Harold J Wilson
 

 

Contributions to ‘Foothill Theology.’

 

THE IMPLICIT CHARACTER OF FAITH

 

Newman’s Grammar of Assent describes how religious belief grows by thousands of unnoticed increments – that is to say – bits of daily experience which are validated by a sense of joy or understanding until they issue in what can be called an ‘assent’ to some credal document or subscription to a formal definition of faith. One could, similarly, describe how one’s moral assent to the laws and social definitions of a society could grow to the point where one felt oneself to be either a willing citizen, or conversely, a serious nonbeliever in one’s environing social code – or religion. People change societies, and they change religions. But sometimes, in our era of lost assumptions and endlessly changing fashions, one comes out with no strong beliefs at all, but only ‘preferences’ or ‘aversions’.

The Roman Catholic notion of ‘implicit faith’ as meaning that one places complete trust and credence in the managers of one’s belief system, so that whatever they proclaim, you believe implicitly, seems to me ( and many others) to involve a kind of category shift from ‘faith’ to ‘belief’ which conflicts with the responsibilities of informed individual conscience. The custom of Roman Catholic clergy in the United States of not seeking to hear or absolve during confession the practice of birth-control as a sin is a case in point where individual conscience has, in fact, rejected the conclusions of the Vatican Faith-managers. Abortion may be considered a mortal sin by conservative Catholics, but sometimes, by local clergy, birth-control may not be counted. Clerical celibacy is another area in which magisterial sanctions have come into conflict with local consensus. Implicit obedience does not always reach absolutely from the consensual faith of the main body of believers to the beliefs established ‘magisterially’ in canon law. 

There are some other, less legalistic, ways of seeing one’s ‘belief world’ as well; I remember Urmilla Sirraj-din, a Hindu-Christian in Pakistan, who once declared in my hearing that English Literature was her religion! As perhaps the premier literature teacher of her post-Raj generation in that country, one could understand the irony of  her ‘belief’ being in and through a canon of texts which, though not themselves sacred in the accepted religious sense, were yet bearers of  a sense of the moral and religious transcendent, particularly in the west. Her understanding of those texts would be laughed at today by the ‘Subaltern’ writers of Hindustan, or by the Postmodern mockers of the very meaning of ‘text’. But Urmilla had been on a significant cultural journey between Brahminism and Christianity and Islam, and I believe that she knew whereof she spoke.

It is said that the sense that “the universe means intensely and means well” is a kind of poetic assent to some higher meaning, moral and metaphysical, which underlies our personal assessment of what we call a ‘cosmos.’ Certainly the Greeks posited cosmos over against chaos, even if, like Anaxagoras, they were sceptical in theistic matters. His patron, was after all, Pericles, however, who was himself the great ‘believer’ in Athenian democracy.

Perhaps many modern practitioners of religion are somewhat more like Socrates, who though he sneered at Anaxagoras’ scepticism, believed mainly in his own conscience which told him at least what not to do. Unlike Pericles, Socrates disbelieved in the popular myth of Athenian Democracy, but, unlike Socrates, most of us are unwilling to venture our lives on that infallible inner voice. Yet it may be that many of us do still have some lingering sense of a centre of moral life, a voice within us, even a ‘daemon’ which, if it speaks of nothing else, commands us, occasionally, about what is wrong with some proposed path of action or inaction.

It has always been my belief that there is somehow this inner ‘daemon’, perhaps as much poetic as moral, or as with many Anglican Christians, more liturgical than credal, which impels us to seek religious meaning in human relationships, in our sense of beauty, in the solemnity and symbolic focus of liturgy and, finally, in the credit which we give to the universe for meaning intensely and, somehow, beyond all threats and intimidations, even well. It may be that for an increasing number of human beings – and certainly we are increasing in number – there is not any such inner voice or at least not one of which we are conscious. But this is at least partly because such a voice needs to be nourished in us by families and liturgies, by the joy of communion with our peers, by a childhood without constant horror or terror; it needs to be shaped by mentors, fostered by some sense of beauty; caught from the example of those whose lives are driven or illumined by it, since really, we do not encounter the ‘universe’ simply on its own, but mainly through the lives of other people who must be our greatest source of education after all, and before all. 

Newman understood that we do not lightly place at the door of the church all that faith in a higher meaning which we have, perhaps with difficulty, learned to invest in the universe and in the voices of the others who have taught us something of its reality. The Church is neither the Father nor yet entirely His Kingdom, and if we trust it to be the company of the higher way, it must somehow merit our belief and possess an authority which comes from its faithfulness. And, as well, it must be mediated to us by voices, poetic, parental, and perhaps original to our own being, which provide our sense of an authentic inner ‘daemon’ of conscience and moral awareness.

For a variety of reasons, the Church today has lost much of that authority which in former days was credited to it, perhaps too easily, by previous generations. But even though a convert to Rome,  Newman understood also that the Holy See’s defining of itself to be ‘infallible’ in matters of Faith and Morals was no way of overcoming all the questions which have found their way to the church’s door. He became a little bitter and cynical about such matters and consequently it has not been possible to declare him a saint in the Roman Communion, perhaps because the quality of joy was not so powerfully apparent in him – ecclesiastical joy is, nowadays, an item in short supply outside of  Vatican circles. Yet Newman is, in a deep sense, truly a martyr to his own form of faith, being a man too Roman to be trusted by the Anglicans, and too Anglican to be entirely trusted by the Romans. And yet, as martyrs are supposed to do, in his suffering and continuing belief, he witnessed to the truths of both of our communions. Perhaps, like Thomas Jefferson, so unlike him in other ways, his concept of a university was his ultimate legacy.

But in my view, faith is partly defined, as all qualities are, by its opposite or by its absence, and we see before us in this millennial world, which is neither entirely new nor old, a society of societies in the west, Russian, European, British, Latin, Asian, American, which longs for a living faith, a body of symbols which possess ritual and sacramental meaning, and also for a company of the faithful to belong to.

The absence of faith is shown amongst us, perhaps not so much by the statistical number of atheists compared to declared believers, as by the number of those who prefer pop music to classical music; or by the number of those who do not read anything serious rather than the number who do not read the bible; and also by the sheer number of those who do not believe in anything rather than by the number who are not Christian. No wonder that simplistic Muslim beliefs or cultic groups with oriental leaders have appealed to so many; and also that there is an unprecedented shifting about of converts, even from one monotheistic religion to another.

In coming to grips with this perennially modern phenomenon of change of belief or loss of belief, belief in anything higher than merely human preference or inclination, I would rather start with the still small voice of Socrates’ daemon, than with the claims to authority of the major religious bodies themselves. Our daemon, if fostered properly, may yet turn out to have an infallibility which, if not total or institutional, is still more promising than the historical claims of great institutional bodies, and may well indicate the seed ground that must be properly prepared and nourished if we are to seek human assent to that vision of the Kingdom to which the Father has called us.     

Well, what indeed does it mean to prescribe something like an ’inner voice’ as an answer to the modern failure of belief? Like most prescriptions for difficult circumstances, this sounds over-simple and perhaps superficial. But mark how even the Roman Catholic Church has always said that one’s conscience is the ultimate decider of faith; even if that conscience endangers your hope of eternal salvation, yet you must obey it, even above the dictates of the Pope. So what is such a ‘conscience’ that it must focus and determine the most ultimate and important decisions of  life ? Obviously, this means that you need to decide, yourself, importantly, what are the dictates of such an inner voice and establish, to your own certitude, that whatever it says to you comes from something that you can indeed call a conscience. But do you, both the personal and general ‘you’, possess such a voice? Do you know what it says to you? And how can you know or ascertain what language it will use to let you know what is important or unimportant for your life ?

Obviously, these are not questions which you can answer with some snap-judgment; they arise almost, sometimes, invisibly, from within our dreams of personhood. They float to the surface of our ordinary imaginings, to seek or lay claim to an authority which, most times, we lack. Oh for an ultimate Papacy, a handy guide to knotty issues! Well, John Henry Newman, the ultimate trophy convert, didn’t find such certitude, and neither, most likely, will you, not even mayhap in that rich library of sources which we call The Bible. Then how to inform and enable the conscience? Obviously, the voices of others must be an important source to listen to. Listening is the art we seek, in order to become more ‘authoritatively’ ourselves, to find the inner voice. But what, as well, is the art which can enable such a listening ?

The ultimate authority of any church, any ecclesial body, lies in the lives of its saints as this is experienced by others who have felt the impact, in their lives, of some experience of those intense and driven souls whom we are tempted to admire, or call ‘touched by God’, who point the way to a further experience of our own which may be somewhat like theirs – or even wholly different. I am obviously not referring only to ‘Calendar Saints’, whose memory is enshrined in e.g., the Roman Missal which we use at my own church. There we have the odd experience of celebrating the lives of people like St. Dominic who would have execrated us as Anglican heretics, or St. Ignatius who was anxious to build up a militant order of Jesuits in order to withstand our subversive influence.

Well all that that doesn’t bother me greatly, Dominic and Ignatius are better informed about us now. And saints are not all ‘liberal’ hang-loose types either. Like Jesus, some of them are urgent, zealous, and downright bad-tempered about whatever they disapprove. That doesn’t bother me a lot either. My parents were strong and to me wonderful people, not perhaps entirely ‘saintly’ but sometimes close, and they didn’t always approve of me. When I blow out the votive candle for St. Thomas a’ Becket after Sunday evening mass at St. Mary Magdalen in Oxford, I remember that I was once a curate in the diocese of Canterbury and that he is, in that sense, my old bishop. But I don’t expect him to approve of me entirely, or me of him. That is not required of us, and is not what his sainthood is about, or his effect on me, a smaller man in the end-course of his earthly vocation.

Well, who then are the modern saints and where can I find one if that is what my faith requires to be nourished by? I find, myself, that they are revealed  most times, in examined lives which have risen to some challenge and responded by writing, witnessing, staying the course in spite of the usual personal disasters of war, ill health, misunderstanding, and the collapse of supporting structures of authority, family, even friendship. They are those who have withstood, like Jesus, the pain of isolation and affliction. Simone Weil comes to mind, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but most of them, no doubt at all, are much less known to the world. Maybe many of them are rather more minor league personalities who have counted importantly for me or for you at some critical point in our lives. They haven’t made it into any liturgical calendars! Maybe they were only ‘iconic’ at some point in our personal experience, rather than being ‘saintly’ in some more publicly achieved, sense.

Charles Williams’ notion of ‘coinherence’ is important to me here. We are a part of other lives and they have shared with us, over time, something of their own reality, their essence. If this reality was strong enough and our receptivity ready for it, we have inherited something of them which may inform our values and day-to-day activity. From the emphasis of Freud on the mother’s influence to Jung’s opening up of archetypal forms to Charles Williams’ theology of the Holy Spirit working through shared human lives, this communicability of human experience has attracted enormous attention in the last century. The Social Sciences have focussed upon it to a major extent and much of their emphasis on the pathologies of human behaviour and how individuals can be seen as victims of their own lives is still with us.  It strikes me that there is something far more hopeful, freeing, and even transcendent about our sharing of human life than has often been recognized at this less optimistic end of the Enlightenment Period. And this brings me to the subject of memory as the source of human identity.

 

CHAPTER TWO    The Goddess of Memory

 

The Greeks described important entities as gods; the sun, the moon; the sacred hearth fire required a temple and its goddess, Hestia, who was only gradually displaced from the original Greek pantheon. It became obvious to the philosophical Greeks, even before their development of writing in about the seventh century BCE, that human memory was the basis of sentient ‘rational’ life as we know and enjoy it. Without memory one could have no continuous basis of selfhood. In the Homeric epics there is no common assumption of a central self. For the various heroes, men of different kinds who are elevated to near-immortal status, there is the drama of their eventual mortality and their falling short of godhead, even though the Olympians and their servants and messengers are no more morally elevated than the mortal heroes are.
But, sometime thereafter, the Hellenes did make Mnemosyne (remembrance) the goddess of memory!

The term Psyche comes gradually to take on the meaning among the Greeks of the individual soul with which we associate it. But in Homeric times it meant something a little less than this. In our own day, you will find orientals, even in the west, who are disturbed about possible contact with the spirits of loved relatives, now dead. What survives, in their understanding of it, is not the whole personhood of their lost one, but something less, possibly quite malign. Like the early Greeks, they do not have the cultural concept of a unified ‘permanent’ human self. But as the Greeks wrote their way into discovering Tragedy/Comedy, History, and Science/Philosophy, and began to conceive of an ordered cosmos answerable to human understanding, this enlarged their idea of our selfhood  so that, eventually, they posited their concept of  ‘Psyche’ as a center of  personal consciousness, though, unfortunately, this did not keep them from suffering the results of their own political hubris. Meanwhile the Greek world and the semitic world had begun to overlap in ideas as in geography.

Judaism, properly speaking, is of more recent origin than the ancient Hebraic faith which we sometimes describe by that appellation.  But from the beginning of Hebrew writing, perhaps in the eighth century before Christ, we have History, the famous Court Chronicle of David with its fascinating combination of direct reportage and public relations mythology. Then we have the Torah, the mystical core of Hebrew historical identity, with its strange stories of Deborah’s Song, Moses and Aaron, and the odd self-revelations of Jahweh; the stories of the patriarchs show us God in his sheer otherness combined with a sense of tribal familiarity. Then the Prophets point us to the same God in an odd combination of alliance and opposition to Israel, his estranged and recalcitrant people. There is a rhetoric of intimacy, the closeness and otherness of God and Israel, a love story with its surds of distance and shards of great poetry. One can only compare it with the Homeric remnants. And over the centuries so it rushes to meet the literature and life of the Greeks – that linguistic forge in which  Christian theology was created.

What the Greek and Hebrew scriptures have in common is, of course, their appeal to racial memory.  For the Hebrews, the ritual recital of the Torah reinstates the memory of  Jewishness, “ My father was a wandering Aramaean…”   The Homeric corpus, including different dialects, Doric and Ionian, celebrates the founding and finding of Hellas in its pre-Persian journey to discover a common identity, a common blessing, and a final homecoming. Like the wandering of the Hebrews, this is not easy, nor finally successful in all its aspects. Neither Jerusalem nor Hellas becomes all that it might have been or wanted to be, but perhaps the quest is more than the final finding. Both the Jews and Greeks eventually inherit a diaspora of modern day sojourning and living amongst strangers. But the Christian Religion is what their cultural encounter does give birth to.

 To remember our selves/Self is to remember our God/gods. From the Neolithic to the foreseeable future, God and man are made in the image of each other. Christianity also carries within itself important memories of our ‘pagan’ past from Harvest Festival to Halloween to Christmas to Mardi Gras to Easter, as well as the Jewish liturgical calendar which underlies our own. To purify or streamline this heritage in the name of an overriding orthodoxy would be a blasphemy against our past and a narrowing of our future. Postmodernism also is, in a sense, just another secular Puritan approach to the problems and possibilities of being human. In this case, it narrows humanity by trivializing its hopes and discontents, whereas other Puritanisms, Marxist, Calvinist, Islamic, trivialize the subjective aspect of human freedom, and so give us only a narrow choice of self. For me, the ‘pagan’memories carried within Christianity evoke an important sense of our earthly physical lives.

Christian thought, throughout its medieval period, in the important universities of  Paris and Oxford, in the early translations from the Arabic philosophers in Seville and Toledo, in the writings of St. Thomas and of Dante Alighieri, perpetuated important conceptual streams from the ancient world, both from the naturalist humanism of Aristotle and also the mystical sense of creation bequeathed from NeoPlatonism and frequently grafted onto that same Aristotelian base. ( cf Dante Chapter) 

The important thing about Christianity as a carrier of traditions and ancient memories is that these are gathered together and bound up with our sense of the sacredness of the human self, human freedom, human life; and this sacredness undergirds the Enlightenment notions of freedom and autonomy, no matter how trivial these ideas have been allowed to become in our present western consumer culture. We live in a time of cultural amnesia as those of us who have spent years teaching can testify to, when the children who come to us will have spent hours glued to the box rather than doing homework, heart-work, written work, memory work. And then will come back to us, full of a need for further entertainment as a requirement for our being able to teach them.

 

The Dynamic of the Eucharistic Rite

 

The Christian Eucharist has been termed “the central rite” of “The Word made flesh”. Judaism and Islam are, in the words of Martin Lings, religions of the “The Word made book.” These two sorts of religions do not always understand each other, even though they have fraternal, or at least cousinly, roots. But as the Eucharist includes readings from both the Old and New Testament scriptures, it is at least intended to include and renew a remembrance of ourselves in the context of God’s past actions. The teaching of his laws and the words of his prophets are clearly related in the New Testament to the subsequent extension of his Covenant to those amongst hoi ethnoi, or the distant tribes of men, who also are called into his Kingdom.

Rituals are condensed symbolic representations of human meaning in its godward dimension, as also of transcendent meaning in its incarnated human dimension. That is why ritual is so essential and so powerful as both performance and text. It should be brought to mind that ritual is not just something read but is also an ‘enacted’ remembrance of something done. At the beginning of the Eucharist there is a historic remembrance of the Synagogue service of scriptural readings, followed by the sacrifice of self-offering which is a historic continuance of the Temple Service of the Jewish faith; although it has been reinterpreted, perhaps in the spirit of the Hebrew prophets, symbolizing an inward sacrifice as it is said, “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

The Christian Communion Service or Mass is also to some major degree an extended Berakah or Jewish blessing which is why the early Greek Christians, many of them in fact Jewish, called it the Eucharistia or rite of Thanksgiving. During the procession from the initiatory stages of the rite towards its climax in our self-offering en Christoo or in Christ as he offers himself for us toward God, there are, almost like a musical sonata form, a number of movements which continue in procession. Let me expand on this theme:

The beginning of the Anglican Prayer Book service of Holy Communion commences with the Collect For Purity where we ask God to “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts.”
This is followed by a confession wherein we admit that we have “done what we ought not to have done” and also that we have “ not done what we ought to have done.” The sins of commission and also of omission are both considered.

This part of the liturgy concludes with the penitential greeting of Kyrie Eleison
wherein we salute God from the depth our smallness and emptiness.

The second important part of the Eucharistic liturgy is the ‘synagogue service’ of readings from our sacred history, from both the scriptures of the Old Covenant and of our Christian sense of being God’s chosen people of the New Covenant (or New Testament). The readings include a psalm from the hymnbook of the old Temple, and conclude with a Gospel reading from the teachings and life of the prophet Jesus.

In this way, after emptying our normal sense of ourselves into a more receptive awareness of our life in God, we move through the past time of God’s Covenant with the people of Israel toward a sense of having been called out of exile as gentiles by the word of the prophet Jesus. After the Offertory and the following Sanctus, the priest ‘celebrates’ the words of  Jesus at his Last Supper when he enjoined upon his disciples the commandment to partake in future of his life, his body and his blood. This is the commandment whereby Christians reach from being made more spiritually alive in Jesus towards being, by means of Jesus, more alive in God who is our King, Lord, and Father.

In this rite we are enabled to become small and humble; to remember our true selves in the past of the Jewish people, the early centuries of our era, and in the life of Jesus.
Then we proceed to the offering of our own monies and the ‘bread and wine’ of
the lives we have now remembered in Jesus’ own life and in his self-offering to God. By means of this rite we are enabled to forget or bypass something of our modern ego-selves and to remember who we really are meant to be. To briefly recall the ritual act then, it means that we offer our own selves through Jesus’ prophetic self-offering to God. This means that we reaffirm God’s Covenant with us before our creation and embrace our re-creation into His life.

Because of the power of the World, this rite is never done for or in us. We must follow the quest for God even as we follow the eternal procession of the ritual given us by the Christ, our prophet and Lord, in a way which partakes closely of the life of God Himself. We follow Jesus who knew how his own life would ‘die’ unto the World and live more closely unto God.

Within the central rite of the Eucharist there is also a balance of images within the text and in the prayers. The Trinity or three-in-onehood of the Christian god-concept is invoked frequently. My old, sometime teacher, John Hick has complained that the doctrine of the Trinity only serves to guarantee the divinity of Jesus as pre-existent Logos within the being of God. Like most ‘onlies’ this is not entirely the case. The doctrine of the Trinity also serves to maintain a ‘protocol’ experience wherein the early Christians, like later ones, experienced God in a three dimensional manner, as traditional Father-Creator (Yahweh), and as Saviour and prophet (Jesus), and as well the enabling Spirit which bears witness both to the Father and to the Son. The Trinity, one may well note, is our idea and doctrine about God, rather than God’s idea about God.

However, from our human point of view, the idea of the Trinity serves also to balance ongoing Christian theology, since without the idea that each ‘person’ of the Trinity witnesses to the other two, there is a tendency toward a variety of emphases which lead away from the tradition and the community which maintains it. An overemphasis on the Father-God as transcendent Judge and Ruler leads to a legalistic church administered by elder men. Contrariwise, it may lead to a form of Deism which posits a distant creator who has removed himself now from his creation.  On the other hand, a pietistic religion of the Son as saviour tends to focus away from the ongoing creation of the universe and to overvalue personal salvation and devotion, ignoring the need for outreach into society and a care for social and economic justice in the world. Thirdly, a charismatic movement may focus narrowly on individual experiences of spirit-possession and the need for this ‘gift ‘of The Holy Spirit as a guarantee of faith.

These various emphases may indeed be combined together in a number of ways which seem to serve the needs of individuals and communities within the greater church. But it is still important to hold a balance so that groups do not split off into their own self-justifying excesses which eventually weaken instead of enriching the Church which gave birth to them; hence the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

It may be useful in examining the key ‘Names of God’ and images of  God, the saints and prophets, and of Jesus’ mother, Mary in the life of the Church, to distinguish between ikons which are images which point (Torrance) to historic figures in the past, perhaps in Scripture or our sacred history, and symbols which, though set in a historic context, have some more universal reference and may be taken to represent actual archetypes which have some permanent reference to our collective human consciousness. There are also, one must note, images that are used for advertising and decorative illustration which are of a lower or shallower order of meaning.

There is a certain historic balance in the Church between the Fatherhood of God and the transcendent aspect of God as Judge and Ruler. This balance is struck also in devotion between God as King and Mary as compassionate intercessor for the poor and the faithful. This sort of balance passes on from images of Jesus as all-ruling Pantocrator in the Byzantine mosaics ( Ravenna) to those of the Crucifixus, fainting upon the cross, who shares our sorrows and pain with us. Christian devotions, like those of the other major world religions, have tended to favour at different times and places such symbolic and archetypal images as spoke most immediately to their own personal needs. The old Latin expression Lex orandi, lex credendi expresses the truth that prayer and personal devotion ultimately generate the laws of faith, rather than the policies of the popes and rulers which often indeed tend to follow them..

 

THEODICY

 

The so-called ‘Problem of Evil’ is often noted as a contradiction of the idea of a Transcendent Deity who is all-knowing and all-powerful. How could such a Creator tolerate a cosmos in which animals prey on each other in different food chains, in which sentient beings, humans, die of childhood cancer, or in which psychopathic rulers inflict torture and destruction on those subject to their powers?

One principal sub-problem – the Problem of Pain – has to do with sentience. Our ability to know struggles between emotional valuation of knowledge and the need to absorb significant information in order to be safe.. What we are going through right now is subjection to an information glut which by its sheer volume derails our ability to comprehend or classify it. Our nascent sense of being in some way ‘personal’ tends to fray and to become less consistent or reliable. We lose focus as individual lives. Mental pain begins to overtake us and cripple our energies. It is like something feeding upon our lives without us knowing. Meanwhile we possess a false sense of enlightenment and rationality which alienates knowing from feeling. Actually, the difficulty of being sentient animals means that we cannot ever totally assess or evaluate what we ‘know’ of our reality and we are in a sense alienated from ourselves by this fact

A second important part of The Problem of Evil is the power part. An immediate result of being terribly afraid – as we all are in infanthood -  for the ‘centre’ of what we take to be this ‘sensorium’ of  semantic meanings, this intuitive notion of a ‘self,’ is for us to need to have control over our fearfulness. I am so distracted by my mental anxiety that I become even more afraid and need to use the intense energy this fear produces as anger, as a desire to control or dominate the circumstances which produce this state. So fear generates power, becomes a fearful simulacrum – of its own lack.
This anger can readily be seen in small children, as well as in their eventual collapse into tears and helplessness. This is something we all have to deal with in our early lives. Some parents, obviously, are more tolerant and supportive than others. Later on, obviously, our fear is assuaged by our inclusion in tribal or belief groups.

Perhaps Hunger is an important additional note on the twisted destiny of that animal who has come, by the grace and curse of God, to call himself ‘human, ’and who has, by the use of that metaphysical term, denominated himself as more than human. This infant being has been immersed from his issuance into current life to alternations of attentive affection and the total absence of it. The fear that this produces and its alternative pole, that of desiring power over his environment, partly replicates the environment of our childhoods. So that hunger, or even just a fear of hunger, emotional and/or physical, provokes what we call ‘aggression.’ And this aggression tends toward control of others, our family, our workplace, our nation..

A need for control leads also to a continued vulnerability/anger/need for control ad infinitum. The cycle continues. But notice that power also comes inevitably to failure.
Perhaps the failure of evil is less noticeable in the world than the vulnerability of the good.   We cannot resolve this mystery of redemption through some fallible human calculus of ‘equality’ any more than we can legislate it in liberal societies through social engineering. The ultimate risks of an ‘achieved humanity’ always elude us, we cannot handicap them or explain them away either. Why do some people grow and others fail ? Why do some die and others live? Why should a Thomas Merton be cut off from life by a faulty electrical connection? Our world is both a chaos and cosmos .

All I can suggest is that the Divine Perfection must be something other than what our logicians have framed for it, and that the redemptive process continues in our own and other lives, despite, pain, death, and recurring disasters. Aristotle has been a great blight to our speculations in this regard since his notion of ‘perfection’ was a passive one based on an idealized freedom from change or any contingency within God. An Unmoved Mover does not show us much that is useful to our godward being. According to Aristotle he cannot, in his perfection, ever know anything of contingent creatures such as we are. It was to the eternal shame of St. Thomas that when he bequeathed to us a more workable sense of God’s creation and how it functions as a kind of nature rather than as a magical illusion of being, that he gave it to us via Aristotle whose God was only a vague principle whose utter perfection prevented him from experiencing anything of his own creation.     

But the basic quest of faith continues as we remember ourselves within the prophetic life of Jesus and through him within God’s life for-us and with-us; through the Eucharist, through friendships, through poetry, through the thousand daily intimations of goodness and transcendence which season our lives along with the crime and greed and pettiness of the human life-cycle. Our faith is a partial recognition of some higher reality, but our lack of faith must needs pose real questions to us. And these are questions about us as much as they are about what we call ‘God.’ Faith in our personal ‘selves’, the meaning of our presence or (with the Postmoderns) our real nonpresence in anything like a personal life is at issue. But these questions have to be held together in one poetic text – that of an achieved human existence. If this is not a total answer, well but then, it is not just a question either, is it. Or if it seems mainly a question, then it is a question the answer to which we partly, haltingly, remember. And life is partly that – the quest for real remembrance. Who and in-whom are we when we most truly are?