instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Integral to our faith

This comment by Jonathan Prejean has been rolling around in my head for a week:
All creatures have God as the ground of their being, but only rational creatures can participate in this active side of Trinitarian life.

Blessed Jan van Ruusbroec (John Ruysbroeck) is, IMHO, the theologian par excellence on this subject, even addressing the issue of how an unchanging, perfect, and simple God is simultaneously by nature personal and active (in which motion, creatures finitely participate).
The insightful post this comment was going to be a springboard to is not forthcoming; in the meantime, this will have to do:

There's something about the doctrine of an unchanging, perfect, and simple God that many people find offputting. Even the idea of God as a bearded old man condemning sinners to eternal flames might seem more welcoming; at least it gives the imagination something to work with. All that "God of the philosophers" stuff makes Him seem about as loving and lovable as Pluto's moon -- and Pluto's moon at least moves!

Not only is there little about absolute simplicity, immutableness, and so forth that appeals to the human heart, it all seems completely incompatible with what we read in the Bible, what we hear at Mass, and what we do as Catholics. Tell the pagan philosophers God is immutable, and they'll say, "Yes, quite right!" Tell the psalmists He's immutable, and they'll say, "What world do you live in?" And between Athens and Jerusalem, shouldn't we be choosing Jerusalem?

Well, of course Athens and Jerusalem aren't mutually exclusive choices for the orthodox Christian, and the various non-intuitive dogmas on the Divine Nature shouldn't be rejected simply because they're non-intuitive. But the difficulty of resolving the apparent conflicts -- or better, perhaps, of integrating two very different ways of thinking about God -- remains, and is not at all helped by the fact that so many people first encounter the theological doctrines in the words of others who have themselves barely understood them.

These would-be teachers may know the content of the doctrines; they may even be able to derive them from Revelation and reason. But I suggest that too many don't really know what the doctrines mean, or how to integrate them (i.e., to make one complete whole) with the rest of the Christian faith. The result is a bifurcated faith: when you pray, God is love; when you think, God is goodness.

Sophomoric stages like that are common when humans learn difficult subjects, but it's important to recognize that this is just a stage to be passed through. Some people find it hard to read St. Thomas's article explaining how God is the same as His essence. Harder still, I suggest, is to read a biography of St. Thomas and believe his experience of God was as sterile and dispassionate as the statement, "God is the same as His essence." And St. Thomas was as Pluto's moon compared to many of the Church Fathers who taught the same doctrine!

Ah, but then St. Thomas and the Church Fathers were saints. Their faith and reason were both enriched by their experience of God in their lives, by their closeness to the impassive, passionately loving Father and His unchanging, incarnate Son.

So there is a way to integrate Athens and Jerusalem: by drawing them both into and out of a life joined to the Trinity. And even those of us who are not yet close enough to God to do this properly can at least see that it can be done properly, and perhaps be given the occasional glimpse into what that's like. At the very least, we should be aware that bifurcating the faith is doing it improperly, and treat these matters with at least a dash of humility.

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