In the Introduction to his book Desire Found Me, André Rabe makes the following comment:
God and our concepts of God are not identical. God seldom, if ever, reveals concepts about himself. He simply reveals himself. Such encounters deeply transform our concepts.
Just so. Our concepts of God are conclusions people have reached from the way in which God has revealed God’s self. God does not send a theology text to the human race. God encounters people in the midst of their lives. On the basis of these experiences, conclusions are drawn. Philosophy — that is to say, our general knowledge of logic and of the world and the way it works — is drawn in to fill out the picture. But, the encounter is first.
Christians believe that the ultimate revelation of God is the Person of Jesus Christ — often called by theologians “the self-revelation of God.” But, Christ’s coming into the world was for the purpose of human redemption — for more than for human information. (more…)
The only knowledge of the world that is available to us is probable knowledge. Everything in the world we live in is based on probability. We are forced to base our day to day decisions on what is probably true, what will probably happen, and so forth. I’m sitting in a chair. I suppose it might collapse. Any number of things might happen. A meteorite might come crashing through the window and kill me in the next few minutes. But, since neither of these things are the least bit probable, I need not worry about them — or even think about them.
I can’t wait for absolute certainty. I must act based on what I believe is likely to be true, what is likely to happen, and so forth. The Cartesian reconstruction (or Lockean reconstruction) of knowledge — arriving at certainty based on “sense experience” — is a mistaken quest. That kind of certainty is simply not available. (more…)
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…)
The 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…)
I’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…)
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…)
God’s power is His goodness: hence He cannot use His power otherwise than well. But it is not so with men. Consequently it is not enough for man’s happiness, that he become like God in power, unless he become like Him in goodness also.
— Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica Part 2a, Question 2, Article 4, Reply to Objection 1
Jokes and plays are words and gestures that are not instructive but merely seek to give lively pleasure. We should enjoy them. They are governed by the virtue of witty gaiety to which Aristotle refers (Ethics 1128aI) and which we call pleasantness. A ready-witted man is quick with repartee and turns speech and action to light relief.
— Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Question 148, Article 2. (Thomas Gilby translation.)
It is against reason to be burdensome to others, showing no amusement and acting as a wet blanket. Those without a sense of fun, who never say anything ridiculous, and are cantankerous with those who do, are called grumpy and rude.
— Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Question 148, Article 4. (Thomas Gilby translation.)
Actions done jestingly are not directed to any external end; but merely to the good of the jester, in so far as they afford him pleasure or relaxation.
— Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, Question 1, Article 6, Reply to Objection 1. (Standard translation.)
Unfortunately, the Wesleyan tradition (beginning with dear old Mr. Wesley himself) has not taken such an approving stance toward levity.
This is truly unfortunate, since humor and laughter are, in themselves, psychologically healthy and good.
This is clearly one of several places where the Holiness tradition needs to be corrected.
In accord with the over-all future orientation of his theology, Wolfhart Pannenberg sees the dignity of the human race as being based on human destiny. It is less a matter of human status in the created world, than it is a matter of the destiny of the human race, which has been revealed in the Scriptures. I find this a very helpful perspective. He writes:
Only from the standpoint of the religiously and biblically grounded awareness of their destiny of fellowship with God, the author of the universe, can we say assuredly, however, that all creation culminates in humanity.
— Systematic Theology, Volume 2, Chapter 8, page 175.
This intellectual move saves the theologian from saying that the status of the human race in the created world is rooted in inherent abilities that set the human creation apart from the rest of the created world — especially the animal world. (more…)
I came across the following quote many years ago, and quite by accident. It is from a passage where Thomas Aquinas discusses the details of the Last Judgement. I was surprised by how close this is to the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian Perfection.
It seems to me that two prior traditions are meeting in this quote: one that affirmed the life of full dedication to God’s Purpose (early Greek Fathers?) and the other (Augustinian?) that affirmed that we could never be without sin. And Thomas attempts to somehow affirm both streams of tradition.
Among the good there are some who have wholeheartedly despised temporal possessions and have dedicated themselves to God alone and to the things that are of God. Accordingly, since sin is committed by cleaving to changeable goods in contempt of the changeless Good, such souls exhibit no mingling of good and evil. This is not to imply that they live without sin, for in their person is asserted what we read in 1 John 1:8: ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.’ although certain lesser sins are found in them, these are, so to speak, consumed by the fire of charity, and so seem to be nothing. At the Judgement, therefore, such souls will not be judged by an investigation of their deeds.
— Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas’ Shorter Summa: St. Thomas Aquinas’s Own Concise Version of His Summa Theologica (trans. Cyril Vollert) Sophia Institute Press: Manchester, New Hampshire 1993. p. 323.
What I don’t know is how this point of view may have influenced ideas in the teachings of St. John of the Cross or the other subsequent Christian mystic writers.