God has no enemies

5 04 2020
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Lord Chaitanya threatening to castigate Jagai and Madhai with the Sudarshana Chakra

The Seventh Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam is widely loved by devotees of Krishna because it tells the story of how five year old Prahlada Maharaja is saved from his father’s wrath by Nrsimhadeva, Krishna’s half-man, half-lion avatar. More on this in a future essay, but here I would like to describe the first chapter of the canto which Srila Prabhupada in his translation entitled, “The Supreme Lord is Equal to Everyone”. The reasoning of this chapter goes that, since the material world is merely the external energy of the Lord, it is both different and non-different (achintya bheda abheda) from Him, or to put it my own overly-simplistic terms, you can’t run from God because you sort of are God, like your finger is you but not quite. In Krishna consciousness, you can’t be totally Other from God, you can’t eternally separate yourself from Him because you’re never independent from Him. Read the rest of this entry »





Two minds

26 03 2020

Although in general I have thought Chesterton overrated, I appreciated and have recommended to friends his book, St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox. As I read it years and years ago, I remember only a few passages. This one, however, is the first one I think of when mentioning that book:

Siger of Brabant said this: the Church must be right theologically, but she can be wrong scientifically. There are two truths; the truth of the supernatural world, and the truth of the natural world, which contradicts the supernatural world. While we are being naturalists, we can suppose that Christianity is all nonsense; but then, when we remember that we are Christians, we must admit that Christianity is true even if it is nonsense. In other words, Siger of Brabant split the human head in two, like the blow in an old legend of battle; and declared that a man has two minds, with one of which he must entirely believe and with the other may utterly disbelieve. To many this would at least seem like a parody of Thomism. As a fact, it was the assassination of Thomism. It was not two ways of finding the same truth; it was an untruthful way of pretending that there are two truths. And it is extraordinarily interesting to note that this is the one occasion sentences, which is a thing like the tone of a man’s voice, is suddenly altered. He had never been angry with any of the enemies who disagreed with him. But these enemies had attempted the worst treachery: they had made him agree with them when the Dumb Ox really came out like a wild bull. When he stood up to answer Siger of Brabant, he was altogether transfigured, and the very style of his sentences, which is a thing like the tone of a man’s voice, is suddenly altered. He had never been angry with any of the enemies who disagreed with him. But these enemies had attempted the worst treachery:they had made him agree with them. Read the rest of this entry »





Luminous shadows

20 01 2020

As indicated previously, Thomism and I started off on the wrong foot when I was a teenager, when I tried to study it with the aim of getting a jump start on ecclesiastical studies. Instead I became enamored with modern philosophies that were more in sync with the times. I will admit, my inability to adequately engage with Scholastic philosophy was due to my intellectual isolation. I was in a small town, the local clergy didn’t particularly care for my piety (looking back, I can’t blame them), and Catholic conservatism looked substantially different back then than it did today. This was the time of John Paul II, and as much as modern Thomists try to reclaim him as one of their own, you would be hard pressed to try to jam that phenomenological square peg into the round Aristotelian hole. I am sure many graduate papers are being written trying to do just that, but I’m not going to bother here.

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My so-called Neo-Scholastic life

22 12 2019

In spite of philosophy having been an obsession for me since I was a teenager, I have only taken three philosophy classes in my life. In college, it was a Chicano Studies class that I needed to take for another reason, which was just awful. The other two classes were my first year of philosophy in seminary, and I failed both miserably. This was due to my ongoing distraction concerning my actual vocation, and also due to the structure of instruction itself. Lectures were often dry and just reading from notes, on the one hand, and tests were literally just “fill in these twelve lines” format. In other words, it was all about rote learning. There was no real deep explanation concerning what any of it meant: they just wanted to see if you “knew the answer”. Read the rest of this entry »





Dying

10 12 2019

One of the most convincing challenges to Western monotheist theodicy that I can think of is one I will term the “finitude of the good.” That is, how can people we love end up doing evil things, or on the “wrong side” of morality? This question poses itself starkly when a loved one dies “outside the faith”, or if they were not a particularly pleasant person, but may have been dear to us. This person did some good, they were not an absolute waste of humanity (people seldom are). The cliché of the serial killer’s mother protesting that he was a “good boy” once rings hollow to both his victims and decent people alike. Where did that good innocent smiling boy in the photograph go? What of any of the good acts he did? Do they merely magnify the turpitude of his later actions, as Catholic theology claims when the mystery of the world is laid bare at the Last Judgment? Are they the result of karma which keeps the spirit-soul in the cycle of birth and death as the Vedas and Puranas of India indicate? Or are love and kindness just a temporary illusion of synapses flashing in the brain as the atheists proclaim? Just chemicals sloshing around in the skull… Read the rest of this entry »





Windows

24 11 2019

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I have been an inconstant seeker of the transcendent. Part of this is due to vague childhood memories of beauty. There were my grandmother’s peacocks. There was the idyllic countryside where I grew up. And there was the church. The Catholic rites were updated over a decade before my birth, but old practices and vessels take a while to get rid of. The devotions of the elderly women never left. My grandmother continued to veil her weary and withered head with a mantilla. There was that old priest or two who chanted a chunk of the Mass in Latin. But most of all, there was the building itself. I grew up in old churches, and no matter how much they wanted to alter everything right away, renovations are costly and can’t be done overnight. In my childhood parish, it took a massive earthquake for them to finally get around to gutting the sanctuary. The actual damage, however, had already been done. The shadows of the past were already cast in my mind. Read the rest of this entry »





David Bentley Hart’s End of History

11 10 2019

When thinking of the problem of Hell, I recall one of the only sermons that I remember from my time in the Society of St. Pius X seminary. It was an anniversary Mass of one of the priests where he began stating that the one thing that motivated him to be a priest was the idea of Hell and that people go there. This was one of the only instances when Hell even entered into my religious considerations. As a teenage hanger-on at my mother’s Legion of Mary praesidium, I remember being recounted the vision of Hell shown to the children at Fatima in connection to that apparition’s message of penance. As with many modern people, Hell is sort of always in the background but never at the forefront of what I think concerning the meaning of human life. But for many, such as that priest, it is very much front and center of who they are as followers of Christ. Read the rest of this entry »





On the spiritual body

14 05 2019
Narada Muni Transcendental Spaceman

Narada Muni (source)

A reader left a comment with a link to an article by David Bentley Hart entitled The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients. Here I will offer a few comments, specifically on the main themes of the corporeal vs. the spiritual body. Read the rest of this entry »





On the cycle of the yugas

3 05 2019

A reader pointed out two essays in First Things by Russian author, Eugene Vodolazkin, more or less on the themes of time and historical truth. For the most part, these essays suffer from the tendency of literary scholars to divide the world into a series of just-so stories: observations from limited sources that seem to flawlessly explain the long arc of history. So needless to say, I don’t agree with much in these articles. But I do want to draw from them two themes to discuss here, namely, the repetitive nature of past narratives, as well as the progressive concept of time. Read the rest of this entry »





God of History vs. God as History?

24 04 2019

One of the great influences of my youth was a Russian Orthodox monk who was a Catholic convert. According to a biographical essay written by one of his disciples, he was converted by the Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky. Having read Florovsky myself, I can attest that he is one of the only Orthodox writers worth a damn. Aside from his obvious mastery of Patristics and Church history, his more theoretical impact was clear and to the point: Christianity is a religion of history. That is, in contrast to Nietzsche’s attempt to revive the eternal return, Christianity is based firmly on the concept of linear time. Things happen once, and not over and over again. Humans are historic persons with their own unique substance, and not just masks for an eternal repeating energy flow. For instance, this is the main difference between Christian liturgy and pagan ritual in spite of any superficial similarities and appropriations. Liturgy can only commemorate historical events and not eternal cycles of seasons and movements of nature. It could be said that the latter only have meaning in light of the former. Read the rest of this entry »