Archive for December, 2011

Christian Love

“[In] Christian freedom…the Spirit forms and brings to expression the appropriate pattern of free response to objective reality.  Saint Paul designates this response in general terms as ‘love’ (Gal. 5:6)…Love is the overall shape of Christian ethics, the form of the human participation in created order.  It is itself ordered and shaped in accordance with the order that it discovers in its object, and this ordering of love it is the task of substantive Christian ethics to trace.  Again we must add that the love which the Spirit enables is the same love as that which was historically realized in the humanity of Christ.  It was the mark of Christ’s Lordship that, so far from overthrowing the given order of things, he rescued it from the ’emptiness’ into which it had fallen (Rom. 8:20-21).  His redemptive love thus fulfilled the creative task of Adam, to call things by their proper names…

Love does not bear the dominating and manipulative traits that have been given to it in some attempts to characterize the Christian ethic.  It achieves its creativity by being perceptive.  It attempts to act for any being only on the basis of an appreciation of that being.  Thus classical Christian descriptions of love are often found invoking two other terms which expounded its sense: the first is ‘wisdom’, which is the intellectual apprehension of the order of things which discloses how each being stands in relation to each other; the second is ‘delight’, which is affective attention to something simply for what it is and for the fact that it is.  Such love is the fruit of God’s presence within us, uniting us to the humanity of God in Christ, who cherishes and defends all that God the Father has made and thought.” (Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, pp. 25-26)


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“But there is more to the Christian narrative of the world than the power of rule itself.  There is also the means by which that rule came to be.  And here we have something that, if possible, is even harder for us to believe than the story of Jesus’ more-powerful rule.  The means by which the powers that oppose God are brought low is through their consumption of the saints who faithfully walk in the way of Jesus, saints who, in worshipping God alone, refuse to become complicit in the people-consuming, God-denying acquisition of wealth and power that typifies the rulers of the earth. Not only does Jesus come to his throne by being seemingly overpowered by the rulers of the world (Rome in his case) through his crucifixion, but also the story of the church is one in which we too overcome the powers by living out our union with Jesus in his death.  Cruciformity is not just about putting to death the sinful desires of our hearts, it is also about bringing to consummation the defeat of the powers that work against all human flourishing and that strive against giving all glory to God.” (J. R. Daniel Kirk, Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity, p. 197)

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Here are two brief reflections on the tension that so often exists between any given Christian’s desires and experience, and what they are actually (reluctantly) discover they are called to as a vocation by God.  As always, the death and resurrection of Jesus functions as our pattern to imitate:

“The most reliable callings are born from reflecting on a situation that is more or less imposed on us.  A vocation is nearly always a way of accepting a situation that was first of all considered a limitation.” (Roger Mehl, Love and Society)

“There is one thing we can be sure of, that every vocation is always accompanied by a renunciation.  One who is married renounced monastic heroism; a monk, the married life.  The rich young man of the Gospel is not invited either to marry or to enter a monastery.  He had to renounce his wealth, his ‘having,’ his preferences, in order to follow the Lord…However, in all cases of deprivation Scripture speaks of, grace offers a gift; out of a negative renunciation it creates a positive vocation.” (Paul Evdokimov, The Sacrament of Love)

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“I do know that in fact it is the constraint of Jesus Christ from which I find it most impossible to escape. I just cannot read the Gospel story without knowing that I am being sought out in love, that I am at the same time being called to life’s most sacred task and being offered life’s highest prize. For it is the love God has shown me in Christ that constrains me to the love of my fellow men. If there be someone who is aware of no such constraint, I cannot of course hope to make him aware of it by speaking these few sentences. That would require, not so much a more elaborate argument as something quite different from any argument. But I am not now arguing. I am only confessing, and I know there are many who will want to confess with me.” (John Baillie, Reasoned Faith)

(HT: Paul Moser)

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In light of an earlier piece I wrote here in which I mused on the special significance the Scriptures seem to give to sexual sin (at least in some ways), I recently came across this provocative assertion:

“The risk, whether with imaginary or physical promiscuity, is a fragmentation of personality.  It is little wonder that the postmodernist, steeped in the psychology and philosophy of the sexual revolution, has come to think of man as a series of masks behind which there is no fixed substance.  When [Christian] theologians say that by engaging in sexual acts outside the realm of morality, a person is risking their immortal soul, they are not simply speaking about an arbitrary punishment sent down from on high at the end of mortal life.  If you give yourself over and over again to people who will use you and squander your most precious gift; or you wed yourself to a host of your own creations, to the lesser fragments of your own psyche that populate your sexual fantasies, you lose the center and core of your being.  It becomes like a pulverized mirror, returning a more and more shattered image until, at last, it is dust and reflects nothing at all.” (Melinda Selmys, Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism, pp. 219-20)

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“The hypothesis which I wish to advance is that in the actual world which we inhabit the language of morality is in [a] state of grave disorder…What we possess, if this view is true, are the fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts which now lack those contexts from which their significance derived.  We possess indeed simulacra of morality, we continue to use many of the key expressions.  But we have—very largely, if not entirely—lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality…My thesis entails that the language and the appearances of morality persist even though the integral substance of morality has to a large degree been fragmented and then in part destroyed…It is easy to see that the different conceptually incommensurable premises of the rival arguments deployed in these debates have a wide variety of historical origins…how wide and heterogeneous the variety of moral sources is from which we have inherited…[It is] an unharmonious mélange of ill-assorted fragments…[for] all those various concepts which inform our moral discourse were originally at home in larger totalities of theory and practice in which they enjoyed a role and function supplied by contexts of which they have now been deprived…In the transition from the variety of contexts in which they were originally at home to our own contemporary culture ‘virtue’ and ‘justice’ and ‘piety’ and ‘duty’ and even ‘ought’ have become other than they once were.” (Alastair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, pp. 2, 5, 10)

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The Poison of Subjectivism

“The modern critique of religion no longer makes any critique of the content of faith, but is a purely functional critique of the psychological, political, and social effects of the faith.  It no longer asks whether it is true or false, but only whether it has the function of oppression or liberation, alienation or humanization.” (Jurgen Moltmann, cited in Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, p. 69)

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