Ordination this Sunday

God willing

The Right Reverend Andrew Doyle

Bishop of Texas

will ordain

Matthew Rutherford Boulter

to the Sacred Order of Deacons

in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 3:30pm

Saint Richard’s Episcopal Church

1420 E. Palm Valley Blvd., Round Rock, Texas

Your prayers are requested Your presence is desired

Clergy White Stoles

Reception following in Saint Richard’s Narthex

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Advent & Spiritual Sobriety

Why is it that Advent is not merely a time of mirthful exuberance? After all, the event we are anticipating and waiting for – the birth of Jesus – is a happy event.

Advent is, to be sure, a time of joyful expectation, but it is not just that. It is much, much more. It is tinged, it is colored with a certain sense of “Lord, have mercy on me.” Why?

To realize why this is, consider the attitudes of the two main figures which Christians have associated with Advent for the last 1600 years. First, consider John the Baptist, known in the Eastern tradition as “John the Forerunner.”

Was John exuberantly excited about Jesus? I am sure that at one level he was, but the impression we get is that John was also deeply shaken by the coming of this Jesus. He said, “When he comes, I will not even to worthy to relate to him as a slave would to his master: I will not even be worthy to untie his sandals.” He echoed the cataclysmic picture painted by Isaiah, a picture which is breathless in its anticipation of justice and salvation, but which also senses the shaking of the foundations of everything we think we know. When this Messiah comes, he will turn our worlds upside down; he will cut us to the quick.

Profound joy, mixed with deep and sober penitence.

Consider the Virgin Mary. Was Mary excited about the Redeemer of her people whose arrival was imminent? I am sure that at one level she was. But she was also barreled over with penitent humility. “How can these things be? … Here I am, your slave; have your way with me, according to your word.” Sure Mary was prostrate as she uttered these words to St. Gabriel.

Why this sober aspect of Advent? Because, to paraphrase Rowan Williams, when Jesus comes into the world it is unplanned, overwhelming, making a colossal difference. It satisfies out deepest longings, but we don’t know what it will involve, other than risk and pain, along with the restoration.

And so we can respond to Jesus by saying “No, thanks. I prefer my own darkness,” or we can say “Yes, I will take you, along with the risk and the pain.”

Either way, this is sobering if not scary stuff.

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Breathe

These days are better than that.

These days are better than that.

Every day I die again and again I’m reborn.

Every day I have to find the courage to walk out into the streets

with arms out

Got a love you can’t defeat.

Neither down nor out

There’s nothing you have that I need.

I can breathe.

– U2, “Breathe” from No Line on the Horizon

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The Names of God: St. Thomas on How Language Works

“The Names of God” in the Summa Theologica (Section 1.13 / Question 13)

When Thomas speaks of the “names” (Lat. nomen) of God, he means the words we use to describe God, including his “attributes,” such as “good,” “wise,” etc. (not just biblical names such as “Lion” or “Rock”). In the first section (1.13.3) Thomas argues that some of the words we use do, in fact, refer to God literally. Unlike some words such as “rock” or “strong” which are metaphorical in that they posit an analogy between God and creation, other words such as “good” are literally referential of God, even though they, too, Thomas admits, are derived from our understanding of creatures.

Literal, yes, but univocal, no, for “no name belongs to God in the same sense that it belongs to creatures.” (69) The definition of “wisdom” is dependent upon its referent. So it does not mean the same thing when referring to God as it does when referring, say, to a serpent. (Since this is the case, it seems like Thomas does not believe in univocal language at all [not just with respect to God]).

(Section 1.13.5) Words of perfection describe something in God which preexists what they describe in creatures. In fact any term of perfection, when applied to a creature, refers to something independent of the creature. For example, to call a man “good” is to invoke the objective reality of “the good” which is totally independent of the man spoken of. Not so with God, however. When we say that God is good we are not invoking some standard which God is then compared to and subsumed under. Rather, what we are signifying is not distinct from God’s “essence, power, or existence.” (70) So “good” here is not univocal: it means something different, or at least something non-univocal, when applied to God vis a vis creatures.

However, “good” here is not (purely) equivocal, either. Otherwise, we would have no knowledge of God, for language of God would always be guilty of the fallacy of equivocation.[1] Rather, language about God is analogical, since it is neither univocal nor equivocal.

Analogy functions in two ways. First, many things (two or more) can have a “proportion” (relationship?) to a third thing. For example, “healthy” can refer to urine or medicine, because both are related to a third thing: the body. Second, two things can have a relationship to each other. For example, “healthy” can refer to medicine or to an animal, since these two things are related to one another directly (ie, without a third thing). Our language about God falls under this second category. The two “things” are creation and God, and they are related in terms of cause. The perfections in the cause “preexist in the most excellent way.” (71)

Hence Thomas’ arguments about language presupposes his argument about causation, that God is the cause of creation.

Not just words are univocal or non-univocal. Agents (ie, causes and effects) are, too, since “the non-univocal agent is the universal cause of the whole series.” (My “gloss” on this: Thomas is saying that the cause “contains” the whole series. Hence its “meaning” must contain the meaning of all the effects, or something like that.)

Thomas has been presupposing that language and causality themselves are analogous or somehow related, and he makes this pruspposition explicit near then end of this section: “[This universal agent ] can be called an analogous agent, in the same way that in predication all univocal predications are traced back to the first non-univocal analogous predication, which is being.” (72) Bauerschmidt puts it nicely: “Whatever we affirm in our language involves a logically prior affirmation of some sort of being.” (72)[2]

Analogical language lies between univocal language and equivocal language. Hence our language about God is true, although it still contains an element of non-fixedness or perhaps ambiguity.

I find it interesting that, throughout this entire discussion, Thomas is speaking about God as if God were not incarnate. I am not suggesting that this is inappropriate. However, it does seem that in the Incarnation opens up whole new possibilities between God and man. For now, in Jesus, there is not an analogy between God and man, but a unity or an identity.


[1] Question: Does Thomas think that language is prior to thought, ie, that no thought is possible apart from language, and that all thought is in effect linguistic? I don’t think he thinks this. What “camps” of thinkers historically have thought this? (Phenomenologists?)

[2] So this means, then, that unicorns exist in some sense. (In the mind?)

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