Ipsum Esse’s Clash with Atheism and Protestantism: How Protestant Reformers Secularized the West (unintentionally)

One of the theological controversies that has existed for awhile between Catholics and Protestants is the notion of God’s authority being handed down to the Church in a concrete manner, both through sacrament and through spiritual authority in the activity of evangelization.   As the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, the Gospel (John 20: 17) gives us a chance to reexamine this controversy by what might confound or confuse many people.  The Catholic Church’s position claims that Christ and the Church are one, and that the Church has been given such authority which hinges upon a teaching sometimes coined as “Ipsum Esse.”  We will examine this doctrine, whereby we can understand how Christ and His Church forgives sins.

 

Scriptural Analysis of the Church’s Authority:

 

John 20: 17

“Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold onto me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Ascension

Why might this passage confuse people?  The common assumption is that when Jesus ascends into heaven He becomes more remote or distant from those in the world.  Therefore, how could a person “hold onto” Christ if it was impossible to hold onto Him as he becomes separated from our earthly, tangible, experience?

Let’s reexamine John 14:18-19

“‘I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.  Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.'”

Jesus reveals to us that the “world” will be incapable of seeing Christ, but that those who have faith will be able to perceive and experience Christ.

Here is a note from Scott Hahn on the previous passage:

“When Jesus withdraws his visible presence from the world, he does not withdraw his spiritual presence.  Christ is always present in His Church, especially in the liturgy, where he ministers through his priests, speaks through the Scriptures, and sanctifies us through the sacraments (CCC 788, 1380).”

Faith, a supernatural gift infused in the soul enables us to be able to encounter the Divine Substance (God) communicated through sign and sacrament.  This involves all of creation, as well as the sacraments Christ Himself instituted through the Catholic Church.  Consider the following passage:

Luke 24:30-32

“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.  They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?'”

 

Scott Hahn says in regard to this passage:

“…Here the disciples encounter Christ in a spiritual way, discerning his presence in the meal….The Structure of the Emmaus episode reflects the structure of the Eucharistic Liturgy, where Jesus gives himself to the Church in word and sacrament, in the proclamation of scripture and in the Eucharistic Bread of life.”

 

In other words, Jesus enables the soul to encounter Him in a different way than when He was localized by flesh-and-bone, and now becomes more accessible in His presence by the Power of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to encounter Christ in such a manner, and this again is why Jesus states that He must ascend to His Father: John 16:7

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”

Scott Hahn remarks on this passage by saying:

“Greater Blessings will come when the Spirit dwells within them at Pentecost (14:17; Acts 2:1-4).  Chief among these benefits will be the power (1) to proclaim the gospel with boldness (Acts 1:8, 4:31), (2) to preserve and understand the truth in its fullness (16:13), (3) to give witness to Jesus in times of persecution (Lk 12:11-12), and (4) to fulfill the just requirements of God’s Law (Rom 8:4).”

What we can also take away from this passage is that Christ necessarily needs to Ascend into Heaven in order for the Holy Spirit to take on a greater activity within the Church.  This is why in the Acts of the Apostles it becomes difficult in some cases to distinguish between the words, behaviour and miracles performed by the Apostles and Christ’s own ministry prior to His Ascension.  It becomes apparent that Christ now is present in His Church through those who “follow” Him.  Therefore, Christ manifests His presence in a much more Universal (catholic) manner, not locked into the disadvantage of one temporal body, but locked into the Church which has become the “hands and feet” of Christ, His Mystical Body, that extends itself to the four corners of the earth – to every nation.  And with that organized body and its various charisms, comes also the Sacramental power of the Priesthood to “forgive sins.”

PenecostThis is often argued against by various protestants who reject the ecclesial authority to forgive sins, re-echoing what was stated earlier in scripture, who can forgive sins but God alone? (Mark 2:7).  It might be argued by them that we are to merely proclaim the forgiveness of sins(Luke 24:  46-47), however this does not represent the fullest biblical truth, whereby Christ commissions the Apostles: “but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49), “and He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'” (John 20: 22-23),  “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21), “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18), “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” [i.e. the power of the Apostles did not die with them]  (Matt. 28:19–20).    Yet it if Christ’s Spirit is truly within the Church, is it not the Divine Life that mankind now shares with God that forgives sins?  There is no doubt that the proper context to the commission is united to the gift of the Holy Spirit who gives power and authority to operate as the very body of Christ.  It is that unity whereby Christ can forgive through the Apostles who share in his ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18).  Therefore, it is both the Apostle (Priesthood) in his humanity who has been infused with the “person of Christ” that forgives sins – there is no need to create a dichotomy – that certainly wasn’t the case with St. Paul.

“Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive.  What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ.”  (2 Cor 2:10)

confessionSt. Paul understood well, from Christ’s own words that the Church and Christ were one in regard to the Authority the Church wielded.  It was Christ who taught St. Paul this lesson when Christ asked Him the question:  “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).  In Saul’s mind, he wasn’t persecuting God, he was persecuting the Church, but in the mind of God, both had become One, and this is why St. Paul often refers to the Church as the Body of Christ.  Would it make sense to suggest that the Body of Christ, infused with the Spirit of Christ had no authority,  and God was somehow separate from it?  Would we not be contradicting both scripture and reason in such a process?  Perhaps the same uncomfortable theological problem that existed within the minds of the Pharisees still exists within the Christian community today:  that God and Man can actually be reconciled both in nature (the Incarnation) and through Grace (the Church).  Therefore, to reject the notion that the Church actually has the same authority of Christ in its faithful living out of the Gospel is to spiritually recapitulate both the persecution of God Himself (Acts 9:4), and to deny the possibility of the Incarnation of God (Mark 2:7).  And although this argument is full proof, it still nonetheless requires the gift of faith to see.  Jesus who spoke in a number of parables was often not understood well, and as a result his teachings revealed vividly those who were not open in Spirit to what He had to teach.

You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted
and I heal them. 

(Matt 13: 14b-15; c.f. Is 6:9-10)

 

Philosophical + Theological Analysis:

 

While we cannot broadly brand each protestant with the same theology because of the massive splintering of sects that exist today, we can look to some trends within the theological discourses of the reformers that have affected how we perceive this matter.  During the so-called “Enlightenment” when scholasticism was put at odds with the scientific method (not in reality, but in the minds of many) a common-dichotomy arose that was actually embraced by some of the protestant sects.  These categories may be expressed as “fideism and rationalism” whereby faith and reason were no longer considered to be unified by a reasoned-coherent “fittingness” between the anthropology of man on an ontological level and the revelation of Christ as the solution to all of man’s problems.   Fundamentalism was born in Christianity.  Faith and Reason were now in some cases two totally different arenas of thought that needed to be divorced or separated from each other in order to purify both of each other.  Fundamentalists began to read scripture out of context (which naturally happens when you exclude reason), by suggesting that human philosophies (critiquing Aquinas, Augustine, the Councils) were contrary to the importance of faith “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (Col 2:8)  Of course the failure in appealing to this passage was in being reluctant to admit that the particular type of philosophy that was arising at this time amongst the Early Christians was Gnosticism, a particular type of philosophy that ran contrary to what had already been revealed to the early Christians by Christ Himself.

Here is what Scott Hahn says about this passage:

“Although this term can refer to speculative theories about God, man, and the universe, it was also used by Hellenistic Jewish writers such as Josephus and Philo to refer to the Jewish way of life.  This is probably Paul’s meaning here.  It is true, nevertheless, that every philosophy is vain that disregards or denounces what God has revealed as good, true, and beautiful through Jesus Christ.”  The “elements or rudiments…is used seven times in the New Testament and is common in Greek literature.  It can refer to the material elements of the cosmos, like earth, air, water, and fire or to heavenly bodies, like the sun, moon, and stars (Wis 7:17).  It can also refer to angels or demons that regulate the course and movement of these elements.  These ideas are closely connected with ancient forms of worship.  For idolatrous Gentiles, the elements were deified and worshiped as gods’ (Wis 12:1-2; Gal 4:8).  For ancient Israel, the liturgical calendar was determined by the rhythm of the elements, especially by the cycles of the sun and moon (Gen 1:14; Sir 43:1-8).  Paul groups the worship of Israel and the nations together, since both are subservient to these visible and invisible elements of the natural order (Gal 4:9).  In contrast to this old order, Paul stresses that Christ is seated far above all things seen and unseen (Col 3:1-3).  United with him, believers no longer worship within the confines of the created world, but through the sacraments they enter a new order of worship that is supernatural and heavenly, where Christ lifts them far above the created elements of the cosmos (John 4:21-24; Gal 4:3; Heb 12:22-24; Rev 4-5).”

It seems readily apparent that St. Paul is not condemning the usage of philosophy in a broad manner, but the type of philosophy that deceives us away from God and points us towards the worldly.  In fact, scripture itself teaches us that simple human reasoning should actually lead us to a belief in God.

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds, or animals or reptiles.”   (Romans 1: 19-23)

From this passage it becomes remarkably evident that reasoning (good-philosophy) is implied to have been available to the people leading them to a knowledge of God.  This type of knowledge was given to them in the context of creation which was “made.”  This implies that just by their own experience of creation there is a reasonable connection between observing the world and coming to know God through what He has created.  This is probably one of the simplest summaries of St. Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy when he baptized Aristotle’s natural law. Aquinas Mary and Aristotle

One author by the name of Brad S. Gregory suggests (here) that the protestant reformation is actually linked (albeit unintentionally) to the secularization of the west.  By the mere fact, he argues, that faith and reasoning have been divorced in our universities and schools we see very clearly how the state and the Church have been not only distinguished in their vocation, but divorced.  It was the case that the relationship between both were meant to be complimentary, but the human law which is founded upon human reason was now polluted by the idolatry that St. Paul warned against, and thus reasoning is no longer purified by the grace of faith.  Likewise we also see a great rise in superstitious belief systems which appeal to “magic” and place a hyperbolic focus on man’s capacity to change and bend reality existentially (New-Age-Gnosticism).  All of these problems arise simply because there is a failure to see how faith and reason can be integrated into one another.

St. John Paul II wisely stated in his document “Fides et Ratio” (Faith and Reason):

“Saint Paul has in mind when he puts the Colossians on their guard: “See to it that no-one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe and not according to Christ” (2:8). The Apostle’s words seem all too pertinent now if we apply them to the various kinds of esoteric superstition widespread today, even among some believers who lack a proper critical sense. Following Saint Paul, other writers of the early centuries, especially Saint Irenaeus and Tertullian, sound the alarm when confronted with a cultural perspective which sought to subordinate the truth of Revelation to the interpretation of the philosophers.

Christianity’s engagement with philosophy was therefore neither straight-forward nor immediate. The practice of philosophy and attendance at philosophical schools seemed to the first Christians more of a disturbance than an opportunity. For them, the first and most urgent task was the proclamation of the Risen Christ by way of a personal encounter which would bring the listener to conversion of heart and the request for Baptism. But that does not mean that they ignored the task of deepening the understanding of faith and its motivations. Quite the contrary. That is why the criticism of Celsus—that Christians were “illiterate and uncouth”31—is unfounded and untrue. Their initial disinterest is to be explained on other grounds. The encounter with the Gospel offered such a satisfying answer to the hitherto unresolved question of life’s meaning that delving into the philosophers seemed to them something remote and in some ways outmoded….

It is an illusion to think that faith, tied to weak reasoning, might be more penetrating; on the contrary, faith then runs the grave risk of withering into myth or superstition. By the same token, reason which is unrelated to an adult faith is not prompted to turn its gaze to the newness and radicality of being….

If the Magisterium has spoken out more frequently since the middle of the last century, it is because in that period not a few Catholics felt it their duty to counter various streams of modern thought with a philosophy of their own. At this point, the Magisterium of the Church was obliged to be vigilant lest these philosophies developed in ways which were themselves erroneous and negative. The censures were delivered even-handedly: on the one hand, fideism 59 and radical traditionalism,60 for their distrust of reason’s natural capacities, and, on the other, rationalism 61 and ontologism 62 because they attributed to natural reason a knowledge which only the light of faith could confer. The positive elements of this debate were assembled in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, in which for the first time an Ecumenical Council—in this case, the First Vatican Council—pronounced solemnly on the relationship between reason and faith. The teaching contained in this document strongly and positively marked the philosophical research of many believers and remains today a standard reference-point for correct and coherent Christian thinking in this regard.”  (Fides et Ratio, 37-38, 48 ,52)

If we are to summarize one main point within St. John Paul II’s reflection here, it is that faith without reason leads to superstition, and reason without faith leads to idolatry.  But let us take it a step further – to suggest that faith and reason cannot be united in both the classroom and university, and parliament and our world is to ultimately deny the possibility of the Incarnation of Christ.

For many this is a hard connection to make, but allow me to illustrate why it is necessarily the case.  If faith and reason cannot be reconciled to each other in a dialogue and unity of harmony, than it must be synonymously stated that God – to whom faith speaks about – cannot be reconciled to man – who is a rational creature.   Yet we know it was in Christ taking on our rational, intellectual and yet limited nature that he “reconciled all things in Himself” (Col 1:20).  To suggest that there is still an infinite gap between God and Man is to suggest that the incarnation never took place.  None of this turns philosophy into some sort of infinite potential to come to the conclusion all by itself of a Triune God – that is what God had to reveal.  But the relationship nonetheless understands after it has been revealed what the implications of such a God have on our own life in the context that it is meant to be understood.

Let’s examine therefore why it is possible for faith and reason, nay, God and Man to be united as we see both in Christ’s through Nature, and in the Church through His grace.  If it was the case that God could not be reconciled to human-reasoning, than it would be the case that sacraments along with God’s incarnation would be impossible.  This is why it is relevant to examine critically.

Ipsum Esse

One of the best illustrations of the strange type of unity between God and His Creation was demonstrated in Exodus in the burning bush.

“And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed, ‘I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt….God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’”  (Exodus 3:2-3, 14)burning bush

In this scene, Moses encounters something revealing about the nature of God in relationship to creation.  Normally when a fire (which represents the presence of God) is blazing it contradicts the nature of what it burns.  In that contrariety or competition the bush does not survive the lick of the flames and is burned up, but here God’s presence is not a contrary force to the Bush, and is therefore not in competition with it.  From this we can deduce that God does not occupy a space or a time like other objects within the universe, and yet can still be united to creation, but in a mode we are not familiar with.  This leads us to understand that if God were similar in nature to created things he would be in competition like fire consuming a bush, but because He is so vastly different than creation he is able to find a compatibility with it; to be united to it on a deep and mystical level.  This is why God then continues by revealing His own name by saying, “I am who I am.”  In that invocation God reveals that He is not like the pagan gods who were often associated with elemental forces like a river or sun.  Rather God has no “category” or concept that He fits into.  In logical terminology this would mean that God doesn’t have a definition or a “genus.”  It might help to understand the etymology of the term “definition” which literally means to “put limits” on something.  When we define something in reality we are saying what it is, and what it is not.  A dog is not the moon, and a nacho is not an ocean.  Definitions are only given to created things because they are limited, but God is without limits.  Therefore, Moses has no grasp or control over God intellectually or by way of a name, because He cannot put Him into a box, he cannot limit God’s out-reach over creation, God arises (transcends) above it all.

Later development in theology led to St. Thomas Aquinas examining more carefully the implications of God’s own words by saying, “I am who I am.”  In that statement, Aquinas began to analyze the difference between an essence and that which exists.  An essence of a thing is generally what makes it what it is – its defining principle that exists within itself – its nature.  Existence is different than an essence because a thing cannot have an essence without also existing, but not all things that exist share the same essence.  This might be where I am losing you – all this philosophical language, Fr. Chris is too much!  But bare with me, because its important.  If you don’t get it at first, be assured that is quite normal.  It takes some wrestling.

Lets examine something like a river – it has a definition that makes it different than a lake or an ocean.  But both a lake and a river exist.  What we cannot say about both the river and the lake is that their essence is to exist, but rather their essence is to be a river or a lake.   Rather we would say that their essence is to be a lake or a river, and that they happen to exist here or there.

But because God is not like anything else, the distinction between essence and existence becomes somewhat lost.  While it applies to all things that are definite, and limited, in God when He says, “I am who I am” God is actually saying, “My essence is my existence.”   This is sometimes referred to as “Ipsum Esse.”  All of a sudden we are not treating God as if He is another object with a particular type of essence.  This is what makes the “New Atheist’s” arguments entirelydawkins irrelevant to the Catholic – we cannot even begin to take them seriously when they cleverly suggest that faith in God is as rational as a faith in a “flying spaghetti monster.”  Such a dreamt up “monster” already has a definition according to the language using to describe it as such, and therefore fails to be an adequate parallel.  As a result of treating God as if He has an essence like other things that exist and have essences we again place God into a box by implying He has a definition.  It would be a contradiction to defend this theory by suggesting that God doesn’t have a definition but does have an essence alike other things, because anything that is infinite is to synonymously say it is non-finite – or non-definitive.

So what is God?  What a great question, and that is exactly what Moses was asking.  Unfortunately the mind of Moses along with every human being is far too small to comprehend it – for our brain is only capable of comprehending concepts that are finite.  To ask God to somehow reveal himself absolutely to us would be an impossible task, given our own limitations which prevent our mind from comprehending that which is unlimited.  But what we can grasp to some extent is the idea that God’s essence is existence.  While all of creation has existence, we cannot say that all of creation “is” existence.  Thereby we conclude that to say something “is” existence is not to suggest that whatever that “is” is the total sum of creation.  Sometimes this statement, that God’s essence is His existence is thought to be pantheism.  But if that were the case, it would be more accurate to say that God is not existence per se (itself), but that God is the sum total collection of things that are not existence but have existence.  And honestly, who can make rational sense out of that?

Rather, God’s essence is the very reality of existence which means, consequently, that all of creation “participates” in God’s divine-substance by the mere fact that we have existence.  This therefore means that every single thing that exists is sustained by God’s will, including every hair on our head (Luke 12:7).  Or as Acts 17:28 suggests:  “For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.” 

This confronts the very problematic doctrine of Deism which is the typical genre of Christianity or theism criticized by contemporary atheists.  Catholicism and Scholasticism does not attribute a belief to a God who operates as a “watchmaker,” winding up the universe and letting it go as He stands outside of it, watching in His own “remote” or distant manner.  Rather to exist is to be immersed in the very substance of God.

What does the burning bush than reveal to us?  If we exist, God’s flame (presence, essence) is already united to us.  If God is existence, and we have existence, we therefore “have” God.

With this doctrine we can therefore understand why God choose to be incarnate in the human body and soul of Jesus.  All that existed already was united to God in its nature,annunciation but in terms of our relationship through sin, death, a type of destruction of our being (though not of our soul, which was created to be eternal) was the result of departing from God.  That is to say, in a loose sense, to reject God was to reject our own existence, and that is why death was the punishment, naturally following from our decision to hide from God, who is existence.  Therefore the one aspect of our being that is corruptible by nature, ceased-to-be; our body became separated from our soul.

It might also be helpful to realize, especially for the protestant to reflect on Christ’s statement, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  (John 14:6).  Truth is defined as, “that which is.”  So there really is no difference between God saying He is existence per se (itself) and saying He is the Truth (per se).  Likewise, can a “way” be accessible if it doesn’t somehow exist?  Likewise, what about life?  What we begin to realize is that to have life, to know the way, all means we are participating in God’s own Trinitarian inner-being.  We are not participating in it by our own nature, but by the gift of grace, particularly adoption, in being called sons and daughter of God.

It is not so much that our existence is somehow disjointed from God’s, as we see in the deistic model formulated during the enlightenment, but rather we begin to encounter the realization that to exist and to be fulfilled is to merely participate in God’s own life and being.

If however there was a dichotomy between faith and reason, God and man, it would be the case that such a unity would be impossible.  In the minds of many Christians, we encounter this deistic model – which has rabid spiritual implications that are deadly to the soul.  First it places God into a remote relationship with us, whereby He is merely another defined being who exists external to our senses.  That external God becomes aloof and incapable of being united to us in a meaningful way.

Secondly, it makes a mockery out of Christ’s own words in scripture already alluded to in regard to Him sending His Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we can say with great confidence that when God was incarnate, both God and Man, fully both, we begin to understand why such a union was not a violent or contradictory action that debases reason and sensibility; but rather it was an incredibly fitting way for God who is always united to us on such a profoundly intimate level to become united to us by way of the Second Person in His own human flesh.

Likewise, if it is the pattern of our God to make Himself present through physical interactions in the created universe, one cannot thereby accuse Sacramentality of being somehow superstitious as we often hear from some of the anti-catholic rhetoric of our fundamentalist brothers and sister in regard to the Eucharist.  To make such a suggestion not only blasphemes Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and re-echoes God’s question to such persons:  “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? “(Acts 9:4), but by extension also accuses the very doctrine of the Incarnation of being superstitious, since both are possible by the same logic.  And finally it brings to life the abandonment of Christ we see in John 6, with those who found this teaching difficult.

Faith, a gift from God is safeguarded, therefore by the Church’s preserving good-philosophy, but that reasoning is preserved by the gift of grace whereby our mind is healed of pride which places logs into our eyes preventing us from seeing beyond our prejudice.  It therefore becomes apparent that faith and reason are like two wings on a bird that allow us to depart from our double ignorance.  This thereby enables us to see how our God is both incredibly transcendent yet intimately involved in our lives.

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Book Review Pt 1: Lord of the World

I recently had the chance to read a book entitled:  “Lord of the World” by Mgr. Robert Hugh Benson.  The book itself was published in 1908, and has been considered quite prophetic by figures such as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.  The book itself reacts to various political and theological trends that posed intense threats towards the future of civilization.  Such issues that are directly dealt with involve weapons of mass-destruction, euthanasia, communism, freemasonry, ritual, secular humanism, apostasy amongst the clergy, and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.  When I read this book, being ignorant of the author or date of publication, I was surprised to later discover that this was written prior to World War II.  I was fascinated to discover how many problems Mgr. Benson highlighted that have come to pass since his book was written.  It is clear that this author was capable of assessing the signs of the times, knowing well the nature and soul of society when afflicted with such particular species of blindness. judgment

I would like to offer a book-review of my own, and believe me, spoilers will be included.  I recommend that you as a Catholic, Christian, or even atheist, read this book.  There is essentially a battle between to kingdoms in this book, between what St. Augustine calls the Kingdom of man, and the Kingdom of God.  This “last-battle” summarizes the biblical tension between Cain and Abel, between the Tower of Babel and the building of the Ark.  The question arises from this novel:  what is our salvation:  human ingenuity and progress or Jesus Christ?

The actual writing of this book was not altogether the easiest to follow.  There are “sharp-turns” in regard to some expositions on Character-development.  The repetitiveness of certain points seems to “dent the wood” as the author hammers the nail in the coffin of secular humanism.  Despite these short-falls in the book, the philosophical, theological, and socio-political theory in this book are entirely accurate, clear, and incredibly applicable in our own day and age.

Therefore, I would like to summarize the various criticisms Mgr. Benson offers as prophetically being lived out in our own generation.

 

The New Atheism: 

One does not have to look too hard, within the beginnings of this book, to discover the same common rhetoric we find in our own culture amongst atheists who serve as antagonistic figures of religion.  Much of them are embodied by one character whom I would consider a prophet of the anti-Christ:  Oliver.  Oliver’s view of Christianity is misguided and his love for Communism certainly reveals who his faith is truly set upon:  humanity.

In attempting to convince and reassure his wife of the irrational state of what a Christian-Priest believes, Oliver communicates as follows.

“’My dear, I tell you what he believes.  He believes that man whom he showed the crucifix to, and said those words over, is alive somewhere, in spite of his brain being dead:  he is not quite sure where; but he is either in a kind of smelting works being slowly burned; or, if he is very lucky, and that piece of wood took effect, he is somewhere beyond the clouds, before Three Persons who are only One although They are Three; that there are quantities of other people there, a Woman in Blue, a great many others in white with their heads under their arms, and still more with their heads on one side; and that they’ve all got their arms, and still more with their heads on one side; and that they’ve all got harps and go on singing for ever and ever, and walking about the clouds, and liking it very much indeed.  He thinks, too, that all these nice people are perpetually looking upon the aforesaid smelting-works, and praising the Three Great Persons for making them.  That’s what the priest believes.  Now you know it’s not likely; that kind of thing may be very nice, but it isn’t true.’

‘No my dear, you’re quite right.  That sort of thing isn’t true.  How can he believe it?  He looked quite intelligent!’

‘My dear girl, if I had told you in your cradle that the moon was green cheese and had hammered at you ever since, every day and all day, that it was, you’d very nearly believe it by now.  Why, you know in your heart that the euthanatisers are the real priests.  Of course you do.’”  (21-22)

The essence of the argument that Oliver hinges upon is the socially-induced brain-washing of faith from early-childhood.  We often see amongst some militant atheists the notion that forcing a child to be baptized at an early age is a form of child-abuse – as if to argue that the child is being socially conditioned to believe something that is perceived to be of insurmountable irrationality.  Of course in the midst of such argumentation, I found myself laughing, simply out of familiarity of the same drivel I have been exposed to even today.  It was ironic that this was written about in 1908, since not much in the platitudes of atheism has changed.  Is there, therefore anything really new about atheism?

Furthermore, what is often associated with the new-atheists is an incredible love for reason – and the attitude of course is that all faith in a transcendent God is somehow superstition.  This seems to recapitulate what many protestant reformers set up during the enlightenment in their “fundamentalism” whereby a dichotomy was created between Faith and Reason.  This dichotomy has been played out in the minds of atheists in “The Lord of the World.”  It is really a form of “scientism” whereby man irrationally places no limits upon the faculty of science, making it their own God.  As the Church often insists, and especially in the document entitled “Fides et Ratio” by St. John Paul II, reason preserves Faith from superstition, and faith preserves science from Idolatry.  What kind of idolatry?

The idolatry that looks upon science irrationally.  It would be irrational to suggest that a microscope could give us vision into deep-space, because such a tool has a limited, defined purpose and ability.  The same is true for science in general – it is limited in what it can accomplish.  We must celebrate what it can accomplish, but we must also recognized that science has a de-finition, and is thereby limited.  To assume that science can therefore ever seek to prove God’s existence in a manner that is deductive is to operate with the assumption that the scientific method itself has no definition or that this “God” is somehow more limited than the field of science itself.

Although this is a logical fallacy (scientism) whereby it begs the question, assuming what it seeks to prove – the idolatry is none other than that of the Human Person.  The human person is the actor within science, and to think his finite intellect can grasp at what is considered infinite is to analogically think you can fit an entire elephant, full-grown, under a microscope.  The absurdity is not always apparent, and it is often facilitated by a purposeful mischaracterizing or ignorance of the faith itself.dawkins

We see Oliver attempting to summarize Trinitarian Theology, Eschatology, and Soteriology in one pithy paragraph.  If I was to be ignorant, and took his words as authority on the matter, I too would conceive of such a Christian faith to be absurd.  How quickly people are to listen to secondary sources antagonistic towards their primary sources.  But here we see it done with such wit, making anyone who would believe in such a matter of faith to be stupid, and unintelligent.  What does such an argument, therefore appeal to?  Certainly not man’s capacity to be reasonable, because if that was the case, Oliver would have not been so ignorant in His over-simplification of the faith.  Rather, such an argument appeals to people’s ego – an ego that doesn’t want to be considered, by the masses, to look stupid.  And in his day and age, the secular-minded were commonly popular.  Therefore, underneath all of his argumentation is a spiritual fallacy of an appeal to mankind’s own desire to belong to what the population believes is reasonable.  This is not a point the author ever explicitly makes – and therefore does a good job of simply illustrating how many atheists seem to propose their argument.  It also reminds us that this whole scape-goat argument pertaining to social-conditioning, while certainly having a measure of truth, should also apply to atheists.  A person can certainly hold a position for the wrong reasons, but this itself is not an argument for whether that position itself is incorrect or illogical – it merely points towards the motives which thereby becomes nothing more than an ad homonym logical fallacy, albeit, hidden in the mire of smart-talk, “all honey their speech.”

 

The Sword versus False Peace:

The doctrine on original sin seems entirely wiped out from the minds of the people.  The notion that man is in such a futile spiritual disaster, and cannot possibly seek to save himself is not within the minds of the people.  Rather than blaming man’s sinful inclinations (concupiscence) the secular culture begins to blame “religion” and such “superstition” for all the world’s current problems.  Sound familiar?

This position does not hold to the error in man’s actions in various religious sects to be the result of human-beings within such communities of faith, but rather the ideology, theology, and structures given through Faith in the Transcendent to be the cause.  Religion therefore becomes a source of “division” rather than “peace.”  This element between war and peace consistently comes out over and over again throughout the book.St. Paul

When Jesus was born, the world was in a state of supposed peace that had been accomplished through political power, violent war, and oppression from the Roman Empire.  Christ was born to destroy this peace, and to wage war with it.  Why?  Because Christ wants real peace to reign in our hearts, not the type of false-peace that comes from the minds of human-beings.

I believe this to be the case today especially.  With the unintelligible dissonance of relativism mixed with emotivistic-hedonism in our secular culture today, what we encounter is a desire for “tolerance” of the views of others that differ from our own.  Religious dogma doesn’t permit this to happen, but rather encourages tolerance towards the persons, rather than the error they uphold.  To this secular world, both named in the book and in our world, such a clarification seems superfluous.  There is no sin, there is no right-and-wrong, except for those who suggest otherwise.  But it could be understood more properly, therefore, why Christ came to bring the sword, rather than peace, if it is the case that error and sin exist (Mt 10:34).

The world seeks to bring “peace” through so-called unity that amounts to nothing more than a vain, superficial type of unity – one of sentiments.  No true peace can be known in such a world, because “truth” doesn’t exist in the moral-consciousness of the people.  Their morality is not based upon truth, it is based upon tolerance, tolerance and kindness – but not Love, which seeks an objective good for the other, for their own sake.  The dissonance and contradictions that arise from this secularized community ends up being entirely unknown to themselves – so long as they vent their rage against religion, they still are operating from their own deformed moralism, but fail to recognize it as such.

The notion of war – that is, disagreement and correction – is unappealing to the secular masses.  Why?  I would assert, especially in the dramatic reaction of Oliver’s wife that such a profound war inflicts a prick to a conscience that the whole world desires to silence.  The spiritual fruit of relativism is that it drugs the conscience of man – whereby surrender to moral truths and reality is no longer a matter of concern.  All that is of concern is how man seeks to conform reality to his own preference.  We may cut at it, and reshape even our own bodies in the view that nature itself is oppressive lest man wills it be otherwise.  There is nothing more than this that illustrates Eve, the mother of humanity, seeking to grasp at the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.  She seeks to define the difference for herself, and must therefore silence her conscience once and for all.

What silences a conscience once and for all?  That would be the murder of our own conscience.  But if people around us continue to resurrect our conscience, that would become a seemingly futile task.  Consider why people are so often accused of traumatizing pro-choice individuals by merely praying outside of abortion clinics.  It is because the war of Christ’s call to repentance through truth has been reawakened in the heart of such an individual. They wanted to have such an accusation within themselves silenced, they had worked hard, surrounded themselves with like-minded people to strengthen the social construct that it “is just her body” and it’s a “blob of cells.”  But to see so many people, who love, and who are concerned think otherwise naturally and rightly causes her to second guess her view, her past decision.  So what is the solution to this problem for the secular humanist?  Violent rhetoric in our culture.  But in this book the solution eventually becomes murder.

The root of murder, Christ reveals, is in all who simply hate their brother.  And so if we live in a civilization who cannot tolerate murder, we seek to murder people in a less material manner.  Perhaps it is through gossip, harassment, looking for error and folly to exploit, or manipulating the person by speaking to all those around that individual.  It is nonetheless the same trivial spirit that leads to murder, that would quickly morph into murder if it ever became socially acceptable – if new coliseums and concentration camps were ever to resurrect.  This is precisely what takes place.  Rather than having a civilization that is called to be introspective, recognizing its own inclination towards murder, it becomes numb to that realization, while seeking to murder the good-name of others.  This therefore prepares the whole culture to actually murder those they hate, as soon as a flip is switched causing people to find murder a socially acceptable act.  Kill the Catholics.

The common scape-goat to avoid listening to the Catholic presence which re-awakens the consciences of a secularized community becomes those radical Catholics who are spiritual terrorists.  In the book itself what we see are Catholic radicalisms, which bomb and attack the secular community.  These Catholics do not represent the actual Catholic faith, but because of their own lack of spiritual maturity, the world is able to characterize the Church’s position to be one of hatred, rather than mercy and justice.  While the vast minority of Catholics conduct such atrocities, and the Church condemns them, people are actually excited when they occur in the secular world because it merely becomes a means to justify themselves in their own hatred for religion.

This was an incredibly valuable point within the book because it reminds Catholics that radicalism undermines the whole mission of the Church by offering in the minds of the irreligious a chance to avoid any serious consideration of the proposition found in the Gospel.  If our charity was all that people could see, the world would no longer be looking at us in a sad attempt to avoid looking inward.  Rather the world would have a mirror to look upon, seeing itself.  This is the whole wisdom within turning the cheek.  Christ teaches us that this is not a form of passivity, since to slap with the left-hand would mean dishonouring oneself, and to turn the cheek would be an invitation to the other to dishonour themselves.  It means that the Church doesn’t play the game of tit-for-tat, but allows it to end with them, through charity, but also the courage of never backing down from our position.

That is the type of war Christ comes to bring – he seeks to demonstrate that there is a log in the world’s eye, and if they’d stop scape-goating that problem upon the Church with her speck, they would realize they were far worse off for turning their back explicitly on Love itself in an attempt to build a civilization that should rightly be called a Tower of Babylon, Cain’s city.

But that speck in the eye of the Church perhaps should be discussed more at length.  It isn’t the case that our sins are less grave than the worlds – in some cases they are far more grave because we are the Church.  The hypocrisy naturally will turn stomachs.  But we must see it for what it is:  when the members of the Church fall as they do, it is not the Church that has inspired this, but rather the worship of man, that secularized pride that has infiltrated the Church herself.  Why else would the world support organizations that produce so much money like the Porn Industry, than criticize the Catholic Church – the largest charitable organization on the face of the planet (doing more than anyone else) for not giving enough money to the poor.  It is to opt out of the very real nature of the Church by confusing her corrupt members as her genuine representatives – and to morally justify ourselves by pointing out that ambiguity, while ironically doing it to validate the log in our own eye.

Part I – Finished

Coming up:  Part II:  Freemasonry, Communism, the Anti-Christ

 

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In the past few months of ministry I have had the unfortunate experience of burying many people who died, not of old-age, but because of sudden and unexpected medical complications.  There is only one thing that is certain about this life, and death is its name.  All of us are going to die, and as much as we would like to think we have control over this, we really do not.   “For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thes 5:2).  All of this helped me to wake up a little-bit in my own spiritual life.  Every once and awhile I am reminded of the tangible reality of my deathFuneral before me, and I begin to reassess my priorities in life.  When we face the finality of death there is no more time for repentance.  Death brings a type of finality that is similar to the finality of wet-concrete transitioning into something hard.  Once my soul is fixed in a particular way, it is that way for all eternity.  The malleability in this life, within the context of grace and time, gives us the chance to be conformed to the image of Christ who teaches us what it means to be truly human. Continue reading

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May 5, 2016 · 10:53 am

Repentant Generation: Rise Up

Repentance is difficult when we confront a sinful lifestyle or attitude we have been rooted in for a number of years.  The difficulty with persisting in error is we begin to be wrapped up in our own accomplishments and understand our identity in the decisions we have made for our families, our Church, and our world.  But what happens when we confront the voice of Christ who tells us that for much of our life what we have offered was nothing more than a weed rather than wheat?  Imagine a priest who spent his time with a pastoral aspiration to bring others back to the faith and yet is confronted with a declining faith in a culture that has been inundated with his own philosophy.  Imagine a child saying to their parents, “You didn’t raise me well, you made many mistakes, and I will never raise my children like you did.”  pleading Continue reading

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Christ’s First Temptation: Resolve World Hunger

When examining the temptations that Christ faced in the Desert we must consider how the devil was attempting to deceive and attack Christ.  We sometimes read these temptations in a very superficial or worldly sense, but fail to examine the deeper and more profound implications.   I would like to reflect on one particular temptation that Christ faced, and that is turning a rock into bread.

We all know that Christ was being tempted in the way of food because he had been fasting.  But should we not go a bit deeper into this reflection than mere hunger?  First of all, why was Christ fasting in the first place?  What is the point of fasting? Continue reading

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Spiritual Sweet Tooth and Pious Joy

The Tower of Babel is a powerful reminder to all Christians alike that no matter what we create, it will never climb the skies to finally reach the heavens.  There is nothing we can do to cross the infinite divide of heaven and earth to secure our own eternal happiness.  Science can secure many things, but it will never quench our thirst for eternal joy and security in God’s Kingdom.  Secular Humanism, offers us nothing more than a half-truth, run often by sentiments that proclaim “serve thy neighbour” but that neighbour is usually some ideology, rather than a real person, and the person is far away.  We find it much easier to serve someone we don’t knPriest and Nunow and rarely have to talk to, than the difficult-to-handle, next-door neighbour.  We are more in love with the idea of “humanity” than particular human persons.  And finally, even if our love for our neighbour was good by a worldly standard and the cardinal virtues, it still would not suffice to bring us what we thirst for in the depths of our soul.  We will die, and no human being can overcome that, along with the loved ones who depart.  Apart from fond memories, embellished by our own desperation to hold onto something good, we fail to realize that the persons we love never really quenched our thirst for total fulfillment. Continue reading

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Taming the Tongue: The Narrative Method

In seminary formation we were introduced to a form of counseling called “Rogers.” At least that is how we refer to it. It might be considered “narrative therapy.” We are not qualified as therapists of course and that really is not our calling. However, this slight introduction has been quite priestshelpful to my ministry, and has given me a moderate way to correct people while recognizing a perhaps sensitive nature that might not be open to correction.

As Ecclesiastes teaches us, there is a time for this and a time for that. We must be prudent in our discernment of what method we use to go about correcting one another. But one thing remains certain: we must be intentional about it, and not mastered by our own impulsiveness and anger.

I would like to introduce one method that is a bit indirect, and may not be used at all times, but is helpful at others. Continue reading

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