"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dr. Robert Godfrey on sola scriptura: Part 1

Dr. Godfrey
Dr. Robert Godfrey is the President of Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California. He wrote an article titled "What we mean by Sola Scriptura", which originally appeared as the first chapter in Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible, edited by Don Kistler.

His article starts by distinguishing between "Protestant Catholics" and "Roman Catholics". This is odd for two reasons, first because he uses titles that each side generally does not use for itself. Protestants generally do not refer to themselves as Catholics, let alone "Protestant Catholics". And Catholics do not generally refer to themselves as "Roman Catholics". We are Catholics, and if we are in the Latin Rite Particular Church within the Catholic Church, we are properly "Latin Rite Catholics", not Roman Catholics. Second, Dr. Godfrey's terminology suggests that both Protestants and Catholics are members of a larger genus, i.e. Catholic. And yet Dr. Godfrey immediately goes on to say that [Roman] Catholics believe that Protestants departed from the [Catholic] Church in the sixteenth century, and that Protestants think that Catholics departed from [the Catholic] Church even earlier. But if both sides think the other side departed from the Catholic Church, then neither side would agree with Dr. Godfrey that both sides are part of a larger genus, i.e. "the Catholic Church". So he opens his article with semantics opposed to both sides of the disagreement.

His second paragraph focuses on the main topic of his article:

The theme of this opening chapter is one of the issues that still divides us: the source of religious truth for the people of God. (The other main issue, that of how a man is made right with God, has been dealt with in the book Justification by Faith ALONE!, published by Soli Deo Gloria in 1995.) As Protestants we maintain that the Scripture alone is our authority. Our Roman opponents maintain that the Scripture by itself is insufficient as the authority of the people of God, and that tradition and the teaching authority of the church must be added to the Scripture. (my emphasis)

Dr. Godfrey says here that the Protestant conception of sola scriptura is that "Scripture alone is our authority". If we took this statement at face value, it would imply that no Protestant pastor or session or presbytery or general assembly has any authority over any Protestants. But of course in practice such Protestant offices and bodies do exercise some sort of authority over those persons who have placed themselves under them. So either Dr. Godfrey is not being careful here, or he is endorsing the individualism of private judgment and solo scriptura. Later in the article he says, "I am eager to join that historic train of Protestant apologists to defend the doctrine that the Scripture alone is our ultimate religious authority." Notice the word 'ultimate'. So what he means in this earlier statement is that Scripture alone is our ultimate authority". And yet perhaps the slip is revealing, showing the logical implication of sola scriptura.

But he is also here presenting a straw man of the Catholic position. Yes, the Catholic Church would claim that Scripture alone is not sufficient as the authority of the people of God. But no, the Catholic Church has never claimed that tradition and the teaching authority of the Church "must be added to" the Scripture. Rather, the Catholic Church teaches that the oral tradition and teaching authority of the Church already existed, from the day of Pentecost on, in the teaching and preaching of the Apostles. The New Testament Scriptures were eventually added to the oral tradition and to the teaching authority of the Church. The Church (with her teaching authority and oral tradition) existed first, without the New Testament. But the Church has never existed without her teaching authority, and without the oral tradition in the form of the preaching of the Apostles.

When Protestants start defending sola scriptura in terms of the final or ultimate authority of Scripture, they tend to gloss over an ambiguity in the word "final" or "ultimate". (I discussed this in my post titled "C. Michael Patton on sola scriptura".) It is not difficult to show that since Scripture is the Word of God, and obviously nothing can have more authority than the Word of God, that therefore the Scripture must be the "ultimate" [i.e. highest] intrinsic authority in the Church. But no one disagrees with that. That is not what the Protestant-Catholic disagreement concerning sola scriptura is about. The Catholic Church teaches that her leadership is the servant of the Word of God. (CCC 86) So the point of disagreement (between Protestants and the Catholic Church) regarding sola scriptura is not primarily about which authority in the Church has the most or highest intrinsic authority, but is rather about who has final or highest interpretive and teaching authority, and on what ground or basis these persons have such interpretive and teaching authority. (The disagreement between Protestants and the Catholic Church regarding whether the Word of God was also passed down as oral Tradition depends for its resolution on who has interpretive and teaching authority to give the authoritative ecclesial judgment on this question.)

Bound up in the [Protestant] concept of sola scriptura is much more than the mere notion that Scripture is the highest intrinsic authority in the Church. The Protestant conception of sola scriptura includes the assumption of perspicuity, namely, that the Scripture is sufficiently clear and plain that whatever is necessary to be believed for salvation can be known by everyone who reads it. This perspicuity assumption is taught nowhere in Scripture or Tradition; it is a novel assumption imported by Protestants from outside Scripture and Tradition to the process of interpreting Scripture. We do not find it in the first 1500 years of the Church, just as if the Apostles did not teach any such doctrine to the Church. Nor would the Apostles likely have done so, given that the printing press was not invented until the fifteenth century. So the Catholic response to the sixteenth century Protestant claim regarding perspicuity is "Who told you that perspicuity is true, and what ecclesial authority did he have?" But that is not the point I want to make here.

I want to focus not on the origin but on the implications of the perspicuity assumption. The perspicuity assumption implies that we do not need any interpretive authority, if by 'need' we are referring to only what is necessary to know and believe for salvation. (And what is more necessary than that?) Yes we still need to be fed regularly on the Word, and we need fellowship with other believers, etc. But, if the perspicuity assumption is true, then we do not need any interpretive authority; we each can figure out on our own from Scripture whatever is necessary for our salvation. And whatever else might be good to know, we can decide for ourselves whether we want to learn it, and from whom to learn it, etc. So right here, in an implicit assumption hidden behind the more obvious and explicit definition of sola scriptura, is the basis for the individualism that makes each Protestant interpreter his own final interpretive authority. If a person reads Scripture and comes to the conclusion that what is sufficient for salvation is "asking Jesus into my heart" (though the expression is not in Scripture), then anything else that anyone might add to that is mere man-made window-dressing. "Away with institutions and rituals. Away with hierarchies and all these doctrinal standards that just end up dividing Christians." Perspicuity implies that each person gets to decide for himself from Scripture what is necessary and sufficient for salvation. And as a result, whatever falls outside of the individual's determination from Scripture of what is necessary for his own salvation is dismissed as superfluous.

One danger here, however, is that "salvation" is assumed to be an all or nothing sort of thing. You either go to heaven, or you don't. So all we need to worry about is what is necessary to go to heaven. But what if salvation is more complicated than that? What if there are gradations of happiness in heaven, and our measure of happiness in the life to come has something to do with how we live in this life?
What if we are called to be saints in this life, to be perfect, and yet we only do the very minimum, squandering a life-time of opportunities for acts of heroic virtue? In that case, the minimalistic and nominalistic approach to Christianity that seeks to do whatever just gets people inside the pearly gates is a misleading theology that potentially detracts from our eternal happiness. Perspicuity is not an innocent assumption; it has very serious implications.

If as perspicacity implies we do not need an interpretive authority, then there is no point to a Magisterium having authority in perpetual succession from the Apostles. Perspicuity makes the Church's Magisterium both superfluous, obsolete and presumptive, for surely Jesus would not have established an enduring interpretive authority if we did not need such a thing. Therefore, given the perspicuity of Scripture, it follows logically that those persons claiming to have interpretive authority from the Apostles are at best mistaken and at worst presumptive, having at some point arrogated to themselves an authority that they do not have.

Perspicuity in this way is incompatible with the Catholic Church's long-standing teaching regarding the role and authority of the bishops in succession from the Apostles. The Protestant notion of perspicuity entails and grounds the ecclesial consumerism that in practice leads to the vast proliferation of sects, for since there is no given interpretive authority, then by default we are left to accumulate to ourselves teachers who teach according to what we believe. (2 Tim 4:3) And both the explosion of competing Protestant sects and their inability to reconcile with each other over the past five hundred years undermines the notion that we have no need [if not in the sense of personal salvation, at least in the sense of corporate unity] for a living interpretive authority. Protestant history testifies that we need a perpetual interpretive authority in order to maintain ecclesial unity. So in this way Protestant history testifies against perspicuity, and in favor of what the Catholic Church has always taught about her bishops and the nature of their authority as passed on through sacramental succession from the Apostles.

How does Dr. Godfrey defend his claim that Scripture alone is the ultimate ecclesial authority? He appeals to Scripture itself. He writes, "I believe that it can be shown that this position [i.e. sola scriptura] is the clear position of Scripture itself." And that is what he proceeds to do, defends his position by appealing to Scripture.

But already he has begged the question, possibly without realizing it. Consider what is implicit in his claim that "it can be shown that [my] position is the clear position of Scripture". He is implicitly assuming here that no heretic could show [to that heretic's own satisfaction, and to those likeminded to him] that his own heresy is "the clear position of Scripture". For if heretics can in principle do this, then the fact that someone can show [to his own satisfaction and that of those likeminded to him] that his own position is "the clear position of Scripture" does not show whether that position is heretical or orthodox, in which case we would need the living Church authority to adjudicate the question for us. But the need for living Church authority to decide interpretive questions for us is precisely what Dr. Godfrey is rejecting, for as I have pointed out above, perspicuity is bound up in the concept of sola scriptura. If we needed a living church authority to adjudicate interpretive questions for us, then Luther and the early Protestants would not have been justified in defying the Catholic Magisterium regarding the interpretation of Scripture. Nor would they have been justified in leaving the Catholic Church, even given the abuses and corruption of that time. The whole Protestant separation/movement would be thereby undermined. Therefore, Dr. Godfrey's methodology, if it is to be consistent with Protestantism, must assume
at least implicitly that in principle no heretic can show [to that heretic's his own satisfaction and to that of those likeminded to him] that his own heresy is "the clear position of Scripture". But that assumption is justified only if the Protestant assumption regarding perspicuity is true. And thus in that way Dr. Godfrey's approach to defending sola scriptura begs the question, for it assumes implicitly precisely what it is trying to prove, namely that the Protestant notion that Scripture alone can be our ultimate authority without the need for Church authority to adjudicate interpretive disagreements is true.

What I am pointing out here is another example of talking past each other, and missing the *paradigmatic* difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. (I have written about this in my "Two Paradigms" post.) To approach Scripture as though each individual has the authority to determine definitively for him or herself what it says, is not to approach the Scripture in a neutral manner. It is to approach Scripture as though the first 1500 years of Christianity were deeply misguided, and Protestantism is true. In order to talk about the issue of sola scriptura, therefore, we have to step back from debating the interpretation of the Scriptures themselves. That is the point Tertullian made here, and St. Vincent of Lerins made here.

We have to examine how exactly the Church has operated from the beginning regarding the resolution of disputes over the interpretation of Scripture. Only if the practice of the early Church was to treat Scripture as self-interpreting, and as though there was no need for adjudication of interpretive disagreements by the Apostles and bishops would we be justified in approaching Scripture as though we ourselves have the authority to determine definitively for ourselves what it says. If, however, the Church did not treat Scripture as self-interpreting, but relied upon the decisions of the bishops to determine what is the orthodox and authorized teaching of the Church and the authoritative interpretation of Scripture, then for us to approach Scripture as though the bishops are not the interpretive authorities of Scripture is performative, if not propositional, heresy.

There is no neutral interpretive starting point here. Either we come to Scripture recognizing and submitting to the ecclesial authority of the bishops, or we come to Scripture rejecting [knowingly or unknowingly] the ecclesial authority of the bishops. And that was no less true during the sixteenth century than it is today. Of course a person can come to Scripture unaware of the authority of the bishops, or in a state of humility toward the bishops as he or she seeks to determine whether the Apostles gave such authority to the bishops. So the impossibility of neutrality here concerns those who know that the Apostles appointed bishops and gave them perpetual authority in the Church. If we wish to know how to approach the Scriptures, we must determine what those bishops taught about their own authority in relation to the deposit of faith and the interpretation of Scripture. Otherwise, we will beg the question and talk past each other in the Protestant-Catholic ecumenical dialogue.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Let us Pray for the Resolve to Nurture Unity"

Here is the address Benedict XVI gave at the World Youth Day vigil Saturday night (July 19) at the Randwick Racecourse in Sydney. (My emphases are in bold.)

* * *

Dear Young People,

Once again this evening we have heard Christ’s great promise – "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you". And we have heard his summons – "be my witnesses throughout the world" – (Acts 1:8). These were the very last words which Jesus spoke before his Ascension into heaven. How the Apostles felt upon hearing them, we can only imagine. But we do know that their deep love for Jesus, and their trust in his word, prompted them to gather and to wait; to wait not aimlessly, but together, united in prayer, with the women and Mary in the Upper Room (cf. Acts 1:14). Tonight, we do the same. Gathered before our much-travelled Cross and the icon of Mary, and under the magnificent constellation of the Southern Cross, we pray. Tonight, I am praying for you and for young people throughout the world. Be inspired by the example of your Patrons! Accept into your hearts and minds the sevenfold gift of the Holy Spirit! Recognize and believe in the power of the Spirit in your lives!

The other day we talked of the unity and harmony of God’s creation and our place within it. We recalled how in the great gift of baptism we, who are made in God’s image and likeness, have been reborn, we have become God’s adopted children, a new creation. And so it is as children of Christ’s light – symbolized by the lit candles you now hold – that we bear witness in our world to the radiance no darkness can overcome (cf. Jn 1:5).

Tonight we focus our attention on how to become witnesses. We need to understand the person of the Holy Spirit and his vivifying presence in our lives. This is not easy to comprehend. Indeed the variety of images found in scripture referring to the Spirit – wind, fire, breath – indicate our struggle to articulate an understanding of him. Yet we do know that it is the Holy Spirit who, though silent and unseen, gives direction and definition to our witness to Jesus Christ.

You are already well aware that our Christian witness is offered to a world which in many ways is fragile. The unity of God’s creation is weakened by wounds which run particularly deep when social relations break apart, or when the human spirit is all but crushed through the exploitation and abuse of persons. Indeed, society today is being fragmented by a way of thinking that is inherently short-sighted, because it disregards the full horizon of truth– the truth about God and about us. By its nature, relativism fails to see the whole picture. It ignores the very principles which enable us to live and flourish in unity, order and harmony.

What is our response, as Christian witnesses, to a divided and fragmented world? How can we offer the hope of peace, healing and harmony to those "stations" of conflict, suffering, and tension through which you have chosen to march with this World Youth Day Cross? Unity and reconciliation cannot be achieved through our efforts alone. God has made us for one another (cf. Gen 2:24) and only in God and his Church can we find the unity we seek. Yet, in the face of imperfections and disappointments – both individual and institutional – we are sometimes tempted to construct artificially a "perfect" community. That temptation is not new. The history of the Church includes many examples of attempts to bypass or override human weaknesses or failures in order to create a perfect unity, a spiritual utopia.

Such attempts to construct unity in fact undermine it! To separate the Holy Spirit from Christ present in the Church’s institutional structure would compromise the unity of the Christian community, which is precisely the Spirit’s gift! It would betray the nature of the Church as the living temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 3:16). It is the Spirit, in fact, who guides the Church in the way of all truth and unifies her in communion and in the works of ministry (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4). Unfortunately the temptation to "go it alone" persists. Some today portray their local community as somehow separate from the so-called institutional Church, by speaking of the former as flexible and open to the Spirit and the latter as rigid and devoid of the Spirit.

Unity is of the essence of the Church (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 813); it is a gift we must recognize and cherish. Tonight, let us pray for the resolve to nurture unity: contribute to it! resist any temptation to walk away! For it is precisely the comprehensiveness, the vast vision, of our faith – solid yet open, consistent yet dynamic, true yet constantly growing in insight – that we can offer our world. Dear young people, is it not because of your faith that friends in difficulty or seeking meaning in their lives have turned to you? Be watchful! Listen! Through the dissonance and division of our world, can you hear the concordant voice of humanity? From the forlorn child in a Darfur camp, or a troubled teenager, or an anxious parent in any suburb, or perhaps even now from the depth of your own heart, there emerges the same human cry for recognition, for belonging, for unity. Who satisfies that essential human yearning to be one, to be immersed in communion, to be built up, to be led to truth? The Holy Spirit! This is the Spirit’s role: to bring Christ’s work to fulfilment. Enriched with the Spirit’s gifts, you will have the power to move beyond the piecemeal, the hollow utopia, the fleeting, to offer the consistency and certainty of Christian witness!

Friends, when reciting the Creed we state: "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life". The "Creator Spirit" is the power of God giving life to all creation and the source of new and abundant life in Christ. The Spirit sustains the Church in union with the Lord and in fidelity to the apostolic Tradition. He inspired the Sacred Scriptures and he guides God’s People into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13) In all these ways the Spirit is the "giver of life", leading us into the very heart of God. So, the more we allow the Spirit to direct us, the more perfect will be our configuration to Christ and the deeper our immersion in the life of the Triune God.

This sharing in God’s nature (cf. 2 Pet 1:4) occurs in the unfolding of the everyday moments of our lives where he is always present (cf. Bar 3:38). There are times, however, when we might be tempted to seek a certain fulfilment apart from God. Jesus himself asked the Twelve: "do you also wish to go away?" Such drifting away perhaps offers the illusion of freedom. But where does it lead? To whom would we go? For in our hearts we know that it is the Lord who has "the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:67-68). To turn away from him is only a futile attempt to escape from ourselves (cf. Saint Augustine, Confessions VIII, 7). God is with us in the reality of life, not the fantasy! It is embrace, not escape, that we seek! So the Holy Spirit gently but surely steers us back to what is real, what is lasting, what is true. It is the Spirit who leads us back into the communion of the Blessed Trinity!

The Holy Spirit has been in some ways the neglected person of the Blessed Trinity. A clear understanding of the Spirit almost seems beyond our reach. Yet, when I was a small boy, my parents, like yours, taught me the Sign of the Cross. So, I soon came to realize that there is one God in three Persons, and that the Trinity is the centre of our Christian faith and life. While I grew up to have some understanding of God the Father and the Son – the names already conveyed much – my understanding of the third person of the Trinity remained incomplete. So, as a young priest teaching theology, I decided to study the outstanding witnesses to the Spirit in the Church’s history. It was on this journey that I found myself reading, among others, the great Saint Augustine.

Augustine’s understanding of the Holy Spirit evolved gradually; it was a struggle. As a young man he had followed Manichaeism - one of those attempts I mentioned earlier, to create a spiritual utopia by radically separating the things of the spirit from the things of the flesh. Hence he was at first suspicious of the Christian teaching that God had become man. Yet his experience of the love of God present in the Church led him to investigate its source in the life of the Triune God. This led him to three particular insights about the Holy Spirit as the bond of unity within the Blessed Trinity: unity as communion, unity as abiding love, and unity as giving and gift. These three insights are not just theoretical. They help explain how the Spirit works. In a world where both individuals and communities often suffer from an absence of unity or cohesion, these insights help us remain attuned to the Spirit and to extend and clarify the scope of our witness.

So, with Augustine’s help, let us illustrate something of the Holy Spirit’s work. He noted that the two words "Holy" and "Spirit" refer to what is divine about God; in other words what is shared by the Father and the Son – their communion. So, if the distinguishing characteristic of the Holy Spirit is to be what is shared by the Father and the Son, Augustine concluded that the Spirit’s particular quality is unity. It is a unity of lived communion: a unity of persons in a relationship of constant giving, the Father and the Son giving themselves to each other. We begin to glimpse, I think, how illuminating is this understanding of the Holy Spirit as unity, as communion. True unity could never be founded upon relationships which deny the equal dignity of other persons. Nor is unity simply the sum total of the groups through which we sometimes attempt to "define" ourselves. In fact, only in the life of communion is unity sustained and human identity fulfilled: we recognize the common need for God, we respond to the unifying presence of the Holy Spirit, and we give ourselves to one another in service.

Augustine’s second insight – the Holy Spirit as abiding love – comes from his study of the First Letter of Saint John. John tells us that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:16). Augustine suggests that while these words refer to the Trinity as a whole they express a particular characteristic of the Holy Spirit. Reflecting on the lasting nature of love - "whoever abides in love remains in God and God in him" (ibid.) - he wondered: is it love or the Holy Spirit which grants the abiding? This is the conclusion he reaches: "The Holy Spirit makes us remain in God and God in us; yet it is love that effects this. The Spirit therefore is God as love!" (De Trinitate, 15.17.31). It is a beautiful explanation: God shares himself as love in the Holy Spirit. What further understanding might we gain from this insight? Love is the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit! Ideas or voices which lack love – even if they seem sophisticated or knowledgeable – cannot be "of the Spirit". Furthermore, love has a particular trait: far from being indulgent or fickle, it has a task or purpose to fulfil: to abide. By its nature love is enduring. Again, dear friends, we catch a further glimpse of how much the Holy Spirit offers our world: love which dispels uncertainty; love which overcomes the fear of betrayal; love which carries eternity within; the true love which draws us into a unity that abides!

The third insight – the Holy Spirit as gift – Augustine derived from meditating on a Gospel passage we all know and love: Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. Here Jesus reveals himself as the giver of the living water (cf. Jn 4:10) which later is explained as the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 7:39; 1 Cor 12:13). The Spirit is "God’s gift" (Jn 4:10) - the internal spring (cf. Jn 4:14), who truly satisfies our deepest thirst and leads us to the Father. From this observation Augustine concludes that God sharing himself with us as gift is the Holy Spirit (cf. De Trinitate, 15, 18, 32). Friends, again we catch a glimpse of the Trinity at work: the Holy Spirit is God eternally giving himself; like a never-ending spring he pours forth nothing less than himself. In view of this ceaseless gift, we come to see the limitations of all that perishes, the folly of the consumerist mindset. We begin to understand why the quest for novelty leaves us unsatisfied and wanting. Are we not looking for an eternal gift? The spring that will never run dry? With the Samaritan woman, let us exclaim: give me this water that I may thirst no more! (cf. Jn 4:15).

Dear young people, we have seen that it is the Holy Spirit who brings about the wonderful communion of believers in Jesus Christ. True to his nature as giver and gift alike, he is even now working through you. Inspired by the insights of Saint Augustine: let unifying love be your measure; abiding love your challenge; self-giving love your mission!

Tomorrow, that same gift of the Spirit will be solemnly conferred upon our confirmation candidates. I shall pray: "give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgement and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence … and fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe". These gifts of the Spirit – each of which, as Saint Francis de Sales reminds us, is a way to participate in the one love of God – are neither prizes nor rewards. They are freely given (cf. 1 Cor 12:11). And they require only one response on the part of the receiver: I accept! Here we sense something of the deep mystery of being Christian. What constitutes our faith is not primarily what we do but what we receive. After all, many generous people who are not Christian may well achieve far more than we do. Friends, do you accept being drawn into God’s Trinitarian life? Do you accept being drawn into his communion of love?

The Spirit’s gifts working within us give direction and definition to our witness. Directed to unity, the gifts of the Spirit bind us more closely to the whole Body of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11), equipping us better to build up the Church in order to serve the world (cf. Eph 4:13). They call us to active and joyful participation in the life of the Church: in parishes and ecclesial movements, in religious education classes, in university chaplaincies and other catholic organizations. Yes, the Church must grow in unity, must be strengthened in holiness, must be rejuvenated, must be constantly renewed (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4). But according to whose standard? The Holy Spirit’s! Turn to him, dear young people, and you will find the true meaning of renewal.

Tonight, gathered under the beauty of the night sky, our hearts and minds are filled with gratitude to God for the great gift of our Trinitarian faith. We recall our parents and grandparents who walked alongside us when we, as children, were taking our first steps in our pilgrim journey of faith. Now many years later, you have gathered as young adults with the Successor of Peter. I am filled with deep joy to be with you. Let us invoke the Holy Spirit: he is the artisan of God’s works (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 741). Let his gifts shape you! Just as the Church travels the same journey with all humanity, so too you are called to exercise the Spirit’s gifts amidst the ups and downs of your daily life. Let your faith mature through your studies, work, sport, music and art. Let it be sustained by prayer and nurtured by the sacraments, and thus be a source of inspiration and help to those around you. In the end, life is not about accumulation. It is much more than success. To be truly alive is to be transformed from within, open to the energy of God’s love. In accepting the power of the Holy Spirit you too can transform your families, communities and nations. Set free the gifts! Let wisdom, courage, awe and reverence be the marks of greatness!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Episcopal bishop takes a $75,000 pay cut to become Catholic

Dr. Jeffrey Steenson
The National Post story is here. His "The Causes For My Becoming Catholic" is a must-read; I can't emphasize that enough given the conversations I have had with many of you who are regular readers of this blog. Here are some excerpts:

It all begins with the conviction that the Catholic Church simply is. She is not one option amongst many. People who become alienated from their own churches will sometimes think that the next step is to go down to the marketplace and see what is on offer: which church is going to give me the best deal? Those people seldom find the Catholic Church because they have missed the essential point – the fullness of Christ's blessings is not distributed across the ecclesial landscape but flows from the one Church. "The one Church of Christ, as a society constituted and organized in the world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him." This is the ecclesiological North Star. On the other hand, Anglicanism’s branch theory of Catholicism cannot be located on the map because it is a utopia, ou topos, a place of nonexistence. This is a difficult truth, but the idea that Catholic Anglicanism exists sui generis is an illusion that must be let go of in order to experience the fullness of Catholic life. Many Anglicans have intuited this, but it is hard to overcome the notion we were taught, that Catholicism is simply the sum of all the Christian churches, kath’holos, according to the whole. The Catholic Church has a different understanding: "Particular Churches are fully catholic through their communion with one of them, the Church of Rome, which presides in charity.'"

Anglicanism has for the last quarter century proceeded quite intentionally from the principle that truth not only is discerned primarily in the experience of the Christian community but also that the community itself has priority over truth. This approach has produced a very meager and inconsequential harvest, and the great legacy of Anglican theological scholarship has been lost. The contrast with the Catholic mind is striking. As an Anglican I would take in hand, for instance, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and ask, could my church have produced a work so penetrating and comprehensive? No, it has neither the capacity nor the confidence to speak its mind in such a way. Why? Because it has deliberately cut itself off from the tradition.

How could an individual person hope to comprehend and understand everything that the Catholic Church teaches? To think that one must do so before giving assent is a very Protestant exercise of private judgment. People come to the Catholic Church not because they have worked out every point of doctrine but because they trust that what the Church teaches is true. This is no blind act of faith but the conviction that the Church of Rome is the principal witness to the apostolic tradition. The early Church Fathers were very much aware of the unique vocation of the Bishop of Rome to speak with the voice of Peter in matters of faith.

And lastly:

It is no small matter to be taken to the woodshed by the Vicar of Christ at a carefully organized ecumenical event, and it demonstrates how seriously the Pope regards the disintegration of Anglicanism as a communion.

The Holy Father's speech at Barangaroo

17 July 2008

Dear Young People,

What a delight it is to greet you here at Barangaroo, on the shores of the magnificent Sydney harbour, with its famous bridge and Opera House. Many of you are local, from the outback or the dynamic multicultural communities of Australian cities. Others of you have come from the scattered islands of Oceania, and others still from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas. Some of you, indeed, have come from as far as I have, Europe! Wherever we are from, we are here at last in Sydney. And together we stand in our world as God's family, disciples of Christ, empowered by his Spirit to be witnesses of his love and truth for everyone!

I wish firstly to thank the Aboriginal Elders who welcomed me prior to my boarding the boat at Rose Bay. I am deeply moved to stand on your land, knowing the suffering and injustices it has borne, but aware too of the healing and hope that are now at work, rightly bringing pride to all Australian citizens. To the young indigenous - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders - and the Tokelauans, I express my thanks for your stirring welcome. Through you, I send heartfelt greetings to your peoples.

Cardinal Pell and Archbishop Wilson, I thank you for your warm words of welcome. I know that your sentiments resonate in the hearts of the young gathered here this evening, and so I thank you all. Standing before me I see a vibrant image of the universal Church. The variety of nations and cultures from which you hail shows that indeed Christ's Good News is for everyone; it has reached the ends of the earth. Yet I know too that a good number of you are still seeking a spiritual homeland. Some of you, most welcome among us, are not Catholic or Christian. Others of you perhaps hover at the edge of parish and Church life. To you I wish to offer encouragement: step forward into Christ's loving embrace; recognize the Church as your home. No one need remain on the outside, for from the day of Pentecost the Church has been one and universal.

This evening I wish also to include those who are not present among us. I am thinking especially of the sick or mentally ill, young people in prison, those struggling on the margins of our societies, and those who for whatever reason feel alienated from the Church. To them I say: Jesus is close to you! Feel his healing embrace, his compassion and mercy!

Almost two thousand years ago, the Apostles, gathered in the upper room together with Mary and some faithful women, were filled with the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:4). At that extraordinary moment, which gave birth to the Church, the confusion and fear that had gripped Christ's disciples were transformed into a vigorous conviction and sense of purpose. They felt impelled to speak of their encounter with the risen Jesus whom they had come to call affectionately, the Lord. In many ways, the Apostles were ordinary. None could claim to be the perfect disciple. They failed to recognize Christ (cf. Lk 24:13-32), felt ashamed of their own ambition (cf. Lk 22:24-27), and had even denied him (cf. Lk 22:54-62). Yet, when empowered by the Holy Spirit, they were transfixed by the truth of Christ's Gospel and inspired to proclaim it fearlessly. Emboldened, they exclaimed: repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:37-38)! Grounded in the Apostles' teaching, in fellowship, and in the breaking of the bread and prayer (cf. Acts 2:42), the young Christian community moved forward to oppose the perversity in the culture around them (cf. Acts 2:40), to care for one another (cf. Acts 2:44-47), to defend their belief in Jesus in the face of hostility (cf Acts 4:33), and to heal the sick (cf. Acts 5:12-16). And in obedience to Christ's own command, they set forth, bearing witness to the greatest story ever: that God has become one of us, that the divine has entered human history in order to transform it, and that we are called to immerse ourselves in Christ's saving love which triumphs over evil and death. Saint Paul, in his famous speech to the Areopagus, introduced the message in this way: "God gives everything - including life and breath - to everyone ... so that all nations might seek God and, by feeling their way towards him, succeed in finding him. In fact he is not far from any of us, since it is in him that we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17: 25-28).

And ever since, men and women have set out to tell the same story, witnessing to Christ's truth and love, and contributing to the Church's mission. Today, we think of those pioneering Priests, Sisters and Brothers who came to these shores, and to other parts of the Pacific, from Ireland, France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe. The great majority were young - some still in their late teens - and when they bade farewell to their parents, brothers and sisters, and friends, they knew they were unlikely ever to return home. Their whole lives were a selfless Christian witness. They became the humble but tenacious builders of so much of the social and spiritual heritage which still today brings goodness, compassion and purpose to these nations. And they went on to inspire another generation. We think immediately of the faith which sustained Blessed Mary MacKillop in her sheer determination to educate especially the poor, and Blessed Peter To Rot in his steadfast resolution that community leadership must always include the Gospel. Think also of your own grandparents and parents, your first teachers in faith. They too have made countless sacrifices of time and energy, out of love for you. Supported by your parish priests and teachers, they have the task, not always easy but greatly satisfying, of guiding you towards all that is good and true, through their own witness - their teaching and living of our Christian faith.

Today, it is my turn. For some of us, it might seem like we have come to the end of the world! For people of your age, however, any flight is an exciting prospect. But for me, this one was somewhat daunting! Yet the views afforded of our planet from the air were truly wondrous. The sparkle of the Mediterranean, the grandeur of the north African desert, the lushness of Asia's forestation, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the horizon upon which the sun rose and set, and the majestic splendour of Australia's natural beauty which I have been able to enjoy these last couple of days; these all evoke a profound sense of awe. It is as though one catches glimpses of the Genesis creation story - light and darkness, the sun and the moon, the waters, the earth, and living creatures; all of which are "good" in God's eyes (cf. Gen 1:1 - 2:4). Immersed in such beauty, who could not echo the words of the Psalmist in praise of the Creator: "how majestic is your name in all the earth?" (Ps 8:1).

And there is more - something hardly perceivable from the sky - men and women, made in nothing less than God's own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). At the heart of the marvel of creation are you and I, the human family "crowned with glory and honour" (Ps 8:5). How astounding! With the Psalmist we whisper: "what is man that you are mindful of him?" (Ps 8:4). And drawn into silence, into a spirit of thanksgiving, into the power of holiness, we ponder.

What do we discover? Perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world's mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption. Some of you come from island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising water levels; others from nations suffering the effects of devastating drought. God's wondrous creation is sometimes experienced as almost hostile to its stewards, even something dangerous. How can what is "good" appear so threatening?

And there is more. What of man, the apex of God's creation? Every day we encounter the genius of human achievement. From advances in medical sciences and the wise application of technology, to the creativity reflected in the arts, the quality and enjoyment of people's lives in many ways are steadily rising. Among yourselves there is a readiness to take up the plentiful opportunities offered to you. Some of you excel in studies, sport, music, or dance and drama, others of you have a keen sense of social justice and ethics, and many of you take up service and voluntary work. All of us, young and old, have those moments when the innate goodness of the human person - perhaps glimpsed in the gesture of a little child or an adult's readiness to forgive - fills us with profound joy and gratitude.

Yet such moments do not last. So again, we ponder. And we discover that not only the natural but also the social environment - the habitat we fashion for ourselves - has its scars; wounds indicating that something is amiss. Here too, in our personal lives and in our communities, we can encounter a hostility, something dangerous; a poison which threatens to corrode what is good, reshape who we are, and distort the purpose for which we have been created. Examples abound, as you yourselves know. Among the more prevalent are alcohol and drug abuse, and the exaltation of violence and sexual degradation, often presented through television and the internet as entertainment. I ask myself, could anyone standing face to face with people who actually do suffer violence and sexual exploitation "explain" that these tragedies, portrayed in virtual form, are considered merely "entertainment"?

There is also something sinister which stems from the fact that freedom and tolerance are so often separated from truth. This is fuelled by the notion, widely held today, that there are no absolute truths to guide our lives. Relativism, by indiscriminately giving value to practically everything, has made "experience" all-important. Yet, experiences, detached from any consideration of what is good or true, can lead, not to genuine freedom, but to moral or intellectual confusion, to a lowering of standards, to a loss of self-respect, and even to despair.

Dear friends, life is not governed by chance; it is not random. Your very existence has been willed by God, blessed and given a purpose (cf. Gen 1:28)! Life is not just a succession of events or experiences, helpful though many of them are. It is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this - in truth, in goodness, and in beauty - that we find happiness and joy. Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.

Christ offers more! Indeed he offers everything! Only he who is the Truth can be the Way and hence also the Life. Thus the "way" which the Apostles brought to the ends of the earth is life in Christ. This is the life of the Church. And the entrance to this life, to the Christian way, is Baptism.

This evening I wish therefore to recall briefly something of our understanding of Baptism before tomorrow considering the Holy Spirit. On the day of your Baptism, God drew you into his holiness (cf. 2 Pet 1:4). You were adopted as a son or daughter of the Father. You were incorporated into Christ. You were made a dwelling place of his Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:19). Baptism is neither an achievement, nor a reward. It is a grace; it is God's work. Indeed, towards the conclusion of your Baptism, the priest turned to your parents and those gathered and, calling you by your name said: "you have become a new creation" (Rite of Baptism, 99).

Dear friends, in your homes, schools and universities, in your places of work and recreation, remember that you are a new creation! Not only do you stand before the Creator in awe, rejoicing at his works, you also realize that the sure foundation of humanity's solidarity lies in the common origin of every person, the high-point of God's creative design for the world. As Christians you stand in this world knowing that God has a human face - Jesus Christ - the "way" who satisfies all human yearning, and the "life" to which we are called to bear witness, walking always in his light (cf. ibid., 100).

The task of witness is not easy. There are many today who claim that God should be left on the sidelines, and that religion and faith, while fine for individuals, should either be excluded from the public forum altogether or included only in the pursuit of limited pragmatic goals. This secularist vision seeks to explain human life and shape society with little or no reference to the Creator. It presents itself as neutral, impartial and inclusive of everyone. But in reality, like every ideology, secularism imposes a world-view. If God is irrelevant to public life, then society will be shaped in a godless image, and debate and policy concerning the public good will be driven more by consequences than by principles grounded in truth.

Yet experience shows that turning our back on the Creator's plan provokes a disorder which has inevitable repercussions on the rest of the created order (cf. 1990 World Day of Peace Message, 5). When God is eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose, and the "good" begins to wane. What was ostensibly promoted as human ingenuity soon manifests itself as folly, greed and selfish exploitation. And so we have become more and more aware of our need for humility before the delicate complexity of God's world.

But what of our social environment? Are we equally alert to the signs of turning our back on the moral structure with which God has endowed humanity (cf. 2007 World Day of Peace Message, 8)? Do we recognize that the innate dignity of every individual rests on his or her deepest identity - as image of the Creator - and therefore that human rights are universal, based on the natural law, and not something dependent upon negotiation or patronage, let alone compromise? And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space - the womb - has become a place of unutterable violence?

My dear friends, God's creation is one and it is good. The concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity. They cannot, however, be understood apart from a profound reflection upon the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death: a dignity conferred by God himself and thus inviolable. Our world has grown weary of greed, exploitation and division, of the tedium of false idols and piecemeal responses, and the pain of false promises. Our hearts and minds are yearning for a vision of life where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion. This is the work of the Holy Spirit! This is the hope held out by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to bear witness to this reality that you were created anew at Baptism and strengthened through the gifts of the Spirit at Confirmation. Let this be the message that you bring from Sydney to the world!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tu quoque, Catholic convert

I received a good question in the combox of a prior post on sola scriptura, and the matter is important enough, I think, to warrant a post of its own.

As I pointed out in that prior post, one of the problems with sola scriptura is that the individual becomes the de facto interpretive authority, and then defines and locates "the Church" as those who agree with his own interpretation of Scripture. And this obviously leads to a multiplication of sect upon sect, as history shows.

But the objection to this argument is that the person who moves from Protestantism to Catholicism does the very same thing, essentially creates "Church" in his own image by reading the Bible and deciding that the doctrine of the Catholic Church most closely matches what the Bible teaches. So, the objection is a form of the tu quoque (i.e. you too) objection. Below I have pasted my combox response to that objection (with a few changes).

I receive this objection quite frequently. I discussed it briefly in my post titled "The alternative to painting a magisterial target around our interpretive arrow".

The gist of the objection is that in becoming Catholic I'm doing the same thing, i.e. interpreting the Bible and locating those persons who share my interpretation, and then placing myself under their authority.

But there is a very important difference. What is problematic in the Protestant approach is not that the individual uses his own intellect and will in making decisions about the identity and nature of the Church. We can't but use our own intellect and will in making decisions. Individualism is not equivalent to individual agency. So, that's not the issue.

The issue is the criterion by which we decide what is the true Church. The approach in the Protestant case (because in Protestantism "apostolic succession", insofar as the term is used, is thought to refer fundamentally to the doctrine of the Apostles) is to interpret Scripture, while typically assuming sola scriptura, and work out what one thinks was the Apostles' doctrine, and then find a present-day community of persons who shares that doctrine, call them "the Church", and then join "the Church". That very same sort of approach can, though rarely, I think, lead persons to the Catholic Church.

But if a person becomes a Catholic only because he sees that the Catholic Church shares his own interpretation of Scripture, he is not truly a Catholic at heart; he's still a Protestant at heart. One does not rightly become a Catholic on the grounds that one happens to believe (at present) all that the Church teaches; one rightly becomes a Catholic by believing (as an act of faith) all that the Church teaches (even if not fully understanding), on the ground of the sacramental authority of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. When we are received into the Catholic Church, we say before the bishop, "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God." We aren't saying that we just happen to believe Catholic doctrines, i.e. we are not merely reporting our present mental state vis-à-vis Catholic doctrine. We are making a confession of faith, an act of the will whereby we are submitting to the sacramental authority of the Church regarding what it is that she "believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God" on the ground of her sacramental magisterial authority in succession from the Apostles whom Christ Himself appointed and sent.

That is why those persons who decide to wait until they agree with all Catholic doctrines before becoming Catholic are thinking like a Protestant. They're not understanding the act of faith that one makes in becoming Catholic. They are still in the mindset of 'submitting' to church authority on matters of doctrine only when they agree (or mostly agree), or picking a "church" based on whether it teaches what they already believe. They are not recognizing the sacramental authority of the Catholic Church and the difference that sort of authority makes. They are treating the Catholic Church as if it were another denomination, a Protestant "ecclesial community", without Holy Orders from the Apostles. That approach is a form of rationalism, not fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). "Faith seeking understanding" is possible only where submission is required, but strictly speaking, submission is not required wherever the identity and nature of the Church is determined and defined by one's own interpretation of Scripture.

So what exactly is the relevant difference between the Protestant picking out a Protestant denomination that fits his own interpretation of Scripture, and the Protestant adult who becomes Catholic for the right reason? In the former case, the individual works out a set of doctrines from Scripture, and then seeks out those persons who are presently teaching according to that set of doctrines, and joins their community and submits to them. In the latter case, by contrast, the individual finds in history those whom the Apostles appointed and authorized, observes what they say about the basis of the transmission of Magisterial authority, and then traces that line of successive authorizations down through history to the present day to a living Magisterium, and then submits to what this present-day Magisterium is teaching. In both cases the individual inquirer is using his intellect and will. But in the former case he is using his own determination of *doctrine* from his interpretation of Scripture to define and locate "the Church", but in the latter case he is using the *succession of sacramental authority* from the Apostles to locate the Church and then let the Church tell him what is and is not orthodox doctrine.

"Ex-Anglican communities to become Catholic, Rome confirms"

See Damian Thompson's post "Ex-Anglican communities to become Catholic, Rome confirms". H/T Sean of You are Cephas.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Unity, Faith and Submission

Here is a quotation from the Catholic encyclopedia article on "Protestantism":

[BOQ] Again, it is illogical to base faith upon the private interpretation of a book. For faith consists in submitting; private interpretation consists in judging. In faith by hearing, the last word rests with the teacher; in private judgment it rests with the reader, who submits the dead text of Scripture to a kind of post-mortem examination and delivers a verdict without appeal: he believes in himself rather than in any higher authority. But such trust in one's own light is not faith. Private judgment is fatal to the theological virtue of faith. John Henry Newman says "I think I may assume that this virtue, which was exercised by the first Christians, is not known at all amongst Protestants now; or at least if there are instances of it, it is exercised toward those, I mean their teachers and divines, who expressly disclaim that they are objects of it, and exhort their people to judge for themselves" ("Discourses to Mixed Congregations", Faith and Private Judgment). And in proof he advances the instability of Protestant so-called faith: "They are as children tossed to and fro and carried along by every gale of doctrine. If they had faith they would not change. They look upon the simple faith of Catholics as if unworthy the dignity of human nature, as slavish and foolish". Yet upon that simple, unquestioning faith the Church was built up and is held together to this day.

Where absolute reliance on God's word, proclaimed by his accredited ambassadors, is wanting, i.e. where there is not the virtue of faith, there can be no unity of Church. It stands to reason, and Protestant history confirms it. The "unhappy divisions", not only between sect and sect but within the same sect, have become a byword. They are due to the pride of private intellect, and they can only be healed by humble submission to a Divine authority. [EOQ] (my emphases)

Please pray for Fr. Corapi

Please pray for Fr. Corapi; he is not in good health.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Michael Brown on "Sola Scriptura or Scriptura Solo"

I recently read Michael Brown's "Sola Scriptura or Scriptura Solo". What I say below is a reply to his post. (On a related note, my post on Keith Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura can be found here.)

Michael claims that the sola scriptura position is not "me-and-my-own-interpretation-is-authoritative". He claims that sola scriptura advocates read and interpret the Bible "with the church". Sola scriptura advocates, he claims, are not biblicists. Their position, according to Michael, is not solo scriptura.

But when you ask sola scriptura advocates what exactly they are referring to by 'church', they will eventually answer with something semantically equivalent to "whoever reads and interprets the Bible just like I do, or at least pretty close to just like I do". And if you ask them, "Which creeds, confessions and historical theology are authoritative?", their ultimate answer is semantically equivalent to "those creeds and confessions and historical theology that agree with me-and-my-own-interpretation-of-Scripture." Some will answer this latter question by claiming that they follow those creeds and confessions and historical theology that were put forward by "the church". But, again, when you ask them what exactly they are referring to by 'church', you find eventually that their ultimate answer is semantically equivalent to "whoever reads and interprets the Bible just like I do, or at least pretty close to just like I do."
Sometimes sola scriptura advocates appeal to Protestant confessions like the Westminster Confession or the Belgic Confession. But if you ask them why they believe those confessions to be authoritative, and not, say, the Council of Trent, you will eventually find an answer semantically equivalent to "because those confessions [or those who wrote them] interpret the Bible just like I do, or at least pretty close to just like I do." This is what I have previously called "painting a magisterial target around one's interpretive arrow", like shooting an arrow into a wall, and then painting a target around one's arrow to make it look as if one shot a bullseye.

Advocates of sola scriptura distinguish their position from that of biblicists by claiming that biblicists practice solo scripture. And I imagine that most self-described advocates of sola scriptura are not biblicists in the I-only-use-Scripture sense. But this distinction [between sola scriptura and biblicism/solo scripture] is not relevant to the fundamental authority problem of solo scriptura. That is because for both sola scriptura and solo scriptura/biblicism, the individual remains the final interpretive [of both Scripture and Tradition] authority.

This is more difficult for advocates of sola scriptura to see about themselves, because by claiming that the Church is the final authority [where 'Church' is defined as "whoever reads and interprets the Bible just like I do, or at least pretty close to just like I do"] they create a semantic and social layer between themselves and their treatment of themselves as their own ultimate interpretive authority.

According to Michael, biblicism, but not sola scriptura, encourages people not to "subject themselves to any theological or ecclesiastical authority that might be contrary to their own interpretation." But if you ask sola scriptura proponents to whom they themselves subject their interpretations, you will soon discover that the answer is "those who interpret Scripture mostly or entirely like I do." So in this respect, there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and biblicism.

Michael likewise criticizes biblicists for attempting to restore primitive Christianity. He claims that early-American biblicists wrongly rejected systems of theology because they suspected them as "likely perversion[s] of genuine biblical truth". But sola scriptura advocates typically use quite the same rationale [i.e. restoring primitive Christianity] to reject Catholic doctrines, and have been doing so since leaving the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. They are no less suspicious than biblicists of uniquely Catholic doctrines, generally treating them as "likely perversions of genuine biblical truth". So here again there is no principled difference between the biblicist and the proponent of sola scriptura.

Michael also claims that in the sola scriptura paradigm, "the church does not give individuals license to think and say whatever they want". But apparently this did not apply to the first Protestants, who thought and said whatever they wanted, thumbing their noses at the Pope and the Catholic bishops under whose ecclesial authority they were. Conveniently, once the early Protestant figures had thumbed their noses at the existing ecclesial authorities, they then refused to allow their *own* followers the "license to think and say" whatever those followers wanted. But one can't have it both ways. If it is a disobedient act of rebellion to think and say whatever we want in defiance of ecclesial authority, then Protestantism is built on a disobedient act. But if rebellion against ecclesial authority is permissible for Protestants in the sixteenth century, then there is no non-arbitrary reason why it must be wrong now. Protestantism is built on this fundamental contradiction: "We rebelled, but you [Protestants] mustn't rebel against us. Our rebellion was justified because the Church was wrong, but you must not rebel against us because we are right."

But the obvious question is "Says who?" The Catholic Church of Luther's time also taught that she was right and that Catholics like Luther should obey the Church's Magisterium. So the contemporary Protestant who insists that Protestants should obey [and not rebel against] their Protestant leaders because Protestants "are right", is saying exactly what the Catholic Church of Luther's time said. So why is rebellion in one case wrong and in the other case right? "Because we [Protestants] are right," comes the reply. But that, obviously, just begs the question. If rebellion is justified when the subordinate thinks the superior is incorrect, then, contra Michael, when Protestants disagree with their pastors, they have the license to think and say whatever they want. They may leave and start their own denomination if they want.

So there is a contradiction between the claim by advocates of sola scriptura that Protestants must submit to the Church, and the actions by the first Protestants on which Protestantism is founded. That contradiction manifests itself more and more over time, because people start to realize that the "don't rebel" position as taught by Protestant 'authorities' is ad hoc. If Luther can do it, why can't I? That is why there is no principled difference with respect to one's relation to ecclesial authority between sola scriptura and solo scriptura -- in both, the individual is his own final authority. The former hides it by including lesser 'authorities' (i.e. creeds, confessions, pastors, historical theology) which are hand-picked by the individual in virtue of their agreement with his own interpretation.

Michael claims that "the Bible was never meant to be interpreted apart from pastoral guidance". He claims that "the Reformers denied the autonomy of the conscience in private, subjectivist interpretation." But Luther didn't agree when it came to his own actions; he spurned the pastoral guidance of his bishop and the bishop of Rome. Here is what Luther said at the Diet of Worms:

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason -- I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other -- my conscience is captive to the Word of God.

Luther is saying there that he has bound his conscience to his own interpretation of the Scripture. So this is the problem for the defender of sola scriptura. If Luther can do it, and Luther is the father of Protestantism, then Luther's heirs can do it. But if it was not right for Luther to do it, then the Protestant separation from the Catholic Church is built on a fundamental error on Luther's part. The Reformers did deny the autonomy of the conscience of private, subjectivist interpretation for their followers, but they did not deny the autonomy of the conscience of private, subjectivist interpretation for themselves. Yet one can't have it both ways; contraries cannot be held together. That is why even if among Protestants submission to ecclesial authority continued for centuries because of a kind of intertia of Catholic practice and thought, the individual-as-authority kept becoming more and more explicit within Protestantism. It dominates the Protestant scene today in the form of individualism and ecclesial consumerism.

Michael writes:

Tragically, however, things have not changed for the better. As Hatch chillingly points out, "Americans continue to maintain their right to shape their own faith and to submit to leaders they have chosen." The result of eighteenth and nineteenth century biblicism has been a church that increasingly looks less like New Testament Christianity and more like the egalitarian culture in which she lives. Populist hermeneutics and privatized, experiential religion has continuously had wide appeal to the American individualistic ethos. The "chronological arrogance," to borrow C.S. Lewis’ maxim, of disparaging tradition and centuries of theologizing persists with cavalier vigor.

What Michael describes is something that belongs to the essence of Protestantism, even though many Protestants do not recognize that to be so. "I am my own interpretive authority" is part of the essence of Protestantism precisely because Protestantism is founded upon such acts [in defiance of the Church] by the early Protestants themselves. The legitimacy of Protestantism and its separation from the Catholic Church hangs on those acts. If those acts were wrong, then Protestantism (as such) should not exist; Protestants should be in the Catholic Church, and not in schism from her.

Michael continues:

It is in this tempestuous sea of autonomy that creeds and confessions act as an anchor to the ship of Christianity.

But if one picks as one's 'authorities' only those creeds or confessions [or makes new creeds and confessions] that agree with one's own interpretation of Scripture, one is far more likely to be anchoring oneself not to the "ship of Christianity" but to the ship of heresy and schism. Merely adhering to creeds and confessions is not sufficient to anchor one to the ship of Christianity. Heretics can do that by picking and choosing for themselves which creeds and confessions to 'submit' to, and by composing their own confessions and then 'submitting' to them. What heretics have had in common, from the time of the early church, is determining for themselves what is the "true doctrine", and then defining "the Church" as those who teach the "true doctrine". But what anchors us to the ship of Christianity is adhering to the Church that Christ founded, and then submitting to *her* teaching as the true doctrine. The former approach leads to myriads of heresies. The latter approach leads to the one orthodoxy, for there is only one orthodoxy.

The very first Christians did not determine which persons were Christ's Apostles by seeing who taught what they themselves thought must have been Christ's gospel. They determined what Christ's gospel was by finding those whom Christ sent, and then listening to their teaching. And the second generation of Christians did not determine which persons were the bishops by determining who believed and taught what they themselves thought was Christ's gospel, but rather by finding those whom the Apostles had authorized and sent, and then listening to their teaching. And the third generation of Christians did the same. That is the way Christ set up the Church. There was never a time when the bishops said, "Ok, now that the New Testament has been written and the canon settled, we are going to change the way things operate. From now on, the rightful bishops are no longer to be determined by listening to those whom we ordain in sacramental succession from the Apostles, but instead by finding those who agree with your own interpretation of Scripture." In 200 AD we see Tertullian refuting the heretics precisely by pointing out that they do not have the authoritative interpretation of Scripture. But what Tertullian says there also applies to Luther's interpretation of Scripture, and thus to the whole of Protestantism. Luther and Protestantism define "the Church" based not on sacramental succession from the Apostles but rather on agreement with their [i.e. Protestants] own interpretation of Scripture. However, we find such a practice earlier in Church history only among the heretics.

The reconciliation and reunion of Protestants and the Catholic Church depends fundamentally on facing this issue of authority. There cannot be unity so long as people think that the identity of "the Church" is determined as "those who agree with me". There can be unity among Christians only when we recognize that the identity of the Church is determined by those whom Christ authorized, and those whom they authorized, and those whom they authorized, in perpetual succession to the present day. The identity and extent of the Church is determined by them. Unity is achieved not when we all make 'Church' in our own image (i.e. in the image of our own interpretation), but when we all conform to her image.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Marriage and "spiritual unity"

Imagine that you were having serious marital troubles. Your spouse never came home, and when he did, he slept on the couch. He refused to touch you, to speak to you, or eat with you, or sleep with you. So, you decide to go to a marriage counselor. You tell the counselor your situation and the counselor's response is something like this:

I know it seems to you like you are divided, but actually you are perfectly united, because your union is spiritual. Your marriage is a spiritual thing, and spiritually you are in perfect unity, no matter what your physical bodies are doing.

How would you respond to this? I expect that most of us would find another marriage counselor. Even if we could not put our finger exactly on the problem, we would know that in some fundamental way, this counselor was deeply mistaken. (I discussed this in more detail in my post titled "Sex, Dualism and Ecclesial Unity".)

And yet, this marriage counselor's position, as applied to the state of Christian disunity, is a rather common position among Evangelicals. Here's what it looks like when applied to the state of Christian disunity:

I know it seems that Christians are divided, but actually Christians are all perfectly united, because our union is spiritual, in Christ. The Church is a spiritual thing, and spiritually we are in perfect unity, even if physically we are all divided into various denominations, and we cannot share the Lord's Supper together, and we disagree on all kinds of doctrines. It would be nice if we were all institutionally and doctrinally united, as an expression of that perfect spiritual unity we all already have. But the thing to keep in mind is that we are all one in Christ, no matter how divided we are in doctrine or worship or government; so long as we love Jesus, we are all perfectly united in Christ.

Call that the "spiritual unity" position. Although we would recognize the problem if it were applied to our marriage, no one bats an eye when it is applied to the divisions between Christians. Why?

I think I have an idea why. A few years ago, someone whom I know and love told me that the Pope is the Antichrist. I was not yet a Catholic but already in the process of becoming a Catholic. I already believed that Christ had given to St. Peter the keys of the kingdom, and that as the episcopal successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI had received those keys, and was therefore the visible head of Christ's Church. It was clear to me in that moment that one of us was *deeply* deceived. Either I had come to believe that someone [who was actually the Antichrist] was the visible head of the Church, or my interlocutor had come to believe that someone [who was actually the visible head of Christ's Church] was the Antichrist. (Logically there is a third option, but I'm speaking here from our two perspectives.)

If Pope Benedict XVI is not the visible head of the Church, then it is bad strategy on Satan's part to deceive people into following Pope Benedict, since Pope Benedict clearly loves Jesus, and is encouraging people everywhere to follow Christ and turn away from sin and the works of the devil. But if Pope Benedict XVI is the visible head of the Church, then what would be Satan's most masterful trick to keep Christians from following Pope Benedict? Obviously, to deceive people into believing that Pope Benedict is the Antichrist! The Jews accused Jesus of having a demon (John 10:20; cf. Luke 11:15), and since Jesus tells us that the servant is not greater than his master, in the same ways that they persecuted Jesus they will persecute the true shepherds of His Church (John 15:20). And so we should fully expect that the true shepherds of Christ's Church will be treated as either having a demon or being in the service of the devil. Satan's masterful deception is to trick Christians into turning against their own true shepherds, just as Satan deceived the Jews into turning against their own true Messiah.

With that in mind, consider again the "spiritual unity" position. If Satan wanted to divide Christians and prevent their reconciliation and reunion, what would be his most effective deception? It would be to divide Christians into all kinds of schisms and then to deceive them into believing that they are not divided, but perfectly united. "You are not really divided. You are spiritually united." They would forget the word 'schism', and lose any conception of what it would mean. Or they would treat it as something entirely spiritual (See my "Schism from a gnostic point of view".) They would use euphemisms like 'branches' to describe their schisms, but they would be unable to provide any principled distinction between a branch and a schism. When you asked them the following question: "If you *were* in schism, how would your situation be different than it is right now?", you would get puzzled looks, blank expressions, and silent responses.

We recognize the deception of the "spiritually united" position when it is applied to marriage. But Satan has worked so much deception among us that we're entranced, lulled into the numbness of ecumenical lethargy by the sweet thought that we are all already perfectly united in Christ. What trick does Satan use here? He uses one of the first tricks he used against the early Church: gnosticism. This gnosticism rejects and devalues the material, and treats salvation as something entirely spiritual, though conceding that the spiritual may have some material expressions. The antidote to gnosticism is the incarnation; our Savior is the God-man Christ Jesus. He is both spirit and matter. Thus our salvation is not merely spiritual, just as a marriage between a husband and wife is not merely a spiritual relationship. We are material beings, and thus to be truly one we must be united in some sense materially, and not just spiritually. That entails that to be truly one we need to be institutionally one. Furthermore, if we are divided about which doctrines are true and essential, then we are not perfectly *spiritually* united, for spiritual unity is not just about love. Love and truth go together, as intellect and will go together. We cannot have one without the other. And so we cannot have agreement in will (i.e. shared love) if we do not have agreement in intellect, about what is true.

Like Puddleglum in The Silver Chair, let's stamp out the enchanting smoke, burning our feet in the process if necessary, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, wake up from this gnostic deception, and with hearts burning with love for Christ's precious Body let us vigorously pursue reconciliation and reunion, however difficult and time-consuming the process may be.

Now is the time. Do you sense it? Is it not the love of Christ compelling us to seek reconciliation with our brothers and sisters long estranged from us? This is what the Holy Spirit is doing in our time, even as evil goes from bad to worse. (2 Tim 3:13) The Holy Spirit is placing in our hearts the same love that leaves its gift at the altar and first goes and is reconciled with our brother. (Matthew 5:24) The same love that seeks out the lost sheep (Luke 15:4) is the same love that does not rest while division and schism separate brother from brother, sister from sister. Let us prepare the way for the return of our King; let us labor to make His bride ready. (Revelation 19:7) The time for reconciliation is now, not for some heroic future generation of peacemakers. We can be that generation, with the help of God.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Gospel according to a Bird of Paradise

This post is a follow-up to "Prolegomena to the gospel", and presupposes familiarity with it.

A few months ago, a good friend let my family borrow a copy of the BBC video series Planet Earth, narrated by David Attenborough. Many of the scenes are stunningly beautiful, and the camera work is quite incredible. We all enjoyed it. We found ourselves laughing out loud during various parts, especially the courtship rituals. Here's a clip showing the courtship displays of some birds of paradise in New Guinea:

(Other clips of courtship rituals by different species of birds of paradise can be seen here and here.)

I laughed too, but I found myself wondering exactly why I was laughing. Humor is like time, in that respect; we all know it when we experience it, but trying to explain it is not easy. Part of my laughter was nervous, slightly embarrassed laughter, because there is way too much there that I, as a male, can identify with in my own antics as a youth. We [men] laughed at George Costanza for the same reason. But even so, that just pushes back the question, why do such displays make us laugh, even at ourselves? Why, for example, do we laugh at Mr. Bean? We laugh, it seems, because of the dissonance between the nature of his actions and the ordinary or expected type of behavior in accord with our intrinsic human dignity. In every scene his behavior unintentionally falls short of the decorum befitting human dignity, and it is this dissonance that we experience as humor. That's why the behavior is more humorous when the dissonance is increased, for example, by making an inebriated man (who is unaware of his inebriation) turn out to be the pilot of a 747. Even very young children are capable of discerning this dissonance, as this example shows. But when the departure from human dignity becomes malicious or harmful or perverse or weighty or evil, the dissonance is no longer humorous, but sorrowful or even repulsive.

I realized that I was laughing at the routines of these male "birds of paradise" because I was experiencing the dissonance between their natural dignity and the self-deprecation inherent in the ostentation of their courtship ritual. But it is precisely this dissonance that gets the female's attention; "Look at what he is willing to do for me", if we can be allowed to anthropomorphize a bit. And yet at the same time, it is odd to find behavioral dissonance among animals, which supposedly simply are what they are. It seemed to be an ontological clue left in the fabric of creation. But a clue of what?

Three other bits of evidence helped me arrive at an answer. A few years ago I was talking with a priest about certain claims in anti-Catholic literature. One of those claims was that early pagan religions typically possessed a female deity of some sort: e.g. Isis, Aphrodite, or Artemis, or some other such goddess. The charge against the Catholic Church was that the Church's veneration of Mary was simply a case of syncretism wherein pagan practices had worked their way into the Church. The tone of the priest's reply reminded me of how Christ's must have been when He chided the two disciples on the road to Emmaus for their foolishness and lack of faith. The priest replied, "Didn't you consider the possibility that these pagan practices were prefigurations of the Christian teaching concerning Mary?" He said something quite similar about the universal pagan practice of offering sacrifices, how it prefigured its culmination in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, in which the Holy Eucharist is a participation. God had been providentially preparing all these peoples for the gospel, he claimed.

This is an example of the Duhem-Quine thesis that an argument can be treated as a support for its conclusion or as a refutation of at least one of its premises, depending on which is more evidently true to the reasoner. The implicit premise that this priest rejected in the anti-Catholic arguments was that whatever was pagan was both evil and untouched by the divine providence that had prepared the world to receive Christ in the "fullness of time". (Gal 4:4) These similarities between pagan beliefs and the Catholic faith, he argued, are not evidence against the Church's fidelity to the gospel, but are rather evidence of the providence of God in preparing the pagans for the gospel.

The second important piece of evidence that helped me arrive at the deeper meaning of the courtship rituals of the birds of paradise is found in the prefiguration of Christ throughout the Old Testament. Long before the incarnation, God was already revealing Christ, even in His statements in Genesis 3 regarding the punishments of Adam and Eve, and His killing of an animal in order to clothe them. From that time on, He was calling a people to Himself, gathering them together into one. Noah was a type of Christ, and the ark a type of Christ's cross. Of course the sacrifice of Isaac was a prefiguration of Christ. Jacob too, who labored for 14 years for Rachel, though they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her, was a type of Christ. (Gen 29:20) Moses was a type of Christ, as was Joshua, and King David. The theme of gathering a people together for God is found throughout the Bible.

"Gather My godly ones to Me, Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice." (Psalm 50:5)

"Save us, O LORD our God, And gather us from among the nations, To give thanks to Your holy name And glory in Your praise." (Psalm 106:47)

"The LORD builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel." (Psalm 147:2)

"And He will lift up a standard for the nations And assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth." (Isaiah 11:12)

"The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, "Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered." (Isaiah 56:8)

Through the Old Testament God was gathering a people to Himself, through these types of Christ. In each case God made a covenant with them, to make them into a holy people called out from the world to be His very own. He promised to make Abraham's descendants into a great nation. At Sinai He promised to make the Hebrews into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

This theme of gathering a people into a unity continues in the New Testament. Jesus desires to "gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." (John 11:52)

Jesus says, "and he who does not gather with Me scatters." (Matthew 12:30)

And elsewhere He says, "Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." (Matthew 23:37)

Notice that Jesus refers to the behavior of a bird as a depiction of His own heart.

The Catechism tells us:

"The gathering together of the People of God began at the moment when sin destroyed the communion of men with God, and that of men among themselves. The gathering together of the Church is, as it were, God's reaction to the chaos provoked by sin. … The remote preparation for this gathering together of the People of God begins when he calls Abraham and promises that he will become the father of a great people. Its immediate preparation begins with Israel's election as the People of God. By this election, Israel is to be the sign of the future gathering of All nations." (CCC 761-762)
After His death and resurrection, Christ commissioned the Apostles to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth, and baptize them into His Body, the Church. The Church is the people whom God calls and gathers together into one people, from every part of the earth. Gathering His people from all the earth, making them into one people by baptizing them into His Mystical Body, is the making of His Bride, as I explained here. The whole of the Old Testament is in this way a preparation for the making of a Bride, and it prefigures the gospel. This becomes especially clear to us when we look at it with hindsight.

The third bit of evidence came from meditating on the first part of Pope Benedict's encyclical Deus Caritas Est. There Pope Benedict talks about eros and agape. Eros is that form of love that desires the beloved as a good for oneself. Agape, on the other hand, is that form of love that desires the good for the beloved, even to the point of sacrificing oneself. But these two aspects of love, argues Pope Benedict, cannot be entirely separated. He writes:

"Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to "be there for" the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34)." (DCE, 7)

Fundamentally, "love" is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly. Yet when the two dimensions are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love." (DCE, 8)
What becomes fascinating here is that Pope Benedict goes on to say that in its perfected form, eros is also found in the love of God for us. We tend to think of God's love as being in no way desiderative, but only and entirely benevolent. But Pope Benedict teaches that God's love is both eros and agape.

"God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape." (DCE, 9)

"The philosophical dimension to be noted in this biblical vision, and its importance from the standpoint of the history of religions, lies in the fact that on the one hand we find ourselves before a strictly metaphysical image of God: God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation—the Logos, primordial reason—is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape." (DCE, 10)
Christ, the Logos of God, is a Lover with all the passion of a true love. This is signified in the Song of Songs, which has long been understood by the Church as referring to the love between Christ and His Bride, the Church. This is a love that passionately seeks union with the beloved. Pope Benedict says:

"Thus the Song of Songs became, both in Christian and Jewish literature, a source of mystical knowledge and experience, an expression of the essence of biblical faith: that man can indeed enter into union with God—his primordial aspiration. But this union is no mere fusion, a sinking in the nameless ocean of the Divine; it is a unity which creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one. As Saint Paul says: "He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him" (1 Cor 6:17)." (DCE, 10)
When we put all the pieces of evidence together, we see that not just the whole of redemptive history, but the whole of history, is a love story, the most intensely passionate love story ever, for this Lover goes through a preparation, patience, humiliation, suffering, and rejection far greater than mankind has ever known or will know. All other love stories are only a shadow of a shadow compared to this love story. The whole of history prior to the incarnation is a preparation for the entrance of the Lover. Every act of Christ has been the act of a Lover, loving both His Father and His Bride. Pope Leo XIII wrote, "Marriage has God for its Author, and was from the very beginning a kind of foreshadowing of the Incarnation of His Son." (Arcanum, 19)

If we read the Gospels and only see Jesus going through a series of events to fulfill prophecy and the requirements of the law, we are not seeing what is going on underneath, in the heart of Christ. Christ is a mad boundless lover, to use Maritain's phrase. From His birth to His passion and death, the whole of His life is like the ritual of those male birds of paradise, going through these amazing dance/displays seeking to woo a bride for eternity. His life on earth was a life-long dance, a courtship ritual made not for birds, but for all mankind. It was the most perfect embodied demonstration of love, ever. And it was all perfectly planned from the beginning, to demonstrate His love for us and draw us to Himself forever. People who love do 'crazy' things for those they love. And the life of Christ, taking on human flesh and giving Himself over to suffer and die on a cross, is the 'craziest', the most unsurpassable demonstration of a lover's love for his beloved, ever, for all time. "I give myself to you, to the point of death at your hand, in order that I might show you how much I want you to be with me forever."

When we meditate on Christ's life in this way, the eros jumps out at us; we see the Lover in Him. We can see this in little things that He said. For example, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me." This statement makes sense to someone who has loved deeply, or been deeply in love. What energizes the lover is blessing the beloved. He will go without food for forty days, if necessary, for the sake of love for His Father and His people. Or consider this example. Jesus said to His Apostles: "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. (St. Luke 22:15) When Jesus speaks to us, He is reserving 99% of His heart from us, because if He were to disclose the magnitude of His love for us, it would be like a consuming blazing fire, and we would be frightened to death, even though there would be nothing to fear. But little snatches of blazing love slip out here and there. "Peter, do you love Me?" (St. John 21) and "Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him" (St. Mark 10:21). You can hear it the solitary word He says to the Magdalene: "Mary" (St. John 20:16), and in the tender words He says to the woman caught in adultery. "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." (St. John 8:11) You see it when he weeps with the women at Lazarus' tomb (St. John 11:35), and when He weeps over Jerusalem (St. Luke 19:41). Mostly you can hear it coming from His lips in that moment of greatest agony and yet simultaneously greatest glory, as He is giving up His life for His beloved, on the cross, when He says, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (St. Luke 23:34)

The dissonance in the courtship display of the male bird of paradise is a prefiguration, designed into its very nature, of the greatest dissonance ever, when the Second Person of the Trinity humbled Himself and became man to win for Himself an eternal bride. It is the gospel prefigured in a bird of paradise. The dissonance between who Christ is, and what He did, is so prodigious that the proper response is amazement, gratitude, worship, absolute unqualified love and unending joy. The greatest dissonance ever which is the life of Christ is an infinite expansion of that small sort of dissonance that makes us laugh; this is what we call joy. It is God-sized laughter. As Chesterton says at the end of Orthodoxy:

There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.
St. John tells us that we love because He first loved us. The more we perceive His love for us, the more we fall in love with Him. And the ones who love Him the most are closest to His throne, like St. Therese; they are truly Christ's lovers. They do not merely love Him; they are madly in love with Him. They are truly intimate with Him, in perfect purity. They are totally smitten; and yet they are the most rational. The 'craziest' are the most rational, because they are seeing most clearly and accurately and fully the blazing furnace of passion which is Love Himself, whose demonstration of His mad boundless love for us is "foolishness to the Greeks". May the Lord give us eyes to see His love for us, that we may become His mad boundless lovers, and in union with that Love, may we be one with each other, as He is one with the Father.