Category Archives: Doctrine

Reading Scripture without buckets.

Altarpiece of the Church Fathers: St Augustine...
Altarpiece of the Church Fathers: St Augustine and St Gregory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those following along, I wanted to post a better way than buckets  to read Scripture as a Christian. You can read it with the Church Fathers.

First, begin here with a solid Wesleyan view. Christopher Hall has several great resources published via IVP-Academic.

The fathers considered the Bible a holy book that opened itself to those who themselves were progressing in holiness through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. The character of the exegete would determine in many ways what was seen or heard in the biblical text itself. Character and wise exegesis were intimately related. In Athanasius’ words, “…the searching and right understanding of the Scriptures [demands] a good life and a pure soul…. One cannot possibly understand the teaching of the saints unless one has a pure mind and is trying to imitate their life…” (On the Incarnation [St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982],

Then, for those interested in how this looks like in the Roman Catholic setting, see the catechism. There are three senses:

(1) The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism. 

(2) The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”. 

(3) The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem. 

From the Orthodox perspective, you see something very similar:

Accordingly, the Church Fathers often distinguished between several different senses of Scripture. A good example is the way some of them read the Exodus tradition. In this account of Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt they found at least four different levels of meaning: 1) the “literal/historical,” which speaks of Israel leaving Egypt for the Promised Land; 2) the “allegorical” or “typological,” which sees Old Testament images (e.g., Moses and Joshua, the manna and rock in the wilderness) as figures or “types” that are fulfilled in Christ and the Church’s sacraments; 3) the “tropological” or moral, which sees in Israel’s journey an image of the soul’s conversion from sin and death to grace and “newness of life” (Romans 6:4); and 4) the “anagogical” or mystical sense, which speaks of the believer’s journey toward eternal glory (“anagogical” means “leading upward”).

Protestants, like they have with other things, have seriously damaged the way Christians read Scripture.

Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers is a vast improvement over reading it as if you are lord and master of what it says and whether or not that book belongs in there. Indeed, to suggest that because we no longer know how to read Scripture with the senses and thus some parts can be dismissed is not to elevate ourselves, but to show how far we have fallen.

 

What is your “spirituality?”

Couleurs shitenno
Couleurs shitenno (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spirituality is a word often tossed around. “I am spiritual but not religious.” “I prefer spirituality.” “She’s just so spiritual.” Shoot, it has even made its way into a recent Supreme Court decision.

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation. – Justice Kennedy

Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie. – Justice Scalia

Intimacy, if you do it right (or bad), can be spiritual.

giphy

I really like what Pope Benedict had to say to Deacons:

In the pastoral activity of parishes, remember that a healthy spirituality allows the Spirit of Christ to free the human person to act effectively in society1

In the same letter, he writes of the need of spirituality:

In order to arrive at genuine reconciliation and to live out the spirituality of communion that flows from it, the Church needs witnesses who are profoundly rooted in Christ and find nourishment in his word and the sacraments

He follows St. John Paul II in setting out standards for spirituality:

the ability to perceive the light of the mystery of the Trinity shining on the faces of brothers and sisters around us, to be attentive to “our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as ‘those who are a part of me’, in order to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship”; the ability as well to recognize all that is positive in the other so as to welcome it and prize it as a gift that God gives me through that person, in a way that transcends by far the individual concerned, who thus becomes a channel of divine graces; and finally, the ability “to ‘make room’ for our brothers and sisters, bearing ‘each other’s burdens’ (Gal 6:2) and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy.”

That gives us a spirituality community, to be sure. And perhaps that is more important than individual spirituality.

But maybe not.

While spirituality, and whatever freedom is needed to either enjoy or express it, is often undefined, some connect it to psychology.

If it is connected in such a way, then it becomes rather individualized. And that is oftentimes, a good thing.

Some find spiritual solace in reading, or writing, or studying. I like my rosary. But, I also like my science. The more related it is to the the quantum side of things, the better. The deeper. I like hearing new theories on the origin of life in the universe. I enjoy reading stories about new planets, new understandings of the cosmos, and how transcendent all of that is.

It is humbling to know that the 70 or so years we spend on this planet is nothing in the scheme of things — of a 13 billion year old universe. And it is everything.

Honestly, Lee Smolin and Brian Greene are my areas of refuge.

And no, spirituality is not limited strictly to “believers.”

Some find spirituality in other areas, more grounded areas. Some in areas far afield of my own cosmic stretch.

But, since it is all the rage now — just ask the hippie — where do you find yours? And, do you think that somehow those seeking spirituality are less reasoned than others?

By the way, I define spirituality as that which calls us away from our present reality to a larger, grander scheme of things even if such a scheme is rather simple. Spirituality, for me, keeps us humble, grounded, and reaching for that which next.

  1. Pope Benedict XVI, Africae Munus (Apostolic Exhortations; Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).

Quote of the Day – Daniel Dennett on PostModernism

English: Dennets idea of mind and conscious ex...
English: Dennets idea of mind and conscious experience (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Postmodernism, the school of “thought” that proclaimed “There are no truths, only interpretations” has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for “conversations” in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster…The best way for the humanities to get back their mojo is to learn from the invaders and re-acquire the respect for truth that they used to share with the sciences. — Daniel Dennett

Science and Philosophy, while not suggesting a specific truth nevertheless seems to imply that there is a truth. Why, then, do humanities (supposedly built upon or making use of these other two disciplines) deny truths exist?

This is, I fear, the nature of modern religion, specifically modern Christianity. There is no truth. There are only matters of interpretations so that regardless of what one believes, it is a personal matter of no importance. Where is the power, where is the human flourishing, in this sentiment?

St. Thomas Aquinas on the Theologian and Orthopraxy

English: Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) stai...
English: Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) stained glass window. Cathedral of Saint-Rombouts, Mechelen (Belgium). In the book an extract of St. Thomas’s hymn Pange lingua (“Sing, My Tongue”): Verbum caro pane vero verbo carnem efecit fit(que …) Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature by His word to Flesh He turns, and He makes … (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Orthopraxy, the theme for a while among us United Methodists, is not new. The discussion is ancient. It is old. It will happen tomorrow as well. But, what is it? Is it necessary? Do progressives have a monopoly on suggesting that we need orthopraxy? No.

The only thing they have a monopoly on seems to be arrogance.

Well, not really. Fundamentalists have the same thing.

This summation of St. Thomas on the sanctification of theologians is important.

It is impossible to know God if one is not first known by him. This fundamental tenet of Christian thought summarizes the first half of our remarks. Now we can add: one must do God’s will in order to know if this knowledge comes from him. The practice of theology must cause the theologian to grow in holiness. Not only are theologians called to this as disciples of the unique Holy One, but their profession adds to this call a singular exigency: they should be holy because they are theologians. Their orthodoxy must redound to orthopraxis. Here I have stated four principal points that ought to verify this relationship. Obviously, none of these pertains exclusively to theologians, but their discipline gives them a particular reason to apply these points.1

The author, Torrell, cites St. Thomas several times but this one stands out:

“For just as it is better to illumine than just to shine, it is better to pass on to others the things contemplated than just to contemplate.” (ST Ia-IIae, q. 188, a. 6)

And

And similarly the doctors of theology are like principal architects, who research and teach how others ought to work out the salvation of their souls. Simply put, therefore, it is better to teach Sacred Doctrine, and more so meritorious, if done in good intention, which hangs the particular care of salvation of this one and that; thus the Apostle speaks about himself, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” [I Cor 1.17]; although to baptize is work most suited for bringing about the salvation of souls; the Apostle again, “Commend to the faithful who will be suitable to teach others” [II Tim 2.2]. Quaestiones de quolibet I, q. 7, a. 2

  1.  Jean-Pierre Torrell, Christ and Spirituality in St. Thomas Aquinas (ed. Matthew Levering and Thomas Joseph White; trans. Bernhard Blankenhorn; vol. 2; Thomistic Ressourcement Series; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 32.

St. John Paul II on Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy

English: Pope John Paul II at a Papal Audience...
English: Pope John Paul II at a Papal Audience on 17 July, 1985—St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City. Behind him, Camillo Cibin, former Inspector General of the Vatican Gendarmerie. Français : Jean-Paul II, Pape de l’Église catholique romaine, à la place Saint-Pierre en 1985) Italiano: Giovanni Paolo II in Piazza San Pietro per l’audizione del 17 luglio 1985. Dietro di lui Camillo Cibin, Ispettore Generale della Gendarmeria Vaticana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thought I might share a few of these quotes about orthopraxy before I say something.

Catechesis and Life Experience

22. It is useless to play off orthopraxis against orthodoxy: Christianity is inseparably both. Firm and well-thought—out convictions lead to courageous and upright action, the endeavor to educate the faithful to live as disciples of Christ today calls for and facilitates a discovery in depth of the mystery of Christ in the history of salvation.

It is also quite useless to campaign for the abandonment of serious and orderly study of the message of Christ in the name of a method concentrating on life experience. “No one can arrive at the whole truth on the basis solely of some simple private experience, that is to say, without an adequate explanation of the message of Christ, who is `the way, and the truth, and the life’ (Jn. 14:6).”

Nor is any opposition to be set up between a catechesis taking life as its point of departure and a traditional doctrinal and systematic catechesis. Authentic catechesis is always an orderly and systematic initiation into the revelation that God has given of Himself to humanity in Christ Jesus, a revelation stored in the depths of the Church’s memory and in Sacred Scripture, and constantly communicated from one generation to the next by a living, active traditio. This revelation is not however isolated from life or artificially juxtaposed to it. It is concerned with the ultimate meaning of life and it illumines the whole of life with the light of the Gospel, to inspire it or to question it.

John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae (Apostolic Exhortations; Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1979).