An Existential Argument for the Resurrection from St. Athanasius

St. Athanasius, in his beautiful De Incarnatione, presents an argument for believing in the reality of Christ’s resurrection. It is, one should note, primarily an existential argument for the resurrection, rather than a purely historical one as is most often defended today; but I don’t think this makes it any less powerful. Indeed, most people probably find existential arguments more compelling than purely historical arguments, insofar as working through the latter can involve much difficulty and abstraction, whereas the former have the potential to be directly experiential in nature.

First, St. Athanasius points to the martyrs and their willingness to die for the faith as evidence that Christ has in fact “trampled death”. But then he continues Continue reading

Review: An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar

Note: This review will also be posted on Amazon. I was given this book by the publishers as a review copy.

If you’ve ever attempted any sort of discussion concerning a “serious” subject (politics, religion, ethics, etc.), you’re probably aware of how frustrating such an endeavor tends to be. Sure, the conversation can usually start out politely enough, but as things get on they (seem) to almost always rapidly deteriorate to heated emotionalism, unchecked biases, ungrounded assertions, flagrant name-calling, unwillingness to actually engage, etc., etc., with the result that both participants go home feeling a good deal more self-superior, and a good deal more dismissive of the other, but nowhere nearer to the actual truth.

The human propensity for rational inquiry is quite astounding. So, however, is its corollary: the human propensity for disagreement. Part of the whole dilemma of the process of human reasoning is how to come to grips with the fact that very often, very many people disagree with us about topics which are extremely significant. Even more, very often the people who do disagree with us are people who are very intelligent in their own right, and seem to have very good reasons for disagreeing with us. Is rationality thus futile, if it leads us to such wildly disparate conclusions?

This, it seems to me, is really the central question of An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar, Continue reading

Aquinas on Incarnation and Christmas

The ultimate mystery and meaning of Christmas, and really the entire Christian faith, is the Incarnation. It is the very heart of all Christian creeds. But it is, in its beautiful, wondrous depth, unfathomable to finite minds. What impenetrable profundity, to say that God became man, that the Divine Reality took on flesh!

Such a feat would not be really so problematic in many mythologies/theologies. Just read through the literature of many ancient myths, and you’ll see that the gods are understood really as just “glorified” (in a very ironic sense) humans–immortal, much more powerful, but in essence still all too human. These gods, in effect, differ from mankind merely by degree. They are “higher on the scale” in terms of qualities.

But nothing could be more different from the belief of Classical Theism, which holds God to be not just another being amongst all beings, with a little more power, or even a “higher” being; but rather Being Itself, Existence Itself, Pure Actuality, Goodness Itself, etc. That in whom Essence and Existence are identical, totally simple (no metaphysical composition), completely and totally unchanging and unchangeable, absolutely no passive potencies, qualitatively infinite in power and goodness and knowledge, entirely immaterial, incorporeal, impassible, not able to suffer or be affected externally. This is the God, acknowledged in the Jewish and Muslim faiths as well, but who the Christian faith alone of all traditions has declared became a human being, like us, to walk among us, live beside us, and die for us.

But how, in a metaphysical sense, is this even possible? How can something that by its very nature is Pure Act, Being Itself, immutable, impassible, immaterial, and infinite, become something finite, material and physical, changeable, a being among beings, composite of act and potency? In short, how is the Incarnation not a total contradiction in terms? Continue reading

Advent and the Silence of God

*Note: this post contains spoilers for the book/movie “Silence”.

Last week, I finished Shusaku Endo’s  highly acclaimed 1966 novel “Silence”, the long expected movie of which is being released next month (see the trailer here). The book was fantastic–beautifully written, hauntingly profound, and deeply thought provoking. I’m not going to discuss too much of the actual plot here, since I highly recommend reading/seeing it for yourself. Rather I want to consider perhaps the central thematic point of the story: the silence of God (thus the book’s title).

Throughout the novel, as the characters experience extreme hardships, difficulties, and suffering, often times as a direct result of their Christian faith, they are left to wonder: where is God? Where is the God in whom they have placed their trust and hope? Where is the God for whom they are currently offering their lives, having given up everything for the sake of the Gospel? Where is the God who all their lives they have been told is loving, who is supposed to care for His people, who has commanded prayer and promised to answer? Where is this God?

But they are met only with silence. Continue reading

The Most Noble Science: Reading Aquinas: Summa Theologiae I, Q. 1, Art. 5

This is the third post in a series reading through sections of Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae. In the first we read through the Prologue and the first article of the first Question of the first Part, discussing the relationship between reason and divine revelation. In the second we read the second through the fourth articles of the same Question, considering divine revelation as a type of “science” or scientia, in the classical sense.

In this post we will begin with Article 5: Continue reading

The Person of Jesus Part 7: The Life of Jesus

So far in this series, we have examined Jesus’s impact on the world, introduced the academic field of historical Jesus work, shown that the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is so firmly established in history that virtually all scholars accept it, examined the various criteria and methods which historians use in determining historicity, and looked briefly at the nature of the gospels as sources. To remind, the purpose of this series since its beginning was the look at the identity of Jesus, not necessarily the historicity of all the events in his life or the reliability of the gospels, etc. We have very briefly touched on these things (having to leave out much) in order to set up and provide a foundation for our ultimate turn to questions of identity. In this post, we will look at several events from the life of Jesus and try to determine their historicity. Continue reading

Chesterton and Aquinas on Thanksgiving

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude”, wrote G. K. Chesterton [1]. Chesterton was one who understood both the gravity and the soaring joy of thankfulness. Gravity because giving thanks strikes at the very heart of what it means to be fully human; joy because giving thanks is necessary for being truly happy. In fact, giving thanks is perhaps one of the simplest and most certain ways to produce real happiness.

To see this twofold nature of understanding gratitude, consider these further Chesterton quotes. First, the seriousness of gratitude:

“The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them” [2].

The very aim of life is appreciation? If we understand appreciation as recognizing, enjoying, and properly responding to the good in something, then yes, absolutely appreciation is the aim of life. For the very purpose of mankind’s existence is to know God and to seek God as his ultimate end. And this includes love and obedience to God, which in so doing cultivates virtue within us, and from virtue flows true flourishing and happiness as human beings. Appreciation involves finding the good in things, in everything, and God just is the good of everything, since He is The Good Itself. God is man’s beatitude. And everything is good inasmuch as it flows from and is directed towards fulfillment in God. Recognizing, enjoying, and properly responding to this beauty and goodness in things, which reflects the Beauty and Goodness of their Source and Creator, is the very reason for which we exist.

So St. Thomas Aquinas says:

“All things desire God as their end, when they desire some good thing . . . because nothing is good and desirable except forasmuch as it participates in the likeness to God” [3]

From this follows Chesterton’s next quote:

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder” [4].

Thanks are the highest form of thought, because all thought is directed towards knowing, and the ultimate object of all knowing is again God Himself. To know the nature of something that exists is to know its Source and Creator, and the proper response to recognizing this is simply wonder and thankfulness at its very existence.

Again, gratitude is just the appreciation of things as they are, appreciation of the good in things. Unfulfilled desires are the cause of misery; so to be content in, and to rejoice in, things as they are, recognizing even the smallest flower petal as a gift full of more infinite goodness than we could possibly imagine, without heedlessly desiring more because we realize what we have been given is vastly more than we can even comprehend, is the surest road to happiness. To recognize that each blade of grass beneath our feet is the brushstroke of God as Creator and Being Himself is to open forth a gushing fountain of unending mirth.

In question 106 of the “Second of the Second Part” of his Summa Theologiae, Aquinas considers gratitude as a virtue under the cardinal virtue of justice. This particular question asks “Whether a man is bound to give thanks to every benefactor?” First Aquinas presents six objections to an affirmative answer. Then he responds with a single verse:

On the contrary, It is written (1 Thess. 5:18): ‘In all things give thanks'” [5].

A larger portion of the same passage of scripture reads:

“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18, ESV).

It is no accident that giving thanks and rejoicing are placed together, because they are intrinsically interwoven actions. It is also worth pointing out that they are both commands.

Aquinas’s full account of the nature of gratitude is much longer, more complex, and more technical. But here we’ll give just a brief look:

“Every effect turns naturally to its cause; whereas Dionysius says (Div. Nom. i) that ‘God turns all things to Himself because He is the cause of all’: for the effect must needs always be directed to the end of the agent. Now it is evident that a benefactor, as such, is cause of the beneficiary. Hence the natural order requires that he who has received a favor should, by repaying the favor, turn to his benefactor according to the mode of each” [6].

In other words, we give thanks for gifts or favors received. And all gifts or favors are given by an agent, who is the cause of the recipient being a beneficiary of that favor/gift. And all effects are naturally turned/directed towards their causes, so every beneficiary ought to be turned towards his benefactor, the act of which is thankfulness. God is the First and Final Cause of all that exists, including man. Thus man’s “natural order” is to be turned to God in thankfulness. Writes St. Paul:

“For in him [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16, NIV, emphasis mine).

God, in Christ, created all things for Himself, to be directed towards and to reach fulfillment in Himself. Elsewhere, Aquinas discusses how justice is the cardinal virtue of giving to things that which they are owed. And as a virtue “annexed” to justice, gratitude is lesser; because gratitude is all that we are able to give God in return for his gifts of creation and salvation, but the gratitude of man could never equal even a small, minuscule portion compared to the immense, immeasurable value and greatness of God’s gifts. And that is the meaning of grace. Existence and salvation are God’s gifts to man; but man could never hope to repay to God either of these things. Gratitude is all we have to give in turn. Giving thanks, in its fullest sense, is what man owes to God; but it is hardly a drop compared to the infinite, raging ocean depths of what we truly and totally owe Him. Everything is what we owe Him; our own finite thanksgiving is all we have to offer. And even that is already His.

So if you want happiness, if you want to be fully human, then “in all things give thanks”, for in doing so you grasp the very nature and proper order of existence.

 

Notes

[1]. Quotes found online: <https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2014/11/27/5-quotes-from-g-k-chesterton-on-gratitude-and-thanksgiving/&gt;.

[2]. Ibid.

[3]. Summa Theologiae, I, Q. 44, Art. 4. Taken from online source: <http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1044.htm#article4&gt;.

[4]. See link for Chesterton quotes above.

[5]. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. 1265-1274. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Coyote Canyon Press, 2010. ebook. II-II, Q. 106, Art. 3.

[6]. Ibid.