For the ransom is paid, loves power you see.

 

Anthony Sturges (2013)

clip_image002

Consummatum Est – It is completed[i]

Introduction

The theme for the third session of Alpha was ‘Why did Jesus die?’ In the discussion forums following the presentation, the questions flowed thick and fast: Why? Why did He have to die? Surely there must have been another way? An all-powerful God would not let this happen.

Indeed, why did He have to die? After all He is the Word Incarnate.

As the instrument of salvation, the cross is not only the most significant object within the Christian faith but it is also a contradiction, the cause of so many questions! From a moral standpoint, it is repugnant and a total paradox particularly when viewed in terms of human dignity – but then that’s its common purpose; it is meant to degrade the victim and to provide a hideous example to others. However, through Christianity this horrific instrument of torture becomes instead, the gateway to freedom of life, the path to truth.

Crucifixion

Crucifixion is a particularly barbaric form of capital punishment[i]; in fact it was regarded as so barbaric that Emperor Constantine eventually banned its use within the Roman Empire. Crucifixion left the condemned person to hang from a wooden cross until dead; death was caused by a combination of factors but most notably, asphyxia. The length of time taken to die could be a few hours to a few days, dependent on the circumstance and the health of the condemned person. It was also commonplace to break the victim’s legs to hasten death – this was actually a mercy because a crucifixions’ barbarity left very few people unmoved.

In many instances, crucifixion was preceded by scourging[ii], a hideous form of corporal punishment using a scourge or many tailed whip; the Roman version, the flagrum was tipped with barbs and was so brutal that it often led to the excoriation of the condemned. Mercifully, perhaps, this just served to hasten death in crucifixion.

Opinion

The main question we need to deal with is ‘Why did Jesus have to die’? To answer this we need to understand how sin was dealt with in the Old Covenant because I think that this will contextualise God’s solution to the dilemma of sin and Jesus’ relationship to this covenant.

Sin in the Old Testament

Most Christians are familiar with repentance under the New Testament covenant – Jesus died for our sins. However it is important to understand how atonement for sin was achieved in the second temple period – during the time of Jesus.

The sacrificial system of Leviticus[i] required the spilling of blood. It was known that the sentence for sin was death; but in accordance with the provisions of Leviticus the spilling of animal blood in substitution for man’s offences provided atonement for those sins. This was the substitutionary nature of the Old Law.[ii] The important aspect I want you to remember here is the assumed nature of this action.

The Holiness of God

Now let’s look at the holiness of God[iii] – His utter and absolute perfection, for holiness refers to the greatness, to the purity of God. By holiness God is set infinitely apart from all else.

In chapter 6, after seeing the vision of God, Isaiah says:

5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”[iv]

Perfect Justice

God is infinitely pure, without stain in any way and consequently our iniquity distances us from Him as infinitely as he is perfect. Again Isaiah 59:2 says:[v]

2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God…

The wages of sin are death, which our Lord cannot just waive aside, for He is also perfectly just. The death spoken of here is not physical death but something infinitely worse – spiritual death, the eternal separation from God. In fact this was probably the worst torture of all for our Lord on the cross – “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” This occurs as He bears the sin of all mankind; remember, God is holy and totally without sin thus when Jesus bears our sins as the incarnate Son of Man, he is separating Himself entirely from the Father.

No matter how upright we think we are, we’re not! John says everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.[vi] The Confiteor says it all: ‘…I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do…’ we are impure by the very thoughts that we think, by the deeds not done.

There is no such thing as partial sin – sin is sin. God is absolutely without sin, without blemish of any sort, He is infinitely pure. In His infinite purity He cannot abide any sin and in His infinite integrity, all sin requires infinite justice.

Perfect Love

As any parent would step in harms way for their children, so God our father, whose love is immeasurable, wants likewise. Earlier in this essay I mentioned the word substitutionary, well this is it, this is the perfect sacrifice – God taking on our sins, taking the punishment which justifiably belongs to each and every one of us, accepting the punishment on our behalf – paying the ransom.

A question asked was “Surely in His omnipotence God could have found a better way?” Well logically he couldn’t because in His perfection, were there a better way and He did not make it, then He wouldn’t be perfect, He wouldn’t be God!

Conclusion

No, the choice was the right one, for the infinite nature of God demands an equally infinite sacrifice to make amends. This is a ransom beyond man’s means; it is ‘grace’ and is offered free without bond.

Having said that, there is one overriding caveat, you must accept or reject life, His offer.

Paul said in Ephesians 2:

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.[vii]

Bibliography

1. Alexander, C. F. (Composer). There was a Green Hill Far Away.

2. Atonement on the Old Testament Law. (2009, Sep 11). Retrieved Aug 10, 2013, from Returning King.com: http://returningking.com/new/?p=667

3. Book of Leviticus. (2013, June 20). Retrieved August 12, 2013, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Book_of_Leviticus&oldid=560718276

4. Crucifixion. (2013, July 29). Retrieved August 10, 2013, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Crucifixion&oldid=566323821

5. Goettsche, R. (2000, June 25). The Holiness of God. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from Union Curch of La Harpe, USA: http://www.unionchurch.com/archive/062500.html

6. New International Version®. (2011). Holy Bible in Ephesians 2:1-10. Retrieved August 14, 2013, from BibleGateway.com: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+2%3A1-10&version=NIV

7. Scourging. (2010, May 04). Retrieved August 10, 2013, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Scourging&oldid=360123877

8. Sturges, A. J. (2013, August 09). ‘At the Foot of the Tree’. Johannesburg, Guateng, South Africa: -.


[i] (Book of Leviticus, 2013)

[ii] (Atonement on the Old Testament Law, 2009)

[iii] Bear in mind that God is ineffable in human terms!

[iv] Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE) –

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1965, 1966 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[v] ibid

[vi] ibid

[vii] (New International Version®, 2011)

 


[i] (Crucifixion, 2013)

[ii] (Scourging, 2010)

 


[i] John 19:30

 

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A Question of Evil

I want to find God! I want to know Him because I believe that He is the only way to ultimate truth, the absolute reason for existence!

On my own, I am incapable of satisfying these metaphysical needs and so I stumble around in perpetual unhappiness relying on a crutch of materialism.

As part of a personal spiritual initiative, I have joined a basic Alpha course at my local parish; not to discover Christianity but to try and find a path (one of many I suppose) which could bring me closer to my goal – ‘truth’. This could end up being a giant step in the right direction or a ‘minute glance’ toward that goal, one of many steps in the right direction – either way it should be a positive move forward.

At the first evening, in the discussion group, two related questions struck me:

  1. How can a compassionate God allow evil – why would God allow the existence of a fiend like Hitler? and
  2. If we are predestined, then what difference does it make what we do – so how then could we blame Hitler if what he did he was pre-destined to do?

My point of view:-

Evil

What is evil? — A secular dictionary will tell you that it is a profoundly immoral act[1]; but compared to whom and to what? Mankind in general cannot be regarded as the ultimate moral yardstick – for that would be no measure at all, leading to the predicament of relativistic ideas with many gradations of what might or might not be evil! The ancient Greek statesman and orator, Demosthenes once said: ‘The easiest thing of all is to deceive one’s self; for what a man wishes he generally believes to be true.’

On the other hand, religion has always had the external yardstick of perfection – God; Christianity says evil is the absence of God and/or of God inspired wisdom. C.S. Lewis puts it well when he says: “The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike…”

The urban legend of Albert Einstein and the proof of evil[2] may be the substance of myth but it does convey a concept, which helps in defining evil. Evil is very real but it is not a physical entity, it has no substance – it is an abstract description, merely the absence of a defining morality and in the case of Christian philosophy, the absence of God.

Choice

In His ineffable wisdom, God has deemed it necessary that man should have free will – free to make a choice between good and bad, between accepting and rejecting His Grace.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: (1730: God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him).

To grant his creation this freedom of choice, especially with the foresight of sin, seems strange but is it? God wants us to love Him unconditionally … ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’. Why would He ask this of us when He could just as easily will it? It is precisely because God wants us to love Him willingly of our own accord that he grants His creation freedom to choose; else it would not truly be that agape love[3] which God so willingly gives to us. But this comes at a cost (so to speak), given freewill man can also make the wrong choices (sin) and essentially this is the origination of evil and in a Christian sense, the origin of original sin.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also states (1853: … The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.”)[4]

These are sins of choice (of free will) – for whoever committed them could equally choose not to commit them!

Predestination

Theopedia defines predestination as:

Predestination in its broadest conception is the doctrine that because God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and completely sovereign, he “from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass,” (Westminster Confession). “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).[5]

This is a severe Calvinistic interpretation based on the foundation of God’s undisputed sovereignty, though I believe the interpretation to be logically skewed.

Absolute predestination brings into question the true purpose of Jesus’ salvific act. For He came into the world to save sinners, to turn them back to the ways of God – to urge them to make the right ‘choice’! If choice did not matter due to absolute predestination then what is the point of the incarnation of the Word?

While predestination might be suspect, there remains the paradox of man’s freewill versus Gods omniscience, for truly God knows all. Yet determining man’s destiny removes any semblance of freewill and consequently any hope of a true agape love. It would be better to approach this from the Catholic position of pre-ordination. God is outside of His creation and that includes time. Simplistically, for God there is no future and no past, everything is present. So God is aware of and can see all of our actions and their consequences throughout the timeline of our mortal lives. He knows what choices we make, including and most importantly, accepting or rejecting His Grace, His invitation to salvation. In this way, it might seem that our salvation (or not) is pre-destined by God, but rather these actions are preordained by our own choices. What does this illustrate? It illustrates that while God may be aware of our ‘free’ choices, He does not cause them. Knowledge does not equal causality. We are free, not fated.[6]

References

1. Agape. (2013, August 2). Retrieved August 3, 2013, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agape

2. Did Einstein Prove that God Exists? (2013). Retrieved August 03, 2013, from About.com Urban Legends: http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/religion/a/einstein_god.htm

3. Evil. (2013, August 2). Retrieved August 3, 2013, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil

4. Fr. Michael Schmitz. (2012, June 18). Why does God allow people to commit evil acts? Retrieved August 04, 2013, from The Catholic Spirit.com: http://thecatholicspirit.com/columns/ask-father-mike/why-does-god-allow-people-to-commit-evil-acts/

5. Predestination. (2013, August 3). Retrieved August 3, 2013, from Theopedia: http://www.theopedia.com/Predestination

6. United States Catholic Bishops Conference Inc. (Librearia Editrice Vaticana). (1994). The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Washington: USCBC Inc.


[1] (Evil, 2013)

[2] (Did Einstein Prove that God Exists?, 2013)

[3] (Agape, 2013)

[4] (United States Catholic Bishops Conference Inc. (Librearia Editrice Vaticana), 1994)

[5] (Predestination, 2013)

[6] (Fr. Michael Schmitz, 2012)

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Faith and Contemporary Society

Introduction

When you think about it, faith is a strong and compelling word. Derived from the Latin, fides,[1] it describes a relationship of trust and confidence in someone or something, in most instances without proof – but is this the way to approach faith – without any form of reasoned contemplation?

John’s Gospel describes this poignantly in chapter 20, verse 29:

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Yet do not mistake this as the approbation of blind faith; it is not but is, in my opinion, illustrative of the difference between the need for sensory proof and faith supported by reasoned deduction.

In Proverbs (Prov.18:15), the author’s explication of knowledge, which is the mortar of reason, provides clarity concerning the importance of a reasoned faith.

The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge

In his epistle to the Colossians (Col 2:2-3), Paul further illustrates this point by exemplifying the Christians need to search for the knowledge with which to support his faith.

…unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Faith has regularly attracted the derision of a contemporary society – particularly within the secular or humanist sector of our communities – why?

Because so many equate faith to the acceptance of an idea, a thought, a person, indeed a way of life without reasoned deliberation; it is thus hardly surprising that faith attracts such derisive commentary.

Faith today, it seems, has become juxtaposed between two extremes:

The perception of faith as being blind trust, ‘sight unseen’ and without any knowledge aforethought

against

Empirical Rationalism or perhaps better worded as ‘empiricism’, in the main a product of the enlightenment. It is a nihilistic train of thought that does not allow for any reasoned deductive approach and relies solely on sensory experience; that is, unless I can see or feel it (proof), it cannot be true!

Faith on its own is like a house built without a foundation – fragile and unsustainable – viewed as superstitious delusion, it will come tumbling down. Likewise for me, reason and rationalism on their own result in ‘straw men’ – empty and without substance.

Sztanyo puts it well when he said, “In practical terms, this is not a situation of ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and’.” He mentions, “The proper relationship should be that of reason and revelation“. (Sztanyo, 1996)

Pope John Paul II in his encyclical, Fides et Ratio, is even more emphatic. He postulates that faith and reason are not only compatible, they belong together. “The Church remains profoundly convinced that faith and reason mutually support each other” (H.H. Pope John Paul II, 1998, p. Sec: 100)

Therefore, it seems that faith and reason are two sides of the same coin! You can’t have one without the other, without the risk of imbalance; this then would seem to be the embodiment of modern-day problems. There is a longstanding polemic between the sides of faith and rational thinking, with both sides suffering as a result. The proper place is for one to compliment the other.

Benjamin Franklin once said ‘The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason’ but this just typifies the inaccuracy and perpetuates the stigma of superstition![2] Perhaps a better way of describing faith would be to say, faith supported by reason opens the window to true knowledge!

Faith in What and Why?

There are surely very few people who do not think about some of life’s fundamental questions to a greater or lesser degree – Why am I here? What is the purpose of my existence? Where did I come from? Do I have any ‘universal’ worth? – Probably the most contentious of which is Does God exist? Indeed, consciously or unconsciously, in some form these questions will be a formative part of our worldview. Those who say they do not consider these foundational questions either prevaricate or have some other agenda in mind!

Whether admitted to or not, everyone has a worldview, a philosophical conception of the life they live; it may be naïve and unsophisticated or complex with many different facets but I would posit that it is on this worldview that each builds their faith.

On either end of the philosophic spectrum, there resides two opposing worldviews:

Atheism (including empirical humanism) is a view holding that there is no god or supernatural force that actively or otherwise intervenes in the affairs of mankind; mankind views itself as the ultimate measure of the greater moral good. This leads to the extrapolation that the physical and philosophic origin of man must lie in some unintelligent, accidental organic happening for which there never was, has been or ever will be any purpose!

Theism on the other hand puts forward the antithesis, holding that there is a God actively participating in His creation. While elements within theism may or may not agree on the physical origin of man, theism does consider man to originate from within a divine plan and would definitely consider purpose as a core fundamental of mans existence.

Thus philosophically, it makes sense to consider the question ‘Does God exist?’ as a priori the principal question, for without a moral absolute existing beyond the horizon of man, the other questions would be irrelevant. To this prime question, a theist would answer yes and know that his or her existence had purpose, worth and moral direction and would be justified in searching for answers to the other questions. An atheist on the other hand would answer no and would have to accept that his or her life was as meaningless as the impersonal natural accident that brought humans into existence! [3]

In either case, individual faith is built on a personal worldview; as stated previously, everyone has a worldview whether based on the premise of a metaphysical reality or on an existential humanist view of man, or indeed of something which lies between these two paradigms.

Conclusion

Whatever the circumstance, in western culture in particular faith has become passé, replaced instead by an insistence on a totally rational humanistic view of mankind. The pendulum, it seems, has swung too far toward one extreme within the worldview continuum.

Conversely, up until the age of enlightenment, faith was not questioned. It was de facto, the accepted worldview of a society yet to advance beyond ‘sticks and stones’ and, continuing our analogy, the pendulum was stuck at the other end of the continuum – this was not a healthy state of affairs either.

However, with our capacity to learn came an increasing sense of natural awareness – the need to question and determine became more acceptable and more urgent and led to what we now know as the Age of Enlightenment. This was certainly not a bad thing and led to a breath-taking progression of mankind (although sometimes one truly has to wonder!). This ‘burning of the grass’ got rid of a lot of bad philosophy, superstition and a lot more besides; but it also overreacted and man’s thought, I would posit, became sterile, almost vacuous!

Faith, I think, needs to meet reason somewhere at the bottom of the pendulum swing so to speak, where faith contemplated and considered, is supported by reasoned judgement.


[1] FAITH – Online Etymology Dictionary: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=faith

[3] (All About Philosophy)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Sztanyo, D. (1996). Faith and Reason. Montgomery, Alabama, USA: Apologetics Press, Inc.
  2. Ratzinger, J. (2006). Faith and the Future. Los Angeles, California, USA: Ignatius Press.
  3. H.H. Pope John Paul II. (1998). Fides et Ratio. Vatican City, Vatican, Italy: Libreria Editrice Vaticana .
  4. Author(s) specifically unknown. (1611). The Holy Bible – Authorised 1611 King James Version. United Kingdom.
  5. All About Philosophy. (n.d.). Why am I here? – Worldview. Retrieved 05 06, 2013, from All About Philosophy: http://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/why-am-i-here.htm
Posted in Atheism, Discussion, Ethics, Morality, Observations, Opinion, Religious Philosophy, Theism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In Defence of Men & Women

It would seem to me that man has been on the downward side of certainty since he decided that reason was the sole arbiter of philosophical reflection. The ‘Age of Enlightenment’, initiated in the 17th century, brushed aside the cobwebs from the moral cupboard, relegating tradition and faith to the proverbial scrapheap! In some ways this was not a bad thing, for there were many ideas and practices which were no more than superstition and uninformed intent, but in other ways…?

In general man is a selfish, ‘I’ oriented being intent on satiating his own needs and desires above all else, the survival instinct one would suppose; but this begs the question – is this type of behaviour, this self-endowed mantle of moral pre-eminence really the pinnacle of humanity? These needs and desires which seem to drive our self-deception; are they no more than a justification for our actions? Are we re-inventing that, which in the past were regarded as moral and philosophical absolutes, just to satiate our propensity for what is essentially moral turpitude! What do statements such as ‘What is truth?’, ‘What is wrong for you is not necessarily wrong for me!’ and other relativistic utterances mean other than to justify man’s proclivity for immoral behaviour. One must perhaps conclude that, to this end, rationalism (man) excluded God for this very reason – substituting himself as his own moral compass to facilitate the egregious implementation of his own promiscuous agenda.

Tough or one sided, perhaps but quite close to reality I think; though today’s philosopher mighty even question that – ‘What is reality?’

Thus modern man’s pre-occupation with sexuality; his amoral reasoning that sexuality equates to the real love between two people irrespective of gender, wanders far from the real meaning of love between man and woman and the core meaning of sexual intimacy!

From a Christian perspective there is a simple guiding principal:

27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply;[1]

This statement, while of religious origin also carries with it a sense of the natural order of things, beliefs and moral certitudes that have been held through millennia. The bond of a man and a woman though opposite, are two sides of the same coin; yet despite this they are attracted through these very same complimentary differences, the ‘yin & yang’ so to speak. This conjoined pair forms the very core of the family unit, the reproductive progenitors of the human species.

As Douglas Farrow, professor of Christian Thought at McGill University states in the first of his thirteen theses[2] on marriage: (1) “Homo sapiens is a sexually dimorphic species that depends for its propagation and socialisation on the complimentary differences between male and female” and the second of his theses elaborates on this: (2) “Sexual difference, not variation in sexual inclination or ‘orientation’, is fundamental to the existence and well-being of the human race.”[3]

While these ideas adumbrate the regular theist, do they represent a broader representation of society?

All good and well when talking of the survival of species, how does one apply this rather banal description to the love needed to bond a man and a woman together?

Tradition and Christianity are close to the point when they describe it as that unreserved, unconditional love – agape love. It is the love used to describe God’s sacrificial love of humanity, that ‘no matter what’ type of love! It is this same type of covenant bond which links man and woman. The physicality of such a bond is summarised well in Farrow’s fifth and seventh theses: (5) “Well-ordered sexual intentions have in view goods both of body and of soul, goods that are at once personal and societal.” (7) “Consideration of these goods ought to respect the highest human good, which is the enjoyment of God and of one another in God.”

If this is descriptive of the bond between man and woman, how then does one describe the love bond of same sex couples? How does this relatively new concept of love, fit in with the original blueprint of the family as the encapsulation of the natural ideal? In addition and following on from this premise, is the question of the family unit as procreative nurturers of society – how do a same sex couple, who biologically cannot have children, raise children in a parental environment of ‘father father’ or ‘mother mother’, without impairment to the natural order of things?

Without the standards and norms which have governed humanity since time immemorial society, I believe, would long since have collapsed into individualistic anarchy – a proposition which seems to be portentously close![4]

This we find was one of the prime elements of Benedict XVI’s Christmas address to the Roman Curia[5]. As he has articulated previously, the pope expressed concern over the threat to the family unit described as the “…authentic setting in which to hand on the blueprint of human existence.” He goes further to say that the family unit is not just about a specific social construct, but essentially about man himself – about what it is to be authentically human. The commitment so necessary for the strengthening of the human ideal is increasingly being rejected to the expedience of man’s relativistic intent. Consequently, he says, the key figures in human existence are also vanishing: father, mother, child – those essential elements of what it is to be human.

Quoting from the Chief Rabbi of France Gilles Bernheim[6], Benedict goes on to say that the very notion of ‘sex’ is no longer an element of nature but rather the choice of a social role that we choose for ourselves in life. A role previously determined by societal norms! He lifts up the very hypocrisy of a humanity, happy to censure the manipulation of the environment within nature but insistent on the manipulation of humanity within nature to suit a sexual whim.

For these observations, Benedict has been taken to task predictably by gay rights groups and by much of the popular media. Though this is a sad indictment of man’s moral sensibilities, it is in a perverse way, confirmation of the pope’s points of view!

Perhaps approaching this from a different perspective will bring more clarity. All of humanity is governed by natural law, laws derived from nature and binding on everyone everywhere. But what is natural law (lex naturalis) – Wikipedia mentions: “Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyse human nature—both social and personal—and deduce binding rules of moral behaviour.” And Miriam & Webster defines it thus: “A law or body of laws that derives from nature and is believed to be binding upon human actions apart from or in conjunction with laws established by human authority.” In both of these definitions, one can see the thread of morality running through, a thread of natural common sense.

Thus for me, even from a humanistic point of view, a view very much based on rationalism, the sexual adventurism which is capped by the call for legalising gay marriage, is the antithesis of the very rationality which seeks to govern our modern society. It just seems to me to go against the same natural law which governs our existence.

I would ask: How can society allow it? 


[1] Genesis 1: 27

[2] (Farrow, 2012)

[3] Emphasis is mine

[4] This is my perspective.

[5] (H.H. Benedict XVI, 2012)

[6] (Gilles Bernheim – Chief Rabbi of France, 2012)

Bibliography

1. Farrow, D., 2012. First Things – Thirteen Theses on Marriage. [Online] Available at: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/09/thirteen-theses-on-marriage [Accessed 28 December 2012].

2. Gilles Bernheim – Chief Rabbi of France, 2012. Mariage homosexuel, homoparentalité et adoption : ce que l’on oublie souvent de dire. [Online] Available at: http://www.grandrabbindefrance.com/mariage-homosexuel-homoparentalit%C3%A9-et-adoption-ce-que-l%E2%80%99-oublie-souvent-de-dire-essai-de-gilles-bern [Accessed 28 December 2012].

3. H.H. Benedict XVI, 2012. Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI on the occasion of Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia. [Online] Available at: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2012/december/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20121221_auguri-curia_en.html [Accessed 28 December 2012].

4. Lucie-Smith, A., 2006. Foundations of Moral Theology. 1st ed. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa.

5. May, W. E., 2003. An Introduction to Moral Theology. 2nd ed. Huntington(Indiana): Our Sunday Visitor.

6. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, 2012. Natural Law. [Online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_law [Accessed 01 January 2013].

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