Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Anselm's ontological proof of God

Last Saturday’s Office of Readings contains:
From a conference by St. Thomas Aquinas (Credo in Deum)

Again, eternal life consists of the joyous community of all the blessed, a
community of supreme delight, since everyone will share all that is good with all the blessed. Everyone will love everyone else as himself, and therefore will rejoice in another’s good as in his own. So it follows that the happiness and joy of each grows in proportion to the joy of all.

When I read this I was immediately recalled to the ontological proof of St.
Anselm. Consider for a moment a rocket or a plane shooting skyward. It races upward, and at the height of travel, for a brief moment, the passengers are suspended weightless, then gravity takes over and it plunges earthward. I believe that this is how St. Anselm wishes to have us know the proof of God’s existence, not by irefutable logic, but by a direct encounter. For if we meditate on “God is that which a greater than cannot be conceived” our reason races higher and higher, until, for a brief moment, freed from material constraint, it touches “that which a greater than cannot be conceived.” But the necessity of a creature is to be pulled back to earth by the weight of the flesh. As St. Paul said, “when will I be delivered from this body of death?”

To this goal we join him in looking forward to eternal life, when the body, made like that of Jesus Christ, is no longer a body of death, and will not impede our vision of God. What eternal life is like “no eye has seen, nor has it entered into the heart of man.” Yet perhaps St. Thomas gave us a tool not unlike St. Anselm. For imagine if my joy was the sum of mine and yours, and yours the sum of yours and mine. Ours are both now increased, and for a each person added, that sum grows at an unimaginable rate, reaching heights that are inconceivable. No, it cannot be imagined, but perhaps it's magnitude can just be glimpsed for a moment...

God bless,

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Farewell to Idealism

Chapter member Mike Turner OPL submitted this meditation:
I can remember a few years ago how my interest was captured in a way that I could not explain by Father Corapi's remark: "The truth is not something; it's somebody."

Today, I was paging through a book of my son's -- "Where the Right went Wrong," by Patrick Buchanan. I ran into a quote from the 19th century anarchist Sergei Nechaev. "The revolutionary...has no interests, affairs, feelings, attachments, property, not even a name that he can call his own. Everything in him is absorbed by one exclusive interest, one thought, one passion -- the revolution..."

There was a time when I would have thought that the difference between the Christian and the revolutionary (as described by Nechaev) is that the Christian is wholly dedicated to an ideal that is valid, while the revolutionary is dedicated to an invalid ideal.

But today I understood that the difference is much more basic. The Christian is not fundamentally an idealist. The object of our faith is not a set of principles. The object of our faith is the Triune God. And the work of the Christian is to save souls. Put another way, our work is to make friends for God.

This is both reassuring and sobering. Reassuring because you don't have to have special training or a spiffy IQ to make friends, just a good heart. Sobering because some of us aren't terribly good at making friends, even though it has been our proper work since early childhood. (Sobering also because of our helplessness in communicating God even to ourselves, let alone to unbelievers. I am a blind man describing what God looks like; a deaf man describing the sound of his voice.)

St. Paul doesn't preach that "X is true." Rather, he says, "I preach Jesus Christ." Not an idea, but a person.

Monday, November 14, 2005

New equipment for Chapter House

Gayle and I traveled to Twin Falls to attend a farm auction, where we acquired a nice 6' Ford Terrace Plow. Now we should be able to keep the road in better shape!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Nothing new under the sun: skill in proposing error

The following is a wonderful description of the limitation of human reason as opposed to the assistance of revelation as a guide to illuminate reason.

AETERNI PATRIS (On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy)
Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII promulgated on 4 August 1879.

9. We know that there are some who, in their overestimate of the human faculties, maintain that as soon as man's intellect becomes subject to divine authority it falls from its native dignity, and hampered by the yoke of this species of slavery, is much retarded and hindered in its progress toward the supreme truth and excellence. Such an idea is most false and deceptive, and its sole tendency is to induce foolish and ungrateful men willfully to repudiate the most sublime truths, and reject the divine gift of faith, from which the fountains of all good things flow out upon civil society. For the human mind, being confined within certain limits, and those narrow enough, is exposed to many errors and is ignorant of many things; whereas the Christian faith, reposing on the authority of God, is the unfailing mistress of truth, whom whoso followeth he will be neither enmeshed in the snares of error nor tossed hither and thither on the waves of fluctuating opinion. Those, therefore, who to the study of philosophy unite obedience to the Christian faith, are philosophizing in the best possible way; for the splendor of the divine truths, received into the mind, helps the understanding, and not only detracts in nowise from its dignity, but adds greatly to its nobility, keenness, and stability. For surely that is a worthy and most useful exercise of reason when men give their minds to disproving those things which are repugnant to faith and proving the things which conform to faith. In the first case they cut the ground from under the feet of error and expose the viciousness of the arguments on which error rests; while in the second case they make themselves masters of weighty reasons for the sound demonstration of truth and the satisfactory instruction of any reasonable person. Whoever denies that such study and practice tend to add to the resources and expand the faculties of the mind must necessarily and absurdly hold that the mind gains nothing from discriminating between the true and the false. Justly, therefore, does the Vatican Council commemorate in these words the great benefits which faith has conferred upon reason: Faith frees and saves reason from error, and endows it with manifold knowledge.[26] A wise man, therefore, would not accuse faith and look upon it as opposed to reason and natural truths, but would rather offer heartfelt thanks to God, and sincerely rejoice that, in the density of ignorance and in the flood-tide of error, holy faith, like a friendly star, shines down upon his path and points out to him the fair gate of truth beyond all danger of wandering.

10. If, venerable brethren, you open the history of philosophy, you will find all We have just said proved by experience. The philosophers of old who lacked the gift of faith, yet were esteemed so wise, fell into many appalling errors. You know how often among some truths they taught false and incongruous things; what vague and doubtful opinions they held concerning the nature of the Divinity, the first origin of things, the government of the world, the divine knowledge of the future, the cause and principle of evil, the ultimate end of man, the eternal beatitude, concerning virtue and vice, and other matters, a true and certain knowledge of which is most necessary to the human race; while, on the other hand, the early Fathers and Doctors of the Church, who well understood that, according to the divine plan, the restorer of human science is Christ, who is the power and the wisdom of God,[27] and in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,[28] took up and investigated the books of the ancient philosophers, and compared their teachings with the doctrines of revelation, and, carefully sifting them, they cherished what was true and wise in them and amended or rejected all else. For, as the all-seeing God against the cruelty of tyrants raised up mighty martyrs to the defense of the Church, men prodigal of their great lives, in like manner to false philosophers and heretics He opposed men of great wisdom, to defend, even by the aid of human reason, the treasure of revealed truths. Thus, from the very first ages of the Church, the Catholic doctrine has encountered a multitude of most bitter adversaries, who, deriding the Christian dogmas and institutions, maintained that there were many gods, that the material world never had a beginning or cause, and that the course of events was one of blind and fatal necessity, not regulated by the will of Divine Providence.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Preparing for the hour of visitation

Next Sunday’s gospel:

"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise ones replied, 'No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.' While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, 'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!' But he said in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.' Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

An understanding of the scriptures is influenced by our culture, the obvious example being the nature of a wedding, quite different here than what we see today! There is one other cultural perspective which we should be aware of. Jesus was speaking to the Jews of his time, people who were waiting for a messiah to deliver them. The use of ten and five in the parable would have been very significant to Jesus’ listeners; they would have immediately connected this to the ten commandments and the five books of the law, and the awaited bridegroom is none other than the awaited messiah. As a reading of the old testament will show, many under the old covenant did not prepare for his coming, while there were those who did.

From a Christian perspective this scripture can appear harsh and unforgiving. This is the mystery of free will refusing the offer of God himself. Judas certainly is the supreme example, for God wishes the conversion of sinners and wills no one to be lost. The destruction of Jerusalem shows that to fail to accept Jesus in the Hour of his visitation is not a good thing…

Lk 19:41ff As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If this day you only knew what makes for peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation."