We Do Not Begin with God’s Essence

It is common in philosophy to discuss God in terms of being and essence. One starts with what God is to discover, if one discovers it at all, who God is. Unfortunately, Christian theology in the modern era has attempted to map her own doctrines about God onto the “god of the philosophers” schema and so resorts to explicating God’s essence in order to talk about his person. (Of course, many would argue that this has been done in the Christian west for centuries, but I’ll leave that to others to discuss.)

As the gentlemen at Energies of the Trinity help us to learn, Christians from the earliest times rejected this God-as-essence-precedes-God-as-person schema. Take a look at their citation of St. Basil: Theology does not begin with “being”

How Russia Became Christian (Part II)

From CH&B’s website, How Russia became Christian (Part II)

c. 987 — Vladimir summoned together his boyars and the city elders, and said to them: “Behold, the Bulgars came before me urging me to accept their religion. Then came the Germans and praised their own faith; and after them came the Jews.”

Finally the Greeks appeared, criticizing all other faiths but commending their own, and they spoke at length, telling the history of the whole world from its beginning. Their words were artful, and it was wondrous to listen and pleasant to hear them. They preach the existence of another world. “Whoever adopts our religion and then dies,” they said, “shall arise and live forever. But whosoever embraces another faith, shall be consumed with fire in the next world.’ What is your opinion on this subject, and what do your answer?” The boyars and the elders replied, “You know, oh prince, that no man condemns his own possessions, but praises them instead. If you desire to make certain, you have servants at your disposal. Send them to inquire about the ritual of each and how he worships God.”

Their counsel pleased the prince and all the people, so that they chose good and wise men to the number of 10, and directed them to go first among the Bulgars and inspect their faith. The emissaries went their way, and when they arrived at their destination they beheld the disgraceful actions of the Bulgars and their worship in the mosque; then they returned to their country.

Continue reading “How Russia Became Christian (Part II)”

In Memory of Jaroslav Pelikan (A Homily by Father John Erickson)

In Memory of Jaroslav Pelikan
A Homily Delivered at His Funeral Vigil Service
May 16, 2006

Dear Sylvia, dear Martin, Michael and Miriam, dear Pastor Pelikan, your long vigil is over. During these last weeks we here at the seminary have been singing the hymns of Pascha, hymns proclaiming the resurrection: “From death to life, from earth to heaven has Christ our God led us.” And during these weeks you have been keeping vigil around Jary. Now Christ has led him from death to life, from earth to heaven. As persons of faith, we rejoice. We know that Christ is risen. We know that He has destroyed the power of death. We know that on the last day God will raise up those who sleep in Him (cf I Thess 4). But what a sense of loss we also feel!

On the first paschal morning Mary Magdalene felt a similar rush of conflicting emotions. As we read in John 20, she came to the tomb of Jesus to find His body gone. She turned and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t recognize Him and supposed He was the gardener. She asks, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus addresses her by name: “Mary.” She recognizes His beloved voice, and she reaches out to touch Him. But He says, “Do not touch me” – “Do not cling to me.” Don’t try to hold on to me.

Mary couldn’t hold onto Jesus as she had known him. All the more, we can’t hold onto those who now lie asleep in Him. We can’t hold onto Jary. We can’t know him now in the ways that we knew him in the past – as a devoted husband, a loving father, a proud grandfather, a dear brother, a teacher and mentor, a sage advisor, a witty conversationalist. A few weeks ago Michael summed up the situation that so many of us are in now. He said, “All my life, if I needed to know something, I could just ask my father, and he would know the answer. But I’m not going to be able to do that any more.” Like Michael, we can’t know Jary in the ways we once did. But we can recognize him and know him in new ways – ways no less real, and certainly more profound.

Continue reading “In Memory of Jaroslav Pelikan (A Homily by Father John Erickson)”

How Russia Became Christian (Part I)

From Christian History & Biography, How Russia became Christian:

c. 986—Vladimir was visited by Bulgars [from the region of Bulgaria] of Mohammedan faith, who said, “Though you are a wise and prudent prince, you have no religion. Adopt our faith, and revere Mohammed.” Vladimir inquired what was the nature of their religion.

They replied that they believed in God, and that Mohammed instructed them to practice circumcision, to eat no pork, to drink no wine, and after death, promised them complete fulfillment of their carnal desires. “Mohammed,” they asserted, “will give each man 70 fair women. He may choose one fair one, and upon that woman will Mohammed confer the charms of them all, and she shall be his wife. Mohammed promises that one may then satisfy every desire, but whoever is poor in this world will be no different in the next.” They also spoke other false things (which out of modesty may not be written down).

Vladimir listened [intently] to them, for he was fond of women and indulgence, regarding which he heard with pleasure. But circumcision and abstinence from pork and wine were disagreeable to him. “Drinking,” said he, “is the joy of the Russes. We cannot exist without that pleasure.”

Continue reading “How Russia Became Christian (Part I)”

The Fatherhood Chronicles CIII

Life Returning to Normal?

Hanging on our wall immediately next to the computer desk in our old apartment was the 2006 Family Organizer®, put out by More Time Moms®TM Publishing, Inc. It was filled with a plethora of activities and important appointments, from playgroup meetings to pediatrician visits, paydays, Anna’s girls-only nights with her friends (sans babies and toddlers), and an occasional important event for the lone representative of the male species in our home. A glance at one of the days on the monthly calendar (roughly 18″ x 14″) could foster a detailed narrative of events, not the least of which would be the combined logistics of scheduling, transportation and menu preparations of an even half-dozen homes at a time.

The unpacking of a home, although it is portentous of the encroaching horizon of normalcy, is itself a trial of the spirit in excruciatingly abnormal times. Boxes shifted here, contents dug through, then hurriedly “repacked,” and said boxes shoved there. Boxes taken to storage, only to be fetched again from storage–or rummaged through in storage–to find misplaced items (the television remote) incorrectly cataloged (packed with the phones and telephony equipment instead of with the videos). Or worse to not find items sought . . . or worse yet, to find items thought to have been jettisoned two moves previous only to resurrect their irritating and hideous existence in a new location.

Moves are not infrequently coupled with new jobs, and there are new schedules to which to adjust. Some of these are welcome–a near-elimination of the commute time, say. Some are not–the arcane, idiosyncratic and wholly irrational “rules” of garbage pickup.

But often it is not long before mornings begin starting at the same time each day, as bedtimes start ending the day at near the same times. Coffee gets ground and brewed as before. Dirty clothes again begin to miss the hamper by inches, or hang tantalizingly and mockingly over the edge. Paper cups are replaced by favorite “Caffeinated Christianity” mugs, and metalware replaces plasticware.

However, in a household of young’un’s and a mom with a spine of steel and a heart of rose petals, the true sign of the return to normalcy is clear and immistakable. I saw it myself this evening as I sat down to the computer. It was the 2006 Family Organizer®, put out by More Time Moms®TM Publishing, Inc. once again ensconced in its calm yet authoritative place adjacent the computer desk.

On its once pristine white pages for July are scratched already just a notch more than half a dozen meetings, playgroups and activities. Normalcy is returning to the Healy home.

Knowing God and Believing in God

June 25, 2006
Second Sunday After Pentecost

Father Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings

There are two apparently irreconcilable aspects to the New Testament’s affirmation of Natural Revelation.

On the one hand, it is affirmed that man is able to discover God’s existence from examining His works in nature, because “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20). There is not a word in this text about faith. Indeed, how can one believe in what is “clearly seen”?

On the other hand, it is equally attested that “he who comes to God must believe that He is” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith, not reason, is affirmed here. However, if faith in God’s existence is necessary, how am I to have faith in what I already know? How is it possible to know and believe in the same thing?

I did not make up this problem. The mutual exclusivity of faith and reason, when both are directed to the same object and under the same aspect, has always been recognized among rational men. Hugh of St. Victor was hardly alone when he asserted, “Those things that are entirely known by reason (ex ratione omnino nota sunt) cannot be believed, because they are known” (De Sacramentis 1.3.20). No faith is necessary, or even possible, in propositions demonstrated by reason. If, then, I already know God’s existence by reason (as I most certainly do), how is it possible for me to believe it? And yet, if I do not believe in it, how can I come to God, as the Epistle to the Hebrews says?

Since both things are affirmed in Holy Scripture, however, one suspects there is a mystery here worthy of further consideration. I want to suggest two avenues to the question.

The first avenue, elaborated by St. Bonaventure, concentrates on the special sense of “knowing” when this word refers to God as an object. When a thinker arrives at the inference “God” at the end of a logical argument, he does not know God as he knows some other object of rational regard. He does not perceive God as he perceives, for instance, the Principle of Contradiction, or the theorems of mathematics, or the validity of the Baroco Syllogism. God does not give form to his intellect in the same way that his intellect is informed by rational truths. Even as known, God remains God and therefore inaccessible to the mind’s comprehension.

Bonaventure writes, “Someone who believes that God is one and is the Creator of all, if he should begin to know this same fact (ipsum idem) from arguments of rational necessity, does not for this reason stop believing; likewise, if someone should already know this, the arrival of faith does not remove the knowledge of it. Our experience testifies to this.”

With regard to reason’s knowledge of God’s existence, Bonaventure says, “the light and certitude of this knowledge is not such that, having it, the light of faith is superfluous; indeed, it is necessary with it.” Therefore, he concludes that, in the case of God, knowing and believing “are compatible, simultaneously and in the same respect” (On the Sentences 3.24.2,3).

The Seraphic Doctor’s approach to this question prompts a second one of my own. I begin with “contingent being”–those things that exist but do not have to exist (which is to say, everything except God). When I argue from the existence of contingent beings to the existence of Necessary Being (which I have always considered the most compelling and irreducible of the cosmological arguments), I do not arrive simply at an abstract rational truth, but at a Being on whom all other things, including myself, are contingent. The prefix of this word is the key. I arrive at a Being by whom all things else are touched (con-tingo).

This may be a purely rational process, at least until the moment I reach the inference of my argument, because the Being I reach, the Being on whom all other things depend, is necessarily a Being of volition, revealed in the very act of causing contingent things to be. For contingent being to exist, after all, it is obvious that some will or decision is required of the Necessary Being. Therefore, the Necessary Being must be personal, in a sense analogous to ourselves as persons, a Being who knows and wills.

I cannot relate to such a Being simply as a concept in my mind. My mind itself screams out against such a presumption, for to know God in this way is to be known by God. As a matter of experience, then, it is impossible for me to separate scire Deum from credo Deo. That is to say, I am unable to affirm that God exists without recognizing and confessing my dependence on Him. Contingency here implies dependency. In the rational act of arriving at His existence I am drawn towards God as a personal Reality, the real God who knows me and wills me. I cannot help recognizing my utter dependence on Him, and the rational recognition of this dependence is faith. Indeed, it easily becomes hope and love.

[Posted with kind permission of Father Patrick]

The Backdrop of the Kansas Horizon

If creation tells of God, as we have on authority it does, then the uncluttered expanse of the Kansas sky tells of the wide expanse of God’s mercy and the awful power of his love.

I have lived the city life of the third largest metropolitan area in the U.S. for six and a half years now. And one of the dull heartaches I carry with me is the loss of the view of the nighttime skies of Kansas. Here there is humming neon and a dull radiation that blots out the sharp pinpoints of stars. Here there are Babel towers that blot out the theater of God’s grace for the contemplation of the achievements of men. The city skies are an atheology. Not necessarily virulent or angry so much as blind and ignorant. Here is man, and here is all there is to see.

But the Kansas skies preach, and preach a gospel that will shut a man’s mouth so that the fruitful silence may be properly attended. There is no mercy that cannot be found in the bright expanse, and no soul-gripping terror that can be avoided. There are the dry summer winds that parch and dessicate, telling a man that he is insufficient unto himself. There are the powerful thunderbursts that drench and flood, revealing a man’s incapacity to shield himself from the power of the deluge. Springtime brightness gives way quickly to the whirling chaos, which destroys in a flash, and leaves heartache and loss beneath the return of luminscent blue skies. Even the stillness of the dark winter nights are full of theology, bringing clarity in the frozen death of once living things.

The Kansas skies preach, and what they preach is twofold. Man is ephemeral, sprouting quickly, but having no life in himself, ever dependent upon the mercy of rain and sun and wind. And they preach the ever-varied depth of the loving mercy of God. A mercy that is uncompromising, relentless and ever dangerous. God’s love is never safe, but it is ever good. Under the tornadic sky, man is left with destruction and chaos, brought to the realization that all his monuments, even his life itself, that gift from his Maker, may be taken from him at any moment. But under the bright blue skies that follow, man befriends man, grief greets grief with a ready hand, and love and mercy flow between men because they have first flowed from the Almighty.

If one has been born and raised under the Kansas skies, and if he is attentive, he cannot but be evangelized by creation’s seasonal gospels. For the testimony of the horizon is of a love and mercy, fearful and dangerous to be sure, which stretches to no limit that can be known and encompasses all, good and evil, within its embrace.

The Fatherhood Chronicles CII

Saving a World: A Small Town Sort of Sacramental

No one is born alone, however alone we may live and die. And that fact brings with it certain and inescapable expectations which shape and form that life before ever it can know and understand the forces that order and disorder it. Back of this dynamic is the divine intention for character: that fixing of a soul in a dynamic of synergy, an active continuing union with the infinite pluralities of grace which are God. But this divine intention is not impervious to freedom, and what is meant for good can be bent for evil.

Small towns are just this sort of soul-forming grace that God brings us. There is a tangible and thick difference between being “the Williams boy” whom no one will mistake for anyone else and in which label is writ a destiny, and being another Williams boy in a place where the distance of a few blocks renders that boy invisible and unknown to anyone else. There are, as I said, certain expectations associated with “the Williams boy” that will mark and make him what he will one day become, for good or ill, expectations that the other Williams boy will never know let alone care about, for good or ill.

But as is all too often true of sacramental graces, those whose lives are continuously marked by them seek to escape them, and those who never had them mock and misunderstand them. It takes another sort of grace for a small town soul to one day learn the divine mercy that has been given him and to return to this grace, not just in a nostalgia of mind, nor even of geographical location, but rather to return to the geography of soul formed by these small but mighty tectonic plates, and know again that polestar called home.

For there is a destiny there, and even though such a destiny can be an unmerciful one, for there is nothing inherently divine about a small town, still even the merciless is not without its theandric mercy, even the severe and soul-crushing horror of small town disorder is not able to halt the heavenly flood of godly love.

But when mercy and love combine in the sacramental grace of a small town, and when a soul has been plowed by the humble geography of place, then that destiny becomes a song whose chorus remakes and echoes in heart and mind. Voices which the unprepared might take as binding and constricting, to a ready soul sound forth the call of a great end, and a divine mission.

Yet make no mistake. This divine mission is no adolescent romantic quest for glory and renown. This mission will not save the world. Or, at least it will not do so at once. But it will save a world. A world bounded by the home and a small legacy known only by sons and daughters. However great the dreams of a small town soul just setting out in life, the divine love will bring stronger and truer dreams from the harvest of that soul. Dreams of the hearth, the still peace of a slumbering household, and the godly and silent expectation of a brightening dawn.

The call of the small town on a soul can bring about the grace for which it has been divinely designed: to save a world, and in saving that world, return grace for grace by saving the small town which gave that world birth.

When a man loves his wife until death and beyond, when sons and daughters bring to a man their sons and daughters, when the prayers a man prayed at his bedside come round full circle and he prays them with his sons’ sons and his daughters’ daughters, then the world is saved because a world has been saved.