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Why I Love the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Many years ago (and for reasons I don’t entirely fathom myself) I became dissatisfied with the fact that I had little or no comprehension of the theology of Thomas Aquinas.

The few times I dipped into the Summa Theologica I found it incomprehensible. I knew that Thomas was a great and accomplished thinker, but I found his writings impenetrable. So, I started wondering if there was a way I could gain some degree of mastery of his thought. I wasn’t looking to become an expert, I just wanted a basic understanding.

I happened upon a very good path — which I highly recommend to anyone else out there who wants a basic understanding of Thomas’ thought. Here’s what I did. I searched around on the Amazon site for books on Thomas Aquinas. I was a little nervous about secondary sources (that is, books about Thomas and his theology) — I didn’t want to end up with ones that were primarily an exposition of the commentator’s bias, and I didn’t know which ones those were. I wanted to know enough to be able to dip into the Summa Theologica and understand what I was reading. Somewhere I encountered the view that Thomas is often easier to understand than his interpreters. That was part of my concern about secondary sources. So, I looked around for resources that would help me engage the primary sources. I hit upon a reading plan that I would recommend to anyone who wants to do their own short course on Thomas Aquinas. I purchased the following three books: (more…)

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Creation’s True Unity is in Christ – Colossians 1:16,17

faith-in-scienceSome people see Christian faith as something wholly internal and spiritual. It is an inward experience of meaning and hope.

Certainly it is that — or it should be.

But, that is not all it is. It is also a perspective that embraces all of life.  Christianity is a belief about what life is all about. It is not just about what is within us — it is about what is all around us. It is a faith in the God who is the Creator of all that is. The God to whom we pray is not just our God. Our God is the God of all people — and all things.

Notice the following verses: Colossians 1:16,17: (more…)

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The God Who Cannot Be Manipulated – Psalm 115:2-8

Hebrew_bible_4I believe Psalm 115 was written in the light of the memories of the nation’s defeat and exile. It may be that this was a Psalm that was part of the worship of the Second Temple, after Israel was restored as a nation. Of course, I have no way of knowing this. But, it appears to me from the language and sentiments of this Psalm, that this arises from a nation that has known defeat.

Israel was brought low. They knew themselves to be God’s people, but they now know that their status of being the “favored of God” was no guarantee against failure and defeat and suffering. Their connection with God did not save them from misfortune. They broke the covenant and they were brought low. (more…)

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Christian Perfection as an Ecumenical Doctrine

holiness-sign-imageThe doctrine of Christian Perfection is often understood to be a Wesleyan or Methodist distinctive. It is something that is taught (or at least mentioned — albeit sometimes with embarrassment) in those Christian circles which have been influenced by the teachings of Wesley. It has sometimes been viewed as a Wesleyan oddity — even by those within the Wesleyan tradition itself.

But, I think we need to take a new look at that. Wesley didn’t understand himself to be teaching something new. He understood himself to be re-affirming something taught in the Scriptures and repeated in the teachings of the early Church Fathers. (more…)

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Glory to God’s Name – Psalm 115:1

hebrew-scrollI’ve previously mentioned one of the things that makes Psalm 115:1 so interesting to me. It reflects something I see in the Old Testament generally: these writings were not written to glorify Israel or glorify its heroes and leaders and prophets. They were written to glorify God — and are surprisingly honest about the faults and failings of the nation and of the people. Salvation’s glory goes to God alone.

And, that is quite an amazing thing: this was the national literature of the people of Israel. These were the writings that were carefully copied and recopied and handed down so that the descendants of Israel could discover and rediscover their identity.

לֹא לָנוּ יְהוָה לֹא לָנוּ כִּי־לְשִׁמְךָ תֵּן כָּבוֹד עַל־חַסְדְּךָ עַל־אֲמִתֶּךָ
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” (NRSV)

As I think about it, this single verse is so remarkable to me. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not that it’s unique, out-of-place, or unusual in any way. No. It fits well with the over-all perspectives of the Hebrew Bible. It is remarkable for stating so simply — and so briefly — some of the unique characteristics of the Old Testament. (more…)

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Wesley: Two Paths

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

From long experience and observation I am inclined to think, that whoever finds redemption in the blood of Jesus, whoever is justified, has then the choice of walking in the higher or the lower path. I believe the Holy Spirit at that time sets before him the ‘more excellent way,’ and incites him to walk therein; to choose the narrowest path in the narrow way; to aspire after the heights and depths of holiness, — after the entire image of God. But if he does not accept this offer, he insensibly declines into the lower order of Christians. He still goes on in what may be called a good way, serving God in his degree, and finds mercy in the close of life, through the blood of the covenant.

I would be far from quenching the smoking, flax, — from discouraging, those that serve God in a low degree. But I could not wish them to stop here: I would encourage them to come up higher. Without thundering hell and damnation in their ears, without condemning the way wherein they were, telling them it is the way that leads to destruction, I will endeavor to point out to them what is, in every respect, ‘a more excellent way.’

— John Wesley, Sermon 89 “The More Excellent Way.”

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About This Site

John & Charles Wesley

John & Charles Wesley

I intend this as a site that is focused on the Wesleyan teachings about holy living. I know I pursue other topics, but I know what I am about, and I mean to emphasize the call to live a life wholly devoted to God. I believe that this the great animating theme of the Wesleyan tradition — and it is a theme I greatly appreciate.

To this end, I continue to scan and edit old holiness books, and maintain two sister blogs on Blogger: Steele’s Answers and The Hidden Life. I don’t personally agree with everything that is said on those pages — or maybe I should say, I don’t always agree with the way it is said. But, I believe those writers were intending to call us to the living of a life wholly devoted to God and to the genuine well-being of others — and I need to hear that challenge and that call — I’m sure I’m not the only one. (more…)

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What is Prayer?

prayer&candleIdeally, all the Christian life is lived in an attitude of prayer. The apostle Paul says: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 NRSV). Prayer is to be infused into all we do.

Nevertheless, it is helpful to get some basic, rudimentary idea of what prayer essentially is. So, the following reflections are aimed toward developing a basic definition of prayer. In order to discuss prayer, we need to know what we are talking about. I will lean heavily on the Biblical practices of prayer as I try to work toward a definition. (more…)

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Keeping Justice & Righteousness – Psalm 106:3

Hebrew-MS-PsalmsIt is characteristic of Hebrew poetry to rhyme (so to speak) thoughts rather than sounds. This is called “Hebrew Parallelism.” To oversimplify: it is the practice of repeating the thought of the first line in the second. Thus, the writer expresses the same thought in different words.

This is very common in the Psalms.

Thus, one line of a poem will often comment on another: expanding or clarifying the meaning.

אַשְׁרֵי שֹׁמְרֵי מִשְׁפָּט עֹשֵׂה צְדָקָה בְכָל־עֵת

“How blessed are those who keep justice,
Who practice righteousness at all times!”
(NASB)

Again, the Psalms are pointing us to the Way of Blessedness. Psalm 1 has tipped us off that this is the major theme of the whole book of Psalms. This is not conceived in the typically popular-religion terms of Salvation: where the whole point of faith is just meeting the terms of Eternal Life. This is about living in the realm of present blessing. This is about the life of faith.

(more…)

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John Wesley’s New Year

How John Wesley Spent the New Year in 1785.

John Wesley (1703 –1791) preaching outdoors

John Wesley (1703 –1791) preaching outdoors

From the Journal of John Wesley:

Saturday January 1, 1785. — Whether this be the last or no, may it be the best year of my life!

Sunday, January 2, 1785. A larger number of people were present this evening at the renewal of our covenant with God, than was ever seen before on the occasion.

Tuesday, January 4, 1785. — At this season we usually distribute coals and bread among the poor of the society. But I now considered, they wanted clothes, as well as food. So on this, and the four following days, I walked through the town, and begged two hundred pounds, in order to clothe them that needed it most. But it was hard work, as most of the streets were filled with melting snow, which often lay ankle deep; so that my feet were steeped in snow-water nearly from morning till evening: I holden it out pretty well till Saturday evening; but I was laid up with a violent flux, which increased every hour, till, at six in the morning, Dr. Whitehead called upon me. His first draught made me quite easy; and three or four more perfected the cure.

John Wesley was 82 years old at this time.

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No Glory to Us! – Psalm 115:1

One of the remarkable things about the Bible is it’s willingness to expose the weaknesses, errors, and sins of its major characters. One of the especially endearing features of the Old Testament is its openness about its heroes flaws   — and of the flaws and failures of the nation as a whole. This is a poor piece of propaganda for the nation — we see its sins and its errors and its flaws. It is not propaganda. It is not an apology for the nation at all. It is not a glorification of its heroes. We see them as deeply flawed. It is a glorification of God’s character and grace.

לֹא לָנוּ יְהוָה לֹא לָנוּ כִּי־לְשִׁמְךָ תֵּן כָּבוֹד עַל־חַסְדְּךָ עַל־אֲמִתֶּךָ
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” (NRSV)

Adam Clarke (1760–1832)

Adam Clarke (1760–1832)

Adam Clarke paraphrases the first part of this verse this way:

We take no merit to ourselves; as thine is the kingdom, and the power in that kingdom, so is thy glory.

In the Old Testament, even the official religion and ritual of the people comes under heavy criticism:

“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation — I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:10-17 NRSV) (more…)

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Becoming Just — Dying to Sin

tranforming-spiritualityIn the book Transforming Spirituality: Integrating Theology and Psychology theologian F. Leron Shults writes:

The justice (or law) of God is fulfilled by love, as both Jesus and Paul insist (Matt. 22:36-40; cf. Mark 12:28-34; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5;14; cf. James 2:8). Becoming just therefore involves becoming an agent who manifests love. Finite agents do not have the power to fulfill this law of love, and so becoming just ultimately depends on the grace of God, who calls us to share in divine love by following in the way of Christ in the power of the Spirit. Our moral desire is only conformed to Jesus’ way of relating to the Good as we “die to sin” and are “crucified” to the world, no longer relying on our own power to secure the objects of our desire but actively resting in the omnipotent consoling agency of absolute Love. There are no shortcuts to developing a virtuous disposition; it requires the painful process of introspection and working out one’s redemptive agency in community. This too occurs by the gracious agency of the Holy Spirit as Christ is formed in us (cf. Gal. 4:19).

(more…)

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On the Virgin Birth

nativityThere is a Religion News Service article by Kimberly Winston which is circulating around the Internet with the provocative title Can you question the Virgin Birth and still be a Christian?” I put it in my Twitter feed so that I could comment on it later, if I had some time.

Responding to it gives me a chance to say a little more along the lines of what I was saying (or implying) in my comments on Luke 1:26-38.

(1.) This article’s title assumes something that is not true: that Christians cannot question received teachings. The writer (or the editor) is making the assumption that questioning is incompatible with Christianity. In fact, Christians have been questioning and exploring and refining their beliefs since the very beginning of the Christian movement. Christians (Protestants especially) are encouraged to check out what they hear from their spiritual leaders against the original sources of the faith in Scripture. And though there are a few lonely voices saying Christians should not read the scriptures — most are strongly encouraged to do so. There are contemporary translations, Bible study helps, Bible reading plans, etc. to help them to do so. The apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (ASV.) (more…)

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Craig Keener on The First Christmas

 

 

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The Self-Revelation of the Creator God – Colossians 1:16,17

Bible-messageSome people see Christian faith as something wholly internal and spiritual. To them it is an inward experience of meaning and hope.

Certainly it is that — or it should be.

But, that is not all it is. It is also a perspective that embraces all of life.  Christianity is a belief about what life is all about. It is not just about what is within us — it is about what is all around us. It is a faith in the God who is the Creator of all that is. The God to whom we pray is not just our God. Our God is the God of all people — and all things.

Notice the following verses: Colossians 1:16,17: (more…)

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