Tag Archives: theology

Happy Thanksgiving

HappyThanksgivingThe act of gratitude is the first step of holiness. This is the teaching of great saints: Augustine, Aquinas, Benedict, Mom. Loyola spoke of the sin of ingratitude in strong terms. Why is gratitude especially important? For one, it reminds us that we don’t make ourselves. It reminds us that God is in-charge and that He loves us. As one commentator said, “The habitual practice of this first step [of Loyola’s teaching on the Examen that you start with gratitude for all that God has given,] opposes “spiritual amnesia” that the enemy tries to cause with desolation.” Jesuit Fr. John Navone writes, “Tell me what you remember, and I’ll tell you what you are (, S.J.). Another Jesuit,  Fr. John Hardon, used to say “the human memory is like a sieve.”

Our asceticism is to create the space to consciously remember good things — the blessings thus becomes a first step; acknowledging them moves into thanksgiving. Blessings on Thanksgiving Day 2015!

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…

Who is Christ in our time?

A running fight between a priest and his religious superior over how direct the priest can be in his preaching that Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Life has been ensuing for an extended period of time. The dialogue between the two is not edifying. The superior is arguing that the priest is teaching his own brand of Catholicism that is offending some of the faculty and some of the parents. The priest is preaching and teaching what Church believes, and is articulated in the Second Vatican Council and other documents like Dominus Iesus. The latter contends that the fruits of V2 have too often generated poorly catechized adults and has contributed to a general weakening of the truth of salvation. Jesus Christ has been reduced to moralisms or what beige Catholicism shows, “the nice Jesus.” Reading the homilies you do realize that the priest is not pouring vinegar in the eyes of the congregants but he is being clear in his teaching: the gospel is true, and the magisterium of the Catholic Church is accurate –salvation is at hand. His point: Do you believe in what is biblically revealed by God? Or, is theology made up as you go along to get along? If it is the latter, then we are in deep trouble.

Catholics can’t be the only ones dealing with matters of doctrine and dogma. Sure enough, the Wall Street Journal answered my question. No, Catholics, the Orthodox and other ecclesial communities are having to face the problems of what is being preached, and what face of Jesus Christ is being revealed today to the world. The secularists are not the only ones to “change” the face of Jesus. The content of a priest’s preaching is as much important as the how something is said. Words matter; concepts matter, clear thinking is crucial. Yet, style cannot be confused with content.

In the “Houses of Worship” column in WSJ today Stephen Prothero writes about a Seattle Evangelical Pastor Mark Driscoll and his efforts to portray a more robust understanding of who Jesus Christ is, an image that does not make Jesus out to be a “pansy.” Driscoll evidently believes that many quarters of Christianity have distorted the Christology to fit contemporary concerns. Prothero characterizes Pastor Driscoll as believing “too many American churches are populated by ‘chicks’ and a bunch of nice, tender chickified church boys.” In other words, what Driscoll sees in Christian churches today is a face of Jesus that is cosmetically altered to fit a current ideology, one that is not too challenging, one that has little-to-no-concern for ultimate things. Dare I say, the current Jesus is anemic.

I think it is fair to say that Jesus Christ we ought to preach, the Second Person of the Trinity, is not made in the image and likeness of certain men and women. He is the image of Someone greater, the Divine Mystery.

What else does Driscoll think and say? Apparently, his assessment indicates that some Christians have swapped out the revealed Son of God for “a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in his hair.” Jesus is metrosexual. Sounds similar to the controversy noted above. Prothero notes that some segments of American Christianity, since the 1800s, have preached a “Jesus as a brave warrior –not a meek preacher….” It is thought that if the image and person preached –Jesus– was more masculine men would be coming back to the practice of religion, or we would be more faithful to what is biblically revealed. I am not sure that has to be an agenda item; but I am concerned that the truth be preached and not glossed-over to suit a constituency.

I happen to think that the person of Jesus we often warm up too is inconsistent with what is foretold in the prophecies of the OT, and in the portrait given in the NT. Sacred Scripture does not give us an effeminate savior. Quite the contrary, Jesus of the NT is not aiming to be a “nice God-man interested in how you’re feeling.” We don’t have a Savior who is a good social worker. Salvation is not the liberation of personal anxieties but the liberation from sin and death; it is the opening the possibility of encountering the Beatific vision. Think of Jesus’ interaction with tax collectors, the pharisees, the mis-guided apostles and so on, ought to give us an indication of the person of Jesus: being “nice,” that is, sentimental, is not going to get you to heaven.

Prothero quotes Billy Sunday who said in 1916: “Lord save us from off-handed, flabby-cheeked, brittle-boned, weak-kneed, think-skinned, pliable, plastic, spineless, effeminate, sissified, three-carat Christianity.” A strong, masculine Jesus was transformed in the 60’s and 70’s with “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell.” You know, I think Billy Sunday is right.

Stephen Prothero is uneasy with and dismissive of, Pastor Driscoll and Sunday, because he lacks a Catholic understanding of Scripture, liturgy, and theology. Prothero, likes suburban Catholicism with a pretty low Christology. It seems to me that he sees the person of Jesus as relative and subjective. And is inconsistent with what is witnessed by the saints. Rather unfortunately, Prothero doesn’t hold to the existence of objective reality, objective truth. A reading of the person of Jesus in Scripture and orthodox biblical exegesis shows a face of Jesus concerned more with the true “ends” of man and woman rather than being given a make-over to suit post-modern problems in psychology. Nowadays, according to some, you just have fit-in if you are going to be an acceptable preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Theology: Catholic and Orthodox?

What does it mean to say “Theologically… thus and such….”

There are many “professional” theologians and types of reflection on God, the biblical teaching, ecclesial tradition, prayer, the spiritual life, etc, how do you discern who to read? Sometimes the professionals lack the lex agenda (that is, the law of life) that’s required for an authentic Christian life.  By nature, we worship, believe, live and act in accordance with the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It will make your head spin in trying to make a good decision on what to read and what to avoid. We know that not everything in print (or on a blog) is worth the time.

Admittedly, Catholics, clergy and laity alike, can stand behind the veil of something they know little about and the implications of what is published. Selecting a good book in theology is often made in a knee-jerk way. For example you will hear some priests say, “I will never read anything written by a Jesuit” or “she’s fema-nazi, a heretic” or there is a perspective that contends that “reading outside the ecclesial family is wrong.”

It is true, not everything in the field of liberation theology is germane to an authentic Catholic life. But that can be said of all the allied fields in theological reflection. An honest intellectual will say that you have to know what reasonable people are saying. We need less ideology and more openness to faith and reason is needed. Faith and reason are oriented in loving the truth. So while one could argue that the theological reflection of Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger is far more satisfying than Hans Kung and Karl Rahner when you read, study and pray with sacred Scripture, knowing a something of the other is good.  A critical reader ought to be able to enter into a respectful and lively dialogue with thinkers; there can’t be an a priori stance that one or the other is always wrong. The default answer to every question doesn’t have to be NO. Yet. dialogue is not negotiation; openness to the other doesn’t mean you compromise the truth. The point is that we have to have an objectivity (know the the sources of claims made) about what believe and teach and live.

I have long argued that a Catholic’s first theological reflection is liturgical. The maxim of St Prosper of Aquitaine guides: legem credendi lex statuat supplicant. Meaning: The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi (or: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, according to Prosper of Aquitaine [5th cent.]). The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition (Catechism, 1124). Let’s start here rather than attend to confessional lines of how catholic one is, or not.

The point of theology is reflect in a public way who God is and God’s grace operative in our world. Theology is in pursuit of wisdom and of making disciples.

A 2008 blog post at Erenikon, “What is Orthodox Theology?” asked the same questions regarding but for the Orthodox believer. I would say that much of is held and live in the Orthodox Church coheres with Catholic theology. Several Catholic theologians I know use the thinking of professional theologians who belong to the Orthodox Church.

Distinguishing religion and theology

Subconsciously we are still studying the history of doctrine as a history of philosophy, and therefore we are bound to miss the very thing. For both theology and doctrine are not philosophy. It is not a speculation on religious topics or problems, even as it does not exclude the theological use of reasons. But it begins, earnestly and emphatically, with revelation — not with an innate “revelation” of the truth in the human mind, but with a concrete Revelation in history, with a true encounter. It is a personal datum — not because it is a private business of human personalities, but because it is a self-disclosure and challenge of a Divine Person of the Personal God.

Father Georges Florovsky

Religion and Theological Tensions

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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