Category Archives: Theology

Picturing God?

Holy Trinity of God, by Viktor VasnetsovThis image, “The Holy Trinity of God,” by Viktor Vasnetsov is a rather interesting image for Christians.

Some will say, with historical precedent, that this image of the Trinity is heretical because God the Father cannot be depicted in a human form. The proponents of a biblical and liturgical theology state that God the Father is invisible and unable to be depicted in matter. Jesus Christ was born of the indescribable Father, therefore the Father cannot depicted be in an image. Having said this, it has not stopped artists from attempting to show us the Father. The Russians are noted for this.

I happen to like this image but I understand the caution and even the rejection of the image. For many, this issue may an Eastern Christian matter and not a Western one. It is, however, not that easy to say that this is a matter for one portion of the Church and not another. There is something called the unity of faith.

The teaching comes from 7th Ecumenical Council in AD 787, Second Nicea which focussed on the place of iconography in the Church and the very heated controversy between the iconoclasts and the iconodules. No doubt I can’t deal with the whole of the Council but the teaching of the Church was formulated by Saint John of Damascus who said,

Concerning the charge of idolatry: Icons are not idols but symbols, therefore when an Orthodox venerates an icon, he is not guilty of idolatry. He is not worshipping the symbol, but merely venerating it. Such veneration is not directed toward wood, or paint or stone, but towards the person depicted. Therefore relative honor is shown to material objects, but worship is due to God alone.
We do not make obeisance to the nature of wood, but we revere and do obeisance to Him who was crucified on the Cross… When the two beams of the Cross are joined together I adore the figure because of Christ who was crucified on the Cross, but if the beams are separated, I throw them away and burn them.

The Second Council of Nicea formally taught as a result of the Damascene:

Icons are necessary and essential because they protect the full and proper doctrine of the Incarnation. While God cannot be represented in His eternal nature (“…no man has seen God”, John 1:18), He can be depicted simply because He “became human and took flesh.” Of Him who took a material body, material images can be made. In so taking a material body, God proved that matter can be redeemed. He deified matter, making it spirit-bearing, and so if flesh can be a medium for the Spirit, so can wood or paint, although in a different fashion.
I do not worship matter, but the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation.

Now, where do we go from here? In my mind I think of this issue as very similar to the biblical prohibition from pronouncing he name of God (YHWH). Recall that Benedict XVI asked Catholics to respect this biblical discipline. Sadly, Catholics can have a rather bold and sometimes arrogant approach to some things…

Calling yourself Catholic?

12 Apostles of JesusIn CCD the other day a question we hear from time-to-time: why do the followers of Jesus call themselves “Catholic”?

The first written reference to the term “Catholic” is found in the early days of the second century with Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who as bishop, was arrested and brought to Rome by armed guards. This was the time of persecution of diverse practice of religion. Before his martyrdom, he wrote a letter to his fellow Christians in Smyrna (the city of Izmir in modern-day Turkey) in which he said, “Where the bishop is present, there is the Catholic Church.” Hence, the word “Catholic” comes from the Greek root meaning “universal.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Church is catholic because “The Church is catholic: she proclaims the fullness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. She is “missionary of her very nature” (868).

True repentance not presumption

Saint Clement of Alexandria helps me to focus on what the Church has given for the 26th Sunday Through the Year: “The doors are open for all who sincerely and wholeheartedly return to God. Indeed, the Father is most willing to welcome back a truly repentant son or daughter. The result of true repentance, however, is that you do not fall into the same faults again, but utterly uproot from your souls the sins for which you consider yourself worthy of death. When these have been destroyed God will again dwell within you, since Scripture says that for the Father and his angels in heaven the festal joy and gladness at the return of one repentant sinner is great beyond compare. That is why the Lord cried out: ‘What I want is mercy, not sacrifice.’ ”

How close can I adhere to what Saint Clement is teaching? The other day I was speaking of the sin of presumption at a faith formation class –a concept that had vague recall from some of the participants. As the saint reminds, God is eager to welcome home a sinner with lots of mercy; that God will dwell within our soul with great vigor. The expectation is that the sinner reject sin. But what will happen if the love of sin is privileged more than the love of God?

Dom Lino’s book on Romano Bottegal there is a sentence which said: “To be called to Christianity, to the priesthood, to monastic life, is to be called to leave the figure (the image) – the teacher, the law – to enter into the reality (grace), the first and final intention of God – union with God and with the brothers, in a love that is personal, universal and humble.”

Where is the good news today? The good news today is that we have the possibility of beginning again – repentance/conversion – because this is what God wants for us: to have life and have life to the full! Christianity is the religion of the perpetual second chance.

New members of the International Theological Commission include 5 women

Tracey RowlandToday the Pope named new members of the International Theological Commission which includes 5 women. The announcement stated: “Women now constitute 16 per cent of the Commission’s members, a sign of growing female involvement in theological research.”

Among the priests who make up the majority of the ITC are 5 women: Sister Prudence Allen RSM from the USA, Sister Alenka Arko, Dr Moira McQueen, Dr Marianne Schlosser and the well-known Australian theologian Dr Tracey Rowland. Until now, the ITC had two women members, Sister Sara Butler (USA) and Prof Barbara Hallensleben.

Today’s announcement of Tracey Rowland’s to this service to the Church brings with it great enthusiasm because of Rowland’s keen mind and terrific work in the field of theology; a recent book of Rowland’s deals with Ratzinger’s Faith: the Theology of Pope Benedict XVI. She is Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne.

Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the ultimate head of the group but there is a general secretary of the ITC who is Father Serge-Thomas Bonino, O.P.

The International Theological Commission was formed by Pope Paul VI in 1969 with the task to help the Pope and the on-going work of the Holy See by exploring and examining major doctrinal questions.

Secrets of Hell revealed

This article published by Aleteia on hell’s secrets revealed by one of the Church’s chief exorcists, Father Gabriel Amorth, is interesting because it begins to put in order the Christian belief in God, and His opponent, Lucifer (Satan, or Devil) and creation of hell.

I recommend reading the article if nothing else your awareness is heightened and you begin to take seriously the place of sin, evil and hell in this life. The Lord Himself has revealed the extent of evil; the saints have spoken of evil and we ought to pay and pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially Wisdom, courage and fortitude. Many people think of hell and the devil as quaint stories to scare people into submission to Church authority. I assure you, hell is real and people have elected to take up residence there thus rejecting God.

Advice given in the article: “To be a man of faith and prayer and always to ask the intercession of Mary Most Holy. And then always to be humble…”

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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