Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Transitions


In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling. (Exodus 15:13)

We may have sold our house. A buyer is considering our counter-offer and we should hear something this afternoon.

We have had it on the market for a couple of weeks now, and allowed the realtor to set it at an extremely attractive price. Now I'm praying that the inspections and financing come through without any major suprises.

As Steve remarked this morning, "we have done a lot of living here." Joanna was 6 months old and crawling when we moved from Nebraska to Oregon. She is now 15 and learning to drive.
Susan had just finished kindergarten. She is now finishing her senior year of college. All our parents were alive. Now they have passed on. We owned one computer when we first came. Now we each have one, and there are laptops floating around besides. I was not diabetic, but I was battling depression. Now I test my blood twice daily but am no longer depressed.

When we bought this house, the backyard was spotted with holes dug by the previous owner's dogs, and there were no trees or plants. We leave it our home with

Trees:

a blue spruce
a ginko
a dogwood
a Douglas fir
two Thundercloud plums

Shrubs and vines:

2 camelias
3 hydrangeas
1 pieris
3 azaleas
1 rhodie
a boxwood
2 euonymus
2 jasmine
13 clematis
a fencefull of raspberries
a half dozen blueberry bushes
one lingonberry bush

Roses:
Winchester Cathedral
Mary Rose
Pristine
John F. Kennedy
2 Sunsprites
Julia Child
Gemini
Sheer Bliss
Johann Strauss
Peace
America
2 Queen Elizabeths
2 Double Delights
Sexy Rexy
Joseph Coat
(and in the front:)
Scentimental
2 Bonicas
The Fairy

Perennials

hostas, centaurea, delphiniums, dahlias, iris, lily of the valley, sweet woodruff, phlox, oriental poppies, lamb's ear, peach leaved bellflowers, perennial geranium, iberis, daylillies, bishops' weed, Japanese anemones, foxgloves, obedient plant, calla lilies, oriental and Asian lilies; rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley, lavenders

and a peony

Monday, April 28, 2008

Susan Celebrates Orthodox Easter


Aunt Voula: What do you mean he don't eat no meat?
[the entire room stops, in shock]
Aunt Voula: Oh, that's okay. I make lamb.

--My Big Fat Greek Wedding


One of Susan's roommates is Greek Orthodox, and invited her home last weekend to celebrate Orthodox Easter. The Orthodox go vegan for Lent.

Susan writes:
I just got back this evening from Easter festivities at Megan's church. They were very kind and gracious, and it was a fun time, but I'm a bit worn out from it all. You all would have loved their "agape feast" this afternoon: they roasted an entire lamb on a spit, had tons of Greek (and Ethiopian) dishes, and piled up mounds of desserts.

Apparently the church members were upset that the butcher had cut off the head, so that they had to roast it in the oven. (!)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Sign of Kathy



While visiting A. on Friday, there was a minute where Momma D. left the room. A. was weak but lucid, and she urgently whispered, "How long will it take?"

"I don't know. That's not for us to say. But there used to be a woman in our congregation who was a hospice nurse. Her name was Kathy, but she's now in Alaska. She would have been able to tell you all about what to expect. She used to talk about how the dying people she was caring for--at the very end-- would often see bright lights, relatives and friends who had already passed on, welcoming them into the next world. How I wish she were here for you to talk to."

Our conversation ended abruptly, as Mamma D. re-entered the room.

The next morning I made Steve and Joanna their usual Saturday morning breakfast: waffles made from scratch. We were just about sit sit down to eat when the phone rang. I expected it to be a realtor, wanting to show our house, but the voice was vaguely familiar.

"Hi Beth! It's Kathy N. I'm here in Eugene and I was wondering if you'd like to get together to go for a walk."

Kathy? Kathy! Here in Oregon, come all the way from Alaska's Kodiak Island. I now know exactly how that Ethipian eunuch must have felt when Philip showed up alongside his chariot. Seems the Spirit had been pressing her to quit her job as a school nurse to volunteer for a year with Medical Teams International. She was here to talk with people from the organization and iron out the details of her position as a mental health counselor for disasters and areas in crisis.

The Lord has a way of weaving lots of disparate threads together, doesn't he? Kathy and I marvelled at how He had orchestrated our reunion, and then we had a wonderful walk. She listened patiently as I spilled the entire story and offered some wise advice born of her experience. Then we both went to visit A. Unfortunately A. was exhausted and unable to converse, but Kathy played a borrowed guitar and we both sang for her.

Mamma D. has demanded a miracle. The only sign she will accept is her daughter's healing. H., too, is frantically searching for a miracle. He has heard a story about someone in Egypt who was healed of his terminal cancer when three of his friends fasted for three days. Today H. begins his fast, convinced that somehow it will force God's hand.

Matthew 12:39-39
Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you."
He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.


It seems to be the case that it is only when we first accept the sign of Jonah--the resurrected Christ-- that God is ready to give us other signs, signs which in turn point back to Him. This weekend, A. and I were given the sign of Kathy. Sadly, H. and Momma D. couldn't receive it.

Matthew 12:39-39
What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived—these things God has prepared for those who love him"—for God has revealed them to us by his Spirit.

I pray for the day when H and Mamma D.'s hearts will be opened, so that their ears might hear and their eyes might see.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Life is Not Fair



It's not fair that H. should be losing his beautiful young wife. It's not fair that M. will grow up without his mother around. It's not fair that Mamma D. is watching her daughter die in a foreign land, where she is deprived of the support of friends and family.

On the other hand, this life is not fair, but this is not our only life.
Before something can be broken, it must exist as a whole. Before something falls, it must have be balanced. Evil is always a privation of good: a twisting, an absence, a deprivation of something positive, real, true and beautiful. The good news is that we have a Lord who loves what He has created so much that He is in the process of healing that which fell, and repairing that which is broken.

I believe friendship is one of the ways He is accomplishing that.

C.S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves:

For a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples,"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another." The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship, God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as revealing. At this feast it is He who has spread the board, and it is He who has chosen the guests. it is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.

I shall always remember this afternoon, sitting between my two dear friends, J and A, and in the presence of our Mutual Friend, Jesus. May His peace be ours tonight, with each of us receiving the sort of healing we need.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Music to Die By


A. is now home under hospice care. She is actually doing much better, now that her pain is under better control. She was able to sit up in bed and have a conversation with Steve and H. about how she wants a Christian funeral, "but with music that is quieter than on Sundays." Mamma D. was not present, which was why this conversation could occur.

On Friday, I stayed at the hospital with her so H. could go back home to let in people bringing a hospital bed. Mamma D. wanted me to pray for a miracle. She kept touching a copy of the Koran to the top of A.'s bare head, as if it were some sort of talisman.

I didn't think I could/should do it, because
1) the Lord has had plenty of chances to do one, and seems to have His reasons for not doing so, and
2) Most importantly, it would reinforce a "Magic Jesus" image that isn't who our Lord really is.

So instead I spoke to A. about how Jesus had gone on to prepare a place for us, and that it looked like she would soon be assisting Him. We spoke of those who await us, and the joy of that reunion, and the prospect of a new body and never, ever weeping or being in pain again. I didn't think Mamma D. could understand me, but apparently she takes in more than she can communicate. She began crying hysterically, insisting I quit speaking about death and demanding that I pray for a miracle. "You cannot leave me! What will I do without you? You must stay!" she wailed at A.

I suppose I am just not culturally sensitive. This may very well be the way Iranians express their anguish, but it seemed to me to be selfish and upsetting for A. Yes, any mother would be wild with grief, in the face of her child's suffering and death. But what mother would seek to perpetuate and increase her child's suffering, in order to satisfy her own needs? On the other hand, I don't know how well I would do if I were in another country, unable to speak the language or have friends nearby to support me.

Still, I was very angry and frustrated for A's sake. What to do? It was clear that if I didn't pray for a miracle, I was in trouble, and if I did, and it didn't occur, I would be in trouble. I'd lose either way. So I simply prayed for Christ's peace and deliverance, for both A. and her mother, and then made a quick exit.

Since then Steve has visited a couple of times. He has given A. communion and annointed her with oil. Mamma D. seems more controlled in his presence than in mine.

As I have been working and thinking about A., I have been listening over and over to "Akathist Of Thanksgiving" by John Tavener from the album of the same name. The words and music have brought me great solace. A. wants music for her funeral, that "will be quieter than on Sundays." Well, if it were me, this is what I would want both for the process and the completion of my death.

According to Orthodoxwiki, an akathist

"...is a hymn dedicated to a saint, holy event, or one of the persons of the Holy Trinity. The word akathist itself means "not sitting."

Like a sonnet, an akathist has a definite structure. It is divided into 13 parts, and each part has one section that usually ends with an "alleluia!" (the kontikion) and another section that somewhere within it contains an entreaty like "come!" or "rejoice!" (the ikos).

Again, according to Orthodoxwiki,

The akathist "Glory to God for All Things" or "of Thanksgiving" is often attributed to Priest Gregory Petrov who died in a Soviet prison camp in 1940, but also to Metropolitan Tryphon (Prince Boris Petrovich Turkestanov) +1934. The title is from the words of St. John Chrysostom as he was dying in exile. It is a song of praise from amidst the most terrible sufferings.

Taverner only sets 10 sections of Petrov's poem, and it is the haunting Kontakion 9 and the ethereal Kontakian 10 that I have been holding close in spirit.

KONTAKION 9:

(Chorus) I have often see your glory
Reflected on the faces of the dead!
With what unearthly beauty and with what joy they shone.
How spiritual, their features immaterial,
It was a triumph of gladness acheived, of peace;
In silence they called to you.
At the hour of my end illumine my soul also,
As it cries, Alleluia, Alleluia.

You can hear/see the music video of a part of Kontakion 9
here

KONTAKION 10
(Chorus) Glory to you, O God!
(Soloists) Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
(Chorus) O all good and life giving Trintiy...
(Soloists) Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
(Chorus) ...accept the gratitude for all your mercy and show us worthy of your goodness...
(Soloists) Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
(Chorus) ...that having increased the talents entrusted to us...
(Soloists) Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
(Chorus) ...we may enter into the everlasting joy of our Lord, Singing the song of victory.
(All) Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
(Basses) Glory.

This is music to die by, and by which to enter into eternal life. May A. be spared the hysterics and wailing, and be given such music instead.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A. hears the truth


Finally.

Steve just called with the news. A's doctor has admitted that there is nothing more he can do.

Steve was there this morning when the doctor came to speak with H., and H. asked Steve to be with him for that talk. (That alone was reason to praise God.) Steve was able to help the doctor to convince H. that any further treatments will increase and prolong her suffering. It was bitter news for H.

H. told the doctor that in Iranian culture, one does not speak of dying, particularly to the person who is ill. The doctor bluntly responded that this is the U.S. and he has a responsibility to tell his patients what their condition is, which is what he proceeded to do. A. made it clear she does not want any more surgery, or feeding tubes. The doctor is recommending hospice, but it sounds like she will stay in the hospital for a few more days. Does she even have that long, I wonder?

Momma D. is a mess...she was under the impression they could get A. well enough so she could go back to Iran to see her brothers and then die. The doctor said absolutely no way will this happen.

I am going to get cleaned up and go see A. Perhaps now we can speak openly, before her family, about what lies ahead for her in Christ, instead of whispering.

Last night I ran into a friend who had been visiting A. She was weeping. "I am so angry with God," she confessed. "He could have done a miracle here, and then they would have believed. That whole family could have been won for Jesus!"

"Yes, but which Jesus?" I mused. "Magic Jesus? They've heard enough of him from some of H's friends. Power Jesus? But that would have just been Allah with a different name. Dying and rising Jesus? Now that is the Jesus who is the Truth."

Now that A. has heard the truth, may she soon see Him.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Off to UT--Canada, that is



Our daughter Susan has been accepted and is going to the University of Toronto this fall for graduate studies in Classics!






A. in the hospital



A. hasn't eaten in a week. She is wafer-thin, weak and in horrific agony. Even in the morphine doesn't seem to penetrate the deepest crevices of pain. She lies in her hospital bed, moaning, only semi-conscious.

Lord Jesus, show yourself to be the Good Shepherd that You are, by gathering this lamb in your arms and leading her to greener pastures. Just a year ago she saw you beckoning to her. Now may she see you open the gate, as she awaits her full redemption.

The birth pangs are too hard! Shorten her labor and deliver her from the evil of this cancer. Bring her to that place where there are no more tears, where Your peace replaces all pain.

In your name we pray,
Amen

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ups and Downs


A. is choosing to fight.

A's husband, H. and her mother, Mamma D. went into hysterics Wednesday when A. told them she couldn't stand any more chemo. "You must fight!" they insisted. Mamma D. cried about all the misfortunes in her life, the five years she spent caring for her ill husband, the losses of their property value since the war in Iraq, etc. "We cannot live without you!" cried H. "I will die if you die. Then what will happen to M.?" Lots of shouting and tears.

It all scared and shamed A. so much that she agreed to abide by whatever her doctor says to do next, when she sees him on Monday. If that means chemo, then chemo it is, "even if I am tortured, I will do it for them, and for my son. God is in control. If He wants me to go up there, then I go. If not, then I must do what I can to stay. So, Beth, please, you must support me and tell me to fight. Do not tempt me to go, or let me talk about going."

Philippians 4:11-12
"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,

To which I responded: "A., it is your choice. I am your friend, your sister in Christ. I will support you whatever you decide. Do you trust Him? Hope in Him?"

"Yes, He will help me. I am not afraid to go; but if I must stay, He will help me."

It seemed like the mirror image of Matthew 8:8-10; instead of

The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

A's story reads like this:

"Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and I will either live or die. For I myself am a woman under authority, with a husband and family over me. They tell me go, and I go; they tell me come, and I come. I am their servant. They say to me, "do this, and I do it. So I trust you. You have all authority in heaven and on earth. I want to be your servant. You decide, and I will obey."

However, I think the conclusion of the story is the same:

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

Oh, how I ache for the day when Jesus can not only call A., but H., his family, and Mamma D. his friends!


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Why Catholicism makes Protestantism Tick


apropos a recent post by Scot McKnight about Thomas Howard, I reproduce this essay by Mark Brumley.


Why Catholicism Makes Protestantism Tick: Louis Bouyer on the Reformation

Mark Brumley

http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features/mbrumley_bouyer1_nov04.asp

Interpreting the Reformation is complicated business. But like many complicated things, it can be simplified sufficiently well that even non-experts can get the gist of it.

Here's what seems a fairly accurate but simplified summary of the issue: The break between Catholics and Protestants was either a tragic necessity (to use Jaroslav Pelikan's expression) or it was tragic because unnecessary.

Many Protestants see the Catholic/Protestant split as a tragic necessity, although the staunchly anti-Catholic kind of Protestant often sees nothing tragic about it. Or if he does, the tragedy is that there ever was such a thing as the Roman Catholic Church that the Reformers had to separate from. His motto is "Come out from among them" and five centuries of Christian disunity has done nothing to cool his anti-Roman fervor.

Yet for most Protestants, even for most conservative Protestants, this is not so. They believe God "raised up" Luther and the other Reformers to restore the Gospel in its purity. They regret that this required a break with Roman Catholics (hence the tragedy) but fidelity to Christ, on their view, demanded it (hence the necessity).

Catholics agree with their more agreeable Protestant brethren that the sixteenth century division among Christians was tragic. But most Catholics who think about it also see it as unnecessary. At least unnecessary in the sense that what Catholics might regard as genuine issues raised by the Reformers could, on the Catholic view, have been addressed without the tragedy of dividing Christendom.

Yet we can go further than decrying the Reformation as unnecessary. In his ground-breaking work, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, Louis Bouyer argued that the Catholic Church herself is necessary for the full flowering of the Reformation principles. In other words, you need Catholicism to make Protestantism work–for Protestantism's principles fully to develop. Thus, the Reformation was not only unnecessary; it was impossible. What the Reformers sought, argues Bouyer, could not be achieved without the Catholic Church.

From Bouyer's conclusion we can infer at least two things. First, Protestantism can't be all wrong, otherwise how could the Catholic Church bring about the "full flowering of the principles of the Reformation"? Second, left to itself, Protestantism will go astray and be untrue to some of its central principles. It's these two points, as Bouyer articulates them, I would like to consider here.

One thing should be said up-front: although a convert from French Protestantism, Bouyer is no anti-Protestant polemicist. His Spirit and Forms of Protestantism was written a half-century ago, a decade before Vatican II's decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, yet it avoids the bitter anti-Protestantism that sometimes afflicted pre-conciliar Catholic works on Protestantism. That's one reason the book remains useful, even after decades of post-conciliar ecumenism.

In that regard, Bouyer's brief introduction is worth quoting in full:

"This book is a personal witness, a plain account of the way in which a Protestant came to feel himself obliged in conscience to give his adherence to the Catholic Church. No sentiment of revulsion turned him from the religion fostered in him by a Protestant upbringing followed by several years in the ministry. The fact is, he has never rejected it. It was his desire to explore its depths, its full scope, that led him, step by step, to a genuinely spiritual movement stemming from the teachings of the Gospel, and Protestantism as an institution, or rather complexus of institutions, hostile to one another as well as to the Catholic Church. The study of this conflict brought him to detect the fatal error which drove the spiritual movement of Protestantism out of the one Church. He saw the necessity of returning to that Church, not in order to reject any of the positive Christian elements of his religious life, but to enable them, at last, to develop without hindrance.

"The writer, who carved out his way step by step, or rather, saw it opening before his eyes, hopes now to help along those who are still where he started. In addition, he would like to show those he has rejoined how a little more understanding of the others, above all a greater fidelity to their own gift, could help their ‘separated brethren' to receive it in their turn. In this hope he offers his book to all who wish to be faithful to the truth, first, to the Word of God, but also to the truth of men as they are, not as our prejudices and habits impel us to see them."

Bouyer, then, addresses both Protestants and Catholics. To the Protestants, he says, in effect, "It is fidelity to our Protestant principles, properly understood, that has led me into the Catholic Church." To the Catholics, he says, "Protestantism isn't as antithetical to the Catholic Faith as you suppose. It has positive principles, as well as negative ones. Its positive principles, properly understood, belong to the Catholic Tradition, which we Catholics can see if we approach Protestantism with a bit of understanding and openness."

The Reformation was Right

Bouyer's argument is that the Reformation's main principle was essentially Catholic: "Luther's basic intuition, on which Protestantism continuously draws for its abiding vitality, so far from being hard to reconcile with Catholic tradition, or inconsistent with the teaching of the Apostles, was a return to the clearest elements of their teaching, and in the most direct line of that tradition."

1. Sola Gratia. What was the Reformation's main principle? Not, as many Catholics and even some Protestants think, "private judgment" in religion. According to Bouyer, "the true fundamental principle of Protestantism is the gratuitousness of salvation"–sola gratia. He writes, "In the view of Luther, as well as of all those faithful to his essential teaching, man without grace can, strictly speaking, do nothing of the slightest value for salvation. He can neither dispose himself for it, nor work for it in any independent fashion. Even his acceptance of grace is the work of grace. To Luther and his authentic followers, justifying faith . . . is quite certainly, the first and most fundamental grace."

Bouyer then shows how, contrary to what many Protestants and some Catholics think, salvation sola gratia is also Catholic teaching. He underscores the point to any Catholics who might think otherwise:

"If, then, any Catholic–and there would seem to be many such these days–whose first impulse is to reject the idea that man, without grace, can do nothing towards his salvation, that he cannot even accept the grace offered except by a previous grace, that the very faith which acknowledges the need of grace is a purely gratuitous gift, he would do well to attend closely to the texts we are about to quote."

In other words, "Listen up, Catholics!"

Bouyer quotes, at length, from the Second Council of Orange (529), the teaching of which was confirmed by Pope Boniface II as de fide or part of the Church's faith. The Council asserted that salvation is the work of God's grace and that even the beginning of faith or the consent to saving grace is itself the result of grace. By our natural powers, we can neither think as we ought nor choose any good pertaining to salvation. We can only do so by the illumination and impulse of the Holy Spirit.

Nor is it merely that man is limited in doing good. The Council affirmed that, as a result of the Fall, man is inclined to will evil. His freedom is gravely impaired and can only be repaired by God's grace. Following a number of biblical quotations, the Council states, "[W]e are obliged, in the mercy of God, to preach and believe that, through sin of the first man, the free will is so weakened and warped, that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought, or believe in God, or do good for the sake of God, unless moved, previously, by the grace of the divine mercy . . . . Our salvation requires that we assert and believe that, in every good work we do, it is not we who have the initiative, aided, subsequently, by the mercy of God, but that he begins by inspiring faith and love towards him, without any prior merit of ours."

The Council of Trent, writes Bouyer, repeated that teaching, ruling out "a parallel action on the part of God and man, a sort of ‘synergism', where man contributes, in the work of salvation, something, however slight, independent of grace." Even where Trent insists that man is not saved passively, notes Bouyer, it doesn't assert some independent, human contribution to salvation. Man freely cooperates in salvation, but his free cooperation is itself the result of grace. Precisely how this is so is mysterious, and the Church has not settled on a particular theological explanation. But that it is so, insist Bouyer, is Catholic teaching. Thus, concludes Bouyer, "the Catholic not only may, but must in virtue of his own faith, give a full and unreserved adherence to the sola gratia, understood in the positive sense we have seen upheld by Protestants."

2. Sola Fide: So much for sola gratia. But what about the other half of the Reformation principle regarding salvation, the claim that justification by grace comes through faith alone (sola fide)?

According to Bouyer, the main thrust of the doctrine of sola fide was to affirm that justification was wholly the work of God and to deny any positive human contribution apart from grace. Faith was understood as man's grace-enabled, grace-inspired, grace-completed response to God's saving initiative in Jesus Christ. What the Reformation initially sought to affirm, says Bouyer, was that such a response is purely God's gift to man, with man contributing nothing of his own to receive salvation.

In other words, it isn't as if God does his part and man cooperates by doing his part, even if that part is minuscule. The Reformation insisted that God does his part, which includes enabling and moving man to receive salvation in Christ. Man's "part" is to believe, properly understood, but faith too is the work of God, so man contributes nothing positively of his own. As Bouyer points out, this central concern of the Reformation also happened to be defined Catholic teaching, reaffirmed by the Council of Trent.

In a sense, the Reformation debate was over the nature of saving faith, not over whether faith saves. St. Thomas Aquinas, following St. Augustine and the patristic understanding of faith and salvation, said that saving faith was faith "formed by charity." In other words, saving faith involves at least the beginnings of the love of God. In this way, Catholics could speak of "justification by grace alone, through faith alone," if the "alone" was meant to distinguish the gift of God (faith) from any purely human contribution apart from grace; but not if "alone" was meant to offset faith from grace-enabled, grace-inspired, grace-accomplished love of God or charity.

For Catholic theologians of the time, the term "faith" was generally used in the highly refined sense of the gracious work of God in us by which we assent to God's Word on the authority of God who reveals. In this sense, faith is distinct from entrusting oneself to God in hope and love, though obviously faith is, in a way, naturally ordered to doing so: God gives man faith so that man can entrust himself to God in hope and love. But faith, understood as mere assent (albeit graced assent), is only the beginning of salvation. It needs to be "informed" or completed by charity, also the work of grace.

Luther and his followers, though, rejected the Catholic view that "saving faith" was "faith formed by charity" and therefore not "faith alone", where "faith" is understood as mere assent to God's Word, apart from trust and love. In large part, this was due to a misunderstanding by Luther. "We must not be misled on this point," writes Bouyer, "by Luther's later assertions opposed to the fides caritate formata [faith informed by charity]. His object in disowning this formula was to reject the idea that faith justified man only if there were added to it a love proceeding from a natural disposition, not coming as a gift of God, the whole being the gift of God." Yet Luther's view of faith, contents Bouyer, seems to imply an element of love, at least in the sense of a total self-commitment to God. And, of course, this love must be both the response to God's loving initiative and the effect of that initiative by which man is enabled and moved to respond. But once again, this is Catholic doctrine, for the charity that "informs" faith so that it becomes saving faith is not a natural disposition, but is as much the work of God as the assent of faith.

Thus, Bouyer's point is that the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide) was initially seen by the Reformers as a way of upholding justification by grace alone (sola gratia), which is also a fundamental Catholic truth. Only later, as a result of controversy, did the Reformers insist on identifying justification by faith alone with a negative principle that denied any form of cooperation, even grace-enabled cooperation.

3. Sola Scriptura: Melanchthon, the colleague of Luther, called justification sola gratia, sola fide the "Material Principle" of the Reformation. But there was also the Formal Principle, the doctrine of sola Scriptura or what Bouyer calls the sovereign authority of Scripture. What of that?

Here, too, says Bouyer, the Reformation’s core positive principle is correct. The Word of God, rather than a human word, must govern the life of the Christian and of the Church. And the Word of God is found in a unique and supreme form in the Bible, the inspired Word of God. The inspiration of the Bible means that God is the primary author of Scripture. Since we can say that about no other writing or formal expression of the Church’s Faith, not even conciliar or papal definitions of faith, the Bible alone is the Word of God in this sense and therefore it possesses a unique authority.

Yet the supremacy of the Bible does not imply an opposition between it and the authority of the Church or Tradition, as certain negative principles adopted by the Reformers implied. Furthermore, the biblical spirituality of Protestantism, properly understood, is in keeping with the best traditions of Catholic spirituality, especially those of the Fathers and the great medieval theologians. Through Scripture, God speaks to us today, offering a living Word to guide our lives in Christ.

Thus, writes Bouyer, "the supreme authority of Scripture, taken in its positive sense, as gradually drawn out and systematized by Protestants themselves, far from setting the Church and Protestantism in opposition, should be the best possible warrant for their return to understanding and unity."

The Reformation was Wrong

Where does this leave us? If the Reformation was right about sola gratia and sola Scriptura, its two key principles, how was it wrong? Bouyer holds that only the positive elements of these Reformation principles are correct.

Unfortunately, these principles were unnecessarily linked by the Reformers to certain negative elements, which the Catholic Church had to reject. Here we consider two of those elements: 1) the doctrine of extrinsic justification and the nature of justifying faith and 2) the authority of the Bible.

1. Extrinsic Justification. Regarding justification by grace alone, it was the doctrine of extrinsic justification and the rejection of the Catholic view of faith formed by charity as "saving faith." Bouyer writes, "The further Luther advanced in his conflict with other theologians, then with Rome, then with the whole of contemporary Catholicism and finally with the Catholicism of every age, the more closely we see him identifying affirmation about sola gratia with a particular theory, known as extrinsic justification."

Extrinsic justification is the idea that justification occurs outside of man, rather than within him. Catholicism, as we have seen, holds that justification is by grace alone. In that sense, it originates outside of man, with God’s grace. But, according to Catholic teaching, God justifies man by effecting a change within him, by making him just or righteous, not merely by saying he is just or righteous or treating him as if he were. Justification imparts the righteousness of Christ to man, transforming him by grace into a child of God.

The Reformation view was different. The Reformers, like the Catholic Church, insisted that justification is by grace and therefore originates outside of man, with God. But they also insisted that when God justifies man, man is not changed but merely declared just or righteous. God treats man as if he were just or righteous, imputing to man the righteousness of Christ, rather than imparting it to him.

The Reformers held this view for two reasons. First, because they came to think it necessary in order to uphold the gratuitousness of justification. Second, because they thought the Bible taught it. On both points, argues Bouyer, the Reformers were mistaken. There is neither a logical nor a biblical reason why God cannot effect a change in man without undercutting justification by grace alone. Whatever righteousness comes to be in man as a result of justification is a gift, as much any other gift God bestows on man. Nor does the Bible’s treatment of "imputed" righteousness imply that justification is not imparted. On these points, the Reformers were simply wrong:

"Without the least doubt, grace, for St. Paul, however freely given, involves what he calls ‘the new creation’, the appearance in us of a ‘new man’, created in justice and holiness. So far from suppressing the efforts of man, or making them a matter of indifference, or at least irrelevant to salvation, he himself tells us to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’, at the very moment when he affirms that ‘. . . knowing that it is God who works in you both to will and to accomplish.’ These two expressions say better than any other that all is grace in our salvation, but at the same time grace is not opposed to human acts and endeavor in order to attain salvation, but arouses them and exacts their performance."

Calvin, notes Bouyer, tried to circumvent the biblical problems of the extrinsic justification theory by positing a systematic distinction between justification, which puts us in right relation to God but which, on the Protestant view, doesn’t involve a change in man; and sanctification, which transforms us. Yet, argues Bouyer, this systematic distinction isn’t biblical. In the Bible, justification and sanctification–as many modern Protestant exegetes admit–are two different terms for the same process. Both occur by grace through faith and both involve a faith "informed by charity" or completed by love. As Bouyer contends, faith in the Pauline sense, "supposes the total abandonment of man to the gift of God"–which amounts to love of God. He argues that it is absurd to think that the man justified by faith, who calls God "Abba, Father," doesn’t love God or doesn’t have to love him in order to be justified.

2. Sola Scriptura vs. Church and Tradition. Bouyer also sees a negative principle that the Reformation unnecessarily associated with sola Scriptura or the sovereignty of the Bible. Yes, the Bible alone is the Word of God in the sense that only the Bible is divinely inspired. And yes the Bible’s authority is supreme in the sense that neither the Church nor the Church’s Tradition "trumps" Scripture. But that doesn’t mean that the Word of God in an authoritative form is found only in the Bible, for the Word of God can be communicated in a non-inspired, yet authoritative form as well. Nor does it mean that there can be no authoritative interpreter of the Bible (the Magisterium) or authoritative interpretation of biblical doctrine (Tradition). Repudiation of the Church’s authority and Tradition simply doesn’t follow from the premise of Scripture’s supremacy as the inspired Word of God. Furthermore, the Tradition and authority of the Church are required to determine the canon of the Bible.

Luther and Calvin did not follow the Radical Reformation in rejecting any role for Church authority or Tradition altogether. But they radically truncated such a role. Furthermore, they provided no means by which the Church, as a community of believers, could determine when the Bible was being authentically interpreted or who within the community had the right to make such a determination for the community. In this way, they ultimately undercut the supremacy of the Bible, for they provided no means by which the supreme authority of the Bible could, in fact, be exercised in the Church as a whole. The Bible’s authority extended only so far as the individual believer’s interpretation of it allowed.

The Catholic Church and Reformation Principles

As we have seen, Bouyer argues for the Reformation’s "positive principles" and against its "negative principles." But how did what was right from one point of view in the Reformation go so wrong from another point of view? Bouyer argues that the under the influence of decadent scholasticism, mainly Nominalism, the Reformers unnecessarily inserted the negative elements into their ideas along with the positive principles. "Brought up on these lines of thought, identified with them so closely they could not see beyond them," he writes, "the Reformers could only systematize their very valuable insights in a vitiated framework."

The irony is profound. The Reformation sought to recover "genuine Christianity" by hacking through what it regarded as the vast overgrowth of medieval theology. Yet to do so, the Reformers wielded swords forged in the fires of the worst of medieval theology–the decadent scholasticism of Nominalism.

The negative principles of the Reformation necessarily led the Catholic Church to reject the movement–though not, in fact, its fundamental positive principles, which were essentially Catholic. Eventually, argues Bouyer, through a complex historical process, these negative elements ate away at the positive principles as well. The result was liberal Protestantism, which wound up affirming the very things Protestantism set out to deny (man’s ability to save himself) and denying things Protestantism began by affirming (sola gratia).

Bouyer contends that the only way to safeguard the positive principles of the Reformation is through the Catholic Church. For only in the Catholic Church are the positive principles the Reformation affirmed found without the negative elements the Reformers mistakenly affixed to them. But how to bring this about?

Bouyer says that both Protestants and Catholics have responsibilities here. Protestants must investigate their roots and consider whether the negative elements of the Reformation, such as extrinsic justification and the rejection of a definitive Church teaching authority and Tradition, are necessary to uphold the positive principles of sola gratia and the supremacy of Scripture. If not, then how is continued separation from the Catholic Church justified? Furthermore, if, as Bouyer contends, the negative elements of the Reformation were drawn from a decadent theology and philosophy of the Middle Ages and not Christian antiquity, then it is the Catholic Church that has upheld the true faith and has maintained a balance regarding the positive principles of the Reformation that Protestantism lacks. In this way, the Catholic Church is needed for Protestantism to live up to its own positive principles.

Catholics have responsibilities as well. One major responsibility is to be sure they have fully embraced their own Church’s teaching on the gratuitousness of salvation and the supremacy of the Bible. As Bouyer writes, "Catholics are in fact too prone to forget that, if the Church bears within herself, and cannot ever lose, the fullness of Gospel truth, its members, at any given time and place, are always in need of a renewed effort to apprehend this truth really and not just, as Newman would say, ‘notionally’." "To Catholics, lukewarm and unaware of their responsibilities," he adds, the Reformation, properly understood, "recalls the existence of many of their own treasures which they overlook."

Only if Catholics are fully Catholic–which includes fully embracing the positive principles of the Reformation that Bouyer insists are essentially Catholic–can they "legitimately aspire to show and prepare their separated brethren the way to a return which would be for them not a denial but a fulfillment."

Today, as in the sixteenth century, the burden rests with us Catholics. We must live, by God’s abundant grace, up to our high calling in Christ Jesus. And in this way, show our Protestant brethren that their own positive principles are properly expressed only in the Catholic Church.


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Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:
Has The Reformation Ended? An Interview with Dr. Mark Noll
Evangelicals and Catholics In Conversation, Part 1 Interview with Dr. Brad Harper
Evangelicals and Catholics In Conversation, Part 2 Interview with Dr. Brad Harper
Thomas Howard and the Kindly Light IgnatiusInsight.com

This takes faith....


What a stupid time to put a house up for sale! And yet that is exactly what we have decided to do.

It is all happening so quickly. We have an opportunity to purchase an ideal home in Eugene, within walking distance of church and Churchill High School. This have the added benefit of solving some of our financial problems, and save us the $300+ we spend every month for gas to commute from Springfield to Eugene. The catch? There's a 10 month backlog of homes in the Eugene-Springfield area, and we must sell our house in 45 days, or the deal collapses.

So we are frantically trying to get our home ready to list by the weekend, in order to take advantage of whatever activity there is out there during the normally "hot" spring season. Off to pack and paint. I may be incommunicado for a while.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Philosophy Majors

Famed philosophy major Steve Martin as Jean-Paul Sartre?

Brad alerts us to the article in The New York Times Education section, saying "It's once again cool to be a philosophy major." It's nice to get some credit...but I'm wondering when it ever was cool before! ; ) At least those Athenians weren't totally convinced when they made their hemlock cocktail for Socrates.

According to the NY Times,

Once scoffed at as a luxury major, philosophy is being embraced at Rutgers and other universities by a new generation of college students who are drawing modern-day lessons from the age-old discipline as they try to make sense of their world, from the morality of the war in Iraq to the latest political scandal. The economic downturn has done little, if anything, to dampen this enthusiasm among students, who say that what they learn in class can translate into practical skills and careers. On many campuses, debate over modern issues like war and technology is emphasized over the study of classic ancient texts.

Well, this is encouraging, except for the last part. Healthy, vigorous debate happens when we do not reinvent the wheel, but are aware of past answers and dead ends. A philosopher's laboratory is largely built of classic texts: ancient ones included. For instance, any talk about war and technology that ignores Plato's Republic will be sorely handicapped.

The trick is to keep the balance. Philosophy is constantly tempted to be defined as the perpetual adoration of past intellectual history, or as the urgent enterprise of arguing over the latest, fashionable problem of the day. Ancient texts are dead if we cannot hear them speak to our day (and that just doesn't apply to the Scriptures.) But contemporary discussions that ignore the past are intellectually arrogant and morally stunted.

Philosophy, a luxury major! Yes, the way any liberal art major is a "luxury." In a world of work and utility, these cannot make any sense. But as Josef Pieper reminds us in Leisure, the Basis of Culture, the root of "school" is the Greek word, "skole," which means leisure. Yes, leisure can be construed as a luxury, but it is also necessary if we are to be human:

"But the Gods, taking pity on mankind, born to work, laid down the succession of recurring Feasts to restore them from their fatigue, and gave them the Muses, and Apollo their leader, and Dionysus, as companions in their Feasts, so that nourishing themselves in festive companionship with the Gods, they should again stand upright and erect." --Plato

cf. this handout from Phoenix College, a Maricopa Community College.

See also, How Philosophy Pays Off in an information economy.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Gift of Listening to Difficult Things


A. is dying, and she can't talk about it with her family.

She spent two days in the hospital last week, after passing out for so long with such shallow respiration and reflexes that her family feared she had died. She had a conversation with Steve, seeking "permission" not to fight anymore (see below). Today I visited, and she whispered to me that she was ready.

Momma D. and Momma B. were in the room with us, so A. couldn't speak freely. She told me, quickly, that she had broached the subject of her death with her husband, H. a few days ago. "When I am gone, the bed will seem empty, so take M. (their little son) to sleep with you," she pleaded. But H. couldn't stand it. "Don't talk that way! You must fight! You're driving me crazy!"

H. didn't sleep any that night, and when he got up he had a headache all day. When A. heard this in the morning, she apologized, and said, "I was just kidding." But she really wasn't.

How difficult it must be to hope in Christ, and not be able to share that hope openly with those who are closest to you. A's family is all insisting that she continue to fight, and they refuse to speak with her about death. (This seems to be a common cultural practice. After complications from a stroke, Arezoo's own father was sent home by his doctor, who told the family that he was just fine. Twenty minutes after his return, he died.)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not take our freedom for granted. We have a risen Savior! Why should we fear speaking to one another about death? Perhaps the best gift we might give to a friend or family member who is dying might just be our willingness to listen.



Thursday, April 03, 2008

Prayer for a Happy Death



a Prayer written by Cardinal Newman.

O my Lord and Savior, support me in my last hour by the strong arms of Thy sacraments, and the fragrance of Thy consolations. Let Thy absolving words be said over me, and the holy oil sign and seal me; and let your own body be my food, and Thy blood my sprinkling; and let Thy Mother Mary come to me, and my angel whisper peace to me, and Thy glorious saints and my own dear patrons smile on me, that in and through them all I may die as I desire to live, in Thy Church, in Thy faith, and in Thy love. Amen.

My Jesus, mercy.

Bad news from three fronts today, including word from Steve that A. is even weaker now, constantly wracked with pain and immobile on the sofa. He visited her this afternoon, and she gathered enough strength to ask her mom to leave the room so she could talk one on one with Steve.

"Pastor, will Jesus take care of M. (her son) if I die?"

"Yes, A. Jesus loves little children, and He will care for M."

"Then please pray for me to die."

So he did. And so I am praying, as well:

Father, please open the door for A. so that she might be released from her suffering and find rest in Your arms. May she pass quickly and gently from this world, and as she does, please comfort her family and provide a way for M. to remember her fierce love for him. May You be glorified through her death, even as she glorified You in her life.