The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Quick Follow-Up


The only reason the revelations of Mother Teresa's interior life may scandalize some American Christians is that they are completely detached from religion as a real way of life, which is to say that they are Protestants, either internally or also in name. Religion, more often than not, is about obligation, sacrifice, and duty, not about good feelings or "self-fufillment". Yes, it can seem that we are lying to ourselves sometimes, that we aren't "keeping it real" as we youngsters like to say. But sometimes the best thing to do is to shut-up and get on with God's business. And that can mean that we don't get fuzzy feelings inside, that we don't experience any material or "spiritual" gain in this life, and that we have to "keep up appearances". That's just life, in all of its manifestations. That is why our life within the Church is so important: it takes us out of ourselves and puts us into uncomfortable situations where we have to deal with the Other, either on a personal or intellectual level. And we aren't always right. And we aren't always "happy". But we trust in God and we go on. Day in and day out. Until we enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, with the help of His grace.

14 Comments:

At 4:15 PM, Blogger D. I. Dalrymple said...

I think this is well said, Arturo. Submission at the price of self-fulfillment. Whether it's a relic of my former Protestantism or not, I find myself struggling with the lingering automatic assumption that faith is supposed to be something fulfilling -and that if the life of faith isn't infinitely fulfilling, then I should toss it or try something new. I learn more and more clearly that lack of faith and lack of fulfillment are actually the true conditions of my life. I find Mother Theresa's story mostly encouraging.

 
At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

I don't think it is just Protestantism, nor all bad per se--but also a very American success oriented philosophy and practical approach to life.

I actually like the Norman Vincent Peale (Rev) and his book Power of Positive Thinking (understanding flaws and limitations) and his Guideposts ministry. I had grandmas and aunts on my non Latino side who had the Guideposts magazine as a staple and it was very positive in their lives. There is an assumption that Faith can be willed and that we should trust in God--which is True but can be carried to an extreme. I think on the whole the Guideposts/Norman Vincent Peale message is good and very helpful but can not emphasize the reality of suffering and of the Cross which will come for everyone.

On the non Christian side, there is the famous Napolean Hill kind of success/self help classic THINK AND GROW RICH--which takes the POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING to a new level and focuses on temporal sucess. There are many good parts of the book and certainly nothing wrong (at least not per se) with thinking positive, visualizing results etc.
Some may think (and may think accurately) there are beginning elements of occultic practicies, divination, sorcerory etc--although sometimes these concerns are exagerrated. There is some mention, as humorous as that is in today's America, of Islam being the best religion. There is also mention of sublimination of sexual energies (not unknown in Catholic mystical theology and ascetic writings) although more occultic as in the quasi New Age Samuel Aun Woer and his prohibitions on masturbation for decreasing mystical energy and not, or at least not exact, prohibitions as an interpretation of the sin of Onan in the Old Testament or a violation of the reproductive nature. The post Temple Talmudic Jews (at least some) in the Kabbalah talk about masturbation as losing the mystical seeds of soul production (not incompatible with the Catholic concept which is more physical and earthy). In the THINK AND GROW RICH it states that young men sometimes don't find success until they are done "sewing their oats" and have a good woman behind them. It models Carnegie, FDR, Ford, Rockerfeller and others and assumes some esoteric teaching of mind control and positive thinking.

On the Protestant side again you have students of Peale like ROBERT SCHULLER and his Crystal Cathedral and his Possibility Thinking Meditation (PTM) certainly rooted in the Bible and Christ but seemingly very New Age, Gnostic or Occultic--or at least possibly. Again, not much talk of Sin, Redemption, Suffering. But again, this is an American/US/Anglo-Saxon phenomena which is somewhat culturally and historically understood if not justified.

The Norman Vincent Peale/Guideposts positive thinking seems to be heavily rooted in the Gospels and Faith message of Jesus as well as the Psalms. I don't want to misqoute Peale or his followers but I think when answering the question why he thinks positive that he answers that because Jesus thinks positive and wants him to also.
To have the faith of a mustard seed to move mountains. To have faith to walk on water. That there is a choice and discipline of faith, hope, trust, positive thinking. That Jesus asks us to be positive and even visualize our goal(s).

There is a whole New Age library or even less New Age and just business self help (with some criticisms and agreement by some older books on Psychology by Jesuits and others--there is a Traditional Roman Catholic Books in Texas that has some good stuff on the Occult, Poltergeist phenomena, Psychology, the Will and Discipline--from a Traditional Roman Catholic Perspective) starting from Emile Coue and her "Getting better and better in every way and every day"--these Catholic books do not deny the possibility of energy natural from the human body including to heal (the Aquinas distinctions of supernatural and preternatural play into here)or that positive thinking is helpful or that at least some illness is psychosomatic and that illness can be cured through placebos.
These go on through books on hypnosis, selling, success--including many Christian authors.
Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Real Estate Seminars, even Pat Robertson to a lesser extent on the Christian side. The New Age side from Shakti Gawains Creative Visualization, her mentor "Catholic" Jose Silva and the Silva Method (which he says the Holy Spirit is a dimension), or the current best seller promoted by Oprah the SECRET.

On the more "heretical" Christian side there is Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddy and her gnostic or almost gnostic views on matter but some practical advice that can work to help healing.

The Evangelical Christian "Name it Claim it" and Oral Roberts and others on TV and elswhere of claiming wealth and health in the name of Jesus. Again, this may work as a placebo but the reality is health and wealth can fade and the book of Job can come into play.

There is an American Calivnistic thought (even among Catholics on a practical level) that one sign of salvation is human success. That Salvation cannot be lost and that we are guaranteed heaven and should not doubt. That doubting Salvation is bad and even a sign that you are not saved. The Catholic view that Salvation is not constant and can be lost is not the same doctrine as Luther or Calvin. While there are different views in Protestantism (Armeniansism v Predistenination) etc--there is an underlying cultural and even subconscious force that God Blesses his elect and that money or health problems could be or are a sign of spiritual misalignment (something taught in Eastern Religions also)

So the doubting of faith from a Protestant perspective of Mother Teresa is a sign she was not or is not saved. That she should of become a born again Christian and she would have CERTAINTY in salvation. Moreover, the poor she were helping may have been predistined to be poor or even predistined to be damned.

There is a lot of truth, but only partial truth from the Horatio Algiers--rags to riches--American success story. Certainly, a plan, a good clean life, thinking positive, reading the Bible---can lead to success and many times does.

However, success is not a sign of salvation (I am willing to discuss and have heard different from some Catholics discussed below). Salvation is not "ASSURED" or "CERTAIN" in Catholicism.

Religion, including Catholicism, can be comforting and provide security--belief, hope, faith--a comprehensive system, devotional practices, a community. Certainly, joining the Catholic Church you should not necessarily have to have or long for disease and financial disaster as a sign of being Blessed either (but that may come). Martyrdom is a crown but one that is not always chosen.

I find Catholicism very comforting and do not seem to have the same doubts as Mother Teresa (although I am not sure exactly what she had or didn't have) But she may have had more Blessings and ability to do things through Grace than I. Certainly, she is an incredible role model and inspiration.

Old Testament Judaism, and all "branches" of Christianity have the book of JOB in their canon(s). It is not my favorite book because I certainly don't want death and destruction to test my faith. But it is important to understand that while I think if most people do what is right, eat their morning cereal, read the Psalms, don't do drugs, and work hard etc--they live good lives--many people unexpectedly get sick--and some are persecuted mercilessly unfairly and even killed from Sudan to China and probably every country on the planet for various reasons at every historical period in human history.

Besides the Old Testament Book of Job--which is less loss of faith than the loss of temporal sucess--there is also the Gospel and the Passion of Christ (I am a fan of the Gibson movie) where Peter denies him, Judas betrays him, his apostles besides the youngest and the women run away from him--and he is brutally tortured and crucified for no good solid reason. But in the crucifixion there is HOPE and ultimately RESSURRECTION and ASCENSION and faith in the SECOND COMING and A FINAL DISPENSATION OF JUSTICE.

Certainly post biblical readings (and biblical readings also--the Psalms can be comforting and Proverbs educating--but they also talk about sadness and lack of faith and asking for faith--and we know that Saul did divination and David committed adultery even after knowing God and committed murder to do the adultery--they also asked for faith and lost faith. Peter lost faith and while did not betray like Judas he did not want to admit he knew Jesus and acted like he was someone else. But in Catholic readings John of the Cross talks about the now much talked about Dark Night of the Soul--and Padre Pio talks about blasphemous thoughts---should we start talking aboug St. Augustine or St. Terese of Lisieux.

The reason the media and our culture may be so interested in this is that they are influenced, perhaps subconsciosly or uninentionally through culture, by Calvin and a cult of success and a view of Christianity tied into middle class living at a US Modern standard and a positive thinking message (which is not all bad) with Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, Oral Roberts, and even Pat Robertson.
As well as an occultic (perhaps) and New Age message of Self Help through Napolean Hill, Matz, Gawain, Silva, Tony Robbins, and now the Secret.
(I did not put Steven Covey while he is influenced by this and believes in visualization and positive thinking--he is a Mormon and also believes in a Aristotle/Aquinas like (or lite) Natural Law)

Lastly, some friends of mine in Opus Dei (which I am pro but disagree here) believe that natural virtue is a sign of being open to supernatural virtue and they build on each other (with heavy influences from Plato and less so Aristotle). There is a practice, among some, in Opus Dei to recruit from the honor roll (admitted to me by a director) because they are already disciplined and have human virtue. A former director of a residence (another one) told me that business success was a sign of virtue (and I agree to a point) and how he liked Japanese students because of their natural virtue (as did St. Francis Xavier although he also later made other less PC cultural observations).
I believe that salvation and "recruiting" is more of a "surprise" and that while discipline and natural virtue are important and good--and I like Aristolte and there is much Truth that the Church has embraced--that the Gospel message is a surprise--the First will be last and the last will be First--Blessed are poor and meek--not the Harvard MBA or the best students. God used people that did not seem the best to create great miracles. There can be a cult of success in Catholicism. Opus Dei may sometimes be guilty of this (although not universally and they do great work) Similiarly, some Traditional Catholics in their desire for Monarchy (which is logically justified and an argument can be made) or desire for the Habsburg Monarchy become obsessed with aestethics and liturgy at the expense perhaps of interior conversion. They are focused on the Royal Blood Line of the Holy Family and not the humbleness and humanness. A man in prison is equal to the Emporer of the Holy Roman Empire in the eyes of God.

The US/American cult of success can be inspiring and enabling.
But it is only part of life and is not the ultimate answer of the Christian life.

 
At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Frank said...

This whole debate on on faith and doubt reminds me of the Ingrid Bergman black and white film in Swedish with English subtitles called the Seventh Seal. I think Bergman was or is Swedish.
A Swedish Crusader, who was filled with faith and zeal--returns from the Crusades to find the Plague and Black Death and he loses his faith in God. The thought that there might not be a God is unbearable to him. Death comes to him and they have a game of chess. He wants proof of the existence of God. The death from the Crusades and the Plague in Europe make him lose his faith. Death (not the Devil) asks him (in Swedish): "Do you ever stop questioning?" and he responds "No, I never stop".
I always liked the movie and thought it was profound. I think it is applicable here.
I think the term would be existenstialism.
Pope John Paul II I think used the term Christian existentialism and liked Juan de la Cruz and his Dark Night of the Soul (which is being talked about a lot after the "revelations" of Mother Teresa--but I wonder how many people have read the Dark Night or understand?
anyone remember the Bergman movie?
anyone think it is applicable here?

The movie trailer is on my MySpace PI.

 
At 6:09 PM, Anonymous Frank said...

I meant I think Bergman was Lutheran. In fact I remember some movie commentary that his dad was a strict Lutheran pastor.

I think that Capra, Ford and Hitchcock were Catholic.
Certainly in Capra you can see a Catholic worldview.

 
At 6:53 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Perhaps you've blogged on this at greater length previously, but you've mentioned in several posts, as you have in this one, something to the effect that, for Protestants, the faith is divorced from a real way of life, or divorced from community, etc.

If you're at all inclined, I'd be interested in reading something that develops your claim a bit further.

 
At 7:07 PM, Anonymous FrGregACCA said...

According to the Catechism of the [Roman] Catholic Church:

"Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord's words "Thus you will know them by their fruits"- reflection on God's blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty." (Paragraph 2005)

Also, a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written while he was imprisoned by the Nazis:

Who Am I?

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,

Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!


The poem is found here

 
At 8:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are positive cultural aspects to Protestantism. I am not Protestant. I generally agree with the Protestant critique here.

Some Protestants, although not creedal based, have community.

A book sympathetic to Protestantism but thouroughly Catholic is Forms and Substance of Protestantism by Louis Boyer who was a Lutheran French convert to Catholicism. Very good read. Very deep and profound.

I personally have some sympathy for Wesley (both brothers) and the original Methodist approach.

Generally, I do think Protestantism is dying and may have caused some of the cultural crisis and secularism we are seeing now but not exclusively responsible for it.

 
At 8:57 AM, Blogger Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Thank you everyone for the comments.

"There is an American Calivnistic thought (even among Catholics on a practical level) that one sign of salvation is human success. That Salvation cannot be lost and that we are guaranteed heaven and should not doubt. That doubting Salvation is bad and even a sign that you are not saved. The Catholic view that Salvation is not constant and can be lost is not the same doctrine as Luther or Calvin. While there are different views in Protestantism (Armeniansism v Predistenination) etc--there is an underlying cultural and even subconscious force that God Blesses his elect and that money or health problems could be or are a sign of spiritual misalignment (something taught in Eastern Religions also)

So the doubting of faith from a Protestant perspective of Mother Teresa is a sign she was not or is not saved. That she should of become a born again Christian and she would have CERTAINTY in salvation. Moreover, the poor she were helping may have been predistined to be poor or even predistined to be damned."

Thanks, Michael. That's worth repeating.

Jim,

Briefly, I think that Protestantism is divorced from daily life because it ultimately reduces one's criterion for truth to one's own opinions, while historical and communal considerations are more often than not put into the background. It thus turns religion into purely a manner of opinion, rather than a membership in a broader community as an echo of the communion of the Most Holy Trinity.

Protestantism does not give the historical Church the benefit of the doubt. Protestantism refuses to allow for the full blossoming of human religious expression under the pretension of "purifying" religion. It thus turns it into a completely cerebral exercise on the one hand, or a full-blown Pentecostal irrational flow, on the other. There is no balance because it refuses to acknowledge the wisdom of the Universal Church in its two thousand year experience of planting the Gospel into the hearts of men.

That is a rather pithy and generalized explanation, but it is all I have time for at this point.

 
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