Tag Archives: anselm of canterbury

The Truth of Faith and Wisdom of Doubt

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“The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.”  St Thomas Aquinas 

I am always amazed at Christians, of any denomination or people of other religions rush to proclaim belief as absolute dogma, even when it is contradicted by science and new learning. I think that such attitudes are based more on fear that somehow God is not big enough to withstand scrutiny and that if God cannot withstand scrutiny that what they believe is threatened.

Somehow I do not think that God in his wisdom determined that our faith as Christians was to remain unscrutinized and frozen in the time and culture of the ancient near east. I think that was part of St Thomas’ attraction to Aristotelian philosophy. For his day Thomas was a modern thinker, and from reading his works I cannot imagine him being afraid of any advance in science, nor being afraid to hold Christian, or Catholic dogma up to the lens of scientific scrutiny.    

I guess that is why I am not afraid of science, scientific advances, archeological or literary discoveries that shed new light on what we as Christians believe. Somehow I think that God is bigger than any paradigm that I or for that matter that we as human beings can describe or imagine. 

I am convinced that we have been given the Scriptures, the Creeds and the Councils as steps to understanding the revelation of God in Christ. That being said I cannot imagine that God has stopped revealing himself to people in various ways over the 2000 years of the Church, or that his spirt has not given men and women insight into both the Divine and human aspects of faith and life, to include the physical, the spiritual and the intellectual. 

When I look up at the sky on a clear night and see the multitude of stars and planets I cannot help but imagine that God is far bigger and more mysterious than any of us can explain in any number of volumes of theology or Biblical commentary. Nor do I believe that any one person, or for that matter any church as a certain point in time knows all truth. I know that doesn’t sound like a safe way to do “faith” but when was faith, or attempting to follow God in faith ever safe or belief completely certain? That is not the case with those that followed God whose accounts are in recorded in the canonized books of the Christian Bible, much less stories recorded the non-canonical books not included in the Bible or the writings of Jewish and early Christian writers that recorded the history and lives of the faithful as well as interpreted the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.  

In fact I believe that God allows us to navigate an often unsafe universe as we live and evolve as his people and that in our walk, in our faith, in our search for truth that God does not mind allowing us to get a bloody nose sometimes. That doesn’t mean that God does not love us, but like the people that we read about in our Scriptures, that none of us knows all truth and all of us are capable of misreading the mind of God. I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation where the being known as “Q” chastises Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise after their initial encounter with the Borg: “If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you oughtta go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it’s not for the timid.” I think in his great mercy God also allows us to get a bloody nose once in a while as we attempt to navigate this life of faith.

Doubt and faith are inexorably linked, faith without doubt is not faith. Faith and belief always has to be held up under the scrutiny of the new knowledge that is acquired as human being explore the universe and human condition with instruments undreamed of by the writers of Scripture or those who came after them. I think that is what St Thomas meant when he wrote the passage that I quoted at the beginning of this little article. I think that is a key to having a living faith, not that we know everything now or even are sure that we have interpreted what has been handed to us by tens of generations of the faithful. I think when we approach God we must do so with the utmost of humility knowing that we can never fully understand all of God, the human condition or the universe. 

St Anselm of Canterbury prayed “My God, I pray that I may so know you and love you that I may rejoice in you. And if I may not do so fully in this life let me go steadily on to the day when I come to that fullness…” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Belief and Unbelief

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“Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or you are asleep.” Frederick Buechner

I have always found that the story of the man who asks Jesus to heal his daughter in Mark 9:24 to resonate with me. The man cries out to Jesus “I believe, help my unbelief.”This has been part of my faith journey for decades. I think that it is one of the truest declarations of faith ever recorded. I know many people, believers of different faiths and unbelievers alike who believe with unrequited certitude. They outwardly proclaim what they believe as absolute and those who do mot believe like them are to be pitied or maybe even despised. While many will make that kind of proclamation I wonder how many believe with the certitude of their public statements be they a “believer” or an unbeliever.

Saint Anselm of Canterbury wrote “Faith seeks understanding. I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe to understand.”

I confess that as much as I believe that I often doubt. Not that I doubt God, but rather that I doubt humanity’s capacity to truly understand the infinite possibilities of God or of human existence. I actually think that means that I believe in a pretty infinite kind of God. For me I have taken Anselm’s understanding of faith as any of us who profess to believe in God or something else as the closest thing to truth we will know in this present life. Our lives, our existence is shrouded in understanding that is at best “seen through a mirror darkly” in the words of Paul the Apostle.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “Man no longer lives in the beginning -he has lost the beginning. Now he finds himself in the middle, knowing neither the end or the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going toward the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them.

I love what some refer to as the Anglican Triad of belief, that the Christian faith is interpreted through Scripture, Tradition and Reason. But I also think that we as Christians also need to interpret it through our experience and humbly acknowledge that we do live in that “uncomfortable middle” neither knowing the beginning or the end.

This makes many if not most people uncomfortable. We want certainty. We want to be in control. However many no longer believe in themselves, much less a God that they cannot see and substitute an absolute belief in an “orthodoxy” of some movement, be it religious, philosophical, political or scientific and cling to it with unbridled fanaticism. That spirit is the genus of every mass movement and often the root of great evil. One only has to look at history to understand the truth of this.

Eric Hoffer wrote that “Even the sober desire for progress is sustained by faith- faith in the intrinsic goodness of human nature and the omnipotence of science. It is a defiant and blasphemous faith, not unlike that held by the men who set out to build “a city and a tower, whose top may reach into heaven” and who believed that “nothing will be restrained to them, which they imagined to do.”

Faith is important but regardless of what we put our faith in, God, humanity, science or materialism we have to own the limitations of our faith simply because of our existence in this uncomfortable middle. For me this limitation means that I believe in order to understand. My faith seeks understanding but understands that in this life I will not understand even the remotest amount of the vastness of creation, the spiritual aspects of life or even why there is the designated hitter rule, bats made of anything other than wood or artificial turf on a baseball diamond. But I digress…

My faith as it is as a Christian is in Jesus the Christ. It is stated in the Creeds and testified to in Scripture, tradition and history, but even those accounts are incomplete, John the Apostle says as much at the end of his Gospel as does Paul in Corinthians. Thus I believe that if Christians believe that we must honestly acknowledge the limitations that we have in understanding even what we claim to believe. We have to believe that there is in light of this limitation that we do not know “all truth” or even that we fully understand the limited amount that we actually can study or observe, or for that matter that we even correctly interpret those strongly held beliefs, be they religious, political, scientific or philosophical. That goes for the Christian, any other religious person, as well as the Pagan or the Atheist. Harry Callahan once said “a man’s got to know his limitations.”

Such a life does not lend itself to triumphalism of any kind, but rather in humility. Real faith in whatever we determine is truth is also is best demonstrated in our doubts and the honesty to admit our limitations. There is a prayer from Kenya that I found many years ago which says from the cowardice that dare not face new truth, from the laziness that is contented with half truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, good Lord deliver us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Faith for those that Struggle with Faith

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” 
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

I’m taking a few minutes tonight even while watching primary returns and political punditry from Michigan and Arizona to muse a bit on faith during Lent.  I’ll post my analysis of tonight’s results tomorrow.

I have found over the past couple of years that there are many people that grew up in some kind of Christian home that for a host of reasons are struggling with faith, God and  the church. It is something that I find interesting from more than a theoretical premise because I went through a period after returning from Iraq where I struggled and could best be described as an agnostic struggling to recover faith.  Faith for me is still a work in progress, I can fully relate to father of the child Jesus healing in Mark 9:24 saying “I believe help my unbelief” and Thomas who after the Resurrection that he would not believe without being able to put his hands in the wounds of Christ.  Saint Anselm of Canterbury talked about faith seeking understanding and I think that is the mark of theological honesty.  I believe but seek understanding but even if I don’t understand I can have faith even if it is imperfect and plagued with doubts as well as frustration about things I see done in the church and in the name of Jesus.

When people come to me and admit their struggles I simply try to listen and let them be honest about their doubts and to know that even if they struggle that God still cares about them. I think that people, at least from what I hear are tired of the lack of honesty that characterizes much of what is being sold as Christianity in America.  What they struggle with is that “faith” marketed  by the health, wealth and political power preachers, pundits and politicians that make up the Unholy Trinity of American religious life.

Lent is one of those times of reflection where hopefully those that call on the name of Jesus can deepen faith or in the case of many that struggle, return to faith.  I really believe that honesty with God, each other and the world is one of the keys to faith and for those of us that struggle absolutely vital.

Part of that honesty to recover faith is to realize that God does love the real and very imperfect world that we live in. God loves wounded, doubting and imperfect people. Dietrich Bonhoeffer the German pastor, theologian and martyr said it this way “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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