instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, April 13, 2014

In the land of the universalists

Pelagianism is, to summarize crudely, the doctrine that man can achieve salvation by his own actions, without God's grace and apart from Christ's sacrifice.

In a culture that assumes everyone and their pet goldfish goes to heaven, Pelagianism is an odd affectation. If salvation isn't a question of whether God, man, or goldfish acts, if it's not really a question but a fact of creation, then talk of man's actions being salvific don't make sense. To the universalist, it's not what he does that saves man, it's what he is.

Yet, though Pelagianism is in this way contrary to universalism, there is something with the spirit of Pelagianism that is a natural consequence of universalism. If I am saved because of what I am, then what I am must be good. If I am saved without reference to God, then I can live without reference to God, and in particular I can answer the question, "What am I?" without reference to God.

Some part of my answer may be, "I am an individual who does this, that, and the other." If I were to go on to ask, "Is doing this, that, and the other good?," how would I go about answering that question?

Right. Without reference to God.

Having concluded that everything I like to do is good to do, I am ready for the Church to try to sell me on what she has to say about God.

The Church had better not start with, "Doing this is good, but doing that and the other is evil." We have parted doctrinal company a long time before that point.

The Church is going to have to face down the ambient universalism before what she has to say about this or that sin -- that is, about this or that way we damage our relationship with God -- comes across as anything but old-fashioned jibber-jabber. For that matter, she has to face down the ambient universalism before what she has to say about Jesus makes any sense. If we're all saved anyway, what does it matter to me -- unless I'm a keener hoping for VIP seating -- whether we're saved through Jesus' death or through God saying, "Alakazam!" at the moment the universe winked into existence?

Ambiance, whether physical or spiritual, is determined a whole lot more by the local conditions than by anything that happens in Rome (exception: when in Rome). The prevalence of ambient universalism indicates that the local conditions generally accommodate it, which means the Church at the local level is going to have to change something if she has anything to say other than, "Carry on."


Thursday, April 10, 2014

"But yet the Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?"

Maybe that wasn't a rhetorical question.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God

Very thoughtful of it to snow on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, when the first reading is oh so Christmassy (well, Adventy):
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us!”
This is Isaiah 7:14, with the translation "God is with us!" taken from Isaiah 8:10.

Isaiah 7:15 is included as part of this reading in the Liturgy of the Hours; the NABRE gives it as:
Curds and honey he will eat so that he may learn to reject evil and choose good.
I always thought that was a strange prophecy to associate with Jesus, both because Jesus was sinless from conception and because eating curds and honey seems like an odd way of learning to reject evil and choose good.

The NABRE's note of Isaiah 7:15 states that curds and honey would be "the only diet available to those who are left after the devastation of the land."

We might, then, understand curds and honey to be a symbol of the consequences of living in a fallen world, and it's certainly true that Jesus experienced these consequences. We might even say that, Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered, and what is obedience to the will of the Father but rejecting evil and choosing good?

I'll add that, if curds and honey is a simple diet, it's still food, and even in the devastation of the land the LORD sustains His people.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Hope confoundeth not

Before Mass on Sunday, I was noodling the age-old conundrum of hope -- viz, that it's all well and good to hope in God, but my salvation also depends on my own choices, and both Scripture and experience teach me the foolishness of hoping in me.

Then it occurred to me that yes, exactly! I'm not supposed to face the part of my salvation I'm responsible for with hope. I shouldn't spend another minute wondering how I could ever hope that I will cooperate with God's salvific will.

Instead, I should face the part of my salvation I'm responsible for with love. That's the thing I have control over, here and now. There's no point in worrying about what choices I might make tomorrow when I am making choices today. If I choose in love today, tomorrow's choices will take care of themselves.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lesson for the catechist

The topics today were the Sacrament of Matrimony, the Sixth Commandment, and the Ninth Commandment.

I sat in the back and kept my yap shut most of the morning, which is what I try to do when I don't have anything particularly insightful to add. On these topics, my insights don't run much deeper than, "Love your spouse sacrificially. Don't mess around. Don't even think about messing around."

Sure, marriage is a mystery, but it ain't rocket science.

I did, though, open my yap three times that I recall. The first time, in response to a comment that our fallen race doesn't properly value each other as persons, I said something like, "If you don't know what a thing is, you can't properly value it. It so happens that we can't know what a human person is apart from our intended relationship with God. And if you don't believe in God... you get cable television."

My second comment was some get-off-my-lawn gruff about how the "today's society" out of step with which the Catholic Church is, is intentionally misshaped by people who make money out of having society misshaped the way it is.

My final yap was just a prestatement of something the presenter was about to say, one of those stunningly obvious things I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed before. The presenter was making the point that the culture of death operates by dividing the human soul and the human body, pitting them against each other. I interrupted with, "Separating the soul from the body is 'dying.'"

It's not a culture of death merely per effectum, as a result of the acts of intentional killing the culture countenances or celebrates. The Manichean spirit that animates the culture is essentially a spirit of death and disintegration, separating the soul from the body, disposing of the former and despising the latter.



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

For those of us who are always a day late

A simple novena to St. Joseph.


Thursday, March 06, 2014

To help and enrich others by our own poverty

In this year's Lenten message, Pope Francis writes:
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9)...

Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.
In his Ash Wednesday homily, he preaches:
Fasting makes sense if it really affects our security, and also if a benefit to others comes from it, if it helps us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends down to his brother in need and takes care of him.
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP, makes the same point in his Ash Wednesday homily:
Lenten denial is about making our gratuitous lives sacrificial.
A sacrifice is an offering of something, to someone, for someone. Catholics are pretty good, I think, about the of part of Lenten sacrifices. Can you imagine, though, asking someone, "So, who are you giving something up for Lent for?"

Even the to part might give us pause, sprung on us unawares.