If you cannot find me, it is because grad school has started. I am trying to learn the Hebrew and Syriac alphabets at once. Thank God I already know the Greek alphabet. If you need to find me urgently, I am the one on the bottom, buried underneath a pile of books.
Before proceeding to a discussion of the Divinity of Jesus Christ, we should first make a pit stop to discuss the basic argument for the existence of a transcendent divinity, i.e., of a all-powerful being that exists beyond the rest of reality and is responsible for its creation, in the first place. It is important to establish this fact, because later we are going to look at the possibility that a man named Jesus of Nazareth was actually that all-powerful, transcendent Being in human form. That is a central claim of Christianity - and it is distinct from many common ideas that, say, Jesus was a special prophet of God, or a special spiritual leader of men. We claim that He was God-in-Flesh, God-with-Us.
So first, let's look at the plausibility of God in the first place. We must be clear about two things: (1) what exactly we are trying to demonstrate; (2) how such things are demonstrated.
Regarding the first point, we must be clear that we are not here trying to prove that the God of Christianity or Judaism exists: the God who interacts with His creation, loving it and us, and revealing His to humanity His plan for us. Far from it. We are only trying to prove that a God, of some sort or nature exists, and to see what is discernible about that God using our observations and common sense reasoning. The second point is about the ability to prove things. We are used to speaking of "scientifically proven," with very little understanding of what that means.
Interestingly enough, careful scientists do not speak that way - usually mostly the Newsweek reporters relaying their stories speak so boldly. The scientific method isn't intended to prove anything, but rather to disprove something. The scientific method entails looking at the data, forming a theory to explain it, imagining defects in the theory and the sort of new data that would disprove the theory, and then an experiment (in a lab or otherwise) to try to see whether the new theory is false or not. As test upon test fails to disprove a theoretical explanation for a set of data, that explanation gets more and more accepted. It is laymen like myself who are prone to say, "Science has proven X," when in reality, what has really happened is that no scientist has disproven X and formed a better theory to explain what is known. The scientific method, then, adds greatly to the information we have to operate with, but always with a certain uncertainty, a little openness to new ideas in the future that might overrule our older ways of thinking.
The scientific method has one notable weakness. It only deals with material causes - with matter and energy. If I push a block, and the block moves, a scientist might be able to address all sorts of questions about the force and friction undergone by the block - but his methods will not explain what was going on in my mind, why I decided to move the block. Its ability to explain intention, motivation, or decision (pertaining to what Aristotle calls formal causes) is fairly limited. Formal causes are not contrary to material causes - both can exist simultaneously. If I move a block, and someone asks why the block was moved, it would be equally accurate to give the material answer ("A force pushed upon it sufficiently to overcome the friction holding it in place,") and the formal answer ("Ryan decided to move it"). In fact, a full answer requires both. Even though formal causes aren't material and cannot be measured very well, we all know they exist because we all have the experience of making decisions that we did not have to make.
Remember, the scientific method is based on human experience of the exterior, material world. If we are going to deny the usefulness of the human experience of our own thought processes, then we might as well throw out all human experience, because we only come to know the exterior world through thought processes. If we are going to admit "scientific evidence," things measured and weighed, the we have to admit experiential evidence in general, even if we must use different means to sort through different kinds.
Now, logic, on the other hand, can prove some things - but only using the sort of data we already know - categories of thought. If an elm is a tree, and no tree is a dog, then it is absolutely certainly true that no elm is a dog. Of course, this sort of reasoning isn't very interesting, because it doesn't add very much to what we already knew. Both sorts of knowledge - scientific and logical - are very powerful. We previously explored historical knowledge, whose methods provide less certainty than science, but still useful and important information. There are other sorts of knowledge, too. We might call relational knowledge all that "data" we acquire about persons and people in general as we interact more with more people. This sort of knowledge is certainly very useful and important, even if the methods we use are usually informal and not very certain.
These different ways of knowing things to different degrees of certainty shouldn't bother us too much. Part of human maturation is learning to deal with uncertainty. Loving our mothers requires uncertainty, and so does astrophysicists. The only absolutely certain people probably insane. Now back to the question of the existence of God. Can we know God's existence certainly? Well, no, given what we've just discussed - but we can know it as certainly as we know anything else. Here's one line of reasoning that makes the case. If you sense a weakness in the reasoning, it is probably my fault - I am trying to condense St. Thomas Aquinas' reasoning, which is a difficult task because he was not given to rhetorical frills in the midst of his arguments.
A. Each composite thing (things made up of other things - e.g., dogs, Lego structures, houses, cities, etc.) that we experience has a beginning and an end.
B. Because before its beginning a thing does not exist, we would not expect it to be able to bring itself into existence. In fact, our expectation is matched by our experience, at least negatively, because we have never witnessed a thing bringing itself into creation, but have always been able to identify something(s) outside of it, and existing before it, acting upon its parts to compose it.
C. If the universe is taken as a single thing composed of all those things that are part of it, each of which came into being through a process of creation or composition, the universe too would have a composer entirely outside of it and prior to it, composing it.
D. The creator/composer of the universe, being fundamentally outside of it, must not be of the same sort of thing as the universe it created. Among the ways it differs, it must be a sort of thing that does not need a creator because of having always existed. If the creator needed a creator itself, and so on, there would have to be an infinite number of them, in which case, none of them would actually get around to creating the universe.
E. We cannot expect the universe to have been self-creating (autochthonous is the Greek word for this idea) because nothing in the universe is self-creating, and if the universe is the sum-total of its parts, it cannot be expected to be so radically different from its parts.
Now, the argument above does not exactly prove the existence of God, but does point in favor of it. The Greek realist philosophers held essentially this position, although they believed that the material of the world was eternal, and that its composition into its current form was the work of God. Christians have readily admitted that creation from nothing (ex nihilo) cannot be proven logically, but have nonetheless taken it as a matter of faith, and that point aside, used the substance of the Greek argument in our own favor.
This argument does not tell us much about the Creator/Composer of the Universe: only that the Creator must exist, in order to explain everything else, and that the Creator must be totally outside of, and radically different from the created universe. It does not tell us the means or process by which the Creator created the universe, nor does it tell us the Creator's attitude toward or purpose for the universe. We are most certainly not trying to prove the Judeo-Christian conception of God here.
This morning at Mass, Monsignor noted that in earlier days we were more aware that the Church celebrates the momentous occasion of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary bodily into heaven not only for one day, but for an entire eight-day octave (a week, including both the start and end day). The last day of that octave is today, the feast of the Queenship of Mary. Regular rosary-prayers (rosarizers, as I like to say!) will recognize these two events as the last two mysteries of the Rosary - the Assumption and Crowning of Mary. Just as Mary is the first payment on God's pledge to bring us to Himself, her coronation not only shows her utter preeminence among creation, but also His desire to glorify and ennoble us. Jesus Christ is King, and His deepest desire is to make us each princes and princesses in His Father's house.
Pause and think about that for a minute.
When I find myself anxious about the future, I try to remember the advice of my spiritual director. "You know rich people can buy pretty much anything, right? Well, remember your Father is loaded! Whatever the problem is, He's already got the solution worked out. Trust, Ryan, trust. Avoid sin and serve God, and let Him get His people to sort out the details."
The difficulty of faith, of trusting that the All-Powerful Lord of the Universe actually loves me and intends what is best for me, is that this world is so filled with crap sometimes. A line from the Hail Holy Queen says that we are "mourning and weeping in this valley of tears." It may be a bit dramatic, but not overly so. Life isn't easy. Sometimes the question, "God! Where were you!?" isn't entirely unreasonable. We need to ask God to increase our faith, as the man did whose daughter was gravely ill, "Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief," (Mk 9:24). That is because faith, hope, and charity are supernatural virtues - they have their origin in God, and directly lead us to Him. In fact, you might almost say that they are the stuff that the life of God is made of.
In the ancient near East, a king's wife wouldn't be queen - he had too many of them in his harem. Instead, his queen would be his mother, because she had been the wife of the previous king, and the one who secured her son's position as heir. Such women were naturally the objects of much more respect and affection than the king's wives would be - they were playthings or political maneuvers. The queen might approach her son, the king, on any number of topics with a much greater chance of a favorable hearing than almost anyone else in the realm. She was his mother, and raised him, and knew his heart. A little story at 1 Kings 2:13-19 shows an incident of this sort, in which Bathsheba approaches her son, King Solomon, on behalf of a man who has fallen from the King's favor.
The Lord Jesus is taking the whole Church to be His bride (Eph 5:32-33; Rev 19; inter al.) - that's a lot of woman! But He already has His queen, His mother, and she is always ready to approach Him on our behalf and to restore us to His favor. Of course, factually we know that Jesus loves us infinitely and is ever-ready to forgive us. Sometimes, though, we don't feel it, just as children sometimes fearing their father go to bury their heads in the skirts of their mother.
Next time you feel remote from Jesus, from God, and feel isolated and lost, ask Mama Mary, our Queen, to bring you to Him. She will.
My dear reader, lol,
Some of you may have noted that my last post had a comment attached to it, posted by one "Mark." What is intriguing is that the comment was about Jesus, whereas my post was about nearly getting hit by a car because I run at night in black shorts across parkways. Nonetheless, I am not one to let a challenge go unanswered. The post reads as follows:
"Jesus, if he ever existed, was a man, a human being. I have yet to see evidence sufficient to compel me to believe that he was or is a god. Where would you say the evidence is that compels you to believe that he was a god?"
In my reply, I addressed a preliminary issue in brief, and promised a fuller response. On a friend's blog I noticed the same commentator posted the same comment. In the event that he actually is hoping for a response, I plan to begin delivering one. Classes start on Monday, so I will be busier than ever. I took my undergraduate degree in Classical History, so I feel somewhat prepared to answer it, and will do my best.
First, I would like to distinguish between facticity and historicity. Facticity speaks to the reality of a person, place, thing, or event. I put on my socks this morning. That event is real and has facticity. It is a fact, disputed or not. It hasn't got historicity, however, even though it happened in the past, because it wasn't recorded, isn't part of the historical record, and in a generation or so, my socks and I will both have been forgotten from the human mind. Historicity refers to a recorded-ness of a fact. The great bulk of things that actually happen (have facticity) leave no historical record, and so haven't got historicity. On the other hand, a thing might be recorded falsely, and such things haven't got authentic historicity either, they aren't part of factual history, but rather are forgeries or mistaken memories of some sort. Is the distinction clear? It's important because of how the historical methods work.
History cannot, and does not aim at, trying to prove things as science does. It cannot provide the same kind of certainty, but can still provide reasonable certainty of another sort. When a thing is determined to have historicity, to be historical, that implies its facticity, since it cannot have historicity without facticity. To determine a thing's historicity, one must find it in the historical record, demonstrate that the record hasn't been tampered with, and that the record is reasonably, reliably accurate. Having accomplished these tasks, an historian will have shown a disputed event actually to have happened.
The first question question to be addressed from my earnest commentator's post is the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. If He didn't really exist, then their is no point trying to lay out my reasons for believing that He was/is God-in-Flesh. On the other hand, if His existence can be shown to be historical, then it follows that He, in all probability, at least existed - from which point we can begin to discuss His possible divinity.
Two ancient Roman historians mention Jesus of Nazareth: Tacitus, who lived from AD 55-117
and Suetonius, who lived from 70-160. Both of these men were youths during the time of the Apostles. Additionally, Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived from about AD 37 to about AD 100, also gives Jesus some press time. None of these writers was Christian, and while none were contemporaries of Jesus, they were all shortly after his time (born between 6 BC and AD 0, and died/resurrected about AD 27-33). Notably, they all take his existence for granted, and place his followers in the context of broader events in the Roman Empire that are otherwise noted by ancient historians. A few modern historians have argued that Christian monks, while copying the documents, inserted references to Jesus (particularly into Josephus' accounts). Their only evidence is speculation however, that the monks would have been upset by Josephus' failure to mention him. Moreover, those same historians have admitted that they see no reason to suspect tampering elsewhere in those same texts. If their theory is correct it would be odd, because there are other places in the historical records where a crafty monk might have inserted such references very naturally. The consensus among modern historians is that Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius are reasonably accurate; that archaeological finds have never ruled out their reports. It's a good thing, too, because these cats provide most of what we know about the ancient world, outside of archaeological remains.
A reasonable person might deny the divinity of Jesus, but he has no reason to deny his reliable presence in the historical record; which is to say there is no reason to doubt that, in some shape or form, Jesus of Nazareth actually existed.
About His divinity more will follow soon.
Last night, from 8 p.m. until 9:42 p.m. I ran 12 miles around the DC area - up the George Washington Parkway, across the Key Bridge into Georgetown and back, down the GW Parkway again, across the George Mason bridge, around Jefferson Memorial, up to the Mall, down the Mall almost all the way (as far as the Native American Museum), and then back across the GM Bridge to where I'd parked at the Lady Bird Memorial park. My average pace was 8:33 min/mile - well on track to meet my goal of a sub-4 hour marathon. My roommate Tom ran with me and we had a nice time. Pretty views, cool air, light traffic. I'm just a little sore today, and imagine he is too, because he hasn't run more than a few miles in a number of years. I give him props for gettin' out there.
I am hoping that, in the intensification of time and experience that physical exertion brings, I will provide God, or God will provide me, a setting in which my heart can be more readily purified, my will strengthened, and my joy deepened.
I was nearly hit by a Chevy Suburban while straddling the Jersey barrier in the middle of the George Washington Parkway, intended to keep pedestrians from crossing it. That near-death experience - just inches of space - made me happy that I'd gone to confession recently. Next time, I'll look for another place to cross, like my roommate did.
Remember how Christ had the parable of the sower and the seeds? In fact, he had a number that used that image. The seeds are always the good people, or the Gospel message, etc. Christ plants these seeds. Then like the grain of wheat that has to fall to the ground in order to give rise to a hundredfold harvest, Christ died.
Because of this faith, we live differently than the rest of the world. We don't live just for this world - for fame, sex, power, money. We live for the new and eternal life that God has promised to us. He has fulfilled that promise in Jesus first when Jesus was resurrected and then ascended into heaven. But Jesus is not only fully human, but also fully God. So why would it be such a big deal that He goes to heaven? As if to settle any doubts about what He meant, God fulfilled the resurrection promise for Mary, too - not only Jesus, but all those with Jesus will rise to the new and eternal life. Jesus goes first, and then we follow in faith.
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, into heaven was not just "made up" in 1950, but is the ancient belief of the Church. In the East they call it the "Dormition of Mary," the falling asleep of Mary. Was she conscious when drawn into heaven? Did she fall into a deep sleep and thus was drawn into heaven? Did she die painlessly and instantaneously experience the resurrection of her body and its union with Our Lord in heaven? It is not clear exactly what happened to her, but what is the clear and constant teaching of the Church that her flesh never knew corruption and that she was taken up to our Lord.
One of the prime bits of historical evidence is actually a gap in knowledge. With all the saints whose relics and tombs are venerated, even relatively little known saints, it seems odd that Mary, most beloved of them all, should have neither relic nor tomb ascribed to her anywhere on earth.
Why is it so important that Mary should have thus been drawn into heaven? Because in Mary, Christ, the first fruits of the dead, has already begun to gather in the rest of the harvest, the rest of his fruit of the seeds he scattered. He has brought her with Him, and He will not forget us. She truly is then our great reason for hoping in Christ.
Last night, from about 11:45 p.m. til about 1:15 a.m. I ran up Rockville Pike for 5.5 miles, and then turned around and ran back. At mile 7.14 my Nike+ attachment crapped out and crashed my iPod with it. So the times aren't exact, and I had to finish the run in silence, except for the sound of my own voice cursing Nike under my breath.
The anger reinvigorated my pace, and I am sure the last four miles were faster than the first. But I also noticed that I kinda like running in the quiet - combined with the unseasonably cool, damp air, and the darkness of night, and the trafficless streets, it was really, really nice, actually. The damp air felt like grace. That helped me calm down about my Nike+ attachment. The realization that this run was my longest since my undergraduate Cross Country days also helped me cool down emotionally. In three weeks or so I'll be up to 14 miles, which will be my longest run.
I'm pretty psyched about the whole thing.
So last night I ran my first race in about 6 years, and only my second or third since graduating college. It was a 5k, advertised as being a trail run, although about 2 of the 3.12 miles were actually on a road. It was a there-and-back race, too, which is not usually the most interesting or easily viewed race either. All that said, the weather was perfect, the atmosphere was festive, there was live music at the end, and the vineyard that hosted the race provided free fruit, bread, cheese, water, and wine samples (!) for all the runners. There were 501 runners who finished, and I placed 61st, finishing in 22:36 min, which is a 7:14 min/mile pace (although, they recorded my time as somebody else's, and vice versa). I’m pretty happy with that as a start. I’ll definitely go again next year, and bring some friends, too, because I’m sure they’ll agree that the wine et al. more than makes up for the difficulty of viewing the race.
So today I decided to try to read Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, by Fr. De Caussade, S.J., again. In doing so, I came across this passage (2.2.2):
To Arrive at the State of Self-Abandonment, the Soul Must Strip Itself of All Created Things
This state presents nothing bu sweetness when attained, but many agonies have to be passed through on the road. The doctrine of pure love can only be learnt by God’s action, not by any effort of our own spirit. God instructs the heart not by means of ideas, but by pains and contradictions. The science of this state is a practical knowledge by which one tastes God as the sole good. In order to possess it, we have to be disentangled from all particular goods, and to reach that state of disentanglement we have to be really deprived of them. Thus, it is only through a continual self-contradiction and a long series of all kinds of mortifications, trials, and strippings that one can be established in the state of pure love. We have to arrive at the point at which the whole created universe no longer exists for us, and God is everything. For that prpose it is necessary that God should oppose himself to all the particular affections of the soul, so that when it is led to some particular form of prayer or idea of piety or method of devotion, when it proposes to attain perfection by such and such plans or ways by the direction of such and such people, in fact, when it attaches itself to anything whatever, God upsets its ideas and permits that instead of what it thought it would do, it finds in it all nothing but confusion, trouble, emptiness, folly. No sooner has it said: that is my path, there is the person I ought to consult, that is how I should act, than God immediately says the contrary and withdraws his power from the means chosen by the soul. So, finding in everything only deception and nothingness, the soul is constrained to have recourse to God himself and be content with Him.
Happy the soul that understands this loving severity of its God and corresponds to it faithfully! It rises above all that is transitory to rest in the unchangeable and infinite. It no longer lets itself go forth by love and confidence to created things, it admits them only by duty, by the command of God and a special application of his will. It lives above the alternations of abundance and deprivation in the plenitude of God who is its permanent good. God finds such a soul quite empty of individual inclinations, movements, or choice. It is dead and buried in a universal indifference. The Allness of the Divine Being thus appearing in the depth of the heart spreads over the surface of creatures a tint of nothingness which absorbs all their distinctions and variety. Creatures by themselves are without power or efficacy and the heart lacks any tendency or inclination towards them because the majesty of God fills all its capacity. A heart that thus livs for God is dead to everything else and everything is dead to it. It is for God who gives life to everything to vivify the soul and other creatures in regard to it. This life is God’s design.
Great, that at least explains why I so frequently feel as if, in my interior life, the rug is pulled out from under my feet. God is teaching me to trust and love Him, and His creatures only for His sake, according to His plans. Great. I hope that one day I will be able to say, with Mary, with my whole heart, “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.” I guess this is what it takes.
Yesterday I had struggled with bitterness. Then last night while I was running, I recalled that I had felt bitterly, and noticed that I no longer did. God had answered my prayer and lifted, gradually or at some unnoticed point in the day, the bitterness that had been choking my heart. Observing that fact was a pleasant sensation. So here is what I learned in that experience: feeling bitter tastes, as it were, bitter; but the memory of having felt bitter, coupled with the observation that one no longer so feels, is something sweet.
Feast of St. John Vianney
Priest (Aug 4)
Ok, so St. John Vianney (1786-1859) didn't actually beat up Hananiah (oh, let's say 650 BC to 588 BC, give or take). But his spirit sure did; or rather, we should say that Jeremiah, who outdid Hananiah, lived on in spirit in the person of St. John Vianney.
The Babylonians had attacked Jerusalem and taken some of her leadership into captivity. They replaced the king of Judah with their own man, who took the name Zedekiah. Zedekiah turned out to be not so much a puppet as they had hoped, and decided to rebel against the Babylonians; to do so, he would recruit the help of the Egyptians. Hananiah and some of the other court "prophets" were happy to be yes-men and encouraged Zedekiah. Jeremiah, on the other hand, told them all flat out that it was the will of God that they should be humbled a while longer, that they should not ally with the Egyptians because the Egyptians' help never turned out well. He repeated until he was blue in the face that Judah's new found national pride was opposed by the will of God. To make his point, he strapped onto himself a wooden yoke, like a farmer would use to harness a pair of oxen. Sure enough, the Babylonians come back with a vengeance and lay seige to the Holy City.
Today's first Mass reading (Jer 28:1-17; Ps 119:29, 43, 79, 80, 95, 102; Mt 14:22-36) picks up at this point. Hananiah, the mealy-mouthed so-called prophet smashes the yoke from Jeremiah and proclaims that in like manner God Himself will lift the seige and save the city. Jeremiah goes and fetches an iron yoke and straps it to himself: Judah, you are on the wrong course! Repent! Trust God, not the Egyptians! He turns his wrath on Hananiah and tell him that because he has falsely spoken on behalf of the Lord, he will not live to see the year's end. Sure enough, Hananiah died within a few months. Within a few more months, in the year 587 BC, Jerusalem is taken by the Babylonians, her entire leadership deported, Zedekiah's eyes were put out and his sons murdered by the Babylonian general, and the city was laid waste and her population dispersed.
About 2400 years separate St. John Vianney from the time of the holy prophet Jeremiah and the false prophet Hananiah, but the same perennial battle was underway and is underway still. On one hand, the sunny optimists of progress continually tell us that all is well, that by our own efforts and on our own terms, we can make the world a better place. They call opponents pessimistic, unpatriotic, narrowminded, backwards, and worse. The only problems they see are in their opponents' unwillingness to trust them.
St. John Vianney spoke out against the merry laxity of his day, in which religious observance was mechanical and infrequent. He spoke out against the immorality that lax observance protected. He spoke out even against people, when they encouraged that immorality. His homilies were not nice, and people did not like to hear what he had to say. "So gloomy, this new priest," one can almost here people saying as they left church after Sunday Mass. Importantly, St. John Vianney did not merely speak out against these evils, but he lived out against them. His whole life was a testimony to goodness, virtue, prayer, devotion, service, and joy.
But then something began to happen. People began to respond. By the time he died, Ars, the little village where he was pastor, had been transformed into a thriving spiritual center, laden with apostolic works and saturated in the prayer of its few hundred residents and tens of thousands of visitors.
In our time, there are numerous false prophets leading our people down paths of evil, insisting that all would be well if only Christians would shut up. Whenever anyone is hurt along these roads of evil, these false prophets insist that all is really well, and getting better. We must show them wrong by speaking truth lovingly, and by living love truthfully.
St. John Vianney and Holy Jeremiah, pray for us.