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Saturday, April 2, 2011

On Balance

On Balance

By Jim J. McCrea.

One of the things which characterizes the truth of the Catholic Faith is that it consists of precisely the right balance of innumerable factors. A real Catholic considers the Catholic Faith as the true faith. This does not mean that all Protestant Christian denominations, all other religions, and all other systems are completely wrong, but that only the Catholic Faith has the fullness of divinely revealed truth and means of salvation. All other beliefs are right to the extent that they participate in the truth and means of salvation, of which the Catholic Church has the fullness alone. Some are closer to the truth, and some are further away.

If the Catholic Faith is a precise balance of elements, anything else would have imbalances more or less, depending how close or distant it is from the full truth. What this means is that in any system which is only partially true, certain things are given undue emphasis and certain other things are neglected. An error on one side of the truth may excessively emphasize A while ignoring B, while with an error on the other side, it is the other way around. A is ignored, while B is unduly emphasized. The Catholic mind would recognize both A and B together, in the proper balance.
To explain this, let us consider the example of modern post-Christian paganism and classical Protestantism, which can be considered as two things on opposite sides of the truth.

Modern post-Christian paganism completely rejects supernatural Faith, and in general with the materialist variety, any transcendence is rejected - that is, anything "above" the material realm is not accepted. However, much that is good and true can come from someone with a modern pagan mind-set. The pagan can make advances in science, mathematics, technology, and medicine. He can have insights into psychology which sheds light on the situation of man and which can be of help in solving man's problems. He can even arrive at an ethical system which is a help in establishing social harmony. All in all, he validly believes in the powers of human reason. We certainly cannot dismiss the thinking of the modern pagan as completely false.

Classical Protestantism is the opposite of modern post-Christian paganism. Unlike the modern pagan, Protestants believe in the divine. Unlike the Catholic they reject the powers of reason to understand deep and divine things. They hold to faith in Christ as revealed through the Bible. They have faith in the Bible first and from that they have faith in Christ. If they do not deliberately reject truth in its fullness (which the Catholic Church alone has), and have basic good will and receptivity to God, Christ's grace will give supernatural light and strength to allow them to live in a way which is pleasing to God and which will secure their eternal salvation. Protestants, in our society today, constitute a powerful leaven in preventing our society from being completely ruled by atheistic and materialistic principles. Much of God's goodness and light are shed on our society because of good and faithful Protestants. Fervent Protestants make up for many lukewarm Catholics.

The Catholic mind, as opposed to the post-Christian pagan or Protestant mind, holds to both supernatural Faith and human reason together. It is true that God created us to look upward through supernatural faith, but he also created us with the powers of reason to work out many things which Faith does not give us directly. Most Protestants would agree that we have reasoning powers to find truth in science, but where they would likely disagree with the Catholic is in the notion that we have the powers of intellect to work out truth in philosophy and theology. That is where the Protestant may say that human reason was completely corrupted by the fall, so in that area we have to rely on the word of God alone. For example, if asked why there is no alteration in God, the Protestant would reply: "the Bible has God saying: 'Surely I, the Lord, do not change' (Malachi 3:6)." The Catholic would certainly refer to the word of God, but may add something like: "God is primary as creator, therefore, He must be self-existent. If He is self-existent, He must be infinite. The infinite cannot change since nothing can be added to or subtracted from something which has the totality of all perfection by its very nature."

This type of philosophical and theological reasoning is vital to have a proper concept of God so that we can honor and love Him properly. Man's intellect will conduct theology and philosophy in any case. This is true for both the Catholic who accepts a belief in reason and the Protestant who rejects it. It is the very nature of the human intellect to do this. If it is not disciplined and trained in a proper system, its activity will grow and develop like wild weeds. One common error which arises from consciously rejecting theology and philosophy, is that many adult Christians acquire a theology which consists of a childish notion of God as an old man in the sky. This renders God as radically finite and limited - simply as an exalted creature out of a fairy-tale. As a result, these Christians may fail to worship the true God, but instead may worship a creation made in their own image. Many atheists are in reality not guilty of rejecting God Himself, but a caricature which is presented as God. Such a false notion of God constitutes a stumbling block for non-believers.

** footnote - In Catholic art, God the Father has been depicted as an elderly man. But such a thing is only a symbol of the Father, not what He really looks like.

Natural Theology (theology which is accessible to human reason alone) maintains that God is Being Itself - that is, He is the Pure and Infinite Act of Existing. God reveled Himself to Moses as "I AM" (Exodus 3:14). This means that God is simply Existence Itself, without qualification or limitation. He is the primordial, necessary, ultimate reality. He is the infinite and self-existing core of reality (who subsists in three relations or persons). As Being Itself, God contains all possible attributes of goodness and attractiveness. Such knowledge gives us an incentive to lead a holy life and avoid sin. With this knowledge we can then realize that everything good and attractive in creation is only a very small reflection of what is good and attractive in God (since the cause must be greater than the effect). With this, when we are tempted to sin we can realize that we are being tempted to choose the very much less in favor of the infinitely great. That is a tremendous incentive not to sin. Only the Catholic mind analyzes such concepts to their furthest possible logical limit (in my other articles is a more detailed analysis of such ideas). This helps us to avoid serious errors, works out many logical consequences of Revelation which our intellects would thirst for, and serves as a proper guide for practical living.

The problem with modern paganism, on the other hand, is that it is totally inadequate to address the true needs of man. Even with the good it contains, it is radically limited. Man's aspirations are supernatural. He will not fully rest until he rests in the infinite goodness of the beatific vision (the vision of God in heaven). All striving for more and more, in this life, is an effort to reach that infinity. With the modern post-Christian pagan without Faith, no matter how much pleasure, wealth, or power they have, they often strive for more. This is an attempt to fill the infinite God sized hole in the human soul with enough earthly goods. Such an attempt of course is futile, but it is that hunger which fuels the desire for ever more. As opposed to what the modern pagan has, God gives the Christian believer the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. These are supernatural, which means that they are infinitely beyond what is visible. Faith gives us the power to know truths which are infinitely beyond the powers of the natural human intellect to know - such as the Trinity. Hope empowers us to anticipate a good which is infinitely beyond our natural desires and natural powers to attain - which is God Himself and all that God wishes to give us through His omnipotent generosity. Charity gives us the power to love a good which is infinitely beyond any natural good - which is God for His own sake and everything else that is good for God's sake. When man reaches his final goal in heaven, faith turns to vision, hope turns to possession, charity remains but is completely perfected. In this, we will have a happiness which is infinite and which will last forever. This is what each and every human heart desires.

Even with the ordinary virtues that we must practice from day to day, modern paganism is radically deficient as a guide. The modern pagan would have maxims such as "do not steal," "do not murder," and "do not cheat on your partner." These are good as far as they go, but generally they do not recognize Catholic moral teachings on divorce, fornication, contraception, and homosexuality. These moral teachings are intelligible in the light of natural law, but practically speaking, because of man's fallen nature, they may be illusive to many people. This could be because of a lack of light in the understanding, pride, or a lack of light caused by pride. The light of supernatural faith is of great assistance in making such teachings intelligible as morally right. Supernatural faith is an objectively real light which comes from God. It is a participation in His own mode of knowing (although dark and obscure). It enhances the powers of reason in allowing it to determine what is true and right. Supernatural hope and charity allow the soul to effectively love what is right. It is analogous to turning on a flood-light, whereas before, there was only a candle for illumination. The intelligibility of the moral law in its fullness can then be seen.

God's law concerning sexual morality (which is only taught in its completeness in the Catholic Church) is vital for the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of an individual or nation. This is because sex in humans is central to their power to love. That is how God designed it. Terrible consequences result when this power is misused. In the long run, boredom, frustration, and despair are these consequences (which is often attended by psychological and physical violence). The carnage today, which has been the result of abandoning the moral law that says that sex wait until marriage, is very evident. However, many people today vehemently insist on their "liberty," even if the cost is their happiness and order in society. Someone with supernatural faith, hope, and charity would not be as likely to make such a wrong-headed bargain (one with sanctifying grace and charity may make such a bargain. In this, they commit mortal sin and lose sanctifying grace and charity. For the Catholic, this is ordinarily restored through the sacrament of confession. For this, sacramental confession is required before receiving communion)
Next, we will consider how Catholicism strikes the right balance between the phenomenalism of post-Christian paganism and the "Jesus only" approach of Protestantism.

One of the things which Protestants often accuse Catholics of doing, is adding "superfluous baggage" to the "pure teaching of the Gospel." That which they would consider excess baggage is honoring Mary and the Saints, using images, and having sacraments. They would claim that the only thing necessary is to "go to Jesus." However, this idea is based on a huge fallacy. It is the result of the failure to shed light on one's beliefs through proper reflection through a valid theology. With religious belief, there may be many unwarranted assumptions which are not examined. The staunch classical Protestant may think that he knows Christ well. After all, he becomes so emotionally moved at the "powerful" sermons given at the revival halls. However, Christ is far larger than any concept we have of Him. Most conservative Protestants do not realize this because they do not properly reflect on what they believe. They tend to think that if something is evident to their awareness, that is all there is. In general, the Protestant does not recognize the existence of mystery. Nothing exists to the classical Protestant but the evident facts of life he is aware of (and these are extrapolated to heaven and to God). The Catholic mind understands that there is far more to reality than what appears on the surface. Serious effort must be applied in understanding our ideas and beliefs. This is why the Catholic mind accepts sciences such as psychology, philosophy, and theology.

A great number of reflections of Christ, in creation, are required to even begin to build a proper concept of Him. That is the way our intellects work. That is why, in order to construct a proper concept of Christ in our understanding, a great number of facets of Him are required, which are gleaned from natural truths, images, sacraments, and saints. The true Catholic venerates and studies saints because each one presents a given facet of God's truth, goodness, and beauty. With a large number of recognized saints a large number of facets are available to us, allowing us to have a more complete picture of Christ. Each saint studied gives us more knowledge of Christ. Because Christ is so massive, and we are so limited, we need a great number of examples to even begin to approach having a valid concept of Him. St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus etc. each adds something, which allows us to understand Christ better. With the "Jesus only" approach of the traditional Protestant, they may have a concept of Jesus which is so narrow and impoverished, that it scarcely resembles Him at all. When they read about Jesus in the Bible, and it is only the Bible they read, they may fabricate a concept of Him from bits and pieces in their subconscious (without, of course, realizing it. This is where something such as psychology would help them to gain insight). For example, one may read about Christ's righteous anger, and then proceed to make the lives of those around one, a living hell because of the "sins" of those others perceived (which may only be unavoidable human weaknesses). This is all done in the belief that one is following the example of Christ and doing something pleasing to Christ. It is the riches of the Catholic Faith, which Protestants lack, which would help to prevent such a thing (such problems with Catholics would come from the rejection of those Church teachings which don't happen to suit them and/or from a lack of charity in their souls because they only go through the motions of the faith).

** footnote - Although the Gospels give us the richest picture of Christ, in practice (without a special grace) they need to be supplemented so that serious errors do not result. Not only with what has been said above, but above all, with the teaching authority of the Magisterium which interprets Scripture infallibly.

The fact that some Protestants are all charged up emotionally at church may cause them to think that they are close to Christ, when what may be happening is that the glands are reacting to emotionally charged words (Catholics on the other hand, may go through the rituals in an empty manner without charity or interior devotion). Real virtue may be lacking. Real virtue is to have faith and exercise charity, no matter what one feels. The saints give us examples, contained in innumerable real-life situations, of what real striving for holiness is. The best example of all is that of the Virgin Mary, who did nothing but the will of God perfectly all through her life. Protestants have real virtue to the extent that they escape from the classical Protestant mode of "Jesus only," and understand and imitate Christ through His very many reflections in creation - such as the goodness of other people, natural truths, or providential events. With the Catholic, the one focus is indeed Christ, but without a reliable guide we will miss the mark while thinking we have hit it. That reliable guide is the Catholic Church which Christ founded. When this was rejected during the "Reformation," all kinds of errors were spawned with disastrous consequences.

While traditional Protestantism has a lack of targets for the intellect, will, and affections, the modern post-Christian pagan mind has an excess. And this excess of targets has no proper order. As many targets exist for the modern pagan as there are worldly things to desire. With the true Catholic the very many things in this world are merely a means for union with God through Christ. With the modern pagan, each thing is an end in itself, insofar as it can satisfy a particular desire. It is the satisfaction of personal desire which is the real end for them. But such a thing is completely unsatisfactory. Such a thing does not bring happiness, because the soul was made for God and the order that He has willed. As mentioned above, it is the futile attempt to fill an infinite hole with a multitude of finite goods acquired in a disorderly way.

In the intellectual sphere, the knowledge of the modern pagan consists of a vast collection of uncorrelated information. When these items of knowledge are related to each other, it is only through psychological laws of association (not a true process of understanding). What results is a spaghetti-like tangle of concepts, whose overall structure does not have proper order but is more akin to chaos. This is evident when one hears or reads the pagan intellectual who lacks the light of supernatural faith. The possession of the light of supernatural faith brings order to the diverse elements of knowledge that one may have. With this light, everything becomes ordered into a vast system with each element properly related to the next, and in a hierarchy where certain elements can be seen to depend on certain other elements. In scholastic philosophy, faith is the perfection of the intellect as the intellect is the perfection of the senses. For example, when we see a chair, the senses receive a pattern of colors. It is the intellect which correlates these colors so that what we see is a unified essence "chairness," so that what we perceive is intelligible as one thing - as a chair. Similarly, when the intellect of the modern pagan perceives reality it sees a pattern of concepts corresponding to the things which are experienced. But it is a pattern without order. Only with the light of supernatural faith are these concepts ordered into a single universal structure, through which the real meaning of existence can be seen. Existence itself then becomes intelligible. This structure is hierarchical, with God at the top as the cause and goal of all. In summary, it is the Catholic mind which holds the right balance between that which is one and that which is multiple.

In the sacramentality of the Catholic faith, the right balance between the material and the spiritual is maintained. With the modern materialistic pagan, the intellect, will, and affections are completely immersed in the material. This constitutes an imbalance on the side of ignoring what is spiritual. With the classical Protestant approach of "Jesus only," it is forgotten that we are both body and soul. Here we have an imbalance on the side of neglecting the body. As opposed to the Protestant who prays with the soul (mind) only, the Catholic prays with both body and soul - that is, with his entire being. This is why things such as posture, liturgy, sacraments, and sacramentals are vital for the true Catholic. With confession to a priest, we see Christ concretely embodied in the priest, talk to Christ concretely embodied, and listen to Him concretely embodied. We are much more completely engaged in the process of repentance than if we confess to Christ privately with our minds only. The certitude of being forgiven in confession is much greater than when done privately. This is because our entire being is involved - of both body and soul, with engaging the faculties of speech, listening, seeing, thinking, and faith, rather than using just our mind and faith alone. In Communion, we receive Christ concretely and physically, in faith, under the appearances of bread and wine, in the act of eating. We are much more involved with Christ, doing this, than if we receive Him with our soul in faith only. In Communion we receive Him with both our body and soul, and receive His true body, blood, soul, and divinity. The presence of Christ can be much more readily experienced, and we receive far greater fruits from Him this way.

When looking at being, Catholicism maintains the right balance between intelligibility and mystery. Here we will compare Protestantism, modernism (under the aspect of agnosticism), and modern post-Christian materialist paganism. A distinguishing feature of Protestantism is that it does not acknowledge mystery. This is true of both liberal and fundamentalist conservative Protestantism. With liberal Protestantism, all mystery is eliminated and a humanism is affirmed which focuses solely on the here and now. Baptism, for example, is simply initiation into the humanitarian Church community, without reference to being grafted into a supernatural Christ. With conservative fundamentalist Protestantism, the Bible is held as true, there is a belief in heaven and hell, and there is an acknowledgment that one must accept Jesus as Lord to be saved. However, no mystery is affirmed there as well. Such a theology contains nothing but simple facts which are no different from the day to day facts that the average person encounters. When heaven is described it is done in terms of mundane events that could be seen on earth. For example, the symbolism of the book of Revelation is taken as a literal description of what heaven is.

With Modernism (which is a heresy in the Catholic Church), there is no transcendence that is attainable. God, to a modernist, is simply what is true, good, and beautiful in the things and people around him. That is their practical way of thinking about God. There is no raising of the mind through supernatural Faith to God who is totally other. Theoretically they may admit that there is a transcendent God, but he would be a noumenon which we simply cannot know. To them, all our religious beliefs are conditioned by our cultural environment. We are limited by a "horizon" which we cannot see beyond. And it is culture which determines that horizon. In this, modernism is a form of agnosticism (ironically, implicit in the argument of modernists is that they are able to transcend the limits of this culture to know that the thinking of the culture in Jesus' time was limited to that time and culture).

With the post-Christian materialist pagan, all that is real is that which can be seen by the senses. Anything higher on the scale of being, such as goodness, beauty, moral truth, are simply subjective and not true realities. For them, the spiritual realm does not exist at all. Only the material sciences can give us truth.

The true Catholic, on the other hand, maintains that being is intelligible, but at the same time understands that it has a dimension of mystery which makes it partially dark to our intellect. For example, we can know a given person. To us, that person is intelligible in his character. But we do not know him comprehensively. We can see that there is a dark unknowability that intensifies as our intellect proceeds into the depths of that person. It is the same with God. We know certain things about Him, by analogy - that He is omnipotent, omniscient, all good, etc. but we do not know what these things are in themselves. In this life, we cannot know God as He is directly - that is, face to face. We will see that in the next life. Even then, we will not have a comprehensive knowledge of God.

The agnostic modernist argument that God's transcendence makes Him unknowable forgets that the human intellect is designed to see the universality of being. We are able to see truth, goodness, and beauty in their absolute aspect. For example, both a car and a person could be called good. However, they are good in vastly different ways. The fact that both can be called "good" means that they share an identity, which is the metaphysical property called goodness. Goodness, attributed to something means that it is capable of completing something else, so that that something else can find its fulfillment. In the case of a car, its goodness means that it is capable of completing the needs of transportation for someone. In the case of a person, his or her goodness means that he or she is capable of completing the need for love. The metaphysical principle of goodness is identical in each case, but its "modality," or way of application is different. Similarly, when we call God good, this identical metaphysical principle of goodness must also apply to Him, or the word "good," as attributed to Him, would not mean anything. However the modality, or how goodness applies to God, is infinitely different and higher than how it applies to any creature. It is this modality, as applied to God, which is a complete mystery to us. This is how God can be both knowable and totally mysterious at the same time. This is how the principle of analogy works, which allows us to understand realities which are beyond the material realm and infinitely beyond us.

Modernists have a subtle and insidious manner of denying the Faith. They say that the doctrines and dogmas of the Faith are simply "stories" which have been created by the believing community's theological reflections and experiences. Given this, different experiences and reflections would have created different doctrines and dogmas. Modernists argue that doctrine cannot be fixed, but must constantly be changing with the times. This is nothing but a complete denial of the Faith, under the guise of improving on it. The reality is, doctrines and dogmas are literal truths which have been revealed by Jesus Christ Himself, transmitted by Scripture and Tradition, and guarded by the Magisterium. These are literal truths which God wills that the human race know. These cannot change. They are true for all time. To deny these as real truths is to deny the Catholic Faith. Such a thing is apostasy! The human intellect is capable of knowing these, because it is capable of grasping the universal (as described above). The Trinity and divinity of Christ are literally real. By a process of analogy the human intellect is capable of truly grasping concepts such as nature, relation, and person - even though they exist in a modality which is completely mysterious - allowing us to have a literal knowledge of Christ and the Trinity. It is real knowledge, but knowledge in mystery.