Tag Archives: philosophy

November 21: The King V: Over to Jesus.

 

Readers who are picking up these posts for the first time may wish to scroll back to Sunday 17th to catch up. We are looking at the dialogue between Jesus and Pontius Pilate in John 18:1-19:22. Today we are reflecting on John 18:33-38.

If Pilate pleases the crowd he may gain their support, and that could be useful in the future, possibly. This is always in the back of Pilate’s mind. Jesus has just told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and Pilate has retorted, ‘So then! You are a king’? In answer, Jesus volleys the question right back to him: ‘It is you who say that I am a king,’ Or, the words of Jesus could be fairly rephrased as, “It is you who are so determined to misunderstand my words about kingship.” Jesus’ statement exposes Pilate’s power-obsession.

Pilate can’t quite believe Jesus when he implies that worldly kingship and power are not what define him. Again, the sniffer dog is alert in Pilate. If that is true, there must be some other power that Jesus has that has caused this furore. What would that be? Jesus answers this implied question. He now solemnly gives the reason for his very existence, and explains the nature of his power and kingship: ‘I was born for this,’ Jesus says. ‘I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth, and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.

Truth is indeed powerful, but Pilate has never seen enough of it at work in a human being to realise just how powerful. We, the readers of the text, can see that Truth has frightened the religious authorities enough to turn them into murderers. But this is not something of which Pilate has any real understanding – or not yet. On the contrary, Pilate bursts out, ‘Truth?? What is that?’ Or, he might just as well have said, What use is that? Who really cares about truth? Almost no one! Certainly not this group of Jews, for whom Jesus seems to be challenging a religion that they think has been good enough for a very long time. But at least Pilate realises now that Jesus will never be a rival to any political power on those grounds. Yes, Pilate is smug now, thinking that he has at last sussed it. He is incredulous that such a fuss is being made over a man who is little more, in his estimation, than a harassed philosopher. This man Jesus does not deserve the death sentence.

Pilate is exasperated as he goes out to the dais and makes his pronouncement to the crowd, ‘I find no case against him.’ The accusations against Jesus seem unfounded to Pilate, and the mob-violence bizarre. Few authorities in charge of keeping order in their district would feel indifferent about such a situation. Nor is Pilate indifferent, but neither is he a moralist. He merely wants to regain control. Pilate probably wonders: does all this strange hate come from only a small but vocal minority? A few pushy crackpots? What about the rest of the people? So Pilate offers the saner majority (if such majority exists) a chance to swing this situation. Pilate says to the crowd, ‘According to a custom of yours, I should release one prisoner at the Passover; shall I release this king of the Jews?’

It would be easy to idealise Pilate here for this seeming reluctance to sentence Jesus, but let’s consider: does Pilate care about Jesus for any religious reasons? No. He has already made that clear. He is a political animal. He just wants to end this crazy religious feud and restore order. He sees that Jesus is a nobody: not rich, not influential, not ambitious; Jesus knows none of the right people. His only claim is that he knows truth and who cares about that? In Pilate’s mind, Jesus is rather a freak, but no more than that. The sniffer dog in Pilate has temporarily gone to lie down. But he will soon be alert again.

 

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May. What is Theology Saying? LIV: Salvation outside the Church III.

holydoor.doug (373x640)

If there is to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile, this means more than the emancipation of Christians from Jewish ritual laws. There can be no prejudice exercised against Jews, no persecution on account of religion or race. If we see any of this we know that the signs of the Messianic times are not being realised, and the Gospel is not being lived. The Nazi holocaust and austinthe silence of Christian nations in the face of it proclaimed to the Jews that Messianic times are not yet. Because the Jewish community continues to be faithful, God is faithful to them.

Because the case of Judaism is unique, theologians have had to ask what about other religions? What should be the Christian reaction? From the beginning it was always seen as apostasy for Christians to take part in worship of pagan gods, to offer incense before idols, even before the statue of the Emperor. No distinction was made between the use of incense in a ceremony that symbolised civil obedience and loyalty, and the use of incense in what is strictly worship. On account of such a lack, many Christians died.

Anthropology came to our aid by distinguishing between what is actually religious ritual, and what is merely a civic ritual. In modern times this distinction was made in China and Japan so that Christians could take part in honouring ancestors.

It is interesting to see that Christians did not see these things as so terrible when done by pagans, as when done by those enlightened by Christ. Saint Justin Martyr (died 165 AD) saw pagan philosophies and religions as ways that were leading people forward and would eventually converge on Christ, bringing everyone to worship the Father. This understanding faded in time due to a general distrust of foreign people and cultures – which led to Western Crusaders even killing Eastern Christians! With such a background we can see how the view of non-Christian religion as inherently evil arose.

AMcC

Door of Mercy from Doug in San Antonio

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December 9: The Visual Commentary on Scripture

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The Visual Commentary on Scripture
gathers a company of artists
with whom to encounter the Bible

I have passed the link to the Visual Commentary on Scripture to a few friends; they love it, as do I, even though it is only just up and running after years of preparation.

Professor Ben Quash, the Director of the Centre for Arts and the Sacred at King’s College London has gathered a company of theologians and art historians, to bring the insights of artists to preachers, teachers and anyone interested in the Bible either as the Word of God or as a subject for academic study. I am told that eventually the whole of the Bible, including the Apocrypha, will be covered.

The company of artists includes twenty-first century painters as well as old masters, and mediæval illuminators. More from without the Western European tradition would be welcome, but it is hoped that as the project gets known, other cultures will be better represented. That said, the contributors have searched wide and far for images – three to a text – to act as a springboard for reflection both directly on the Scripture passage but also on the images and the philosophy and theology underlying them.

I will let the site speak for itself. Go to https://thevcs.org/ and start exploring!

Please note that pictures on the VCS site are copyright, but the Ascension above was taken by Maurice Billingsley at Saint Bartholomew’s, Richard’s Castle and belongs to the Agnellus Mirror website – a selection of daily reflections on Scripture, prayer and the Christian life with a Franciscan flavour.

MMB

 

 

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October 17: Thomas Traherne XII: an happy loss to lose oneself and to find GOD

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The WORLD is not this little Cottage of Heaven and Earth. Though this be fair, it is too  small a Gift. When God made the World He made the Heavens, and the Heavens of Heavens, and the Angels, and the Celestial Powers. These also are parts of the World: So are all those infinite and eternal Treasures that are to abide for ever, after the Day of Judgement. Neither are these, some here, and some there, but all everywhere, and at once to be enjoyed.

The WORLD is unknown, till the Value and Glory of it is seen: till the Beauty and the Serviceableness of its parts is considered. When you enter into it, it is an illimited field of Variety and Beauty: where you may lose yourself in the multitude of Wonders and Delights. But it is an happy loss to lose oneself in admiration at one’s own Felicity: and to find GOD in exchange for oneself: Which we then do when we see Him in His Gifts, and adore His Glory.

A scientist as well as a poet can happily lose himself or herself in comtemplation.

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19 August. Telling the Truth X: Thanks to dedicated librarians.

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I could and should thank many librarians for their help in my research, including those in Canterbury and Folkestone who sourced books from elsewhere in Kent or other libraries in England. The small fee for interlibrary loans avoids my spending a couple of hours on trains to the British Library, and I can usually take the books home.

University libraries especially have scanned out-of-copyright works on the web. One such book Action this day by Archbishop Spellman, mentioned a Jesuit, Francis Anderson, as a connection of my subject Arthur Hughes MAfr, Internuncio to Egypt.

More search on the web led me to the Jesuit Archive in St Louis, where they hold letters from Hughes to Anderson, revealing something of himself. I know this because the good people there, Ann and Jeff, scanned them and emailed them to me.

No human can ever know or express the whole truth about anything, but we can help each other to come to a closer understanding. The paths of all genuine seekers after truth converge – scientist, historian, artist, philosopher, theologian. And the focal point of our searching is Truth itself.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.

MMB

photo from Jesuit Archives website.

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23 July: In the eye of the beholder?

mermaidrose (542x408)

Is a beach, a forest, a flower beautiful when nobody is looking at it? I remember such questions being laid before us at school to get us to think. 

The answer can be many layered, from ‘of course it is always beautiful’ to ‘God sees it, and everything he made is good’, to ‘We must train our eyes to see just as we must train our brains to think.’

When I first got to know the Mermaid rose it was in a pot in the garden centre, but just asking to be grown against our house wall. It is happy there, despite its being a dry spot; so happy I had to prune it quite heavily last autumn before it scratched too many passers-by. Mermaid has vicious thorns!

So the blossom is a little late this year, but plentiful. However, there is another beauty to be seen: the shoots of new growth where the bush wants to regain lost territory. What a beautiful red, but it will last no more than a few days.

The answer to the question?

Laudato Si’ !

MMB

rose.mermaid.new.shoots.red..jpg

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June 5: The Virtue of Justice I:Prudence Revisited.

Picture Wed 2nd March

Over to Sister Johanna for her reflections on the second Cardinal Virtue: Justice.

The cardinal virtues come in a famous pack of four: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. We looked at prudence in some of our previous posts. I thought it time now to move to the moral virtue that is next in line: justice.

If you weren’t here for the posts on prudence, then it might help briefly to revisit them: they began on 24th April, and can be found at this link.

Prudence has a lot to do with seeing reality as it is, not as we would like it to be. It is also to do with being able to plot out a course of action which takes that reality into account. A prudent person is a great one to have as a confidant, it seems to me. He or she will ask you a lot of questions and help you to arrive peacefully at a decision – which, in the end, will still be your decision, because the questions and answers that prudence considers do not force you into anything. Rather, they reveal a path by clearing away the weeds, and so enable you freely to walk down that path, and own the decision. The words of great twentieth century Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper,* can be enlightening. He says:

Prudence has a double aspect. One side is concerned with gathering knowledge, with establishing a yardstick, and is directed toward reality; the other side is concerned with decision and command, with evaluation, and is directed toward action.

I love the idea that prudence is about gathering the knowledge that enables us to understand reality. Behind this is the humble acknowledgement that as fallen creatures, our view of things is apt to be distorted. Prudence is about opening our eyes to the truth of things and situations, so that our subsequent decisions and actions will be directed toward that same truth and goodness. ‘Prudence translates the truth of real things into the goodness of human activity…. Thus prudence does not simply rank first in the scale of cardinal virtues, it actually is the “mother of virtues.” And “gives birth” to the others’ (Pieper).

SJC

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28 December, Holy Innocents.

 

toy-car-hand

I suggested yesterday that there is something ridiculous – humanly speaking – about the whole Christmas story. But we love stories! Books, TV, films, The Archers on the radio, all have their followers – and their detractors. We learn who we are through stories.

When training as a teacher I reviewed a children’s  picture book about the Rhine,  a few words and some rather good photographs, including the Lorelei Rock. After the story of the sirens luring boats to destruction was told the young reader was asked, Do you think this story is true?

Wrong question!

Abel is now eighteen months, a little young to listen to stories, but not too young to tell himself some. Among his words are digger, car, and brrrrm. Enough to start conversations in what some people call the real world, as he points to his Dad’s or his grandmother’s car. Enough to recognise a toy digger as a digger, and push it along, brrrrm. Enough to recognise a cartoon of a car on a tiny sticker given to me by one of his Auntie’s pupils. Is it a true car?

The idea of a car does not depend on size for Abel. Yes, some will dismiss the toy and sticker as unreal. But as Fr Kurzynski suggested yesterday, we are in danger of just not getting it. Small and big may well look different from a divine point of view. Or even from a deeply human one – see our post “A World of my own?” last May 14.

In this life, Jesus started off very small … Be grateful for small mercies.

And let’s pray today for mercy on innocent children suffering in war zones in Congo, Syria and elsewhere.

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August 7: John Duns Scotus Festival 2016

“The fall was not the cause of Christ’s predestination and if no one had fallen … Christ would still have been predestined in the same way.” Blessed John Duns Scotus.

The idea that God was coming to be part of his creation – whatever mess humans may make of our corner of it – has great appeal to me. For an imperfect analogy, just think of the way we play: even adults can get lost in a world of our own making, like my friend John with his model railways. See our post for 14 May: A World of My Own . I’m sure I oversimplify Scotus, but I am learning to rejoice in the world of God’s making. I hope you get chance to over the summer.

This post looks ahead to Autumn and the 2016 John Duns Scotus Festival which will take place in and around Duns in Berwickshire, Scotland (not too far from Edinburgh) during September and October.

Born in Duns 750 years ago this year, John Duns Scotus rose to become one of  the leading philosophers of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. Educated at Oxford and in Paris, he was a leading figure in some of the great arguments of the Church, with his followers earning the name ‘Dunces’ from the followers of his rival St Thomas Aquinas – the origin of the dunce’s cap. They were called this not because they were stupid, but because they stuck to the teachings of Duns Scotus.

A series of events is planned to mark this occasion designed to re-awaken interest in this son of Duns.

from the publicity flyer for the Festival.

The Catholic Churches in Berwickshire have posted details of the Festival, beginning on 17th September with an exhibition and lecture. Berwickshire RC Churches There you will also find pictures of sites in Duns associated with Blessed John Duns Scotus, more biographical details and links to sites about his writings.

MMB.

This is the Festival Website:

enquiries@dunsscotus2016.com

 

 

 

 

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May 19: Inter-Galactic Discoveries: IV

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Cliftonville by night … once upon a time

 

After the incident at the animal shelter, followed by an after dark foray into a rough part of Margate called Cliftonville where hope was discovered (in certain circumstances) to exist as a kind of moral chameleon driven before the winds of many different sorts of desires, ‘T’ reckoned that it might be a good idea to take a break. The Ossyrian mission had already uncovered a wealth of knowledge regarding the complexities of human behaviour, so much so that each newly discovered ‘fact’ seemed to raise a hundred more questions. That the species possessed what the Director, in his far away office in the diplomatic wing of the Inter-Galactic HDQ, had called vitality seemed, now, like a tame understatement. By Ossyrian standards the people of Earth, even when at rest, seemed…well…to somehow have solved the riddle of perpetual motion!

‘Let’s go up to London and see some of the sights,’ ‘T’ suggested and was met with immediate enthusiastic agreement by the pair of Chihuahuas. Hopping the fast train to St. Pancras Station, the trio happily watched the countryside roll by for an hour and a half before pulling into the busy North London transit hub. A sweaty tube ride several stops south brought them to the historic Westminster area of the city dominated by the great landmarks of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s and the Tower of London. ‘Hey, ‘T’,’ Alfie signalled, ‘can we check out Westminster Abbey? I want to see the place where the Prince and his good looking university sweetheart got married.’ ‘Sure, Alfie, no problem,’ ‘T’ replied, ‘if I’m not mistaken it’s just around that corner.’ But there was a problem; dogs, even cute, unobtrusive Chihuahuas, were not allowed into the historic place of worship. ‘I’m confused,’ an acutely disappointed Alfie grumbled, ‘Do they think that dogs don’t believe in God?’ ‘T’, as mystified as the canines, could think of no reply.

‘You know what, guys?’ Ajax’s irrepressible thought waves always brought a smile to ‘T’s homely face.  I’ve got a hankering to ride on the London Eye and get a bird’s eye view of the city.’ ‘Birds??!’ Alfie chimed in, ‘Where?’ He loved chasing birds on the beach back at Margate. But the Eye was also closed to any and all Chihuahuas. ‘Discrimination is just plain wrong, ‘T’,’ his strident thought was laden with hurt agitation. ‘I know, Alfie, I know,’ was all ‘T’ could think of to say. In the end the situation was, however, beautifully salvaged by a leisurely walk along the pavement on the south bank of the Thames followed by burgers and more chips purchased by ‘T’ at an upscale McDonald’s tucked away in one of the many mini-malls that had been converted from Victorian Era dockyards and warehouses, and eaten under a golden afternoon sun on a grass verge overlooking the silty river.

When the relaxed group of one bespectacled middle aged man and two frisky Chihuahuas arrived back in Margate, being late Spring, the sun was still fairly high in the sky. ‘How about one last walk – maybe up to that convenience store on the Canterbury Road where they sell those amazing sesame seed coated candies?’ ‘T’ beamed. ‘YES!!!!!!’ came the instantaneous reply as the Chihuahuas never seemed to tire of walks around town where the near-infinite number of different smells deposited by other dogs on pavement, post, and plant (well, actually, on just about anything and everything) kept them up to date on all of the fascinating happenings in canine society; not part of the study, strictly speaking, but deeply interesting nevertheless.

‘What the…?!!!’ Alfie’s shocked exclamation was followed by a snort as he spit some brownish-green down from his mouth. As was often the case, the wind was blowing briskly in Margate and what had briefly blown straight into the surprised Chihuahua’s open mouth was a living ball of brownish-green down peppered by almost-black spots; something like a rotund avian version of a leopard. The downy ball, crowned with a small beak and two beady eyes, was supported by stalk-like legs with enormous webbed feet. ‘T’ quickly scooped it up and, smiling, proclaimed, ‘It’s a baby seagull…and it must have fallen out of its nest!’

‘Can we put it back?’ Ajax asked, ‘I mean the pavement next to the busy Canterbury Road can’t be a very safe place for a baby seagull.’ ‘I don’t think so,’ ‘T’ beamed, ‘For one thing, we don’t know where its nest is…and if we did its mother probably wouldn’t accept it back.’ ‘But ‘T’,’ Alfie interrupted, ‘we have to do something. We can’t just leave it to die.’ ‘I have an idea,’ ‘T’ signalled enigmatically, ‘Follow me!!’

Five minutes later the trio, with ‘T’ tenderly cupping the contented baby seagull arrived at the train station parking lot where they hailed a taxi. ‘We’re headed to the pet store at Westwood Cross,’ he said to the driver and, with a lazy fart of exhaust, they were on their way. ‘T’ knew that the enormous pet and supply store at the sprawling mall also housed veterinarian offices and was confident that the kindly vets would care for the orphaned seagull chick. When the human, two Chihuahuas, and one baby gull arrived they were indeed advised that they could safely handover the bemused chick and that all would be well.

+   +   +

Three days after the incident involving the young gull Ajax noticed that ‘T’ looked a bit pale and had been much more taciturn than was usual. When questioned, ‘T’ heaved a huge sigh and tried to explain. ‘I phoned the vets this morning to see how our orphan bird was doing…and they informed me that it had been euthanized within minutes of being handed over.’ ‘Oh, no….’ Ajax’s thought trailed off. ‘But why?’ ‘No real reason, really,’ ‘T’s clipped response hinted at confusion and more than a little anger. ‘When I asked, all that they were able to say was that the clinic had been exceptionally busy that day and, besides, Margate had lots of gulls…’ Both dogs sat, trembling, on their haunches looking up at the Director in his human disguise. ‘Sometimes hope, though resilient, can also be a fragile thing,’ he sighed again, ‘because, by its very nature, it is as ethereal as a promise…and promises are sometimes broken.’

(to be continued)

TJH

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