Tag Archives: reason

14 July, Blaise Pascal: hatred and fear of religion.

Blaise Pacal

People despise religion. They hate it and are afraid that it might be true. In order to heal this we must begin by showing that religion is by no means contrary to reason.

Pensées sur la religion et sur quelques autres sujets, Blaise Pascal.

A reflection for Bastille Day, which celebrates the French Revolution.

Pascal, like many scientists of his 17th Century and through to today, saw no conflict between religious faith and reason.

If religion is true, it challenges us to repent, to live differently, to examine our consciences as to our behaviour, to acknowledge and be grateful for the gifts we receive, and to share them. Then people will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. But others may run a mile rather than repent – today at least!

Let us pray for unity and prosperity in France.

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5 July, Sustaining life: L’Arche and reasoning.

Mutual washing of feet is an important Lenten custom in L’Arche.

There has been many a battle within the Church, as well as in wider society, to persuade people to accept and treat those with learning difficulties as full and equal members. In the 1980’s and later we were still facing priests who refused to admit children to the sacraments ‘because, bless him, he doesn’t need it, he’s not reached the age of reason. He’ll never understand.’ (As if anyone fully understands the Eucharist at a rational level.)

A sister I once knew was catechist to a boy who had little spoken language; she prepared him for First Communion until the day before, when she brought along an unconsecrated wafer to enact the moment of receiving the Host. He held out his hands with such reverence; he made his First Communion there and then, she said.

That story came to mind when I read this passage from Archbishop Williams’s latest book. Regular readers will know that Agnellus’ Mirror is very fond of L’Arche. It’s good to find insights from someone else. I pray that we in L’Arche may always be consistent and life-sustaining.

It is essential for us to think about the ‘rationality’ of those we stigmatise, patronise, ignore and exclude whose mental capacity is not what we define as ‘normal’. The response of gratitude, affection, human sensitivity, ability to relate and cooperate that is visible, for example, in members of the L’Arche communities, where people with significant learning challenges live alongside those who do not have such challenges, should make us hesitate about defining the limits of ‘rationality’ without reference to such relational qualities. We may begin to see ‘reasoning’ as a richly analogical term, with an application to any form of consistent and life-sustaining adjustment to the environment, human and non-human.

From ‘Looking east in winter, contemporary thought and the Eastern Christian tradition’, Rowan WIlliams, London, Bloomsbury Continuum, 2021.

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15 October, Going Viral XLIX: some thoughts of Samuel Johnson

Doctor Johnson, though born in Staffordshire, was an 18th Century Londoner who could not have settled anywhere else. He was a devout Anglican, but treated Catholics fairly. This post could have gone under different headings, but the last paragraph speaks to our times – as does the door of mercy!

To what degree fancy is to be admitted into religious offices, it would require much deliberation to determine. I am far from intending totally to exclude it. Fancy is a faculty bestowed by our Creator, and it is reasonable that all His gifts should be used to His glory, that all our faculties should co-operate in His worship; but they are to co-operate according to the will of Him that gave them, according to the order which His wisdom has established.

We may take Fancy for a companion, but must follow Reason as our guide. We may allow Fancy to suggest certain ideas in certain places; but Reason must always be heard, when she tells us, that those ideas and those places have no natural or necessary relation.

When we enter a church we habitually recall to mind the duty of adoration, but we must not omit adoration for want of a temple; because we know, and ought to remember, that the Universal Lord is every where present; and that, therefore, to come to Iona, or to Jerusalem, though it may be useful, cannot be necessary.

Life of Johnson, by James Boswell

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/agnellusmirror.wordpress.com/23921 – Pilgrimage around Wales

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23 July: On Gluttony I

Harvest table St Mildred’s Canterbury.

Our friend Ignatius recently published this refection on Gluttony in his blog, ‘As a little child’. We found it thought provoking, so much so that we publish our response tomorrow.

What is gluttony? According to its Catholic Encyclopedia entry, gluttony is ‘the excessive indulgence in food and drink. The moral deformity discernible in this vice lies in its defiance of the order postulated by reason, which prescribes necessity as the measure of indulgence in eating and drinking.’ It is also one of the seven deadly sins/cardinal vices, and yet it seems to be widely forgotten today.

Food is to be taken in so far as it supports our life, but not to the extent of enslaving us to the impulses of desire.’ (St John Cassian) Food was made to nourish us as its primary purpose, and to deny it this is to twist it out of its own nature, and into something that is both harmful and wasteful.

St John Cassian from SJC.

What’s more, gluttony subverts the created order in which the mind rules over the body, managing its needs and desires, and lets the body and its desires instead rule the mind. It attaches us to bodily/earthly realities, and so prevents us from rising to spiritual/celestial realities.

Gluttony also feeds the next cardinal vice, lust. This vice we hear about all the time. St John Cassian said, ‘No one whose stomach is full can fight mentally against the demon of unchastity.’ Indulgence spills out to indulgence. First the flesh demands its basic good and pleasure of food, and then it goes on to its higher good and pleasure of sex.

According to St Thomas, there are five ways to be gluttonous: too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too daintily. While growing obesity levels are visible and concerning, gluttony is much more than getting fat, and likely affects most people in the western world. Being excessively fussy is itself a form of gluttony.

So how should we oppose this vice? St John Cassian: ‘A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.‘ I’m not sure how hungry/unsatisfied this requires, but at least try to leave some room (and not just for dessert!).

Speaking of dessert, I won’t say anything against that, nor against enjoying life generally. But we do need to learn moderation, and eat with the end of nourishment in mind. Food should absolutely be enjoyed as a gift from God, but we have to watch not to abuse it.

God bless 🙏

We ran a series of reflections from Sister Johanna on Saint John Cassian, starting here. Well worth exploring. Today is his feast day.

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16 July: Hope and happiness by Samuel Johnson

Dr Johnson suggests a concise theology of hope – as opposed to ‘improper expectation’. As for that lottery ticket, that requires the common course of things to be changed!

Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords: but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged, must end in disappointment. If it be asked, what is the improper expectation which it is dangerous to indulge, experience will quickly answer, that it is such expectation as is dictated not by reason, but by desire; expectation raised, not by the common occurrences of life, but by the wants of the expectant; an expectation that requires the common course of things to be changed, and the general rules of action to be broken.

It is necessary to hope, though hope should always be deluded; for hope itself is happiness, and its frustrations, however frequent, are less dreadful than its extinction.’ The Idler, No. 58.

Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765″ by James Boswell.

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28 April: This is my body!

easter.morning.frara.venice

 

We were put off by the grandiose monuments in the Conventual Franciscans’ church in Venice. A six metre high pyramid or a balcony upheld by gigantic black strongmen: I don’t see what their place is in a Christian church. Worse by far than what we have in Canterbury. But no more of that.

Take a look instead at this wall carving; it may be small but it says more than the marble monstrosities, however clever their workmanship.

This is Easter morning, first thing, before Mary reaches the tomb. The rising sun is gilding the tree and shining upon the One who has risen. An angel watches over him, as always. The angels had to watch the events of Thursday night and Friday without intervening. Were they already reassured that all would be well? We cannot know their experience of time.

Jesus is experiencing time, and space and all his senses, in a completely new way. The warmth of the sun on his chest makes him stop and think: This is my body!

His left hand explores his wounded side: no, I can feel it, but it doesn’t hurt. I can breathe freely, but I carry the marks, the stigmata, (as Saint Francis was to do). Time has left other marks, blotches, bruises, that probably were not all intended by the artist, but they point to this moment when Jesus took those first breaths, not in his new body, but in his body renewed, transformed; or in the process of transformation, in that twinkling of an eye, before he dressed and went out to meet Mary. Surely, with the blood flowing again – as we see it is – the bruises will disappear.

It was important to Jesus in this moment to explore his risen body, to know what he was waking up to. So, Thomas, come and put your hand in the mark of the nails, put your hand in my side, stop doubting and believe – just as I did last week!

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26 November: What is Theology saying? XLI – The point of natural law.

pilgrims way

What must we do to be open to Grace? There are two ways to answer this – the first seems the correct one. The effort of the whole community is involved; an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust through which we try to come to an understanding of truth and are willing to receive it – whoever it is comes to such an enlightened position. The second answer seems self-defeating. Since intellects are clouded by sin, God must have instituted a guaranteed channel – the channel Catholics adhere to is the Magisterium of the Church. If the Pope declared something to be natural law it was guaranteed to be right reason.

This second view is self-defeating because it combines two sources of morality into one. Only authority is left, for reason and common sense have been eliminated. The point of the natural law was to guarantee a place for reason to show the continuity between reason and revelation. It makes us passive in our responsibilities, leaving only an obligation to obey commands. This sort of reasoning led to the rise of Nazism.

There is something else to consider. Common sense judgments do not come out of the blue; they are formed in particular situations, from actual experience. The difference between the two is highlighted by the common reaction to Humane Vitae of Paul VI, when many understood it as infallible teaching. However, if everything is not decided by right reason, we need to ask: are all moral teachings controlled by the Church, and therefore the Church can change them; or, have some questions been decided by Jesus so that they can never be changed? For instance the issue of divorce.

AMcC

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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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February 12: Have your ELECTRIC BLANKET serviced … I

blackthorn

It’s a good headline isn’t it! Poor Saint Valentine gets supplanted by Ash Wednesday this year. Let’s remember him in advance!

One day last October we were out foraging for sloes, those sharp, purple little wild plums, the fruit of the blackthorn, one of the earliest spring flowers. Something reminded Janet of this passage in the old ‘Dutch Catechism’ which was part of her journey into the Church. Appropriate reading for Saint Valentine.

People begin to suspect that they are meant for each other when they experience the marvel of falling in love. A young man and a young woman discover something in each other that no outsider can fully see. The hope and the need of giving themselves to each other completely take over and grow and grow.

The heart has its reasons which the reason does not quite know, according to Pascal, nor is it necessary that it should. But if one is to give oneself to another totally and for ever, one must make a decision with one’s whole person. Hence reason and conscience cannot be left out. The enchantment of love opens the eyes to the uniqueness of the other, but it can also be blind if it remains a superficially sensual or romantic attachment.

A New Catechism, Catholic Faith for Adults, London, Search Press, 8th impression, 1978, p 385

And that headline was on the bookmark Janet was using all those years ago.

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January 13. Temperance VII: Beauty, Reason and Will

Jack Lonnen Meadows in costume 1At last we may return to one of the key ideas in the first quotation I cited some days ago in these posts on temperance. The philosopher Josef Pieper says that the virtue of temperance is beautiful in itself and renders the human being beautiful. What can he mean? Isn’t temperance about self-control? Beauty belongs to some other virtue, maybe, but not to temperance.

But beauty, says St. Thomas Aquinas, is an attribute of temperance because temperance enables us to control ourselves in relation to those things which can most degrade us. When our passions are indulged in an intemperate way, they ‘dim the light of reason from which all clarity and beauty of virtue arises’, according to Thomas. Let’s linger over this a bit. St. Thomas mentions the ‘light of reason’. We are always being reminded by St. Thomas that the human being is a rational being. Our reason, as we have noted in all our posts, is a great attribute, a precious gift. It is, you might say, like a musical instrument that needs careful handling. A violinist carries his instrument in a specially constructed violin case that protects the strings and the wood from damage so that the violin is able to produce the sweetest sound. Our reason, too, is meant to be protected from damage so that it can function well. Intemperance can cause a kind of damage to our reason. It is not hard to understand this. Just think of someone who is drunk. What becomes of the light of reason and the clarity of thought in an intoxicated person? Or think of someone in a rage so intense that the mind stops functioning, and violence takes over.

The role of the will is important here. ‘The will,’ says Thomas, ‘stands between the reason and the passions and may be moved by either.’ Our will, then, is a bit like a traffic policeman, allowing some things through and making others wait. The traffic policeman commands obedience from drivers in the same way that the will, directed by the reason, can command obedience from our passions. If our passions do not obey will, the will can be run over by them, and this causes havoc for us. Thomas goes on to say, ‘Although the passions are not in the will, it is in the power of the will to resist them.’ We are not at the mercy of our passions, regardless of their seeming strength. Just because we may passionately want to do something that we know is not good, our will need not capitulate.

It is always possible for the passions to respond to the will’s directives. The passions are not all-powerful. The will, moved by the light of reason, is able to resist them.

Yet, the beauty of temperance is not merely that it protects us from going hay-wire with regard to the physical pleasures of food and drink and sex. It has a positive effect on our entire being, body, soul and spirit. Temperance is not directed only to our physical appetites. We have a host of emotional appetites also: the craving for control, for popularity, for possessions, for acceptance, for love, for attention, for money, for safety, for comfort – the list goes on and on. We cannot treat all of them here. But from all of them in their extreme and intemperate form, temperance is liberating and purifying.

The particular beauty of temperance is ‘the glow of the true and the good’ radiating from within the temperate person. Temperance, you might say, works on us to bring about the purification of our entire being. How? By submitting our most intensely personal feelings and desires, our most passionate impulses and cravings to the light of divine truth.

As Pieper says, temperance is ‘that purity by dint of which the selfish and furtive search for spurious fulfilment is abandoned.’ He continues:

A new depth here opens to our view: purity is not only the fruit of purification; it implies at the same time readiness to accept God’s purifying intervention… to accept it with the bold candor of a trustful heart, and thus to experience its fruitful and transforming power.

SJC

Maurice’s great-great-grandfather was an actor.

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