Friday, February 29, 2008

Swami Vivekananda had said all that needed to be said

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Radhakrishnan, Sri Aurobindo, Paramahamsa Yoganand...":

I quite like this paragraph by Swami Vivekananda.

"Higher and nobler that all ordinary teachers in the world is another set of teachers, the Avatars of Isvara. They can transmit spirituality with a touch, even with a mere wish. At their command the lowest and most degraded characters become saints in one second. They are the Teachers of all teachers, the highest manifestations of God through man. We cannot see God except through them, We cannot help worshipping them. And indeed they are the only ones whom we are bound to worship."

The allegory of the Gopi's mindless love/distraction for Sri Krishna is the archetypal communication/example of this supreme principal of Spiritual Life. And in the context of that mindless distracted devotion to the Krishna's Transmission all the necessary instructions were given, silently and wordlessly.

It is also interesting that the Yogic Siddha, Bhagavan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri was once asked for comprehensive instructions in the Hindu Dharma. Bhagavan replied saying that Swami Vivekananda had said all that needed to be said.

This essay is an example of how submission to and the consequent instruction by a Realized Guru is the ultimate taboo for Westerners. And how this submission and instruction has been replaced by never-ending talkety-talk. The so-called perennial wisdom. Posted by Anonymous to Savitri Era Learning Forum at 8:53 AM, February 29, 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The people of Israel only identify God in his acts and do not presuppose a being as it were behind the acts

Metaphysics and the God of Israel: Neil MacDonald replies from Faith and Theology by Ben Myers
Note: Last week I posted
a critical review of Neil MacDonald’s new book, and I invited him to respond. So he has kindly written this detailed reply.

I cannot accept Aquinas’s analysis of causation because it presupposes natural theology. So my analysis of divine self-determination without natural theology does not presuppose Aquinas’s analysis of causation!

In fact it really only presupposes that God is a person, not that he has a nature. That is, even if God has a nature, it is not relevant to the nature of the world. God does not require a nature to act. As to the question whether God has a nature, I will only point out that Claus Westermann makes it clear that, in creation, the people of Israel only identify God in his acts and do not presuppose a being as it were behind the acts.

But let me end, Ben, on your fascinating thematic point of departure from which you launched your review. You say that you have been “thinking a lot lately about the relation between nature and grace.” If I were asked to say where the historical precedent for my view of divine action lies, I would say it lies with Luther. Think of Luther’s claim on God as the promising divine identity who promises us forgiveness of sins and, by extension, the gift of eternal life. Without going into the details of Luther’s thought on this matter: suppose I believe myself to be precisely the one who has been promised eternal life in this way.

If this is true, then God has promised me the gift of eternal life – which means that my belief is true. But now suppose an identical world in which I exist but God does not. In this world, I also believe that I have been promised the gift of eternal life. But it is not true, I am wrong. But of course the two worlds are identical in this regard. There is no difference as regards my “ontic” status between one world and the other.

This is of course not true in Aquinas’s world as regards grace. For Aquinas, in the world which God created and in which I believe I have received grace, I receive an “ontic” infusion of grace. In the world which God didn’t create (and which doesn’t exist) and in which I believe I have received grace, I do not receive an “ontic” infusion of grace. So for Aquinas, the worlds are not identical.

Daphne Hampson’s book, Christian Contradictions, speaks of a distinction between Catholic (Thomist) and Protestant (Lutheran) approaches to grace in terms of an “ontic” model and a “status of relations” model. What I have to say corresponds to these two different kinds of models. I found her book very illuminating and, after I had finished the Metaphysics book, it made me think of writing a kind of sequel, placing the work in the historical context of the contrasts between the Thomistic and Lutheran visions.

So there are these two great – perhaps irreducible – theological traditions, and I belong to the tradition of Luther, Bultmann (think of his undemythologisable analogical understanding of divine action), and Barth.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Early Christian theology is inconceivable without the “pagan” Plato, just as the theology of Aquinas is inconceivable without the “pagan” Aristotle

Caputo Responds: In Defense of St. Elsewhere from the church and postmodern culture: conversation by Eric Lee
Today's post completes the engagement series with John D. Caputo's What Would Jesus Deconstruct?: The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church ... below the fold. In Defense of Saint Elsewhere

I am by education and life long habit formed by the Catholic intellectual tradition, by the spirit of Thomas Aquinas for whom being a Catholic did not mean checking your intellectual faculties at the door, the spirit of a philosophy inspired by theology and a theology disciplined by philosophy. Luther’s idea that Aristotle was sent into the world by God as a punishment for our sins seemed to me perfect nonsense. Early Christian theology is inconceivable without the “pagan” Plato, just as the theology of Thomas Aquinas is inconceivable without the “pagan” Aristotle. Theology without philosophy is just Bible-thumping and choir practice.

As a young man, I was ecstatic about the renewal that Pope John XXIII proposed and over later years I was demoralized when it was so cruelly crushed by John Paul II and Ratzinger. I was inspired by progressive Dominican theologians like Schillebeeckx and Jesuit theologians like Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner and Henri de Lubac, by liberation theology and by the tradition of radical Catholic communities like the Catholic Worker movement of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. To give you an example of where I come from, Villanova is conducted by the Order of St. Augustine, which gave the Church and the world at large both the Rev. Martin Luther, O.S.A., the father of the Reformation, but also the Rev. Gregor Mendel, O.S.A, the father of modern genetics. Both of these fathers took themselves to be loyal sons of St. Augustine, although their followers today from time to time have run afoul of each other.

At Villanova, we do not forbid evolutionary biologists from speaking; in fact, we give them a prize, the “Mendel Award,” one of the first having been given to Teilhard de Chardin. The idea of Christians whose limited imagination prevents them from conceding that God has enough wits about him to make use of evolutionary biology would be a source of merriment to us at Villanova–about two drinks into the cocktail hour before the annual Mendel Dinner. Science and cocktail parties (and dancing) are, you see, eminently Christian where I come from. I had the good fortune to be educated by the “Christian (De Lasalle) Brothers,” who are intelligent and progressive men of the Church. I had the equal good fortune to have spent four years as a member of that religious order, where on Holy Saturday, Clark will be amused to learn, the Brothers got no meat or fish and very little else to eat!

I grew up in pre-Vatican Catholicism, in a city neighborhood in Southwest Philadelphia made up mostly of Catholic blue collar working families. We all lived just a short walk away from our local parish church and school, which was the center of our lives. To this day, when people from the old neighborhood meet, they ask one another what parish they’re from, not where they lived.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Nearly everything around me in nature happens unobserved and unrecorded

The Rural Life A Track in the Snow By VERLYN KLINKENBORG NYT: February 3, 2008
A couple of weeks ago, when the snow was at its deepest, I walked up the hill in the middle pasture after chores. By that time in the afternoon, I am often trudging through my thoughts, barely noticing anything around me. Part of the pleasure of chores is that they happen in the same light every day, though the hour changes as the days lengthen and contract. No matter what I’m doing, I am propelled outside by the falling light, which means that I’m often doing chores mid-paragraph. I imagine that the animals are mid-paragraph too, for we are all just going about our business together.
Coming back down the hill, plunging knee-deep through the snow, I stopped. There was the print of a bird’s wings. From their angle and size, I guessed it was a barn owl. I looked across the pasture and saw a squirrel’s track, which ended at the wing-print — no sign of a struggle, just an abrupt vanishing. Going up the hill, I had walked past these marks without even noticing them.
A week later, all the snow had melted, which left me thinking about a question of ephemerality. That wing-print was a solid fact, the remains of a bone-jarring collision between two animals. One life ended there, and another was extended, but the only trace is in my mind. If I had come down the hill in the fog of thought that surrounded me while I was doing the chores, I would never have seen the print of those powerful wings and they would have left no mark in me.
I have grown used to the idea that nearly everything around me in nature happens unobserved and unrecorded. A snowy winter sometimes retains a transcript, but even those are rare. The bills of animal mortality are almost completely invisible otherwise. Who thrives, who dies, there is no accounting at all, only the fact of thriving and dying.
That wing-print allowed me to glimpse the uncompromising discipline of nature. But it will stand in my mind as the model of an almost perfect ephemerality, a vision of life itself. The snow has melted away, taking with it the squirrel’s track and the arc of those wings and my own track up the hill and the burnished spots where the horses rolled in the snow.