Saturday, February 12, 2005

Plain and Parochial
Sermons: Volume 2 Sermon 3 The Incarnation  (The Feast of the Nativity of Our

“The Word was made flesh,
and dwelt among us.”—John i.14

  • With these words the
    beloved disciple announces the incarnation

  • Even though he had
    touched, looked up and heard the very Word of Life incarnate, yet there is a
    reverence we sense in his words

  • Such was also the temper
    of the Holy Angels too

  • Such declarations as the
    above sufficed for the first generation of Christians. They had heard these
    words directly from the beloved disciple who had heard directly from the Son,
    and from Mary.

  • “But when the light of
    His advent faded, and love waxed cold, then there was an opening for objection
    and discussion, and a difficulty in answering. This misconceptions had to be
    explained, doubts allayed, questions set at rest, innovators silenced.
    Christians were forced to speak against their will, less heretics should speak
    instead of them.”

  • In the first generation
    of the Church, the mystery of the incarnation is announced with such brevity
    as “the Word was made flesh.”

  • “But we are obliged to
    speak at more length in the Creeds and in our teaching, to meet the perverse
    ingenuity of those who, when the Apostles were removed, could with impunity
    insult and misinterpret the letter of their writings.”

  • In our time we not only
    have to guard this truth but give the reasons of our guarding it for there are
    many whose purposes are heretical

  • This is why the Church
    has “lengthened her statements of Christian doctrine”

  • “Another reason of these
    statements is as follows: time having proceeded, and the true traditions of
    our Lord’s ministry being lost to us, the Object of our faith is but faintly
    reflected on our minds, compared with the vivid picture which His presence
    impressed upon the early Christians.”

  • It is true that the
    Gospels make real and vivid the incarnation for us in our time, if studied in
    faith and love

  • But creeds are an
    addition help in realizing this vividness

  • These statements such as
    the Te Deum and the Athanasian Creed are especially suitable in divine worship
    because the kindle and elevate the religious affections

  • Now we will focus on the
    doctrine of the incarnation

  • The Word of God is truly
    God and was from the beginning, from eternity to eternity

  • He is called the Word of
    God as mediating between the Father and creatures: bringing them into being
    and bringing revelation of God to them

  • When we sinned and fell,
    he could have remained in glory, but his love, which showed itself in our
    original creation, brought him down for our redemption

  • He came down to us, not
    in power or glory but in weakness

  • He came to us by way of
    a miracle and thus did not share our sin even though he shared our weaknesses.
    He thus came by a pure tabernacle, the Blessed Virgin Mary

  • He took unto himself
    human nature, body and soul, through the Blessed Virgin Mary and elevated it
    to the sanctity worthy of the Son of God

  • The incarnation is
    hinted at in previous instances that fell short of full incarnation

  • 1. God was in the
    prophets but not as he was in Christ

  • The prophets were God’s
    representatives and inspired by God

  • In the case of the
    prophets the inspiration came and went, there was no real unity the Godhead
    and manhood as it was with Christ

  • “Even when His body was
    dead, the Divine Nature was one with it; in like manner it was one with His
    soul in paradise. Soul and body were really one with the Eternal Word,—not one
    in name only,—one never to be divided.”

  • 2. “Again, the Gospel
    teaches us another mode in which man may be said to be united with Almighty
    God. It is the peculiar blessedness of the Christian, as St Peter tells us, to
    be ‘partaker of the Divine Nature.’”

  • The grace of Christ
    renews our soul and repairs the iniquity of Adam’s fall

  • “thus we have God’s
    perfections communicated to us anew, and, as being under immediate heavenly
    influences, are said to be one with God.”

  • Further, we are assured
    some real, though mystical fellowship with the Holy Trinity

  • Nonetheless, the
    indwelling of the Father in the Son is infinitely greater than our oneness
    with the Trinity

  • 3. “And lastly, we read
    in the Patriarchal History of various appearances of Angels so remarkable that
    we can scarcely hesitate to suppose them to be gracious visions of the Eternal

  • For instance, to Moses
    in the burning bush

  • “Now assuming as we have
    reason to assume, that the Son of God is herein revealed to us as graciously
    ministering to the Patriarchs, Moses, and others in angelic form, the question
    arises, what was the nature of this appearance?”

  • We are not in a position
    to understand these appearances, but heretics in the past have tried to use
    these to imply that Jesus’ presence among us was more an apparition than a
    real life in the flesh

  • We are then forced to
    respond to heretics and expound upon the basics of our faith, hoping that
    these also may become outlets for devotion

  • Just as Christ turned
    water into wine, we pray that he sanctifies our words so that they may convey
    the truth of his divine glory

  • Let us praise and bless
    God for coming down to our level and elevating our earth and nature through
    his incarnation

God the Father displayed the extent of his love by sending his Son down to die for us so that we can have fellowship him. So also did the Son show his love by submitting to the weakness and limitations of the human state. The incarnation is a mystery to us because as imperfect beings we are unable to grasp the full picture. but we have access to understanding of how God feels about us and that is what is important. God became one us so that through him, we can become like him.

Friday, February 11, 2005

and Parochial Sermons: Sermon 2 Faith Without Sight (The Feast of St Thomas the

“Thomas because thou hast
seen me thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have
believed.”  John XX.29

  • St Thomas is the apostle
    that doubted the reports of Jesus’ resurrection

  • We should not assume
    that St Thomas differed from the rest of the apostles in his want of faith;
    they all, too, mistrusted Christ’s promises as he was led away, killed, buried
    and raised

  • St Thomas was not unlike
    the rest of the disciples who saw Christ first before they believed. Even St
    John hesitated

  • “On the other hand, it
    is certain that, though he disbelieved the good news of Christ’s resurrection
    at first, he was no cold hearted follower of his Lord;”

  • Thomas had previous
    inspired his fellow disciples to follow Christ so that “we may die with him.”

  • However his lack of
    faith in Christ’s resurrection owed itself not only to circumstance but to a
    faulty state of mind

  • In another recorded
    comment in John’s Gospel, Thomas exhibits this tendency to doubt when he asks
    “Lord, we know not wither thou goest, and how can we know the way?”

  • He seemed to be asking
    for a way to the “unseen” by agency of the “seen”

  • “Some such secret
    craving after certainty beset him.”

  • “Being weak in faith, he
    suspended his judgment, and seemed resolved not to believe anything, till he
    was told everything.”

  • Jesus satisfied Thomas’
    need but spoke of blessedness for those who believe yet do not see

  • “I proceed to make some
    remarks on the nature of this believing temper, and why it is blessed.”

  • The mind that is
    disposed to readily believe is blessed.

  • “[I]n our ordinary
    language we speak of religion being built upon faith, not upon reason; on the
    other hand, it is as common for those who scoff at religion to object this
    very doctrine against us; as if, in so saying, we had almost admitted that
    Christianity was not true. Let us then consider how the case stands.”

  • “Every religious mind,
    under every dispensation of Providence, will be in the habit of looking out of
    and beyond self, as regards all matters connected with its highest good.”

  • A man of religious mind
    pay attention to the rule of conscience “which is  born with him, which he did
    not make for himself, and to which he feels bound in duty to submit.”

  • And conscience thus
    directs his mind to a being exterior to himself, who placed it within and to
    whom conscience answers, “for a law implies a lawgiver and a command implies a

  • “Thus a man is at once
    thrown out of himself, by the very Voice which speaks within him;”

  • Conscience pushes one to
    seek the one who put the law within

  • “He looks forth into the
    world to seek Him which is not of the world, to find behind the shadows and
    deceits of this shifting scene of time and sense, Him whose Word is eternal,
    and whose Presence is spiritual.”

  • The presence of this
    voice within means that we are predisposed to find the lawgiver, but often if
    the truth is not at hand, we are apt to grab unto error and substitute it for
    truth. This may lead to superstition and is responsible for pagan divinities
    and worship

  • If this is the course
    for the religious mind without the grace and guidance of God, then we can
    expect that it would commit itself gladly to the truth of God when it is
    allowed to discern it in the Gospel

  • “Such is faith as it
    exists in the multitude of those who believe, arising from their sense of the
    presence of God, originally certified to them by the inward voice of

  • “On the other hand, such
    persons as prefer this world to the leadings of God’s spirit within them, soon
    lose their perception of the latter, and lean upon the world as a god.”

  • Having no presentiment
    of an invisible God to guide one’s conduct, they consider nothing to have any
    substance, but only what their sense encounter and they thus draw their rule
    of life from these

  • They are not prone to
    superstition nor do they accept accounts of the supernatural in the world.
    Supernatural events are met with a cold dispassionate intellectual
    investigation as though the thing being investigated were just another sensual

  • “Here then we see two
    opposite characters of mind, the one credulous (as it would be commonly
    called), the latter candid, well-judging, and sagacious; and it is clear that
    the former of the two  is the religious temper rather than the latter. In this
    way then, if in no other, faith and reason are opposed; and to believe much is
    more blessed than to believe little.”

  • “But this is not all.
    Everyone who tries to do God’s will, is sure to find he cannot do it

  • The more he strives to
    do good, he discerns an original bitterness and evil disposition

  • He discerns that he is
    prone to do evil and that there will be consequences for his evil actions

  • This then forces him to
    look outward of himself for help, knowing that he cannot rest but more seek
    salvation and peace of mind

  • Then if a person comes
    claiming to be a messenger from God. He has a willing audience who is more
    willing to believe and accept than disbelieve, knowing that he needs help

  • However, those of the
    other mental temper, who do not posses this sense of sin, are likely to stand
    back and not feel compelled to accept the messenger from God. They can wait
    and judge things intellectual and receive or reject based on how their reason
    determines the issue

  • This distinction between
    the two tempers of mind holds true even in cases where both are persons of
    “strong mind, not easily excitable, sound judging and cautious;” because the
    wise man cannot see what is more important than the welfare of the soul and he
    understands that it would be foolish to wait for all the evidence before

  • “If it is but fairly
    probable that rejection of the Gospel will involve his eternal ruin, it is
    safest and wisest to act as if it were certain.”

  • “On the other hand, when
    a man does not make the truth of Christianity a practical concern, but a mere
    matter of philosophical or historical research, he will feel himself at
    leisure (and reasonably on his own grounds) to find fault with the evidence.”

  • “When we inquire into a
    point of history, or investigate an opinion of science, we do demand decisive
    evidence; we consider it allowable to wait till we obtain it, to remain
    undecided; in a word, to be skeptical.”

  • “If religion be not a
    practical matter, it is right and philosophical in us to be skeptics.”

  • The skeptics wait for
    sight, “not understanding, or being able to be made to comprehend, that their
    solving this great problem without sight is the very end and business of their
    mortal life:”

  • Faith, “does not crave
    or bargain to see the end of the journey . . . it is persuaded that it has
    quite enough light to walk by, far more than sinful man has a right to expect,
    if it sees one step in advance; and it leaves all knowledge of the country
    over which it is journeying, to Him who calls it on.”

  • The religious mind
    receives the words of Scripture as the words of Christ

  • The religious mind says
    to Christ, “Here I am, send me.”

  • The philosophical mind
    would ridicule the faith as irrational and exalt in its rationality

  • But the religious mind
    listens to the Apostle who says that the preaching of the cross is foolishness
    to them that perish, but the power of God unto salvation to us who believe

Wisdom is seen in the religous and reverent mind which understands that our faith is for the purpose of action. In life, we see that when there is no urgency, no immediate need to act on an issue, we take our time to study it before we make a decision. Not so, on issues of faith. Newman's instruction to us is that our faith is a way of life made urgent by the matter of the slavation of our souls. We needn't get distracted by the questions and issues that sidetrack us, but remember that we need to keep on in our journey one step at a time.

Thomas's problem was that he himself get too philosophical and lax with the urgency of this soul's salvation and peace. He demanded proof before he believed that Christ had been raised from the dead. What we learn from Thomas is that it is better for us to train our minds to be receptive to the message of God. It is possible that this may ocassionally lead us to accept somethings that are incorrect, but on the whole, we are called to live by faith, that is, we are called to accept things that we may not also have proof for. But if we trust God and seek him, we are promised we will find him. If we live by faith, we then do not give into fear.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Plain and Parochial Sermons, Vol. 1: Sermon 18: Obedience the Remedy for Perplexity


“Wait on the Lord, and keep
His way, and He shall exalt thee to inherit the land.”—Ps xxxvii.34

  • “The Psalm from which I
    have taken my text, is written with a view of encouraging good men who are in
    perplexity,—and especially perplexity concerning God’s designs, providence,
    and will. ‘Fret not thyself;’ this is the lesson it inculcates from first to

  • The world is in a state
    of confusion. Evil men prosper. Truth and goodness are not respected.

  • Yet, be still for the
    “better side shall triumph” and the meek shall inherit the earth

  • The world is in great
    perplexity even in this “Christian dispensation”

  • “Not that Christianity
    does not explain to us the most important religious questions, which it does
    to our great comfort; but that, from the nature of the case, imperfect beings,
    as we are, must always be, on the whole, in a state of darkness.”

  • The very doctrines of
    the New Testament bring with them their difficulties

  • If we don’t quiet our
    minds and train them into submission, we will probably find  more perplexity

  • “Revelation was not
    given us to satisfy doubts, but to make us better men; and it is as we become
    better men, that it becomes light and peace to our souls; though even to the
    end of our lives we shall find difficulties both in it and in the world around

  • “I will makes some
    remarks to-day on the case of those who, though they are in the whole honest
    inquirers in religion, yet are more or less in perplexity and anxiety, and so
    are discouraged.”

  • Difficulties are
    frequently given us to try and test our faith

  • If we really love God,
    we will press on in the face of difficulties

  • Many may be surprised at
    the claim of difficulties or perplexities in religion. They don’t see or
    experience these perplexities because they haven’t taken the religion
    seriously. It is only when they began to take things seriously that their mind
    awakens to the choices before them and all that there is to learn.

  • Then they try to learn
    from scripture and apply to their concrete lives and it causes distress
    because it is not as straight forward

  • “To all those who are
    perplexed in any way soever, who wish for light but cannot find it, one
    precept must be given—obey.”

  • Obedience brings us into
    the right path and keep us there

  • We must obey in all
    circumstance, regardless of difficulty

  • “Let us apply this
    exhortation to the case of those who have but lately taken up the subject of
    religion at all.”

  • Every science has its
    difficulties, why then wouldn’t the “science of living well” have them?

  • When the subject of
    religion is new, it is strange. We may have been in the religion all our
    lives, but when we get serious about them and reflect on them, we are startled
    because we hadn’t really seen it all for what it is

  • When then we begin to
    question the bible and possibility of things

  • We become distressed
    with doubts that we can barely explain to ourselves let alone to others

  • We then become unclear
    about things and form wrong judgments about things and this leads to a
    distrust of even ourselves

  • “To these agitations of
    mind about what is truth and what is error, is added an anxiety about
    ourselves, which, however sincere, is apt to lead us wrong.”

  • We become beset by
    impatience like someone who is recovering from a physical illness, as we take
    steps forward and some back on the journey to recovery

  • When we then begin to
    seek God, we become discouraged at the very slow pace of progress because we
    want to immediately enter into that blessedness of sons of God

  • Self examination, which
    is for the purpose of telling us where we currently are, becomes a tool to
    search and scour ourselves for signs of improvement

  • “But not understanding
    this, men are led to speak much and expressly upon sacred subjects, as if it
    were a duty to do so, and in the hope of its making them better; and they
    measure their advance in faith and holiness, not by the power of obeying God
    in practice, mastering their wills, and becoming more exact in the daily
    duties, but by the warmth and energy of their religious feelings.”

  • When such actions don’t
    work then they despair

  • “Now such a person must
    be reminded first of all, of the greatness of the work which they have
    undertaken, viz. the sanctification of their souls.”

  • Those who thought it
    would be easy, or those who thought it would be very hard but easy for them
    because of God’s grace will be disappointed and may begin to think that it is
    impossible to overcome their evil selves

  • The scriptures call us
    to work out our own salvation

  • “Yet while we must aim
    at this, and feel convinced of our ability to do it at length through the
    gifts bestowed on us, we cannot do it rightly without a deep settled
    conviction of the exceeding difficulty of the work.”

  • Christ’s yoke is easy to
    the obedient, but to the unbroken it is difficult

  • “Let, then, every
    beginner make up his mind to suffer disquiet and perplexity.”

  • “The more he makes up
    his mind manfully to bear doubt, struggle against it, and meekly to do God’s
    will all through it, the sooner this unsettled state of mind will cease, and
    order will rise out of confusion.”

  • If we obediently wait on
    Christ we will obtain his blessing

  • We need to be obedient
    in little things at first; we need to walk first before we run

  • If we have difficulties
    with a doctrine such as our Lord’s divinity, if we chose not to dwell on them
    but focus on fulfilling our Christian duty, we would find that with time,
    these concerns have diminished.

  • Many are misled by
    confidence in themselves because they bask in the light of the first season of
    their conversion and instead of acknowledging that their first experiences
    were a mixture of truth and error, they chose to continue in the light of that

  • Then, there are those
    “as are led away from the path of plain simple obedience by a compliance with
    the views and wishes of those around them.”

  • These people feel deeply
    about the need for the religious life but they travel a route to God’s favor
    that God has not chosen. The make rules and regulations the primary means of
    pleasing God, when it should be about spontaneous acts of the Christian

  • These frequently get
    perplexed because they are unable to reconcile what they are with what they
    know they ought to be, because they have adopted a false religious system

  • “Before concluding, I
    must notice one other state of mind in which the precept of “waiting on God
    and keeping His way, will avail, above all others, to lead right a doubting
    and perplexed mind.”

  • There are those who have
    fallen away from the faith into despondency, thinking that they are beyond
    salvation. This happens often through mental illness.

  • For such, let them focus
    on the little experiences in everyday life and not contemplate the big
    picture. Ask them if they can deny if it is their duty to serve God now? Since
    it is, they should focus on doing their duty in the here and now and God will
    gradually quiet the troubled mind.

  • In conclusion, there may
    be different other states of the perplexed mind, but the key point is to wait
    on God and obey his commandments and God will bring peace to that mind

Trust and obedience remain watch words as Newman assumes the pastoral mode and deals with different categories of people.

We must always remember that we are but human and imperfect. It is not for us to know everything. What is necessary for salvation is already given us. If we need any particular knowledge or understanding for salvation, then God has provided it. In the face of perplexities, doubts and curiosities, we must take our eyes of these and remain focused on Christ and his commandments. In all things obey.

The book of Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Growth in wisdom begins with humility and trust. Acknowledgin that we don't have nor do we need all the answers. It is enough that we know God's commandment to love and that we obey it. In doing this, we overcome our perplexities and doubts and start on our journey into wisdom.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Plain and Parochial Sermons: Sermon 16 The Christian Mysteries


  • There is much to learn
    from the placement of Trinity Sunday right after celebrating the coming of the
    Holy Spirit

  • We receive the Holy
    Spirit as the source of all spiritual knowledge and discernment

  • But then we celebrate
    Trinity Sunday in order not to forget that the Gospel has its mysteries

  • “The grace promised us
    is given, not that we may know more, but that we may do better.”

  • The grace promised shows
    us what we must do and how we can get there

  • We are not told things
    simply for the sake of telling, but for the purpose of fulfilling our duty to
    God and man

  • Knowledge is good, both
    knowledge of material things as well as that of spiritual things

  • The enlightening we
    receive from the Holy Spirit is not for the sake of understating all
    mysteries, but for the sake of understanding love, which is a fulfilling of
    the law

  • Newman speaks of many
    who have misunderstood the nature of Christian knowledge. They feel that if
    anything is mysterious, i.e., beyond human reason, then it is incompatible
    with the Gospel. They believe that the Gospel is laid out according to their
    notions of rationality

  • “The Feast of the
    Trinity succeeds Pentecost; the light of the Gospel does not remove mysteries
    in religion. This is our subject. Let us enlarge upon it.”

  • “Let us consider such
    difficulties of religion, as press upon us independently of the Scriptures.”

  • 1. One such issue is why
    is there pain in the world given God’s apparent goodness manifest in a good
    world He created? The brutality of nature and human beings, diseases, sorrows
    of the mind, and evils we inflict on each other

  • Why does God permit such
    evil in the world?

  • The bible acknowledges
    this problem but does not explain it

  • “It was a mystery before
    God gave His revelation, it is as great a mystery now; and doubtless for this
    reason, because knowledge about it would do us no good, it would merely
    satisfy curiosity. It is not practical knowledge.”

  • “Nor again are the
    difficulties of Judaism removed by Christianity.”

  • 2. How is it that
    sacrifices of “unoffending” animals turned Gods favor towards the Jews? This
    is something mysterious

  • “All that could be said
    to the point was, that in the daily course of human affairs the unoffending
    constantly suffer instead of the offenders. One man is ever suffering for the
    fault of another.”

  • Christianity does not
    solve this mystery but continues it in the sacrifice of Christ

  • “Why was this suffering
    necessary to procure for us the blessings which we were in ourselves unworthy

  • “We do not know. We
    should not be better men for knowing why God did not pardon us without
    Christ’s death; so He has not told us. One suffers for another in the ordinary
    course of things; and under the Jewish Law, too; and in the Christian scheme;
    and why all this, is still a mystery.”

  • “Another difficulty to a
    thoughtful Israelite would arise from considering the state of the heathen
    world. Why did not Almighty God bring all nations into His Church, and teach
    them, by direct revelation, the sin of idol-worship?”

  • We do see this principle
    of preferring one over another, i.e., unequal advantages among humans, in
    nature, in terms of education, talents and health. Yet this does not answer,

  • Then there are those
    born in a Christian country and those who aren’t, why?

  • “It would not make us
    better to know.”

  • Rather thank God for
    what you have and use it

  • 3.”It is indeed a
    remarkable circumstance, that the very revelation that brings us practical and
    useful knowledge about out souls, in the very act of doing so, nay (as it
    would seem), in consequence of doing so, brings us mysteries.”

  • “We gain spiritual light
    at the price of intellectual perplexity;”

  • Mysteries go hand in
    hand with blessings. The things that give us blessings and comfort coming with
    intellectual perplexity.

  • Christ’s incarnation,
    death and resurrection are blessed events for us but why? What does God get
    out of these?

  • “The same singular
    connexion between religious light and comfort, and intellectual darkness, is
    also seen in the doctrine of the Trinity.”

  • Religious light is
    intellectual darkness

  • “Scripture does not aim
    at making mysteries, but they are as shadows brought out by the Sun of Truth.”

  • “When you knew nothing
    of revealed light, you knew not revealed darkness.”

  • “Religious truth
    requires you should be told something, your imperfect nature prevents your
    knowing all; and to know something, and not all,--partial knowledge,—must of
    course perplex; doctrines imperfectly revealed must be mysterious.”

  •  4. “It seems, then,
    that difficulties in revelation are especially given to prove the reality of
    our faith.”

  • Difficulties in
    revelation help weed out the insincere

  • “Faith is unassuming,
    modest, thankful, obedient. It receives with reverence and love whatever God
    gives, when convinced it is His gift.”

  • When people seek Christ,
    not for his mercy, but to satisfy their curiosity these difficulties become
    stumbling blocks

  • Jesus taught in parables
    so that many would see, yet not understand

  • The difficulties in
    revelation offend the proud but inspire the reverent to humility

  • While the proud and
    irreverent stumble at these perplexities, the humble ask, “to whom shall we

  • 5. Now what is the point
    of all this?

  • Christ says that no one
    can come to Him except the Father draws him

  • Religion on the face of
    it can be very unattractive with all its precepts and austere practices and

  • “When then we feel
    within us the risings of this opposition to Christ, proud aversion to His
    Gospel, or a low-minded longing after this world, let us pray God to draw us; 
    and though we cannot move a step without Him, at least let us try to move.”

  • Let us get rid of
    curious and presumptuous thoughts and look for God to bless and strengthen our

  • We may have doubts, but
    we should act through them

  • The more we commit to
    working out our salvation the less we are tied up in curiosities and
    presumptions questions that create stumbling blocks for our faith

How one views the point of the Christian faith will determine how one lives it. For Newman, our faith is for the purpose of attaining blessedness with God through Christ. Our faith is a journey in which we work out our salvation.

In the very guides that Christ gives us to assist in this journey, though, are things that may cause us to stumble. For Newman, God's guidance comes to us primarily in Scripture and conscience. While we receive blessedness and comfort through the words of Scripture we are confronted with mysteries that can distract us. But not only are these mysteries in Scripture, we find them in our world, in history and in nature.

Frequently, we get twisted in knots about the problem of pain and evil in such a good world and in the presence of a good God. Newman says that we must keep our eyes on Christ and not succumb to these curiosities. Questioning and knowledge are not bad things, but the question is always to what end. Does this knowledge make you a better Christian? We may think so, but if God has chosen not to give us an answer, then we know that it is not something we need to know or can understand.

Our imperfect nature is the cause of partial knowledge and not being able to understand the whole. But we must then remain humble and trust that God understands all and is good.

Again, with Newman, the words trust, obedience, reverence and humility all apply. Will great religious light comes great intellectual darkness. The humble and reverent mind accepts this and proceeds on the journey into God.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Plain and Parochial Sermons Volume 1 Sermon 15: "Religious Faith Rational

Bullet point summary

  • There are those who consider Christianity as something
    strange. Because it is “heavenly” it is thus, superhuman, and irrational.

  • They claim that only those disposed a certain way
    develop a feeling for Christianity, which is what Christianity is based on, it
    is more about irrational sentiment than principle

  • Newman argues that it is true that grace is necessary to
    develop a habit of faith

  • It is not true, however, to say that faith is strange
    and absurd

  • Note that faith=trust, akin to Paul’s use and
    understanding of faith as trust

  • “I mean such a Faith as that of Abraham, mentioned in
    the test, which led him to believe God’s word when opposed to his own
    experience. And it shall now be my endeavour to show this.”

  • Those who scoff at faith act as though trust exists only
    within religious matters

  • But we exercise trust every moment of our lives

  • “When faith is said to be a religious principle, it is
    (I repeat) the things believed, not the act of believing them, which is
    peculiar to religion.”

  • We have faith in our memory and that is not considered

  • We have faith in our ability and use of reason for
    inference. For instance, “Who of us would doubt, on seeing strong shadows on
    the ground, that the sun was shining out, through our face happened to be
    turned the other way.”

  • We often trust our reasoning and memory though they
    often deceive us

  • We trust them because on the whole they are right

  • We don’t have time in our daily lives to dwell on minute
    doubt possibilities. No one lives life raising every conceivable doubt, i.e.
    is this food poisoned? Will this staircase support me? Our natural disposition
    is to believe things as they are [and doubt only when presented with reason

  • Credulity is when one believes too much, in terms of
    religion, this is superstition

  • While credulity and superstition are examples of trust
    gone awry, they do not prove that trust is irrational

  • There are two things that we are sure off, that we exist
    and that there is an Unseen Power that we are bound to obey

  • Beyond these two things we are forced to trust our
    senses, memory, and reasoning powers and then other authorities

  • “[S]o that, in fact, almost all we do, every day of our
    lives, is on trust, i.e. faith.”

  • It may be said that belief in senses, memory and reason
    is belief in ourselves. These are self correcting and at our disposal and
    general provide truth for us.

  • These people would claim that trusting one’s senses is
    different from trusting another person and thus such trust of another is not
    rational in the manner of the preceding argument

  • “Let us, then, understand faith in this sense of
    reliance on the words of another, as opposed to trust in oneself. This is the
    common meaning of the word, I grant;”

  • Even when understanding faith as trust in others, it is
    still not irrational

  • When we consider the matter, there are very few things
    which we can ascertain for ourselves by our own senses and reason

  • “After all, what do we know without trusting others?”

  • Most of what we believe to be true are things that we
    take on the word of others

  • We don’t consider our belief in continents etc to be

  • In business transactions, we trust and confide in
    strangers, we trust documents that they are not and/or will not be forged.

  • “We act upon our trust in them implicitly, because
    commonsense tells us that with proper caution and discretion, faith in others
    is perfectly safe and rational.”

  • Scripture then, is only asking us to exercise the same
    trust in regard to a future life that we exercise in the present

  • It would be irrational to think that one would not die,
    yet we believe this without proof that it is certain. Is it enough that other
    men die, or that he has seen another man die? How can he tell that he is not
    different or does he know with certainty that humans in another country do not

  • “How little, indeed, he knows about it all, except that
    it is a received fact, and except that it would, in truth, be idle to doubt
    what mankind as a whole witness, though each individual has only his
    proportionate share in the universal testimony!”

  • Furthermore, we constantly believe things even against
    our own judgment, especially in cases in which we believe the informant knows
    more than we do on the subject

  • This is the case in questions of religion

  • Trust is the foundation and is what the secular world
    calls prudence, the world cannot proceed without it

  • The worst thing that can happen to a state is the
    breakdown of trust

  • Distrust breaks the bonds of human society

  • Is it only rational for a man to trust another man but
    yet be irrational for trusting God?

  • “But if may be objected; ‘True, if we knew for certain
    God had spoken to us as He did to Abraham, it were then madness indeed in us
    to disbelieve Him; but it is not His voice we hear, but man’s speaking in His

  • “The Church tells us, that God has revealed to man His
    will; and the Ministers of the Church point to a book which they say is holy,
    and contains the words of God. How are we to know whether they speak the truth
    or not? To believe this, is according to reason or against it?”

  • Brings to the question of what our reasons are for
    believing that the Bible came from God (This is a dialog to be had only with
    perplexed believers and not the profane who would not believe even if God
    spoke to them)

  • The profane dislike the idea of trust in religion
    because it is to implicitly acknowledge an inferiority and they are too proud
    to accept that

  • They hate the idea of religion because it ties them to
    dependence on God

  • They will tolerate trust in another human because there
    is a mutual dependence akin to equality that is not present in religion.

  • We are dependent creatures, we have been from birth,
    “and that visible dependence reminds us forcibly of our truer dependence upon

  • We obey God because we feel His presence in our

  • The profane trust their senses and reasoning, but why
    don’t they then trust their consciences? The conscience is as much a part of
    them as is reason and is placed within to balance sight and reason

  • They want to be their own masters which is sin

  • We must view them with love and pray for them

  • If we follow conscience then there is no doubt about the
    authenticity of the Bible

  • It is bad company, corrupt books or sin that quench the
    Holy Spirit

  • If we obey God strictly then faith becomes like sight

  • “This is the blessedness of confirmed obedience.”

Newman had an abiding interest in issues of faith, precisely how one can emulate the trust evident in our natural life in the life of faith. For instance, when I walk down the stairs in my house, I don't doubt for a minute that it would support me, or when I eat, I don't doubt that what I eat is real food.

How then can we believe as though we actually see? How can I trust in that which I can't see, as though I could see it?

Trust is natural. We all know how to trust. So in matters of faith, the battle is half completed, we simply have to learn to trust in cases where we do not have our senses and our reason to guide us. To develop that keen sense of faith or trust, in which we can can gladly step out on a limb at the voice of God, we have to develop our sense of hearing the Master's voice and learning to trust it.

This leads to the question of how we recognize the voice of God. That again is something that is learned and not spontaneous. Newman makes it clear that such recognition springs from understanding that the Scriptures are God's words to us. Familiarity with the scriptures, then, fine tunes that sensitivity to the voice of God that comes on specific ocassions. The second pole for learning to recognize the voice of God is conscience. For Newman, God speaks directly to each heart through conscience. Thus by listening to our consciences and delving into the Word, we become familiar with the voice of God.

When we learn to hear and recognize the voice of God, then are we able to obey and trust. When we learn to obey and trust, then we stand at the door to spiritual blessedness.