Tag Archives: sin

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 24. What is Theology Saying? XXXVII: Resurrection.

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Sin is seen as casting out Jesus. Jesus has no problem with the so-called sin of being blind, nor with the adulteress, only with those who seek to exclude them. He is pointing out that sin is the mechanism of exclusion – sin is not why there is exclusion but the exclusion itself. Blind from birth goes to the original aspect of sin, back to human birth in the very beginning. Jesus is presented as the Light of the world. We are all blind, but blindness is compounded by complicity in the excluding; now blindness becomes culpable. Jesus is forgiveness of sin, holiness and righteousness are love made flesh in the circumstances of being victim. My first awareness of my sin [not just awareness of evil] comes through recognising my complicity. Being wrong is not the issue, being wrong can be put right, it is the insistence that we are right that shackles us in original sin.

In the first eight chapters of Romans, Paul focuses on the righteousness of God. Wrath is not vengeance in God, rather is it the handing over of God, God’s non-resistance to human evil, the handing over of the Son and our killing him. Law provides knowledge of sin, and rather than being salvific is immersed in the world of mutual judgement and recrimination. Law increases sin, is death-dealing, whereas Resurrection means that new life in Grace comes through righteousness.

Sin is forgiven through faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. The Law is problematic in presuming that people are just through knowing good and evil. Not only does law not allow us to become just, but it locks us into judgemental attitudes as if we were among those who know themselves to be saved. The death of Jesus shows how sin is compounded by law. Christ is the end of the Law, that everyone might be justified who has faith… Romans 10.4. the Law achieved its purpose in Jesus’ death. Universal sin is linked with death: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death came to all people, because all sinned… Romans 5.12. Death was not invented by law, because sin was present pre-Law from Adam to Moses.

AMcC

The end of the Law: John welcomes Mary, the Lord’s mother, after the crucifixion. St Mary’s Rye, Sussex

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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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5 October. Little Flowers XXXXI. Francis and the Robbers, 2.

flowers.francis.illustrationYesterday we read how Brother Angel, the guardian, chased away the three robbers who came begging at the friary. Francis sent him to bring bread and wine to them, bread and wine that he himself had begged.

The obedient guardian came up with the robbers and offered to them the bread and the wine, and said all that Saint Francis had laid upon him.

And sith it was the will of God, these robbers as they ate the alms of Saint Francis, began to
say among themselves Woe unto us, miserable wretches! how grievous are the pains of hell that await us, who go about not only robbing our neighbours, and beating and wounding, but likewise slaying them; yet we feel no whit remorse of conscience, nor fear of God; and lo! this holy brother that hath come to us and humbly hath confessed his fault for diverse words he justly spake against our wickedness; and more than this, hath brought us bread and wine and so bounteous a promise from the holy Father; of a truth these be holy brothers of God, and merit the paradise of God; and we be sons of eternal perdition and merit the pains of hell, and every day increase our own damnation; and we know not whether we can turn us from the sins that we have done up till now. Come, what is it that we needs must do?

Let us go,” said one, “unto Saint Francis ; and if he gives us hope that we may find mercy of God for our sins, let us do whatsoever he bids us, and so deliver us. Thls counsel was pleasing unto the others; and so they all three being agreed gat them in haste to Saint Francis, and bespake him thus: “Father, for the multitude of sins and wickednesses that we have committed, we deem it not possible to return to the mercy of God; but if thou hast any hope that God will receive us into His mercy, lo! we be ready to do whatsoever thou shalt tell us, and to do penance with thee.”

Thereat Saint Francis, dealing lovingly with them and in kindly fashion, comforted them with many examples : and making them assured of the mercy of God, promised them of a surety to obtain it for them from God, and setting forth to them how that the mercy of God is infinite; and that if we had sins without number, yet the mercy of God is greater than our sins, according to the Gospel; and the Apostle Saint Paul saith: “Christ, the blessed One, came into the world to save sinners.”

Through the which words and the like admonishments, the three robbers renounced the devil and all his works. And Saint Francis admitted them into the Order.

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September 19: What is Theology Saying? XXIX: letting Grace do the talking

Is it possible to let Grace do the talking, instead of talking about Grace? Can I know from experience that God loves me? The fact is that we live within Grace, what we are about is to seek how to know this and how to be in touch with it. Some have said that Grace comes only through the Church. First, it is not the Church that contains Grace; rather does Grace contain the Church – among everything else; though authentic grace always has an ecclesial dimension – i.e. it tends to show itself in the shape of community.

God and Christ are freely within the world and manifest themselves variously. The Church is one such manifestation – an explicit, conscious and guaranteed presence – but not the only one. Because Grace is divine nothing escapes its influence, even sin succumbs to Grace as the Resurrection shows.

How do we image Grace? Is it the loving attitude of God? Is it the means by which God liberates and justifies us? Is it some reality which surpasses all our thinking? Notice, all these turn Grace into a “thing”. It is something different, it is something freely given, it is some “thing”.

The Catechism called it a supernatural gift – but what is “supernatural”? By definition supernatural is not on the same level as natural. The Supernatural is God, uncreated, mysterious. We use the terms Grace and Supernatural as symbols of experience, meant to translate that experience for us. What kind of experience fits what is meant by Grace? Grace is not an entity existing independently on its own. Grace is related to human beings, before ever it is spoken about [and language does tend to separate the two]. Grace is a lived reality.

AMcC

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7 September. Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXVI: Getting into the Habit 2.

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We start from the last paragraph of yesterday’s post.

The youth saw before him as it were a countless multitude of saints, like a procession, two and two, clad in beauteous robes of precious stuffs, and their faces and their hands shone like the sun, and they marched to the songs and chants of angels. Among these saints were twain more nobly clad and adorned than all the rest; and they were wrapt around with so much brightness that they wrought exceeding great amazement in whoso looked on them; and nigh to the end of the procession he saw one adorned with great glory that he seemed a new-made knight, more honoured than they all. The youth beholding the vision aforesaid, marvelled exceedingly and knew not what this procession might portend, and dared not ask, but stood all mazed for very sweetness.

Howbeit when all the procession had passed by, he took courage and ran after the last of them, and with great fear asked them, saying:
“Dear friends, I pray you of your good pleasure to tell me who are these folk so wonderful that go in this worshipful procession.”

They made answer: “Know, little son, that we be all Brothers Minor coming from the glory of paradise.”

And again he asked : “Who be those twain that shine more than the others ? They answered him: “These are Saint Francis and Saint Antony: and this last one that thou seest so honoured is a holy brother who died of late: the which, for that valiantly he fought against temptations, and persevered even unto the end, we are leading in triumph to the glory of paradise, and these robes of precious stuffs so beautiful, that we wear, have been given us by God in lieu of the rough tunics that we wore with patience in the religious life; and the glorious brightness that thou seest in us is given us of God for the humility and patience, and for the holy poverty and obedience and chastity, that we kept even unto the end. Wherefore, little son, let it not seem a hard matter to thee to wear the sackcloth of religion that beareth such good fruit ; seeing that, if with the sackcloth of Saint Francis for the love of Christ thou despise the world, and mortify the fiesh, and strive valiantly against the evil one, thou shalt together with us have even such a robe as this, and such brightness of glory.”


And these words spoken, the youth returned to himself again; and taking comfort from the vision, chased far from him all temptation, confessed his fault before the guardian and the brothers, and from thenceforth desired the roughness of penitence and of dress, and ended his days in the Order in great sanctity.

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