The Incarnation and the Eucharist

There is no denying that there are many hard sayings within the Catholic faith—many beliefs radical in their nature which demand our faith.

And among these hard sayings, there is perhaps none more difficult than the Catholic teaching on the nature of the blessed sacrament, the eucharist. For we are taught and must confidently believe that, in the mass, the eucharist is substantially changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We must believe that when the priest utters the words of consecration, we no longer behold mere bread and wine, but quite literally the Ancient of Days, the King of Kings, the Alpha and the Omega, the Amen, the living and true God; and we must, with all the angels and saints, give him the honor due his name.

Now, this is our duty and our salvation, and yet it is difficult for at least two reasons, the first of which is that the Eucharistic elements simply don’t look any different. They appear to remain bread and wine. Indeed, they taste like bread and wine. And so, each Sunday, each mass, we are challenged like the Jews who witnessed Christ’s first coming, whether or not we will believe him at his word, or trust our own judgement.

The second reason is that there are no miraculous signs to attend this making-present of Christ. There are no lightnings, nor clouds, nor any fanfare. One would expect these things would attend the presence of Almighty God.

While it is not my purpose here to defend the validity of the doctrine of the eucharist, I will add that perhaps it was because Jesus knew that the eucharist would test our faith that he left so much evidence for it. For there are the explicit words of Jesus himself (My flesh is true food, my blood is true drink) among countless other Scriptures, and the unanimous witness of the early fathers of  the church testifying to the true nature of the eucharist. And yet many still doubt.

That said, here is the point I would like to make: The eucharist is no more radical nor difficult to believe than the first coming and Incarnation of Christ. It demands no more faith, and no less.

For indeed, to the Jews who first encountered Christ, the ideas of God having a Son, and that Son having a body, were blasphemous in the extreme. It struck at the very heart of their understanding of God, for, to them, God was one in a way that made a Divine Son impossible and transcendent in a way that made it unthinkable for him to ever incarnate himself.

In short, the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation was as radical and possible to the Jewish and pagan minds. Even many of Jesus’ followers did not believe him to be speaking literally when he said, “I and the Father are one,” or, “Before Abraham was, I am.” How could he mean what he said? God does not have a body, nor a Son—much less this poor, unsightly carpenter from a disreputable neighborhood. He couldn’t possibly mean it, they thought. He must mean something else.

It was the Pharisees, the teachers and students of the law, who understood exactly what Jesus meant. After seeking clarifications again and again, Jesus left no doubt in their minds as to whom he claimed to be. He did not intend to. And this is why they hated him and sought to kill him.

No, the doctrine of the Incarnation has never been easy to believe. And that is why, from the beginning, there have been hordes of heresies seeking to deny it. It took all the weight and authority of the Church to clarify once and for all that orthodoxy consisted of believing that Jesus was true God and true man.

As I have said, to believe that Jesus can appear as bread and wine is no more blasphemous or radical than saying that Jesus is God or that God can take on a body. If we say otherwise, we betray that we do not understand that earth-shattering reality that is the Incarnation.

Simply, if one is impossible the other is impossible. If one is blasphemous the other is blasphemous. If you deny one, you must deny the other. For there is at least as much Scriptural and historical evidence for Jesus in the eucharist as there is for Jesus being the Son of God the Father, coequal and of one substance with him, eternally existent, consisting of two natures in one indivisible person, and all the details of the orthodox Christological creeds.

No, it is not for lack of evidence that some would deny the nature eucharist—it is rather discomfort and doubting.

In a sense, this discomfort and incredulity is understandable, for these are hard sayings. Yet, I maintain that all orthodox doctrines should make us uncomfortable and test our faith. If they do not, we do not truly understand Christianity. For Christianity was never meant to be a religion easily believed. Jesus did not intend to make it easy to follow him or believe in him.

And yet, the Church is never satisfied with anything less than the fullness of the Catholic and Apostolic faith. Far from denying it or seeking to soften it, she teaches it from age to age with authority, demanding our obedience and our allegiance. And she alone can confidently and joyfully believe the fullness of those words—not of symbol, but of sacrament and salvation—Lo, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the age.

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Room for Imagination

Einstein, who dwelt in the realms of numbers and facts, recognized the essential nature of imagination. He said of it, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” Such is the power of imagination.

When I was a child, you could have placed me in an empty room with a window, and I would have been capable of entertaining myself for hours. I would likely have transported myself to other worlds; created stories and characters. No toys and no boredom. Now? I would need something to “do”—as if creating were not enough. But that is the limitation of the adult. Happy is the adult who can keep his childhood, his imagination.

The primary playground for my creative play was my bedroom. It was small, probably not more than 8×10, but to me, it was a large world—enlarged by creativity. I animated nearly everything in my room. The colorful plastic cart next to my bed was a large sand crawler; my chest of drawers was a sky-scraper on which imaginary characters, usually represented by my fingers, would have super-heroic adventures; my bed was an airplane on which I would wing my way across the country; my stuffed animals were real creatures and friends whose feelings would be hurt if I didn’t play with them often enough. In short, my small room was big with the magic of stories unthought-of and with worlds of my making.

Such is the world of the child—wide with possibility. Indeed, the child cannot easily distinguish between possibility and actuality—that is, reality. Because a child can conceive of a castle in the clouds, he sees little reason why it couldn’t exist. Whether or not the castle actually does exist is of little consequence—the childish heart grows happy with the idea, and he begins to feel a longing for the world of his creation. If he could, he would make it real. It is probable this is what the Preacher of Ecclesiastes meant when he said that God “has put eternity into man’s heart….” Eternity is housed in the imagination, for imagination is the instrument of longing and of desire. If we could not imagine, we could not yearn for anything more than the moment. We could not progress, we could not improve, and we could not desire to do either. And so imagination is one of the most mystical and spiritual of mankind’s powers.

Now, my room would seem small and shabby— certainly not entertaining. I would see a worn area rug, a bin full of toys, a second-hand chest of drawers, and a cheap, colorful bed-spread from K-Mart adorned with monsters shaped like letters of the alphabet. In short, I would see what it was not, rather than what it could be. It would not be magical; it would be small, limited by the confines of four little walls and a window.

I remember the shift between the magical bedroom of the child and the more concrete, limited room of the adult. I was 12 years old, and very much aware that I would soon be a teenager. And with that awareness came the realization that teenagers do not “play”—that is, they must dampen their imaginations. Flying on one’s bed and imagining one’s dresser was a skyscraper was childish. Like Peter Pan, I realized the world of the adult was far less wonderful, but unlike him, and like most, I chose to leave childhood behind. It was a choice, and one which I could have delayed. But I grew up, and my room was no longer magical—though there were times when I wished it were again.

In a sense, growing older enlarges the world. You become aware of ideas, facts, and feelings that were before hidden and secret; the things you were always told you were too young to understand. You step outside the bedroom and realize that outside is a very real world. In short, you experience more. But, in another sense, growing older makes the world shrink. The adult is limited by facts, by reality, by what is and what cannot be, and so a room is just a room—the sum of its parts.

But growing up is a necessary thing, and an expansion in understanding is essential for the proper function of civilization. If the world were run by children, it might begin to look very much like the island in Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Imagination untempered can far too easily become corrupted by man’s self-centered inclinations. Indeed, the problem with imagination is that it is usually a selfish pleasure—one that hates to be interrupted by responsibility. I remember I would often get angry when I was distracted from my reveries by my mother calling for me to clean my room or pick up the toys I had left all over the house. I remember thinking I never wanted to grow up and be occupied by doing things instead of imagining them.

But that’s what reason does—it reminds us of duty. It tells us that we are not alone, and that we bear a responsibility to ourselves and to others. Reason, then, is not the enemy of imagination—it is its compliment, its balancing force. But without the counterbalance of reason, imagination would not just lead to evil, it would lead to impotence. Left only with imagination, we would have many fantastic ideas and dreams, but we would have no way of pursuing them. We could not make our imaginings happen, no matter how ardently we longed to. Imagination, then, gives reason its soul, and reason gives imagination its body, and the world of the child is incomplete, though wonderful, because it is too selfish. The world of the adult is incomplete because it is too limited.

Unfortunately, most adults do not have a problem with too much imagination, but too little. The child needs to grow in reason to be a man, and the man needs to grow in imagination to be a man. But while adults have lost much of their power to imagine, it is not wholly lost. Museums, art galleries, films, poetry, myths, and other literature are testaments to this. They awaken the inner child, the child still longing to create and to feel the thrill of possibility and of endless ages. We will spend money and time to reawaken our childhood, though of course, it takes more powerful things than toys and backyards to fire our feeling of wonder again—specifically things that are compellingly beautiful, sublime, or tragic. But we can still feel it.

We must discover a second childhood and return to innocence if we would know joy; we must recover the magic of the ordinary; be thrilled again by small things; by gardens, trees, laughter, stories, friendship, and, yes, even little rooms with little windows. And we must be truly grateful for the great gifts of existence and experience. For it is then, with all the aching of a distant memory and a faraway home, that we will hear ordinary things hum with the vibrations of eternity, and our world will again grow large.

The Poor You Have Always With You

“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
-Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

There is a common and yet mistaken idea that poverty is solely a financial state, and that helping the poor consists primarily in providing them with food, clothing, and other material goods. In a way, this idea is understandable, for materials needs are the most easily seen and met.

But there is a second kind of poverty perhaps more devastating than material neediness, a greater and still more tragic poverty—the poverty of soul.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta saw this second kind of poverty most clearly, and spoke about it often. She knew what it was to work among the truly materially desolate in the slums of India, and yet, among these men, women, and children whom the world would pity, she saw many hearts full of joy, gratitude, and even contentment. In their utter desolateness, many were happy. Paradoxically, it was among the rich of the world, those who had everything materially, that she saw this second poverty in the form of depression, anger, hurt, isolation, loneliness and despair.

Jesus acknowledged that poverty would exist even among material plenty when he said, “The poor you will always have with you.” Some have twisted this into a financial prophecy of sorts, and have used it as an excuse not to help those in need—to their own condemnation, I might add, for the poor are Christ. But Jesus meant something more than the financially poor, although he certainly meant them also. He meant that the needy we will always have with us. And in the materially wealthy West, the needy most often are the emotionally and spiritually hurting.

As evidence of this, I daresay that many of us would be hard pressed to think of anyone we know who is without the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter—and so we think we do not have any poor toward whom we can show compassion. But this simply isn’t true.

I can say confidently that every one of us knows someone who is hurting emotionally—someone who feels abandoned, lost, lonely, doubting, despairing, or hungry for affection—but so often we are ignorant of it because we simply do not take the time to notice or to listen. And the hurting, in their isolation, often put on a mask of happiness so that their pain will not be discovered.

These are the poor and they are Jesus. If we are so self-absorbed that we do not notice, or we notice but do not care, we are quite literally abandoning Christ, and no amount of prayer or work in God’s name will matter to him if we are not serving with love the silently suffering around us.

How frequently, too, are the spiritually poor in our own families. Our husbands, wives, or children are hurting and craving affection, and yet they are the last ones we think of when we think of the needy. They are so close that we no longer see them. We must give ourselves to them with our time and attention.

This is love and it is not easy. In fact, in many ways, it is more taxing than meeting material needs. Distributing our money or possessions—paying the bills or donating to charity, for example—doesn’t cost us nearly as much as giving of our time and emotional energy to listen, and more importantly, to hear, with true understanding. Yet, it is what we must do if we would follow Christ.

Jesus solemnly promised, “When you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.” Let us then pray for hearts overflowing with compassion, so that we can hear and help with joy the hidden Christ veiled in the faces of our friends.

The True Story

The advent of Christmas is one of the busiest and noisiest times of year—a season of getting and spending in which we lay waste our credit cards. It should be a holy time, but it has become an orgy of consumerism in the temples of commerce. It is not peaceful, and it is certainly not silent.

It is a sign of the shrinking of the modern soul and the jaded and scientific cynicism of the contemporary age that we have nearly lost our capacity to wonder—even at the greatest of miracles. We have replaced it with a materialistic obsession and a voracious greed. But it is wonder that would make us feel small and selfless, that would cause us to give. It is materialism that makes us feel large and greedy and causes us to take. We have traded our souls for stuff, and we have lost them.

But despite, or perhaps because of, the materialism that is so prevalent, it is obvious that humanity is desperate for something to believe in, something to wonder at. The shallow satisfaction of Things dies as soon as there is something new to be had. Which is to say, immediately. And so we grasp after something deeper, something unbelievable to believe in.

Nowhere is this better evidenced than Hollywood. The unending theme of Christmas movies is the unbelieving cynic who needs to gain or regain the “spirit” of Christmas—that spirit being a sense of wonder and joy and faith in something that cannot be understood.

Pop culture is very often right about what is wrong, but it is almost always wrong about what is right, and this certainly true of Christmas movies. In these films, Hollywood has indeed stumbled on a profound theological truth: We must believe, we must wonder like a child at something to be truly happy. But it is what we should believe in and what we should wonder at that they go wrong. For the thing that brings the spirit of Christmas in these movies is almost always the wrong thing: It is family, it is being together, it is believing in Santa Claus.

Now, these things are good things, and even the story of Santa—which has become somewhat of an obsession—is a story with merits. It is one of giving, of faith, of asking and receiving, of childlike simplicity. It is a story just strange enough to be fiction. But it is not strange enough. We need a story yet more wonderful.

Fortunately, truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and there is a more wonderful story. It is the story of a small town in the Judean countryside, Bethlehem, the City of David, and what happened there. In this tiny town, a weary peasant girl—with God in her womb—was helped by her husband into a cave filled with the aroma of animals. Here, deep in the night, an infant cry startled the stillness, and in the dark, the Light of the world was born. Infinity had invaded space and eternity time. God had become a baby, and behind the starry curtain of heaven, angels danced to see it.

In the pungent dampness of the cave, the loving mother laid the great Strength of the Ages in a manger. The animals, unlike the men who had had no room for Him, were only too happy to share their feeding trough with God. Soon, the divine child was asleep with the first weariness he had ever known—but not the last he was to know. It was the weariness of tiny muscles and strained lungs. It was the pain and helplessness of humanity.

At this story we shrug, we pass by with a sweet and sentimental smile. We would prefer Santa Claus. It is only ignorance that makes it so. But this is the story really worthy of wonder, the story of the divine invasion, the story that is too good to be true—the True story. It is the most terrible and stupefying of miracles. It is the miracle that quite literally shattered the world. For in that tiny struggling form of a helpless child, a Vastness beyond vastness had become too small to ignore, and God forevermore took on the face, even the body of a man.

The Wrong Question

I wrote this essay in 2009, when Dawkins’ book first came out.

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]amed anti-theist and biologist Richard Dawkins has written a new book entitled The Greatest Show on Earth. No, it’s not a history of the Ringling Brothers—it’s his apologetic in defense of evolution. In the first chapter, Dawkins spends considerable time lamenting the large percentage of humanity that still believes in something as fanciful as Intelligent Design. He goes on to declare that evolution is an undeniable fact—something as real and self-evident as the earth itself. That is, except for the fact that you can’t see it. And this leads him to compare evolutionary scientists to forensic investigators piecing together the evidence of a crime scene after the fact.

But in his analogy, Dawkins misses the point. He’s right, of course—scientists are similar to forensic investigators in the sense that they want to answer how something occurred. But there is one major difference: to the forensic investigator, answering How is only a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. It is subordinate to the larger and more significant questions of Who and Why. Those are the ultimate questions, and the questions to which everyone craves answers.

Without answers to the questions of Who and Why, a case remains ultimately unsolved. There may be a full and detailed understanding of How the death occurred, yet without these answers, the victim’s family is left in the agony of unknowing. They want a reason, a motive. They want a perpetrator.

But in Dawkins’ universe, there is no Who or Why. Who made this? No one. Why are we here? No reason. It could be said that Dawkins is being unreasonable. He has gone to great lengths to remove these most human of questions from the arena of thought simply because he does not like where they lead.

Yet, these are the questions everyone is really asking, and they are quite reasonable. Despite great progress in scientific explanations of How things work, Dawkins’ case remains, and will remain, unsolved because he hasn’t yet answered them. Theology remains and will remain because it has.

In short, Dawkins’ atheism is too simple. It is not satisfying. It is no more satisfying than knowing, to continue the analogy, that your child was violently murdered by no one. Deep in the human consciousness, we know there’s more to the story. There’s the Story, and it starts in the beginning.

I predict failure for Mr. Dawkins’ crusade to turn the world zealously after a question it isn’t asking. No, the world is far too wonderful and man too mystical for atheism to flourish. Yet, I suspect Mr. Dawkins will not realize his mistake. He will continue to puzzle over those who will not accept his answer to the question they didnt’ ask. He will go on asking a question which, by his own reasoning, is ultimately irrelevant. So Mr. Dawkins, keep asking How as long as you wish. I will simply ask you in turn a question that has much deeper and profounder implications—a question which strikes at the very heart of human nature: Why do you ask?

The Prayer of Faith Will Heal the Sick: A Failed Promise?

This post is part of a larger discussion with Leighton Taylor regarding reason, faith, and the existence God. Specifically, this post is in response to this comment. For more posts related to our discussion, please click here.

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]orgive me if this response is a bit lengthy, but I believe your problem is reasonable and legitimate, and therefore I want to address it in a reasonable manner.

First of all, I want to acknowledge that I am indeed prone to doubt. There have been times that I have doubted my faith. There have been times I have doubted whether it is possible to know anything at all. There have been times when I have doubted whether existence is not simply a dream. But ultimately, I have doubted my doubts, and found that to think in a rational way one must believe. Faith is a matter of existence, and of thinking at all.

Simply put, skepticism is not a system of thought, nor can it ever be. It is not possible in any way to build a rational framework on a negative principle. To argue, to think in an orderly way, one must believe a certain number of first principles as true, and you will find that inevitably these first principles are matters of faith. I am hoping to develop this idea further (if I can ever finish the post), but it is beyond the scope of this discussion. Suffice it to say that, yes, I do doubt, but doubt is never enough.

As for the passage in James, on which this discussion has come to focus, I have thought about it extensively, and questioned whether or not it is a promise which has been left unfulfilled. After further analysis, however, I see no way in which this is a failed promise. Let me further elaborate my position as I feel I was hasty in my first reply and left many aspects of this question unanswered.

Definitions

Before we can conclude whether or not this passage contains an unfulfilled promise, we need to precisely define what the passage actually says. To do this, it is necessary to return to the language in which the passage was originally written, Greek. It is obvious that the keywords in this particular verse are “heal” and “sick,” so it is on these words that I will concentrate. In Greek, the words for these are “sozo” and “kamno” respectively. For the sake of precision, here are the meanings of these words:

Sozo

    • To save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction
    • To save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health
    • To preserve one who is in danger of destruction, to save or rescue
    • To save in the technical biblical sense
    • To deliver from the penalties of the Messianic judgment
    • To save from the evils which obstruct the reception of the Messianic deliverance

From here.

Kamno

  • To grow weary, be weary
  • To be sick
From here.

Regarding the first word, Sozo, the primary sense of the word is “salvation,” or being made “whole” (notice that this is the root of the word “salve”). But being saved from physical sickness is only one possible meaning, and it is not even the primary meaning at that. The great majority of the times this word is used in the New Testament, it is used in a spiritual context, of spiritual wholeness and wellness (I have linked to verses in Matthew, but the same holds true through the rest of the New Testament where this word appears). So could this word mean “heal” in the sense of making physically healthy again? It is possible, but it is only one possibility.

Regarding the second word, Kamno, does this word necessarily mean physically ill? Again, it is possible, but the primary sense is “to be weary” or “to faint,” and it is in this sense that the word is translated in the other places in which it appears in the New Testament.

Taking these definitions into account, it is entirely reasonable to render this verse in the sense that the prayer of faith shall strengthen, or make whole, those who are weary and faint—either spiritually or physically. In fact, Young’s Literal Translation renders it in this way:

“And the prayer of the faith shall save the distressed one, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if sins he may have committed, they shall be forgiven to him.”

Failed Promise?

Now that we have established what the verse actually says, I will address what the passage means and whether or not the statement made in this passage is unfulfilled.

As I have already pointed out, this passage is prescribing a path to wholeness—which is synonymous with salvation—either physically or spiritually. Indeed, we cannot neglect the spiritual implications of this passage, or forget that the human person has a spiritual as well as a physical nature. Of course to an atheist, this isn’t true, but the passage was not written by an atheist. At any rate, spiritual connotations are clearly present here, as verse 15 ends, “and if sins he may have committed, they shall be forgiven to him.” I notice that you did not include this in the verse as quoted on your blog, but it is nevertheless an essential part of the verse.

Therefore, it can be said that this passage carries with it both a physical and a spiritual dimension. And this is how the Church has historically understood it.

But does this mean we should always expect physical healing? If we look at the whole of the Bible, and not just this verse, it is clear that physical healing is not inevitable. This is not due to God’s inability to heal, but rather to the priority of the salvation, or healing and wholeness, of our souls, which is often accomplished through suffering. Redemptive suffering, or suffering as an instrument of salvation, is a theme that runs throughout the Bible. Here are just a few verses to that effect:

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:17

“For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” 1 Corinthians 1:5-6

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-8

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” Philippians 3:10

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13

In short, the Bible presents suffering as a medicine for sin and salvation.  If we participate in and are united to the sufferings of Christ, we will also be participants in and united to his resurrection and glorification. Like a painful surgery or physical exercise, suffering always hurts at the time, but it leads to health and wholeness spiritually.

So what does this theology of suffering have to do with this passage? It has everything to do with it. In the Bible, Christ is presented as the healer of our bodies, but also of our souls. As a spiritual physician, he may use temporal and physical suffering to “cure” us spiritually. And sickness is a form of suffering. If physical suffering can lead to our spiritual healing, God may choose not to heal us.

Now before you dismiss this idea, there is an exact example of this concept in the Bible. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul relates to the Corinthians that he asked Jesus directly three times to relieve him of his severe physical suffering—many believe this was related to a chronic eye condition. If Jesus was concerned only about our physical well being, it would be reasonable to expect this request to be answered instantaneously, especially for someone of the spiritual stature of the Apostle Paul. Each time, however, Jesus responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, Christ was more concerned with Paul’s spiritual purification and wholeness (salvation) than he was about his physical salvation from sickness.

This is not to say God doesn’t heal physically. I have already stated that he does and he has. But in this age of the world, our physical redemption does not carry the weight or priority of our spiritual redemption. Our bodies will die. This is inevitable. But as Christians, we believe in the eventual redemption, restoration, and salvation of our bodies which will take place at the resurrection and consummation of the age. Our souls, however, will not die, nor will they be resurrected. So spiritual wholeness takes precedent for now.

Again, I apologize for the great length of this, but I believe it was important to show that this verse, at least from a Christian perspective, is in no way inconsistent with the whole of the Christian message of redemption of both our souls and bodies. Christian theology is an interconnected whole, and one part should never be separated from the others—the theology of healing cannot be separated from the theology of suffering, which cannot be separated from the theologies of sin and salvation. In short, this is not a failed promise, it is very much being fulfilled as we daily die and yet live.

Logic and the Logos

At the back of all our thinking is the firm conviction that, if we think at all, we should think properly. That is, we should not think in circles, that our arguments should be structured in an organized and coherent way, and that two plus two never equals five.

All science, mathematics, and philosophy is based on this principle. These fields of knowledge assume an orderliness and predictability, not just of the world we can observe, but to the world we cannot–the world of abstract thought and ideas.  They assume that if one thing is proven true, then it follows that the opposite must be false, and that a syllogism, if properly constructed, carries all the weight and force of a definite law.

For there is a definite and universal character to the laws of logic and of thought. The strictness and regularity of these laws is even more easily testable and provable than the laws of nature, where mere probability is the rule. On the most fundamental and conceptual level, if A equals B, and B equals C, then A always equals C. This is not a matter of chance or probable outcome. This is not even a matter subject to empirical observation. The outcome simply follows with a more immutable certainty and necessity than the rising of the sun.

To those who take pleasure in thinking, this is a sacred truth, and there is nothing more feared than a fallacy. To embrace a fallacy would lead to intellectual impotence and a dissolution of the very fabric of reason. A fallacy is more than a mistake–it is a rebellion against the orderliness and harmony of the cosmos; it is a disregard for the truth and positivity of all things; it is a denial of our thought’s very relation to reality.

Now, the laws of logic, while necessary for all thought, are unusual things. They have a unique character, quite separate from the realm of  ordinary experience. This character can be described in three ways: They are immaterial and abstract–that is, their consistency is reflected in the material world but their existence is not contingent on it. They are also immutable, for what is proved logically true and necessary today cannot be proved logically false tomorrow. And they are universal–They are not simply conventions on which we agree, and there is no one to whom they do not apply.

It is not possible for me to have my own laws of logic by which I can prove with certainty that I am a cow. Nor can you have your own laws of logic where one and two equals twelve. There is an element of submission to the laws of logic–a recognition of a higher authority to which we must bow, not only for convenience but for comprehensibility.

This binding reality the ancients referred to as the Logos, the Logic–the basis of all thought and all argument; the unifying ratio or reason back of all that is. The Logos was divine in origin–for from whence but the Divine could a universal, immaterial constant emanate? Where indeed.

The materialistic atheist is quite insistent on being logical and rational–on not violating these laws of thought. And rightly so. Yet, this submission to an abstract, supra-natural entity is inconsistent with a materialistic philosophy–for it is not possible to intelligibly account for the laws of logic, independent of the material world as they are, when locked in a prison of matter. It is like arguing that oxygen doesn’t exist while using oxygen to breathe. It is, in fact, quite irrational.

No, there is but one fountain of all reality that can account for the rationality, logical consistency, and intelligibility of the universe, for the origin of an immutable, immaterial constant that governs our intellects and gives them life. And this fountain is not a principle, it is a person–the person of whom it was said, In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.

Art and Atheism

I don’t envy the Atheist, for he lives in a world of which he can only explain one half. The other half he can only guess at. By the other half, I mean all the things which are not explained by science: Morality, Happiness, Love, Religion, Art, etc. Of course, the Atheist has explanations for all these things, but none of them are really satisfactory. The animals get along fine without them; why shouldn’t we? That is a difficult question for the atheist.

But it is a question we need to ask. In the cold and cruel universe of atheism, all these things would make life more inconvenient and less efficient. They certainly do not make it simpler. The orangutan never asks why he exists, and so he doesn’t commit suicide when he gets no answer. He also doesn’t build a cathedral when he does. All these human things contradict the machinery of evolutionary efficiency. They should not be. Art is one example that is worth considering.

Animals are not artists. If the lion developed a sudden artistic attachment to its prey, we would hardly call it an advancement. We certainly wouldn’t call it efficient. Lionic poetry about the leaping grace of gazelles would not contribute to the evolution of more advanced and efficient lions. Lions are efficient because they don’t romanticize gazelles–they eat them.

It is the difference between utility and beauty that is the insurmountable gulf between animals and man. It is conceivable that an animal could learn to use tools to survive. But it is inconceivable that an animal would decorate its tools until they were unusable. It is perfectly efficient and reasonable for an ape to turn a rock into a tool for cracking nuts. It is inefficient to the point of insanity for an ape to turn a rock into Ulm Cathedral.

Art is not useful. It contributes nothing to the evolutionary process. Utilitarian beauty was a brief Victorian mood, but the fact remains that useful art is a contradiction in terms. A Ming vase may be perfectly suited to hold trash, but the idea of actually using it as a wastebasket is appalling. Some things are too beautiful to use, and this fact is proved by the existence of museums.

That art is wasteful and impractical is almost too obvious to mention, but this lack of utility is an enigma from an evolutionary perspective. Even if an ape could have evolved the intelligence to build a house, it would have never evolved the desire to decorate it. Art is something larger than reason and utility.

I’ve said until this point that art is useless, but that’s not exactly true. It is only true from a naturalistic perspective–not from a super-natural perspective. There is a use for art that can only be explained by spirit: Art is the language of living souls. It is the attempt of one spirit to express to another the inexpressible nature of things–to say something beyond words. Realistic art has never been very popular because the point of art is not to be realistic. Why reproduce what we can see with our eyes? Art is often exaggerated because it is what we cannot see, but still know, that art tries to capture.

The atheist might say the purpose of art is to make the world mean something. This is true, but the most reasonable explanation for it is that the world does mean something. We do not create art to invent meaning that isn’t there; we create art because we know meaning is there. All art and music and poetry are simply attempts to remember what the world means.

Back of everything that is, we can sense the purpose of an unseen Will, the breathing of a tremendous Life. We feel Its power as certainly as we feel we are alive, and the sensation is both strange and vaguely familiar. It is familiar because it is the echo of a distant memory. It is strange because we should not have forgotten it.

The insane sublimity of art is simply the striving of the soul to remember and to name this sense. It is the attempt to recall and remake the wonder and innocence of a home long forgotten, and the name of its Maker. It is the struggle to recover the glory and grace of a Garden, a place with two rivers and two trees at the very heart of the world–a place where a man could hear God walking in the cool of the day.