Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Gospel of "Nice" - an Augustinian Critique

I know I said I'm done debating, but at the same time, I figured I could post on something that the Reformed and Catholic churches respectively agree on. In history I've learned that having a common enemy is the quickest way to unite two disparate entities or people groups. This will be an anti-Pelagian post so I figure it's pretty safe (though I've been wrong before).

I was in Newman Club (Catholic university student group) yesterday and we had an interesting discussion. The 10 commandments were discussed and the 1st commandment: You shall have no other gods before me, was debated on. A lapsed Presbyterian who is considering our Roman church said that he thought it was intolerant of God to command such a thing. Other 'Catholics' joined in saying that God wouldn't judge people who didn't know about Christ and that, "you can't expect people to change their religions, that's really hard". At this point all eyes shifted to me (the only convert in the room) and I said "I'd like to cite myself as a counter-example".

I then proceeded to ask them a series of questions which led to terrible revelations.
I showed them the biblical propositions that God is a Jealous God "My name is Jealous" and what covenant fidelity meant and how God commanded worship of Himself because he is the only thing worthy of worship and the only God, and otherwise he would be a liar. They didn't like this because it still sounded intolerant.

So I proceeded to say "Catholicism doesn't teach everyone is 'innocent until proven guilty', the scripture says that in sin did your mother conceive you. You are born condemned and only by the grace of Jesus Christ is anyone absolved of that sin." *outrage* 'what about Ghandi!?' someone shouted, 'he did so many great things'.

I responded 'Ghandi rejected Jesus Christ as the Word of God and as such cannot be saved for his allegedly 'great works', Pelagianism is a heresy condemned by the Church which teaches human salvation is dependant on works. You cannot get to Heaven by being "nice"".

Rather than simply call me an intolerant bastard - other leaders in the group said that I had a 'interesting view of Catholicism that might be different from other people's faith experience'. Salvation through grace alone because of Christ is allegedly something I came up with while sitting at home one night I guess.

Other people reassured the confused pseudo-presbyterian that indeed those other people would somehow be saved, because we couldn't have 'nice' people going to Hell. As well as a few outright rejections of the exclusivity of Christianity, etc.

Needless to say I was a little angry about the "Gospel of Nice" that seems to be so prevalent throughout Church History, from Pelagius, to the late medieval Catholics, to the radical Anabaptists, to Kant, to Hegel, and Anglican moralism etc.

I spoke with the associate Chaplain (Catholic) who was raised Catholic, had a conversion to Christ in the Reformed church, and who then reverted to Catholicism, and we agreed it was really bad. So our plan now is to try to teach people the Biblical doctrine of salvation through God's unmerited grace accessible only through Jesus Christ.

I even hinted on possibly getting the Reformed Chaplain involved but he didn't seem to want to go that far. I just hate Pelagianism. And I also think there needs to be a distinction between the Law and the Gospel that isn't usually there in Catholicism. I don't know what that means, but I just hate Pelagianism.

I bought a book called "the Grace of Christ" written by a Jesuit Priest who goes through the doctrine from Augustine to Aquinas to Luther to Jansen to Present and I'm excited to learn how to be synergistic but at the same time not be Pelagian.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Done With Apologetics

As I read a blog tonight that was so painfully wrong, I wrote a gigantic Catholic response to certain claims, only to stop myself before hitting 'publish post'.

'Andrew', my internal monologue said, 'Have you not made similar posts previously with near endless citations from numerous scriptural passages, patristic quotations, and conciliar decisions that oppose this view?' Yes, I have. The thought continued 'and has it done any good to the cause of the Catholic faith, or only incited more hatred and poorer historical analysis?' Yes, indeed it has.

So then I decided (again), that I would refuse to enter apologetics. It doesn't seem to matter how much we dialogue I will never believe the claims of the Calvinist church or any Protestant church, and no Protestant or Calvinist I talk to will ever believe the claims of my church.

Thus shall I end this blog with a hope that God's grace shall lead them 'home to Rome', and in the reversed words of Charles Spurgeon, may their hearts be smarter than their heads. Soon I'll establish another blog to discuss theology and more personal matters of religious life, I'll leave apologetics to Dave Armstrong and the folks at Called to Communion.

If you have a pressing desire to follow my personal & theological journey without any of the anti-Catholicism, check out: http://recusantcorner.blogspot.com/

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Boo Enlightenment: Montesquieu

There is a thing about studying history that makes the Enlightenment Philosophers basically the Church Fathers of Modernism. They're always quoted and hailed as geniuses, etc. I used to really like them, but the more I read of them, and the more I read of Aquinas, the more and more I hate them, the more and more I like St. Thomas.

"If the triangles made a god, they would give him three sides." - Montesquieu

"No kingdom has shed more blood than the kingdom of Christ." - Montesquieu

On the Contrary, Aquinas states that God's essence is an unknowable mystery, and that we can only really speak of him in Analogies because he is so infinite and mysterious.

In response to the second question I'd say that it really depends on your definition of "kingdom of Christ", if he means "the Church"/Catholic Church, he's wrong, as technically the Church has never executed a single person, STATE GOVERNMENTS did. Throughout all the Middle Ages and even to the early modern period, the State had heresy laws and the Church was usually hired as the 'advisor' to whom might be the heretic, or rule breaking person in question.

And if we extend his statement to modern times, Mao killed more than every church did combined.

So there, Montesquieu, go inspire Americans to rebel against England based on faulty Natural law theory and then die after having your books banned.. oh wait, you already did that. ...Score one for Aquinas.

Taunting the dead is a favourite passtime of the history student.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Free Thinking & The Hound Of Heaven & Francis Thompson

I haven't really posted lately because I'm tired of starting fights with Reformed people, so I figured I'd just post some random/personal theological/philosophical thoughts I've had recently.

I was talking to my brother the other day about life and God (he's an unbaptized Baptist - surprisingly there's lots of them) but we were discussing the issue of knowing God through Nature and Life experience. He's a forest ranger-y guy in northwestern BC almost on the Alaskan border, and one of my heroes.

So aside from what I dogmatically know from Revelation about the possibility of losing one's salvation, I was thinking the other day for myself that if I were in another Church or without a Church that the idea of an irrevokable covenant is kind of nice. I know Israel was a whore, but God eventually gave up on them (ripped temple curtain, and Jesus). But I thought: imagine the beauty of a world where God never gave up on people, most especially when they gave up on him. These heretical but enjoyable ideas were probably seeded in my mind when I was reading Abp. Rowan Williams affirmation of "to understand all is to forgive all". I thought about that for a second (it carries the Greek philosophical idea that all sin is ignorance not willful violation of God's law), but what an interesting possibility. If one understood all the motives behind an act, and the situation and person, etc perfectly, wouldn't anything be forgivable? Isn't our lack of forgiveness just a human inability to comprehend or empathize with others?

I was also thinking about it because while I'm not staking my soul on it, I had a very bad week in terms of Christian living and I still felt like God had nothing but love for me, and hopeful plans ahead that -try as I might- could not be thwarted by my faillure. (I've already mentioned I know this is wrong, I could attribute these to God's forbearance as St. Thomas describes). But it reminded me of Francis Thompson's poem (a Roman Catholic) "the Hound of Heaven", where he pictures God chasing him through his entire life (Psalm 23's 'goodness' and 'mercy' are sometimes portrayed as the shepherd's sheepdogs) until finally he is chased into the arms of God.

I'll just put the beginning and end of the poem here:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”


"Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.” - Francis Thompson (1859-1907) "The Hound of Heaven"

I like his line about all he's meritted in God's sight is but a dingy clot of clay, it sounds like St. Thomas More on merit. I am at least dogmatically allowed to believe predestination is unconditional and without forknowledge of merit. Anyway Thompson influenced Tolkien alot as I just found out. I also found Fr. Henri Nouwen and Peter Kreeft speaking the same way. I don't understand how this works with Trent, etc, but I think we're allowed to believe God's love is unconditional...yet somehow on the condition of Mortal Sin. I dunno, Francis Thompson's poetry isn't really a dogmatic institutino, nor Peter Kreeft, or Canadian priests, but still, it's a nice thought. I think there's a lot of gray areas in both life and Catholicism, and instead of investigating and labelling everything I'm just enjoying thinking of this brother in the faith and his life.

He went from being a seminarian to being a doctor in training, to becoming an opium addict in the streets of London, saved by a caring prostitute of all people. He wrote such great poetry, and was a classic recusant, called a "shy volcano" by Chesterton, and wrote world famous poetry. The Catholic Encyclopedia ends his entry with "Francis Thompson died, after receiving all the sacraments, in the excellent care of the Sisters of St. John and St. Elizabeth, aged forty-eight." It's such a sad story, so much wasted talent, but inexplicably I feel connected to it. Comforted that in the end, he still despite all his addictions and faillure, was repentant. I put him hesitantly in a category I made for an explanation of the people in Catholicism the other day, the 'penitent faillures', and I rest next to him in that group.

May we all find God, even in the darkest alleys of life, and more importantly on the last day, may our souls be found in Christ.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Difficulty in Johannine Theology

When I was at Capernwray (Evangelical Bible School in England) our Principal taught us the epistle of 1 John. I will admit first off that it is a very difficult scripture with tons of confusing passages like this:

"Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters." - 1 John 3:9-10

Roman Catholics tend to like Johannine theology and the Gospels best, whereas my background is heavily Pauline. It's important to know where your prooftexts are. Protestants use Romans, we (Catholics) use Corinthians alot (mostly the gospels though). Anyway, 1 John is a mine of Catholic prooftexts like 2:2, 2:29, 3:22-24, 4:8, 12, 5:16 , etc. I'm using the word "prooftext" loosely and maybe equivocally. Basically every religion uses different verses to bolster their points.

But in an attempt at honesty, I have to say I just don't know. St. John the Divine should be called St. John the Confusing. At times he sounds like an American Evangelical Perfectionist / Openly Pelagian to the point that even us Catholics are think: "ok ya works boo faith alone...but remember grace"

I enjoy 1 John because I think ultimately the message is: Christ is the sacrifice for the sins of the world, he did this because he loved us, if we love one another we know we are acting in the Spirit of Christ. But there is ALOT more to it than that, and I enjoy the mysterious nature of this epistle.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Day - Aquinas

Hans Urs Von Balthasar said that the Saints were so important for us because they were examples of people who were holy, participants in the divine nature who reminded us that sanctification is not a myth, but a possibility and a reality through God's grace.

Today as we remember all the saints, I wanted to focus on how important the saints are in my life. The democracy of the dead as Chesterton called them/Tradition.

I have to write a paper for philosophy on Martin Buber's "I and Thou". It's basically existential monotheism/judaism. He says that any time we speak of God it is equivocal (he doesn't use the word) and we turn him into an It. Thus God can only be experienced. Thus it is a further renunciation of 'natural theology' and ultimately reason I think.

Modern Protestantism seems to almost agree with him on this for the most part because of Karl Barth's analogy of faith - the idea that we can only speak of God using analogies from his self-revelation / the Bible. Because of course we are all so depraved that we can't even think straight. Thus while they retain analogical description of God it is only in a pre-suppositionalist framework really.

On the contrary, St. Thomas proposed the Analogy of Being. The idea that as creatures, we can infer things about God the Creator, from his creation and from reason (as well as from the deposit of faith) and speak of God analogically. This is because our sanctifying grace lost in the fall is restored to us through the sacraments on account of Christ's superabundant merit and grace. This allows us to have meaningful dialogue about God and discuss his persons and works. This is particularly important for inter-faith dialogue, as presuppositionalism leaves us with nothing to talk about, as Buber's theory leaves us nothing to talk about.

This is where St. Thomas has helped me propose the analogy of being against Buber and where a saint on All Saints day has helped me. And far from being a dry philosopher, Aquinas could still speak of God using reason, and admit at the end of the day that compared to mystical union with God, it was all "straw".