Archive for the 'Theology' Category

Giving glory to God with our words

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

What follows is a short excerpt from  the Catechism of the Summa Theologia, which features short, concise responses to questions taken up by Thomas Aquinas in his foundational work.  This is from Chapter 13, with references to sections in the Summa.
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When we speak of God, or endeavour to express our thought concerning Him, have the words we use a correct meaning?

Most certainly: for these words, although used primarily to designate the perfections in a creature, can be transferred to designate what in God corresponds to these very perfections. (XIII. 1-4)

When applied to God and to creatures, have these words the same meaning or one wholly different?

When applied to God they have the same meaning but in a superlative degree, that is when used to designate perfections in creatures in the fulness of their meaning they truly signify these perfections, or whatever is attributed to God. (XIII. 5)

Then whatever we may tell of God, and however exalted by our expressions concerning Him, for us God ever remains unutterable?

Yes; but in this life we cannot do anything more salutary, more perfect, and more noble than speak of Him and of all that concerns Him even though our thoughts fall short of Him and our speech fail. (XIII. 6-12)

Attributes of God: Love

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

There are three things told us in Scripture concerning the nature of God. First, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). In the Greek there is no indefinite article, and to say “God is a spirit” is most objectionable, for it places Him in a class with others. God is “spirit” in the highest sense. Because He is “spirit” He is incorporeal, having no visible substance. Had God a tangible body, He would not be omnipresent, He would be limited to one place; because He is spirit He fills heaven and earth. Second, God is light (1 John 1:5), which is the opposite of “darkness.” In Scripture “darkness” stands for sin, evil, death; and “light” for holiness, goodness, life. God is light, means that He is the sum of all excellency. Third, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). It is not simply that God “loves,” but that He is Love itself. Love is not merely one of His attributes, but His very nature.

There are many today who talk about the love of God, who are total strangers to the God of love. The Divine love is commonly regarded as a species of amiable weakness, a sort of good-natured indulgence; it is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotion. Now the truth is that on this, as on everything else, our thoughts need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed thereon in Holy Scripture. That there is urgent need for this is apparent not only from the ignorance which so generally prevails, but also from the low state of spirituality which is now so sadly evident everywhere among professing Christians. How little real love there is for God. One chief reason for this is because our hearts are so little occupied with His wondrous love for His people. The better we are acquainted with His love—its character, fulness, blessedness—the more will our hearts be drawn out in love to Him.

from The Attributes of God, by A. W. Pink

Love God, and do as you please.

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Love God, and do as you please.
- St. Augustine

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Do anything?

Well, sure, but only if you truly love God first and foremost above all else.   If you do so, then your consciousness will be oriented toward God in such manner as to love what God loves and to regard as harmful what God regards as harmful.  In other words, your conscience will be moved by the Holy Spirit to act in such manner as to do what is called for in every circumstance.

Thus is the second great commandment — to love your neighbor as your self — like unto the first, for those who love God above all cannot help but regard other people with God’s own loving regard.  In other words, we love our neighbor for God’s sake, which is a higher love than one based on our natural attractions and compatibilities.

Does this counsel from St. Augustine sound too easy?   Too simple?  What do you think?

God is not a concept

Monday, November 21st, 2011

God is NOT a concept, although there surely is such a thing as a God-concept.  The latter is not-God, and I don’t know that anyone, anywhere is really confused about this.

Nevertheless, this common-sense affirmation is sometimes taken to very strange conclusions.  For example:

  • to relate to God as “Other” is to relate to God as concept;
  • to even speak of God is to invoke a concept and, hence, to indulge a fabrication of one’s own mind;
  • if God is beyond all concepts, then the only appropriate way to relate to God is non-conceptually.

There are more examples of this kind, and what they all serve to do is to undermine, in some manner, a fully human manner of relating to the divine.

First, in response, we can say that it does not follow that because we conceptualize about God that our concepts are inherently misleading, or that they do nothing of value to help turn our attention to God.  As the old Zen story goes, when you see the moon, quit looking at the finger that points to it.  Aha, true!  But would one see the moon at all if not for the finger that pointed it out?  So it can be with a concept, image, symbol, story, etc.  This is the stuff of kataphatic spirituality, and it does help to turn the attention to God.

A second response is that to consider God as Other is to promote something terrible called “dualism,” usually meaning, here, that God is separate from me.  The term, “separate,” is often conflated with “distinct,” so that it’s not always clear what is meant by “dualism.”  Christian teaching, here, is quite clear in affirming that God is distinctively different being from any creature, AND that God and creatures are not separate in the sense of having no contact with one another.  Why we cannot even exist in the first place if God does not give us existence.  So, in this sense, Christianity is, indeed, dualistic, and unapologetically so, for the core religious paradigm is relationship, which implies at least two.

So God and I are two distinct beings, and I can know something about God from what God has chosen to reveal to us, especially through Jesus Christ.   I make use of concepts to inform my understanding of God, and other kataphatic means to orient my attention toward God.  Then when my human spirit is drawn into the mystery of the sacred Presence, I let go of these human ways of orienting my attention to rest in the loving embrace of the Other.  When I am returned to my ordinary consciousness, I can use concepts to share something of this experience and its meaning, perhaps in such manner as to be a finger that points others toward the Light.

How to love God above all else?

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

It is one thing to assert the importance of the First Great Commandment with one’s intellect, but quite another to try to keep it.  How can one love God above all else?

For me, the key to answering this question comes from 1 John 4:19, where it is written that we love because God loved us first.  Elsewhere, in 1 John 4:8, we read that God is love itself.  It follows, then, that God’s love for us is what enables us to love God in return.  Just as we are dependent upon God for our very existence, so, too, are we dependent upon God for the love by means of which we can love God.

There are implications for spiritual practice, here, which is why I am including this reflection in that category as well as theology.  It is difficult to love God if one does not first know that one is loved by God.  One might be able to assert the priority of God and the commandments with the mind, and even to keep them, to some degree.  But this is not yet love, for love is the force and energy that binds us closely in relationship.

God loves us first, and if we are to love God in return, we must first know that we are loved by God.  Even this we are incapable of doing without God’s help, for the sin disease that has wounded our human nature makes us numb to the divine advances.  We need God grace or help that we might be open to God’s love.  We can ask for this help; any time we move into prayer, I think God assumes that we are open to it.  Sometimes this is the best prayer — to simply be open to being loved by God, and to allowing God’s love to flow back to God in return.

It is good, at times, to set the prayer list aside, and even to put the Bible down after awhile in prayer.  Simply open yourself God’s love as you would to receiving the warm rays of the sun on a beach.  Then the love by means of which you are loved will move through you and return to God and all creatures.  You will become a channel of God’s love and life, and will realize the destiny for which God created you.