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Archive for January, 2016

At the beginning of “Glory of the Lord: Vol. 3”, Hans Urs von Balthasar takes issue with St. Thomas being impersonal. At least that is how I took his comment. It didn’t strike me as being quite right though I couldn’t quite put my finger on way. This post from Edmund Waldstein, O. Cist. is a good response to von Balthasar.

Sancrucensis

Today being the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas on the new calendar, I have been thinking about the peculiar clarity that marks his theological work. The clarity seems to come partly from a sort of purity: a complete concentration on the object without any personal tint, like pure water that gives a clear reflection. Some find this “impersonal” character of St. Thomas’s writings boring, but I find a peculiar beauty in it. Perhaps it is not quite right to call it “impersonal,” I think St. Thomas’s judgement is not based merely on “detached” reasoning, but also on a deeply personal connaturality with the divine mysteries. Recall his own account of connaturality:

Now rectitude of judgment is twofold: first, on account of perfect use of reason, secondly, on account of a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. Thus, about matters of chastity, a man after inquiring with his…

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I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God. – Ezekiel 36:25-28; Morning Prayer the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

The above prophecy is fulfilled in man’s entering into his redemption and restoration by way of the sacrament of Baptism. Through the sprinkling of water we are cleansed from all our sins, are reborn and made a new man. We fell into corruption and are restored through new hearts and God’s own Spirit in us. Of particular interest for this post though is: “You shall live in the land I gave your fathers.” Like all of Holy Writ this sentence is layered with meaning.

The literal meaning refers to the physical land promised to Abraham and his descendants – the land of Canaan, Israel. Ezekiel was a prophet of the Exile. It was the land of their fathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – to which the Jews longed to return. They would return having been cleansed of their impurities through the Exile and the land would now be free of the many shrines in the high places that had once populated it. Their hearts would be changed and through the life-giving law they would live in accordance with God’s Spirit. Indeed, we see this happen first through the centuries of peace in which they would live with God, not mixing with the peoples around them through intermarrying, and then through the revolt led by the Maccabees following the zeal of Phineas (a man after my own heart). While it is not the restoration longed for by the coming of the Messiah, it is a real change in God’s people and a new stage in their progress towards the One prophesied to come. Jews then (I do not know how they interpret this now) looked to the restoration of the physical kingdom of David as the fulfillment of this prophecy.

Christians not only look to being given the land of our fathers as fulfilled both past and present, but we also look ahead to its completion in the end times. The land of our fathers points ahead to heaven – the true land of our calling and our resting place. To know something about this though we can and must look to the past. God – the One who is wholly other, transcendent, not part of creation – plunged into creation and so penetrated history; it is the intersection of the timeless with time.

It is significant that God refers to “your fathers” rather than the kingdom or just the land promsed. The nation of Israel during the period of the Judges, and the kingdom of Israel following it, were marked by a pendulum constantly swinging back and forth between faithfulness and faithlessness, right worship and idolatry, marriage and prostitution – all this while living in a land given by God and possessed by the people. Herein lies a key: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob dwelt in the land that was promised, but they did not possess it. They were strangers, set apart from other inhabitants of the land by their religion and faithfulness to God. In this condition they had for the most part rest and nearness to God. They did not have hearts of stone, but of flesh, and though they did not possess the law they did have God’s Spirit within them. This too is the state of the Church: it dwells in the land promised it, but it does not possess it.

Each Christian by virtue of their baptism is called to dwell in this land they do not possess. This is the importance of the historicity of Revelation: it is a fact of history; it has happened; it has been lived, is being lived now, and we know it is possible for us to live this way. It is not a myth. And while there is much required of us – just as there was much required of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – it is not dependent on us. We may have certainty in the gift – a certainty of faith even greater than that of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We dwell in heaven now, while sojourning on earth. We are called to live as citizens of heaven now, set apart from the citizens of the world.

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An elaboration on a persistent question:

A Pilgrim in Narnia

No. It’s not.

Allegory of Love CS Lewis new reprintWhile tempted to leave it at that and produce the shortest blog of history, I think it is important to let the Narnian himself address the question. C.S. Lewis was, after all, a literary scholar who had written an entire academic book about the development of medieval allegory (The Allegory of Love). He knows what allegory is, when it works well, and how to use it when it is the best genre to use. He liked Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and George Orwell‘s Animal Farm. He himself wrote an allegory, The Pilgrim’s Regress, and never chose to do so again.

When Lewis turned to writing for children and his earlier science fiction books, he could have easily chosen allegory. Instead, he wrote fairy tale and space romances. J.R.R. Tolkien hated allegory “in all its manifestations” (see his 2nd edition foreword to The Fellowship…

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Hear, hear!

Letters from the Edge of Elfland

David Russell Mosley

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Epiphanytide
7 January 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Yesterday an article went up on The Atlantic by writer Colleen Gillard titled, “Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories.” A friend sent it to me today and I will admit initially to being sympathetic to the title. After all, as most of you will know, fairy-tales, of which the British have many and Americans few, are my bread and butter. Nevertheless, as I continued to read the article, I could not bring myself to agree with the precise reason why British children stories are superior to American ones.

Things were going along fine at first. The first line of the article, a kind of one sentence summation of the article in toto, says, “Their history informs fantastical myths and legends, while American tales tends to focus on moral realism.” Gillard…

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Still

From the post below:

“We think our madness can bring about the end, just as we sometimes presume that our goodness, effort, insight or perceived progress will create a heaven on earth. But the heaven of our making never arrives, nor does the end toward which our recurring madness seems to point.”

I do not think I have ever heard someone say this before. It is very easy to hold that we cannot bring about heaven while also holding that we can bring about the end. This, however, fails to truly look at history and revelation. God is the Alpha and Omega, King of kings and Lord of all. The quote above is a breath of fresh air filled with hope as well as a reminder of who we really are and who God really is.

That Letter From Elijah

I prayed morning Psalms from Miles Coverdale’s translation, an historic and aesthetic blessing from the Anglican tradition.

There was a fatal shooting in our city yesterday, and there’s news of an armed takeover of a Federal building in another state, not to mention the global stuff.  Oh, and we have a flood disaster in the middle of the country on the heels of lethal, out of season tornadoes.  So Coverdale’s rendition of the Psalmist’s praise to God leaped from the page,

Who stilleth the raging of the sea, and the noise of his waves, and the madness of the peoples.  (Psalm 65:7, Coverdale)

The mystery of why and when God declines to wield His “stilling” power won’t be answered by a puny blogger.  The perennial questions are always there: Is God powerless?  Do sin and death have equal power to arm wrestle with God over the cosmos?  Does God inflict these…

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Allegories of Fortitude and Strength

Allegories of Fortitude and Strength

There are many great works at the Accademia in Florence, Italy – the most famous being Michelangelo’s “David” – but what left the greatest impression on me was the “Allegory for Fortitude and Strength”. From the first moment I saw it, I was completely captivated. It is wholly different from other allegories of fortitude that I have seen. It exudes strength manifested through surety and confidence. She does not need to be stern. Her presence is enough. She is relaxed in victory, but still vigorous. She is playful and this is the key to the allegory. She is not simply holding her scepter nor wielding it; rather, she is almost playing with it while her thoughts are elsewhere. There is a bit of Tulkas in her. The perfection of fortitude includes laughter, a twinkling of the eyes that comes from knowing nothing can overcome you. Perhaps there is a bit of old Tom Bombadil in her as well.

Clare of Assisi - San Rufino

For a week I could do nothing, but sing the praises of Fortitude. She had become for me the ideal of all women. The following week though I saw the above statue of St. Clare of Assisi in San Rufino,  Assisi’s cathedral. Upon seeing this statue I was awestruck and dumbfounded. Before me was not an allegory of fortitude, but the reality. The statue refers to an episode in the life of Clare of Assisi when the city was preserved from invading Muslims. Though sick at the time she was brought out and she carried with her our Eucharistic Lord. Raising Him up as a shield and praying for the preservation of the city, the Muslims fled. In the statue above, however, we see her holding our Lord close to her heart. The allegory, as is always the case, falls short of reality. St. Clare teaches us that true fortitude springs forth from love and devotion. Its surety is rooted in trust; it is a confidence not in ourselves, but in Another. Fortitude is attained through prayer and the one who attains the virtue of fortitude is also the one who has quieted their heart.

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