Sunday, December 13, 2015

Third Sunday of Advent - John the Baptist and The Epistemology Behind Pope Francis

The crowds asked John the Baptist,
“What should we do?”
He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none. 
And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
“Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them, 
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him,
“And what is it that we should do?”
He told them,
“Do not practice extortion, 
do not falsely accuse anyone, 
and be satisfied with your wages.”

Now the people were filled with expectation, 
and all were asking in their hearts 
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying, 
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor
and to gather the wheat into his barn, 
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Exhorting them in many other ways, 
he preached good news to the people.
John was sent to proclaim Christ as we are sent. However, he proclaims morality and gives moral advice to all questions asked while creating the anticipation that something new is coming. The “something new” is what he hears of the doings of Christ: the blind see, the deaf hear… the poor have the gospel preached to them. John, the last of the prophets can point Christ out, but he doesn’t know Him. And he said so: “and I did not know him” (Jn. 1, 33). This why he send messengers to Christ when he (John) was in jail to ask: “Are you he who is to come or should we look for another (Luke 7, 23)?” The large point that must be made is John’s need to go through another conversion himself (just like all of us).

 We speak Christ, but we may not have had the encounter. The proof of this in John is his sending the messengers to Christ asking: “Are you he who is to come or should we look for another? Christ answers that the visible proof of his divinity is present, but you (John) still may not recognize Him because you may not live outside yourself – yet. You have yet to go through another conversion to be like Him, and therefore, know him. Truth to tell, you must become Him in order to know Him. Knowing is becoming the other. That conversion is to get out of himself where he measures Christ according to his understanding of morality, where Christ as Creator with the Father and the Spirit, is above and beyond all created morality. His is Trinitarian Life beyond all created measure and measured only by Itself.  This demands another kind of experience and another kind of knowing. I offer Richard Rohr’s succinct rendering of the contrast between the Greek mind and the Trinitarian mind. I submit that they are not contradictory or antithetical but complementary and must be at work together all the time. It behooves us to be aware of this. Particularly now.

[Richard Rohr][1]

“Greek Logic”

                “The way we think and the way intelligent prose works in Western languages is founded on three simple principles of logic that can be founded on three simple principles of logic that can be found already in Greek philosophy. They are sequential and linear:
1)      The Law of Identity: A = A. A thing is the same as itself (and no two things are exactly the same).
2)     The Law of Contradiction: If A = A, then A cannot be B (that which is not A).
3)     The Law of the Excluded Middle or Third:  A cannot be both A and B at the same time.

These principles are at work in all educated Western people, consciously or not: you don’t have to know them consciously to follow them. They served us well in terms of the scientific and industrial revolutions, in terms of measurements and math, and most day-to-day life, but their severe limitations in other areas, such as science, philosophy, theology, and astrophysics – are now becoming apparent. We need a way through and a way beyond this closed system. Of itself, Greek logic cannot lead us to the kind of wisdom we are seeking, as Paul himself warned us in 1 Corinthians 1, 119-31.
“In fact, these Greek principles of logic are reductionistic and not always true at all. They lead to what Ken Wilber calls ‘flatland.’ Let’s consider two examples of the shortcomings of such logic. One came from fourth-century Christian theology and the other from recent developments in quantum physics and astro-physics. They all undercut and overcome Greek logic and place us inside of a new frame different from what most of us took as self-evident. They are opening up an entirely different mind, and if religion does not wake up, it will, in the centuries to come, find itself even less able to talk to the world.


                “Trinitarian theology was almost made to order to humiliate the logical Greek mind: It said, in effect: the Father is the Father, but the Father is also the Son, and in fact, he is the Father and the Son at the same time, which relationship is, in fact, the Holy Spirit. If actually encountered and meditated on, the doctrine of God as Trinity breaks down the binary system of the mind. For a Christian who lives in a Trinitarian spirituality, it makes either-or thinking totally useless. Perhaps, in addition to everything else, the Trinity is a blessing, to make us patient before Mystery and to humble our dualistic minds. I noted earlier how the unspeakable name of the Jewish God, YHWH, was supposed to have had the same effect.

                “Unfortunately, for the majority of Trinitarian Christians, we believed the doctrine of Trinity as some kind of strange riddle, a mathematical conundrum, but never let it call our addiction to Greek logic into question. The sweet Irish nuns who taught me wisely said, ‘Don’t think about it!’ and held up the shamrock as a rather lovely natural symbol of the three-in-one. Even though the doctrine of the Trinity was at the very center of Christian faith, we did not allow it to change our consciousness. We just believed it to be true, and then shelved it, as we did most doctrines. Only the mystics tended to relate to God in a Trinitarian way, and often passionately so (such as Augustine, Bonaventure, Julian of Norwich, and the Cappadocian Fathers [St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa an St. Gregory Nanzianzen]). I am certain that the future of Christian mysticism will be strongly Trinitarian, which, perhaps surprisingly, also creates a huge opening for interreligious dialogue. Unfortunately, faith became a matter of believing impossible or strange things… instead of an entranceway into a very different way of knowing altogether.

“We Catholics frequently signed our bodies with the Trinitarian sign of the Cross and fully accepted the mental doctrine, but we set it aside as of no practical or real consequence. We did not let the principle of three undo our dualistic principle of two. As Karl Rahner taught, we could drop the doctrine of the Trinity tomorrow, and it would have little or no practical effect on the lives of most Christians. This was a real loss and mistake, especially considering that Jesus himself knew no Greek , and clearly did not think with this kind of logic when it came to matters divine.”
Physics and Astrophysics
“Our modern and postmodern world has given our minds any number or recent humiliations, available to all, whether scientists or laypeople, who dare to study atoms, galaxies, and thenature of space and time. One that comes to mind – or better, one that is unable to come to mind – is the discovery that an electron is an impossible mixture of ‘here; and ‘there’ (B). And at the same time! Any intelligent person would think he is showing his intelligence by saying ‘Impossible!’ It looks like it must be some imagic show or an illusionist’s trick; but in fact, the ‘principle of the excluded middle’ shows itself not to be true here either. There is a third something, although we have no idea how to understand it. We only know it indirectly, by its effects. Something like Spirit.
              “Quantum physics and astrophysics are filled with similar ‘logical’ impossibilities. Much of the universe seems to feed on paradox and the mysterious – everything from black holes to dark matter to neutrinos, which are invisible and weightless and yet necessary to keep matter and anti-matter from cancelling out one another. They have to be there – things don’t sense otherwise – but no one can prove it, because the scientific method cannot measure it or know it, except by its effects.
             “We have all heard how light is both a wave and a particle, and scientists long ago gave up trying to prove it was just one or the other. It is clearly both – and at the same time! Now, how do you deal with facts of that nature, if you are intelligent? This signals that you need a very different kind of intelligence. In both the worlds of religions and science a certain kind of reductionistic Western mind is being forced to reframe itself.
        “The irony is that, today, religious people are often much more invested in either-or thinking than most scientists, who now know better. Many in academia have the humility to work with various theories and hypotheses, and move ahead ‘as if’ an idea were true, until more of the mystery can be understood…. Many of us just want to ‘think’ our way to god and be certain every step of the way,, while still calling it faith.”

Blogger: I submit that the Trinitarian mind is the experience  of faith where the believing person is transcends self and experiences the self as different from the sensed world precisely because of the action of self-transcending: “I believe what you tell me because I believe you.” I trust you. I receive what you say into myself because I love you. I can’t prove it [and be “certain”] according to my sensible and conceptual standards but I have the absolute certainty because you say so.
            That trust gives me access to myself as an “acting being,” an acting reality that is the only reality that I experience directly because I uniquely determine that act. It is the supreme realism. No one can determine that act for me. This is freedom. That believing “I” is a third something that I experience without the mediation of a sensation or a concept. It is a consciousness that is truth. It is the meaning of “meaning” and the meaning of “conscience.”

This is access to reality that is at work in Francis, and that has been at work from Vatican II through Paul VI, JPII, Benedict and now Francis. This is the realist horizon that the Magisterium of the Church is working in. 

[1] Richard Rohr, “The Naked Now,” Crossroad (2009)149-153.

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