29 April 2005

some items

I'm presently snowed under by a pile of end of term grading, though relief is in sight, which is good, since I've been feeling a bit stressed the past week or so and my reserves of patience and good will are running extremely low.

After I'm done the current cycle of grading, I'll have a bit of a respite until final essays are due next Wednesday, then another flurry of grading, and the term will be done. Once I finish setting up the website for my summer online course and the busy month of May has passed, the rest of the summer break looks relatively relaxed.

I've added a list of blogs over to the right that are maintained by folks associated with Tenth PCA here in Philadelphia. If any of you know of other Tenth bloggers who should be added to the list, by all means, let me know.

In addition, further down there's a link to Common Grounds, an online community and conversation following in the footsteps by the book of the same title, that looks like it will make for interesting and edifying reading.

27 April 2005

there is a balm...

Since others are commending it, including the Pulitzer committee, (and since I don't have the time at present to blog anything substantive) I'll add my own utterance to the kudos: Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead is a magnificent book. As the voice said to Augustine, "Take up and read." It is well worth the effort.

26 April 2005

cultures of the PCA

Phil Ryken, senior pastor at Tenth PCA, is having the pastoral staff read and discuss this article (pdf) by Tim Keller on the various cultures within the PCA, according to the blog of Tenth's executive pastor, Marion Clark.

Take a look at it. If you're in the PCA, perhaps you can comment on Keller's groupings and where you or your congregation might best fit, if at all.

angelic motions underneath

In the latest issue of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly there is a review of two books on medieval angelology written by Tiziana Suarez-Nani.

While the books are in French, the titles translate as Angels and Philosophy: Subjectivity and the Cosmological Function of the Separated Substances at the End of the 13th Century (Paris: Vrin 2002) and Knowledge and Language of the Angels according to Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome (Paris: Vrin 2002). The books are reviewed by Gerard Casey of the University of Dublin who is one of the few other philosophers around who has any extensive expertise in medieval angelology.

As is well-known, for Thomas Aquinas angels are "separated substances," that is, angels must not form a single species in the way that the human race does, given that angels are spiritual, non-material beings and since material beings are individuated by matter. Each human being is distinct from other human beings in virtue of being made of distinct material, yet all human beings are part of the same human species. Aquinas holds, however, that angels are different. Each angel is a species unto itself, a separate kind of substance from every other angel.

The spiritual nature of angels, of course, raises questions about how they have knowledge, communication, and the like apart from physical senses or spoken language. This is a topic that, in Casey's words, opens up

really interesting speculative questions...on the very nature of knowledge and language that benefit immeasurably for being considered not in the context of human speech and communication but in the context of what it would mean, how it would be possible, why it would be necessary for purely spiritual immaterial beings to know and communicate with each other.

What is perhaps even more interesting is Thomas Aquinas' notion that angels play a role in cosmology, as Casey says, his "speculation concerning the involvement of intelligences or angels in the operation of the cosmos."

The medieval theology of cosmic motion is a topic of a forthcoming book by Simon Oliver of the University of Wales at Lampeter, entitled Philosophy, God and Motion (Routledge 2005). In it Oliver explains how the medieval cosmology of motion differs from that of modern cosmologies, particularly in a post-Newtonian world.

The most evident difference, one that even the most casual reader of Aquinas would likely pick up, is that for the medievals motion was ultimately a matter of that to which things are drawn teleologically, rather than a mere efficient causality or chain of causes, each of which is preceded by another.

What Oliver does so well is to place this medieval vision in its ultimate Trinitarian conext so that participation in the life of God is the end towards which the cosmos is drawn as a creation that comes from God and exists, in some sense, "among" the divine Persons. Cosmic motion, therefore, must be situated within the eternal Trinitarian processions, the eternal motion of God.

This cosmology, however, is peopled not only by human, animal, and terrestrial motions, but also by the motion of the celestial spheres, motion that is closely tied to the intellectual motions of the separated substances or angels. Indeed, local motions of humans and animals are seen by Aquinas as possible only because they are connected to and subsist within these angelic motions.

Interestingly, this medieval vision had not entirely waned by the time of John Calvin, even in the midst of Renaissance humanism at the cusp of the modern, as we can see in Calvin's comments on the four living creatures in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel. In his comments on Ezekiel 1, Calvin writes regarding the number of cherubim:

...I doubt not that God wished to teach us that his influence is diffused through all regions of the world, for we know the world to be divided into four parts; and that the people might know that God's providence rules everywhere throughout the world, four cherubim were set up...and we know that angels are called principalities and powers (Eph 3:10) and are rendered conspicuous by these titles, while the Scripture calls them the very hands of God himself (Col 1:16).

Calvin goes to on explain that apart from angelic motions, nothing in the cosmos would have motion in itself. He writes:

Why, then, has each animal four heads? I answer, that by this, angelic virtue is proved to reside in all the animals. Yet a part is for the whole, because God by his angels works not only in man and other animals, but throughout creation; and because inanimate things have no motion in themselves, as God wished to instruct a rude and dull people, he sets before them the image of all things under that of animals.

Calvin continues by explaining the significance of the wheels within wheels underneath and joined to the angels and their motions:

As to the four wheels, I do not doubt their signifying those changes which we commonly call "revolutions," for we see the world continually changing and putting on, as it were, new faces, each being represented by a fresh revolution of the wheel, effected by either its own or some external impulse. Since, then, there exists no fixed condition of the world, but continual changes are discerned, the Prophet joins the wheels to the angels, as if he would assert that no changes occur by chance, but depend upon some agency, namely, that of angels...the changes of the world are so connected together, that all motion depends upon the angels, whom [God] guides according to his will.

Whereas Fortune and Fate are blind, Calvin notes, we find that the wheels are full of eyes, representing the widsom and knowledge of God. Calvin sums up his remarks saying, "the Prophet teaches that all the changes of the world depend on celestial motion. For we have said that the living creatures represent to us Angels whom God inspires with a secret virtue, so that he works by means of their hands."

The perspective of Calvin here is intriguing and intersects in interesting ways with that of Aquinas and other medievals, though there do seem to be some differences. Given Calvin's historical position on the verge of the modern, his sometimes voluntarist tendencies, and so on, it would be a useful project to compare Calvin's account more thoroughly with those of his medieval predecessors, perhaps attending most closely to where those accounts diverge as a window into the kinds of shifts in cosmology and ontology that were occuring in the early modern era.

24 April 2005

easter 5

Almighty God,
your Son Jesus Christ
is the way, the truth, and the life.
Give us grace to love on another
and walk in the way of his commandments,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

23 April 2005

pcrt philly

Starting last night, and continuing all day today and into tomorrow morning's church service, is the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology (PCRT), an annual conference that has been held for 32 years at Tenth Presbyterian Church and, for the past decade or so, has been part of the ministry of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. In recent years, additional locations have been added, this time including Phoenix and Indianapolis.

This year's topic is "One Way: The Exclusive Claims of Christianity" and speakers include Alistair Begg, D.A. Carson, Peter Jones, Richard Phillips, and Tenth PCA's own Philip Ryken. PCRT always involves lots of great singing and a chance to meet new people and catch up with old friends.

19 April 2005

no shadow of turning 10

Turning to the act of creation itself, we must insist that God’s act of creation as such is analogically contained in the processions within the Trinity, particularly within the eternal begetting of the Son in the Spirit. I say that this is true “analogically” for several important reasons. If we were to say that the act of creation is contained univocally in the processions within the Trinity, then we would be saying that the eternal begetting of the Son in the Spirit simply entails or is even identical with the creation of the universe. But the creation of the world is a free act of God creating something in addition to and distinct from himself. On the other hand, if we were to say that the act of creation is contained equivocally in the processions within the Trinity, then we would be saying that the eternal begetting of the Son in the Spirit bears no necessary relation to God’s creation of the world or that the act of creation tells us nothing of the true nature of God in himself.

The notion of an analogical relation, however, is that of a true similarity, but not an identity. Particularly it is a similarity, with regard to the relation between God and world, which is contained within an even greater and absolute difference (this notion of analogy was expressed by the Fourth Lateran Council in these terms: “inter creatorem et creaturem non potest tanta similitudo notari, quin inter eos maior sit dissimilitudo notanda”). Thus, Thomas Aquinas writes:

The divine Persons, according the nature of their procession, have a causality respecting the nature of things…Hence God the Father made the creature through his Word, which is his Son; and through his Love, which is the Holy Spirit. And so the processions of the Persons are the type of the production of creatures… (Summa Theologiae [ST] I, 45, 6.)

And so, the possibility of God’s relation to the created world is already pre-contained within the eternal life of the Trinity. Moreover, God’s knowledge of his creation is contained in the eternal begetting of the Son as the Word of the Father. Aquinas writes:

“Word” implies relation to creatures. For God, by knowing himself, knows every creature…Since, by one act, God understands himself and all things, his one and only Word expresses not only the Father, but all creation. (ST I, 34, 3)

Likewise, this knowledge is one borne in love since God’s love for his creatures is already contained in the eternal procession of the Spirit as the Spirit of love between the Father and Son. Again, Aquinas writes:

The Father loves not only the Son, but also himself and us, by the Holy Spirit…It is evident that relation to the creature is implied both in the Word [that is, the Son] and in the proceeding Love [that is, the Holy Spirit]…inasmuch as the divine truth and goodness are a principle of understanding and loving all creatures. (ST I, 37, 2, ad 3)

Aquinas adds,

When we say that in [God] there is a procession of Love, we show that God produced creatures, not because he needed them, nor because of any other extrinsic reason, but on account of the love of his own goodness. (ST I, 32, 1, ad 3)

Therefore, for the classical theism of Aquinas, God’s relation to, knowledge of, and love for his creation are already analogically provided for within the life of the Trinity so that God’s nature as Trinity is a necessary precondition for the possibility of creation at all.

This kind of analogical approach, rooted in the biblical revelation of God as a transcendent Trinity of Persons, provides us with the resources necessary for going further and to speak now of divine pathos, compassion, and even suffering as that is present within an unchanging and impassible God. In whatever manner we conceive these divine realities, it is clear from our discussion thus far that it will not involve God’s subjection to a cause that is external to his own being so that he suffers as one who is acted upon by an outside force. Rather, it is in the freedom of the Trinity as an interrelation of self-giving love that we will contemplate the passion of God. Divine pathos, then, will have the form of a fully active love that excludes any kind of deficiency or passivity, for even the responsiveness and vulnerability of God is one that expresses the power and fullness of God as pure actuality.

habemus papam

In case you hadn't heard, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI.

17 April 2005

easter 4

God of peace,
who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the great Shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of an eternal covenant,
make us perfect in goodness
so that we may do your will;
and create in us what is pleasing to you;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

16 April 2005

like sand through an hourglass...

A dear and longtime friend from elementary and high school is coming over for dinner tonight with her husband so that she and I can reconnect and begin planning our 20-year high school reunion.

In other news: I recently met a young man working on his Masters degree who I used to hold on my lap when I taught 2 and 3 year old Sunday School, my first computer was a Tandy 1000, and freshmen look younger every year.

15 April 2005

the mouth of babes

Our two year old often pretends the steps are a train. She piles them with various stuffed animal passengers, grabs her hat and blanket, as well as a purse bulging with odds and ends ranging from beads to those flimsy plastic "credit cards" one gets in junk mail.

"Daddy!!!" a voice yells. "Come sit in my train." She points to a six-inch wide space she's left for me. I squeeze in obligingly.

"So," I ask, "where are we going?"

"Manayunk," she says naming the nearby neighborhood full of trendy shops.

"Oh, okay."

I pretend to drive the train. "No, Daddy, I'm driving."

"Ok, sounds good. Are we there yet?"


"So, what are we going to do now?"

She looks at me as if that was the stupidest question she's ever heard. "Shopping, Daddy; we're going shopping."

"Oh, of course. What are we buying?"

"Mmmm....celery. And cereal. Grapes. Meat. Teddy grahams. And...celery again....now let's go."

We get back on the train. "Where are we going now?" I ask.

"Pull out your map."

"My map?"

"Yes. It's in your back pocket."

I pretend to pull out a map and unfold it, studying it a bit. "So where are we headed?"

"Hmm....where is there to go?"

I begin pointing at places on the invisible map, naming them. "Boston, Hartford, New York City, Princeton, Baltimore..."

"Princeton! We're going to Princeton."

"Ok," I say, "sounds good to me."

"What's in Princeton?" she asks.

"Well, there's a university, a seminary, some restaurants, an art museum, churches, and a cemetary full of dead Presbyterians." (Insert standard joke here: "Dead Presbyterians? How can you tell?")

Actually a few months ago we had a conversation about Presbyterians. I had mentioned Presbyterians while talking to Laurel. Toddlers have amazing hearing and pick up on the oddest things. A little voice piped up, "Presbyterians?? What's a Presbyterian."

"We're Presbyterian."

She looks at me skeptically. "Our church is a Presbyterian Christian church," I inform her. "There are different kinds of churches that are all Christian. Daddy was raised Presbyterian. Uncle Tom is Episcopalian. Uncle Jerry is Lutheran. But we're Presbyterian."

"I'm not Presbyterian."

"No? Well, then what are you? Are you Lutheran?"

"No. I'm not Lutheran."

"Are you Methodist?"


"Are you Anglican?"

"Mmm...Yes, I'm an Anglican."

Figures. This is a child who, when barely two years old, upon visiting a friend's Episcopal church, ran up to the pew pointing at the red books saying, "Prayerbook, Daddy, prayerbook."

Back on the steps we arrive in Princeton. "Ok, we're here. Where should we go first?"

"Let's go to a restaurant."

We pretend to sit at a table and look at menus. An invisible waitress arrives. "I'll have a hamburger," I say. The invisible waitress turns to Claire. "What are you going to get?" I ask her.

"I'll have mac and cheese! ....and a beer." We'll she's evidently not a Baptist.

"I'll have a beer too," I add.

"No, Daddy. You're having water."

"Oh," I say, a bit disappointed.

After eating I ask, "Where should we go now? Do you want to visit the University chapel?"


We pretend to visit the chapel. I ask her to describe what she sees. "Mmm....there's a pulpit. And Bibles. And a font."

She's into fonts. At church a month ago we were looking around up front after the service. "That's the pulpit," she said. "Pastor Ryken tells us God's word there....and that's the font."

"What happened at the font?" I ask her.

"I was baptized!"

"And what's that mean?" She'd asked what the font was a while ago and I'd given an explanation. I had wondered how much she would remember.

"It means that Jesus put water in my hair and said that I belong to him." Not bad.

Back at the imaginary Princeton University chapel she wants to go. "Where should we go next? The art museum?"


"The University library?"

"Yes. You go get some books for you and I'll get some books for me and have the computer read Stellaluna to me." Our local public library has computers that read children's books aloud with graphics. She's grown rather fond of Stellaluna.

"I got my books!" I announce.

"What books did you get?" she asks.

"They're philosophy books," I reply.

"Oh...I got Winnie the Pooh books."

"Are they about philosophy?" I inquire.

"Mmmm," she thinks about it. "Yes. I think so."

That's my girl.

14 April 2005


Grading. Grading grading grading, grading grading. Grading grading grading; grading grading grading. Grading, grading grading grading? Grading grading grading, grading grading.

Grading grading. Grading!

13 April 2005

robert rollock on titus 3

The Scots divine, Robert Rollock (1555-1599), was a graduate of St. Andrews and later served briefly as the regent there, before being appointed to what would later be the University of Edinburgh, where he soon became a professor of theology. He preached at the East Kirk and, later, several other parishes, as well as serving on various committees of the General Assembly and once as its moderator.

I've previously quoted a few sentences from his sermon on Titus 3 that can be found in his Select Works. The following is a more extensive quotation that provides the wider context and gives a better sense of his preaching style.

The cause of our salvation is in God only and no part in man who is saved. The first cause is the love of God, which is the fountain: the next cause is mercy, for before ever this world was created, God of his mercy took purpose to save us. And when he comes on to the execution of that eternal purpose of our salvation, there is no thing in us, but all is in himself, for he is all-sufficient in himself, and nothing is without him. The end wherefore he died all by himself, without us, was to the praise of the glory of his grace, that thereby the whole glory of our salvation might redound to him only, because the cause is only in him. You that take any part in it and attribute it to yourself, you spoil God of his glory. Either give him all the glory of this action, or take it all to yourself; this glory is over-heavy for you, if you take it on thee, it will press you to everlasting damnation. Then there is the means of our salvation, the mercy of God.

Next he lays out the parts of our salvation abroad, one by one, that you may see what salvation means. He says, "Through the laver of washing of the new birth and renewal of the Holy Ghost." There is the first part. It is any washing of us, when God puts to his hand to save us.

You know washing presupposes foulness; therefore it must follow that when God began to save us, we were unclean, full of boils and blotches, conceived and born in filthiness, and then wriggling and waltering in our own sin and filthiness, and ever the longer we live we are all the filthier. It is a marvel that the holy God should ever sustain to look to your filth or to put his holy and pure hand to your vile blotches or to send down his clean Spirit to dwell in your unclean heart or that any way his purity should meddle with your impurity.

Among all the arguments of his love this is one: when he puts to his fair hand to you that is so foul. You find that your sins pardoned and yourself purged and washed? Assure yourself you are saved and God has loved you. For except the love of God had been all the greater towards you, he would never have purged you from your sins. It is one sure token of his love towards you, that it is infinite and exceeding, that he has not loathed you and your filthy boils and blotches.

I see here two washings, one outward and another inward: the first in the words, "the laver of regeneration," the next, "the renewing of the Holy Spirit." The first is our baptism, the next the inward washing and renewal by the Holy Spirit, represented by this outward baptism. As the water washes away the filth from the body, so the Holy Spirit purges and washes the heart from sin, I will speak but this far shortly of baptism.

The outward washing in baptism is not to be looked to lightly, the pouring on of the water is but any base sign to look to; rather it is the instrument that God takes in his hand and whereby he applies to us the inward washing of the Holy Spirit; Col 2:12; Rom 6:4; he ascribes our regeneration to baptism. We by baptism are buried with Christ, risen with Christ, and if this means be contemned, there shall be no regeneration. If any man treats lightly this baptism, I affirm there shall be no renewing inwardly by the Holy Spirit; and if he be not renewed, he shall never be saved, for without regeneration, no salvation.

You see what was enjoined to Naaman the Syrian when he sought cleansing. The prophet bade him go to Jordan and washing himself seven times. But he thought to himself, "What is this? Are there not rivers at home in Damascus?" Yes, he would not go until he took better counsel, but as soon as he went and washed himself seven times, he was cleansed. Even so it is in baptism. If any man contemn the outward washing, he shall never be cleansed by the Spirit. The same is also true of the sacrament of the Supper. Count not, therefore, little of the sacraments, because God has promised to give himself with the sacrament rightly received.

Now look how long our regeneration is in working in this life; the force of baptism continues all along. You must be continually renewed until your last breath. Therefore, the force of baptism must last with you to your last breath. It is a vanity to think that the force of baptism stands in the ministration of the action only. No, it leaves us never from the time we receive it til we be placed with Jesus Christ. Have your eye still on baptism for it is one means whereby the Lord will save you.

Further, brethren, he begins here at regeneration; you may see then the necessity of regeneration. Would you be saved? Look that there be any new birth; look that you be born over again, as Christ said to Nicodemus, John 3:3, "Verily I say to you, except any man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." If you be not a new creature, you are not in Christ, but without Christ and without Jesus Christ, there is no salvation.

10 April 2005

easter 3

God of life and love,
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread.
Open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in his redeeming work,
who is alive and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

09 April 2005

no shadow of turning 9

This discussion of the revelation of God in Scripture, culminating in the revelation of God as Trinity, and its connection with the claims of classical theism, now enables us to address the important questions raised by the proponents of open theism.

Let us recall the biblical descriptions of God as a God who is compassionate, merciful, tender, takes delight in and pity upon his creatures, is moved by their sin and plight, responds to their prayers, and even surrenders himself for their salvation in the vulnerability of the cross. As we have seen in the first lecture, it will not do simply dismiss such language as anthropomorphic language, for Scripture is revealing something that is true about God, particularly as he reveals himself fully in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the Scriptures reveal God as the one who is transcendent, to whom no comparison is possible, whose thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways are not our ways, and who is, in relation to his creation, the “wholly other.” It is this God who was incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ, not only as a revelation of God’s immanence and involvement in human affairs, but also his absolute otherness since, in the paradox of biblical revelation, only such a transcendent God could truly become a human being and dwell among us.

Consequently, when Scripture speaks of God in all of these ways—of God’s compassion, grief, love, suffering, and so on—it speaks of these as the compassion, grief, love, and suffering of the God who transcends creation and remains wholly other than it. Indeed, the passion and seeming excessiveness of the biblical language about God points to a God who, in all these ways, lies beyond merely human and anthropomorphic categories, who is loving and passionate and responsive in a way that no created being could be. This is not to say that Scriptural language concerning God is not literally true, for indeed it is. But, as Weinandy notes, this “is a literalness that must be interpreted from within the complete otherness of God.”

Let’s push these points further. Scriptural revelation and classical theism both maintain, side by side with this language of passion and love and response, that God is nevertheless immutable and impassible, beyond all change in himself or limitation by his creation. In light of what we have seen, however, it is clear that this immutability and impassibility cannot be understood in terms of God being inert, aloof, or static. Rather, God is immutable and impassible for quite the opposite reason.

As a God who is pure act, realized in the relations of self-giving love among the Persons of the Trinity, the God of Scripture is already as living, dynamic, relational, loving, passionate, and responsive as he could possibly be. No change in God or in his creation in relation to him could make God any more active than he already is since he already contains within himself the full actualization of every divine possibility and every relation and response to his creatures. It is in this light that we must understand my earlier claims that God is compassionate because he is all-sufficient, responsive because he is immutable, and even can be said to suffer because he is pure act. These claims can be made precisely because God’s Trinitarian nature as absolute being and pure actuality eternally contains every possibility for compassion and response to his creation and, indeed, the very possibility of creation. Further explanation, however, is necessary.

05 April 2005

atheism and terrorism

Bicycling to work today I passed a parked car with a bumpersticker on the back that made me look twice. It read, "Atheism: A Cure for Religious Terrorism." I thought that was intriguing and raised some interesting questions.

I'm not particularly interested in the general question of atheism vs. theism that it raises, but rather the assumed narrative within which such an assertion might make sense and be presented as plausible, especially after a century so profoundly marked by the horrors of atheistic ideologies.

Of course, the message might make sense primarily within a very personal narrative peculiar to the individual whose car featured the sticker in question. But one can only speculate.

The bumpersticker presents its message, however, not merely as a private sentiment. Rather it is a public affirmation, one that is intended, within the constraints of bumpersticker philosophy, to say something that could be at least prima facie plausible to a certain cross-section of possible viewers.

So my question is what sort of presupposed narrative could provide a context within which that statement could function as plausible?

It strains credulity to think that theism or "religion" would be dismissed out of hand as the sole source of terrorism and other evils, entirely neglecting all the positive contributions that religion has made, particularly the Christian religion, including the materials from which modern notions of "human rights" and the like have emerged. Surely, whatever kinds of slavery and harm have been underwritten by religious systems, even the worst of those systems have served to some degree to restrain unruly and pernicious human desires.

Perhaps then the bumpersticker imagines a world that has evolved beyond religion, into a kind of enlightened atheism, putting aside former superstitions in favor of the achievements of reason and the progress of the human spirit. One thinks here of Sartre's description:

Towards 1880, when the French professors endeavoured to formulate a secular morality, they said something like this: God is a useless and costly hypothesis, so we will do without it. However, if we are to have morality, a society and a law-abiding world, it is essential that certain values should be taken seriously; they must have an a priori existence ascribed to them. It must be considered obligatory a priori to be honest, not to lie, not to beat one’s wife, to bring up children and so forth; so we are going to do a little work on this subject, which will enable us to show that these values exist all the same, inscribed in an intelligible heaven although, of course, there is no God. In other words – and this is, I believe, the purport of all that we in France call radicalism – nothing will be changed if God does not exist; we shall rediscover the same norms of honesty, progress and humanity, and we shall have disposed of God as an out-of-date hypothesis which will die away quietly of itself.

Even in Sartre's day, however, such an Enlightenment narrative was beginning to wear a bit thin, leaving us, as Sartre suggests, with a sense of "forlornness" as orphans abandoned to the cosmos without God.

In the wake of the Soviet gulag, two World Wars, atomic weapons, multiple genocides, and other 20th century horrors, postmodern thought has only deepened the difficulty with its growing incredulity towards the narratives of modernity. Its own critique of Enlightenment secularism indeed often opens a new space for post-secular reappropriations of religiosity, from Jean-Luc Marion's phenomenological Catholicism to the quasi-spinzosism of Deleuze or the ethical reflections of Derrida.

Nevertheless, that modern narrative still holds sway in the imaginations and thought of many and I suspect it is, in fact, the one that is assumed by the sticker's message.

Maybe I'm foolish to read so much into something as frivolous as a bumpersticker. Yet, in our contemporary culture it is often such simple items as stickers and slogans, brandnames and logos, that bear the weight of our shared stories and values, functioning almost as secular sacraments.

03 April 2005

easter 2

Almighty and eternal God,
the strength of those who believe
and the hope of those who doubt,
may we, who have not seen, have faith
and receive the fullness of Christ's blessing,
who is alive and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

02 April 2005

karol wojtyla, 1920-2005

From the 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae 67 of John Paul II, Bishop of Rome:

The request which arises from the human heart in the supreme confrontation with suffering and death, especially when faced with the temptation to give up in utter desperation, is above all a request for companionship, sympathy and support in the time of trial. It is a plea for help to keep on hoping when all human hopes fail. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us: "It is in the face of death that the riddle of human existence becomes most acute" and yet "man rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the absolute ruin and total disappearance of his own person. Man rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to mere matter".

This natural aversion to death and this incipient hope of immortality are illumined and brought to fulfilment by Christian faith, which both promises and offers a share in the victory of the Risen Christ: it is the victory of the One who, by his redemptive death, has set man free from death, "the wages of sin" (Rom 6:23), and has given him the Spirit, the pledge of resurrection and of life (cf. Rom 8:11). The certainty of future immortality and hope in the promised resurrection cast new light on the mystery of suffering and death, and fill the believer with an extraordinary capacity to trust fully in the plan of God.

The Apostle Paul expressed this newness in terms of belonging completely to the Lord who embraces every human condition: "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Rom 14:7-8). Dying to the Lord means experiencing one's death as the supreme act of obedience to the Father (cf. Phil 2:8), being ready to meet death at the "hour" willed and chosen by him (cf. Jn 13:1), which can only mean when one's earthly pilgrimage is completed. Living to the Lord also means recognizing that suffering, while still an evil and a trial in itself, can always become a source of good. It becomes such if it is experienced for love and with love through sharing, by God's gracious gift and one's own personal and free choice, in the suffering of Christ Crucified. In this way, the person who lives his suffering in the Lord grows more fully conformed to him (cf. Phil 3:10; 1 Pet 2:21) and more closely associated with his redemptive work on behalf of the Church and humanity. This was the experience of Saint Paul, which every person who suffers is called to relive: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church" (Col 1:24).