Category Archives: religion

For Easter Sunday

See the land, her Easter keeping,
Rises as her Maker rose.
Seeds, so long in darkness sleeping,
Burst at last from winter snows.
Earth with heaven above rejoices.
Field and gardens rejoices the spring;
Shaughs and woodlands ring with voices,
While the wild birds build and sing.

–Charles Kingsley (1882), in Poems: Including The Saint’s Tragedy, Andromeda, Songs, Ballads, Etc, p. 289.; courtesy of Wikiquote.

Pope Benedict XVI on Holy Saturday

To be sure, it was not Easter Sunday but Holy Saturday, but, the more I reflect on it, the more this seems to be fitting for the nature of our human life: we are still awaiting Easter; we are not yet standing in the full light but walking toward it full of trust.

Pope Benedict XVI, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 ; courtesy of Good Reads.

St. Matthew’s Passion for Good Friday

G. K. Chesterton on Good Friday

All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness and the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly.

In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilisation. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask:  ‘What is truth?’ So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost another name for responsibility. Yet he stands for ever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgement-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.

Since that day it has never been quite enough to say that God is his heaven and all is right with the world; since the rumour that God had left his heavens to set it right.

–G.K. Chesterton The collected works of G.K. Chesterton (1987) pp.188-90; courtesy of Wikiquote.

A Quote for Holy Thursday

In Christianity, when we celebrate the Eucharist, sharing the bread and the wine as the body of God, we do it in the same spirit of piety, of mindfulness, aware that we are alive, enjoying dwelling in the present moment. The message of Jesus during the Seder that has become known as the Last Supper was clear. His disciples had been following Him. They had had the chance to look in His eyes and see Him in person, but it seems they had not yet come into real contact with the marvelous reality of His being. So when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, he said, This is My body. This is My blood. Drink it, eat it, and you will have life eternal. It was a drastic way to awaken His disciples from forgetfulness. When we look around, we see many people in whom the Holy Spirit does not appear to dwell. They look dead, as though they were dragging around a corpse, their own body. The practice of the Eucharist is to help resurrect these people so they can touch the Kingdom of Life. In the church, the Eucharist is received at every mass. Representatives of the church read from the biblical passage about the Last Supper of Jesus with His twelve disciples, and a special kind of bread called the Host is shared. Everyone partakes as a way to receive the life of Christ into his or her own body. When a priest performs the Eucharistic rite, his role is to bring life to the community. The miracle happens not because he says the words correctly, but because we eat and drink in mindfulness. Holy Communion is a strong bell of mindfulness. We drink and eat all the time, but we usually ingest only our ideas, projects, worries, and anxiety. We do not really eat our bread or drink our beverage. If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply, we become reborn, because our bread is life itself. Eating it deeply, we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth, and everything in the cosmos. We touch life, and we touch the Kingdom of God. When I asked Cardinal Jean Daniélou if the Eucharist can be described in this way, he said yes.

When we pick up a piece of bread, we can do it with mindfulness, with Spirit. The bread, the Host, becomes the object of our deep love and concentration. If our concentration is not strong enough, we can try saying its name silently, “Bread,” in the way we would call the name of our beloved. When we do this, the bread will reveal itself to us in its totality, and we can put it in our mouth and chew with real awareness, not chewing anything else, such as our thoughts, our fears, or even our aspirations. This is Holy Communion, to live in faith. When we practice this way, every meal is the Last Supper. In fact, we could call it the First Supper, because everything will be fresh and new.

–Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

Today, Holy Thursday, commemorates the institution of the Eucharist.

A Bizarre but Interesting Parallel

Consider the following two quotations:

I.

And suddenly all was changed. I saw a great assembly of gigantic forms all motionless, all in deepest silence, standing forever about a little silver table and looking upon it. And on the table there were little figures like chessmen who went to and fro doing this and that. And I knew that each chessman was the idolum or puppet representative of some one of the great presences that stood by. And the acts and motions of each chessman were a moving portrait, a mimicry or pantomime, which delineated the inmost nature of his giant master. And these chessmen are men and women as they appear to themselves and to one another in this world. And the silver table is Time. And those who stand and watch are the immortal souls of those same men and women.

II.

Consider for an Example the Game and Play of the Chess, which is a Pastime of Man, and worthy to exercise him in Thought, yet by no means necessary to his Life, so that he sweepeth away Board and Pieces at the least Summons of that which is truly dear to him. Thus unto him this Game is as it were an Illusion. But insofar as he entereth into the Game he abideth by the Rules thereof, though they be artificial and in no wise proper to his Nature; for in this Restriction is all this Pleasure. Therefore, though he hath All-Power to move the Pieces at his own Will, he doth it not, enduring Loss, Indignity, and Defeat rather than destroy that Artifice of Illusion. Think then that thou hast thyself created this Shadow-world the Universe, and that it pleasureth thee to watch or to actuate its Play according to the Law that thou hast made, which yet bindeth thee not save only by Virtue of thine own Will to do thine own Pleasure therein.

The similarities are striking.  Both are written in pseudo-Biblical English and both compare human life to the game of chess.  The similarity is deeper, though.  Both see the true nature of human souls as transcendent, existing beyond time and space.  The chess pieces are humans as they perceive themselves and are perceived by others.  In reality, though, the pieces are mere reflections or puppets of humans as they really are.  To put it another way, life as we experience is “real” only insofar as we have forgotten our true nature.  Our actions express that nature to a degree, but only imperfectly.  For the most part, we’ve forgotten that it’s “just a game”, and take our worldly successes and failures more seriously than we otherwise might.

This is not unlike the Hindu concept of līlā, which is generally translated as “play”.  Līlā is not any play, however, but the play of Brahman, that is, God.  The cosmos is seen as the arena created by God in which He can express Himself through manifestation.  There is no “reason” that He creates the world beyond Divine play.  All of us are tiny facets of God, the great Ātman (soul or self) of which our own minuscule ātmans are as drops in the sea.  We’ve forgotten who we are, and liberation comes from the insight that there is no ultimate separation between ourselves and the Absolute.  This is expressed in the classic aphorism “Tat tvam asi,” that is, “Thou art That,” the “That” being Brahman.

Not to drag out the suspense, but neither of the authors of the above passages was Hindu.  They were both British and rough contemporaries, both producing most of their best-known work in the mid-20th Century; but aside from that, not only did they have little in common, but they would be perceived by most as almost polar opposites.  The first quotation is by C. S. Lewis, from last chapter of his book The Great Divorce.  The second is by Aleister Crowley, from Liber Aleph vel CXI:  The Book of Wisdom or Folly, Chapter Beta-eta.  Lewis was an Anglican and an apologist for Christianity in general.  Crowley was an occultist and founder of the magickal (his spelling) and occult religion known as Thelema.  One can hardly imagine two less similar men; and yet their thinking was clearly and strikingly convergent, at least in this instance.

What to make of this?  I have no particularly profound insights.  What I would say is that certain notions tend to crop up repeatedly in philosophy, theology, psychology, and mythology.  It is said that “great minds think alike”; but even great minds can agree and still be wrong.  At one time, the greatest minds all believed in a geocentric cosmos, after all.  Still, convergence, especially between thinkers with very different beliefs and perspectives and who were unlikely to have influenced each other (Crowley might just possibly have read Lewis, but I can hardly imagine the opposite!), often indicates ideas worth pursuing.  Here, both men are saying that in one sense, this world and our perceptions of it and ourselves are not fully real, at least not in the deepest sense.  Not only are Lewis and Crowley aligned on this, but as I noted, they align also with Hindu thought.  For that matter, the idea that the cosmos as constituted is unreal or hides a deeper reality is very much a Gnostic notion, as well.

Make of all this what you will.  I think there’s something to it, though I’m not at a point where I’m willing–or able–to write a detailed treatise on the matter (though I may in the future).  Still, it’s interesting, and definitely food for thought.

Will the Real Apostolic Succession Please Stand Up? Recognition of Lineages

We’ve discussed Apostolic Succession in general, and we’ve seen how it came to exit even outside established churches, while still remaining valid.  As with most things in life, however, it’s more complicated than it seems at first.  That’s what I want to discuss in this post.

For the churches that claim Apostolic Succession, there are two interrelated but distinct issues valid clerical lineage, the internal and external.  The internal issue is whether the men (and for some churches, women) whom the church in question chooses to serve as bishops (and secondarily, priests and deacons) are in fact validly ordained in that church’s lineage.  In the vast majority of cases, this is a non-issue.  All churches claiming Apostolic succession have some form or other of training and “quality control”* system for would-be clerics.  There are lengthy periods of training (usually in a seminary), advanced degree requirements, various types of screening and vetting, and so on.  Thus, an existing bishop doesn’t ordain just anyone as bishop, priest, or deacon.  Furthermore, a minimum of three bishops is required to ordain another bishop (usually, many more than three are involved) as an extra level of caution in making sure the lineage is valid.  That is, even if one or two of the bishops are somehow not in a legitimate line of succession, there are enough others involved that there is almost complete certainty of Apostolic Succession being passed on to the new bishop.

The external issue with Apostolic Succession is which purported Apostolic lineages in other churches a given church recognizes.  This is where it gets interesting, and sometimes complex.

Read the rest of this entry

Chasing the Incarnation

This post from Reditus perfectly makes the point that I have discussed, but less effectively, in my series on dualism.

Reditus

A haunting image that has been etched into my mind manifested itself to me in a Russian Orthodox church during the All-Night Vigil for the Feast of the Annunciation. At a certain point during Matins (I won’t bore you with the context too much), the bearded priest stood before the icon of the Annunciation and chanted one of those old leftover ancient Slavonic chants with censer in hand. I am not sure why this made such an impression on me: it was a good hour into the service, and I know little Old Slavonic (I can sort of muddle my way through understanding what is going on.) The priest wore a sky blue phelonion gilded in gold, the robust baritone voice echoed through the church, and the melismatic chant reached back into time and grabbed from it some hidden reality that gleamed like the clouds at dusk…

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Quote for the Week

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.

By the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste—or foretaste—of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.

The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise.

Frequency is of the highest effect.

Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.
Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your Communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children—from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn—open-necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them).

It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people.

It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand—after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.”

–J. R. R. Tolkien, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings, p. 219; courtesy of here.

A Prayer for St. Patrick’s Day

four-leaf-clover

 

 

The Lorica (“Breastplate”), the most famous prayer attributed to St. Patrick.  I’ve posted it before, but I repeat it here in honor of St. Patrick’s day.  Courtesy of here.

 

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
*
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.