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Recent conversation has brought to mind the question of knowledge, particularly of knowing with certainty. There are a lot of people who fall under agnosticism because they hold that one cannot have any real certainty that there is a God, or, if there is, that we cannot have any certain knowledge about this God. There is such an intense focus on whether or not one can be certain that it has become an all-or-nothing question. This is because the question of certainty is directly connected to the question of reasonability. The question of having certain knowledge has become equivalent in the minds of many (unconsciously so) with the question of said knowledge being reasonable.

Among the pop-philosophy intelligentsia, it is no more or less reasonable to believe in God than to believe in magical unicorns or that we are all brains in vats. We cannot disprove that we are brains in vats, that there are magical unicorns, and we cannot disprove the existence of God. The argument for God is seen as a self-enclosed argument. But this is not actually the case. If we ask if it is reasonable to believe that there are magical unicorns or that we are brains in vats, we must emphatically answer “no”. If we ask if it is reasonable to believe that God exists, we must emphatically answer “yes”. Why? To hold to either of the former beliefs is to hold to something for which we have no evidence. To hold to the latter is to hold to something for which there is evidence. It is reasonable to believe that God exists because there is evidence that God exists. It is unreasonable to believe that we are brains in vats because there is no evidence that we are. One should be able to easily distinguish this.

However, the problem here is not simply of intelligence. There is also the problem of virtue. There are many who can see the difference between these questions if they listen. But then they will still hold that they cannot be certain, and, in their uncertainty, they will freeze in cowardice. It takes courage to follow the evidence. To how many in modern society can the words of the psalmist be applied: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'”?

Coheirs

DarylMadden

Word so incredulous
Which my soul did hear
That along with Christ
We are co-heirs

Unbelievable
That we of sinners great
Heavens treasure offered
So much to contemplate

Only possible
By sacrifice of One
An unblemished Lamb
God’s begotten Son

Let not us take for granted
This great gift He imparts
To be our source of joy!
To radiate from heart

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Fr. Aidan Kimel has a good post on the vice of acedia over at Eclectic Orthodoxy. I first learned of this particular vice about 1 1/2 years ago. My attention had been directed to a book from Ignatius Press: The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times.

the-noonday-devil

This is an excellent book which outlines the development of thought and approaches to acedia. It is very readable and quite interesting. The author, Jean-Charles Nault, O.S.B., begins by stating how he had somewhat taken knowledge of acedia for granted. This was due to it being part of his formation as a Benedictine via St. John Cassian and others. He wrote the above book as a response to no one outside of religious formation knowing anything about it, as well as seeing how prevalent it is in our day.

Recently, I have been starting to see more material being promoted on this subject. Last month my attention was brought to Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire.

acedia-and-its-discontents

Now Fr. Aidan introduces yet another book on this vice: Despondency: The Spiritual Teaching of Evagrius of Pontus.

despondency

It is good to see an increase in books and articles concerning acedia. It truly is one of the greatest plagues of modern man, as well as a subtle, potent, and tenacious destructive force in society. In addition to the Noonday Devil, which I have already had the pleasure of reading, I will be reading the other two books. It is something I encourage everyone to learn more about and to use these tools for serious self-examination.

Those Catholic Men has decided to publish an astoundingly awful article by Mr. Doyle Baxter: Why We Must Overcome Catholic Political Apathy. The view expressed concerning man and politics is so negative that it makes me think Jansenism just might be returning. In fact, I have never read such an alarming theology and its political application by a Catholic. You’ll have to read it for yourself. I am so dumbfounded that I am not quite sure how to address it in a comprehensive way. Perhaps the best place to start is with the fundamentally stupid.

We need to remember that the State’s sole purpose, in St. Augustine’s analysis, is to keep the peace: government isn’t about justice or even about virtue.

I wonder just how Mr. Baxter expects the State to strive for, attain, and maintain a true peace when justice and virtue are not part of its equation. Perhaps he wouldn’t say that justice and virtue are not part of the equation.

The State is not meant to be an arbiter of justice, social or otherwise, but rather to be a bulwark of law, order, and peace.

In Mr. Baxter’s view, justice comes from another source and not from the State. In this, I wholeheartedly agree with him. However, I wonder how Mr. Baxter thinks the State is supposed to act as a bulwark of law, order, and peace in our particular circumstances of a modern, western, secularized, materialistic country permeated by an extreme individualist pop-philosophy and a strong divide between religion and government. When our government and laws (of which the government is supposed to be a bulwark) have drifted so far from the One who is Justice and the fount of justice, we are dealing with a system that is not just flawed, for that is inescapable, but broken.

Alistair MacIntyre in 2004 said, “in this situation a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote cast for a system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives. The way to vote against the system is not to vote.” Mr. Baxter understands these words to mean “not being politically involved” and, in the context of his title, to be politically apathetic. He says, “He is basically arguing that when there are no good options, the best choice is not to choose. As Catholics, this is unacceptable: both our faith and indeed our fallen nature call us to political involvement.” The problem is that this essentially reduces political involvement to voting. Mr. Baxter makes an even greater reduction by later rejecting not just choosing not to vote, but also rejecting voting 3rd party. If a Catholic does not vote or if they vote 3rd party then they are not politically involved in any real way despite anything else they may be doing to work for truth, justice, and peace in our society.

One of the problems (and, oh, there are so many) with his response to Mr. MacIntyre is that he fails to address that the problem isn’t just the choice of candidates but more fundamentally the system itself. He fails to adequately address this because he believes the system doesn’t really matter (I assume he would say it does, but following his line of thought such an assertion really is not tenable). According to him, politics are imposed on us by God as a punishment for Original Sin. Ergo, as faithful Catholics, we do not have the option to abstain or give our vote to someone who has no chance of winning because this is tantamount to rejecting God’s just punishments as well as to run from “redemptive suffering.” The practical applications of such thought as Mr. Baxter puts forth are incredible in their foolishness – being neither wise in the eyes of the world nor in the eyes of God. He speaks of being in the world, but not of the world, and then says that we have to bow to whatever the world gives us because… punishment from God. Let’s take a look at one practical application.

Armchair, self-righteous political philosophizing neglects a fundamental aspect of the life that the Church calls us to. It’s not enough to preach about subsidiarity or solidarity or any other social principle without explaining what they mean for me right now in these political circumstances.

As Mr. Baxter would have it, though, what those principles mean for him and all of us right now in these political circumstances is not one darn blasted thing. If I preach about subsidiarity, solidarity, or any other social principle and then am presented with two candidates who will both work against those principles, then by Mr. Baxter’s view I am morally obligated as a Catholic to vote for one of those candidates and so take an active part in working against the very principles I profess as founded on the apostolic faith. If I work politically to strive for a particular economic and social system and then vote for someone who will work against those very things then my work is for nothing. Yet, it must be this way because… punishment from God.

Perhaps, I will write a post later to address the decrepit theology behind Mr. Baxter’s political ideas, but for now I would like to address one more glaring flaw in his presentation. Above he said that “the State is not meant to be an arbiter of justice.” This is patently false. Two examples will serve to illustrate this. The judges and later the kings of Israel were the arbiters of justice for the Israelites. They were not the heads of the Jewish religion. The judges participated in the government of the people and the kings were the heads of State. The disputes that were brought before them were not always spelled out in the Law. It was for them to make the just decision, not the priests. In Christian medieval Europe, there were ecclesiastical courts and secular courts, the arbiters of justice for each were maintained in each sphere. When a dispute arose that did not pertain to ecclesiastical law, the kings and their judges did not bring it to ecclesiastics and wait for their official judgment in the matter. They handled it themselves as was proper to their sphere of government.

It’s one thing to dispute about the merits and demerits of a particular candidate and whether or not one should vote for them. It is quite another matter, however, to insist that one must vote for one of two particular candidates. I truly hope we never find ourselves in a situation in which Mr. Baxter comes to realize that, and I wonder just how bad it would have to get for him to come to that realization. As for those Catholics who chose not to vote or to vote 3rd party, it is a mistake to assume that they have not been politically active or have been doing a great deal of work to promote truth, justice, and peace in our society.

tolkien-beowulf

I have never read Beowulf. Happily, my first reading of it will be Tolkien’s prose translation. It has been magnificent, another fine example of how beautiful and rhythmic prose can be in the hands of a true master. In addition to his translation, this edition (pictured above) also has commentary by Tolkien.

In the poem, Grendel is called “a fiend of hell” (lines 82-3; unless preceded by an asterisk all line numbers refer to Tolkien’s translation), in Old English, féond on helle. This phrase raises serious questions for Tolkien. He comments:

The Old English féond on helle is a very curious expression. It implies, of course, that Grendel is a ‘hell-fiend’, a creature dammed irretrievably. It remains, nonetheless, remarkable, for Grendel is not ‘in hell’, but very physically in Denmark, and he is not even yet a damned spirit, for he is mortal and has to be slain before he goes to Hell. There is evidently a confusion or twilight in the thought of the poet (and his age) about these monsters, hostile to mankind. They remain physical monsters, with blood, able to be slain (with the right sword). Yet already they are described in terms applicable to evil spirits, so here (*102) gæst. (pp. 158-159)

This being a problem for Tolkien has raised many questions for myself. I was at first rather taken aback by the literalness with which Tolkien here approaches the text. Beowulf is, what we generally would call today, fantasy. Is it really such a concern that in this type of work a physical creature, a being not of the spirit world would be called “a fiend of hell” and, therefore, be identified as irretrievably damned before actually having died? Tolkien’s concern is curious in itself. However, it is not so curious as it might first seem. There are two important details, easily overlooked by us of the secular modern age, that Tolkien has given right significance. First, the author of Beowulf was a Christian who told his story within a Christian framework. Second, the setting of the story makes this question more urgent.

Beowulf is not set in a fantastical world. It is set in our world (which goes to show just how fantastic ours’ really is). Beowulf involves real peoples: Danes and Geats. The action of the story begins in a real place: Heorot. It refers to real political divisions and to actual customs and practices of the people. While the poet set the story in the past, it was not too distantly past. There would have been an air of familiarity for that first audience. Finally, the culture of the people in the poem as well as in actuality was not pagan, but Christian. The author was a Christian, his audience was Christian, and the world in which he set the events of Beowulf was Christian. Taking all of this into account, Tolkien’s literalness on this issue is quite appropriate. He is giving the poet and his work the critical thoughtfulness which is its due. In this context, the question of identifying a physical monster of the world as irretrievably damned is, indeed, quite serious.

In lines 86-92, Grendel is placed among the wicked and extraordinary beings descended from the line of Cain. After introducing him, “that grim creature” (gæst) and “the ill-famed haunter of the marches of the land,” the poet says of him,

for the Maker had proscribed him with the race of Cain. That bloodshed, for that Cain slew Abel, the Eternal Lord avenged: no joy had he of that violent deed, but God drove him for that crime far from mankind. Of him all evil broods were born, ogres and goblins and haunting shapes of hell, and the giants too, that long time warred with God – for that he gave them their reward.

There is here a Scriptural bookending of northern myth. One may be tempted to think that Scripture has been subjected to myth; using Cain to replace whatever is the origins of evil creatures in northern mythology. But this is not the case. It is the myth which has been subjected to Scripture. This is evidenced by the reference to giants, the Nephilim of Gen 6:4. Through the inclusion of lines 86-92, the poet has given the myths of old a new framework and with that framework a different understanding.

What does this mean for the phrase, “a fiend of hell”, though? Tolkien speaks of two possibilities (p. 159). The first is that the poet uses this phrase to identify Grendel “due to a kind of half-theological notion” and a mistaken one concerning “accursed things”. The second is “due to taking over a ‘Christian’ phrase carelessly.” For the second possibility, Tolkien refers to Wycliff as an example, who called a still living friar a fend in helle. I think that it is impossible to know which of these possibilities is true, to know what the poet actually meant by féond on helle. I propose, however, that whether the poet meant the phrase merely as a descriptive or as an actuality, he was not using it carelessly, and it can be used in this context soundly.

In addition to féond on helle, Grendel is also called gæst. This is significant and Christopher Tolkien provides an important detail concerning this word which is also essential for answering our question. (p. 159, n. 1) Christopher notes that “in all the texts of the translation [gæst] is rendered ‘creature’.” He goes on to say that his father had said that gæst could not be translated as “ghost” or “spirit”. In modern English, the closest we can get to the meaning of gæst is “creature”.

The translation of gæst is significant because it gives us an opening into the mind of the poet. Grendel is not simply a twisted, deformed creature descending from Cain’s corrupted line. Grendel does not randomly come on the scene; there is a purpose in his coming. Prior to his introduction, the poet tells of the establishment and glory of Heorot (53-65). Twelve lines before Grendel is introduced, we are told of “the fierce spirit that abode in darkness.” (70) Seeing as Tolkien would not translate gæst as “spirit”, it can be safely assumed that a different word was here used in the original Old English. Also, judging by Tolkien’s comments above concerning Grendel not being a spirit, it is fairly safe to assume that gæst and whichever word is used for “spirit” in the original are not synonymous.* This “fierce spirit that abode in darkness” is obviously a devil in the truest sense of the word, a true hell-fiend who is irretrievably damned. The poet says that this spirit “endured a time of torment” (71) and then goes on to say what was tormenting it. The poet mentions the revelry of men, the sound of their music, and later their not knowing sorrow. This alone, however, is not what causes the torment nor the greatest part. We’re not talking about the Grinch; we’re speaking of a damned spirit dwelling in darkness. The greatest torment was the telling of God Almighty, His creating the world, giving life, and creating man. The action of Beowulf is not a mere opposition of man against corrupt and murderous creatures; it is a part of the great battle that the evil one, the murderer from the beginning, wages against man. Whether Grendel was directly ordered by this spirit to attack Heorot or was unconsciously influenced to do so, he is representative of the darkness and the damnation that accompanies that darkness. And the poet strengthens this identification as the poem progresses. He calls Grendel a “demon cursed” (106) and “accursed” (97); he does not grieve over “his deeds of enmity and wrong.” (109-110) The reason he does not grieve is due to his being wholly enveloped in darkness. The word “enmity” (possibly a reference to Gen 3:15) also may be a marker of his being so thoroughly bound to the hatred of hell. The poet goes on to show this enmity between Grendel and men:

So it was made known to men and revealed to the children of mankind sadly in songs that Grendel strove a while with Hrothgar, wrought hate and malice, evil deeds and enmity, for many a year, a strife unceasing; truce would he not have with any man of the Danish host, nor would withhold his deadly cruelty, nor accept terms of payment; and there no cause had any of the counsellors to look for golden recompense from the slayer’s hands; nay, the fierce killer pursued them still, both  knights and young, a dark shadow of death, lurking, lying in wait, in long night keeping the misty moors. (119-129)

If the action of Beowulf is part of the great battle, could it not be said that this enmity between Grendel and the Danes is part of the enmity between Satan and the woman? Yes, Grendel is a physical creature and, yes, Beowulf is set in a Christian world and imbued with a Christian ethos, but it is still mythic. It gives expression through myth of a reality often forgotten and not seen: the great battle that Lucifer wages upon us, and our need to fight valiantly, ceaselessly, and with a humble ferocity.

Perhaps there is a Chestertonian solution here. Chesterton said that fairy tales are meant to remind us of the wonder of our own world, of that which actually is. A river flowing with wine in a fairy tale should make us take note and wonder at the fact that rivers actually run with water. I may feel a pleasant little happiness while listening to “The Big Rock Candy Mountains”, but much more importantly it reminds me of all the wonderful things of the earth God has given us for our delight. Does not Grendel being a physical creature who is a fiend of hell remind us that there really are spiritual creatures who are true fiends of hell? We read the horror that Grendel brings upon the Danes and his utter relentlessness in doing so. Yet, Grendel sleeps; the real devils do not. We cannot fathom the completeness of malevolence and hatred demons hold for us, nor do they ever grieve one iota because in a truer sense than for Grendel too deep are they therein. (cf. 110) Demons and the way they work are rather foreign and abstract to us today. We are, however, quite familiar with their work such as the spread of vices, the plethora of addictions, the divisions among peoples, the senseless acts of violence heard in the news every day, and the animosity, rage, and desolation that has infected so many people’s hearts. While we identify demons as actual fiends of hell, I think we can properly speak of some things such as vices as fiends of hell in a descriptive way. Grendel, in the dark of night, silently snatched 30 sleeping knights on his first attack upon Heorot. Not until morning did King Hrothgar and the rest of that house become aware of what had happened, and they wailed grievously. What of ourselves? How many times in our lives did we do something or arrive at a certain state of mind and wonder where so many good things in our life had gone? Virtues, friends, family, hobbies and interests, memories, and all the other varied blessings of God, how many times were they silently snatched away only for us to become conscious of the fact later and have to figure out in retrospect by what means it had happened? How great were our sorrow and the pain of loss when we realized what had happened?

Taking all of the above, I think, yes, Grendel can be properly called a fiend of hell even though he is not so in the truest sense. More important than attempting to resolve the issue of Grendel’s identity, though, we are reminded by the blessed Chesterton to ask ourselves the question: What is the Grendel in my life? And as I now go to ponder that question, I will be doing so with the help of my own Big Rock Candy Mountain: i.e. the cabinet in the kitchen where the cognac is kept.

And just for a little fun…

*If the two words are synonymous, and, therefore, Grendel is the fierce spirit, the argument made here still generally holds due to the overall context and most especially the motivation that draws him out.

What I will remember most about Carrie Fisher:

  1. She was no snowflake.
  2. She was blunt, straightforward, and told it how it was.

That’s what I’ll remember most. She touched a lot of people. Some in a deeply personal way through the intimacy of family, friendship, and working together. Others, who she never knew about, were influenced by her words and the way she lived her life. Most people, however, simply knew her as Princess Leia and recognized her as the cultural icon that her character is. Her death is the beginning of the end of an era. Different people will pay tribute in different ways depending on how they knew her and in what way she affected them.

And, yes, she did have the best buns in the galaxy; in fact, they were iconic. And, yes, she was beautiful, witty, and bright.

carrie-fisher

The physical experience of the cross is a grace that is absolutely necessary for our growth in the Christian faith and a provindential opportunity to conform ourselves to Christ so as to enter into the depths of the ineffable. We understand, therefore, that in piercing the Heart of Jesus, the soldier’s spear revealed a great mystery, for it went farther than the Heart of Christ. It revealed God; it passed, so to speak, through the very center of the Trinity. (Robert Cardinal Sarah, p. 25)

 

In a recent interview, Dean Baquet, The New York Times’ executive editor, admitted that media powerhouses including himself and other journalists at the New York Times do not understand religion and the role it plays in people’s lives.

I want to make sure that we are much more creative about beats out in the country so that we understand that anger and disconnectedness that people feel. And I think I use religion as an example because I was raised Catholic in New Orleans. I think that the New York-based and Washington-based too probably, media powerhouses don’t quite get religion. We have a fabulous religion writer, but she’s all alone. We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives. And I think we can do much, much better. And I think there are things that we can be more creative about to understand the country.

While some have used this as just another excuse to poke at the liberal MSM, I think that we can perhaps be a little more constructive. These words were said in the context of discussing reporting in a Trump presidency. While secularists such as Mr. Baquet have typically been dismissive of religion, they now see it as a key factor in Trump’s being elected. Whether this is a good thing or bad, it is recognized as a reality by the secularist elite and possibly is acting as a wake-up call for them. Mr. Baquet not only says that they don’t get it, but that they “can do much, much better.” In other words, he isn’t simply acknowledging a lack of comprehension regarding religion, but is also acknowledging that this lack forms a deficiency in his ability (and the ability of the MSM in general) to understand and accurately report on this country. It is a recognition that a lack of comprehension concerning religion also affects our understanding of the non-religious. Perhaps, just maybe, this is the beginning of Mr. Baquet and – please God – the rest of the MSM coming to realize what Benedict XVI said in the Regensburg lecture: that the secular understanding of reason, that being reason divorced from faith, is not sufficient for engaging with non-secular cultures. It actually works against a true multiculturalism and dialogue between peoples. In a country such as the United States, this creates a split personality; we are a country incapable of dialoguing with its self. Let us pray that Mr. Baquet does not falter in the face of such a soul-changing challenge and that other secularists will follow his lead.

 

Don Giussani alla lavagna durante una lezione

An illustration of the interplay of eternity and history, and the intersection of God and man. Lost when the “ever-rolling stream of time” carries both us and God.

 

This post could have been titled, “Taking the Mystery Out of God.” It also must be prefaced with the admission that I am not familiar with analytic philosophy, and that the concept of God as a temporal deity by Christian philosophers is new to me. I first became aware of this a few months ago over at Fr. Aidan Kimel’s very fine blog, Eclectic Orthodoxy. Fr. Aidan has begun yet another series of thought-provoking posts. The first post of the series is Prisoner of Time: The Temporal Deity of Analytic Philosophy. Background: God being a prisoner of time is an objection raised by classical theists against the notion of a temporal deity. While Fr. Aidan does not hold to this particular idea of God, he does say that to show that it reduces God to a prisoner of time one must show how it inhibits God’s providence and the accomplishing of His purposes. As Fr. Aidan puts it, “Divine sovereignty can hardly be said to be compromised if God is still able to execute his omnipotent will in history and bring the world to eschatological glory.” The purpose of my post is to jump into the deep end (and perhaps drown) to meet this challenge of Fr. Aidan’s. All arguments for and explanations of a temporal god come from the post linked above.

In response to the objection that God is a prisoner of time, Richard Swinburne, a proponent of God being temporal and mutable, makes two points. The first is that God freely chose such a limitation. This free act maintains God’s sovereignty so that it is He, “not time, who calls the shots.” In other words, God is a prisoner of time to a degree. For example, He must wait for future events to arrive before He can act in them. His knowledge is also of a completely different kind. His knowledge of past events are only a memory and of future events He has no perfect knowledge because they have not yet happened. His second point is that God, being the one who calls the shots, maintains His sovereignty in creation. Whether one voluntarily becomes a prisoner or not is a mute point, either way, they are still a prisoner. It is also irrelevant that God may “step out” at His pleasure and completely change things or wipe all creation away if He chooses. While He is in the system, He works according to the system. In this way, a constraint from without is put upon Him and is one shared with us mere creatures. His sovereignty is not perfect; He is limited in what He may do and when He may do it by the system to which He has submitted Himself.

R.T. Mullins, in his support for a temporal god, takes into account the above objections. He says,

God is completely in control of the physical time associated with creation, and He can begin it or end it whenever He desires. True, He cannot undo the succession that He freely brought upon Himself, nor can He retrieve His lost moments, but so what? He cannot do anything that is logically and metaphysically impossible, and He is no less sovereign for all that. What is needed for God to be sovereign is for God to be able to achieve His ultimate purposes for creation, and the temporalist holds that God cannot create a temporal universe without undergoing succession.

Here Mullins reduces God’s sovereignty to a telos. This, however, fails to take into account that God is sovereign in and of Himself. God is only perfectly sovereign in that He possesses perfect freedom. Had there been no creation God would still be sovereign. If one is going to speak of the sovereignty of God, they must do so in such a way as to take into account the whole, not just a part, and creation is just a part of the whole. Whereas in the temporalist view there is a constraint on God (again, whether it is voluntary or not is irrelevant), God knows no constraint. Mullins is correct when he asserts that God “cannot do anything that is logically and metaphysically impossible.” However, this is not a constraint, it is acting in perfect freedom. Freedom is not just the ability to choose. It is the ability to choose in accordance with the good. For God, this means to choose in accordance with the truth of Himself. This is markedly different from creating a system and then constraining yourself by way of subjection to that system.

One could argue that even understanding God as eternal, we can properly speak of His constraining and subjecting Himself simply because He created us. There are certain “demands” placed on a person when they enter into a relationship, and in this God is no different. There is an important difference between this reality and the temporalist perspective though. In the temporalist perspective time is part of a structure; it is impersonal. Better put, time is something without rather than being within. In regards to the relationship entered into with man, we once again come to acts of freedom rightly understood, acts that are in accord with what is within. God here acts in accordance with Himself, not under the constraint of an external property.

Finally, Mullins says, “the temporalist holds that God cannot create a temporal universe without undergoing succession.” Why? There are perfectly cogent explanations of how God relates to temporal creation without any loss of being eternal. (You can read another post by Fr. Kimel that touches on this. I found it immensely helpful). Eternity, however, is shrouded in mystery. Nothing truly positive can be said of it. It is beyond our comprehension, and this seems to me to be the difficulty for the temporalist. When we make God temporal, we aim to make Him comprehensible and take the mystery out of the One who is Mystery.

Postscript: In the end, the argument against a temporalist understanding of God is not, I think, dependent on the objection that it makes God a prisoner of time. I think temporalists know they cannot argue He is not because both Swinburne and Mullins admit that He is; they just say it doesn’t matter and that the limitations are not unwelcome. A much greater problem with the temporalist position for me is its necessary connection to a belief that God is mutable. How can we speak of the perfections of God when perfection knows no change?

first-sunday-of-advent

For the first Sunday of Advent, we hear in the Collect: “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming…” Often when one thinks of Advent and our preparation for Christ’s coming, they think of His coming 2,000 years ago. Many know that in Advent we are also preparing for His second coming. There is also a third coming: His present coming. Jesus Christ with the Father and Holy Spirit is ever-present. His coming to us is not just an event of the past nor one to which we look ahead, but one that is always present. His coming in the past enables us now to welcome Him in His present coming, and His present coming prepares us and leads us along the way to His final coming.

This collect calls us to run forth to meet Christ. We run to His second coming, but we do so by running to His present coming. We cannot come with empty hands. Indeed, it is not possible to run to Him with empty hands. There is a requirement here, a condition: we must run to Him with our hands full of righteous deeds. What are these righteous deeds? The context of Jesus’s second coming calls to mind Matt 25 where we hear of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, etc. However, before running to Him with these righteous deeds there are other righteous deeds with which we must run. Those first called to mind are for our neighbor. However, to truly render those deeds righteous we must exercise righteous deeds to God; this is the virtue of religion. The actions of religion are not enough in themselves. The Psalmist reminds us that God desires a contrite heart. This requires that we exercise righteous deeds toward ourselves.

Before continuing, a few clarifications must be made. First, these three groups of righteous deeds are not mutually exclusive. Life requires that all three are exercised as one rather than as a neat step-by-step progression. Where one is in the spiritual life, though, will determine where the emphasis lies. Second, it is God above all else who is loved in all three. Love for God is obvious, but our love for neighbor is rooted in our love for Him in them, and a proper love of ourselves is rooted in love for Him in us. Third, the working of these righteous deeds is only possible by and in God’s grace. Without a desire for Him and an opening of ourselves to Him, we can do nothing.

Where do we start? With ourselves. What might a righteous deed toward ourselves look like? Purification. Every saint, every spiritual doctor of the Church is unanimous on this. The first stage of the spiritual path is purification. Without it, we cannot enter into true intimacy with the Holy One, the Lover. There are certain practices that are universal in this, namely, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The path of purification, though, is not limited to these three. Not only are there myriad ways and degrees to practice each of these, there are also many other practices one will need to include. Each person is different and each person walks the path of purification differently. For myself, I am an incredibly physical person and I glory in the senses. I am also very intellectual and when I attempt to make progress in the spiritual life it is always greatly characterized by intellection. What I have come to realize is that until I address the physical I will have no progress. The problem is I am terrible at fasting (no surprise, considering how physical/sensual I am). My own first little step into mortification of the flesh is weight training. The immediate goal is for my muscles to hurt. It is my hope that beginning with this little step I will progressively make greater strides in the path of purification.

Having been made ready through purification and died to the world, we are able to render truly righteous deeds to the Lord and enter into intimacy with Him. These deeds are all those that entail the giving of our hearts in devotion to Him. This person runs to God in prayer; it is a search. The person, who is now free of the world, seeks God with urgency. He becomes their sole focus, the Lover of their hearts without whom they cannot rest or have satisfaction. When they come to Him it is only then that they stop and their soul is content.

The person who has rendered righteous deeds to themselves and to God is now capable of rendering them to neighbor. Just as Peter, James, and John had to descend Mt. Tabor, so too must the person who has found rest in God. We descend Mt. Tabor in order to ascend Mt. Calvary. Finding rest and love’s fulfillment, we are prompted by love to hear and answer the cry of those in need. We do not do this alone. When Peter, James, and John descended the mountain, they were led and descended with Jesus Christ. We also are led by Jesus and accompany Him in giving of ourselves to all others.

Almighty God, may we run to Your Christ this Advent and always with hands full of righteous deeds given to ourselves, to You, and to our neighbors. In all things, by Your grace, may we ever live what St. Patrick prayed: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me. Amen.