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Transubstantiation

O Sacrament Most Holy by Br Lawrence Lew, O.P.

O Sacrament Most Holy by Br Lawrence Lew, O.P. via Flickr

Transubstantiation is the Roman Catholic dogma that the substance of bread and wine transforms into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ during the Eucharistic celebration of Holy Mass.

To make sense of the fact that the communion wafer doesn’t change in outward appearance, Catholic theologians rely on the Aristotelian distinction between a thing’s form and its substance.

According to this belief, the form (what we see) does not change but the substance (sometimes called the essence) does.

This opposes the popular view that the Eucharist is only a symbol of remembrance or, as some New Age believers say, a sign of human or cosmic unity. From a Catholic perspective, both of these views are inadequate.

3rd quarter of 16th century

3rd quarter of 16th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the sacrament of the Eucharist includes symbolic and unifying aspects, its heavenly mystical quality supersedes these shortsighted interpretations about its meaning and character.

In some New Age circles, there is a trend to equate the cosmic and/or astral realms with the heavenly. But for Catholics the cosmic (planets, stars, galaxies, energy), the astral (spirits, gods, goddesses), and the heavenly (sometimes revealed audio-visually but usually experienced as grace) are each different.

So for Catholics, any attempt to homogenize these realms falls short.

Related Posts » Agape, Aristotle, Consubstantiation, Grace, Quiddity

On the Web:

  • While Catholics believe that the Eucharist need not change in physical appearance to be an effective sacrament, claims are sometimes made as to its miraculous transformation
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The Assumption of the Virgin Mary

assumption_mary.jpg

Image by Francisca Galaz via Flickr

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary is the belief that Jesus Christ‘s mother Mary was raised into heaven in both body and soul at the moment of her death. There’s some ambiguity as to whether she was raised just before or just after she died.

The idea arose in 4th century apocryphal writings, was accepted by orthodox believers in the 7th century and was formally made Catholic dogma in 1950 by Pope Pius XII.

Some interesting quotes from Wikipedia for follow-up study:¹

In Munificentissimus Deus (item 39) Pope Pius XII pointed to the Book of Genesis (3:15) as scriptural support for the dogma in terms of Mary’s victory over sin and death as also reflected in 1 Corinthians 15:54: “then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory”.[4][5][6]

Although the Assumption (Latin: assumptio, “a taking”) was only relatively recently defined as infallible dogma by the Catholic Church, and in spite of a statement by Saint Epiphanius of Salamis in AD 377 that no one knew whether Mary had died or not,[7] apocryphal accounts of the assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since at least the 4th century.

On November 1, 1950, in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary as a dogma:

By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.[23]

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assumption_of_Mary


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Angels

Angel by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

Angels (Greek angelos or aggelos = messenger) are referred to throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, usually depicted as divine messengers.

Around the 6th century CE Pseudo-Dionysus the Areopagite‘s The Celestial Hierarchy outlined three groups of hierarchically arranged angels. And angels are mentioned in the Jewish Kabbala as inhabiting seven heavenly halls.

Both Jewish and Christian (especially Catholic and Baptist) cosmologies differentiate angels from gods—unlike gods, angels are never worshipped. Instead angels are revered or called upon as beings created by God.

However, the study of world religions is far from easy. And misunderstandings and uncertainties lead many to question this difference. For example, some gods in the Zoroastrian Avesta or the Hindu pantheon are worshipped as deities subservient to or representing a single God. And some casual observers liken these to angels without asking if the character and function of angels and gods could possibly differ.

In a somewhat Christianized Neoplatonism we find that Proclus (4th century CE) adapts ancient Greek philosophy in relation to otherworldly beings:

In the commentaries of Proclus (4th century, under Christian rule) on the Timaeus of Plato, Proclus uses the terminology of “angelic” (aggelikos) and “angel” (aggelos) in relation to metaphysical beings. According to Aristotle, just as there is a First Mover, so, too, must there be spiritual secondary movers.¹

Mystically inclined Christians tend to believe that angels are slightly more dignified than human beings, as evident in the Old Testament:

What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:6-8 NIV).

English: The wrestle of Jacob, in an original ...

Jacob wrestles the angel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gnostics, on the other hand, generally regard human beings as superior to angels. For Gnostics, angels serve God by serving humanity.

Jewish apocalyptic literature tells the story of the fall of the angel Satan – the author of all lies and evil – and his dark angels in terms of their unwillingness to humble themselves before mankind. And Jesus Christ sees Satan fall in the New Testament story:

I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (Luke 10:18).

Contemporary beliefs about angels take a different tone from the more traditional understanding. Some writers suggest that the warm, loving presence of angelic beings can be felt in every part of the body, almost like a romantic, sensual relationship.

This idea is found in the 19th century novel Ardath: The Story of a Dead Self by Marie Corelli (1889):

And by and by, as each mellifluous stanza sounded softly on his ears, a strangely solemn tranquility swept over him,–a most soothing halcyon calm, as though some passing angel’s hand had touched his brow in benediction…Ah! ’tis a glittering pathway in the skies whereon men and the angels meet and know each other! …she stretched out her hands toward him: “Speak to me, dearest one!” she murmured wistfully–“Tell me,–am I welcome?” “O exquisite humility!–O beautiful maiden-timid hesitation! Was she,–even she, God’s Angel, so far removed from pride, as to be uncertain of her lover’s reception of such a gift of love? Roused from his half-swooning sense of wonder, he caught those gentle hands, and laid them tenderly against his breast,–tremblingly, and all devoutly, he drew the lovely, yielding form into his arms, close to his heart,–with dazzled sight he gazed down into that pure, perfect face, those clear and holy eyes shining like new- created stars beneath the soft cloud of clustering fair hair!

And yet Corelli also mentions the stunning beauty of evil angels:

His countenance, darkly threatening and defiant, was yet beautiful with the evil beauty of a rebellious and fallen angel.

Throughout history many believe they have been guided by a guardian angel.

St. Basil writes,

Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life (Catholic Catechism, par 336).

Touching an angel by Kostas via Flickr

The philosopher Leibniz (1646 – 1716) claimed that angels communicate with a universal language, and began to develop a universal symbolic language that would help human beings communicate among universities.²

The Roman Catholic catechism doesn’t place too much emphasis on angels but does affirm their existence as servants of God and man.

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession (Catholic Catechism, par 336).

Glorifying God, Catholic angels are said to be spiritual powers whose perfection – in contrast to Gnostic belief – surpasses that of human beings. Created by God, Catholic angels are inferior to Christ and the prophets but nearer to God, making them higher than human beings.

As for the contemporary notion that angels and aliens (ETs) are simply different cultural representations of the same basic essence, the American evangelist Billy Graham, among others, insists that angels and aliens are mutually exclusive.³

Christianity, Judaism and Islam all uphold Michael and Gabriel as important angels.

Related Posts » Archangel, Cherubim, Fallen Angels, Principalities, Seraphim

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel

² Geert Lovink says “Leibniz also philosophized about a computer based on a binary numerical system. In 1679 he wrote, ”Despite its length, the binary system, in other words counting with 0 and 1, is scientifically the most fundamental system, and leads to new discoveries. When numbers are reduced to 0 and 1, a beautiful order prevails everywhere” (See “The Archeology of Computer Assemblage” 1992 at http://www.mediamatic.net/article-8664-en.html).

³ See Aliens and Extraterrestrials (ETs)


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Alpha

Greek alphabet alpha-omega

Greek alphabet alpha-omega (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. Its roots go back to the Phoenician “aleph,” meaning “ox.”¹

In the New Testament it is part of an appellation for Jesus Christ: “I am the alpha and the omega” (Rev 1:8).

This statement is usually taken to mean that Christ is present from the beginning to the end of time.

Alpha & Omega by Lawrence OP via Flickr

In pop culture Alpha was the name of the fictional moon base in the British TV show, Space 1999 (1975-77). And Alphaville is the name of a German synthpop band (1982-present) that gained prominence with its international hit, “Forever Young.”

On the internet there’s a Wiki called Memory Alpha that, in its own words, “is a collaborative project to create the most definitive, accurate, and accessible encyclopedia and reference for everything related to Star Trek.”² It is one of the largest Wikis containing over 36,000 articles.

¹ On the Phoenicians, Wikipedia says they “were the first state-level society to make extensive use of the alphabet. The Phoenician phonetic alphabet is generally believed to be the ancestor of almost all modern alphabets, although it did not contain any vowels (these were added later by the Greeks).” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenicia

² http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Portal:Main


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Confucius

Love makes a spot beautiful: who chooses not to dwell in love, has he got wisdom? ~ Confucius via http://semaj83.tumblr.com

Confucius (551-479 BCE, Latinized from K’ung-Fu-Tzu = Great Master K’ung) was a Chinese philosopher and statesman.

Born in the state of Lu (modern Shantung), Confucius was orphaned as a child and grew up in poverty. Despite this, he devoted himself to education at age 15 and married at 19. He became a teacher in 531 BCE, and in 501 BCE Governor of Chung-tu. He was then Minister of Works, and later Minister of Justice. His quest for societal reform was popular among the common folk but political enemies forced him to leave Lu. As a result, he traveled a great deal.

Many of the sayings of Confucius would fit quite happily alongside the New Testament sayings attributed to Jesus Christ. Here are a few examples:†

Confucius:

Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.

Jesus:

Do to others as you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31, prefigured in Leviticus 19:18).

Confucius:

In vain I have looked for a single person capable of seeing his own faults and bringing the charge home against himself.

Jesus:

You hypocrites, remove the plank from your own eye first, then you will see clearly to take the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:5).

Confucius:

A man with clever words and an ingratiating appearance is seldom a man of humanity.

Jesus:

Beware of false prophets who appear in sheep’s clothing but underneath are ravening wolves (Matthew 7:15).

Confucius Sinarum Philosophus ("Confucius...

Confucius Sinarum Philosophus (“Confucius, Philosopher of the Chinese”), produced by a team of Jesuits led by Philippe Couplet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Concerning this latter comparison, Confucius believed that humanity is, at heart, good (jen). If taught and guided by rules (li) that are in accord with the mandate of heaven (Tao), a young child naturally grows into a decent human being and attains nobility (chun tzu).

Apparently Confucius said that at age 50 he learned to control his speech, at 70 his actions were naturally aligned with the “Mandate of Heaven” and at 80 he gained mastery over his thoughts.

But some of Confucius’ ideas are rooted in ancient cultural biases that don’t fly today. For instance

Women and servants are most difficult to deal with. If you are familiar with them, they cease to be humble. If you keep a distance from them, they resent it.

This is interesting historical material but hardly a universal, timeless teaching. Following Confucius’ death in 479 BCE, various schools of Confucianism arose.

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† Confucius quotations from Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton University Press, 1963.


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Mary Daly

Colleges and churches were often copied from E...

Colleges and churches were often copied from European architecture; Boston College was originally dubbed Oxford in America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mary Daly (1928-2010) was a prominent American academic at the Jesuit-run Boston College, and a self-described “radical lesbian feminist” thinker. She deconstructed patriarchal religious traditions and presented alternatives in related areas such as ecology, gender relations and human rights.

Notorious for her outrageously sexist attitudes, she believed women should govern men and refused to teach men in her advanced women’s studies courses. While some may say her actions were a justified response to years of men subjugating women, it seems that the old, tribal “eye for an eye” attitude is one which should be left to rest, having been replaced by Jesus Christ’s superior teaching of forgiveness.

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Faith and Action

Deutsch: Trappistennovize beim Gebet in seiner...

Praying Trappist Monk via Wikipedia

The relationship between faith and action raises some interesting questions, many of which are largely overlooked in contemporary society.

For starters, most religions advocate the necessity of action to keep faith alive. Action, in fact, is highly regarded in Western culture. But the meaning of the term ‘action’ is often loaded with cultural assumptions and, therefore, misunderstood.

We could say, for instance, that Trappist monks are more inwardly active than externally so. These monks, being one of the more contemplative sort, believe that their internal prayer life has positive effects on other people, just as the great saints believed that they interceded for other souls.

So if his beliefs are true, the Trappist monk is extremely active, but most of us don’t see it that way.

Faith-based action also takes a more worldly form, a form which everyone can easily understand and appreciate. Here I’m talking about charities and goodwill missions that serve the needy.

In most instances, it’s likely that a continuum exists between contemplative and worldly action. And it seems that those disposed to contemplation understand the good works of worldly folk but the converse is rarely true. This, perhaps, explains why in Hinduism the path of knowledge (jnana-yoga) is said to be more difficult than the path of action (karma-yoga). Active people often become hostile towards contemplatives. And sometimes they can even be abusive.

Along these lines, some orthodox and gnostic Christians, alike, interpret these words of Jesus Christ to his disciples as a warning to keep an eye out for vulgar materialists:

Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.¹

Mind you, no discussion of spirituality and abuse would be complete without calling attention to the opposite situation where charismatic gurus with an abundance of  numinous powers swamp gullible disciples and, in so doing, are just as abusive toward individuals as vulgar materialists can be to potential saints. The abuse is different. But it’s still abuse.

In less extreme scenarios it seems reasonable to suggest that contemplatives and active individuals can keep each other in check, providing, or course, the rules of fair play are observed. By this I mean that some contemplatives can get smug, lazy, and authoritarian. And a good kick in the pants from an active person might, in some instances, actually help to realign them to their saintly calling (if not perhaps in the way that the active person envisioned it).

By the same token, the active person at times needs to be ‘toned down’ by the wisdom of the contemplative. For if a contemplative is truly focusing on God (and not some strange power), over time they should begin to accrue at least some wisdom that others could benefit from.

¹ Matthew 7:6 NASB

Related Posts » Faith and Morals, Faith and Reason, Intercession