Seismos

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.

-Matthew 24:29 (KJV)

See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.  And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.

-Hebrews 12:25-27 (KJV)

When Christ came, the world was shaken. It continues to be shaken to this day. When the process is over, all the darkness will be removed from this world, and only the good will remain. Imagine a kingdom where people think only good thoughts and do only good deeds. Imagine a world where people are truly content, where their creativity is not frustrated, where their efforts are not wasted.

Before we get to this world, the powers of evil must be removed. The Sons of God and their servants who conspire against the LORD will die the death of mortals.

I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.

-Psalm 82:6-7 (KJV)

And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

-Revelation 20:15 (KJV)

The shaking of this world is happening in the spiritual places, not just the earth. God’s human children are making war on the powers of darkness by their prayers, by their righteous living, by their worship, and by their sacrifice to the name of Jesus.

 

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Requiescat in pace Nabeel Qureshi

Today I would like to honour a great Christian apologist, Dr Nabeel Qureshi, who this weekend went to be with the Lord. After a long period of conversation with his friend, David Wood, he converted from Islam to Christianity, dedicating his life to defending the faith and engaging with Muslims in grace and truth. The Lord blessed him by reconciling him to his Muslim parents before his death, and it is my prayer that they will know the comfort and love of God in this time of grieving. He also leaves behind a wife and children.

The Lord is doing great things in the Muslim world at this time, and Dr Qureshi leaves behind a legacy that, I pray, will continue to bear fruit to salvation in the lives of earnest seekers. This man had credibility with his audience because he had seen both sides of the divide:  he knew what it was like to live as “an average Muslim”, and he could also testify to the changed life he had as a consequence of entering into a relationship with Jesus. He spoke to the sincere questions that many Muslims have in response to doctrines like the Incarnation and the Trinity, but he also addressed ethics: how we live our daily lives in a way that honours God and our fellow human beings.

Now is a time when such men are needed. The challenge of this age is to show the love of Jesus to our enemies and to recognise the work of His Spirit in the unlikeliest of places. Those who have a true conception of love, those who live it in all sincerity, day in, day out – these people honour God. But we all need Jesus.

What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.”

-Roman 3:9-11

 

Terrorism and The Exhausted West.

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Yesterday, I wrote at NEO about the terrorist attack in London. If you read me, you will know that I am becoming increasingly frustrated by Europe’s (including the UK in this instance) complete unwillingness to face the truth. 90% + of all terrorists are some variant of Islamic, even if only in their mind. We do our citizenry a major disservice when we fail to acknowledge that, and act to secure the rule of law. In my article, I quoted the great Russian writer Alexander Solzenitsyn’s famous commencement address at Harvard in 1978.

It struck a chord with me, and it did my astute readers as well. They dug around in my archives and found what I half-remembered. We had spoken of that address before, in a post of Jessica’s from 2013 while I was off for Christmas. It was an amazing post then, and it still is, and so I’ll share it with you today. Here’s Jessica, in one of her best.

The Exhausted West?

The title is not mine and it is not new. It was the title used by one of the last century’s greatest writers and spirits, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for his 1978 Commencement speech at Harvard. This came as a shock to the West at the time. Here was a man whom it had lauded as a hero of the Cold War, a moral giant who had exposed and condemned the Stalinist regime and its successors; in the face of his writing, the Left which liked to appease Communism fell silent, and the Right which loved to excoriate it celebrated him. But after his Harvard speech, his admirers were puzzled. Instead of thanking them and saying how wonderful the West was, Solzhenitsyn could not have made it clearer that he did not think that the best alternative to Communism was individualistic, humanistic capitalism. Any system which saw man as instrumental in a materialistic sense missed the point of human life: we are not here to be parts of the economic utopia or to consume, we are not an economic animal whose main point is to accumulate as much wealth as we can, or to consume as much as we can; there is nothing wrong with creating wealth, or even accumulating it – unless it is an end in itself. After all, the Good Samaritan could not (as Lady Thatcher once reminded us) have done any good had he not had the money with which to do it. Jesus did not condemn wealth, he feared its effects on the rich man, and he wanted it, like all of God’s good things, to be used rightly. A society which pursued wealth for its own sake and which makes money (or celebrity) an end in itself is not a good one.

America was founded on noble ideals, including the pursuit of happiness. Our wealth has become such that many citizens can get an unimaginable amount of material wealth, but, as he noted:

the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life, and the struggle to obtain them imprints many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings. Active and tense competition permeates all human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development. 

He saw a society in which:

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil. 

It is hard to see that nearly forty years later, things are any better; here, as elsewhere, Solzhenitsyn  prophesied aright. He identified the reasons for this very well:

Without any censorship, in the West, fashionable trends of thought are carefully separated from those that are not fashionable. Nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally, your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day 

The West was, he said, ‘spiritually exhausted’. The ‘human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.’

The origin of this decadence lay, Solzhenitsyn suggested, in the anthropocentric views of man’s destiny which came in with the secular thinking of the Enlightenment. Man was at the centre of all things, and the ends for which he was meant were material ones:

Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our day there is a free and constant flow. Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones. 

But these are not the ends for which man is made, and so even if he reaches them, he is dissatisfied and his spirit unsatisfied. So it is that even in the richest society the world has ever known, even the rich lack what is needed to heal what ails them?  We can reject God and make gods of ourselves. But Solzhenitsyn did not see that as bringing us what we needed; and forty-five years on, we can see, even more clearly, that like Jeremiah, he was a prophet to whom few wanted to listen.

Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Catholic Message

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Recently Fr Alexander Lucie-smith published an article in the Catholic Herald. Fr Lucie-smith is a Catholic priest, speaking mostly to Catholics, in a Catholic publication. But his message is one for all orthodox Christians (which should be all Christians), and so it is valid for us all.

This one caught my attention, not least because I admire Rees-Mogg considerably. So let’s take a look at it.

The Church cannot become just another branch of the liberal commentariat

Amen, nor the conservative commentariat, for that matter. The Church (indeed the churches) have a higher calling.

The first reading at Mass on Sunday contained one of the more arresting images from the prophet Ezekiel: “Son of man, I have appointed you as sentry to the House of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, warn them in my name.”

It would be a pretty hopeless sentry who did not keep an eye out for danger, and who kept shtum when he saw something dangerous coming. We all know, because we have heard it said so many times, that the Church is supposed to have a prophetic voice, and to take a counter-cultural stand against the errors and fads of the age. And yet, because the Church is in the world, it often tends to be formed by the world, so both currents are present in the Church: the countercultural, and its opposite, the conformist. The situation today is no exception.

Depressingly, the Church today (by which I mean the leadership of the Church) often seems to speak like just another branch of the commentariat. Take the whole question of climate change. It is very hard to distinguish between the content and tone of a Church document on this matter and an article in the secular press. The discourse in both is more or less the same. This is a pity, because it is a sign that the specific nature of Church teaching has been lost, towhit, the emphasis that environmental degradation is the result of personal sin, and personal sin is always the result of the personal choice of someone, somewhere, to do something objectively.

Personally, I think there is a somewhat different message that Christianity is to bear here. Too much of what passes as environmentalism whether from the various churches or secular sources comes perilously close to simply Luddism, an inchoate longing to return to our pre-industrial past, even if doing so is by violent measures and regardless of the fact that it will inevitably cause great harm to many (especially poor) people both in our own societies and in the rest of the world as well.

I think what we are charged with in regard to the physical world is stewardship, to manage our resources to maximise the results, with the least possible damage, to gain the most for the maximum number of people, and other creatures, as well as vegetation.

Climate change is, of course, real, as it has been for five billion years, I have seen nothing convincing that we are a major driver of it, no doubt we have some influence, and we should maximise our efficiency, in the name of stewardship, if nothing else. But what many want is to return to subsistence farming (likely with wooden plows) causing widespread death by starvation around the world. This is the message many in, and out of the church are carrying, and it is a false one.

Again, with the Church’s social teaching, and its teaching about the structures of sin that create poverty and prevent those born in poverty ever leaving it – has this idea really made an impression? Or does the Church’s talk about economic matters sound rather New Labourish (that is, several decades out of date) and indistinguishable from all the other virtue-signallers who care about the poor but don’t actually do anything about the state of the poor?

Has the Church’s teaching in these two matters degenerated from a matter of right practice to a matter of saying the right thing? Do people ever confess their sins against the environment? Do they ever accuse themselves in the confessional of crimes against the poor?

I don’t really disagree with his premise here, we are doing a poor job of caring for our neighbors. But much of the problem is this. Our churches have delegated inappropriately our duty to those less well off to the state, who has no particular duty in this area. The duty of the state is to ensure justice, from malefactors in our population, and from other states as well, doing so in a just manner.

The duty falls on us as individual Christians, and on our corporate churches to provide help for those less well off. Have we often failed in this duty? Yes, we have. But it remains our duty, and it is not one we can delegate. That our churches have acquiesced in allowing the state to take over our duty is of no account, it remains our duty, but in trying (very badly) to carry out this illegitimate duty, the state has made many of us poor enough that we can no longer effectively carry out our duty, either. Thus the churches have actively hurt the poor.

The one field where the Church does well in communicating a teaching that is certainly not pleasing to the world, but which the world hears and cannot help but hearing, is in the field of bioethics. The Catholic Church is pro-life, and the whole ecclesial pro-life movement stands as testimony to that, and has had considerable success in reminding the world of the terrible sin of abortion. This was in no small part thanks to the constant and energetic teaching of Saint John Paul II and Saint Teresa of Calcutta, to name but two. Here one sees the Church fulfilling its vocation to be a sentry to the House of Israel.

To say that we should wind down the talk about the protection of all life at all stages, because this talk is somehow alienating, would be mistaken. The hostility that the pro-life discourse arouses is a pretty good providential sign that here we are doing the right thing. Well done to Jacob Rees-Mogg and the many others who take a stand that must feel sometimes like that of Elijah on Mount Carmel: “I, I alone, am left as a prophet of the LORD, while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty.” (I Kings 18:22) Elijah was a lonely voice, but he was the one who spoke truth. The prophets of Baal were a bunch of stooges and frauds who ate at Jezebel’s table – a rather good image, one calls to mind so many of the false prophets of today.

This I agree with wholeheartedly. In the pro-life mission, Rees-Mogg and all the others are carrying the authentic Christian (not just Catholic) message. If we don’t agree with him, we are misinterpreting what it means to be a Christian. This has been at the core of Christianity, in all times and all places, and everybody else marveled that Christians didn’t leave unwanted babies to die of exposure, as everyone else did.

It is, like stewardship, and like caring for the unfortunate, a core part of what our fathers in the faith taught, and did. We should pray to do as well.

And yes, I would vote proudly for Rees-Mogg, and I would be very pleased to be in a church with Fr Lucie-smith, as well. It’s doubtful that I would agree with either all the time, as this article shows, but both are excellent representatives of our faith, and our peoples.

Coherence and Mystery

As rational beings, we try to make sense of our experience. Contradictions and gaps are to be resolved and filled. Sometimes real contradictions are there, and sometimes they are merely apparent, the consequence of confusion and disjointed experience.

An interesting example of perplexity is the Euthyphro dilemma, discussed by Plato in the dialogue that bears that name. The original discussion was about the nature of piety. Do the gods love what is pious because it is pious? Or is piety simply what(ever) the gods love?

This dilemma was re-imagined in the modern era as part of the interaction between atheism and theism, with morality substituted for piety. Does God command what is moral because it is moral? Or is morality simply what(ever) God commands? The former proposition appears to undermine God’s omnipotence or self-sufficiency by positing that something exists independently of Him and this thing constrains him, – namely, morality. The latter proposition suggests that morality is arbitrary, since God’s will is taken as unconstrained in this model. Since our conception of morality presupposes that morality is guided by some principle, this option makes morality into a contradiction.

I do not believe I have met anyone who became an atheist because of the Euthyphro dilemma. Usually some other problem is the cause for such a position. Nevertheless, this is the kind of scenario that will be used by atheists to attack the coherence of the Judeo-Christian conception of God. Apologists can respond by providing a specific solution or by appealing to the concept of transcendence: God is ultimately beyond the limits of human understanding.

One response is to argue that God’s will is guided by God’s love. This only pushes that problem back a stage. The atheist will ask, “Is God’s love arbitrary or not?” Or he may ask, “Why is God’s love good?” The theist may provide an answer, but there will be back-and-forth until either or both of the two following assertions arise: “It just is; it is a mystery.”

Human existence appears to be contingent. We do not see ourselves as necessary beings and we do not see the course of our lives as taking necessary courses (though this does not entail that the power to change all aspects of one’s life lies with the individual whose life it is). Heraclitus observed that the world is in flux: “You cannot step into the same river twice.” In such a world, the concept of something being necessarily and unalterably so is mysterious.

Nevertheless, eternal and perfect beings and qualities – the abstract – are applied to our contingent world. We may not be able to say what justice or coherence or love are in and of themselves, but we seem to recognise their presence in the world in shadowy and distorted forms. “That action was loving.” “That ruling was unjust.” I am, of course, appealing to Plato’s concept of the Forms (Ideas), which he himself later criticised in his dialogue, Parmenides.

This Platonic line of thinking was mingled with the Israelite worldview in the works of Philo of Alexandria. Philo provides an interesting parallel with the Christology of John, drawing upon conceptions of Wisdom as a hypostasis of YHWH found in earlier Second Temple literature. St Paul agreed with this sentiment: “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). We do not understand the deep things of God, but Christ is the Reason (Logos) and Wisdom (Sophia) of God. In Him we find our answers and our rest.

 

Descartes’ genie gets out of the bottle

Descartes, the father of modern philosophy and the rationalist school of thought, unleashed a wave of scepticism with his Evil Demon Hypothesis (AKA “evil genius”, “brain in the vat”). His reasoning went something like this.

  1. During a dream, I may take things unquestionably as true or plausible.
  2. On waking from the dream, these things become doubtful, the stuff of fiction.
  3. These things may concern fundamental laws of logic or nature. For example, in a dream, I may believe the proposition “2+2=5”.
  4. I possess no certain way of telling whether I am awake or asleep.
  5. Therefore, it is possible that I am mistaken about the nature of my “waking” life. It may be that what I take to be waking life is, in fact, a dream (or series of dreams).
  6. It is possible that an evil demon exists that has the power to keep my consciousness in  a world of dreams, in which it constantly feeds me false information.
  7. Therefore, if I am to establish that my waking life delivers truth to me, I must overcome the Evil Demon Hypothesis.

Descartes thought that he had overcome this hypothesis. He believed that he had shown deductively that God exists and that God is not a deceiver. From there he went on to say that the Evil Demon Hypothesis was incompatible with the existence of a truthful God: therefore, this hypothesis must be false. The attentive reader can explore these arguments in Descartes’ Meditations.

Contemporary and subsequent philosophers criticised Descartes’ work. Many have taken exception to his Trademark Argument, his ontological argument, and his cosmological argument. Others have criticised the “Cartesian Circle”: Descartes relies on what he calls “clear and distinct ideas” to prove the existence of God, and then goes on to say that God, not being a deceiver, guarantees that clear and distinct ideas convey truth to the human mind. Descartes understood these steps in a linear fashion, but his critics assert that he begged the question.

Descartes needs a non-deceiving God for his epistemology to work, once he has raised the spectre of the evil demon. Without God, he is reduced to a state of scepticism in which he can know very little indeed. As an infallibilist, Descartes understood the composition of knowledge in the following terms.

  1. I believe that the proposition is true.
  2. The proposition is true.
  3. I cannot rationally doubt that the proposition is true.

One might argue that one cannot rationally doubt that 2+2=4, therefore, this proposition and others of the same class meet the criteria set forth by Descartes. However, if one believes that the Evil Demon Hypothesis is a rational belief to entertain, while also believing that Descartes has failed to prove the existence of God, then one could argue that the Evil Demon Hypothesis provides rational grounds for doubting that the proposition 2+2=4 is true.

We may respond in a number of ways to this problem.

  1. Argue that it is irrational to entertain the Evil Demon Hypothesis.
  2. Argue that God is necessarily foundational to any epistemology (and theory of language – see Quine’s work). Rather than worry about proving the existence of God, we should take God’s existence as axiomatic and concern ourselves with building upon that axiom.
  3. Adopt a different definition of knowledge in place of Descartes’ infallibilist model (e.g. Nozick’s “tracking the truth” reliabilism).
  4. Accept the fact that faith plays a role in epistemology (see Hume’s work on the “problem of induction”). Our aim should be to show that it is more reasonable to adopt one proposition over another (where the two are mutually exclusive).

 

Labor Day and Vocations

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In the United States, today is Labor Day. A day given aside presumably to honor those who work, even though like most summer holidays it is mostly used to recreate, grill, and watch sports. Well, that’s the American way, we don’t take all that much seriously.

But Luther, the great theologian of vocation is an apt source for the day, so here are a couple of extracts from him on the day, courtesy of Gene Veith.

If you are a manual laborer, you find that the Bible has been put into your workshop, into your hand, into your heart. It teaches and preaches how you should treat your neighbor. Just look at your tools—at your needle or thimble, your beer barrel, your goods, your scales or yardstick or measure—and you will read this statement inscribed on them. Everywhere you look, it stares at you. Nothing that you handle every day is so tiny that it does not continually tell you this, if you will only listen. . . .All this is continually crying out to you: “Friend, use me in your relations with your neighbor just as you would want your neighbor to use his property in his relations with you.”

Martin Luther, “Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount” (Luther’s Works 21:237)

Interestingly, as an electrical worker, my main supplier of hand tools is M. Klein and Sons. It got its start because he was a blacksmith and a Western Union lineman came in to get his pliers repaired, so Klein forged a replacement half for him – a couple weeks later he came back to get the other half, now broken replaced. Thus started one of the legends of American quality, to the point that by the time my dad started work in the 1920s those pliers were (and are) simply referred to as Kleins. The apropos point here is that one of the phrases that Klein’s publicizes for hand tool safety is,

“Take care of your tools, or they will take care of you”

How much more appropriate is that to us in our relations with our neighbors, and how much more important.

Although the Christian is thus free from all works, he ought in this liberty to empty himself, take upon himself the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in human form, and to serve, help, and in every way deal with his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with him. This he should do freely, having regard for nothing but divine approval. He ought to think: . . . . “I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me.”[i]. . .Just as our neighbor is in need and lacks that in which we abound, so we were in need before God and lacked his mercy. Hence, as our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians. . . .We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor.  Otherwise he is not a Christian. .He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor. Yet he always remains in God and in his love.”[i]

Martin Luther, Freedom of the Christian, LW 31: 366-67, 371.

Well, we’ve seen that put into practice the last fortnight in Texas, haven’t we? One thing that struck me in reading an article by a British woman who got caught in Houston was how amazed she was by such things as this…

The hotel manager, a Syrian Christian, said we stood only a 50/50 chance of getting to the airport as most of the roads had been closed during the night due to flooding. He told me I must trust God’s will. The freedom to mention God and pray without being mocked was comforting.

From Karen Harradine: Fear, chaos and the kindness of strangers in the eye of Hurricane Harvey

How remarkable it seemed to this flyover American to be amazed at this. It just the way we do business, especially when things go wrong. It is perhaps why the US is what it is.

Truly did Dame Julian say,

“all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

The Golden Tongue and the Eucharist

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St. John Chrysostom was born around 349 A.D. in Antioch and like many of the other Church Fathers we’ve discussed like St. Justin Martyr and St. Athanasius was born into wealth. The affluence of his family allowed him to taught by one of antiquities greatest teachers, Libanius. The famous pagan professor said “It is a pity…that the boy is a Christian—otherwise he could be my successor.”[1] Chrysostom lost his father at an early age and being brought by his mother, Anthusa, as Pope Benedict XVI explains she “instilled in him exquisite human sensitivity and a deep Christian faith.”[2] D’Ambrosio explains that despite having such a formidable education, Chrysostom, “lost his enthusiasm for a life in law or public service. He had met some hermits outside the city and, inspired by their example, decided to join them.[3] He spent four years with the monks on Mount Silpius, “he extended his retreat for a further two years, living alone in a cave under the guidance of an old hermit.”[4]

Pope Benedict, in his General Audience on St. John Chrysostom, gives an account of Chrysostom’s early career in the Church’s clergy as he “between 378 and 379, he returned to the city. He was ordained a deacon in 381 and a priest in 386 and come a famous preacher in the city’s churches.”[5] It was the next year when Emperor Theodosius had been compelled to increase taxes due to a response to an invasion. The tax increased caused a mob to form who were incensed by the tax. The mob defaced statues of the Emperor and as a response to the vandalism, the Emperor intended to punish the city.[6] At this moment, after the Bishop went to the Emperor to plead for reconciliation, Chrysostom went to the people, led them in prayer and gave twenty-one of some of his most famous homilies called On the Statues. St. John was able to quiet the rage of the mob, which in turn, smoothed over the wrath of the Emperor. In our current cultural climate, perhaps it would be wisdom for both leaders and citizens to reflect on this event.

St. John Chrysostom understands this by developing and defending the doctrine of Eucharist to be called “The Doctor of the Eucharist.”

He writes,

“For When thou seest the Lord sacrificed and laid upon the altar, and the priest standing and praying over the Victim, and all the worshippers empurpled with that Precious Blood, canst thou think that thou art still amongst men and standing on earth…Oh, what a marvel! What love of God to Man!”

Elias left a sheepskin to his disciple, but the Son of God, ascending left us His own flesh!…Let us not lament, nor fear the difficulties of the times, for He who did not refuse to pour out His Blood for all and has suffered us to partake of His Blood for all and has suffered us to partake of His Blood again—what will He refused to do for our safety?”[7]

As we note above from Fr. Rengers, D’Ambrosio further explains, “One of the most notable themes struck by John is the centrality of the Eucharistic sacrifice in the life of the Church. He insisted that consecrated elements truly become the Body and Blood of Christ.”[8] In D’Ambrosio’s text, he references from Homilies 1 and 2 on the Betrayal of Judas in which St. John Chrysostom’s words become an astounding defense for the Priesthood and the Priest’s role in Christ’s sacrifice at the Mass.

If we break down St. John’s words, when he articulates the idea “It is not man who causes what is presented to come the Body and Blood of Christ, but Christ Himself.”[9] This is a perfect example of what is known as In Persona Christi. It’s important to note that we acknowledge this in the beginning of Mass. For example, at the opening of Mass, when we respond “And with your Spirit, It is a response to In Persona Christi—not the priest. And of course, there are other times when the Priest serves in the person of Christ like at the sacrament of reconciliation.

Again, in a Christmas Homily, St. John Chysostom reminds us of the Incarnation during the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Mass by saying, “Reflect, O Man, what sacrificial flesh you take in your hand!” (note the language)

[1] Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers (Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014), 243.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2008), 98.

[3] D’Ambrosio, 243.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, 98.

[5] Ibid, 99.

[6] D’Ambrosio, 244.

[7] [7] Christopher Rengers and Matthew E. Bunson, The 35 Doctors of the Church (Tan Books: Charlotte, 2014), 112.

[8] D’Ambriosio, 245.

[9] Ibid.

St. Athanasius and the Trinity

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St. Athanasius writings were also responsible for much of the development and understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. In the Liturgy of Hours, the reading for Trinity Sunday is taken from St. Athanasius’ First Letter to Serapion in which he writes:

It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the Apostles and guarded by the Fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian, either in fact or in name…We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being (note: Christ’s Divinity here). It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the Holy Trinity is preserved…”[1]

How would any of you describe the Holy Trinity?

One time I was having a discussion with an atheist who had popped in the comment section of my blog who presented a challenge to all Christians. The challenge stated, “Name one unique idea created by Christianity.” After some other bloggers had offered ideas that were dismissed, and after I had presented Transubstantiation— only to be dismissed (even though it is unique)— I also presented the most glaring central doctrine of the Church, The Holy Trinity. However, the atheist rejected this as not being an original idea as he gave what he referred to as the Hindu trinity known as Trimurti. After I had looked into the Trimurti, I concluded that the Christian Trinity is truly unique, and this comparison to the Trimurti was a false equivalent.

 

Now to claim this is a false equivalent, one must have a better understanding of the most Holy Trinity. In the case of the Trimurti, the three gods are exactly that, three distinct gods that are reincarnated into an avatar known Datta, but regardless, Brahma still takes center stage in that religion. I explained their difference ultimately using the Athanasian Creed, Fr. Rengers reminds us of the Athanasius Creed, “consisting of 40 rhythmic statements, had been used in the Sunday Office for over a thousand years.”[2] —which I wish we would use more often— “So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God…So there is One Father, not Three Fathers; one Son, not Three Sons; One Holy Ghost, not Three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore or after Other, None is greater or less than Another.”

 

During the conversation, I wish that I had the modern example given by Michael Pennock in This is Our Faith of a woman who is three different persons, although she is one woman. She is a Mother, a wife, and friend. I also wish I was more familiar with St. John’s of Damascus example, “The Father is the sun with the Son as ray and the Holy Spirit as heat.” All very distinct concepts, but from one source, and with one will. It is entirely different, a central doctrine and great mystery that is truly original to Christianity.
Finally, a great foundation for understanding the Holy Trinity rests in focusing on the Incarnation, The Word of God, Christ Jesus, Our Lord and Savior. Of course, as I’ve mentioned previously, unless we are fluent in ancient languages, we must read St. Athanasius in translation. However, one of the greatest teachers of our faith, and perhaps one day will be honored as a Doctor of the Faith, Bl. John Henry Newman writes on the Incarnation:

“This was the new and perfect tabernacle into which He entered (the body); entered, but not confined, not to be circumscribed by it. The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; though His own hands ‘made it and fashioned it,’ still he did not cease to be what He was, because He became man, but was still the Infinite God, manifested in, not altered by the flesh. He took upon Him our nature, as an instrument of His purposes, not as an agent in the work. (The Incarnation is not a creature) What is one thing cannot become another; His manhood remained human, and His Godhead remained divine.”[3]

[1] Rengers and Bunson, 8.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dave Armstrong, Quotable Newman (Sophia Press: Manchester, 2012), 197.