I have a conversation currently still in process that started on Facebook and moved to private messaging with an atheist from Australia. He is very respectful, and to get me talking, that’s all I really need from a person. So his initial comment has stretched into multiple comments spanning everything from how we know what we believe is true, to progressive revelation, to secular morality, and more. We’re not even done yet, but I’m waiting for him to finally say, “All right, Jesus man. That’s enough.”
It’s gotten me thinking again about why I believe what I believe. More than that, why do those reasons work for me and not someone else? I guess we can all chalk it up to the Holy Spirit, but I’m sure we all have our own story here about how we got from no belief to belief, or how we grew up believing and got through the gauntlet of secular culture to the faith we are in now.
I put this out as a question to all of you who write on here – and I guess to anyone else, as well, but mostly to all of you who write here. What did it for you? What brought you to the faith or kept you there when you were teetering on the edge of doubt?
For me, it’s miracle stories. I know that might sound weird, but it’s true. In community college, I took an Intro to Philosophy class and had a crisis of faith. But I reflected on the life of George Muller of Bristol. He was a pastor who was frustrated that all the businessmen in his congregation were cutthroat and unscrupulous in their business practices. Their excuse was that their jobs were cutthroat. Unless you cheated, you would never be able to support yourself and your family.
Muller did not agree and decided to embark on building an orphanage from the ground up solely on prayer. He never asked anyone for money. He never asked for supplies. But by the end of his life, he had taken care of around 10,000 orphans and had established 117 schools that gave Christian education to more than 120,000 children. All on prayer. All on faith.
In his diary are stories of the children never having to wait more than half an hour for their three square meals each day – even when the cupboards were bare. Once, they were out of milk, and a milk truck or carriage broke down right in front of the orphanage. The man who rode it said the milk would go bad anyway, so the orphanage might as well have it. Another time, a baker couldn’t get any sleep because God kept telling him to bake bread for Muller’s children. His life is full of these stories.
Every time my mind would wonder, “Could I be wrong? Could this philosopher be right? Is my faith a sham?” I would immediately think, “But what about George Muller?”
It is his story and other miracle stories from other people’s lives that help keep me in the faith. I know great men and women have argued back and forth about whether God exists or not and whether Christianity has enough historical evidence to back it up. I know those discussions lead many to faith as well. But for me, it’s the direct action of God in the world in ways that cannot be easily explained away that inspire me to keep going.
Every now and then, a Biblical writer gives a snippet of wisdom that pulls together a host of theological ideas into a short space of words. It is like a tinny dose of a vaccine shot inside the body to help protect the whole of it (ok… bad analogy for anti-vaxxers, but you get the point).
One of these passages stuck out to me the other day and seemed conspicuously apt for our bizarro pandemic time right now.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
1 Thess. 5:16-24 (NRSVCE)
Rejoice Always…Give Thanks in all Circumstances
Is it ok to mourn the many who have died or lost their jobs during this pandemic? Of course. Can we voice our frustration? Absolutely, and we should.
But somewhere in our hearts, maybe buried deep, there needs to be at least an ounce of rejoicing – a peaceful acknowledgment that Jesus is still king and we are going to be ok because of this. We need to dig and dig until we can find that little piece of thanksgiving, not for some future time that will be, or the past that was so much better than the present, but for right here, right now.
Paul feels the need to not simply request patiently that we rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances. He does not plead with us. No, he commands us, because even though it is true that things suck right now, it is also true that there is something in all of this that we can be thankful for.
What is that for you?
Pray without Ceasing
I am embarrassed over how little I have gotten on my knees with everything going on in 2020. How lax I have been in pleading with God for this scourge to end.
Every day brings new reasons to pray. For us in the states, after months of dithering, Congress is FINALLY pushing through a bill that could bring some financial relief to citizens on the verge of losing their homes or businesses. The political climate over here is still terribly divided. Masses in many places are still not being celebrated publicly.
Even on a good day, Paul commands us to pray without ceasing. How much more should we do it when the world is falling apart?
If this seems difficult to do (and it is), something that has helped me fulfill this at least partially is to pray some of the short, powerful prayers throughout the day that have been used for centuries. Here are two.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners both now and at the hour of our death.”
“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” You could pray that one in the plural for the world as well.
You might counter that Jesus told us not to “heap up empty phrases” when we pray. Fair enough. But they are not empty if you mean them. Is there ever a minute we could not use Mary’s intercession on our behalf? Is there a minute that goes by that we and our world are not in need of mercy?
Do not Quench the Spirit
God is trying to tell us something today. He is speaking to our heart. Are we listening?
He speaks in all sorts of ways. He speaks through our pastors. He speaks through our friends. He speaks through our circumstances.
There is definitely something mystical about this, and we need to be cautious – “test everything.” God will never contradict himself by saying one thing in Scripture and Tradition and then saying something different to you personally. But we need courage in our daily lives to follow the promptings of the Spirit of God.
I confess, again, that I do not listen to him as well as I should. The day slips through my fingers and before I know it, I am lost in a YouTube video at 11pm about a guy whose comedy sketch was edited out of the Late Show with David Letterman. Fascinating, yes, but seriously, what in the world am I doing?
On the days I do listen, what a difference! I see his hand moving in one of my children, or I experience a breakthrough with my wife. I see things I didn’t know were there. I experience a depth of living that I did not have on a typical frenetic day.
Abstain from Every Form of Evil
Another spiritual practice that I give less attention to than I should is the examination of conscience. One priest, Fr. Sweeney over here in California, counseled us in the evening to look over our day with Jesus and ask him what he sees there. Where did I not love as much as I should have? What did I look at that took me a peg down spiritually? What conversations remain with me? Did I speak as I should have with them? Should I pray for that person?
I cannot abstain from evil if I cannot see the evil I need to abstain from. More often than not, I just don’t slow down long enough to see it. If I did, the pitfalls and stumbling blocks that pepper my day would not hinder me so much.
May the God of Peace Himself Sanctify You
Is it entirely our responsibility to make sure we rejoice always, give thanks in everything, pray without ceasing, and abstain from every form of evil? Thank God, no! We needs God’s help, and he is right there with us to give it. As St. Patrick prayed, so can we.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me.
From the Prayer of St. Patrick
When we attempt to live the Christian life in our own strength, we fail. We burn out. When we come to the end of ourselves and ask God for his grace, his strength in our lives, we mount up with wings like eagles. We run without becoming weary. We walk without becoming faint.
How often I think I am alone in all of this – especially now. Physically we have to be separated from others. Spiritually, for many of us, it feels the same.
Being an introvert, that might not bother me as much as others, but that probably makes it even worse. I can turn inward like a turtle and never come out which isn’t a good thing.
Whatever our condition, though, the God of peace is with us.
Even in Prison
It is amazing to think about these passages in light of what Paul himself actually went through. In his lifetime, he was imprisoned, stoned near to death, shipwrecked, hated by his fellow countrymen, I could go on.
Knowing how much he went through, his words mean even more. I need to rejoice. I need to be thankful. I need to pray more. I need to abstain more from evil. I need to do it all in God’s strength and not my own.
If Paul could do all this locked in a prison and in chains, we can do it locked in our homes. And I think the same comfort and peace it brought to his own spirit will come to us as well.
Hello everyone! Jessica has been kind enough to allow me to post on this blog, which I am excited to do. I’ve been enjoying reading her posts, as well as others here on a regular basis.
That’s not just me being pleasant. The site has pulled me back to it a number of times and has given me a lot of food for thought.
I wanted to share a little bit about my own faith background in my first post here (and would love to read any of yours). I am a convert to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). My wife and I, along with our children, converted around the time Pope Francis became pope.
I grew up what you might call a Fundamentalist, though we never labeled ourselves anything. “Nondenominational” or “Baptist” might be a better description, actually. I don’t know for sure.
Whatever I was, though, I grew up in an environment that had no warm feelings for the RCC. A few misconceptions I had included the following.
1. The pope was probably the anti-Christ (or would be in league with him whenever he showed up).
2. Roman Catholics worshiped Mary. Worship of her echoes the worship of some goddess in ancient Egypt.
3. Everything written in Chick Tracts about Roman Catholics.
I ended up falling in love with and marrying a young woman who grew up Anglican, which is a bit ironic. I was as clueless about Anglicanism as I was about Roman Catholicism. I somehow missed the memo that, as she put it later, Anglicans are basically Roman Catholics, just without the pope.
When we got married, she followed me into the nondenominational, happy-clappy church I was a part of, trying to be the dutiful wife. But secretly, she missed the smells and bells of liturgical life.
The Eucharist also meant a great deal to her, which I did not understand at the time. After one of our church services, she was shocked and horrified when a friend of ours took some left over bread we had used for communion (which we considered entirely symbolic), and used it as a snack afterwards, dipping it and chewing right in front of her.
On another front, my sister and brother-in-law shocked us by leaving their nondenominational (gosh, that’s a long word) church to join the RCC. My brother-in-law had spent ten years flirting off and on with the idea of converting. Finally he did, and it was like a nuclear bomb went off in our extended family.
So many nights, all of us were up late debating Mary, the Eucharist, the pope, everything. I was not as vehement with him as others in our tribe, but I did take it upon myself to convince him he was wrong. Anybody who understood the Bible could not possibly become Roman Catholic, right?
Well, as I did my own research, visiting sites like Catholic Answers and especially delving into articles on Called to Communion, I found, to my surprise, that Roman Catholics actually do read the Bible – very much so. They had very good reasons not to believe in Sola Scriptura and to view the Gospel differently than I did.
What really threw me across the Tiber, though, was the idea that to remain a protestant, I had to believe that God abandoned his church for 1500 years until Martin Luther came along. The more I thought about this, the more it unsettled me.
Imagine the priests, theologians, and saints coming together for Ecumenical Councils through the ages, seeking to know the Holy Spirit’s mind on issues of Christology, the Bible, icons, and all sorts of other issues that were rending the church in two. The Apostle James says that if we ask for wisdom, the Holy Spirit will give it to us. Am I to believe these holy men, and by extension the church that relied on their teaching, were abandoned by God in their hour of direst need?
That was too much. It took an unbelievable amount of hubris on my part to think that fervent, praying Christians for the first millennia and a half got it wrong while we “modern” Christians for some reason managed to get it right.
It came down to Easter Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism in the end. I would go into what made us veer west, but I think I have gone on long enough for one post.
At any rate, that is my story. Again, thank you for allowing me to write here. I look forward to continuing to read what everyone else posts!
I found this rather interesting, Pastor Weedon is one of the Lutherans I listen closely to. Yes, there are others. This is a series of videos that we will share with you. I am Lutheran, and even for me as an ELCA Lutheran, it highlights the differences. In any case, I think you will see parallels and differences with your church, whichever one it may be. My guess? The LCMS is probably closest to the Anglo-Catholics, as one of the original Protestant Churches.
Seven years ago today, a humble little Christian blog raised its head up to look over the parapet at an increasingly hostile world. It has grown much and occasionally waned since that day, but has never lowered its head, nor has it changed its mission from that first day, as expressed in our tagline:
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you … John 13:34.
None of us who actively contribute here, were here that day. Scoop and I are probably the oldest contributors left, and I’m not very active at present, but my heart remains here.
If you are newer than we are, I’d recommend that you poke around in the archives, there is much to enjoy and much to learn, from many viewpoints.
All of those who are listed in our sidebar as contributors gave us much wisdom and remain in my thoughts and my prayers. Those no longer active are missed and I give thanks daily for those who have carried the load, before and now as well.
Mother Julian of Norwich, a great favorite of us here leaves us a couple of thought on this day.
“He said not ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased’; but he said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.”
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” ..
Both are important to keep in mind.
So raise a glass and thank God, that there are those who keep their head up and their eyes on the prize of Heaven, and then drink to the next seven years, that they may see us continue the Lord’s work.
Six years ago, today, a new little blog poked its head up over the parapet of that desert mission above and made its first post. The founder of this blog and all who commented on that post, are rarely seen in the precincts today. But that post, quoted here in full, still motivates us.
This is a blog about Christianity under siege, and sometimes this Christian under attack. That’s not to say I think that in this country we are persecuted, but just that it can be difficult to make one’s voice heard above the clamant voices. This is my voice, for what it is worth. My first two posts appeared on another blog, and I am grateful to Jon for making them available here.
The spirit that Jessica showed in post number one, has been our constant guide here, ever since, as has been the tagline, she chose for us.
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you … John 13:34
Well, we all fall far short of the goal, but we keep trying, and given the troubles we’ve all seen here, I think we’ve done fairly well, with God’s help.
Some of us have been here since almost the beginning, some came here much later, it doesn’t matter. I’m glad you are here, and we will go forward together.
The other day our commenter Ann linked to an article. Here’s her comment:
I found it to be a very good article, too good to remain buried in a comment stream, so here it is, albeit excerpted.
I do not think that the New Evangelization is just about what we say as Christians, nor about what new technologies we use to proclaim the Good News but also about how and the manner by which we proclaim, “Jesus is Lord!”
When it comes to the work of apologetics or promoting/debating the faith or current issues or even just day-to-day encounters for that matter, I must admit that I have never been one for witty, “in the moment” comebacks. I think that this is due, partly, to the fact that my parents taught me from an early age not to regard a snarky attitude, in and of itself, as a sure sign of intelligence and also because I do not think that an exchange of one-upmanship in comments leads anywhere truly productive. Such an exchange tends to produce more heat in friction than light to illuminate, I believe.
I share this because there can be a tendency to view apologetics and the new evangelization solely in terms of formulating the wittiest comeback line that will effectively put the other in his or her place while affording a sense of superiority to the crafter of said comment. But in the entire gospel story I never find Jesus doing this. Our Lord certainly had truth to speak, he knew how to challenge and his wit is demonstrated time and again throughout the gospels but his words never belittled the other nor did they divide and hurt.
That is something that, in my experience, we all do, we tend to get all competitive, and try for the best one-liners. Well, we all know that isn’t what Jesus did, likely because it didn’t work then, and doesn’t now.
What I’m going to do here is simply give you a list of what Fr. Michael talks about here, you can read what he says about each of them in his article, which is linked in Ann’s comment and below as well.
Willingness to listen and be present to people
Willingness to not manipulate or control
Trust in God and others
An attitude of joy
via HOW JESUS EVANGELIZED, and yes, I really do think you should read the whole thing.™ Why? Because, I’ll just about guarantee that if we put aside our pride, and our learning, as Jesus did, and listen to others, we will be far more effective as evangelists, than if we play the games we have been.
There is a reason why I spent 20 years as one of the unchurched, although not unChristian, and it was the attitude of many of my co-congregationalists. In fact, I still have trouble with it, that’s one of the reasons, I value AATW so highly, here we treat each other as equals, and actually read what we each write, not just go down our road, whether anybody follows or not. Well, mostly, anyway 🙂
So across almost all of our churches, today is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is, of course, one of the distinctive characteristics of Christianity, and is, in fact, almost always misunderstood by others. And, in truth, it is a difficult concept for us as well.
In the break up of the Roman World, in fact amongst its causes were the Goths who under Arius became again non-Christian, or at least non Orthodox, truthfully in much the same way as Unitarians and Mormons are non-Christians. We could likely say, “Close but no cigar.” But the Arian heresy led to a restatement of the faith that on Trinity Sunday is still used in the Lutheran Church. It’s pretty much the only time we read it aloud.
It’s called The Athanasian Creed, and this is how it appears in The Book of Concord:
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal. As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three Persons are coeternal together, and coequal: so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.
Why do we only use it on Trinity Sunday? I suspect because it is more specialized than the other two creeds in Lutheranism, The Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. Each stresses a somewhat different area, and this one was specifically written to help us to understand the Trinity
One of the joys of this blog has always been that we can come together here from our various traditions and discuss calmly and rationally both the things that bring us together and those that keep us apart. As Chalcedon said yesterday, our Anglican contingent (all three of them) are missed greatly–not least because they, more than most of us, tend to be a uniting faith. Indeed that was one of the reasons Jessica founded this blog, to foster that very discussion. And I think we have done well (so far) with the mission she gave us.
That does not mean, nor has it ever, that we compromise our core beliefs, or expect others to do so.
In a few weeks we, like so many others will confess our faith, on Trinity Sunday, in the words of the Athanasian Creed, instead of the more commonly used Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. In doing so we will say this:
This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.”
We like our Anglican brothers and sisters have been doing this for five hundred years. But, I hear often, you are Lutheran, not Catholic. But if you think that, you are wrong,we are although we are not Roman, we are Catholic, believing in the Real Presence, and Baptismal Regeneration, amongst others. In fact, in the Augsburg Confession, Melanchthon declares:
“The churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith.There is nothing here that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic church, or from the Roman Church, insofar as we can tell from its writers.”
True then, true now, true always. In the twentieth century Herman Sasse would write: “It was no mere ecclesiastico-political diplomacy which dictated the emphatic assertion in the Augsburg Confession that the teachings of the Evangelicals were identical with those of the orthodox Catholic Church of all ages,” he writes. “The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Athanasius and Ireneaus once belonged.”
But how do we get there? Mathew Block writing in First Things had some thoughts.
Lutherans have long confessed faith in the “invisible” Church—that is to say, we confess that the Church is “properly speaking, the assembly of saints and those who truly believe,” as Philip Melanchthon puts it in the Augsburg Confession. Belief then is what makes one a member of the Church, not denominational affiliation—contra Roman Catholic doctrine which equates the invisible Church with a visible churchly institution. (This distinction, by the by, is why I’ve written elsewhere that I’m too catholic to be Catholic.)
Belief in the invisible Church does not, however, mean that denominational affiliation is unimportant […]
The universality of the Church is, through God’s grace, a reality despite doctrinal disagreements; but it is not a license for the downplaying of these doctrinal differences. The Church catholic is also the Church apostolic—which is to say, it is the Church which “stands firm and holds to the traditions” which have been taught through the words of the Apostles (2 Thessalonians 2:15). And this teaching—which is truly the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:19-21)—has been passed on to us today in its fullness through the Scriptures.
To be catholic, then, is to be heirs of the apostolic faith. It is to be rooted firmly in the Apostle’s teaching as recorded for us in Scripture, the unchanging Word of God. But while this Word is unchanging, it does not follow that it is static. The history of the Church in the world is the history of Christians meditating upon Scripture. We must look to this history as our own guide in understanding Scripture. To be sure, the Church’s tradition of interpretation has erred from time to time—we find, for example, that the Fathers and Councils sometimes disagree with one another—but it is dangerous to discount those interpretations of Scripture which have been held unanimously from the very beginning of the Church.
For me, at least that sums it up pretty well, and from what I have seen, it likely does for most Anglicans as well, and should for Rome as well.
The lectionary tells us that the lesson for today comes from:
1 John 3:16-24 King James Version (KJV)
16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.
20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.
22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.
24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
If you recall, in part one , here, we outlined how The early church’s inner approachment between biblical faith and greek philosophy, and how that shaped both the Church and Europe as well. in this part Benedict will guide us on a tour of how in the modern era these have become sundered and why that may be one of the causes of our current malaise. To continue, here is Benedict:
In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. […] As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which – as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated – unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, “transcends” knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf.Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul – “λογικη λατρεία”, worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom12:1). […]
Dehellenization first emerges in connection with the postulates of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system. The principle of sola scriptura, on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this programme forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.
That’s important, isn’t it. I’m a Lutheran as most of you know, and in truth Luther (and Cranmer) didn’t really stray far from the old beliefs here but, they did provide a wedge which the radical reformatioists used to sunder what they considered the Scriptures said from the Greek (and Roman later) philosophy that has fertilized Christianity since the time of Paul, at least. Part of the reason for this may well have been that the Church in those time was not overly friendly to scientific inquiry, as it historically had been. This is the period when we see the center of gravity of modernity moving to Northern Europe, especially England, as a counterweight to Rome.
The liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ushered in a second stage in the process of dehellenization, with Adolf von Harnack as its outstanding representative. When I was a student, and in the early years of my teaching, this programme was highly influential in Catholic theology too. It took as its point of departure Pascal’s distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In my inaugural lecture at Bonn in 1959, I tried to address the issue, and I do not intend to repeat here what I said on that occasion, but I would like to describe at least briefly what was new about this second stage of dehellenization. Harnack’s central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization: this simple message was seen as the culmination of the religious development of humanity. Jesus was said to have put an end to worship in favour of morality. In the end he was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message. Fundamentally, Harnack’s goal was to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ’s divinity and the triune God. In this sense, historical-critical exegesis of the New Testament, as he saw it, restored to theology its place within the university:[…]
Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? I remember Jess saying that the reason she didn’t study theology more at University was that it hurt her faith, instead of strengthening it. I think most of us can relate to that.
This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity. A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.
I will return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be “scientific” would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by “science”, so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective “conscience” becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.
I have absolutely nothing to add to this, except that I completely agree.