Tag Archives: Nicene Creed

Reflection: I Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 3)

Happy Feast of St. Joseph!  St. Joseph is the MAN (meaning he is awesome AND his is my model of manhood).  I’ve written about how awesome St. Joseph is HERE and am also working on a series of reflections about him and how he is a model of manly virtues.  

 

Shot from The Nativity Story (dir. Catherine Hardwicke) showing my man St. Joseph being an awesome foster father to the Incarnate Lord.  

 

But this post, like my devotion to Joseph, isn’t really about Joseph.  Its about Jesus.  

 

Today, we continue our reflections on the Creed, and our reflections on our Lord Jesus Christ, by examining the historical importance of the Incarnation and the theological importance of the Hypostatic Union.

 

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven

One of the fundamental truths the Church teaches about Jesus is that Christ is truly God and truly Man.  He isn’t part god, part man, like Hercules or some other demigod from other world mythologies.  Rather, in the words of the Council of Chalcedon, Christ has two natures, Divine and human, “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”  When the Incarnation happened, God took on a human nature without losing any of the Divine Nature.  It is what the Church calls the Hypostatic Union.  Practically speaking, this means that Jesus was fully God, and yet truly one of us, “like us in all things but sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  All of the Christological heresies in the Church, from Gnosticism onward, took issue with some aspect of this fundamental teaching of the Gospels.  The Creed of Nicaea answers their heresies sometimes before they were even formulated.

 

Perhaps Christ was merely God, with an imaginary body.  So the Gnostics, specifically the Docetists, taught.  The New Testament allows no such confusion.

 

Perhaps He was like God, but not quite God, since it would not be fitting for God to join with His creation.  No, Arius, that’s not right either. 

 

Perhaps He was God and Man, with a real body, but with two persons: the Second Person of the Trinity and the human person Jesus, son of Mary.  No, Nestorius, that doesn’t work either; He wouldn’t be truly God. 

 

Maybe, at the moment of the Incarnation, the power of God was SO POWERFUL, that the divine Nature subsumed Jesus’ human nature?  No, you Monophysites, then He wouldn’t be truly human.  You can’t be human without a human nature. 

 

What if Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t really God, but was so good, as a moral teacher, that God picked Him to be His Son at His baptism by John in the Jordan River?  No, Apollianarius, then he wouldn’t be God; he would be a mere hero from Greek and Roman mythology.

 

Jesus of Nazareth was (and is) 100% God and 100% Man.  That statement continues to baffle people today.  The pendulum has swung away from those who sought to paint Jesus as God and not really man to the point that you might be mocked today for considering Jesus truly God, that the miracles attributed to Him really happened, that He did, indeed, rise from the dead.  Modernism, “the synthesis of all heresies” according to Pope St. Pius X, tried desperately to keep the relevancy of the Gospels while gutting it of the spiritual dimensions found therein.  The result was a mixed bag of confusion and error, a perfect storm of bad history and messy heresy.

 

And the Church continues to confess, in season and out of season, that “He came down from heaven.”

 

Fine fine FINE.  He’s truly God and truly man.  But we didn’t really need Him as a redeemer, just as a model for right living. 

 

No, Pelagius, that doesn’t work either.

 

The line “For us men and for our salvation” answers the question, “Why did God become incarnate?”  Check out one of the most famous lines in all of Scripture:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17)

 

Our salvation is through Christ Jesus, through the grace of God for us.  It was this fundamental facet of our Faith that Pelagius denied.  Pelagius taught that it was our work, our effort, that won us our salvation.  In other words, we weren’t redeemed by Christ, but we instead seized our place in Heaven.  In fact, we didn’t need a redemption at all, because Adam’s sin (Original Sin) had no affect on us directly; rather, we followed his bad example and sinned.  Christ was not our redeemer; He was merely a good example to counteract Adam’s bad example.

 

Now Pelagius should have known better.  At least the earlier heretics like the Gnostics and Arius did not have the benefit of the Nicene Creed to help in their theological discussions.  Pelagius did, having come onto the theological scene a generation after Nicaea I.  St. Augustine dealt well with Pelagius’ arguments, earning Augustine the nickname “Doctor of Grace.”

 

So Christ, truly God and truly man, saved us from our sins.

 

What of our good works?  Are they as bad as Martin Luther taught in the 16th century, that the best human act is at least a venial sin?  Are they a waste of time, since our redemption has been won for us by the blood of Christ on the cross?

 

Often forgotten in this context, at least by those who reject the Church’s position on salvation, is St. Paul comment in his letter to the Colossians, that in his suffering he is “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God” (Colossians 1:24-25).  In other words, our actions unite with those of Christ for the whole Church.  What is “lacking” is our joining our joys and sufferings with those of Christ, through which we participate in Christ’s sacrifice.  This is particularly clear at the Mass, where the faithful are called upon to “lift up your hearts.”  The Roman Canon has the priest pray to God for those gathered at the liturgy,

Whose faith and devotion are known to you.
For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise
or they offer it for themselves
and all who are dear to them:
for the redemption of their souls,
in hope of health and well-being,
and paying their homage to you,
the eternal God, living and true.

 

At every Mass we, in our prayers, admit that we are not the source of our salvation, but that we play a role in it through our participation in the sacrifice of Christ.

 

Yet it isn’t to the sacrifice of the cross that the Creed turns at this moment.  Rather, it is the other side of Christ’s life, the Annunciation itself.  We will turn to this mystery in our next reflection.

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Reflection: I Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 2)

Let’s continue our reflections on the nature of Jesus Christ.  As before, quotes from the Nicene Creed are in bold.

 

“Begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father”

The word we translate as “consubstantial” was at the heart of the Arian crisis in the latter part of the fourth century.  “Consubstantial” is the English translation of homoousios in Greek.  The word is a dense one, indicating that the Persons in the Trinity are “of the same substance,” which philosophically means they are the same thing, that they share the same nature.  For the purposes of Arian crisis, homoousios means that the Father and the Son are, in fact, both entirely God.  They are the same “substance.”

 

You would think that such clear teaching from the Church would solve the problem of Arianism.  Yet, as with most heresies, just because a teaching is rejected does not mean that the teaching goes extinct.  More often than not, a heresy with little public support goes underground.  Usually, over time, such heresies die out.  However, may reemerge, having slightly adjusted their teachings to maintain the heresy but seem orthodox.

 

This is exactly what happened with Arianism.

 

Nobody wanted to be caught teaching pure Arianism.  Instead, what we now call semi-Arians began teaching Arianism lite.  They centered their twisting of Church teaching on the very word taught by the Council of Nicaea: homoousios.  Homoousios was too strong of a word, they held.  The Son couldn’t be the exact same substance of the Father.  So they proposed a different word, nearly identical in Greek: homoiousios.  The difference was one letter, but that one letter changed the entire meaning of the word.  Rather than speaking of the Father and the Son as the “same substance,” the semi-Arians taught that they were “of a similar substance.”  Close, but very different.  Something similar to another does not mean they are the same.

 

Many in the Church recognized this distinction, and they rejected the semi-Arian position.  However, in the intervening years since the Council, the semi-Arians had risen to ranks of influence in the Roman Empire, even into the court of Constantine (who was not yet baptized, and was receiving instruction in the Faith from semi-Arian catechists).  The result was a persecution of the Christians by the semi-Arians.  Bishops throughout the Church gave in to the heretics, some after severe torture.  The pope at the time, Pope Liberius, the first pope not recognized as a saint, was coerced into signing an ambiguous document which could be interpreted along the lines of Nicaea’s decrees, but could also be interpreted as a support of the semi-Arians.  Despite Liberius including a note saying he intended the statement to be interpreted according to the Church, the semi-Arians proceeded to use the statement as papal support for their position.

 

The whole matter finally ended not with another council, but with the rise of an ant-Christian Roman emperor.  Julian was baptized as a Christian in his youth, but because of the murderous actions of Constantine’s family after Constantine’s death, Julian vowed to reject Christianity and bring back paganism.  In an effort to expediate the demise of Christianity, he removed any official government protection for the semi-Arians.  Without that protection, the orthodox began preaching more vigorously to the semi-Arians, with orthodox bishops publicly speaking against the heresy.  Soon semi-Arianism was officially gone, thought it would crop up throughout Church history (some quasi-Christian groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, hold views similar to the Arians and semi-Arians).

 

That is why this line in the Nicene Creed is so important.  It is a reminder of not just the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation, but also the heroic strength of those who defended this truth.

 

 

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“Christ in Majesty” from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC

 

“Through him all things were made.”

 

This line from the Creed encapsulates the opening, rather bold, statement from the Gospel According to John, which begins, “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race” (John 1:1-3).  Central to the Judeo-Christian doctrine of Creation is the providence of God.  We are not blindly made, started by some distant god who sets us on our merry, or miserable, way without guide or directions.  Rather, God carefully guides us to our destination.  That’s the ultimate meaning behind the book of Job, the answer to why God allows suffering.  Following the thought of Job, St. Paul echoes, regarding God, that “from him and through him and for him are all things” (Romans 11:36).

 

God made the world, and became incarnate as Jesus.  This flies in the face of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, which I examined in some detail in a blog post long ago.  For our purposes, we’ll look at Gnosticism’s hatred of creation.  For the Gnostic, the physical world is evil, and it was made by an evil god, who trapped our poor spiritual souls in evil physical bodies.  Our spiritual salvation comes not at that creator god’s hand, but at the hands of the spiritual god, who taught us the secret of how to escape our evil physical bodies.  However, the Judeo-Christian view of creation encapsulated in the Creed is that the God who created is the source of our redemption.  By calling the Son the source of all of creation, we reaffirm that the Son is God, just as much as the Father is God.  

 

The Gnostics had an issue with the Incarnation.  How could a good god take on a physical body if bodies are evil?  This led to a version of Gnosticism called Docetism, which taught that Jesus’ body wasn’t a real body, more of a pretend one.  You see references to this in some of the Gnostic gospels, where the Apostles try to touch Jesus, and their hands pass through his body.  The Church’s response to these appears in the the center of the Creed, where we as Church affirm the great mystery of the Incarnation.  

 

And that will be the topic of our next reflection.  

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Reflection: I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 1)

How many unfinished series did I start with this blog?  Sheesh!

 

This is the continuation of a series of reflections on the Creed, begun during the Year of Faith (which was begun by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and was concluded by Pope Francis in 2013).  Since we should always strive to grow closer to God, not just through years of Faith, I’ll pick up the reflections here.  This part of the series will look at what the Church teaches about Our Lord Jesus Christ.  As with previous parts of this reflection series, I will look at a section of the Creed each time.  If you want to read the previous reflections, you can find them here and here.

 

So then, let’s begin.

 

“I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ”

 

Image result for Jesus

JESUS!

“Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?”  Too often that question is reserved for evangelizing Jehovah’s Witnesses or some Evangelical televangelist.  But it shouldn’t be.  It is a serious question that strikes at the deepest levels of our spiritual life.  Oftentimes, however, our beloved Protestant brothers in Faith seek too narrow of a relationship with Jesus.  Yes, you MUST accept Jesus as Lord and as Savior, for that is the first, not the last, step in a dynamic relationship with Him.  Catholics are called to a radical relationship, not just accepting Jesus (as if that was the only thing necessary for salvation) but living His will in the world.  To paraphrase a prayer attributed to St. Theresa of Avila, We are Christ to the world.  We are the hands and feet He uses to spread the Gospel.  This is the calling of EVERY Christian, no matter his or her denomination.  We cannot fulfill our mission without first accepting Jesus into our lives.  We cannot stop there; our act of Faith is not enough, for as the Epistle of St. James notes, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).

The Creed uses the word “one” in reference to Jesus.  As St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.  This was the testimony at the proper time.”  There is only one Jesus, one moment where God entered into history (more on that later).  Jesus alone is Lord.  Not Caesar (Paul was writing in the Roman atmosphere) but Jesus, crucified for our sake.  We won’t get into the controversy over this verse and the veneration of saints.  I will merely say this: praying to saints is the same as asking someone to pray for you here on earth, only the saint is closer to God, being as the saint is in Heaven.

 

The word “Christ” is the anglicized version of Christos, which in turn is a Greek version of Mashiach (Messiah).  All of these words mean the same thing: “Anointed One.”  Christ is THE Anointed One of God.  There were many Christs throughout the Old Testament.  Anyone anointed priest, prophet, or king among the Israelites was a Messiah, a Christ.  But Jesus is THE Christ, the ultimate Anointed One, for He has in His person the fullness of priest, prophet, and king.

 

“The Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

There is a crisis of Faith in the Church; there is always such a crisis, as there was in the earliest moments of the Church (did not Judas leave the Last Supper to betray Our Lord?).  We see a similar crisis in the earliest Christian centuries, when the Church faced persecution and death at the hands of the Roman Empire.  In 313 that all changed.  In that pivotal year, Emperor Constantine promulgated the Edict of Milan, which granted Christianity the status of an accepted religion in the Roman Empire.  No longer were Christians hunted down and killed simply for their Creed.  Now churches could be built, preaching could commence on a grand scale, and Christian thinkers could meditate on the great mysteries of the Faith.

 

But with time to think, Christian thinkers began to question fundamental aspects of the Church’s theology.  A theological revolution erupted in Alexandria, Egypt when a priest named Arius, having reflected on the Scriptures, began teaching that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was not God, that He was just a creature like everything else (the highest creature, of course, but still a creature).  Arius was clever, brilliant even, and had an overabundance of charisma.  Many followed his teaching, and enormous pressure piled upon the pope and bishops to accept his heresy.  Riots broke out in the streets of the empire as men and women of both theological camps sought to beat out the heretics (both sides saw the other as heretics) and establish themselves as the dominant theological voice in the Church.

 

People took their beliefs a little more seriously back then.

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Serious debating for serious men!

Cries for a solution reached the ears of Emperor Constantine, and he called for bishops from around the Roman Empire to meet in a lovely city called Nicaea.  Even the pope sent representatives.  The debates between the bishops got intense (the story is that St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus, punched Arius after hearing the heretic defiantly argue his heresies at the council), and eventually, the orthodox side won by a landslide (only two bishops voted against the Church’s teaching that the Son was God).

 

That should have settled the matter, but men being what they are, an even greater Arian crisis erupted.  Heretics of political power captured and killed those who stood against them.  It looked as if the Church would crumble.  As St. Jerome would later write, “The world awoke and groaned to find itself Arian.”  But the Church prevailed and today, very few so-called Christians claim that Jesus was not God.

 

The First Council of Nicaea clarified the Church’s teaching about Jesus.  At Mass, we recite the Nicene Creed, which is the statement of belief composed at that council (with some additions about the Holy Spirit composed at the First Council of Constantinople in 381).  The wording of each statement in this creed was carefully selected, each emphasizing the truth of Jesus’ divinity.  Hence, in the Creed we repeat the words of the Council’s declarations.  We acclaim Christ as God.  All of those phrases (“God from God, Light from Light”) get at the fundamental teaching of Nicaea, that the Son is God, just as much God as the Father.  There is no big God and little God.  There’s just God.  Words like “begotten” and “Light from Light” indicate that the Son has the same Divine Nature as the Father, no more and no less.  They are equally God, “consubstantial” to use the word in the Creed.

 

What’s that?  You don’t know what “consubstantial” means?

 

Well, I guess we’ll have to address that in the next post in this series.

 

 

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Reflection: Year of Faith – I Believe in God (Part II)

See Part I of this series

Ahhhh!  Running out of time to write reflections on the Creed before the end of the Year of Faith!  I guess I’ll have to continue the reflections AFTER the year ends.   That’s not so bad, though.  One should grow in Faith no matter what year it is.   I’m sure it wasn’t Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s intention to have the faithful look into the Faith for one year and then abandon such pursuits.  No, deepening your Faith involves a lifetime of devotions.

So let us continue where we left off. . .

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty”

Explain the Trinity.  Go ahead, explain it.  Having trouble?  Unsure of exactly how to describe the 3-in-1 thing perfectly?  The language of “three Persons, one God” is helpful, but do you ever still feel confused at the end of your reflections on the Trinity?

As Fr. Robert Barron says at the end of his discussion of the Trinity in his Catholicism TV series, “Good.”

There is a difference, a huge difference, between a discussion of God’s existence and a discussion of his oneness, and a discussion of the Trinity.  The existence of God can be known through human reason, without the aid of Divine Revelation (St. Thomas, that great thinker of all things theological and philosophical, called natural beliefs like God’s existence “preambles to the Faith”).  The resulting knowledge of God without Revelation isn’t perfect, for we need Revelation from God to better understand Him, but it is possible.  We can see “proofs” that show that God’s existence is reasonable.  This is not the case with the Trinity.  Try all he wants, a pagan Greek philosopher could not come to the philosophical conclusion that God is three Persons yet one God (as a side note in speculation, perhaps the ideas of polytheism did somehow hint at this reality, and man formed multiple gods out of the truth of one God in three Persons).

The doctrine of the Trinity, though not apparent through philosophic thought, does make sense on a rational level.  If God is perfect, as He would have to be, being God, then He would have to have pure Love as one of His attributes.  St. John is right in noting that “God is Love” (1 John 8: 8, 16).  Love is a good thing, but it cannot exist if there is not some person to receive the love, someone to receive the affection (and no, you can’t really love chocolate).  You cannot love something that is not a person; love can only be shared between persons.

This is a powerful truth when applied to God.  God is perfect Love, which means that He loves eternally, without beginning or end.  Being eternal, He must likewise love perfectly someone eternal, another eternal person.  This eternal person would have to exist from all eternity, also without beginning or end.  This second person is thus also God, for God alone is eternal.  This is the Second Person in God, the Son.  Thus we can see it follows that God is two divine, eternal Persons.

So the Father (the First Person) loves the Son (the Second Person) from all eternity, and the Son loves the Father likewise.  Their Love, then, is a third eternal existence, without beginning or end, and is therefore a Third Person, the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, in case you couldn’t see where this is going, is also God.

Now, of course, this model of the Trinity is not perfect.  It is not without reason that the Church refers to the Mystery of the Trinity.  This is not a Mystery in the sense that you hunt it down and try to find the answer.  No, it is a mystery because it transcends our limited, human understanding.  We cannot fully grasp the inner life of the Trinity, the ad intra workings of God.  What we can grasp, partially, of course, are the ad extra acts of the Trinity, that is, when He works outside of Himself through creation.  God has revealed Himself throughout history and in various steps.  He first revealed Himself through creation, which is why we can use reason to know He exists.  We can look at the created world to know that there is a God and that He loves us (we will look at God’s act of creation in the second half of this post).  God further revealed Himself through His interaction with the Hebrew people.  They were blessed to know God as Father.  God would more fully reveal Himself through the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in Jesus of Nazareth, who likewise revealed the Third Person of God the Holy Spirit.  We do not have time now to discuss these later revelations of God, but will examine them when we look at the Son and Holy Spirit in later posts of these reflections.

“I believe in One God. . . Creator of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible.”

All of Creation depends on God, from whom all good comes.  God, being perfect, did not need to create.  He did so out of love.  He, being infinite Being itself, is the source of existence for all of creation.  God is the creator.  Nothing exists that He did not create, at least indirectly (so for example, the plastic stuff all around you wasn’t DIRECTLY created by God, but He did make the materials that would eventually become the plastic).

[And no, that does not mean God creates evil.  Evil is a privation, a lack of a good.  God allows evil to come into the world for our benefit.  We can’t know exactly how it works in this life.  Evil is another one of those mysteries of Faith mentioned above.  But evil isn’t God’s fault, as if He were trying to hurt us.  We should stop blaming God for bad things and instead work towards correcting the bad.  We should turn to Him as our model for goodness, rather than rejecting the one perfect thing in existence.]

This line from the Creed, about God creating “all things visible and invisible” went through a slight translation change in the newest translation of the Roman Missal (from 2010).  The prior English translation of the Latin phrase “visibilium omnium et invisibilium” made God the creator “of all things seen and unseen.”  The translation now states that God is the creator “of all things visible and invisible.”  This is not some obsessive translation on the part of churchmen who have nothing better to do than think of new translations of creedal statements.  It reflects a more sound concentration of the importance of God’s revelation.  “Seen and unseen” implies that one could somehow physically see everything in creation (“unseen” seems to imply that the focus of our attention could be seen somehow, but just hasn’t been seen yet); “visible and invisible” puts every thing into a category of things we can sense and things we can’t.

The new translation points towards not only invisible natural forces in creation, such as gravity or even something like the wind, but also includes the spiritual world, namely angels (and demons, or angels that rejected God).  Pure spirits without material bodies, angels are invisible.  They appear to humans, some theologians say, by manipulating light into a form that can be visible to those to whom they are sent.  Angel means “messenger,” and the angels who do interact with people do so because they have special missions from God.  The three archangels, Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, are known by name because they appear in Scripture, helping God at important points of Salvation History.  All people have their own guardian angel, as does every church and every country.  Angels were created all at once, the Church teaches, and are not the same as souls who have died and gone to Heaven (contrary to pop cultural references).  And speaking of erroneous ideas of angels, get out of your head the idea of angels as cute and fluffy babies.  There is a reason that the first words angels normally say when greeting humans are “Do not be afraid.”  Visitors from other planes of existence can be quite terrifying.

The Creed affirms not only the existence of angels, but of Heaven and Hell as well.  The existence of both Heaven and Hell are denied rather frequently today, sometimes more frequently than God and angels.  We need to remember that such eternal places exist.  Heaven is a place of bliss, where the souls of the just exist in happiness with God forever.  Dante’s Paradiso captures this reality beautifully.  The souls in Heaven, represented by human-sized lights, swirl around God.  When Dante asks one of the souls who is further away from God if that soul is jealous of those closer to God, the soul says no, because God has placed her where she belongs, and she is still in the presence of God.

Hell, also real, is eternal separation from God.  The most terrifying aspect of Hell is that the people there WANT to be there.  They have chosen to separate themselves from God, and God gives them what they want.  Hell, as strange as it sounds, is a place of justice and love, justice because it gives the souls what they are due (separation from God because of unrepented sins), love because it gives the souls what they want.  Nobody is surprised to end up in Hell.  Again, Dante portrays this marvelously in his Inferno.  At the center of Hell is Satan, frozen in thick sheets of ice.  He remains frozen because, in his pride, the Father of Lies beats his wings, creating a freezing wind that further freezes the ice around him.

Two parables emphasize this point by two very different men.  One is told by Jesus, the other by Oscar Wilde.  The parable of Jesus recounts the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  The rich man, who would not help Lazarus, even though he saw him daily outside his house, ends up in Hell, while Lazarus ends up in Heaven.  When the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that they might repent, Abraham responds, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29).  The rich man rejects Abraham’s offer: “No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (Luke 16:30).  The brothers, like the rich man, have separated themselves from God, and the rich man fails to see how God might have offered the key to salvation for men like him and his brothers.

The other story is “The House of Judgment” by Oscar Wilde.  In it is a man who has done pretty much everything bad that is humanly possible.  He is told he has to go to Hell, but he replies he can’t because he’s spent his entire life there.  When Heaven is offered to him, he rejects it because, as he says, “Because never, and in no place, have I been able to imagine it.”  One cannot be with God in Heaven if he cannot build his relationship with God on earth.  In what is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of sin, Hell is the only place where such a person can feel at home.

A quick word on visible creation.  There is a lot of debate about whether science or religion has the key to understanding the beginning of the universe.  When man pits science against God or when a man rejects reason in the face of faith, only ignorance results.  Both extremes deny the other’s truth.  Faith and science work together and should agree with each other.  If they don’t, someone went wrong.  The fights over creation vs. evolution are frequently neither scientific nor religious.  Bad science ignores evidence, as many believing evolutionists do; bad religion ignores reason and Tradition, as too many creationists do.

I wrote a paper once trying to reconcile theories of human evolution with the Church’s teaching on Adam and Eve.  Maybe someday I’ll publish it in some scholarly journal.  One thing I found was that there was not a lot of work by Catholics in the field of evolutionary biology, particularly in reconciling the findings of the scientific community with the Church’s teaching on creation, original sin, and the origins of man.  There are some notable contributions by Catholic scientists, but their works are too often ignored by both scientists and Catholics.  Much is said about fitting the scientific theory of the Big Bang into the account of Genesis 1, but there has not been as much work on fitting recent genetic and biological research into the first three chapters of Genesis.  My paper sought to do that, but I am not a scientist, nor am I a genius theologian.  The work still needs to be done.

We Catholics must remember above all that, no matter the details of how the universe came to be as it is today, God must have started it.  If the evolutionary theorists are correct, that the earth and life came to be through gradual changes, then God directed those changes, with our salvation as its goal.  We must also keep in mind that often forgotten point in the debates over man’s origins: man’s ultimate goal, which is salvation in Heaven with God.

It was to regain our salvation for us after we lost it after the Fall that God became incarnate in the womb of Mary, mother of Jesus.  We will reflect on what we believe about this pivotal event in human history, upon which even our dating of history hinges (even if you don’t believe in God): the Incarnation.  And in looking at that crucial historical event, we will delve deep, deep into the mystery of God.

For Further Reading (or Listening)

Augustine of Hippo, On the Trinity

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section Two, Chapter One (198–421)

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Trinity

________.  On “Not Three Gods

Gregory Thaumaturgus, Fragment from “On the Trinity”

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity

Institute of Catholic Culture Lectures

David Brown, Science & Religion: Compatible or Combative? (especially the first talk)

Dcn. Sabatino Carnazzo, Catechism 102: The Creed

Dr. Timothy T. O’Donnell, Suffering with God: Job & the Attacks of the Evil One

Fr. Andrew Hofer, Original Sin

Fr. Paul Scalia, Credo: I Believe in God the Father

Fr. William Saunders, Alpha and Omega: God the Father, Creator of the World

_________.  Creation or Evolution: What Does the Church Really Teach?

Pinto, Matthew J.  Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons?  And 199 Other Questions from Catholic Teenagers.  West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 1998, Chapters 1 & 2.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Part I (deals with God and creation, including parts discussed in the previous post.

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Reblog: Dr. Edward Peters on Female Deacons

It seems that the issue of female deacons keeps springing up not just among casual bloggers and commentators on the internet, but by serious priests and canonists (those who deal with canon law, the Church’s legal stuff).  Readers of this blog know I addressed this issue last year, but it keeps appearing, apparently with more vigor.

 

Posted below is a link to Dr. Edward Peters’ blog (Peters is an American canon lawyer well respected in Catholic circles) discussing a recent article by one Fr. Michael P. Orsi, chaplain at Ave Maria Law School in Florida.  Dr. Peters has some issues with some of Fr. Orsi’s assertions, as do I, and does an excellent job explicating them.  The issues are not merely with that female deacons (and thereby priests), but with the understanding of priestly celibacy and Church teaching.

 

I would suggest reading Fr. Orsi’s essay first, for context, and then looking at Dr. Peters’ examination.  Dr. Peters links to Fr. Orsi’s article.  All you need to do is follow the link below!

 

Tea leaves are for brewing tea, not for theological illumination.

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Reflection: Year of Faith – I Believe in God

“I believe in God”

Thus opens one of the oldest prayers in the Christian Tradition: the Apostles’ Creed.  Tradition states that the prayer dates back to the time of the Apostles, if not to the Apostles themselves.  “I believe in God.”  That’s how the prayer begins.  All of our actions, all of our daily lives, everything we think, do, say, everything about us centers on that one phrase, that one belief: there is a God.  The more specific phrase “I believe in one God” comes from the later Nicene Creed, formulated from the First Council of Nicea, held in 325.  This emphasis on there being only one God stems from the controversies that led up to the Council of Nicea.  The heretic Arius had denied the divinity of Christ, saying that to say Christ was divine would imply that there were two gods, not one.  The Council Fathers denied such a claim; hence the emphasis of there being one God.

Early on in Christian history, the believers in Christ had to express their belief in one God.  One could see the possible confusion.  Was there only one God?  The pagans in Greco-Roman culture seemed to say otherwise.  Was Jesus really God, and if so, why not someone else?  These were issues that the earliest Christians, those who followed the Apostles, had to answer.  One sees this in St. Paul’s trip to Athens (Acts 17:16–34).  Paul preached to the Athenian philosophers about the “Unknown God,” to whom the Athenians had an altar in the Areopagus.  This was the one true God, Paul preached.  He was unsuccessful, for the most part: “When they [the philosophers] heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, ‘We should like to hear you on this some other time’” (Acts 17:32).  Paul wasn’t entirely successful, but we can see in this episode the early conflict between paganism and Christian monotheism.  This conflict predated Christianity, of course, for the Jews faced a similar conflict with their monotheism, and since the Christian is the spiritual heir of the Jew, he must expect the same conflicts.

If only people today were as polite as the Athenians were to St. Paul.

Today there is a renewed atheism and a renewed paganism.  The agnosticism of today’s world spits in the face of the ancient Greeks and Romans because at least the pagans believed in something, even if it was multiple gods or the spirits of nature.  Even some sort of bizarre mythology where Zeus or whoever had affairs with humans was a step above new atheists and agnostics because at least the pagans knew there was something beyond them, some spiritual realm.  Today’s “New Atheists” don’t believe in anything.  Today we must turn to basic proofs for God’s existence, renewing our basic belief in one God.

Now, fortunately for those speaking with someone who dismisses the Bible as a collection of myths and superstitious stories written down over the centuries, one can prove that God exists using logic, reason, and the natural world, without having recourse to the Scriptures.  St. Thomas Aquinas did just that, borrowing from the metaphysics of Aristotle.  He presents five classic arguments for the existence of God: from Motion, from Efficient Causality, from Necessity, from Perfection, and from Governance.  Since the gist of the arguments all boils down to the same point, I will focus on the first argument, based on Motion.

By Motion, St. Thomas is referring to the tendency of things in creation to go from a state of potency (able to do/be something) to actuality (being/doing something) and then back to potency.  This process occurs throughout creation, and can be seen in all things, living or non-living.  However, as both Thomas and Aristotle note, something cannot be potentially and actually the same thing.  A log cannot be potentially on fire and on fire at the same time.  It is either one or the other.  Things move from one state to another, and in order for a thing to move from potency to actuality, some other force must act upon it (the log doesn’t spontaneously combust; a pyromaniac lights it on fire).  Tracing the series of movements, one ultimately reaches an Unmoved Mover, a thing which is pure Act.  This must be the case, since if there was any potency in this Unmoved Mover, it would not be able to have any actuality in it, since in order for it to move from potency to actuality, an external force must affect it.  This Unmoved Mover is pure Act, and is what people commonly call God.

This proof does not provide a perfect description of God; the other four proofs expand our understanding of God.  The proof from Causality follows the same process as that from Motion, only this second proof focuses on how one cause leads to an effect; however, following the links of causes back to the beginning of time, one must conclude there is an Uncaused Cause, that is, God.

By Necessity, St. Thomas brings the issue of being into the discussion of God.  All things in the universe exist, but they don’t have to.  Things come into existence and they go out of existence, all without the universe collapsing.  Things in the universe share in existence.  They are not existence itself; their essence is something particular to them, but their essence is not existence.  They had to have gotten their existence, their being, from some other source.  There must be something beyond everything else, something which has as its essence existence, which is in its nature Existence itself.  That would be God.

The other two proofs are very simple.  St. Thomas uses Perfection to prove that, because we know something is better than another, there must be a perfect Entity that transcends all other things.  Our understanding of perfection must stem from a perfect source.  That’s God.  At the same time, the argument from Governance states that the order in the universe points to the fact that the universe could not have come to being by accident.  There must have been a great mind behind the universe; that Mind is God.

So God exists.  But what about the specific nature of the first line of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God.”  How do we know Hindus aren’t correct?  How do we know there are not multiple gods out there, or that we all become gods upon our death?  Let us look back at the argument from philosophy just discussed.  You cannot have multiple first causes, multiple sources of being.  You just can’t.  Try to think of a universe with two infinite, perfect sources of all existence.  Two perfect beings would be identical, and there cannot be two purely identical beings; they would be the same being.  It doesn’t make sense to have more than one god.  If it doesn’t make sense to have two gods, it doesn’t make sense to have a whole pantheon, nor to have everything be “God” as found in pantheism.

One God.  Basta, as the Italians say.  Enough.

But don’t Christians say there are three persons in God?  Doesn’t that mean we think there are three gods?

It’s hard to discuss the Trinity.  It’s one of those mysteries of Faith that truly transcends full comprehension.  God’s like that.  The Trinity is not one of the truths of the Faith that is knowable by Reason alone.  We need Faith in order to know God fully, and by knowing God through Faith, we are able to come into close communion with Him.

And we will focus on the Trinity in the next post in this series.

For further reading/listening:

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Catholic Encyclopedia, “God” – Note: This provides links to other articles about God in the Encyclopedia.

Sabatino Carnazzo, “Catechism 102: The Creed”

William Saunders, “Alpha & Omega: God the Father, Creator of the World”

Paul Scalia, “Credo: I Believe in One God”

Robert Barron, et. al, “Faith Seeks Understanding Pt.1: What Is God?” – This is part 1 of a series discussing God, the Trinity, and other aspects of the Faith.  There are links to other parts of the series from this video.

Robert Baron, Catholicism, Episode 3: “THAT THAN WHICH NOTHING GREATER CAN BE THOUGHT – THE INEFFABLE MYSTERY OF GOD” – An episode from the popular series about Catholicism.  See a clip from the episode here.

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The Year of Faith: What are you gonna do about it?

Pope Benedict XVI, the current spiritual head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, has proclaimed a special Year of Faith, honoring the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (which opened on October 11, 1962) as well as the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (promulgated on October 11, 1992).  This Year, set to begin October 11, will end next October, and it is the hope of the Holy Father that the Church and all men of good will might draw closer to God and become more faithful, diving into the mysteries of the Faith, and thus come to a closer understanding of the wonders God has done for us.  It should be a year of reflection and meditation, of study and of spiritual renewal.  It will be, in short, a year of blessings, a year of grace.

In honor of the Year of Faith, I will be offering periodic reflections on the sections of the Creed, the statement of belief which unite Christians.  I will focus on the two major creeds of the Church (the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the latter often referred to as the Nicene Creed) using their statements as a springboard for my reflections.  My wish, like that of the Holy Father, is to deepen not only my own Faith this year but likewise your own.  The purpose of this blog is, after all, to bring the truths of the Faith to those who need to hear it, who yearn for it, who search for it and need a hand in finding it.  That is why I am here.  I am here for Truth, so essential for a real, firm Faith in God.

That being said, there are many good resources available for those seeking to deepen their faith this year.  Besides reading (or maybe even re-reading) the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, one can examine many of the various websites created in honor of the Year, or read some books pertaining to the truths and mysteries of our Faith.  One in particular is http://thecatholicyearoffaith.com.   I can vouch for the orthodoxy of the writers there: one of the contributors is my graduate thesis adviser!

Likewise, the Vatican has added a special page on their website devoted ENTIRELY to the Year of Faith.  Check it out.  And of course, read Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei.  It’s short, to the point, and in a real sense beautiful.

And, as always, keep the questions coming.  Maybe, while reading all those exciting Council documents or beautiful passages in the Catechism, you might look at something and go “huh, I wonder. . . ”

When that happens, shoot over your questions, and I’ll be happy to answer them, if I can.  And, as always, if I can’t answer them, I’ll at least point you in the right direction.

God bless!

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