Archive for May, 2016

So the supreme perfection of man in this life is to be so united to God that all his soul with all its faculties and powers are so gathered into the Lord God that he becomes one spirit with him, and remembers nothing except God, is aware of and recognizes nothing but God, but with all his desires unified by the joy of love, he rests contentedly in the enjoyment of his Maker alone. – St. Albert the Great



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They had run out of wine. Israel too was in this state before Christ had come. No more kings; no more prophets. There were many inspired writings from the post-exilic period, but this too was waning. By the time of Mary’s birth, more than a generation had passed since the last inspired work of the Old Testament was written. Israel had once again lost it’s independence, this time to Rome. They had a king, but not of David’s line and one who was subject to Roman governance. This after the Maccabean revolt had not only resulted in Israel’s independence for the first time since the exile, but also with borders nearly identical with the kingdom at the end of David’s reign. When the angel appeared to Mary, Israel’s wine had dried up.

At the wedding feast when the wine was gone, Jesus produced the finest wine, and He did it in pots used for washing. He not only produced exceptional wine in dirty pots, but did so in abundance. There was more than enough. (Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more; and He lavishes His grace upon us).

Between the wine being gone and the abundance provided stands Mary. And between the drying up of Israel’s wine and the coming of the Messiah, Who is God, there is also Mary. Her actions at the wedding feast at Cana point to her actions in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. She who is immaculate from her conception, who is Daughter Zion, are we really to believe that she was not petitioning the Lord for Israel’s sake before the angel appeared to her? She was no ordinary child. She was full of grace and pondered within her heart. She was not blind to the sad state to which Israel had fallen. In love for God and His people to whom she belonged she would have been calling upon Him and with the deepest longings of Her heart begging for the Messiah, Who would save all, and restore and establish the everlasting kingdom. So it is through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary that we whose wine was gone would receive the abundant outpouring of grace, the wine of the new and everlasting covenant. In this way she is revealed by her Son to be at the crux of divine economy and the salvation of all for the Son did not act without the Woman.

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Throughout the Church’s history there have been shifts in the expression of her life. These shifts are often, if not always, accompanied by renewal in the life of the Church. While small regional shifts are not uncommon, those that affect the whole of the Church encompassing the world are rare. There have definitely been two. Arguments can be made for more and we are currently in the midst of one. The two universal shifts are the monastic and the mendicant. Both of these were prompted, not by men looking at the world and saying, “I have to do something about it,” but rather by men whose hearts longed for God: Anthony, Pachomius, Basil, Benedict, Francis, Dominic, the hermits of Mt. Carmel. These men were not seeking to make great changes to ecclesial or social life. They simply longed for God, and in that longing they turned from the world and sought Him above all else. It wasn’t a preservation, a program, an organized social action, or a tactical maneuver. It was simply the beloved seeking the Lover. These movements, the monastic and the mendicant, sprang forth from this movement of love in their founders.

For the past couple of years there has been much digital ink spilled concerning the topic of what is called the Benedict Option. Unlike the above movements, the Benedict Option lacks the movement of love. Instead, it is a movement of preservation, and it is rather limited in scope to Western Christians in developed countries. Because of its limited vision and preservationist attitude, it also fails to see the movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church today. This work of the Spirit began more than 100 years ago, and has been nurtured and strengthened by the Spirit throughout the 20th century to our day. Like the monastic and mendicant movements, it is a work of God that has encompassed the world, continues to grow stronger, and is becoming ever more influential in the life of the Church. Astonishingly, in another generation or two it quite possibly will exercise an influence comparable with (dare I say greater than) religious orders, both monastic and mendicant alike. These are the ecclesial movements, and while some do include priests and religious, they are on the whole lay. These are movements like Communion and Liberation, Focolare, and Opus Dei. This shift in the Church also includes secular orders, third orders, oblates, associations, etc. that are connected in varying degrees to religious orders. These groups are growing with great speed. As the number of religious decreases more responsibility will have to move to the lay members of these orders.

The future of the Church and with it society lies in these ecclesial/lay movements, not in the Benedict Option or the Dominic Option. Rather than promoting new “options” and debating their merits, perhaps we should just ride the current the Holy Spirit has set the Church on.

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In addition to what is below, this issue also touches on that of free will. For me this post was opportune. The approaches to voting and this election cycle has made me realize that my students (and, therefore, most of America) do not actually believe in free will, or at the very least they have a rather stunted view of it. Many of the students take great issue with the idea of not voting. They see it as compulsory and that if we think there are two evils we must choose whichever we think the lesser. They do not understand that our options for how we participate in any given event cannot be not dictated by others. That others set the terms is an illusion. I am a free being and there is never a situation in which my only two options are evils.


Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and author of Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel. Here are excerpts from a must-read opinion column that he wrote for Christianity Today, “Should Christians Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?

What happens in a race where Christians are faced with two morally problematic choices? Should voters cast a ballot for the lesser of two evils? This unpredictable election cycle could go in any number of directions, and I keep getting asked this question.

For starters, unless Jesus of Nazareth is on the ballot, any election forces us to choose the lesser of evils. Across every party and platform, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Still, the question is a valid one. Believing in human depravity doesn’t negate our sense of responsibility…

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This semester, Spring 2016, I have been teaching Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue. This is the first of three lectures from the class that I am posting here. This first lecture introduced the question of the relationship between faith and reason, an issue that is vital to look at if one is going to truly engage in ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. 

Regensburg lecture

Why the Regensburg lecture? Why did I have you read it for this class? This course is “Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue”: dialogue between Christians with the ultimate goal of coming together again as one united whole and dialogue among different religions with the ultimate goal of all coming to the Lord and Savior of all, Jesus Christ. However, there is a challenge that presents itself at the outset of this course. The prevailing view of our culture is that this dialogue is unnecessary, that it is enough to simply respect one another, to say, “Can’t we all just get along?” and “coexist”. Regardless of the reasons one may hold for thinking this way, it is rooted in the separation of faith and reason, and the relegation of faith to a purely private and subjective sphere. If faith isn’t reasonable then there really isn’t any point in a dialogue between different religions and by extension cultures. This issue of faith and reason is our starting point for this class and so too the topic of the Regensburg lecture.

I would like to address the structure and progression of material in the lecture because there were a few students who voiced that there were things Benedict didn’t need to say or that it was disjointed in the sense that he would be talking about one thing and then suddenly begin speaking about something else. I also what to go over the structure of the lecture because having a clearer picture of the whole will help to better understand what exactly Benedict is saying about faith and reason, and the conclusions he draws at the end. First, though, it is important to remember that the intended audience of his lecture is not the world, but rather a group of professors at a university. Therefore, his remarks must always be understood in this context.

He begins with introductory remarks. He genuinely is happy to be there and to once again be giving a lecture at a university that he had once taught at. But his remarks about memories of being a university professor are not mere pleasantries; they lead him to speak specifically of the dies academicus held once a semester during which professors from every department would appear before all the students. This event was a witness to the students that the professors despite their working in different fields comprised a whole and that they all worked on “the basis of a single rationality,” including the theology faculty. This also introduces his topic – faith, reason, and the university.

From there he begins to speak about faith and reason, and he uses a conversation between a Byzantine emperor and a Persian as his starting point. Why does he use this? For one reason and one reason only: the emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, said, “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” It is this statement from the emperor to which Benedict will refer back. It is the ground of his lecture. He also observes that the editor of this work, Theodore Khoury, comments that this statement is self-evident for the emperor because he is shaped by Greek philosophy, but that it is not self-evident for the Muslim for whom “God is absolutely transcendent.” This brings us to a crucial question concerning God’s nature and our understanding Him: “Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?” Benedict answers this question immediately by referring to the Gospel of John, originally written in Greek – which says “In the beginning was the Logos and… the Logos was God”. The word logos used by John is the very same word that is used by the emperor. As was already said in class multiple times, logos means “word”, but it also means “reason”. Because God is Reason it is always and intrinsically true that acting unreasonably is contrary to God’s nature – it is not merely a Greek idea. This, Benedict says, is the final word on the biblical concept of God, which is given to us by the Apostle John. Benedict, however, is never one to simply make an assertion and not support it with reasons. He proceeds to give evidence of the rapprochement between Greek philosophy and biblical faith preceding St. John and his saying that the Logos is God. This is why he mentions the Macedonian calling to Paul, the revelation of God’s divine name, I AM, the revelation of God during the exile as God of heaven and earth accompanied by a mockery of false gods, the writing of later Wisdom literature in the Old Testament, and finally the translation of the Scriptures to Greek which was itself an inspired action. He then returns to his starting-point saying that it is both “from the very heart of Christian faith” and from “the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith” that the emperor is able to say that not acting with logos is contrary to the nature of God. Finally, he offers a brief afterthought on this theme by making note of negative theological trends in the late Middle Ages, the Church’s opposition to these trends, and the historical importance of the rapprochement of Biblical faith and Greek philosophy. This ends the first part of the Regensburg lecture.

This rapprochement between faith and reason, however, is no longer part of the understanding of reason in the West. The second part of the lecture is a critique of modern reason, showing its limitations and ultimately its need for faith. The modern understanding of reason, however, is not a phenomenon of the 20th and 21st centuries. It has its root at least 500 years in the past and grew through successive stages of dehellenization. This is why Benedict devotes so much space to this subject.

Dehellenization began with the Protestant Reformation and their doctrine of sola Scriptura. The propagation of this doctrine resulted in what we know philosophically being divorced from faith and, so, eventually leading the philosopher Immanuel Kant to reject the reasonableness of faith. Kant believed that all knowledge was attainable solely through the use of faithless reason. When Benedict says that Kant “anchored faith exclusively in practical reason,” he means that Kant anchored faith in ethics. In other words, faith was for the masses of simple-minded people so that they would live morally upright lives since they were not intelligent enough to achieve such a life through pure reason. (Incidentally, this thought isn’t original to Kant. Averroes, a Muslim philosopher who lived 600 years before Kant, expressed a similar thought).

Kant’s separation of faith and reason found “theological” expression in the liberal Protestant theology that began with Adolphe von Harnack. Harnack followed a strict empiricism, which led him to deny all supernatural aspects of faith including the divinity of Jesus Christ and His Resurrection. For Harnack the good news of the Gospel was merely a humanitarian message.

Finally, Benedict comes to the third stage of dehellenization, a form of dehellenization that is new to our time: the expunging of Greek thought in light of cultural pluralism. This is the denial of any particular cultural context in which God revealed Himself. Instead adherents of this form of dehellenization wish to give whatever they think the simple moral message of Jesus Christ is stripped of all cultural context – it is “acultural”.

In his conclusion Benedict quickly points to many problems with our modern understanding of reason that has come about through the process of dehellenization. For instance, the inability of reason without faith to overcome the dangers arising from the new possibilities that have been brought about through advancements in technology; the inability of a faithless culture to dialogue with cultures of faith,* which is the vast majority of cultures throughout the world; and, finally, the inability of scientific reason to explain why there is a rational structure of matter.


*This week I came back to this point when speaking of the massive failure of the secular West to fruitfully interact with Muslims. Camille Paglia recently gave an interview in which she touched on this same situation in relation to feminism and non-Western cultures. The interview can be viewed here.

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God’s supreme work of a man’s consummation consists in perfect love of what is above him, perfect, I mean, first in the mode of this life, and finally in the mode of his homeland. For, according to the things said above, man was created through grace, first toward ordered love of what is beneath him, then toward ordered love of what he himself is, and thirdly toward ordered love of what is next to him. He is to have practiced these three so that it is easy for him to act on whatever each of these three loves suggests. Then, after he is established in this way, the grace of God adds the supreme work, when to all these previous achievements he adds the exercise of ordered love of what is above him toward consummation, first forming him according to the grace of merit, then consummating him according to the grace of reward. This is the consummated state of the human spirit made according to the image and likeness of God. The human soul could in no way reach a state of such dignity, unless established according to the previous order, raised to this dignity little by little as though from earth to heaven it flew by the wings of love like a heavenly animal. (Godfrey of St. Victor, Microcosm)


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