Musings. On knowing and other things.

One quote I think about often:
There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be. 
—Fulton J. Sheen
Sheen's insight has, at least in my experience of others—particularly in my study of comparative religions—proven very true. In certain ways, it has proven to be true tragically. For example, whether or not Catholicism is True (I, of course, maintain that it is), the Church does teach a consistent and explicit series of doctrines concerning God, the human person, the world, and their relationships with each other. It is majorly problematic, then, for a religious studies professor to stand at the front of the classroom and answer her own question—"Which is more violent: Protestantism or Catholicism?"—with Catholicism "because Catholics re-kill [rather than remember] Jesus Christ at every Mass." Why is the observation so problematic? Because it's untrue.

Catholics, if we are enacting something that we have defined and instituted in our own church via the revelation of the Lord, and with the purpose of his glory and the worship of him, and consistent with our proclaimed belief in the reality of transubstantiation (truly, we say, the Lord is present during the Mass in his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity), can be trusted to say that we do not, in fact, re-kill Jesus at each Mass. 

The Church declares it: 
Jesus does not offer himself to God as a bloody, dying sacrifice in the Mass, but as we offer ourselves, a "living sacrifice" (Rom. 12:1). As this passage indicates, the offering of sacrifice does not require death or the shedding of blood. If it did, we could not offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Jesus, having shed his blood once for all on the cross, now offers himself to God in a continual, unbloody manner as a holy, living sacrifice on our behalf. (source)
But let's take a step back from Catholicism for a moment. Let's talk about the nature of religion. The nature of God.

How sure can we be that everything we've seen, read, heard, experienced lends itself to an accurate . . . how to say it? . . . date source for answering certain questions with major repercussions: Does God exist? Does a god exist? Multiple gods? How does the universe function? Who am I? What kind of possession can I maintain of myself? Can I know the world around me?

Catholicism, again for example, teaches, one, that God is infinitely greater than the human mind can grasp—to Pseudo-Dionysius, for example, he is ineffable, and that ineffability reveals itself in a dichotomy of affirmations and negations of his nature—and, two, that one inherent characteristic of the Christian spiritual life is a breaking down and rebuilding of the person's understanding of God, a movement away from knowledge via the physical senses alone to the reality of God as spirit who communicates in the end not to the mind but to the soul.

One of my greatest frustrations lies in the complete unconcern on behalf of so many people for what lies outside of our minds. If my religious studies professor can live in a world in which she believes an untruth as the one aforementioned—one that is fundamentally in opposition to and in conflict with what the Catholic Church represents—is it not possible that the remainder of us are greatly deceived about aspects of our reality, too?

This yields one of the greatest, age-old questions: How can we know what is true? Is anything true? How do we discern between two "truths"—or, better yet, what do we do when someone, some body, makes a claim on truth in the midst of a world in which no other such claims exist?

I'll soon make a stab at the question of truth. But one thing I've realized is that everything about our life, our framework for living, our reasons and our intellects, and our senses of being and identity, point to something particular: There is a natural tendency towards knowing.

Somewhere, at some point, we must begin with an assumption. I assume that I can know, and that I can know in part by experience. Others assume they cannot—and they often drive themselves into absurd, unsustainable, lifeless philosophies (that are also often contenting and natural). To what degree can we trust ourselves? How do we deal with things like Christian revelation? Is it possible, if perhaps I step out of my framework of thought, to understand why certain religions orient themselves towards the divine?

All of these questions to mull over! And they all stem from the threshold of knowing. Do we know things? Can we know things? Do we choose not to know more, or to be open to a challenge to what we know, because of things we have come to know already?


To Think With the Heart

"The activity of the intellect is regarded in some quarters as something relatively superficial. Such a devaluation of the intellect is usually a reaction against an age of enlightenment and its one-sided overestimation of reason. What lends such a view some persuasive force is the fact that a certain kind of intellectual activity leaves the depths of the soul untouched. But this superficiality does not have its cause in the nature of the intellect. It is more correct to say that in such superficial intellectual activity the true power of the intellect is not fully unfolded. It may happen that two human beings listen jointly to the same news and that both have an intellectually clear grasp of its contents, such as, for example, the news of the Serbian regicide in the summer of 1914. However, the one "thinks no more about it," goes calmly on his way and a few minutes later is again busy with his plans for a summer vacation. The other is shaken in his innermost being . . . In his case the news has struck deeply at his inner life, and he understands the external events from the point of view of his own interiority. And because his full intellectual power is alive in his understanding, his mind penetrates into the context and into the "consequences" of the external event.

"In this latter kind of thinking "the entire human being" is engaged, and this engagement expresses itself even in the external appearance. It affects the bodily organs, the heartbeat, and the rhythm of breathing, the individual's sleep and digestion. He "thinks with his heart," and his heart is the actual living center of his being. And even though the heart signifies the bodily organ to whose activity bodily life is tied, we have no difficulty in picturing the heart as the inner being of the soul, because it is evidently the heart that has the greatest share in the inner processes of the soul, and because it is in the heart that the interconnection between body and soul is most strikingly felt and experienced."

[Edith Stein, from Finite and Eternal Being, quoted in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture8.2 (2005) 183-193.]


The Genius of Trinitarian Theology

One of my new favorite books is Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed. It's one of those books that blew my mind, from the first sentence to the last, in offering one of the most intensely comprehensive studies of Scriptural theology I've ever read. My favorite chapter is that on the Trinity, and it's because of that chapter that I first picked up the book. Karl Keating offers a quote, published on the back cover, that reads something like "best description of the Trinity ever seen on paper." And I agree.

God is not limited by time or by space -- the ways in which we apply terminology like "infinite" and "eternal" is inherently going to limit our understanding of God, because He transcends it; it doesn't apply to Him. Where our lives are marked by the transition of time -- we can never truly last in the present, as by the time we recognize a moment it is already in our past -- God's space (if you can call it that) isn't. Which is why the Father, the Son (who is God's creation, in being the Word spoken by the Father, though time didn't have to pass for the Son to come into creation; it is simply in the nature of God the Father to be the Father, and in the nature of the Word to be the Son), and the Holy Spirit (who is the Love that proceeds from the Father and the Son) are able to share the same nature -- three Persons accessing the same brilliant state of being, pure Love, Generosity, Wisdom, Knowledge, Mercy, Justice, and at the core, Being. God is. God be-s, as Sheed puts it. He simply be-s, without beginning or end.

Read the book. Prepare to have your understanding and conception of God blown into smithereens. And the best part? It's all in Scripture. It's all there.


"God is everything."

I'm in a post-others'-stuff mood this week -- I've been reading a lot, and I have a lot to share, both from the actual texts read and from my musings upon them.

I wanted to start with something I copied into my breviary months ago. St. Teresa of Avila had it written in hers:

May nothing disturb you.
May nothing astonish you.
Everything passes.
God does not go away.
can attain anything.
He who has God within,
does not lack anything.
God is everything.


Speaking Coldly of Religion

"An extraordinary idea has arisen that the best critic of religious institutions is the man who talks coldly about religion. Nobody supposes that the best critic of music is the man who talks coldly about music. Within reasonable bounds, the more excited the musician is about music, the more he is likely to be right about it. Nobody thinks a man a correct judge of poetry because he looks down on poems.

"But there is an idea that a man is a correct judge of religion because he looks down on religions. Now, folklore and primitive faiths, and all such things are of the nature of music and poetry in this respect — that the actual language and symbols they employ require not only an understanding, they require what the Bible very finely calls an understanding heart. You must be a little moved in your emotions even to understand them at all; you must have a heart in order to make head or tail of them. Consequently, whenever I hear on these occasions that beliefs are being discussed scientifically and calmly, I know that they are being discussed wrong.

 "Even a false religion is too genuine a thing to be discussed calmly."

G.K. Chesterton, "Illustrated London News," October 10, 1908.