Following Nature to Find God

The star which they saw in the East went before them
til it came and stood over where the young child was.
When they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

                                                                           Matthew 2:9–10

The sixth of January, the twelfth day of Christmas, is the Feast of the Epiphany, when the recognition of Jesus as the Great King by the gentiles in the persons of the  wise men is celebrated. The wise men, magi as the Greek calls them, came seeking a king.  And this the Angel Gabriel had promised to Mary:  “The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob, and of His kingdom there will be no end”(Luke 1:33–34). The wise men had not come to discuss theology or to satisfy curiosity but to worship.   And their worship and their gifts represented the humble allegiance to truth of those we now call men of science, for the magi were the natural philosophers of the first century, men of the East, perhaps Persians, astronomers and perhaps astrologers, interested in understanding nature’s lessons, in this case, willing to follow a star, known to them as “His star,” the King’s star.  

It has ever been the intellectual habit of Christians to learn from nature.  We do not know much about Saint Paul’s education, beyond the fact that he studied with the great scholar Gamaliel in Jerusalem.   Then there is the hint in Romans 1, where he acknowledges his debt to the Greeks and to the Barbarians.   His debt to the Greeks is evident in his ability to quote the poets Epimenides and Aratus before the council of the Areopagus (Acts 17:28–29), as well as in his grasp of ideas such as the participation of Christians in Christ that might be shared with the Platonists and Stoics of his day.   Paul’s claim too, like that implicit in the magi’s journey, was that nature taught the most important thing, the existence and power of God; that nature, like the wise men’s star, would, if followed faithfully, lead us to our King.     

From Paul, through the great medievals, Aquinas and Bonaventure, to the nineteenth century, it has been the claim of Christian scholarship, and indeed of all Christian thought, that knowledge of nature would lead to God.  Perhaps this reached a popular apotheosis with the Romantic Poets of the nineteenth century.   And then, as though a door has been slammed in the face of the inquirer, it became philosophically unfashionable to see God’s mighty hand or the beauty of Christ’s face in nature.   Now it would not be easy to find a professional philosopher who  taught that St. Thomas’s Five Ways offered intellectually compelling reasons for belief in God.  

This is in some measure due to the circumstance that it is now the enemies of reason who define the reach of reason.  We owe to the eighteenth-century British philosopher David Hume the observation that treatises on divinity contain no knowable truth while impressions derived from the senses, call them matters of fact, may be considered true,  and analytical statements, statements in which the predicate is contained in the subject (unicorns are one-horned animals), may be considered if not true at least logically valid.  It may be admitted that speaking of God’s existence under these canons of reason is impossible.  There can be no empirical proof, for while God may make himself known to Moses, and while Christ might appear to the apostles, these events, like Pentecost itself, are not empirically knowable since they are the experiences that while they may be compelling are the consequence of faith and as such are not universally available as evidence of God’s existence.   And as for logical proof of God’s existence, the first premise in a deductive argument must always be question-begging, assuming what it seeks to prove. 

       What this canon of the knowable omits is the kind of knowledge that may be called historical, that kind of argument in which thought, presiding over a field of facts and experiences, draws a conclusion.   Several of the classical arguments have this kind of form, most notably the argument from design, the observation, based on our experience of a world of great complexity in which things have purposes and patterns, that where there is order and design there is a designer.  We see that a nation is experiencing an unprecedented military buildup, which is coupled with threats and bellicose speech.  We may conclude that war is likely, or very likely.   War may or may not come, but in a pale analogy to Pascal’s wager, better safe than sorry, we are probably best advised to be prepared for war.   Probability is, as Newman counseled, the guide of life. We  experience, often through long years, an ordered world in which some things go wrong, but more go right.  By calling the wrong things wrong, we acknowledge that they do not belong to the order of reality.   From this preponderance of evidence we may conclude or be led to believe that the world moves under the providence of a loving and beneficent God.  This is not a formal philosophical argument any more than was Paul’s observation in the first chapter of Romans that from the creation of the world the unseen things of God, his divinity and power, are clearly perceived. 

       The Psalmist knew this:
              The heavens declare the glory of God
              And the firmament showeth his handiwork

       For Dante, “Nature is the art of God,” an idea persisting even amid the pantheistic theology of the Enlightenment, in Alexander Pope’s words:
              All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
              Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.

William Paley’s Evidences of Christianity (1794), which remained an important collegiate text throughout the nineteenth century was the scholarly formulation of the common observation that the intricate regularity of nature attests the existence of its creator.  This idea is a perennial of human thought and imagination. That the glory of God my be perceived in the things that are made persisted into the foothills of modernity in sentimental ballads of the 1950s: 

              I believe above the storm the smallest prayer will still be heard
              I believe that someone in the great somewhere hears every word
              Every time I hear a newborn baby cry or touch a leaf or see the sky
              Then I know why I believe.

In the long run the only argument against the argument from design, the claim that there is no Great Designer, is naturalism, the assertion that nature is a self-explanatory  process.  And the only counter argument is wonder. Mankind, not educated to skepticism by the infernal knowingness of the fallen world, has always found nature, despite that side of things that is disordered,  wonderful and has moved in imagination to the conclusion that God is the Creator.  When told that the old proofs for the existence of God are invalid, pay no attention.   They are for the most part not formal deductions but common inferences.  Such knowledge is not of itself salvific, but it does provide the common insight that faith presupposes and without which faith cannot possess the human heart.  As Hebrews tells us, “Whoever would come to God must believe that he exists” (11:6).   

 Just how the wise men knew  that the star they followed was his star, the star of the great king,  is hidden in their science, but on they came o’er field and fountain, moor and mountain following the star, willing always to be led by nature to the King whom they had travelled far to worship. 

Small Hands

Text and Talk With Dr Patrick
09 January 2021

Small Hands

“Such is of the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”

These are lines from (I think) Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings describing the condition of fallen mankind. Be it remembered that work is a curse: Because you have done this thing, “cursed is the earth in your work, with labor and toil shall you eat thereof all the days of your life” (Genesis 1:12). Throughout the ages a good deal of energy has been spent avoiding work, so that in every society there is a class of persons who are freed from the necessity of labor, these would be at present those who possess enough capital to invest, as well as members of the bureaucracy at the local or national levels, who, although they may be reassigned cannot be fired. In a broad sense members of the professions, although they may work very hard, are viewed as being freed of the necessity of laboring in order to pursue their vocation.
       The small hands who move the wheels of the world are thought of as having a job, not a vocation. In the Old Testament these were the people of the land, for whose protection here were special provisions. They are always there; land owning serfs in the middle ages, cobblers and millers and carpenters who possessed a skill but no property. Those who wove the Anjou Apocalypse tapestry in the 1370s, the builders of the great cathedrals, the principal activity of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, whose names are lost.
       This class of workers revolted in England in 1381; in Germany in the 1520s , where they were put down with violence. After the industrial revolution relocated labor from the land to cities, the peasants of industrial society constituted a group sufficiently large and sufficiently vocal to claim the interest of the governing class, and indeed “Labor,” after the near revolution of 1830, claimed the interest of politicians who would variously seek justice for the laboring classes, or appease them, or seduce them for the interests of the governing class.
       Viewed realistically, it is the small hands who make American society habitable. This essay began with a reflection of whoever it is who paints the white lines on the roads. They must do so in the early hours of the morning, for they are seldom seen, but without those white lines it is impossible to drive after dark if you are over seventy. Then there is the cleaning lady, legal or illegal, who makes $10.50 an hour. In recent days those who work through the night to stock the shelves in grocery stores. Plumbers’ helpers, you can make your own list. This is a class of persons no longer poor. The driver of an eighteen-wheeler may earn six figures, as may the operators of the digging and concrete crushing machines. But they are still members of the class I am trying to describe.  The cleaning lady and the backhoe operator are bound together by a common culture.  They watch television. They do not read books.  They do not know who or what Derida and Richard Rorty, subjectivism, deconstruction, or critical theory might be, and although they are perfectly capable of understanding these ideas, they do not find them interesting. They are not socialists because they have property, and yes, they are disproportionately white, although this class will include numbers of Hispanics and blacks. There are generally not socialists, although it has been pointed out that voting socialist would be in their own interest. And in an age of atheism they are disproportionately Christian. They are also disproportionately uneducated in the sense that they do not always go to college. In terms of the criteria that have been established by sociologists and politicians they are racists because they do not understand why black persons who seem to them to lead disorganized lives should be favored by the government, but those minority persons who work and who accept their vision are welcomed to the table by them. They are fiercely independent. Probably they are genetically disproportionately Scotch-Irish. They are a diminishing class, essentially doomed, because urbanism recruits them away from their often unconsciously held principles, because the drug culture ravages them, and because television , apart from Duck Dynasty, recruits their children into modernity.
       While those who say that the Founders established an order that benefited themselves have a point, it was on the behalf of this group that the nation was founded. Gordon S. Wood’s study of how a monarchical, hierarchical society became equalitarian in about ten years ends by pointing out that although what Burke would have called the unbought grace of life was abrogated, the American settlement brought unimagined benefits to the class I have been describing, Jefferson’s small, independent farmers and shopkeepers. Disproportionately, they work with their hands. But these are the people who about 2010 found a voice in the Tea Party: According to political analyst Scott Rasmussen. Tea party participants “think federal spending, deficits and taxes are too high, and they think no one in Washington is listening to them, and that latter point is really, really important.” But how can the political class listen, when once one goes to Washington one is recruited into a conversation run by lobbyists, a culture whose voice is PBS, and whose most important citizens are not the folks back home but the donors that make reelection possible. Historically, resentment of the Federal government’s bailout of everybody but themselves, was, oddly, the spark that ignited a small American fire. Not well-versed in economic theory, they stubbornly refuse to believe that printing paper money to fuel an expansive state will work out well. Their work is not valued. The small hands that do the work of the world are just supposed to be there, while what is valuable is technology, medicine, lawyering, and politics. And what is profitable is trading in non-existent money.
       What we have just been witnessing, over the last decade, culminating in last week, is another peasant revolt, a large group of the small hands who went to Washington convinced that the November election was rigged. Their movement has religious and economic roots. Opposition to it is fueled by hatred, or rather by something worse, by contempt. Hillary Clinton defined the peasants as deplorable. What will be remembered from last week will not be the riots but the words of the ?CNN commentator Anderson Cooper “Look at them, they’re high-fiving each other for this deplorable display of completely unpatriotic, completely against law and order, completely unconstitutional behavior, it’s stunning. And they’re going to go back to the Olive Garden and to the Holiday Inn they’re staying at, or the Garden Marriott, and they’re going to have some drinks and talk about the great day they had in Washington. They stood up for nothing other than mayhem.” What will be remembered of Cooper’s remark is the tone; these people did not stay at the Ritz-Carlton or the St. Regis; they are the common lot.
       One may ask what fuels this attitude or superiority and its complement, contempt. It is the perfection of the attitude of Enlightenment philosophers, whose implicit claim was that they have seen through the dark superstitions of the past, to enter a world in which knew no bounds other than taste. Often the taste of the small hands does not measure up, and the wars of recent days can be seen as differences not over policy but over taste. The mere sight of the president throws the coastal elites into a state of inexpressible rage. He is and represents the wrong sort, so wrong that no rule of courtesy or honesty impinges upon attempts to remove and discredit him.
       The other thing that will be memorable from this disastrous week is the attempt to silence any criticism of the impending glory days. The capitol riots will be used by the left, as was the Reichstag fire, to justify extreme measures. I note that it unleashed the hatred of Peggy Noonan for the president and all his works. In any event, he will go away, and the troublesome small hands will remain unrepresented.

Thoughts on the Second Reading for Christmas Day

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways
to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, He has spoken to us through the Son,
whom He made heir of all things
and through whom He created the universe,
who is the refulgence of His glory,
the very imprint of His being,
and who sustains all things by His mighty word.

Hebrews 1:2–3

These words, in all their beauty and power describe the  glory of the child born in Bethlehem, who while he lay in Mary’s arms is the Word of the Father, the means through which creation exists, the refulgence of God’s glory, the very imprint of God’s being. The shepherds came from  the east not to satisfy curiosity or to discuss the theology; they sought the child but to lay their precious gifts before Him and to worship. And ever since, through long centuries, it has been the privilege of the apostolic mission to testify to the truth that the child born in Bethlehem, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, was not an ordinary child who through grace would come to share in the life of God, but that the child born of Mary in Bethlehem is indeed the one through whom God created the Universe, reflecting always God’s glory, sustaining the world as the eternal Word of God.   The child is He “Through whom He created the  Universe,” as John says, “All things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made” (1:3).  He is the eternal Son of God, God’s very speech, existing from all eternity.  He was the one in the beginning, the Word through whom God spoke the Spirit who hovered over the face of the deep to bring, order, light, and the fulness of being, and who at this time and in this place, in the principate of Augustus, took human nature to himself, healing the chasm torn across creation when our first parents chose the serpent’s way.  And like the Magi we worship Him. 

That one displaying the refulgence of the Father was born into our world tells us something about that world in which we live and also tells us something about the son of God in His relation to our world.  First, it tells us that every piece of creation, from our bodies to the trees and sky, while these do not  share in the life of the Blessed Trinity–only the eternal Son is of one glorious substance with the Father—are each gifts of God, bearing the impress of His mighty hand, and in that way enjoying a derivative holiness.   This intuition of  God’s ownership and authorship is the warrant claimed by the romantic poets,  evident in Wordsworth’s “Lines composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” (122–128):

                 This prayer I make, the heart that loved her; ’tis her privilege,
                 Through all the years of this our life, to lead
                 From joy to joy: for she can so inform
                 Knowing that Nature never did betray
                 The mind that is within us, so impress
                 With quietness and beauty, and so feed
                 With lofty thoughts.

This is what Gerard Manley Hopkins knew when he wrote that for all the irreverent damage men might do to God’s nature:

And for all this, nature is never spent:

          There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.

Poets echo with imagination the fact that Christ the Word is present in everything the human hand touches and in our hands themselves.   The worship of nature is one of those great mistakes that attests to a great truth gone awry, for the object of our worship must always be not the creature but the Creator.  Yet the fact of the presence of Christ in everything natural is a clue to how we should treat nature.  Because we see the beauty and order God has put in the world, while knowing that victory cannot be perfect until Christ returns, we should strive to overcome the natural evil that has plagued us since Eden, the fruits of sin issuing in death.  This is the work of priests, physicians, and teachers, always striving to replace disease and ignorance with holiness, health, and knowledge.   But beyond this is the necessity always to touch nature with love, not viewing the natural world as a scene of blank potentiality but as a work of Christ through whom all things were made.  His work is perfect, but humankind has the power to perfect creation guiding it toward the glory that lies within it, or to degrade it. Anyone reading this essay could catalogue those things that should never have been made.  So those with the power to make should ask, “Does what I’m about to do reflect the reality that everything belongs to God, given to humankind as a gift, bearing the stamp of His almighty hand, and should therefore be touched only with reverence.” 

And second,  seeing Christ in nature enables us to see Christ as He is.  As Saint Paul wrote, what can be known about God is evident, for 

          “Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely His                eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that               have been made” (Romans 1:20).

And what we see in nature is the work of one possessed of all the power and gracious goodness of the Father.   Miracles in themselves, although they can be believed and their deep reasonableness appreciated,  cannot  be explained,  nor can the great mysteries of creation, salvation, and the new creation  be explained.  We do not know why Jesus heals this blind man and turns this water into wine,   but the predicate of every supernatural act of our Lord is the fact that  everything that exists was made by Him.  He is inside nature, and the laws and rules for nature that we confess are mere effective metaphors in comparison with the informing knowledge possessed by the Son.    This fact should warn every believer away from modern atheism, the work of Enlightenment philosophers, which includes among its founding principles the belief that nature is merely natural.

Tom Wolfe and the Kingdom of Speech

The Kingdom of Speech:  Tom Wolfe / Little, Brown Pub. / 200 pages

A complicated and brilliant book.  Perhaps the impetus for writing it came from the awareness that science, while in the 150 years that separates us from Darwin, had invented relativity and microbiology, despite intense effort had failed to produce even a compelling theory regarding  the origin of speech.   The story begins with the failure of Darwin, who having been enormously successful in presenting a theory fostered by William Wallace, never got further than, in his 1871 Descent of Man, suggesting that speech evolved from the human ability to imitate the song of birds.  Wolfe is a Darwinian (I think), but he believes on good evidence that Darwin stole his theory from Wallace, who had written Darwin asking him to forward his paper sketching a theory of evolution to Charles Lyell.  Wallace’s paper stirred Darwin into hurriedly writing the Origin of Species.     

After that a great silence on the question ensued until Noam Chomsky came on the scene proposing the existence in the brain, or as a function of the brain,  of a language organ containing a basic universal grammar.  Wolfe has a good deal of fun with Chomsky, whom he presents as a somewhat vain and pompous theorist. Then enter Daniel Everett, born in dry and dusty Holtsville, California, destined by his upbringing to a life of insignificance, something in the way of William Wallace, who somehow got saved by his future wife Karen, wound up at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, became a brilliant linguist and then became a missionary in the back of the beyond, in the Amazon basin, with a tribe of 350-500 people called the Piranha, pronounced with one short and one long vowel.  

  No one had ever learned their language, but Everett mastered it, including that bird-song imitations useful for hunting.  So Everett had before him a living laboratory in which these tiny people spoke a language perhaps unchanged for thousands of years.   But it was a strange language, having only a present tense, no word for yesterday or tomorrow, just “other day,” and no word for up or down.  They made no artifacts other than the bow and arrow, the existence of which among them was part of the mystery.  They were merely irritated by Everett’s talk of Jesus, which they politely asked him to drop after a while.  They lived not even in huts but in shelters thrown together of tree branches, shelters the next high winds would destroy, which would make the Piranha laugh and laugh.    

But their chief interest for Everett lay in the fact  that they had no language organ containing a universal basic grammar.  This observation opened the way for the conviction that the Piranha language was a cultural artifact.  It had no recursion, a word coined by Chomsky to describe the ability of language to use complex sentences implying many ideas.  “Every sentence stands alone and refers to a single event.”  “The Piranha language comes from their culture, not from any pre-existing mental template.”   This claim was devastating to Chomsky’s theory, and a war of words between Chomsky and Everett ensued.  With the public Everett was the easy winner.  He wrote a best-seller with the title Don’t Sleep—There are Snakes,” which was Piranha for “Good Night.”  If Chomsky’s theory was not defeated it was highly qualified.  So after the silence of a century, during which grave scholars had admitted that they knew nothing of the origin of speech, the idea grew that speech was the ultimate cultural accomplishment, the tool that enabled man to master nature.  The thesis of Everett’s book Language The Cultural Tool was: “Speech is man-made.  It is an artifact and it explains man’s power over all other creatures in a way Evolution all by itself can’t begin to.”   Speech is the dividing line between man and other animals; only speech gives the human beast the ability to make plans . . . not just long-term but any plans, even for something to do five minutes from now.”   

The greatest achievement of words has been “the creation of an inner self, and ego.  Speech and only speech gives man the  ability to ask questions about his own life.”    “Only speech gives man the power to dream up religions and gods to animate them, and in extraordinary cases to change history, with words alone and without political backing.”  Jesus, Muhammad, John Calvin, Marx, and Darwin.  Marxism may now be discredited, but his idea of one social class dominating another will be with us forever.  Millions of sexual acts throughout the world would not be occurring were it not for the words of Sigmund Freud.   Mighty men might say the wrong words and tens of thousands of little men would die.  “Word are artifacts, and until man had speech, he couldn’t create any other artifacts, whether it was a slingshot or an Iphone or the tango.” You could lay aside your slingshot or your  Iphone and forget about it . . . But you could not make speech lie down once it had left your lips.   Wolfe suggests that we have entered a fourth Kingdom of Earth, After the ages of animals, vegetables, and  minerals we enter the Kingdom of Speech.  Wolfe concludes his account by telling of his casual page-turning of a book about evolution when, upon seeing the image of apes cuddling their young while the males stamp down under bush to make desks for the night, when he looked up and saw through his apartment windows the New York skyline, with the Marks and the Carlisle ($750 per night, Bose sound systematic, German brass fixtured) framed  against the peaks of the Chrysler Building, the empire State Building, and the Citicorp Building.” 

And there Wolfe’s story ends.

A story beautifully told, yet one in which it clarifies the nature and function of language still does not tell us much about the origin of language and speech.   Of course Wolfe could not  offer a theory that says simply that man, being created by the Word in the image of God, with the Word enlightening every man coming into the world, has never been without words and language.  Word does what Wolfe claims for them; he has a magnificent vision of their power, but of the origin of speech he tells us nothing.  

It is to be regretted that Wolfe did not or could not go on to remember that Christianity believes that creation exists through God’s speech, that he did not fashion the world but spoke existence where before there was nothing.  And Christianity would agree most specifically with Wolfe’s conviction that words divine and even human have nuclear potentiality.  It was man’s use of speech to defy God that caused the destruction of the tower of Babel and the subsequent linguistic divisions. And there is nothing in Scripture more frightening than the promise that every word we have spoken is known to God and will be heard again.   And above all is the glad fact that the name of the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the savior of mankind, called faithful and true, is “clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is the Word of God” (Revelation 19:13-14). 

Questions remain.  What is the relation between speech and writing, which is the attempt to make speech live and be shared through time.  And what is the relation between words and thought.  Wolfe suggests that one might try to count to ten, just mentally, without using words. And there is the mystery involved in the sudden ability of two-year-olds to speak their language, recursively, a phenomenon that supports Chomsky’s language organ thesis.  But Everitt was surely right that speech is a cultural inheritance, still an irrefutable witness to who you are and where you are from and how you will manage the world.    

  Finally, this book seems to be Wolfe’s own working through of the meaning and power of speech, a kind of revelation to himself about what he has been doing.                              

What is the Immaculate Conception?

But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.

                                         Luke 1:34–35

The place of Mary in God’s economy of salvation is anchored in the Gospel of Luke, in which the things Mary had hidden in her heart were made part of the revealed literature of the Church (Luke 2:19).   There is found the account of God’s sending the archangel Michael to Nazareth in Galilee to a virgin named Mary.   The angel’s message was “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called a son of the most High, and the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32).  To the Virgin’s question, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man.”, the angel replied.  “The holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35)  Perhaps forty years after Luke wrote, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, wrote to the Ephesians describing the three mysteries that defeated Satan:  Mary’s virginity, her childbearing, and the death of the Lord.   Nor did it when after forty years Saint Justin Martyr wrote that Mary had been a second Eve, which was further developed by Saint Irenaeus in his long Refutation of Gnosticism in 185.   Sacred Scripture declared Jesus to be “in every respect tempted as we are yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), but the question of the origin of His sinless humanity did not come up.

Devotion to the Virgin flourished in the Middle Ages, and then, in the theologically thick thirteenth century, the question came to the fore.  Given that Jesus was without sin,  Jesus’ humanity, His flesh and blood, His very nature as man taken from the Virgin, how could it be that she,  substantially an ordinary human, was able to give the Lord His sinless human nature.   The answer given is the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed late in time, in 1854 by Pius IX, a teaching that is only secondarily about the birth of Christ but is principally about the birth of Mary.    It is the answer to the question of the origin of the perfect and sin-free human nature that God took to Himself from the Blessed Virgin Mary when Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit.   It was and will remain the position of theologians that the Virgin Mary was conceived as was and would be every daughter of Eve, a truth which the dogma as proclaimed by Pius IX would not deny. Mary’s spotless purity—for that is what immaculate means—was not inherited from her parents, whom the Church has considered saints on their own grounds, but was a gift to Mary, grounded in her place as the mother of Jesus, who at the moment of her conception  was preserved from the stain of original sin by the merits of the cross of Christ foreseen.    

So with the Immaculate Conception, when Mary, prepared for her role from all eternity, conceived by the Holy Spirit, God was making a new and perfect beginning.  It is hard to know which is most praiseworthy, the condescension of God the Holy Spirit in the gift of the Savior, or the majesty and glory evident in God’s calling and preparing the Virgin Mary, which He accomplished by vouchsafing her the relief from the stain of original sin that her Son would purchase for her on the cross.    

So it happened in the fullness of time that  God began anew, founding His kingdom of the New Heart with the most fundamental of human actions, which lifted out of the context of human folly and failure that scars every human act, He blessed with a great miracle, withholding from the conceiving of the Blessed Virgin in Judea in the years of Augustus the fatal stain implanted by the drama in the garden, when, having chosen the serpent’s way, mankind would ever bear the mark of death decreed by God. So the blessed Virgin received at her conception the fullness of the great gift every baptized person receives in part, for although something of the stain of original sin must be borne by every Christian, through  the gift of water and the Spirit the root of original sin is cut in us giving the hope that its effects may be withered by grace until at last, with the Blessed Virgin, we too will see the Father’s face.   And the angel of the Apocalypse said, “Behold. I make all  things new” (Revelation 21:5).

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is one of that family of bodily, homely, utterly essential  teachings in which the Church has long rejoiced, beginning with the resurrection of Christ’s body and ours, including the gift of Christ’s body and blood, and the veneration of the relics of the saints.  Although  doubted by great doctors such as Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas,  the dogma  of the immaculate conception is the essential ground of the second great Marian dogma, the  teaching that because Mary did not bear the stain of original sin, she did not die as we must but simply fell asleep, to be taken bodily into the presence of her Son, which teaching was made a part of the faith by Pius XII in 1950.   

It is always important to remember that she is who we are called to be.  We are given the great gift of sharing in the life of Chirist, but no devotion or piety can make us of one substance with the Father.  Although the Church has always accorded her the highest degree of devotion, and although all ages have, with the angel,  called her blessed, Mary’s vocation was not to become divine,   but through the gift of her Son to live the perfectly human life, the first since Eve and Adam  to be born free of the ancient curse, accepting  in faith and love the will of the Father, and foreshadowing the promise that belongs to us all.

Was Tertullian Right?

Presented at The Lewis Tolkien Society’s weekly Text & Talk meeting on Zoom, 05 December 2020.

The second decade of the second Christian century saw the Church go through a crisis during which that which before was unresolved was clarified and established.   The topics thus canvassed were the status of the Johannine literature, especially the Gospel but also the Apocalypse in the emerging canonical literature of the cosmopolitan Church, the uses and abuses of the gift of prophecy, the management of souls with respect to the forgiveness of sins, and in a broader sense the relation of Christians to the post-Hellenistic world as the Church moved into the culture and the culture into the Church.   

The career of Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus cut across in a controversial way each of these issues but the first.    Born in 155, son of a centurion of the proconsular legion, Tertullian began as a lawyer, an advocate, necessarily well-versed in the literary inheritance of Rome, a skilled rhetorician.   We do not know why he became a Christian in 193 at about the age of thirty-eight, but we do know that he brought to his new profession all the zeal, every talent, and a lawyerly intellectual formation that caused him to write as though arguing a case, giving no quarter and always expecting a decisive judgement.   Between 193 and 207 Tertullian was part of the Catholic Church of Carthage,  For the last thirteen years of his life he was a member of and advocate for the New Prophecy, called by its opponents Montanism with reference to its putative founder.    

The New Prophecy may be understood in dramatically different ways.   Its advocates saw it is the perpetuation and development of an ancient and essential gift, a gift encouraged by Paul, instantiated in the office of prophet in the apostolic order by apostles, prophets, teachers, and defended by Irenaeus.  That two of the principals of the movement were women would not have necessarily counted against it; the prophetess Anna is quoted in Luke, the Apostle Philip’s prophetic daughters were famous in Hierapolis Salutaris in Phrygia.  From a somewhat different angle the New Prophecy, sometimes called the Phrygian heresy, was viewed by the regular hierarchy as bearing an ineradicable heretical taint.  The great prophetesses of the New Prophecy, Maximilla and Priscilla, admired by Tertullian were considered dangerous if not immoral.   One senses that  the existence of the New Prophecy threatened a hard-won ecclesiastical order for that was the history.  In the Didache prophets are viewed with great reverence and a certain distrust, for while their charismatic gifts made them impressive, especially when compared with the newly important order of bishops, there must have been a history of abuse, for the great liturgical latitude granted   prophets was matched by the caution that they should not stay longer than three days.  So the New Prophecy may have been defended as the perpetuation and development of ancient practice.  

And above all the New Prophecy stood for moral renovation based on  willing distancing of Christian life and manners from a culture seen as “the world.”    Central to Tertullian’s theology was a polemic against what he perceived as failure of discipline under the influence of what he saw as a newly emergent practice of forgiving serious or mortal sins such as adultery freely upon evidence of contrition and the acceptance of some form of penance, a penance that might, or over time might not, involve exclusion from participation in the Eucharist for long periods.  The forgiveness of mortal post-baptismal sin, never, or only one, or freely was an issue unresolved that had much occupied the Church in the second century.  Perhaps part of the problem was the realization of the implications of the subjectivity of the Sermon on the Mount, the command that Christians were to be pure in heart.  Perhaps an early appearance of a popular literature that vexed the question of the meaning of purity of heart was a novella-like book called the Shepherd of Hermas. In it the danger of luke-warmness that Tertullian opposes in the early third century is evident in outline.  Hermas is chilled because his involvement in business is driving him away from God and because he has not governed his family with strictness, so that his children may be lost to the faith.   But more than these concerns there is the anxiety caused by the fact that he has looked with impure desire upon the lady Rhoda.  Can this be forgiven, or forgiven more than once?   The Shepherd may not give a decisive answer. It seems to hold the line on the proposition that serious sins may be forgiven only once but in its parables and images it seems to hold out hope of mercy.

Tertullian’s Christian is made of sterner stuff.  A crisis was provoked, or this is one common interpretation, by the election of Callixtus to the see of Peter in 217.  Callixtus believed that even serious sins could be forgiven, and that perhaps more than once.  Hippolytus called this the practice of the school of Callixtians.    The bishop whom Tertullian upbraids for following this practice may or may not have been Callixtus, for the practice spread.   It is not possible here to review the subtleties of penitential practice in the Ante-Nicaean Church, but one can see that the generous forgiveness of even serious sins would  militate against the very existence of the pure Church Tertullian the Montanist envisioned and believed he had inherited.  

Tertullian saw this weakness as the result of a demonic surrender to the culture, and to stave it off he wrote.  In his catholic days he wrote against heresy, against the pseudo-Paulinist Marcion and against the Valentinians and the Monarchian Praxeas.    In his Montanist days he considered the catholic Church his opponent, and wrote in favor of what we might consider an unwarranted rigorism, against any attendance at the arena or the racecourse, where passions would be aroused, in favor of modesty in dress, condemning the use of pigments and jewelry, in favor of the veiling of virgins, by which he apparently meant the covering of faces as well  as heads.  He wrote that it was the higher way not to flee from persecution and wrote in praise of the soldier who would not wear the emperor’s garland on dress parade because Christ was his crown, and who as a consequence was martyred.   Tertullian forbids to Christians many professions,  that of magician or enchanter of course, but also  excluded are teachers and professors of literature. 

So the project, especially of Tertullian’s Montanist days, can be described as an attempt, made just on the cusp of the cultural victory of Christianity, to prevent the weakening of moral discipline, and to maintain distance from the culture of decaying Hellenism.  Not an ignoble project by any means.    Involved is the relation between Christian discipline, the discipline of the sacraments, and the Christian virtues.   If Tertullian can in principle be criticized it is on the suspicion that he thought human culture should always be resisted rather than penetrated and in a sense converted.   Dicey.  Which works best is probably a work of inspired imagination, and providence.  The world today has plenty of recent graduates who have set out to write for Christian television but it seems never to come to much, at least not that I have noticed.   When the culture is penetrated by Christian faith you get Dante’s Divine Comedy and Piers Plowman and Shakespeare and in a small, local, and ironic way Flannery O’Connor and Evelyn Waugh.  

But when Christianity loses entirely the Tertullianesque  stance, it becomes flaccid and impotent.   The Church of the decades after Tertullian did not follow the path he might have predicted.   What followed as the Church moved into the imperial culture was the unlikely flourishing of the monastic life, in the desert, at Lérins, Marseilles, and especially Nursia, the monastic life being the medicine against dissolution and absorption into the culture, the communities of those who have shut out the world in order to find God.

The Third Servant’s Story

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said
“Master, I knew you were a demanding person;

harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.”
”His master said to him in reply, “You wicked, lazy servant!
Should you not then have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him 
and give it to the one with ten. 

For to everyone who has,

more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,

where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
                                                                  
                                                                         Matthew 25:24–30

 

The parables of Christ, being works of divine genius, are always deceptively simple while in fact they are complex.  The lines above, quoted from the Parable of the Talents, presuppose two principles important to the life of the soul.   The first is that we live in a moral  world that is always in motion; our souls are always either growing in grace, closer day by day to Jesus, or they are diminishing in spiritual strength, falling  away, however subtly, from their divine destiny.  To him that hath, more will be added.  From those who lack, what little they have will be taken away (Matthew 13:2).   This is a rule of the life of the soul that every Christian will verify.  Christianity is a religion, a way that binds and forms, and as a religion it must be practiced day by day.  When Satan, ever active, manages to introduce the tiniest bit of spiritual lethargy, when our prayers seem dry and pointless, when he cajoles us into giving them up for just one day,  he inaugurates a process that if not with the help of grace arrested will lead to destruction.  On the other hand, when our hearts are full of the charity that binds us to Christ, prayer and good works seem easy and fulfilling and we long to be drawn closer to Jesus.   

The spiritual world we inhabit is always in motion; we are moving closer to the Presence and the Vision or away from that divinely appointed destiny.    There is no pleasant plateau: failure to grow, if not amended, means death to the soul.  This is illustrated by the story of the third servant.  The first two servants had taken custody of the master’s money and put it at interest, making increase for the Master.   The unfortunate who had received but one talent and who being fearful had hidden it, was called by his Lord, “You wicked, lazy servant,” and was bound and cast into prison. And when he tried to return the one talent  to his master, it was refused, with the command that it be given to the more provident first servant.   

The second great premise of the Parable of the Talents is the truth that the successful life is an adventure in all its aspects, spiritually fundamentally, but also in the other aspects of life on earth.  Spiritually, as a Christian one places his life in the hands of a Lord whose perfect divine sonship is often not affirmed, not only by secularists, but sometimes even within the Church; the believer hopes for the return of Jesus from the sky, like the lightning flashing from East to West (Matthew 24:27, Luke 17:24), to bring this age of grace to a perfection and a close even when great scholars such as Schweitzer proclaim this a false hope; you give your time, time that always seems in short supply, to liturgy, the worship and work of Christian people, prayer and good works.   On any grounds other than grace-given faith this is to adventure into an illusion.  

And this gift of self to the truth the world calls illusion has an analogy in the management of the goods of this world.  It was with good reason that Jesus chose the management of money as the activity illustrative of the adventure of faith.  In this adventure the third servant, the one given only one talent, failed miserably.  He should have invested his money at interest so that on the Master’s return the Master should have found an increase.  But the third servant buried the money he had been given in the ground because he was afraid, knowing that his Lord was a  hard master.  His fate was to lose even the one talent he had been given and to be cast into outer darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.   The good life, the Christian life, is an adventure, and to prescind from the adventure in favor of security either in things spiritual or things material and economic is to court ruin.  

In this regard the spiritual and the worldly are so closely interlinked that one will not flourish without the other.  The third servant having chosen security rather than the adventure of life is open to the political fact called socialism, the system in which the adventure of life, as well as its pains, are subsumed into a blanket of community security.  There is no mystery in the fact that, granting the necessity that the political community help those who cannot help themselves, where universal material security prevails, Christianity dies, for one cannot have the habit of choosing the security that guaranteed comfort encourages over the adventure of life without cutting the root of the spiritual life, itself rooted in wonder and faith,.   Where your treasure is, there your heart will be; where your security is, there your heart will be (Matthew 6:21).   

Finally the character of the good Lord as displayed in this parable should be noted.  He is a hard man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he did not plant.  His justice is not the reciprocal justice between individuals, not what moral philosophers call commutative justice, not a reciprocal exchange of goods, but  justice that is as high, as holy, and as hidden as His mercy is unfathomably, to us unreasonably, great yet never disparaging of His just character.  This is a side of the divine nature as it is revealed to us that is now not often canvassed.   It illustrates the truth that life is a gift too great to be wasted without consequence, a morally dangerous game in which no provision is made for sitting it out on the sidelines.  Having given us one good life, the Lord wants it back not merely as it was received but with interest, the flaws with which it was necessarily born amended, its weaknesses turned into strengths, its moral ignorance turned into spiritual knowledge, our love of self transformed into love for Him and for those others He also loves with a deep and indefeasible love, our fellow pilgrims.   

 

Are you Ready?

The bridegroom came
and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.
Then the door was locked.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’
But He said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.
Therefore, stay awake,
for you know neither the day nor the hour.’
                            Mt. 25:11 – 13

Many yeas ago, stretched across a treacherous hairpin turn on Highway 30 in Mountainous Middle Tennessee there was a sign, suspended from a cable stretching across the chasm, that, as I remember it, proclaimed “Jesus is coming; be ready!” Then I brushed its message aside as representative of a rough, untutored religion. It took several decades for me to see that the message on the crude sign was of life-saving importance.

       It is certainly true that the early Church lived in the daily expectation of the return of Jesus, like the lightning flashing from east to West. Their universal cry was, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It is also true that when months and years passed there was confusion and disappointment. The Apostle Peter addressed those who asked, “Where is the promise of His coming, for things 2 have gone on as they have since the fathers fell asleep?” The community in which the Gospel of John was written, thinking that their Beloved Disciple would live until Jesus’ return, was much disturbed when that disciple died without Christ’s descent from the sky (John 21:22-23). Saint Peter addressed this concern when he wrote in his second letter that Jesus had delayed His return because the Lord God wanted many to come to repentance (3:4). The gift of salvation was not only for the citizens of Jerusalem, Samaria, and Galilee, nor was it for those blessed few who lived in the days of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, but was for all times and all places. On the teaching of Peter and the other apostles Jesus had founded a Church, and ekklēsia into which the citizens of all times and all nations would be called. Jesus’ last command had been that His disciples go into all the world and teach all nation, baptizing them in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He would be with the apostolic mission until the end of the age.

       Jesus did not, however tell His followers when this age of grace might end with His triumphant return. What He did tell us is that it might be at any moment, at any second. So the parables in Matthew 13 are intended to permit uncertainty and that uncertainty is intended to inspire us to see each day as a gift and as an opportunity, the gift of another day in which to live for the Lord and an opportunity to attempt that perfection in grace toward which He calls us. The meaning of the parable of the unwise wedding guests is clear. Come to the wedding feast of the Lamb before the door is closed. That the door will be closed is certain. It will on a day certain in God’s providence close across the progress of our journey on earth so that we will be among that blessed company He will bring with Him when He returns bringing all the saints with Him (First Thessalonians 4:16). Or it may be that with these eyes of earth we will see the Lord descending with a shout.

       Of course many, some faithful at Mass, will believe none of this, because they are, sad to say, atheists. They do not believe that the telos, the end and perfecting of everything in creation, is not a political arrangement, not some utopia, but, self-evidently, that the highest of all creatures is a person, and that person Jesus Son of God, Son of Mary in whom all things subsist. And without Him nothing was made that was made. The gospel of Jesus Christ is of course an invitation to share in ideas, but is more deeply and significantly an invitation to share in Christ’s person, a fact which countless Christians experience but an experience that is difficult to describe, incorporation into a person suggests realities that are not easily assimilated by day to day experience. Perhaps we do have some intimations. There will be people in our lives whose minds we will know so well that we know what their thoughts will be on any particular issue. There are those whose pain we do feel and in whose happiness we do share. But incorporation into Jesus is much more because it is a more than natural, a supernatural relationship that exists within the communion of saints. This is what Jesus means when He prays to the Father that His disciples “may all be one . . . I in them and you in me, that they may be perfect in one.” And what Paul means when he says, “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ,” Paul says in Galatians, “as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:7) and in Colossians 3:10–12: “You have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

       Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread he shall live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” Those standing by asked the obvious question: “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” To this Jesus replies, “Truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you 4 shall not have life in you.” And then in the night in which He was betrayed He took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body which is given for you.” We are given life by sharing in His life. Words like participation and incorporation stretch thought and imagination but they are essential to the Biblical and theological attempt to insist that history means Jesus and those who live in Him and with Him. He it is “in whom we have redemption through His blood, the remission of sins, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers, all things were created by Him and in Him (Colossians 1:15-16).

       So the person Christians will meet at the end is the person in whom we now live. He has given us His person, His body and His blood, His flesh and His life. We do not wait to receive eternal life until that happy day. The root of that life is already in us, planted there by our baptism, nourished by His presence in the Eucharist. But there is this. We must be ready for the wedding feast, for although baptized and fed we may still be outside a locked door if we do not guard the immeasurably great gifts of His presence in us and our lives in Him.

The 39th Annual Lewis Tolkien Lecture – ONLINE ONLY

A Note From Dr James Patrick

Dear Friend of the Lewis-Tolkien Society,

THIS IS AN ONLINE ONLY EVENT. Due to covid complications the 39th Lewis Lecture will be delivered by Dr. Holly Ordway by Zoom at 7:30  on the evening of November 14th.   If we have your email address you will be sent a Zoom link that will enable you to hear Dr. Ordway on Saturday evening.   Contributions already made will be returned this week.

For meeting updates or additional information please check the Lewis Tolkien Society website at https://lewistolkiensociety.org. You can access the Zoom meeting by clicking on the calendar icon to the right of the opening webpage, then click on the date, November 14th. This will take you directly into the Zoom conference. An email link will also be sent directly to anyone on the Lewis Tolkien Society mail list. Please send email to lewistolkiensociety@gmail.com should you have any question.

Looking forward,
James Patrick  

 

HOLLY ORDWAY

FELLOW OF FAITH AND CULTURE, WORD ON FIRE INSTITUTE
AT HOUSTON BAPTIST UNIVERSITY

“Tolkien and the Function of Fantasy”

 

Lewis Tolkien Dinner 2020

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Called, Chosen

Called, Chosen

Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business. 
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them. 
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 
Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come. 
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests. 
But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. 
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
but he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and
feet, and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen. 

                                       Mathew 22:2–14

The King is the Lord God Almighty and this great parable is the story of His calling His elect.   The wedding feast to which He invites us is on  one hand the Eucharistic Feast, on the other the heavenly banquet, sitting at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Mathew 8:11), where there is fullness of joy and pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11).  The King’s invitation is given three times.   At the first those invited refuse to come.    A second time his invitation went forth:  “Behold, I  have prepared my banquet, come to the feast.”  But some of those invited were too busy with the things of this world, with their farm or their business.  Others were actively hostile:  “The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them and killed them.”  Enraged, the King sent his troops, destroyed those murderers and burned their city.   

Thus far Jesus’ words have an obvious  historical context as well as a universal meaning.  Our Lord’s mission was to the Jews.  It was to them that he was sent; “salvation is of the Jews.”   Jesus had been born in Bethlehem in Judea to fulfill the prophecy of  Micah (5:2), but He was reared in Nazareth in Galilee, His native place later becoming a matter of controversy (John 7:40-43).   After the temptation, upon hearing that John his forerunner had been arrested, He withdrew to Galilee, called Galilee of the Gentiles by the prophet Isaiah because it bordered on the gentile territory to the north, to Capernaum  on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Galilee would be home; it was there that He found His disciples Peter, Andrew and Phillip, and it was to Galilee that He returned:  “Tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me (Matthew 26:32).  For Jesus Jerusalem, God’s own city, the city of the great king David was the beloved city of sorrow (Mathew 23:37). He had not taught secretly but often in the Temple precincts (Mark 14:49). But from the beginning of His mission, the Jews had rejected Jesus.  This story of  Jesus’ rejection  by those to whom He was first sent is made vivid in the Gospel of John, in which the Jews, those in Judea, the Temple crowd with the Pharisees at their head, are contrasted with Galileans.  In their blindness they did not see that healing the sick man at the pool of Bethzatha did not violate the Sabbath but fulfilled it.  And then He called God His Father, “The Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath but also called God His Father, making himself the Son of God”  (John 5:18),    At the Feast of the Dedication  “The Jews took up stones again to stone him .  .  .  .  We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:32-34).  And finally in Pilate’s courtyard: “Away with him, crucify him” (John 19:15).  And for three centuries, and beyond, this would be the lot of His followers.

Finally, rejected by the Jews, by those whom the King first invited, Jesus commanded that His mission be universal.  The apostles remembered that His last command, given by the resurrected Lord on  the mountain to which He had directed them was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them  in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19.  Those the King had called were not worthy, so his servants went out into the streets and called good and bad alike and the hall  was filled with guests.   The call of the Gospel is universal, to every man dwelling on this earth, now and forever, both the good and the bad.   The Hall is  the Church, the ecclesia, those called out of the world into the communion of saints, containing both god and bad.  And always the holy Church, in its essence the communion of the saints, has contained both good and bad.   

But to be a member of the Church on earth, to be a beneficiary of God’s gracious call, is not to fulfill one’s baptismal promises, is not yet to win the crown for which Paul and every Christian struggles, for this is the work of a lifetime.   The Church on earth is the community of those called, but not the community of those chosen.   In this way the Catholic Church is always a scandal.  Revolutionaries who have murdered millions, Nazis who have gassed hundreds of thousands,  Senators who assent to the destruction of little children, all who may fall into mortal sin, the uncounted numbers of the baptized who succumb to the futility of sensuality and greed, all these are still called, baptized in the name of the Trinity.  They have not lost faith, but they have lost the love that joins and perfects, yet they are children of the Church, always beloved in the hope that they will finally be chosen, . 

But in the end the requirement is that these called appear before the King in their wedding garment.  Scripture calls it the white robe that belongs to the holy, as repeatedly in John’s Apocalypse (Revelation 4:4, 7, 9, 13; 15:6; 19:8, 14).   It is emblematic of the soul purified of sin and pleasing to God, and into this present those baptized are given symbolically a white robe.   This is but the beginning.  Baptism is the call, never refused to one who seeks it, conveying empowering gifts; forgiving our sins, cutting the root of original sin in us, giving us power,  faith, hope, and love, and even something of the very character of Christ.   But these gifts may go unrealized and the power given by the Holy Spirit may be squandered.    As a matter  of fact the world is and is very likely always  to be full of former Catholics, lapsed Catholics, Catholics who daily betray the faith,  Catholics who ignore the teaching of the Church, Catholics whose baptismal robes are covered with the dark and damaging imprint of sin.  That said, to be among the called is an opportunity for the greatest blessing and for the greatest danger, for the one called into the King’s presence who, having accepted the baptismal invitation, appeared without a white robe was cast into outer darkness. 

The good news is that those called, any one of them, of us,  may be among the chosen,  which means living a life in Christ, how short or long one’s days, never leaving Him, and when one stumbles, asking for the grace of repentance and seeking forgiveness at the hands of those to whom Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven.”