Monday, June 19, 2017

Bite Size Aquinas: Question 1-The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine; Article 3

Article 3: Whether Sacred Doctrine is One Science?

Objection 1: It is evident that Sacred Doctrine is not one science. According to the Philosopher in Poster., 1, "Science is one which is of a singular type of subject." However, the Creator and creation, concerning that which is discussed in Sacred Doctrine, are not connected under one type of subject. Therefore, Sacred Doctrine is not one science.

Objection 2: Besides, Sacred Doctrine discusses Angels, bodily creatures, and human laws. However, these belong to different philosophical sciences. Therefore, Sacred Doctrine is not a singular science.

But on the contrary is that Sacred Scripture, concerning this, says it is one science, as Wisdom 10:10 states, "he gave this sacred knowledge."

I respond that Sacred Doctrine is to be considered a singular science. Truly, the singularity of an ability or habit is considered by its object, not in fact, its materiality, but as regards the exact formality under which it is an object, for example, man, ass, and stone assemble in a single formality of being colored, because color is the object of sight. Therefore, because Sacred Scripture is considered something following divine revelation those words, all that are divinely revealed, communicate in one manner the formal object of this knowledge. And therefore it is comprehended under Sacred Doctrine as under one science.

To the first objection, therefore, it is to be said that Sacred Doctrine is not determined about God and creation out of equality but about God principals and about creation secondly because it was made known by God as the beginning and the end. Hence, the unity of knowledge is not impeded.

To the second objection, it is said that nothing prohibits inferior faculties from being differentiated by something which falls under a higher faculty or habit as well because the higher faculty or habit regards the object in its more universal formality. Just as the object of common sense is whatever affects the senses that is comprehended under that which is seen and heard, whence common sense with its one faculty is extended itself to all objects which are perceived through the senses. And similarly, those objects discussed in different philosophical sciences can be considered under this one Sacred Doctrine under one aspect insofar as they are divinely revealed so that this Sacred Doctrine bears the impression of divine science which is one and simple, yet extends to all.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Prevenient Grace in St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation

In order to understand the concept of prevenient grace, one must first be aware of the history behind the doctrinal debates surrounding it. Pelagius (360-418) was an advocate of a radical theology of human freedom. To Pelagius, humans were inherently able to choose to do good. His view came with a rejection of the catholic idea of Original Sin. Pelagius was opposed by St. Augustine (354-430) who, in reaction to Pelagius, stressed the fallen nature of humanity and God's initiative in salvation. In the writings, of Augustine and the Council of Carthage, the doctrine of Total Depravity began to be codified. The Council of Carthage (418) affirmed nine beliefs in response to Pelagianism:
1. Death came from sin, not man's physical nature.
2. Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.
3. Justifying grace covers past sins and helps avoid future sins.
4. The grace of Christ imparts strength and will to act out God's commandments.
5. No good works can come without God's grace.
6. We confess we are sinners because it is true, not from humility.
7. The saints ask for forgiveness for their own sins.
8. The saints also confess to be sinners because they are.
9. Children dying without baptism are excluded from both the kingdom of heaven and eternal life.*
The doctrine of Total Depravity became the first point in the Calvinistic soteriological system of TULIP (Total Depravity/Unconditional Election/Limited Atonement/Irresistible Grace/Perseverance of the Saints). The Calvinist takes Total Depravity, that man's natural orientation is away from God and is unable to turn to him, and builds a soteriology that becomes inherently deterministic: man is unable to come to God so God, through his sovereign grace, has predestined some to receive grace. This Elect group is who Christ died for, not the whole world.

Wesleyan-Arminian theology opposes the determinism of Calvinistic soteriology but it does accept the doctrine the idea of Total Depravity. As humans, it acknowledges, we are unable to turn to God of our own accord. We are all born into original sin. Romans 3:10-12 (NRSV) points this out, "There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one."

But how do Wesleyan-Arminians acknowledge Total Depravity and claim people have free will? Answer: the doctrine of Prevenient Grace. According to the Roman Catholic Catechism (§2670), "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit. Every time we begin to pray to Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit who draws us on the way of prayer by his prevenient grace."

Prevenient Grace is distinct from saving grace and sanctifying grace. According to the United Methodist Church:
"[John] Wesley understood grace as God's active presence in our lives. This presence is not dependent on human actions or human response. It is a gift--a gift that is always available, but that can be refused. God's grace stirs up within us a desire to know God and empowers us to respond to God's invitation to be in relationship with God. God's grace enables us to discern differences between good and evil and makes it possible for us to choose good...God takes the initiative in relating to humanity. We do not have to beg and plead for God's love and grace. God actively seeks us!" 
The result of Prevenient Grace, according to John Wesley (Sermon 85) is, "the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning His will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against Him." 

Some deny the reality of Prevenient Grace because they claim it lacks biblical foundation (that's a post for another day) or because it's a new doctrinal development. However, we can see the concepts of Total Depravity and Prevenient Grace in the writings of St. Athanasius (296-373), though since he preceded Pelagius and Augustine, his categories on this topic were not as developed (heresy was the mother of invention to the Church Fathers).

Athanasius clearly acknowledge a proto-Total Depravity (On the Incarnation, I.4):

But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion...when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good. By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing.
Athanasius claims that humans are helplessly losing their essential identity as humans. He believes that God, then was placed in a "Divine Dilemma": he could either let humanity continue on its trajectory to non-existence (which he could not do on account of his love for humanity) or he could forgive humanity's sin without any kind of sacrifice (which would violate his justice). Neither alternative being doable, God sent his Son to take on flesh and take our punishment from us, "He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us" (On the Incarnation, II.8). Through this act of revelation, God has made himself knowable, providing what would later be described as Prevenient Grace (VII.43):
The Lord did come to make a display. He came to heal and to teach suffering men...for Him...the way was not merely to dwell here, but to put  Himself at the disposal of those who needed Him, and to be manifested according as they could bear it, not vitiating the value of the Divine appearing by exceeding their capacity to receive could not recognise Him as ordering and ruling creation as a whole. So He takes to Himself for instrument a part of the whole, namely a human body, and enters into that. Thus He ensured that men should recognise Him in the part who could not do so in the whole, and that those who could not lift their eyes to His unseen power might recognise and behold Him in the likeness of themselves.
God makes the first move. Through the Incarnation and by grace, he has made himself intelligible to us.

Tradition is important and a vital tool which helps us understand God's Word. Here, Athanasius articulates a soteriology that has much more in common with Wesleyan-Arminianism than competing soteriological systems. Prevenient Grace is not novel. It fits much better with a catholic soteriology.

*Point 9 from the Council of Carthage is included to complete the list. It has little bearing on the discussion at hand.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Bite Size Aquinas: Question 1-The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine; Article 2

In Article 1 of his Summa, St. Thomas asked whether, besides philosophy, any further doctrine is required. He answered that it was necessary for there to be other forms of knowledge outside of pure philosophy, namely divine revelation which exceeds mere human reason. In today's post, he is pondering the question of whether Sacred Doctrine can be considered a science.

As a reminder, Thomas always poses the side he disagrees with first in the form of "objections" to the question posed by the article.


Article 2: Whether Sacred Doctrine is a Science?

Objection 1: It seems that sacred doctrine is not a science, for all knowledge proceeds out of principles known through themselves. But Sacred Doctrine proceeds out of articles of faith, which are not known through themselves because they are not conceded by all, "Truly all do not have faith" (II Thess 3:2). Therefore sacred doctrine is not a science.

Objection 2: Besides, science is not of a singular subject. But Sacred Doctrine is discussed as a singular subject, for instance the deeds of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and such like. Therefore, Sacred Doctrine is not a science.

But on the contrary, it is that which Augustine says (On the Trinity, 14), "This knowledge is associated with only that healthiest faith which is begotten, nourished, defended, and strengthened." This, however, pertains to no knowledge except to Sacred Doctrine. Therefore, Sacred Doctrine is a science.

I respond that Sacred Doctrine is to be called a science. But it must be remembered that the family of science is twofold. For some proceed out of known principles from the enlightened intellect, just as math, geometry, and the like. Some specifically proceed out of known principles enlightened by superior sciences, just as perspective springs out of principles from geometry and music out of principles from math. And this Sacred Doctrine is a science which springs from known principles enlightened by a superior science, which is the science of God and blessed things. Hence, the musician believes the principles delivered to himself by math, so Sacred Doctrine is believed by the principles revealed by God.

To the first objection, therefore, the principles of science is that either they are known by themselves or are subjugated to a known superior science.

To the second objection, it is to be stated that singular facts are transmitted in Sacred Doctrine, not because it is concerned with them principally but they are introduced as examples for lives, just as the science of ethics; furthermore to declare the authority of men through whom divine revelation appeared to us, from which Sacred Scripture and serious doctrine are poured out.

Christians typically draw a distinction between general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is God revealing himself through the created order. When one looks at a beautiful sunrise and they begin to ponder the miracle of the sun consistently rising and setting, they begin to wonder where the laws which cause these natural events to occur came from. When they appreciate its beauty, they begin to wonder where their sense of awe came from. The answer: God.

Special revelation, on the other hand, is direct communication from God to people. The Burning Bush is an example of Special Revelation. So is Sacred Scripture. Special revelation climaxed with Christ on the Cross, the ultimate message of love from God to us.

Some Christians, especially those from the Reformed school of thought elevate special revelation above natural revelation. While this is not inherently problematic, sometimes it concurs with an almost exaggerated degradation of natural revelation.

Thomas certainly elevates special revelation. God has spoken directly to us so that he might establish relationship with us! But what he also believes that all Truth in the world is united in Christ. So math, as an intellectual discipline, may be a form of general revelation but it flows out of the very nature of God and, through its Truths, points us back to him.

At the end of the day, Aquinas argues that yes, Sacred Doctrine is a science in the same sense music is (to Medieval thinkers, music was a part of the Quadrivium and therefore a science; it is a consequence of Modernist thought that we would fragment the idea of "science" and "art" the way we do today). It is not a "higher science" like math which is self-evident. It is a "lower science" (though in no way less dignified" because it is enlightened by God and his divine revelation--a "higher science" that is self-evident.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Tomb as Tabernacle

If there is indeed a God, it seems the next logical question would be whether that God is knowable to us. If he is knowable, does he care about us? The Christian tradition provides us with answers to these questions. He is knowable. He does care about us. This care is not a distant kind of caring in the sense that I may “care” about whether my sports team wins their game or not. It is an intimate care that stands in solidarity with his Creation. A care that takes on real, human flesh. A care that bears our sins to make us right with our Creator.

If all this is true, we should expect to see evidence of it throughout Scripture. Over and over, God takes residence among his people. One unexpected instance of this dwelling, or tabernacle-ing, is Christ’s tomb. 

Jesus’ Birth: The Tabernacle  
At different points in the Old Testament the Ark, the Tabernacle, and the Temple are all vital to the Jewish faith because they contain the Divine, they are the locus where Heaven and Earth intersect. God was sacramentally present with his Covenantal People through those channels.

The New Testament opens with another important instance of God taking up a dwelling among his people: the Blessed Mother. According to Catholic Thomas Howard, “she alone had been chosen for a cooperation with the Most High that went far beyond bearing witness to the Word, as had been the office of the patriarchs, the law-giver Moses, and the Prophets. She was to bear the Word.”[1] Nevertheless, Mary’s womb continues the biblical pattern of God taking up residence among His people. Mary’s womb anticipates what is to come: the Incarnation.

In Matthew’s birth account, the author relays the angel’s words to Joseph, “[Mary] will bear a Son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save the people from their sins” (Matt 1:21; NRSV). He then offers this analysis, “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matt 1:22-23). In St. John’s Gospel, he adds a profoundly simple statement to this Incarnation event, “And the Word became flesh and lived [“tabernacled”] among us” (John 1:14). The Divine taking on human flesh is the ultimate act of solidarity and the epitome of love. Jesus’ last words in Matthew’s Gospel remind us that the Incarnation is a perpetual, history-altering reality, “I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). 

Death and Resurrection

In the Gospels, Jesus’ birth and burial are treated as literary parallels. At Jesus’ birth, he is wrapped in linen bands (Luke 2:7). At his death, he is wrapped again in linen bands (Matt 27:59; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53). At his birth, they “laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). At his burial, they took his body and “laid it in a tomb” (Matt 27:60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53). In Luke’s nativity narrative, an angel makes an announcement of Jesus’ birth to a group of shepherds who make a pilgrimage to Jesus’ birthplace (Luke 2:8-20). An angel also announces the resurrection to a group of women visitors at the tomb (Matt 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-10). John’s description of the two angels standing by the tomb resembles the Ark of the Covenant as well (20:11-12). If Jesus’ birth story and Incarnation alludes to the idea of “tabernacle,” could his death and burial story too?

Interestingly, Jesus was laid in a tomb that looked somewhat like a cave. Elsewhere in literature, caves are closely associated with wombs. Odysseus in a cave with the Cyclops claims he is “no-man” (Gk: oudeis). After bursting forth from the cave, he has a name (Odysseus). It is a picture of birth and clever wordplay (note how similar oudeis and Odysseus sound).

From a pre-resurrection perspective, the tomb of Christ was not a womb but an end. Some Jewish factions in Jesus’ day believed in a resurrection in the distant future (Pharisees and Martha in John 11:24). Other Jews (the Sadducees) rejected it outright. Gentiles also rejected the concept of resurrection. In Greco-Roman mythology, N.T. Wright points out, there is only story, Orpheus and Eurydice, dealing with even the possibility of resurrection and it ends on a pessimistic note.[2] The disciples themselves are pessimistic too. The two Jesus encounters on the road to Emmaus appear none too hopeful, resignedly admitting, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21a).

However, from a post-resurrection perspective, the tomb is very much like a womb. An incubator. It is, to the Christian, the last tabernacle, the last container of divinity. It is a place of waiting and, at the right moment, Christ burst forth from the grave. Rebirth is a vindication, a proclamation that He accomplished the Father’s will and destroyed death entirely (1 Cor 15). Like other tabernacles that came before it, the grave is not sufficient for holding the Divine, something the Church picked up almost immediately, as Stephen proclaimed, “the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands” (Acts 7:48). The tomb, death’s womb, was the final barrier preventing humanity from access to the Divine.

God With Us

God cannot be contained in statues or images, they are dumb and mute and crafted by human hands (Pss 115:4-8; 135:15-18; Isa 2:8; Hos 13:2). Furthermore, God cannot be contained in any building made by human hands. The Tabernacle and the Temple are obsolete, the curtain rend asunder (Matt 27:51). Not only that, but God cannot be bound to only a particular ethnicity. The Gospel has been taken to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and all the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) and now, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Ultimately, God cannot be contained by any of these things and even more, the grave. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).

Only one thing can “limit” God. God is only constrained by love, not as an external boundary but an essential part of his nature (1 John 4:8). He cannot be what he is not. Because of his aseity, he will never cease to be love and because he is love, he will never cease to be “with us.” As Paul confidently states, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). The whole world is, in a sense, a tabernacle. He is with us always. By reflecting on the former tabernacles, we are reminded of the universal truth that God is with us, even in the grave and that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19).

[1] Thomas Howard, On Being Catholic (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997), 186.
[2] N.T. Wright, “The Surprise of Resurrection,” in Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened, ed. Troy A. Miller (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 77.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

C.S. Lews for the Academic's Soul

In C.S. Lewis' book The Great Divorce, he uses fiction to depict one of his most profound theological insights: that the doors of Hell are locked from the inside. He pictures Hell as a place where people can imagine whatever material object they want and have it immediately but are never satisfied. Those stuck in damnation are never able to establish any real community, constantly quarreling and moving away from each other until they are completely isolated. It is a place of perpetual evening. Dim but not night.

However, people may, at any point they choose, board a bus which goes to Heaven. Once they arrive, they realize they are but shadows, mere phantoms who cannot tolerate the substantive and Real heavenly locale. In order for them to remain in Heaven, however, they must give up what prevented them from fully embracing the Gospel. If so, Hell, to them, would have been Purgatory. Unfortunately, most of them find themselves unable to accept the demands of the Gospel, instead opting to return to their damnation.

Chapter 5 of his book offers an exchange between two academics, one an occupant of Hell, the other an occupant of Heaven. In it, he provides serious and important warnings against progressive theologies and of making the destination of academics the pursuit of knowledge instead of Knowledge itself. Here is the chapter. I have bolded parts that really stood out to me. If you're an academically minded Christian, it's well worth revisiting every so often:

Close beside me I saw another of the bright People in conversation with a ghost. It was that fat ghost with the cultured voice who had addressed me in the bus, and it seemed to be wearing gaiters.
     "My death boy, I'm delighted to see you," it was saying to the Spirit, who was naked and almost blindingly white. "I was talking to your poor father the other day and wondering where you were."
     "You didn't bring him?" said the other.
     "Well, no. He lives a long way from the bus, and, to be quite frank, he's been getting a little eccentric lately. A little difficult. Losing his grip. He never was prepared to make any great effort, you know. If you remember he used to go to sleep when you and I got talking seriously! Ah, Dick, I shall never forget some of our talks. I expect you've changed your views a bit since then. You became rather narrow-minded towards the end of your life: but no doubt you've broadened out again."
     "How do you mean?"
     "Well, it's obvious by now, isn't it, that you weren't quite right. Why, my dear boy, you were coming to believe in a literal Heaven and Hell!"
     "But wasn't I right?"
     "Oh, in a spiritual sense, to be sure. I still believe in them in that way. I am still, my dear boy, looking for the Kingdom. But nothing superstitious or mythological..."
     "Excuse me. Where do you imagine you've been?"
     "Ah, I see. You mean that the grey town with its continual hope of morning (we must all live by hope, must we not?), with its field for indefinite progress, is, in a sense, Heaven, if only we have eyes to see it? That is a beautiful idea."
     "I didn't mean that at all. Is it possible you don't know where you've been?"
     "Now that you mention it, I don't think we ever do give it a name. What do you call it?"
     "We call it hell."
     "There is no need to be profane, my dear boy. I may not be very orthodox, in your sense of that word, but I do feel that these matters ought to be discussed simply, and seriously, and reverently."
      "Discuss Hell reverently? I meant what I said. You have been in Hell; though if you don't go back you may call it Purgatory."
     "Go on, my dear boy, go on. That is so like you. No doubt you'll tell me why, on your view, I was sent there. I'm not angry."
     "But don't you know? You went there because you are an apostate."
     "Are you serious, Dick?"
     "This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are penalized for their honest opinions? Even assuming for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken."
     "Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?"
     "There are indeed, Dick. There is hide-bound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed--they are not sins."
     "I know we used to talk that way. I did too until the end of my life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions."
     "Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk."
     "What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came--popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?"
     "Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?"
     "Friend, I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?"
     "If this is meant to be a sketch of the genesis of liberal theology in general, I reply that it is a mere libel. Do you mean to suggest that men like..."
     "I have nothing to do with any generality. Nor with any man but you and me. Oh, as you love your own soul, remember. You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn't want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes."
     "I'm far from denying that young men may make mistakes. They may well be influenced by current fashions of thought. But it's not a question of how the opinions are formed. The point is that they were my honest opinions, sincerely expressed."
     "Of course. Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the Faith. Just in the same way, a jealous man, drifting and unresisting, reaches a point at which he believes lies about his best friend: a drunkard reaches a point at which (for the moment) he actually believes that another glass will do him no harm. The beliefs are sincere in the sense that they do occur as psychological events in the man's mind. If that's what you mean by sincerity they are sincere, and so were ours. But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent."
     "You'll be justifying the Inquisition in a moment!"
     "Why? Because the Middle Ages erred in one direction, does it follow that there is no error in the opposite direction?"
     "Well, this is extremely interesting," said the Episcopal Ghost. "It's a point of view. Certainly, it's a point of view. In the meantime..."
     "There is no meantime," replied the other. "All that is over. We are not playing now. I have been talking of the past (your past and mine) only in order that you might turn from it forever. One wrench and the tooth will be out. You can begin as if nothing had ever gone wrong. White as snow. It's all true, you know. He is in me, for you, with that power. And--I have come a long journey to meet you. You have seen Hell: you are in sight of Heaven. Will you, even now, repent and believe?"
     "I'm not sure that I've got the exact point you are trying to make," said the Ghost.
     "I am not trying to make any point,' said the Spirit. "I am telling you to repent and believe."
     "But my dear boy, I believe already. We may not be perfectly agreed but you have completely misjudged me if you do not realize that my religion is very real and a very precious thing to me."
     "Very well," said the other, as if changing his plan. "Will you believe in me?"
     "In what sense?"
     "Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?"
     "Well that is a plan. I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course I should require some assurances...I should want a guarantee that you are taking me to a place where I shall find a wider sphere of usefulness--and scope for the talents that God has given me--and an atmosphere of free inquiry--in short, all that one means by civilization and--er--the spiritual life."
     "No, said the other. "I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talent: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God."
     "Ah, but we must all interpret those beautiful words in our own way! For me there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? 'Prove all things' travel hopefully is better than to arrive."
     "If that were true, and known to be true, how could anyone travel hopefully? There would be nothing to hope for."
     "But you must feel yourself that there is something stifling about the idea of finality? Stagnation, my dear boy, what is more soul-destroying than stagnation?"
     "You think that, because hitherto you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect. I will bring you where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched."
      "Well, really, you know, I am not aware of a thirst for some readymade truth which puts an end to intellectual activity in the way you seem to be describing. Will it leave me free play of Mind, Dick? I must insist on that, you know."
     "Free, as a man is free to drink while he is drinking. He is not free still to be dry." The Ghost seemed to think for a moment. "I can make nothing of that idea," it said.
     "Listen!" said the White Spirit. "Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them. Become that child again: even now."
     "Ah, but when I became a man I put away childish things."
     "You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth. What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage."
     "If we cannot be reverent, there is at least no need to be obscene. The suggestion that I should return at my age to the mere factual inquisitiveness of boyhood strikes me as preposterous. In any case, that question-and-answer conception of thought only applies to matters of fact. Religious and speculative questions are surely on a different level."
     "We know nothing of religion here: we think only of Christ. We know nothing of speculation. Come and see. I will bring you to Eternal Fact, the Father of all other facthood."
     "I should object very strongly to describing God as a 'fact.' The Supreme Value would surely be a less inadequate description. It is hardly..."
     "Do you not even believe that He exists?"
     "Exists? What does Existence mean? You will keep on implying some sort of static, ready-made reality which is, so to speak, 'there,' and to which our minds have simply to conform. These great mysteries cannot be approached in that way. If there were such a thing (there is no need to interrupt, my dear boy) quite frankly, I should not be interested in it. It would be of no religious significance. God, for me, is something purely spiritual. The spirit of sweetness and light and tolerance--and, er, service, Dick, service. We mustn't forget that, you know."
     "If the thirst for Reason is really dead...,' said the Spirit, and then stopped as though pondering. Then suddenly he said, "Can you, at least, still desire happiness?"
     "Happiness, my dear Dick," said the Ghost placidly, "happiness, as you will come to see when you are older lies in the path of duty. Which reminds me...Bless my soul, I'd nearly forgotten. Of course I can't come with you. I have to be back next Friday to read a paper. We have a little Theological Society down there. Oh yes! there is plenty of intellectual life. Not of a very high quality, perhaps. One notices a certain lack of grip--a certain confusion of mind. That is where I can be of some use to them. There are even regrettable jealousies...I don't know why, but tempers seem less controlled than they used to be. Still, one musn't expect too much of human nature. I feel I can do a great work among them. But you've never asked me what my paper is about! I'm taking the text about growing up to the measure of the stature of Christ and working out an idea which I feel sure you'll be interested in. I'm going to point out how people always forget that Jesus (here the Ghost bowed) was a comparatively young man when died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he'd lived. As hem might have done, with a little more tact and patience. I am going to ask my audience to consider what his mature views would have been. A profoundly interesting question. What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature! I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Crucifixion. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was: what a tragic much promise cut short. Oh, must you be going? Well, so must I. Goodbye, my dear boy. It has been a great pleasure. Most stimulating and provocative. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye."
     The Ghost nodded his head and beamed on the Spirit with a bright clerical smile---or with the best approach to it which such unsubstantial lips could manage--and then turned away humming softly to itself 'City of God, how broad and far."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bite Size Aquinas: Question 1-The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine; Article 1

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is known as "The Angelic Doctor." Out of all the scholars and teachers in the Medieval period, Aquinas stands heads and shoulders above the rest. I have been undergoing a project recently where I translate his magnus opus Summa Theologiae from Latin into English. Because I move slowly, I thought it might be nice to share my work as I go. Sometimes, I may leave commentary but I think this article speaks for itself.
To place our purpose under some fixed limits, that which is first necessary to investigate is Sacred Doctrine itself, such as it may increase.
About which there are ten things which are to be sought.
 First, whether these doctrines are necessary.
Second, whether it is knowable.
Third, whether it is one or many.
Fourth, whether it is speculative or practical.
Fifth, what is its relationship to the other sciences.
Sixth, whether it is wisdom. Seventh, what is its subject.
Seventh, what is its subject.
Eighth, whether it is a matter of argument.
Ninth, whether it uses metaphors and symbolic language.
Tenth, whether the Sacred Scripture of this doctrine may be expounded in two or more senses. 

Article 1: Whether, besides Philosophy, any Further Doctrine is Required 
Objection 1: To the first it thus proceeds. It seems that, except the discipline of philosophy, it is not necessary to have any other doctrine. For man should not attempt to seek that which is above reason. Second, Ecclesiastes 3:12 states, seek not what is too high for you. But that which is placed under reason is sufficiently taught in the discipline of philosophy. Therefore, any discipline, besides the discipline of philosophy, is shown to be superfluous.
Objection 2: In addition, doctrine can only be concerned truly with being because nothing can be known unless it is true and all that is is true. But concerning all that is discussed is in the philosophical disciplines and also concerning God is declared as some part of philosophy, theology, or divine science that has been opened through philosophy in Metaphysics 6 (Aristotle). Therefore, it is not necessary to have other knowledge besides the discipline of philosophy. 

But it is against that declared by II Tim 3: All Scripture is divinely inspired and is useful for teaching, for evidence, for correction, for instruction, for education. Scripture, however divinely inspired is not pertinent to the philosophical disciplines, which are built by human reason of invention. Therefore, it is useful, besides the philosophical disciplines, that there should be other knowledge divinely inspired.
I respond that it was necessary for human salvation that there should be some knowledge revealed by God besides the philosophical disciplines, which can be investigated by human reason. Indeed, first, man is directed to God as to an end which exceeds comprehensible reason, that seconded by Isa 66.4, The eye does not see apart from you, God, who has prepared for them who carefully wait for you. However, the end is necessary to be known by men who have their intentions and actions set on the end. Therefore, it was necessary for the salvation of men because they learned some things through divine revelation which exceed human reason. And to those things of God which human reason can investigate, it was necessary for men to learn from divine revelation, because the truths of God, through rational investigation, were few and through a long time and mingling with many errors, men came forth dependent on God, in whom is the salvation of all men. Therefore, in order that he might originate the salvation of men more fitly and surely and because it was necessary for the divine, he taught through divine revelation. Therefore, it was necessary, besides the philosophical disciplines, to have revelation to have sacred doctrine through revelation. 

Response to Objection 1: Although, that which is higher than human knowledge may not be sought for by humans through reason, nevertheless, that revealed from God must be acknowledged by faith. Whence and at that moment it was supplied, Many things above the human senses have been exposed to you (Eccl 3.25). And in this, the Sacred Doctrine consists. 

Response to Objection 2: Sciences are differentiated according to the various means by which knowledge is taken in. Likewise, the conclusion is truly demonstrated by the astronomer and the physicist, both think that the earth is round, but the astronomer through mathematics, that is by abstract subject-matter, however the physicist through a medium considered material. Hence there is no reason why those things from the philosophical disciplines, so far as they can be known by natural reason, may not also be taught to us by another science so far as they fall within revelation. Hence theology is included in Sacred Doctrine differs in kind from that theology which is part of philosophy.   

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Why Confession?

Recently, a number of people have asked me about Anglican views of confession. As with most issues, Protestantism is eclectic when it comes to this subject. However, it should be noted that despite this doctrinal diversity, pretty much all Protestant denominations had some form of confession and absolution in their services. The lack of confession and absolution in most modern churches is a novel (and I would argue negative) development.

So today, I am going to lay out a vision of confession that is as close to universally practiced in the Church across time and space as possible. Then, I will answer a few frequently asked questions I have encountered about confession.

Confession is the act where a Christian acknowledges their sin before God, asks for his forgiveness, and repents (turns away from those sins). The purpose of any prayer of confession is not just an acknowledgement of one’s sinful actions but to recognize that as Christians, we must be wholly dependent on the grace which God bestows upon us through the Sacraments.

As Anglicans, there are two different means of confession: there are the prayers of confession which occur corporately and liturgically and there is a Sacrament of Confession which is a private act between an individual and a priest and God.

On Sunday mornings, we pray a corporate prayer of confession after the reading of Scripture, the sermon, and the Nicene Creed. This is because we believe that God speaks to us through His Word and through the words of the preacher which partly involves convicting us of any sin which may be in our lives.

According to the new Anglican Church in North America Book of Common Prayer (the final form of which will be released in 2019), the Deacon or Priest calls the congregation to confession by the following words:
All who truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and seek to be reconciled with your neighbors, and intend to lead the new life, following the commandments of God, and walking in his holy ways: draw near with faith and make your humble confession to Almighty God.
The people, preferably kneeling, then pray together:
            Most merciful God,
            we confess that we have sinned against you
            in thought, word, and deed,
            by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
            We have not loved you with our whole heart;
            we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
            We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
            For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
            have mercy on us and forgive us;
            that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways,
            to the glory of your Name. Amen. 
Note the use of the adjective “we.” That’s not an accident. When we confess our sins together, not only do individuals bring their own sin with them but the community brings its failings before the Lord. As a church, we are recognizing that we didn’t help the poor as much as we could, we didn’t preach the Gospel as vigorously as we could, etc.

The Priest then stands and proclaims the forgiveness of the people through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who in his great mercy has promised the forgiveness of sins to all those who sincerely repent and with true faith turn to him, have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
After which, he may read what we call “Comfortable Words” which are portions of Scripture reminding us of “the Word of God to all who truly turn to him”:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Timothy 1:15
If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2
After the Comfortable Words, the Priest then offers peace to the congregation (“The Peace of the Lord be always with you.”) and they reply in kind, “And with your spirit.”

Anglicans also have the Sacrament of Confession. This is a time where a believer may go privately to a priest, confess individual sins, and receive absolution. The priest may also prescribe acts of penance for the confessing believer to do. The stereotype is of Catholic priests telling parishioners to pray 50 Hail Marys and 25 Our Fathers to be forgiven of their sins. That’s not what Anglicans (or Catholic priests) necessarily do. Sin doesn’t just hurt the individual committing the sin. Often, there is a social component to sin and it hurts others. If a man cheats on his wife, he didn’t just hurt himself but also his wife. If a drunk driver hits another car, he hurt another person. Acts of penance are typically assigned based on the situation as a means of reconciliation among people, a way of restoring peace and harmony within community.

It should be noted too, that contrary to popular opinion, the penitent is not confessing their sins directly to the priest. Rather, they are confessing their sins directly to God. They say:
Holy God, heavenly Father, you formed me from the dust in your image and likeness, and redeemed me from sin and death by the cross of your Son Jesus Christ. Through the water of baptism you clothed me with the shining garment of his righteousness, and established me among your children in your kingdom. But I have squandered the inheritance of your saints, and have wandered far in a land that is waste. Especially, I confess to you and to the Church…Here the Penitent confesses particular sins.
The priest is not the one who grants forgiveness to the sinner, God does through his minister, saying:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered himself to be sacrificed for us to the Father, and who conferred power on his Church to forgive sins, absolve you through my ministry by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and restore you in the perfect peace of the Church. Amen.
There are two main things accomplished through the confession. First, it rights our relationship with God.  Scripture very clearly tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9; RSV). In the Lord’s Prayer, which is meant as a prayer (and a model for prayer) for Jesus’ disciples, we are told to pray, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Secondly, we confess our sins and pass the peace in the context of our community as a way of countering the social effects of sin. In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus instructs his followers,  “So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

The beauty of the Gospel is that God is always willing to forgive us when we sin against him. This is what we are reminded of during the Comfortable Words after the Absolution. During another prayer, we profess that “thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.” We aren’t wringing our hands, worried that we may not receive forgiveness from God. We are assured and confident that we will receive it! We go to the prayer of confession and the confessional booth not with trembling but with hearty remorse, humility (like the publican in Luke 18:9-14), and confidence. We come away with resolve and joy from knowing the blood or our Lord Jesus Christ covers us.

One of the things that separates Anglicans from Roman Catholics is that we do not require one to participate in the sacrament of confession before Communion or at all. As Michael Ramsey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, says, “we are free to confess our sins to God alone without the hearing of a priest; and if we do this in sincerity God’s forgiveness is sure. But our Church has no less insisted that we are free to confess in the sacramental way if we so desire and ask absolution from the priest….The light of absolution will penetrate the entire self.” [1] 

Frequently Asked Questions about Confession

1.     Didn’t Jesus already forgive my sins past, present, and future when I became a Christian?

1 John 2:2 states, “he [Christ] is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” On this ground, when we become Christians, some believe that we should not confess our sins or ask for forgiveness because Christ has already covered us.

Like most errant views, this perspective takes a little bit of truth but emphasizes it in such a way that lead to error.

Holders of this view seem to forget that while Christ did pay for all our sins on the cross when he died, “the transaction of forgiveness takes place at different points in time.” [2] Similarly, the day we were brought into the Church, however you might think that happens, the sins that were forgiven were the ones we had already committed.

Dr. Michael Brown, who is an Evangelical Pentecostal, puts it this way, “there is not a single verse anywhere in the Bible that pronounces us already forgiven for our future sins (meaning, sins we have not yet committed). Not one verse. Nowhere. Not even a hint of such a concept. All the promises of forgiveness have to do with sins we have already committed, since God is dealing with us in space and time, and He only forgives us for what we have actually done…the forgiveness of all our sins has been prepaid, but that forgiveness is not applied in advance. It is applied as needed.” [3] If anything, every example of preaching in Acts is aimed towards the sins people had committed in the past or were committing in the present, none that would be committed in the future.

This view confuses justification and sanctification. When we are justified we are pronounced legally righteous which means God has applied Christ’s death and resurrection to us. He has adopted us into the Family of God. We become his children.

Sanctification is different. This is the process where the Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ. Just because we were pronounced righteous and adopted into God’s family doesn’t change the fact that we have not yet arrived at our destination of holiness. As such, confession of sin and receiving forgiveness helps us re-orient ourselves in our pursuit of Christ. This process is like popping a shoulder back into joint. It’s painful but so very necessary.

2.     Why do you receive absolution from a priest? Isn’t Christ our only mediator?

1 Timothy 2:5-6a tells us, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” So why is the priest there? In liturgical and sacramental contexts, the priest is a necessary figure because he stands in for Christ. This doesn’t mean the priest is ontologically the same as Christ but that he relays to us the forgiveness of our sins as Christ would if he were present. This is why Christ told the Apostles, the founders of the Church, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). Elsewhere he says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). Christ is still the only mediator who brings forgiveness to his people. Nevertheless, he has chosen to do that in the context of the Church.  


     [1] Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1982), 46-47.

     [2] Michael L. Brown, Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message (Lake Mary: Charisma House, 2014), 41.

     [3] Ibid., 43