Tag Archives: original sin

25 November. What is Theology saying, XL: Church teaching and common sense

Friar Austin is back, talking over what Theology has to say to us today in the area of morality and responsibility.

A similar development to that around original sin is found in Church teaching on personal sin, our understanding of morality. We have had to ask how to decide what is the right thing to do in matters as yet never experienced – organ transplants, ways of controlling the frequency of births – as well as questions concerning the morality of public life. In a society that doesn’t change much a code or commandments for people to obey suffices; even without people knowing why something must or must not be done. Obey the rules and you are in harmony with God.

In the past Christian theology compiled its code, and it became very elaborate and detailed. We had volumes of moral theology textbooks. First, they were intended for confessors, to help with actions already done. However, the manuals affected preaching. Preaching and teaching are very different from what happens in the confessional. The Church turned to two sources in compiling the manuals – one was the already existing Church teaching; the other was common sense or right reason. The reason they appealed to common sense [natural law] was because morality is not arbitrary. God doesn’t invent rules at whim. The right thing to do is what is always in harmony with the plan of creation. Life is not absurd and eventually everything will make sense. Because we have reason and practical common sense, we thereby share in the creative wisdom of God, and can figure out what to do.

What we call natural law is accessible to everyone because it is a matter of reason, but it became evident that highly intelligent people did not always agree on the right answers to moral issues. Catholic theology says that our intellects are clouded by Original Sin through our involvement with the sin of the world; an unbiased judgement is by no means always possible – uninfluenced by personal likes, convenience and sympathy. This is a matter of observation – and is another aspect of our need for redemption through Grace.

AMcC

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October 26. What is Theology saying, XXXIX: What Morality did Jesus teach?

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The humiliation that we all carry is that we are a mass of contradictions. Yet we are, before all else, a blessing; but we are well aware it is a mixed blessing – Original Sin, a doctrine many dislike – whatever we call it, we do have a sense of being inadequate. The word sin implies culpability, which is not what the doctrine wants to say! The precise meaning is that we are not culpable for it, but that we are wounded by it. It names my inner conflict so that I will not be shocked or surprised when it shows itself.

Paul sees both Adam and Christ as summaries of humanity. What happens in them must happen in all; not just then but always now. If you know you are a mixed blessing, filled with contradictions, a mystery to yourself, you won’t pretend to eliminate all that is unworthy, but heed Jesus’ advice: let them both grow together until harvest time – Matthew 13.30.

Jesus told us not to pull out the weeds – Matthew 13.29 – lest we also pull out the wheat; this is both sound spirituality and psychology. In Genesis 1.26 God says Let us make humanity in our own image – note the use of the plural form, as if intuiting the Trinity, God as relationship, the perfect mystery of total giving and receiving. It is interesting that physicists, molecular biologists and astronomers are more in tune with this universal pattern than Christian believers.

God isn’t looking for servants or contestants to play the game – God is looking simply for images to walk around the earth. This is as if God is saying all I want is some out there who will communicate who I am, what I am about and what is happening in God: You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he – Isaiah 43.10. All morality is simply the imitation of God – not those who do it right go to heaven, but those who live like me are already in heaven.

AMcC

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25 October. What is Theology Saying? XXXVIII: We have locked ourselves in the shadow of death

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The evil in unredeemed desire is far deeper than the law could engender – which is why we are told that anger = murder and lust = adultery. The way evil cannot touch is forgiveness. We need to learn to desire without the need to compete, blame or measure ourselves against. We need to be free to relish good wherever it is found – but who decides what is good?

God gave a prohibition for our protection – which we have consistently ignored – not to eat of the tree whose fruit is knowledge of good and evil. But seeing something withheld led to rivalry and envy – we’ll show him – we’ll do it our way. Paul tells us that the Law is not sinful – Romans 7.7. – I was once alive apart from the Law, but when the command came sin sprang into life and I died. Paul sees the Serpent not as the Devil but as sin. Desire is a gift of God, but not when disfigured by envy. We have victimised the Law making it an instrument of redemptive violence, and locking ourselves within the shadow of death.

Desire turned to envy made what should have been the irenic way to life into the sphere of rivalry, envy and exclusion. Now all life is infected [universality of OS] by such distorted desire – they saw that they were naked – all this through ignoring that prohibition that was there to ensure our well-being.

It is my awareness of me as “I” that results from knowing other than me. Paul insists that it is Faith that allows us access to desire redemption, to desire in ways that owe nothing to envious rivalry. Sin means my “I” is not in control but is itself controlled by distorted desire. What is needed is the way of living that Paul describes as: It is no longer I but Christ living in me [controlling my “I”] – Gal.2.20.

Jesus shows that Original Sin is not of our essence, it is simply evidence of a faulty foundational principle [way of life]. Paradoxically, what Jesus was founding was subversion of the notion founding – in the sense of achieving identity by comparison over against others. It is totally gratuitous in every way… something that existed long before our capacity for distorting desire ever happened. Before Original Sin there is Original Grace.

The tragedy of Original Sin is not that it is universal, but in the universality of the new people we discover what is possible for “I” – to become enabled to move from the universal to the particular; whereas conversion requires recognition of our equality as the foundation of human dignity; unity in diversity, equal but not the same. Original Sin is what we are leaving behind when we take new life seriously. We realise the reality of Original Sin through those who have been set free from it. As Jesus told Nicodemus – we must be born into a new way – not going back and starting again. – Jn.3.3. Death was seen as an extrinsic punishment for sin – we all sin, we all die! Death and sin are connected – distorted desire cannot bring life, since only God is life!

AMcC

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October 23: What is Theology saying? XXXVI: Resurrection and Original Sin.

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The formal doctrine of Original Sin is not present in the apostolic witness, no more than is the doctrine of the Trinity. What is crucial for understanding God-with-us in Jesus is the real presence to the disciples of Jesus at once crucified and risen. The only reason why there is Christianity is the Resurrection. Any doctrine that cannot trace its origin to the Resurrection is to be discarded – Galatians 1:8. – But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!

The Resurrection was not a mysterious event within a pre-existing framework for understanding God, but the event by which God recast the possibility of human awareness of God. God blew apart former understandings of God in the birth, life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. Death is a matter of complete indifference to God Mark.12.18, which has Jesus telling the authorities you are very much mistaken! Any understanding of God based on death cannot even begin to know God. God’s love in Jesus is totally unaffected by death; love carries on being reciprocal right through and beyond death.

The doctrine of Original Sin is that death is not a necessity. The presence of Jesus crucified and risen reveals that we were wrong about God and wrong about ourselves; not wrong as in mistaken, but that we were going the wrong way. Divine forgiveness makes known the accidental nature of mortality. In John 9 we read Jesus’ response to who is the sinner: this man or his parents… I have come that those who do not see may see, and those who see – become blind – 9.39. The conversation starts with sin being the cause of his blindness, through which he is excluded. By the end sin is the act of exclusion.

AMcC

The design of the Canterbury Cathedral Easter Garden is entrusted to an apprentice.

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October 22,What is theology Saying? XXIV, Original Sin 3.

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Why are we here? What are we like? What are we here for? Karl Rahner’s explorations went much further, by showing that God is an essential part of our lives and we are all related, whether we realise it or not. God is at the core of every aspect of our experiencing. We are never satisfied. We never reach a point where we know all that there is to know or experience all that there is to experience because we are always open to newer and more fulfilling experiences. Our thirst for knowledge and new experiences is never quenched.

We can always go beyond what we know. But we need to remember that this transcendence includes our knowledge of the finite; we go beyond every finite object thanks to our openness to the infinite, in order to recognise a limit, we must transcend it. Imagine the fence around an area. You might think that when you reach that fence, you don’t need to go beyond it to recognise it as a limit. On a physical level, you’re right. However, in thought you’ve already transcended the fence. You’ve realised that there’s something beyond it but that you can’t go beyond it. In the same way, though we can only take hold of the finite, we aspire to the infinite. In supposing that we’re limited by a finite horizon of questioning, we go beyond this and experience ourselves as able to transcend. So, the fact that we know the finite requires the existence of an infinite.

Original Sin shows us to ourselves. It is natural to assume that my desires are mine! This presumes that I am me before I decide to desire; whereas my desires make me. Something is triggered in me when I experience another person desiring something. I too can begin to desire like this. Eventually and inevitably this leads to rivalry – mine’s better… and then I am set against the other, which is how I experience me as different. This rivalry is simply me against you, the way I establish myself.

Desire has become my desire and what makes it mine is that it is not yours! Some call it friendly rivalry, or competitive spirit. In fact the “me” that is now opposed to the not me is the product of my desiring. Much time and energy is spent on fostering and preserving this artificial self; whereas, as we discover from the Incarnation, real self is total gift. My own sense of self is me in contrast to you, whereas my real self sees other as total gift to me.

Society becomes possible through imitation by keeping humans together while forming individuals psychologically. The infant imitates the adult, reproducing what the adult does; there is no me in the infant independent of the model that fashions it. The adult plays with a toy to get the infant to do the same; eventually this will lead to desire, which tends to detach us from the model and seeks autonomy.

However, much more than imitation is needed to make me. This results in my wanting to be who the other is. This in turn can lead to an unequal rivalry. Rivalry tends to be resolved by the exclusion of the victim, asserting my emerging self against the other. It is the tension set up between my sense of being as given, and my acquiring of it by more or less violent means that is at the heart of theology of Original Sin.

AMcC

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October 21. What is Theology Saying? XXXIV: My “me” is dependent on desires.

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The fact that my way is illusory means that it cannot be natural, a mistake cannot be of the essence of anything. That this is world-wide and world-old cannot make it natural. Revelation has something to tell us about living together; and we must avoid supposing an autonomy of social science, which forgets that modern social theory is formulated specifically against theology. It shares the same illusion of seeing reality as setting one against another. As a consequence of faith in the Incarnation, we receive the awareness that self-awareness comes from seeing self as total gift – no rivalry, as each one is unique.

Why does the infant struggle to repeat words and sounds; a process we take for granted? It isn’t automatic [and often missing in the Autistic]. This pull we feel confronting us as gravity is for the planets. It is a call to imitate, it is repetitive learning. We move into adult life through relating and, like gravity, such imitating both attracts and repels. We are attracted and we imitate, but eventually imitation leads to rivalry, using the same model differently. Our model is now our rival through whom we define ourselves against.

We imitate not just what the model looks like – but also what he/she has; it is this moving towards an object other than the model that we call desire. It pulls us away from the model into a kind of autonomy. But something more is required to fashion me. This involves focussing on the model as being – wanting to be who the model is. It is this imitating that eventually leads to rivalry: an impossible rivalry. Rivalry is resolved by exclusion or marginalising the victim – asserting individual self over the self of the other – I establish me through many victories gained in this way.

Does this mean we are all victimisers? The sense of self is always given – not acquired. It is the tension set in place by my sense of self as given, and as self acquired by violent means – this is the essence of Original Sin. My sense of self is unstable, changeable, other-dependent – the other who is there before me. My “me” is dependent on the desires that gave rise to it. Christian scholars understood the way in which humans relate to God in terms of where we come from, where we are going and how to get there.

AMcC

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October 20, What is Theology Saying? XXXIII: Original Sin

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Welcome back to Friar Austin and his explorations of today’s thinking theologically. 

We have all heard of Original Sin – and there is abundant evidence that it is still with us. But what is it? Let us begin with recognising the fact that there is collective and social violence accompanying everyday living [starting with Cain and Abel]. It has been called humanity’s family secret [Sebastian Moore, OSB] – it is against this backdrop that one man shedding his blood becomes real.

Salvation through shedding blood has had every possible expression and meaning. To appreciate this better we need to be more aware not so much of how we get to God, as how God gets to us. Original Sin has things to tell us about ourselves in a way that highlights the wonder of salvation.

It is only natural to assume that what I desire starts and ends with me – I know what I want. But there is a prior question: do I make my desire or does my desiring make me? My desiring first comes through being aware of some other person desiring. This prompts me to follow, even imitate, until eventually and inevitably, imitation gives way to rivalry: I may like what you are wearing enough to do the same – but then seek to justify the choice as being mine only; it is in this way that I identify myself through being me against… [X has a big house I will get a bigger one] – And that is me.

Being passed-over causes resentment, and sets me against – what makes my desire mine is that it isn’t yours! The “me” is now in place through being opposed to the other [not me] as the fruit of my desire. By contrast, Jesus sees himself as only gift – given to me by Abba, to enjoy, and to know where I’m from and where I can go. This is the crux of the matter – not me through being opposed to any other… I’m me as only gift… Given by the totally other to me. And this is not just a personal reality it is social and cultural – waiting in the wings to be kick-started by any desire intense enough to do so. [Desire is what humankind has in place of animal instinct].

AMcC

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January 9: The Virtue of Temperance, III: Temperance and Moderation.

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Good food in moderation: Broadstairs Baptist Church Hall.

One of the words St Thomas Aquinas uses to speak about temperance is moderation. For St. Thomas, moderation is concerned with that place between the extremes of too much and too little. It is a ‘place’ that is not always easy to find because it requires us to make use of our reason – an extremely important notion for St. Thomas in his understanding of the human person. He emphasises repeatedly that the human being is a rational animal. In saying this he wants us to understand that as ‘animals’ we do some of the things animals do. But as rational beings, we have the capacity – indeed, it is an ontological imperative – to order our ‘animal’ life according to principles and values that mere animals cannot begin to understand.

Yet, our capacity to order our life according to the ‘good of reason’ is somewhat weak, because we are ‘fallen’ through original sin. The integrity of our being is affected, and there are times when our emotions and bodily instincts are apt to clamour for what is not truly good for us. We love pleasures of all sorts, and they are often what lead us astray. We are especially attracted to the pleasures involved with food and sex.

The pleasures of food and sex fulfil our bodily existence, and enable us to continue as a species. So far so good. The trouble is that they seem to suggest that we will be made happy by pursuing these pleasures to the exclusion of all else. But pleasures can deceive. If we follow the path of pleasure in an immoderate way, we will soon experience all the misery that comes from addictive behaviour – for the bodily appetites, if unchecked, simply cry out for more and more pleasure while these same pleasures simultaneously deliver less and less of the very pleasure they seem to promise. This kind of problem simply goes with the package of our fallen human nature. No one escapes it; we must all grapple with it. Temperance, understood as the capacity to moderate the requirements of our physical life in accord with the good of reason, is the virtue that is concerned with these matters.

SJC

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25 December. Five notes: Father Andrew at Christmas, III.

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More from Fr Andrew’s Introduction to his book of Carols.

The Mystery of the Incarnate Love has brought to us, first of all, a revelation of simplicity. Theology teaches us that the life of God is a simple act, and, since God is Love, that act must surely be, however expressed, an act of love; and here in the little Babe laid in the midst of the straw of our human poverty is the simple appeal and revelation of the love of God.

The second note is sympathy, and that in the direct meaning of the word – ‘suffering with.’ We cannot understand the mystery of suffering, and really there is no particular reason why we should, since God has suffered with us, and one of the sufferings of God was this very mystery of suffering, for did not He take upon His lips the great classic words of the twenty-second Psalm and cry in His own darkness, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’

The third note is joy. These poems and carols all have in them a note of joy and a note of pain. Laughter and tears are mingled in these Christmas songs.

The fourth is the sacredness of human nature. God joined together flesh and spirit. Sin put these asunder, and by the fall of man the flesh, which was only lower than spirit in condition and degree, became lower also in quality, and by the taint and twist of original sin this human nature of ours was made to seem a bad thing, as though the flesh were, in God’s intention, the enemy of spirit. In the coming of the Holy Child, when the angels sang their Gloria, once more flesh and spirit were united in perfect oblation.

The fifth note, which contains in it all else, is love. Over the cross, over the manger, over the altar, one can write the golden words, ‘God is Love.’

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September 10: Jesus beyond Dogma, VIII. The Doctrine of Original Sin is the doctrine of unnecessary death.

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Dryburgh Abbey

The Doctrine of Original Sin is the doctrine of unnecessary death. Forgiveness is not an external absolution from what we have done or failed to do it penetrates to the very core of who we are, making us able to become what we are receiving. The crucified and risen Christ reveals how wrong we are about God and ourselves with God, not wrong as in mistaken but in such a manner that we can give thanks for the joy of being wrong, and showing the non-essential nature of our mortality.

Chapter 9 of John’s Gospel redefines sin for us, with an understanding worked by Jesus. He was asked about the blind man’s affliction [whose sin was it]. Blindness was believed to be a moral defect, barring the sufferer from sharing cultic life through being unclean. Jesus heals him on the Sabbath – so much for cultic barring – then comes his exclusion. To recognise the cure would mean acknowledging Jesus as coming from God. Instead they become more aggressive in their questioning and finally throw the man out. He had never seen Jesus, his sight only returned when he washed in the pool of Siloam; but his witness increases from saying Jesus is a good man to saying he is a man from God – superior to Moses.

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He comes more aware of Jesus during his exclusion – while the Sadducees are more and more hardened. Jesus says: for judgement I came into the world, so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind. Jesus has made no judgement as yet – it is by being crucified that he judges his judges. Jesus is the cause of the blind man’s exclusion – which means the blind man shares Jesus’ role as judge of those expelling him. Jesus does not do away with judgement, but with the accepted notion of judgement.

What does this say about sin? The ever increasing history of expulsions culminates on Calvary. As the story begins blindness is seen as a moral defect, making the man ritually unclean. The story finishes with sin clearly in the act of expelling. What the Gospel refers to as the sin of the world is being involved in the work of your father, the devil. Sin is the mechanism of exclusion, and they are blind sinners whoever is complicit in this. There is no problem with the partially blind – they don’t know what they are doing. The sinners are those who are, by choice, part of the exclusion process, claiming to know [see] they are doing God’s work.

Jesus doesn’t abolish sin, rather he identifies it for what it is. Sin is not what excludes [blindness] but the act of excluding by those claiming to see, and are doing God’s work. There has been blindness in the world from the beginning; only now is it identified and shows itself able to be healed – when not blocked by those claiming to know what they are doing and who persist in excluding. Peter excluded Jesus in betraying, but discovered, albeit painfully, that he could be forgiven.

We are all blind about Jesus, the light of the world come to enlighten us. He is rejected by some who, though blind, claim to see what they are doing. When the blindness in which we all share is compounded by actively excluding by any claiming to see – then is it culpable. In this 9th Chapter of John we have at once the world view of sin and the way Jesus has come to heal us of it. Human culture from its very beginning – with Cain and Abel – through our saying no to God is both murderous and mendacious.

This is the insight from the Resurrection. To believe in Jesus is to experience the forgiveness of sin, the risen victim of exclusions is forgiveness. Being wrong can be forgiven through accepting a relationship with forgiveness, it is the insistence on claiming to be right without the relationship that brings us to having no need for forgiveness – I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t need Jesus!

The first fruits of the Resurrection bring a new way of seeing God, along with a new undersaustintanding of humankind situated within death’s parameters – by our own choosing – prone to exclude in order to justify; but now revealed as capable of forgiveness for any who will accept this new way of seeing. At last, no longer clinging to I believe in God…but discovering how and why God believes in me.

 AMcC

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