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Aristotle, Friendship, and Christ: a few random musings

In Book II, Aristotle discusses virtue in general, to include its essence, and that it is a mean between extremes, which will be vices of excess or defect. He will then examine the major virtues individually, although not thoroughly (that will come later) and completes Book II by asking how one attains these virtues.

 

He begins by discussing whether it is an action, a nature, or a habit. Looking at the first two options, it is shown that it cannot be the case that virtue is an action, nor is in our nature (although it is not contrary to nature). It must be, therefore, a habit. It is not contrary to nature, however, in that our natures have virtue in potency, but it is through [repeated] actions that these habits are actualized. Virtues are habits that dispose toward certain action. Virtues, then, are principles of action.

 

Now, man becomes virtuous by repeated acts, and these actions occur more easily by the possession of the virtues. It takes work, then, to form them, but when formed, they make similar work easier. This can be compared to the athlete, who must run to become a good runner, and yet, once a good runner, his running comes easier. It is reciprocal.

 

Operations producing the habit of virtue take place according to right reason, and so the virtues cannot be passions, which of themselves are morally neutral. In this way, Aristotle differs strongly from the Stoics, for example.  In commenting on Aristotle’s work, St. Thomas says that “He says first that to establish the definition of virtue we have to take for granted three principles in ‘the soul: passions, powers, and habits. Virtue must come under one of these, for he just said that virtue is a principle of certain operations of the soul.” The passions are not blameworthy or praiseworthy as such, but as we use them, in accord with right reason. Therefore, “A man is not praised or blamed because he is simply afraid or angry but only because he is afraid or angry in a particular way, that is, according to reason or contrary to reason. The same must be understood of the other passions of the soul. The passions of the soul, therefore, are neither virtues nor vices.”

 

Pleasure or sorrow is said to be a sign of virtue already produced. A man who does not steal, for example, but is saddened by the ‘loss’ of money or goods, does in fact do the right thing, according to reason, but he does not do it in the way a virtuous man would, for a virtuous man would not be saddened in the act, but rather joyous in having acted rightly.

 

We must consider not only that virtue is a habit but also what kind of habit, says Aristotle. The virtues will render good both the man and his work. Accordingly, Aquinas comments “The reason is that the virtue or power of a thing is judged by the best it can do… Now the utmost or best to which the power of anything extends is called its excellent performance. It belongs to the virtue of every thing, therefore, to render an excellent performance. Because a perfect operation proceeds only from a perfect agent, it follows that everything is both good and operates well according to its own virtue.”

 

The chief characteristic of virtue is the mean, and this mean is not simply the arithmetical average between the vices of excess and defect, but a mean according to the one possessing the virtue. In other words, there is no simple universal formula for determining the ‘exact’ measure of fortitude as opposed to cowardice or rashness, but rather, it must be in accord with reason, with the person so acting, and the circumstances of his action.

 

Now, virtue can be an extreme in the measure of goodness, and this is not contrary to virtue. This is easy to see in the intellectual virtues, for example, and in the theological virtues, where there is no ‘mean’ of faith, hope, or love. But the cardinal virtues are an extreme towards the recognition of the good and in being in accord with right reason. This is not contrary to their being a mean between excess and defect . Aquinas states it clearly: “precisely as it possesses the character of the best and as it acts or guides well in a determined genus it is an extreme. For an understanding of this, we must consider that the entire goodness of moral virtue depends on the rectitude of the reason. Hence good is in harmony with moral virtue according as it follows right reason, but evil has a reference to each vice, viz.: excess and defect inasmuch as both depart from right reason. Therefore, according to the nature of goodness and evil both vices are in one extreme that is, in evil which is thus shown to be a deviation from reason. Virtue however is in the other extreme, that is, in good which is characterized as a following of reason.”

 

As mentioned at the beginning of this summary, a discussion of individual virtues and vices follows. But as it is brief and will be expounded upon in detail in later books of the EN, we will forego any analysis here. Also, the mean and extreme in virtues relating to honors is discussed, and again, these will be discussed more thoroughly later.

 

Aristotle tells us of the opposition among the virtues and vices, and that this opposition of vices among themselves is greater than of the vices to the virtues. He also states that, generally, one extreme is more opposed to virtue than the other. For example, men are more inclined to excess in temperance than to defect, and likewise, we recognize cowardice as further than rashness from courage.

 

While all the above is certainly important, Aristotle never ceases to remind the reader of the practical nature of ethics. Therefore, the manner of acquiring virtues must be learned, but moreso, followed. The three  primary ways of acquiring virtues, according to the philosopher, are to avoid extremes, consider one’s natural inclinations, and beware of pleasures.

 

Reflection:

 

A virtuous man, a magnanimous man, cannot necessarily be known by his actions alone, for may have little virtue and yet seem to accomplish something great, while a more noble man does not accomplish a comparable outward task. While we fully seek to do great things for the glory of God, we do not know that He has called us to do great outward things.

We may be judged by men on what we accomplish in their eyes, and we should do everything we can with the intention of objective success in this world, declaring our successes to the glory of God and accepting full culpability for our failures.  But if outward success always followed from a right interior disposition, we may be tempted to pride.

All the virtues are interior dispositions that are preparations for doing the good, whether these good things come to fruition or not.  Not understanding this can lead to two related dangers.  We may, despairing of ever accomplishing great things, not seek to do the things daily that would possibly lead to the “great deed.” Likewise, if we fail to accomplish a great task that seems to have been set before us, we may tend to despair, having worked so long for, what seems to us, nothing. Again, God asks us to be faithful, not necessarily successful.

A soldier will train day after day, year after year, and may or may not ever enter into battle.  If he trains and never fights, he should be glad for the peace that has allowed it.  But if he grows negligent in his training, the battle that is suddenly upon him may prove his end.  Years of arduous training are suddenly seen to be worth it in the mere minutes of close-quarters combat. Likewise, we must train ourselves in the virtues daily, not knowing in what ways we may or may not be tested.

To quote my earthly father, “Life is too long to do nothing and too short to do anything great.  But great things are done in a short time by those who have been long in preparing.” We therefore strive at each moment to create in ourselves the dispositions, the powers, to meet our calling.

The Pharisees – A Short Reflection

Introduction

‘”Judaism” today and “Pharisaism” in the time of Jesus are the same.’[i] Of course, this is a ridiculous and uneducated statement on so many levels. ‘Pharisaism,’ as the term is used today, is only partially related to the beliefs and practices of the actual Pharisees in the time of Christ. The old Catholic Encyclopaedia states ‘after the conflicts with Rome (A.D. 66-135) Pharisaism became practically synonymous with Judaism,’[ii] but this must be understood in a post-Temple context and in the light of the wars with and defeat of the Jews by Rome, and here, the term ‘Pharisaism’ is being used correctly, stating what the Pharisees indeed taught at that time, and not as the term is often used today.  And even in its modern usage, to make such a statement about ‘Judaism’ is absurd as well. How do we remedy such an attitude? Much could be said about the history of what we now call ‘the Jews,’ and it is a rich and rewarding study. But our purposes here are to examine, ever so briefly, the Pharisees themselves.

The Pharisees were an important group in the time of Christ, and have often been misunderstood. While certainly Jesus often had confrontations with them, there were also Pharisees among his followers.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!…You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”[iii] “Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’”[iv]

While not intending here a ‘defense’ of the Pharisees (as if they needed one) I would like to present a simple picture of them that goes beyond the use of the term today, which is probably ill founded, for in many Christian circles, the term Pharisee is used to portray a legalistic attitude, and to belittle those who would call themselves ‘religious.’ These uses, however, show a lack of understanding about who the Pharisees actually were. As N.T. Wright notes in his The New Testament and the People of God, “Their aim, so far as we can tell, was never that of simple piety for its own sake. Nor (one need scarcely add) was it a system of self-salvation so often anachronistically ascribed to them by Christians who knew little about the first century but a lot about the Pelagian controversy. Their goals were to honor Israel’s God, the following of his covenant charter, and the pursuit of the full promised redemption of Israel.”[v]

Beginning of the Pharisees

This religious sect came into existence as a class about the third century B.C. After the exile, there was much intermixing of the pagan and Jewish culture, to include intermixing in marriage. This was contrary to the law, and it had, of course, many negative effects on the people of Israel. As a result, many purists who wanted to stay more faithful to the covenant with the God of Israel formed sects or factions (others besides the Pharisees will be briefly discussed later). The more zealous among the Jews drew apart calling themselves Chasidim or “pious ones”, i.e., they dedicated themselves to the realization of the ideas inculcated by Esdras, the holy priest and doctor of the law.[vi]

The Pharisees emerged after the revolts of the Maccabees, led by Judas Maccabaeus and his descendants.’ In the violent conditions incidental to the Machabean wars these “pious men”, sometimes called the Jewish Puritans, became a distinct class. They were called Pharisees, meaning those who separated themselves from the heathen, and from the heathenizing forces and tendencies which constantly invaded the precincts of Judaism.’[vii]

The Pharisees, then, set themselves up as pious and zealous defenders of the traditions of Israel, and this must be seen in the light of a people whose ways were attacked by the pagans around them since the beginning. God, indeed, told His people not to intermarry the neighbouring peoples, and certainly not to worship their gods. While it is true that, ‘without knowledge, even zeal is not good,’[viii] we must recognize the good and noble purpose of the Pharisees, not only in their beginning, but even through the time of the Gospel and thereafter, rather than group them all as a bigoted, self-righteous group. To do so would be the same mistake as those who would blame ‘all Jews’ for the death of Christ with a false understanding of what the Gospel writers had meant. ‘A study of the early history of Pharisaism reveals a certain moral dignity and greatness, a marked tenacity of purpose at the service of high, patriotic, and religious ideals.’[ix]

The Hasmonean period

During the Hasmonean period, it has been argued that the Sadducees and Pharisees functioned primarily as political parties. N.T. Wright, while not arguing that politics was the main aim of the Pharisees, certainly rejects the notion that they limited themselves to issues of personal piety.[x] Political life effects religious life, and vice versa, and this is seen most markedly in times of foreign rule. Public life and personal piety, regardless of the current trend to try and separate one’s faith from their political stance, always go together. Any integrated life will not make a wide distinction between belief and practice, nor between private and public conduct. The Pharisees sought in every way to keep the Chosen People aware of their state as a chosen people, and ‘the influence of the Pharisees over the lives of the common people was strong and their rulings on Jewish law were deemed authoritative by many.’[xi]

The Roman period

‘The Pharisees are seen at their best when contrasted with the Zealots on one hand, and with the Herodians on the other.’[xii] They seem to take a middle way, as they tend to reject violently overthrowing the Romans (a task that almost always proved unsuccessful in the short term and never successful for long), but condemned the acceptance of Roman and pagan culture as an acceptable partner in Jewish life. It was through living out the law of God faithfully (as they understood it) that they hoped to attain the freedom of Israel from its oppressors.

Beliefs

Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees also believed in the resurrection of the dead. They also believed in a literal resurrection of the body. We see this distinction between them and the Sadducees when Jesus discusses certain issues with each, as well as when Paul, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, pits the opposing beliefs against each other.

Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)[xiii]

Many of the distinctions in belief between these two groups seems to stem from the Pharisees’ acceptance of most of what Christians call the New Testament, whereas the Sadducees were reluctant to accept anything beyond the Pentateuch as revealed truth. ‘As contrasted with the Sadducees, the Pharisees represented the democratic tendency; contrasted with the priesthood, they stood for both the democratic and the spiritualizing tendency.’[xiv]

Mention must be made of a third prominent group, the Essenes, who “…emerged out of disgust with the other two. This sect believed the others had corrupted the city and the Temple. They moved out of Jerusalem and lived a monastic life in the desert, adopting strict dietary laws and a commitment to celibacy.”[xv]

Conclusions

The Pharisees are an often misunderstood group, and in fact, like almost any group, one must make a few observations:

  • They must always be viewed as a whole, but also with the distinctions that are bound to exist within that whole
  • The good (or evil) ideals of a group must be contrasted with the human beings in the group that often fail to hold to that ideal
  • The group must be understood in the context of their time, the surrounding culture, and rival (or allied) groups that interact with them. The development and history of a group is especially important, so that reference to the groups working within a certain period of history may be contextually understood with what they were at that time, rather than on the basis of what they may have later become

Certainly, Jesus and the Apostles had their conflicts with ‘the Pharisees,’ but likewise, the Pharisees had positive qualities, and many of them were not enemies but friends of Christ. We must educated ourselves on who the Pharisees were in a balanced and realistic way, lest we make a similar mistake to those who think only that ‘therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him’[xvi] and forget that ‘salvation is from the Jews.’[xvii]


[ii] NewAdvent.org

[iii] Matthew 23:29,30

[iv] John 3:1-2

[v] N.T. Wright,The New Testament and the People of God (NTPG) 189

[vi] NewAdvent.org

[vii] ibid

[viii] Proverbs 19:2

[ix] NewAdvent.org

[x] See Wright, ‘NTPG’ Ch.7ff and ‘Paul and the Faithfulness of God’ Part I, 2.2

[xi] Wikipedia

[xii] NewAdvent.org

[xiii] Acts 23:6-8

[xiv] NewAdvent.org

[xvi] John 5:18

[xvii] John 4:22

Religion and Relationship

I would like here to offer some thoughts on Jesus, religion, and relationship because the topics seem to be brought up often as if in opposition. 

 

But first, I would like to clarify an important principle which, if not understood, will lead to the confusion and incomprehension of all that follows.

 

We must define our terms: “A human is a 6’3” African American man that teaches science in Fresno, California.”

 

Of course, a human may be male, black, tall, a teacher, and reside in the Golden State. But these are not what he is. Man is a rational animal, created in the image and likeness of God. It is important, so important, not only in what follow, but in ALL THINGS that we learn to distinguish the accidental and the essential.

 

So what about Jesus and Religion?

 

If we think religion is about saying morning prayer, or keeping Sunday as a day of rest, or of listening to Gregorian Chant or Jars of Clay, then we are confusing the accidental with the essential. Religion is about knowing our place before God, and honoring the command of the great Teacher on religion who said to “render unto God the things that are God’s.”

 

So religion is not about the things we do, but about the service in Whom and for Whom we do them. We cannot see religion as the particulars, but as the essence of our relationship with God. Yes, religion, in its essence, is about our relationship with God. It is both personal and communal. We must not pretend to isolate religion from relationship. One without the other makes either an empty term. You do not have a true relationship with God if your religion is ABOUT the particulars, and you do not have a true relationship with God if you ignore the religious aspect that He, as Creator, put in you as man. Religion and relationship stand or fall together. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

 

Likewise, if you see the errors of those OF a religion as errors of Religion itself, you again confuse the accidental and the essential. One may say “I despise religion because by it, people have gone to war.” Well, people went to war, not religion. The problem with this line of thinking is that it does not lead to a relationship with God, it leads to a denial of him. Today, it is more popular to say “Science flies you to the moon, and religion flies you into buildings.” But that is not what “religion” does; that is what a false zeal in a false religion does, and “Without knowledge, even zeal is not good” (Proverbs 19: 2).

 

Subjectively, religion is the virtue by which man renders to God what is due to Him, which, of course, is everything. Strictly speaking, we can never “repay” God. Still, it is that same wise Teacher about that tells us “to render unto God,” and so, we religiously do as He tells us (let us not forget that there is real meaning to our current fight for freedom of religion, and it is rightly termed this, rather than “freedom of relationship”, for the government can make a claim that it already allows freedom of “relationship,” yet we all know that is not enough).

 

But objectively, religion is those things that we believe, and rather, the source of those things. If that is Jesus, then it cannot also be this particular Rite, or that particular prayer or set of prayers, or this or that small group or even Institutional Church. All those things are means, some of them even sacred, but they are not the immediate content of faith.

 

My point in all this is that we should all reflect and discern whether or not we are guilty of either misunderstanding religion and relationship. If our “relationship” with our Creator denies the virtue of religion that says “render unto God the things that are God’s”, our relationship is empty and unfounded. Likewise, if our “religion” consists in the actions, liturgical, moral, and otherwise, as if they were the end and not the means, then our religion is empty and unfounded.

 

Let us remember that if we truly “have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations then we will not live a religion without relationship, nor pretend to have a relationship separated from religion.

 

Do not presume to say to yourself we have Abraham (or the Catholic Church) as our father, for “from these very stones God could raise up” such. The means will not bring your salvation. But likewise, do not neglect religion, which is, again, to “render unto God,” for if we neglect it, we will be judged as such: “Truly, I say to you, ‘as you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

As another wise teacher has written “neither circumcision or uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” and “if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

 

On the subject of relationship and religion, let us ask the wisest of all Teachers:

 

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

 

Let us never separate religion and relationship, nor pretend to live one without the other. The two are “one flesh.”

 

In Him,

 

Matt 

Sacred Places

Many today think that “places” cannot be sacred, and that somehow “take of your sandals, for you are on holy ground” went away with the Old Law. But Jesus Himself so often not only rose early and went to be alone to pray, but went away to a mountain, or to a hill, or some place of significance.

God is certainly present everywhere, but we humans, bombarded by the everyday and the “normal” need to go to special places to be more aware of Him. Just as our spirit does not “move” when we kneel but the position of our bodies truly affects our souls, so our going away to a mountain to be alone with God is a very real “change of place” for our souls as well.

God is present everywhere, but I doubt many who knew Jesus as God when He walked the earth would turn their gaze away from Him and say “but you are over there as well.” If God became Incarnate, the physical world and special places within it take on more importance, not less, when rightly understood.

“Jesus meets us where we are” but doesn’t wish us to stay there. We should praise Him, as the song goes, “on that holy mountain.”

From Paradisusdei.org

The following list was taken from the That Man is You program offered by paradisusdei.org. seems like a pretty decent commitment to make:

Seven Covenants

The path of conversion whereby men turn away from sin and turn towards God according to each of the three fundamental orientations takes concrete form in The Seven Covenants of That Man is You!

Covenant on Sexual Purity
“I will live in sexual purity according to the sixth and ninth commandments and I will take whatever action is necessary to safeguard sexual purity for myself, my spouse and my children.”

Covenant on Financial Responsibility
“I will become financially responsible for myself and my family by giving God the first fruits of my labor, saving a portion of my earnings and eliminating all credit card debt.

Covenant to Reclaim Sunday as the Lord’s Day
“I will reclaim Sunday as the Lord’s Day by attending Mass together with my family and making the gift of that day to my family so that we may experience the superabundant joy of God together.”

Covenant on Reading Scripture
“I will spend at least fifteen minutes a day gently reading Scripture and allowing God to speak to me. I will validate my insights through my spouse and/or spiritual guide as appropriate.”

Covenant to Encounter God in the Home
“Seven times each day I will stop what I’m doing and praise God for all the gifts that He has given me, beginning with the gift of my spouse.”

Covenant on Intimacy with Christ in the Eucharist
“In addition to receiving Christ in the Eucharist on Sunday, I will receive Him in the Eucharist once per week in thanksgiving for all his gifts. If I am unable to receive Him in the Eucharist, I will at least stop to visit Him residing in the Tabernacle.”

Covenant to Profoundly Receive God’s Mercy
“I will receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation once each month or immediately upon committing a serious sin. I will manifest the merciful Father by gratuitously offering something to each member of my family at least once per week.”

In Defense of Icons

(This is a “starter” for a future post and not complete)

 
If we can speak of God in words, we can use icons. For are not both merely instruments that point beyond themselves? When spoken or written, words convey a meaning. We do not, upon reading or hearing, visualize the symbols, but that which the symbol points to. If I say horse, you do not think “H-O-R-S-E” but rather, ponder the concept of a horse. The icon, likewise, is a symbol that points to that which it represents. No more do I worship the Crucifix before me than I worship the sentence “Christ died for my sins.” The point of each is to convey a truth for me to reflect upon.

I cannot see how it is reasonable to arbitrarily call one symbol idolatrous and another permissible. Either we can present to the mind “material” for reflection (be it in words or in pictures) or we cannot. Either we can have an image (and words are for the purpose of creating an image in the mind of the one who hears or reads them) or we cannot. Either we should look upon icons and crucifixes and images that lead us to ponder God, or we should be absolutely silent and never think of these things at all.

New Age

It has always been tough for me to really define what New Age actually is. But that seems permissible, for it is no easy for two New Agers to define it either. It seems to just be a sort of spiritual and metaphysical eclecticism, and so it can take as many forms as there are people that adhere to “it.”

Of course, I have met people who think they are spiritual because they “eat a lot of fruit” or do yoga while reading the Bible. New Age seems to me to be a mixing of error with error, or sometimes truth with error. But if truth is one, no mixture can be permissible. If we have one “mathematician” who says that 4+4 is 8, and another who claims that 4+4 is 10, do we have an eclectic math when we say 4+4 is 9? Or when we say it can equal 8 or 10? No, we either have it right, or we have an erroneous math.

I have heard some New Age followers who are at least a little more learned try and claim that, for instance, the Catholic Church has Franciscan spirituality and Carmelite spirituality, etc, and thus, a similar trend. But this is obviously a failure to grasp differences in the way a life geared towards truth can have different emphases rather than a split personality (or split truth) disorder that is objectively what happens with the New Age movement.

To emphasis works of mercy or contemplation in life, all according to the one true God, cannot be equated to accepting the teachings of Jesus, but also worshipping many gods (or none at all) in a mixture of eastern and western mysticism. One can say that Jesus and Mohammed and that the tradition of the Vedas and the Brahmans all have good uses, but to turn this into a mixture of the truth of Jesus along with the truth of the others is merely to muddy the water when seeking purity.

One of my favorite modern authors, on the subject of the philosophy of religion as well as other things, is Peter Kreeft. I have done little real study of New Age outside of personal experiences with other people, but listening to several of his lectures has at least helped develop my understanding to at least an elementary level.

I know that many New Age thinkers will place someone like St. John of the Cross in their “camp.” I have to say that, a relative of mine who is deep into New Age thinking did send me, as a gift, a copy of the works of St. John of the Cross, and I am thankful to have been able to add it to my library. But obviously, she and I have very different interpretations of what the holy Carmelite meant.

Like any group of people, you have well intentioned souls and you have ignorant and even very strange people in all camps. Often I find that, rather than try to see exactly what they believe, why, and how this came to be (although all of this effort can truly be a labor of love) it is simply best to present the truth boldly as it truly is and let its own weight take hold if it be the will of God.

From the Office of Readings, May 9, 2012

From a Letter to Diognetus: The Christian in the world

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonour, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.

Short reflection on the Health and Wealth Gospel

“What grace is meant to do is to help good people, not to escape their sufferings, but to bear them with a stout heart, with a fortitude that finds its strength in faith.” St. Augustine, The City of God, Book XXII, Chapter 22

Often I wonder if Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers, to name a couple of today,s popular “preachers” have even heard of, much less read, the likes of Augustine (and, honestly, the likes of the Bible). I would much rather call these and others like them “good motivational speakers” than preachers of the message of Christ. Yes, as Augustine had just said moments earlier, “It is true that, even in this life on earth, through the intercession of the saints we have many holy comforts and remedies.” But he continues “Nevertheless, such favors are not always given to those who ask – lest such favors be mistaken for the real purpose of religion.”

While we do not have to fill every sermon with fire and brimstone nor picket at every event that those who don’t believe exactly the way we do are “headed straight for hell” and go so far as to self-righteously claim “God hates you” as we see from other would be “preachers,” it would be good for us to remember the story of Job, for example, and not expect that God’s love means that “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.” (Osteen)

Certainly think He wants us to “fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us” but dare we presume it is earthly fulfillment? The health and wealth Gospel preaches the exact City that Augustine’s City of God is the contrary of. We don’t need to look merely at Job and other Old Testament figures. We need not even look at martyrs like Stephen, Peter, and Paul.

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:8)

Prayer: Meditation and Contemplation

What is the difference between meditation and contemplation as an approach to mental prayer?

There are many forms of prayer and levels of prayer, although prayer is always a lifting of the mind and heart to God.  Prayer requires both the intellect and the will, for we desire God and we desire to know Him.  Often one will use the terms meditation and contemplation synonymously, but though certainly related, these are not the same. One simple method to distinguishing the two is to divide them between the ascetical and mystical forms.

“Ascetical theology treats especially of the mortification of vices or defects and of the practice of the virtues. Mystical theology treats principally of docility to the Holy Ghost, of the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith, of the union with God which proceeds from it, and also of extraordinary graces, such as visions and revelations, which sometimes accompany infused contemplation” (Three Ages of the Interior Life). Generally, meditation can be said to belong to the ascetical stage and contemplation to the mystical stage of one’s prayer life. However, such a strict distinction, although helpful in discerning the difference, can also be misleading, as can any theology which would separate ascetical and mystical stages too sharply.

“Discursive meditation can be defined as a reasoned application of the mind to some supernatural truth in order to penetrate its meaning, love it, and carry it into practice with the assistance of grace. The distinguishing note of meditation is that it is a discursive type of prayer, and therefore attention is absolutely indispensable” (Spiritual Theology).  The will is turned to God and some aspect of truth, rather revealed or naturally known, is meditated upon.  This truth is pondered so as to come to a greater understanding of it, a greater understanding of its relation to other truths, and an understanding of how to apply the truth in one’s daily life. “Meditation is not completed by arousing love for the supernatural truth on which one has speculated. Any meditation that is properly made should terminate in a practical resolution for the future” (Spiritual Theology).

The guiding principle for the subject matter to be reflected on is to select what is needed at a particular time and will be beneficial to the one praying. A married person may often meditate upon certain truths more often than others, while a religious or professed single person may reflect on others. An older person, or one who has lived many years in the faith may reflect on different truths than one new to the faith. With contemplative prayer, this is often not the case, but the subject of reflection is rather guided more directly by the action of the Holy Spirit than it is as chosen by the one contemplating.

Truth is certainly to be known for its own sake, as an end itself and not simply as a means.  However, it must be stressed again that that which is meditated upon should carry over into action, into the way the life of the believer is lived in the concrete circumstances of his or her life.

“The word contemplation signifies knowledge accompanied by delight, and the object of the knowledge is usually of such a type that it arouses admiration and captivates the soul…contemplation is an operation of the cognitive powers…” (Spiritual Theology) In true contemplation, the will and intellect are more passive.  They are both still involved, to be sure, but are noticeably more moved by the direct action of the Holy Spirit interiorly.  Meditation can certainly become contemplation, as the will is turned to God and His graces operate in the one who is praying.  But contemplation is distinct in the way the intellect and will are moved to knowledge of God not in a discursive manner but much more directly.

One may, for example, know that God exists through discursive knowledge.  One can meditate on the truth that all contingent things need a cause, and that there is therefore a cause that is not contingent but necessary. One may also meditate on the Trinity, which, as object of meditation, requires faith, since it cannot be known by reason, yet this knowledge may still be discursive in nature.  Beyond this, contemplation involves experiential rather than discursive knowledge, and this can only be brought about by a direct action of the Holy Spirit in a soul so disposed by grace.

“Supernatural or infused contemplation has been defined by various formulas, but the essential note that all definitions have in common is that supernatural contemplation is an experimental knowledge of God. Moreover, as a supernatural activity, infused contemplation requires the operation of faculties that are likewise supernatural, both in their substance and in their mode of operation” (Spiritual Theology).

Infused contemplation is a grade of prayer made possible by the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and it necessarily requires sanctifying grace and the impulse of actual grace. (adapted from Spiritual Theology) One could, of course, even in the state of sin, meditate on the mysteries of the faith.  While charity has been lost due to sin, as long as faith and hope remain, the believer can reflect in a real way upon the truths of the faith.  But for contemplation, sanctifying grace must be present. As with all good things done by man, the impulse of actual grace is necessary as well. The believer must be in a state of grace and moved by grace interiorly, and this cannot come from the believer directly but from the Holy Spirit.  The person must be open and not resistant to grace, but contemplation can never be brought about through the effort of the believer.

The infused virtues of the affective order are not the immediate, formal, and eliciting principles of the act of contemplation, although they may serve as antecedent dispositions or consequent effects. The immediate eliciting principles of contemplation are the gifts of wisdom and understanding perfecting the act of faith informed by charity. (adapted from Spiritual Theology) In other words, it is not the infused virtues that bring about in a direct way the act of contemplation.  They are necessary, and are given already with sanctifying grace as gifts of the Holy Spirit.  They are, for all that, not the direct cause of contemplation, but rather it is the Holy Spirit moving one through the gifts of wisdom and understanding.

In summary, meditation can be closely linked with ascetical prayer in that, although it still requires grace, can be brought about by human effort.  Contemplation, however, although requiring certainly our cooperation, is passive in that the Spirit moves one directly to the object of contemplation. So while we must never divide ascetical and mystical theology into completely separated and unrelated categories, and likewise with meditation and contemplation, we can indeed make distinctions so that we may reflect more deeply upon the workings of grace and the Holy Spirit in our lives of prayer as we journey ever closer to God.