Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Of Mice, Men, and Hindus

Suppose you didn’t know what a human was and that you had to approximate your idea of man by your knowledge of lesser beings. We could start with a chimpanzee because it is the smartest animal. But that wouldn’t be enough, so we would need to supplement our knowledge with attributes of other creatures. Yes man is smart like the chimpanzee, (much smarter in fact), but he is also industrious like the ant. He is artistic like the bowerbird, a resourceful hunter like the lion, and social like the wolf.

Now the way we learn about God, through creation, is something like this. Because he was made in God’s image, man is the closest thing we know. But as knowledge of the chimpanzee falls short of knowing man, so knowledge of man falls far short of knowing God. The difference in the latter example is of course infinite and not strictly comparable. By knowing a chimpanzee you are much closer to knowing man than you are to knowing God by knowing a man.

To learn what God is like, we use a synthesis of all knowledge. Though man is the smartest and closest to God, knowing him alone is not nearly enough. God is the source and perfection of all goodness that exists in every creature. When we observe the efficient industry of the ant, we know that God is infinitely efficient and industrious. When we see the tender care of a mother with child, we know that God is infinitely tender and caring. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” The ferocity of a lion is only a shadow of God’s wrath.

This is also true of theology, I believe. I am a Thomist because I believe that Thomism is the best of the theological schools. But even though St. Thomas was a master at synthesis, knowing Thomism is not enough to approximate the truth. After all, foreknowing the result of St. Thomas’s vision, God judged it more profitable to mankind that St. Thomas should call his writings “straw” than that he should finish his masterpiece.

Knowing Thomism is to knowing truth what knowing man is to knowing God. Just as the best reflection of God’s perfection must be used as the exemplar for knowing God, so the best doctor of the Church should be used as an exemplar for knowing true theology. If you think that man is the only creature that should be used to learn about God, then you fail to appreciate certain attributes. Likewise, if Thomism is the only theology you study, you miss out on important aspects.

Non-Western theology is certainly part of that necessary synthesis. Pope John Paul II declared that the Church must breathe with her “two lungs,” that is, with the Western and Eastern traditions.

Though man is by far the closest to God, a gorilla is stronger and better represents God’s strength in that limited way. A dog expresses loyalty better than a man, and certain other animals excel in sensory powers beyond man’s capability. The sun better represents God’s life giving light, and the oak tree better represents His steadfastness. Likewise, in spite of their theological mistakes, non-Catholics do emphasize certain truths that lack such emphasis in Catholicism. Even other faiths have some things to teach us. We do not deny that man is uniquely created in God’s image by noting that the lamb best reflects a particular attribute of God. Likewise, we do not deny that the fullness of God’s revelation uniquely subsists in the Catholic Church by noting that other faiths better reflect certain attributes of God’s truth.

Catholicity is bigger than both Latin Christianity, and Eastern Orthodoxy. When Catholicism swallowed paganism whole, she spit out the erroneous seeds and perfected the truth that was already present in classical philosophy. When and if Catholicism were to swallow the Eastern religions like Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, Catholicism would be the better for it. The Eastern mystic religions have truths that Catholicism has not yet perfected.

Again, this does not deny the unique truth of Catholicism. Christ founded the Church just as He created Adam. But towards His perfect end, He saw fit to create lesser creatures, each having a limited measure of truth. Some of these creatures, e.g. sewer rats, do not appear to exemplify much of anything helpful towards apprehending God’s nature. Likewise, there are plenty of shameful cults, heresies, and religions that have little or nothing to teach us. Yet all things are within God’s providence. The lion was not an accident, and neither was Hinduism.

Allow me to summarize. St. Thomas said that the human intellect cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly. And while the Catholic Church is God’s fullest, most visible, and most direct divine revelation, en route to understanding God lies understanding the field mouse.

Neither St. Thomas, nor any writer, nor man’s best effort at synthesizing the whole of theology will suffice for man’s knowledge of the full truth. But short of prophetic knowledge, this synthesis of man’s best work, each facet given its proper weight according to prudence and wisdom, is the pinnacle of man’s natural attempt to know the fullness of truth. Likewise, man’s best attempt at knowing God contains a rational synthesis of all that exists.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Greater and Lesser Lights

As a rule, the presence of a greater light will cause lesser lights to dim. As the old hymn goes, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.... and the things of this world will grow strangely dim.” St. Thomas writes, “The greater light dims the lesser light of another luminous body;” and “at the presence of the sun the light of the stars is put out.” (Summa 3.5.4)

But in the real world, we observe that sometimes a greater light is dimmed by a lesser light. Many of the stars are actually greater lights than the sun. And when the sun’s light is not present, the stars may be dimmed by an even lesser light. A man living in a city cannot see the stars in the night sky; a thousand voluminous bodies are dimmed by a few street lights.

From the perspective of the individual, a greater light dims a lesser light when all things are equal. But if, from the man’s perspective, the greater light is already weakened by some obstacle, e.g. the distance from him to the stars, then the lesser light may dim the greater light, not absolutely, but according to his perspective.

This is an analogy to worldly attachment. Heavenly things represent the greater light and earthly things represent the lesser. Just as a man living in the city fails to see the majestic star-scape on account of being surrounded by street lights, so the worldly man cannot see the more noble things such as wisdom and virtue on account of being surrounded by temporal pleasures. He has drawn near to the lesser light and in doing so, away from the greater light. From a man’s perspective, the beauty of higher things fades behind lesser beauty because of his distance from the higher things.

The further we go from God, the lesser of a light it will take to distract us. If you want to have an idea of how far away from God you are, consider how small are the things that distract you from Him.

How pitiful of a state we are in! There is no other light except God. The trivial things that distract us from Him are only distant reflections of His own light!

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Brother is Going to Serve in the Philippines

My brother, Steve, and his wife Katy, are on a plane to the Philippines as I write this post. They will be landing in Manila shortly. This is their second visit to Manila and they have decided that God is calling them to work with my charity, the Philippine Aid Society by fighting the extreme poverty in the Philippines.

Of course, they will be taking a big step down as far as living conditions in their move from suburban America to the urban Metro-Manila. This is a sacrifice that they have decided to make in order to serve the less fortunate.

Steve, assisted by Katy, will take on the role of "Program Coordinator" for the duration of their five month stay in the Philippines. For the first two months, they will operate a soup kitchen. From there, we have not yet decided the next plan of action. Our hope is to purchase a suitable facility for a more permanent structure where we can provide food and shelter for the neediest Filipinos. We will need financial resources to do this and will begin looking into grant opportunities in the near future.

We can use your help. If you have a blog, just posting a link to our website would be helpful. If you could consider a donation, even a small amount of money goes a long way in the Philippines. We're also on Goodsearch where you can earn money for our charity (or any charity you select) by searching the internet just as you would on Google. Superdonate is a free program that sells your unused computer power to research organizations and donates the money to a charity of your choice (and we're one of the options!) Also, check us out on Facebook.

Above all, please say a prayer for our small charity if you think about it. Thanks!