Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Way of Beauty in Evangelii Gaudium

"Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the “way of beauty” (via pulchritudinis). Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus. This has nothing to do with fostering an aesthetic relativism which would downplay the inseparable bond between truth, goodness and beauty, but rather a renewed esteem for beauty as a means of touching the human heart and enabling the truth and goodness of the Risen Christ to radiate within it. If, as Saint Augustine says, we love only that which is beautiful, the incarnate Son, as the revelation of infinite beauty, is supremely lovable and draws us to himself with bonds of love. So a formation in the via pulchritudinis ought to be part of our effort to pass on the faith. Each particular Church should encourage the use of the arts in evangelization, building on the treasures of the past but also drawing upon the wide variety of contemporary expressions so as to transmit the faith in a new “language of parables”. We must be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word, and different forms of beauty which are valued in different cultural settings, including those unconventional modes of beauty which may mean little to the evangelizers, yet prove particularly attractive for others. "

Monday, 25 November 2013

By their fruits you shall know them.

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them."
Matthew 7:16-20

The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb.
Cardinal Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report

One of the really effective critiques of Christianity has to be that of Friedrich Nietzsche. Like any effective challenge, it doesn't underestimate the power of its opponent. Nietzsche knew that Christianity was mythos as well as logos. Jonathan Macintosh, on his blog The Flame Imperishable, writes,

"In The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, an early work that ended his career as a philologist while confirming his calling as a philosopher, Nietzsche argues that the fundamental being of things, so far from constituting a universal harmony, instead embodies an original, violent, and terrifying discord and chaos, one that the Greeks symbolized (Nietzsche argues) through the originally Asiatic god Dionysus. Pitted against the annihilating abyss underlying reality, human existence and experience are a “terror and horror,” an ultimate futility and suffering in which consolation may nevertheless be found through a heroic effort of self-assertion and the artistic creation of meaning, value, and order."

Nietzsche rejects the view of the cosmos as fundamentally ordered and harmonious, and instead claims that existence is futile - any meaning is imposed by humans. So against Ratzinger's art and saints we have Nietzsche's modernist solution - the ubermensch and his self-assertion. The choice is an aesthetic one because it comes down to whether we view chaos or cosmos as primary.

My own choice is clearly with cosmos - ie. order and harmony. A pagan friend said to me "The experience of obedience is not central to one's experience of the universe." The problem with the pantheist viewpoint is that given that our experience of the universe is ambivalent - sometimes we suffer, sometimes we thrive - and given that the universe is all there is - there is no reason to see the world as of any inherent value or goodness in itself. It is something terrible, implacable, to be feared and propitiated, as the animists do. Or it is something pitiless which we have ultimately to extricate ourselves from, as in the aim of much Hinduism, Buddhism or Gnosticism. But it is not a gift of a good God, an overflowing act of generosity, to which the proper response is indeed praise and thanksgiving, and ultimately obedience.

Ratzinger is right to see this theistic and Christian viewpoint as producing the strongest apologia - art and the saints. Time and again, the view of the redeemability of suffering, the belief in the eucatastrophe - the sudden happy turn when all seems lost, provides us with strong foundations to bear good fruit. And the encounter with Christ, in whom all of God's generosity comes to meet us, is a fountain of living water that springs up eternally within us, enabling the poorest and most broken to be the inheritors of the Kingdom.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Bonaventure's Philosophy of Creation

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead (Romans 1:20 KJV)

                                             (Photo by Jennuine Captures on Flickr)

For Bonaventure creation is like a stained-glass window - the sense of the infinite comes from beyond the world and can be seen lighting up creation from within.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Wisdom - thoughts on the Magnificat readings Thursday 14th November

"Life is effort, firm and persevering action, and duty accepted and accomplished, the heroic conquest of the body by the soul, the serenity nothing can disturb, and eyes fixed on God. It is charity taking possession of us little by little, banishing everything that is not love."
Elisabeth Leseur

"Within Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, active, incisive, unsullied, lucid, invulnerable, benevolent, sharp, irresistible, beneficent, loving to man, steadfast, dependable, unperturbed, almighty, all-surveying; penetrating all intelligent, pure and most subtle spirits; for Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion; she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things. She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; hence nothing impure can find a way into her. She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God's active power, image of his Goodness. Although alone, she can do all; herself unchanging, she makes all things new.
In each generation she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and the prophets; for God loves only the man who lives with Wisdom....compared with light, she takes first place, for light must yield to night, but over Wisdom evil can never triumph. She deploys her strength from one end of the earth to the other, ordering all things for good."
Wisdom 7:22 -8:1

"This thing is the strongest of all powers, the force of all forces, for it overcometh every subtle thing and doth penetrate every solid substance." Tabula Smaragdina, 9

"The sun, moon and stars therefore lend their assistance to acts of divine magic aspiring to the Resurrection."
Unknown Author, Meditations on the Tarot

To co-operate with Wisdom is to allow our lives to become works of art dedicated to God. To become mindful through constant prayer and adoration of the source of our being, to thank God for everything that comes to us, is the first step in allowing our nature to be penetrated with Wisdom.

The reward is serenity nothing can disturb; the path begins with daily perseverance, the conquest of the body by the soul. The spiritual law of renunciation enables these fruits to appear. When we renounce something below, we gain something above. This is nothing more than obedience, which brings the unfallen aspect of our nature - the image of God within us - into alignment with the divine purpose.

The words of the Virgin speak to us here: 'Ecce ancilla domini fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum'. Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, Let it be done to me according to your Word.

In the Orthodox Church this process is known as theosis - or deification. Irenaeus says: "the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself."

The quotations above from the book of Wisdom and elsewhere give some sense of how this process might occur. Wisdom, or force, as the Tabula Smaragdina would have it, overcomes all subtle things and penetrates every solid substance, quicker than any motion, pure emanation of the glory of God, reflection of eternal light, in which is nothing impure, enfolds all things and allows even the violent wrenching of things out of their own place which is the Fall to occur without allowing this discordancy to overtake the harmony of Her song. Indeed she takes up these clashing notes and makes them a part of a higher music.

In prayer and contemplation we aim to still the ceaseless disturbance of our thoughts, to become like the sea of glass around the throne of God. Contemplation is thus to participate in the imitatio christi, to crucify our will, that the Will of God may work through us. If we say this no to the lower desires which threaten to sweep us away in the currents of evolution and biological life, we say yes to a higher form of life. This participation in what Tomberg calls zoe rather than bios (both Greek words for life, but the latter having the sense of spiritual life) is to reject a Nietszchean self-assertion which sees creation as the imposing of self in a violent act and to recognise it for what it is - disobedience to the real creation narrative, which is one of harmony and peace.

There have been few greater exponents of this insight in literature than J R R Tolkien, especially in his work the Ainulindale. It is theology, myth, literature, true sub-creation in one. A creation myth of the highest order. The work of Alison Milbank (Radical Orthodoxy) and the website of Jonathan Macintosh, The Flame Imperishable, are excellent places to draw the connections between all these things.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Day by Day reading from Magnificat magazine, Sunday 3rd November

'Not only do we become by means of the sacraments contemporaries of a past that is the very source of our salvation, but we become capable of recuperating the past, of retaking and reconstructing our life by giving it a new unity. We know that there is a distance between "me" and my history, between the depths of ourselves and our acts. Our actions commit us; but once they are performed, they escape us and accumulate behind us and form the chain of our history. And this past can be crushing.

The sacraments continually permit us to transcend this history, and to judge it, and to a degree, to change its meaning and the value of the whole by means of new acts....

The sinner who has been reconciled to God in his person nevertheless drags behind him in his past a failure towards God, a failure towards love; it is true that at one moment in his history he failed the order of charity which should be reflected in every human undertaking. The event, this sin, remains a fact for ever; but by means of the sacraments it can take on another meaning in the entirety of its history, and this by means of new acts repairing the disorder; it is possible for us to restore God's honour, not only in our heart, but in the course of our history which is still being written. It is possible to change the profile of our past acts by means of new compensating acts. This is a marvellous conversion which the sacraments place within our reach! We become capable of offering to God a life really ordered by love. This is where the reflection we mentioned above concerning healing the past by means of present actions takes on its force. The sacraments do not only remove the sickness from suffering; they go infinitely farther; they transfigure and transvalue what was perversion and evil into an occasion and fruit of divine friendship.'

Father Bernard Bro, O.P.

The Gospel reading was the story of Zacchaeus today, who as everyone remembers if they ever heard the story as a child, climbed a sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus in the crowds. In the Magnificat magazine, Robert Barron quotes Thomas Merton, who said that many are in the grip of a 'promethean attitude' when it comes to morality. A belief that only a heroic stoicism will earn us divine love - if we live out certain moral commands then we will be worthy of God. He says that this is to get things backwards, as the story of Zacchaeus shows. Zacchaeus was a sinful tax collector, Jesus called to him "come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." Then he promises to give half his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he has wronged. So the moral reformation of Zacchaeus was preceded by the inrushing of divine grace - the encounter with Christ.

Without the encounter with Christ provided by prayer and through the sacraments, we are bereft of the opportunity for grace to touch us. And a prayerful and sacramental life gives us the opportunities we need to keep returning to the wounded place within us where we hurt, and where we keep choosing to do wrong, and facing it with clear sight and a calm heart. Jesus calls us to make a descent into an interior abyss, there to be closer to him, so that he can come and stay with us today.

As Pope Francis said: "Christian morality is not a 'never-falling-down', but an 'always-getting-up-again'.