Friday, July 17, 2009

Working For God

“I used to enjoy climbing up the cathedral towers to get a close view of the ornamentation at the top, a veritable lacework of stone that must have been the result of very patient and laborious craftsmanship. As I chatted with the young men who accompanied me, I used to point out that none of the beauty of this work could be seen from below. To give them a material lesson in what I had been previously explaining to them, I would say: ‘This is God’s work, this is working for God! To finish your personal work perfectly, with all the beauty and exquisite refinement of this tracery stonework.’ Seeing it, my companions would understand that all the work we had seen was a prayer, a loving dialogue with God. The men who spent their energies there were quite aware that no one at street level could appreciate their efforts. Their work was for God alone. Now do you see how our professional work can bring us close to our Lord? Do your job as those medieval stonemasons did theirs, and your work too will be operatio Dei, a human work with a divine substance and finish.”

-St. Josemaria Escriva

Patristic Exegesis: The Transfiguration

“The analysis of a text ‘involved the investigation of the “story” presented in the text being studied,’ to historikon. Relating the historia concerning a text gave a narrative context that was necessary for understanding the point being made. When John Chrysostom explains the presence of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration, he reminds the reader of certain facts that make their significance patent. First, Jesus had been confused by the multitudes with Elijah and the prophets of old. The presence of all three at the Transfiguration makes clear the difference between ‘the servants and the Lord.’ John also mentions that Jesus had been accused of breaking the Law and making himself equal to God. The presence of Moses and Elijah clears Jesus of these charges, for Moses, who gave the Law, would not have stood with a transgressor, or Elijah, who ‘was jealous for the glory of God’ with a blasphemer. The task of interpretation for Chrysostom, then, involved relating what the reader must have in mind in order to understand a given text.”

-Stephen Hildebrand in The Trinitarian Theology of Basil of Caesarea: A Synthesis of Greek Thought and Biblical Truth.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Augustine On Theological Reflection

“Augustine locates the enterprise of theological reflection within the economy of redemption in three key ways. First, we can only understand the task the theologian faces by grasping something of the nature and purpose of the redemptive drama as a whole. Only when we see how that drama represents God’s speaking in the world so that we may no longer be subject to it and to its powers can we grasp the full task of attempting to talk of God. Second, Augustine’s conception of theological reflection is, more particularly, part of the Christian’s participation in the mystery of dying, rising, and ascending with Christ: only within this movement may the inner and the outer person be restored and the mind come to imagine God, as far as it may, without delusion or self-deceit. Third, the exegesis of Scripture provides the point of departure for the enterprise of Trinitarian theology and for the conjoint exercise of the rational powers that is central to that enterprise: but we can only come to see what is involved in reading this Scripture through seeing how that text fits within God’s overall redemptive economy. Only then may we see how the materialism of scriptural texts about the divine challenges us to move beyond the material and to begin to develop a grammar of divine distinction from the world—in Augustine’s case to begin to develop a grammar of divine simplicity—in order to secure God’s fully Trinitarian nature. Thus, struggling to apply the grammar of simplicity to the Triune God plays, for Augustine, a small part in the movement of the human being, in Christ, towards God as the creator and source of all wisdom and power and truth.”

-Lewis Ayres in Nicaea and its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nature Is Not Opposed To Grace

It all comes down to nature and grace. If your understanding of nature and grace is wrong it will affect your entire theology. Case in point is the Protestant doctrine of “total depravity.” This doctrine leads them to have a fundamentally wrong understanding of Soteriology (among other things). God does not just declare us righteous as a judge in the courtroom. We do not gain a mere legal status. Rather, when God declares us righteous, we actually become righteous. We do not gain a legal status, but adoption into the Familia Dei, the Family of God. Because of our baptism, we can truly call God “Father” as Jesus taught us to do. We must always remember that grace does not destroy nature, but elevates, heals and perfects it. The Protestant understanding of imputed righteousness denies the power of God’s grace. The logical consequence of the doctrine says that God is not powerful enough to bring about an ontological change in the justified man (not that the nature itself changes, a justified man is still a man, but his nature is perfected in Christ. The Protestant understanding would not have it so). Here is a great summation of nature and grace by John Haas:

“The saeculum, or the natural order, is distinct from the spiritual order but it is not separated from it and is certainly not opposed to it. One of the errors that arouse in much Protestant thought, and persists to our own day even in secular culture, is that the natural and supernatural orders are opposed to one another. Because of the doctrine of the total depravity of man, classical Protestantism tends to look at fallen man as radically over against God. In the classical Protestant theory of justification, man is never truly made righteous. God merely regards him as righteous by virtue of the saving actions of Jesus Christ performed on his behalf. Man is treated by God only as though he were righteous, that is, he has righteousness imputed to him. Man remains a depraved sinner even as he is justified, which is the Protestant doctrine of simul Justus et peccator, that is, one is justified, treated as just, even though he remains a sinner.

As a result of this erroneous thinking, there has developed in the general Protestant/secular culture the perception that nature and grace, nature and supernature, the profane and the sacred, the secular and the religious are opposed to one another. While this mistaken thinking has profoundly influenced even some Catholic thinkers, it is a notion that is profoundly un-Catholic. Even though an infinite gap separates the Creator from the creature, as articulated in the thought of Saint Thomas, they are not in opposition to one another.

The saeculum, or the natural order, is distinct from the spiritual, but it is not separated from it. In the hierarchy of being, the natural order is ordered toward the supernatural so that it never loses any of its own proper, distinct, and unique created essence, derived from the Creator itself.”

-John M. Haas, “The Relationship of Nature and Grace in St. Thomas Aquinas,” in The Ever-Illuminating Wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas.