Christianity as always “I” and “We”

Edited, 30/01/21

First line of the Apostles’ Creed:
Credo in deum patrem omnipotentem” – “I believe in God the Father almighty”
cred.o (PRES ACTIVE IND 1st person singular).

First line of the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed:
“Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα θεόν” – “We believe in one God”
πιστεύομεν (Root: πιστευω, LN: 31.35; verb, present, active, indicative, first person, plural).

It is of profound importance that the Church, has held together the personal and individual declaration of belief with the communal and participatory declaration of belief. One way this happens is by way of the two creeds universally regarded as authoritative within mainstream Christianity (east and west, Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformed Christianity), the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed. However, this importance has not always been recognized. Here I argue for an intentional use and increased awareness of the importance of the “I” of the baptismal creed, and the “We” of the conciliar and communal creed. The Christian faith is both personal and corporate, and the two cannot be severed without seriously damaging how we understand the Christian faith.

Even though these two creeds counterbalance the ”I” and the “We” this is not to say that the Church in time has been able to hold together these two emphases in an ideal or even somewhat ideal way. In fact, it is a basic struggle to hold the individual and communal together. The Nicene Creed underwent what many regard as an incidental change, by exchanging the “We” for the “I”. Philip Schaff says that this change was “in accordance with the Apostles’ Creed and the more subjective character of the Western churches.” In other words, the change was on one hand functional, because the Nicene Creed began being used as a baptismal creed. On the other hand, it shows a preference for the individual over the communal.

The struggle is not simple, however. It can be seen also in terms of the ministry and organization of the Church down through the centuries. At times the communal aspect of Christianity (emphasizing corporate authority and what may be characterized by a mechanistic individual participation within the corporate church) has marginalized or even eclipsed the individual and personal importance of declared and lived Christian belief. At other times the individual and personal basis of Christian belief has marginalized or eclipsed the necessity of being a part of the Body of Christ (the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church).

Our age is not an age of ‘We’ (at least not in the late modern ‘West’). The drift in late modern western Christianity has certainly between towards the mere “I” of individual and subjective belief, as a default. The drift is due to deep cultural currents of subjectivism and existentialism—currents which have altered the composition of the water in the cultural wells from which we all drink. We may be attentive to the influences, but we have all been influenced in varying degrees (even if the influence has caused a negative reaction and resistance).

For example, within even more reformed minded contemporary “Evangelical” churches, There is the tendency to substitute the Nicene Creed with the Apostles’ Creed (often justified by preferences for simplicity or brevity). This imbalanced preference causes a drift away from the central importance of Catholic (universal, historical, corporate, communal, fellowship) Christianity. (Here, of course, I’m not speaking of local congregations or fellowships which have abandoned the Creeds altogether, which is a problem of a different magnitude – a problem which manifestly has resulted in (or caused) a generally unhinged subjectivism and capitulation to contemporary culture, mostly due to a degree of disregard for substantial theological union and continuity with the historical Church – no keel, no rudder – inadequate keel, broken rudder). The drift caused by imbalanced language within our worship is not only indicated in credal preference, but also in confessions. The “I confess” of the daily office services has a tendency to supplanted the “We confess” of the classical Eucharistic services. There is a disregard for, or an embarrassment about, the declared absolution for our sins from the priest or bishop. This too indicates a drift towards the mere “I” as an entity which is a member of the Church by way of free association and does not really require the Church – the ego receives forgiveness subjectively and independent of the ministry of the Church (and for that matter ultimately interprets scripture and doctrine on its own terms also). The drift from common chalices to individual communion cups reveals the priority of the individual over the body in the Eucharist.

As noted above, the drift to the “I” is not merely a late modern innovation, however. Liturgically, in east and west, the original “We” was replaced by “I”. In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and following revisions, the original “We” of the Nicene Creed has been replaced by the “I”. Some later revisions have adopted the “We” of the original Greek text of the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed. Schaff’s simple point above regarding subjectivity in the west is a vast and important topic to explore. Eastern Orthodoxy does not typically use the Apostles’ Creed, thus the adaptation of the Nicene Creed for baptismal purposes makes sense. When it was incorporated into the Eucharist it was in response to Arianism. While there are notable theological and cultural differences between eastern and western Christianity regarding the individual and the community I find it odd that the Orthodox Church has not returned to the original “We” of the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed. I contend that the absence of this interplay is a loss for them that may well bear fruit as they also feel the influence of western subjective individualism in their own jurisdictions.

Of course, the Creeds do not invent this dual character of belief. It is Biblical. Biblical anthropology and the character of belief has held the “I” and the “We” together from the start. Adam’s “I” is inadequate, even in the time of innocence, and thus the Lord God creates Eve. We learn logos (intelligent human speech) which enables growth in rationality and ‘personhood’ (variously conceived), from the “Other”. Intelligent human speech requires always the “Other.” The primary “Other” is our Maker, whom we worship and to whom we pray and offer our solitary interiority to the extent we are able to fathom ourselves and communicate this fathoming. Secondarily, we direct human speech to one another in community. If we are incapacitated or born without the capacity for human communication, how much more do we depend upon the “We” of our family and broader community (and crucially, how does a local church which has emphasized the “I” to the exclusion of the “We” include the very young, those who have suffered some kind of mental injury, or those born incapable of intelligent human speech)? The covenant of circumcision is the “I” being circumcised within the Covenant people of Israel. There is the individual and corporate calls to repentance, as well as individual and corporate redemption and judgement. In the New Covenant, the baptized person is encountered by their Maker alone, but never utterly alone, as they are baptized within the Church, by the Church, and into the Church. The Eucharist cannot rightly be celebrated in a solitary fashion (and even when it is celebrated solitarily by individual priests, even that is generally joined to a deep belief of the solitary nested within the Body of Christ’s church victorious, and within the Body of Christ’s church militant).

The solitary human heart and mind is inadequate to the task of its own formation. Not only do we require being encountered by our Maker for our salvation, we require one another for instruction and influence. One of the key sources of Divine influence in the world, if not THE key source, is the Body of Christ, the Church. She is entrusted with God’s Word Written. Through her worship, and flowing out of that worship, she is called, in the words of J.H. Blunt, to “influence, subdue, and attract the world” with the Good News. Of basic importance to our worship and our ministry is this understanding that we approach our Maker always as both “I” and “We”.

The agnosticism of Kant regarding the noumenon

I’ve never read anyone so difficult to understand as Kant, but his importance serves as a goad to persist… If anyone reading this is a Kantian or a Kant scholar, please feel free to correct me if what I’m saying here is either inaccurate or contested. Anyway, as I quoted in a previous post, Etienne Gilson writes, “Today our only choice is not Kant or Descartes; it is rather Kant or Thomas Aquinas. All the other positions are but halfway houses on the roads which lead either to absolute religious agnosticism or to the natural theology of Christian metaphysics” (God and Philosophy p. 114). In §32 of the Prolegomena, Kant refers to “special beings of the understanding (noumena), which are supposed to constitute an intelligible world.” He grants the possibility of the existence of such beings “but only with the enforcement of this rule that admits of no exception: that we neither know nor can know anything at all determinate about these pure beings of the understanding, because our pure concepts of the understanding as well as our pure intuitions extend to nothing but objects of possible experience” (i.e., extend to the realms of Newtonian physics). Here is Kant’s agnosticism regarding intellectual beings. Kant’s interest is not that we be conformed to the totality of what is real as much as we are able (in conduct and thought) but that we ourselves process our intuitions rendering them into experience which is in accordance with the laws of Newtonian physics (the principles of which reside in us a priori). I would like to contrast what Kant regards as being our own a priori understanding which is able to order our intuitions as coherent experience with Aquinas’ notion (h/t Aristotle) of the “agent intellect” (i.e., the proper active principle). The agent intellect renders intelligible all sensory experience received by the “possible intellect” (i.e., the passive principle). Aquinas’ cognitive theory has the interaction between active and passive principles as foundational to all reality. In Kant there is also an interaction between active and passive principles, but where the natural theology of Aquinas gives us the ability to say something “positive” about the objects external to us, in Kant we have external to us something real but we know not what (“we are not discussing the origin of experience, but what lies in experience” §21a). Kant’s agnosticism regarding “special beings” extends to the very origins of our intuition. While they are ‘real’ we can’t know them. So, there is an activity of some sort, as without it our intuitions receive nothing whatsoever, but his philosophical commitments don’t allow him to express anything confident or positive about what constitutes that activity.

Aquinas studies – Can there be a conflict between natural and divine law?

On one level, no there can be no conflict between natural and divine law. However, there may be conflict between the two in how they are embodied on an individual or cultural level. There may also be the appearance of conflict if we don’t properly distinguish the principles from the proper conclusions.

For an excellent introductory guide to Aquinas follow this link.

Human beings, in having a natural inclination to “the fitting act and end”– which is ultimately “eternal reason” — exhibit in our rational and creaturely existence, a participatory relationship between natural law and divine law (Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings, Penguin Books., London 1998, p. 620). The rational recognition and obedience to natural law is the means by which we participate in the divine law (p. 620). Our rational natures, our desire and ability to contemplate about things beyond the merely material, and to concern ourselves with things not merely limited to material well-being, should provide us with a hint that the “fitting act and end” exceeds our material or natural capacities. For this reason, God gives us divine law. Thomas gives four reasons for God revealing to us his divine law. First, as our ultimate end exceeds our natural capacity in being directed towards “eternal happiness” we need divine direction in order to attain our ultimate end. Second, we are not accurately able to judge on “contingent and particular things” and so we require certitude of judgement which can only come from God. Thirdly, as our “fitting act and end” involves our interior intellectual lives, natural law is not adequate to govern or “restrain interior acts.” Fourth, in order for there to be final clarity and justice in the mixture of practical and particular judgements, all things will ultimately be judged according to divine law (p. 623).

In none of these things is there a conflict between natural and divine law. The one serves as a floor upon which we may, by the light of faith, break through the ceiling of our materiality and apprehend and participate in divine law. And as God is simple/holy and infinitely Good, it is not possible for the principles originating in him and sustained by him to be in conflict. “God through his wisdom is the maker of the universe of things… the notion of divine wisdom moving all things to their fitting end takes on the note of law… the eternal law is nothing other than the idea of divine wisdom insofar as it is directive of all acts and movements” (p. 633).

However, in terms of how human beings exhibit this participatory relationship between natural law and divine law, there is conflict. While human affairs are subject ultimately to eternal law, in both our knowledge and our actions we are in varying degrees “imperfect” and “corrupt” (p. 640). Insofar as our knowledge of eternal law and natural knowledge are obscured by “passions and the habit of sin” a holy/perfect participatory relationship between natural law and divine law is “defective” (p. 640-641). The conflict is in proportion to how “bad” one is. On the other hand, “the good are perfectly subject to the eternal law, as always fulfilling it” (p 641). Also, there may be failure in this regard in terms of “rectitude” (there may be an impediment in nature (e.g., are psychopaths born that way?) and knowledge (if one’s reason has been “depraved” by bad customs, or a “bad cast of nature”). This is to say that there may be a general culture which depraves or malforms us in relation to specific moral principles (p. 649). Finally, a conflict may arise as a consequence of prolonged damage to the human heart. This may be a result of “bad persuasion” regarding speculative matters, depraved customs, or corrupt habits. Such things may result in the natural law being “erased from the hearts of men” (p. 652).

Finally, there may be the appearance of conflict if we don’t distinguish between the common principles and the proper conclusions (i.e., secondary precepts or particular applications). Whereas there is “the same truth or rectitude for all “in reference to “common principles of reason” (e.g., “one cannot simultaneously affirm and deny something” p. 644) this does not mean that everyone knows matters pertaining to “proper conclusions” of speculative reason to the same degree (e.g., the outworking of speculative reason resulting in specific of geometrical definitions not known to all). Neither do the common principles work themselves out in a uniformed way, as the “proper conclusions” of practical reason will vary depending upon the specific circumstances (p. 648). Also, relating to the reality of circumstantial and cultural change, whereas the “common principles of reason” are immutable, the natural law may change by way of addition or subtraction in reference to particular contexts or situations (p. 650). This addition or subtraction will, if proper and good, leave the common principles uncorrupted, but effect the proper conclusions in a generally applicable way for a particular culture. For example, the principle of “everyone should act according to reason” results in the proper conclusion regarding terms of borrowing goods and returning them to the rightful owner. However, there may be culturally or regionally unique circumstances that may make the terms of borrowing (and the rectitude of returning them) different (p. 648). For example, in peacetime, a scythe has simpler associations than during a time of war. It may be right not to return such a tool during wartime if it threatens the safety of the owner or others. If we don’t keep the difference between the common principles and the proper conclusions clear, we may think there is a conflict between natural law and divine law, when in fact there is only a difference in the outworking of natural and divine law in a local or individual context.

Comparing Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle’s conception of the human good.

Whereas both Thomas and Aristotle would agree that “the ultimate end of man, as of any intellectual substance, is called felicity or happiness” there is a profound difference between them regarding in what that happiness consists. The difference between Thomas and Aristotle’s accounts of the human good boils down to the difference between Thomas’ Christianity (grace and faith) and Aristotle’s virtuous paganism (the integrated intellectual life at its humanly best).

For an excellent introductory guide to Aquinas follow this link.
Continue reading “Comparing Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle’s conception of the human good.”

Aquinas studies: if we cannot know the essence of God, how can there be a science of divine things?

The notion that there can be a science of divine things does not negate Thomas’ statements regarding how we are unable to know the essence of God. A science of divine things is possible so long as we are clear regarding what we actually can and cannot know, and how the science of divine things proceeds.

For an excellent introductory guide to Aquinas follow this link.

First of all, only God can know his own essence. In fact, he knows himself “through his essence” (Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings, Penguin Books., London 1998. p. 116). In other words, only God can truly know himself, as it is his essence to do so. The science of divine things must proceed from this basic understanding, namely, we cannot essentially know God. This does not mean, however, that we cannot in any way come to know God (as we will see).

Secondly, in terms of human reason, according to Thomas we can approach knowledge of God referring to the fact of his existence (and not of what he is). This can be done in three ways: 1) observing his effects in creation; 2) understanding his causality of “more noble effects” which grants a “better display of his eminence”, and; 3) in a negative sense we understand more clearly how he transcends all things and defies definition (Thomas quotes Dionysius, “he is known as the cause, the excess and negation of all things” – (Aquinas, Selected Writings, p. 117).
Continue reading “Aquinas studies: if we cannot know the essence of God, how can there be a science of divine things?”

The Myth of the Cave explained

In essence, the myth tells us Socrates’ view of the city and its people.

First of all, the people of the city (humans in general) are shackled in intellectual darkness (Republic, 514). This is understood as meaning that we confuse our material existence, the material world with which we interact, and the way by which we interact with it, as being real and true, when in fact it is best understood as a shadow of what is actually real and true, namely the world of the forms and ultimately the Good itself (515c). Secondly, the vast majority of humans are unconcerned about the falseness of their existence and find anyone suggesting otherwise as ridiculous to the point of perhaps trying to kill them (517a). Third, as a consequence, the vast majority of people in the city do not recognize the Good, and thus do not truly recognize the things derived from the good (e.g., justice).

However, the fact that there are individuals within the City (true philosophers) who try to inform the people regarding the reality of the Good etc., means that there is the possibility of movement between the life of intellectual bondage in darkness and intellectual knowledge in the light. So, fourth, it is necessary for those who are rulers to recognize both the basic deceit which shrouds the majority of the citizens and the need for those who know the reality of the Good to provide leadership and instill justice (etc) in the city by way of its laws and the ordering things in a harmonious way (520). Fifth, this further requires a deliberate approach to education by the founders so that those who are liberated from the cave are further examined to determine their suitability for leadership and instill a sense of obligation to return to the realm of the cave for the good of the city (532ff). Sixth, those who return must be fully aware that the majority of the people in the city are unconcerned about the true reality of the Good, and so they are allowed to continue in deceit (and are in fact further deceived) in order to instill (or perhaps coerce and deceive) and sustain (or perhaps enforce) harmoniousness in the city for all people (519e). Finally, the philosopher-kings, mere philosophers, mere rulers, and founders are to order the procreation of the citizens and their education in such a way to ensure that there will be future philosopher-kings able to lead for a time for the benefit of the city before being relieved to withdraw from sensory and material concerns and to return to pure contemplation of the Good (519c, 540b).

Thomas à Kempis – “desire to be unknown”

Chapter II – Of thinking humbly of oneself

There is naturally in every man a desire to know, but what profiteth knowledge without the fear of God? Better of a surety is a lowly peasant who serveth God, than a proud philosopher who watcheth the stars and neglecteth the knowledge of himself. He who knoweth himself well is vile in his own sight; neither regardeth he the praises of men. If I knew all the things that are in the world, and were not in charity, what should it help me before God, who is to judge me according to my deeds?

2. Rest from inordinate desire of knowledge, for therein is found much distraction and deceit. Those who have knowledge desire to appear learned, and to be called wise. Many things there are to know which profiteth little or nothing to the soul. And foolish out of measure is he who attendeth upon other things rather than those which serve to his soul’s health. Many words satisfy not the soul, but a good life refresheth the mind, and a pure conscience giveth great confidence towards God.

3. The greater and more complete thy knowledge, the more severely shalt thou be judged, unless thou hast lived holily. Therefore be not lifted up by any skill or knowledge that thou hast; but rather fear concerning the knowledge which is given to thee. If it seemeth to thee that thou knowest many things, and understandest them well, know also that there are many more things which thou knowest not. Be not high-minded, but rather confess thine ignorance. Why desirest thou to lift thyself above another, when there are found many more learned and more skilled in the Scripture than thou? If thou wilt know and learn anything with profit, love to be thyself unknown and to be counted for nothing. [alternative trans: “If thou wilt know or learn anything profitably, desire to be unknown, and to be little esteemed”].

[Contra ‘social media’, contra various (I suspect) vain and (without question) brand-building church personalities – making much of exploits in order to sell books and speak at conferences etc. Cf the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 – he easily boasts and catalogues various disasters and hardships, but only reluctantly shares the vision and leaves uncatalogued entirely the various “signs of a true Apostle”].

4. That is the highest and most profitable lesson, when a man truly knoweth and judgeth lowly of himself. To account nothing of one’s self, and to think always kindly and highly of others, this is great and perfect wisdom. Even shouldest thou see thy neighbor sin openly and grievously, yet thou oughtest not to reckon thyself better than he, for thou knowest not how long thou shalt keep thine integrity. All of us are weak and frail; hold thou no man more frail than thyself.

H/T The Literature Project http://literatureproject.com/imitation-christ/immitation-christ_chapter_ii_-_of.htm

The Christian mystical experience and the limits of language

“If the mystic wishes to describe the mystical union of the soul with God and its effects, he has to make use of words which are not designed to express any such thing. For example, in order to express the closeness of the union, the elevation of the soul and the effect of the union on the soul’s activity, he employs a verb like ‘transform’ or ‘change into’. But ‘change into’ denotes such processes as assimilation (of food), consumption of material by fire, production of steam from water, heat from energy, and so on, whereas the mystical union of the soul with God is sui generis and really requires an altogether new and special word to describe it. But if the mystic coined a brand new word for this purpose, it would convey nothing at all to anyone who lacked the experience in question. Therefore he has to employ words in more or less ordinary use, even though these words inevitably suggest pictures and parallels which do not strictly apply to the experience he is attempting to describe. There is nothing to be surprised at, then, if some of the mystic’s statements, taken literally, are inadequate or even incorrect. And if the mystic is also a theologian and philosopher, as Eckhart was, inexactitude is likely to affect even his more abstract statements, at least if he attempts to express in theological and philosophical statements an experience which is not properly expressible, employing for this purpose words and phrases which either suggest parallels that are not strict parallels or already possess a defined meaning in theology and philosophy.”

 

Copleston, Frederick Charles. A History of Philosophy: Volume 3, Part 1. Garden City, NY: Image, 1962. 206. Print.

Outline of “A History of Philosophy, Volume 1: Greece and Rome” by Frederick Copleston, S.J.

Copleston History of Philosophy, Volume 1: Greece and Rome

To purchase this classic book follow this link.

Outline (This is an attempt to present the outline which Copleston gives within this work – feel free to request Word doc version of this outline). The autonumbering is messed up, and I’m not sure how I can fix it without destroying my soul… Here is a link to a PDF copy without the auto number confusion… Copleston, HoP, Vol 1 – Outline

You can use this for whatever purpose you like, though a thank you is always appreciated. I did this for my own sake while reading it, first of all, and share it for whatever benefit anyone may derive for any purpose whatsoever.

 

Chapter I – Introduction

1)          Why Study the History of Philosophy?

i) Knowledge of history is necessary for ‘education’ – Philosophers are key contributors to European thought and culture.

ii) Knowledge of the History of Philosophy will help us avoid the mistakes of our predecessors

iii)         Studying the history of philosophy will enable us to be attentive to developments within it.

2)          Nature of the History of Philosophy

i) No philosophy can be understood unless it is seen in its historical setting and in light of its connection with other systems.

ii) Observation of logical sequence in development.

iii) Progression points ‘beyond itself’ to Truth.

iv) Copleston adheres to the conviction that there is a philosophia perennis.

3)          How to Study the History of Philosophy

i) See any philosophical system in its historical setting and connections.

ii) Study philosophers ‘sympathetically’.

iii)         Understand words, phrases and shades of meaning.

4)          Ancient Philosophy (this volume)

PART I – PRE-SOCRATIC PHILOSOPHY Continue reading “Outline of “A History of Philosophy, Volume 1: Greece and Rome” by Frederick Copleston, S.J.”

The Trinitarian anthropology of St. Augustine

“Who can understand the omnipotent Trinity? We all speak of it, though we may not speak of it as it truly is, for rarely does a soul know what it is saying when it speaks of the Trinity. People wrangle and dispute about it, but it is a vision that is given to none unless they are at peace. There are three things, all found in a person , which I should like people to consider. They are far different from the Trinity, but I suggest them as a subject for mental exercise by which we can test ourselves and realize how great this different is. The three things are existence, knowledge, and will, for I can say that I am, I know, and I will. I am a being which knows and wills; I know both that I am and that I will; and I will both to be and to know. In these three–being, knowledge, and will–there is one inseparable life, one life, one mind, one essence; and therefore, although they are distinct from one another, the distinction does not separate them” (Augustine, Confessions, XIII, 11).