A Good Friday Reflection

Two reflections ought to take place this day: the historical death of Jesus, fully human and fully divine, and what that death demands of us.  For the first reflection, a good friend and mentor has put into words so perfectly well here.  As for the second reflection, I offer you this:

Perhaps Lewis Carroll had in mind the story of Lucifer’s fall from grace when he wrote Humpty Dumpty. Alice’s conversation with Humpty Dumpty presents the reader with a clear illustration of prideful arrogance. Dumpty’s pride causes him to dismiss Alice when she noticed that the wall is too narrow, and in the course of the conversation, he proceeds to redefine words as he wishes. Alice points this out to him, but he simply ignores her and proceeded to further show his arrogance through exalting himself as a great poet. Shortly after the conversation, Dumpty had a great fall. Dumpty’s fall is caused by his pride, as was Lucifer’s.

Pride was the first sin, and it has become a ubiquitous sin in our time. This is the reason why children are taught not to be prideful through fables and stories like Humpty Dumpty, the Hare and the Tortoise, the Mouse and the Lion, and etc. God, our parent par excellence, teaches us the same lesson in humility, not by story-telling, but through love-showing. The Incarnation shows us that humility is the answer to pride, and such humility requires some kind of death, even of that which we value most, life.

Martyrdom proper, however, is hardly something the modern Christian comes across daily; instead, the he must undergo another sort of martyrdom, the denial of the self and all its thirst for those things that are not of God. God cannot live in a full heart, and neither can He live in a heart partially full. When it comes to God, it is a matter of all or nothing at all. The soul must make room for God, and in order to make room for Him, it must deny its sinful inclinations, and thereby, it must deny the self. The image of Christ needs to be limned upon the soul so that human pride may realize that it must be bitterly charred by proper humility in order to prepare itself as a place for God. All human dross must be crucified to that cross and buried before the soul can receive its God.

God, for His part, is ever near and ever calling. As the poet Francis Thompson so brilliantly illustrates, God, like the hare, is ever extending His mercy and love with “unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace” after the soul. The jealous God will not have anything other than Himself filling the entire human heart. Run as he might, Thompson finds himself encountering the goodness of creation refusing to turn its back to its Creator. The soul, therefore, must seek shelter in the ever-present and ever-ubiquitous cross. Thomas a Kempis puts it wonderfully when he writes in the Imitation of Christ:

The cross, therefore, is always ready; it awaits you everywhere. No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever     you go you take yourself with you and shall always find yourself. Turn where you will—above, below, without, or within—you will find a cross in everything, and everywhere you must have patience if you would have peace within and merit an eternal crown.

The soul must realize that it is worthless and vile in its sinful ways; that it does not deserve the least of love, and yet God remains ever near. If the sinner is to have hope, the self must die in order for it to rise. Death must encounter human desires in order for the life of Christ to be had abundantly. The heart must forfeit all that it loves, absolutely everything, in order for it to receive Him who demands every little piece of it. And in doing so, the heart finds quenching for its thirst—that indefinite and deafening thirst that caused Augustine to put it into these eloquent words: for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.

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The Study of Theology: Fides Quaerens Intellectum Part II

In part I of this reflection, I made some observations regarding faith and what it means to two great thinkers, Aquinas and Anselm.  I then pointed out that while faith is a calculated leap, it is still informed by reason and it does not start its work with a tabula rasa, if you will, but from truths revealed by the Word Incarnate.  I then pointed to the mystical experiences of the great Saints as a starting point for theological reflection.  Accordingly, from such reflections, one moves beyond reason’s limitations into the realm of the unknown and accepts the mystical experiences as mysteries. This recognition and acceptance of the mysteries as mysteries serve to differentiate another facet of theology.

Much like Catherine Albanese’s two types of religion, i.e. the ordinary and extraordinary, theology has two different dimensions. The one serves to examine the actual human experiences and to make sense of them in context of the “otherness,” and the other is to make an attempt at apprehending the unknown.  And when the unknown is recognized in itself, it is understood as mystery. Here, one can see how faith helps reason to transcend its limitations by offering it an explanation of “otherness.” If theology did not offer an explanation and an ascent to a higher Truth, it would be no different than philosophy—as philosophy derives its truth from reason and evident principles with no ascending to the “otherness” required.

When theological explanations arise from principles and reasons proposed above, they are adequate to capture the mundane experiences in context of created being and Creator. Essentially, when theology is practiced in such a manner, it is a reflection of sacramentality—the coming to know of and understanding God through creation. Sacramentality allows one to see the created world as such and yet does not linger onto its intrinsic being but looks towards that to which it points. In this way, theology is not studied for its own sake but for the sake of understanding the ultimate telos of creation in relation to God, viz. the seeking to understand God through faith. For example, Aquinas’ five ways are not merely philosophical, but they are sacramental in that they utilize the created world to reason out the existence of God. These demonstrations exhibit a characteristic of theology insofar as, while not rejecting their philosophical merit, they come to a conclusion of God which is based on faith. The arguments in themselves are metaphysically plausible and necessary, but the conclusions demand a sort of faith for they are not like those principles of mathematics wherein the truth of the conclusion cannot be disputed—for one can certainly dispute the groundings for metaphysics and the existence of God.

On the other hand, theological explanations that ignore the various aspects and differences of the human experience are less than helpful. While theology is a science of the highest good, viz. God, and that its subject is objectively studied, the human experience varies from person to person. Indeed, if any explanation of a theological kind ignores this difference in experiences, such an explanation is inadequate since it ignores the personal communication between the mundane and the divine. Therefore, in order for a theological explanation to be helpful, it must first resist itself from one interpretation, and to secondly allow for some type of personal interpretation in the context of both relation and objectivity to its subject—God.

Human reason has its limitations as reason acknowledges and when it encounters the mysteries of faith it looks for an explanation. This explanation via theology while helps to shape reason and direct it to God, towards Whom which it tends. But the explanation of that which is unknown must come after the acknowledgement, or belief, that there is something here that is unknown—an otherness. The dis-ease of the human condition is that this “otherness” is not within its grasp; hence Unamuno’s thirst of immortality—to live forever is to be comforted from this dis-ease. Theology can help this dis-ease by first grasping the mystery as mystery and to secondly understand it as mystery. Both Anselm and Aquinas had this in mind when they spoke of theology, for the former—‘fides quaerens intellectum’; and the latter—a science of God.  When, therefore, theology is presented and explained accordingly, it is helpful for it allows for different human experiences of limitations to ascend to its subject—God. Per contra, if theology does not allow for this, it is not only inadequate, but less than helpful.

Weighing In On Gay Marriage

With the recent movement in our country regarding gay marriage and now its constitutional debate, I just want to add some thoughts on the matter.  Let me be clear from the onset that nothing I say here is original in thought, but what I hope to highlight here adds to some of my readers’ thinking about homosexuality and marriage.

Aside from the normal superficial “all people should have have same rights” argument I hear all too often from advocates of the “gay rights” movement, it seems to me that the proponents of gay marriage can only rely on two arguments that are worth devoting some attention to.  The first argument is that “traditional marriage” is a union arbitrarily defined by the state and therefore unfair to those who fall outside of the category fitted to this definition.  Accordingly, the second argument suggests that, just as the state has been wrong before in its thinking about certain values and restrictions (slavery and segregation) therefore it seems that this is another instance where the state is incorrect and needs to re-evaluate its position on the legality of gay marriage.

In response to the first argument, I would like to direct the reader to this recent article at Ethika Politika.  In the article, the author argues that the definition of marriage that its proponents would like to champion is no less “arbitrary, taboo-ridden, and prejudicial—in fact, it is unfair” than the traditional definition of gay marriage that they would like to void.  The article lays out what seems to be a fundamental agreement for the definition of marriage between the two opposite camps in the marriage debate: that marriage ought to be between people who enter into it freely, lovingly, in an exclusive manner, and in a committed manner.  Indeed, it can be agreed that any marriage ought to have freedom, love, exclusivity, and commitment. (FLEC)

The author then looks at three different ways that we could restrict marriage.  The first being the traditional restriction in which FLEC relationships also have the baby-making component.  But as this is deemed to be unfair by gay rights advocates, the author then suggests that there can be a second option: restriction of FLEC relationships to those of pleasure-making.  This second restriction, however, leads to many absurdities as it allows for incest, beastiality, and a whole host of other perversions of the FLEC relationships.  Thus, the author observes that any Joe advocating for gay rights must look at a third option: the compromise.

The third option, in the author’s own words

Finally, the third way to restrict marriage, which has much popular appeal today, is a compromise between the first two. It isn’t limited to baby-making relationships, but it keeps some of the restrictions that are natural to baby-making relationships and smacks them down as rules (for no good reason) on pleasure-making relationships. Typically, a defender of this third view (let’s call him Joe) argues that marriage should be for non-dangerous pleasure-making FLEC relationships between heterosexual or homosexual couples. But Joe also claims that polygamous, inter-species, incestuous and underage FLEC relationships shouldn’t qualify as marriages.

Does this mean that the traditional view of marriage is equally arbitrary as Joe’s?  Here I think that studies of history and anthropology can give us some substantial arguments why restrictions of marriage to baby-making FLEC relationships are sensible. But who really wants to do all that research?  What really seems to matter is that we need “equal rights for all.”  But I think we need to remember this:

To restrict marriage fairly, then, we need to have reasons for our restrictions, and Joe doesn’t. The traditional view uses facts about baby-making behavior and its incumbent dangers to restrict marriage. The loose view uses facts about pleasure-making behavior to ease up on these restrictions. Joe tries to compromise by using some of the restrictions from the traditional view, but without the reasons behind them: he’s not restricting marriage to baby-making relationships. This isn’t a fair way to restrict marriage, and if we are looking for fairness and equality, we will have to throw it out and choose either the traditional or the loose restrictions.

I think this is a problem that gay-rights advocates must solve before they insist “equal rights for all.”

NB: For a detailed argument, I suggest that you visit the article linked above (or here).  I have not done it justice here by simply rehashing some major points.

The response to the second argument is forthcoming.

Palm Sunday and the Slave Virtue

As I was sitting at Mass yesterday, I noticed a common virtue being called to mind in all three of the readings: humility.  What’s so interesting about the virtue of humility is how unreasonable and illogical it seems to be.  As I was thinking about it on the drive home, two philosophers came into my mind: Nietzsche and Aristotle.

Aristotle and Nietzsche’s Ideal Man 

For Aristotle there is the magnanimous man.  The magnanimous man is one who is filled with honor; he confers benefits, but does not receive them for he requires no benefits; he gives no admiration to any other man because there is nothing so great to him; he speaks no gossip (for he cares not to be praised since he already knows he’s worthy of it, and he cares not for others to be blamed for their shortcomings); he is open in his love and contempt of things.  The magnanimous man, in other words, is a man filled with proper pride.  For Aristotle, this is the ideal man and anyone short of him is unduly humble and anyone acting in a manner beyond him is vain.

For Nietzsche there is the ubermensch (popularly known as the superman).  The ubermensch is very cunning and smart.  He is beautiful and is beyond morality; he defies normally accepted virtues since they are virtues of slavery.  For Nietzsche, the master morality is one defined by consequences, where right and wrong is defined by the ubermensch for himself, not by some universal natural moral law.  On the other hand, slave morality is one defined by virtues that often value things like humility, sympathy, love and are subject to a universal moral code that is make-believe.

God’s Ideal Man

Interestingly, God’s ideal man (or the man worthy of God) is one who would be rejected by Aristotle and Nietzsche as defectively inferior.

The first reading from Palm Sunday comes from the Prophet Isaiah who admits that “the Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced…knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”  Isaiah does not trust in himself like the magnanimous man nor the ubermensch; instead, he places his trust in the Lord God.

The second reading is from the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians where St. Paul recalls the humility of Jesus Christ in “emptying himself to take on the form of a slave, coming in human likeness..becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”  What profound humility to move from the throne of the King to abide with his subjects and to die for their sake!

The Gospel reading is the Passion of the Lord, but what sticks out most to me is the exchange between Jesus and the two criminals hung by him.  Where the one criminal rebuked Jesus in fear and mistrust in what Jesus has said of himself, the other rebuked his companion in hope and humility: “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

What faith it must take to utter those words of the criminal!  What courage and humility must be present to acknowledge one’s own wrongs and look to God for forgiveness!  This, my friends, is what an ideal man of God looks like.  He is filled with humility because he knows that without God’s grace he shall die.  It may look like the virtue of a slave that looks to the master for life-giving food and drink, and it is!  But, as St. Paul knows so well, when the Master is Christ himself who wishes nothing but for the best of those enslaved to His will and graces them with eternal joy with Him, then why should we not take up the virtues that would make us His slaves?

The Study of Theology: Fides Quaerens Intellectum Part I

Saint Anselm of Canterbury tells us that theology is the systematic coming to understand what we believe. Accordingly, St. Thomas Aquinas boldly asserted (and defended) that theology is a science—a science of God. If theology is the science which deals with God and His being, we must necessarily ask the questions of how theology is to be approached and how does theology help to elevate human reason to the understanding of the mysteries of God? I will investigate these questions to see how the limitation of human reason is transcended by the study of theology to recognize and understand the mysteries of God—even if it can only grasp such these mysteries partially.  This is the first part of my investigative reflection.

Before considering the role theology plays in transcending the limits of human reason, we ought to first see what Anselm and Aquinas had in mind for theology qua theology. Anselm’s fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding) presupposes faith; and that indeed faith is the highest good in the order of faith and reason. Therefore in his Proslogium Anselm writes that unless he believes he shall not understand. But in doing so, he is not disregarding reason or rejecting it as something defective; for it is reason which is the means to understanding—without it no understanding can be possible. Anselm’s ‘faith seeking understanding’ allows him to demonstrate the existence of God through an ontological argument and to consequently propose many of God’s attributes.

Whereas Anselm’s definition of theology is a presupposition with no argument attached, Aquinas does provide an argument for theology as a science based on faith. For Aquinas, unlike the sciences which build their principles based on direct knowledge from human reason, the science of theology is one which builds itself upon premises accepted “from a superior body of knowledge.” These known premises, or knowledge, which theology uses as its first principle is both known in God Himself and known through those who have experienced Him through revelation. Conclusively, any minute study of theology, even the simplest and most particular, is only done so in relation to God.

Because theology is a faith which seeks to understand what it is that it believes in, it therefore seeks to understand that which is beyond the scope of reason. Faith as, William O’Malley suggests in his book ‘God: The Oldest Question’ is a calculated leap; it is a leap fully grounded in reason, yet it is still a leap into the unknown. In theological studies (and reflections), one has already made this leap of faith, it is now to answer the question of why this leap is sensible. Where the calculations have been made for the leap, it is now the leap itself that is subjected to light of reason. However, we should remember that reason surely cannot explain that which it is not meant to understand and so therefore reason must once again subject itself to faith. This is precisely the reason why Pascal proposes his wager, for it is impossible that the finite should fully grasp the infinite, seeing as how their natures are infinitely different.

All hope is not lost, however, because, contrary to what the what Pascal insists, the infinite God has revealed Himself to us. Consider the experience of Saint Augustine in his Confessions when he was told to “pick it up, read it; pick it up; read it.” This commanding voice and obedient action on the part of Augustine led to his conversion. Or consider the experiences that St. Teresa of Avila had when she was having her mystical encounters with Christ. The experiences were many, but here is one of her descriptions of levitations:

These effects are very striking. One of them is the manifestation of the Lord’s mighty power: as we are unable to resist His Majesty’s will, either in soul or in body, and are not our own masters, we realize that, however irksome this truth may be, there is One stronger than ourselves, can do absolutely nothing. This imprints in us great humility. Indeed, I confess that in me it produced great fear—at first a terrible fear. One sees one’s body being all lifted up from the ground; and although the spirit draws it after itself, and if no resistance is offered does so very gently, one does not lose consciousness—at least, I myself have had sufficient to enable me to realize that I was being lifted up.

With experiences such as these and other religious experiences, theological studies and reflections can help in coming to understand what it is that one encounters. Theology, in this context, is to find the meaning behind the otherwise too meaningful experience. The ineffability of these experiences can be hard to reason but it is precisely because they are beyond reason-ability that makes them the object of theological reflections. The turn required to understand these revelations is the one from the mundane to the divine. Here, one can do much by studying Paul Tillich’s proposition of the study of theology. Behind Tillich’s proposal of theological studies is the main focus on our ultimate concerns—those which deal with our being or non-being. If therefore, experiences such as the above mentioned occur, we must inquire its meaning in relation to us and why it is so. Here, again one finds Anselm’s position echoing true—in that it is faith, i.e. the belief of the mystic that something divine has caused such an experience, seeks to understand, i.e. why such an experience and what does it mean in terms of God’s message to the human person insofar as their ultimate concern is concerned.

We are protectors of creation

Pope Francis’ inaugural homily is profoundly Christian.  Yes, I did just say it is profoundly Christian, and yes I meant it to be humorous.  The homily is complete in and of itself, and I can add nothing to it but a helpful explanation:  Christians are directed to do two things: love our God with every single fiber of our being and love our neighbors as ourselves (Mk 12:29-31).  The love of our God is carried out by loving the things He loves, which is creation (for he loved it into being), and loving our neighbors means loving all of God’s children, born or pre-born (unborn).

If you are like me and missed the Inaugural Mass, you should definitely give the homily a reading.  What a great man of great holiness and wisdom!  Gloria in excelsis Deo et viva el papa Franciscum!

Is the Bird the Word?

Well it’s Spring Break for me so I’m just looking back at some strange things I’ve written.  I’ve concluded that I’ve written many a strange things in my life, but this is certainly not one of them.  For those of you familiar with the philosophical writing (and teaching) style of the Medieval Ages, this will make some sense.  For others, simply enjoy =)

We proceed thus to the first article:

Objection 1: It seems that the bird cannot be the word for it is said that “the math indicates that the bird is greater than or equal to the bird.” Therefore the bird cannot be the word.

Objection 2: It is said that “everybody has heard that the bird is the word,” but the deaf undeniably have not heard that the bird is the word. Therefore the bird is not the word.

On the contrary, Peter Griffin sings, “Meg!, everybody knows that the bird is the word.”

I answer that the bird cannot simply be understood to be the word unless the bird is the word. It is common to our knowing that that which is known must first be in the senses, and because no knowledge which is in the imagination without first being in the senses, the knowledge of bird as word cannot therefore be first in the imagination alone. Consider for instance the knowledge that this table is round.  We cannot know that this table is round unless our sight or touch has identified that it is a table and that it is in fact round.  This being the case, no one can know that the bird is the word unless it is first in the senses that the bird is the word. If it is first in the senses that the bird is the word, it must necessarily be the case that the bird is truly the word.

Reply to objection 1: Greater than or equal to are expressions used in this instance to suggest that the bird and the word are two separate existents.  In reality, however, the bird and the word are one and the same being.  Consider when Peter Griffin sings to the lady on the toilet asking her if she knew that the bird is the word and her consequent affirmation that “everybody knows that the bird is the word.”  Notice that the to be verb is is used as a verbal copula to indicate that the subject bird holds the very identity that is also known as word.  Thus, the bird is the word.

Reply to objection 2: In order to hear, one must possess the sense of hearing. Those, who through natural privations lack the sense of hearing are considered deaf. Therefore, when the bird is the word is not heard by those who lack the sense of hearing it is not because the bird is not the word, but that it is because they lack the ability to hear it. Thus it remains true that the bird is the word, even though there are those who are unable to have heard this.