Theology Corner: The Ruined Cathedral

Some questions from a curious soul about the mysteries of Christ.

“Prior to Christ, had philosophers come to such conclusions or was it only after Christ’s revelations that they later backed into it?”

Yes. Both Socrates and Aristotle, by reason alone unaided by revelation, deduced that the universe was controlled by a single, supreme being or divine principle. Socrates called it the Form of the Good, or The Highest Good; and Aristotle called it The Unmoved Mover.

The Stoics also spoke of Pronia, or ‘Mindfulness’ which they named as the one spirit animating and moving the universe, the stars and planets. Reading Stoic hymns to Zeus, you will see many of the same attributes and epithets later attributed to the Christian God.

Also, many mythologies both in the East and West speak of Uranus, or ‘the Heavens’ as a primordial god higher and older than the other gods, from whom the later and lesser gods sprung. Indeed, the name Jupiter simply means ‘High-Father’ that is, Our Father Which Art in Heaven.

Oddly, these many parallels between Christianity and pagan belief is taken as some sort of proof that the belief is false. In legal circles, we lawyers hold that if more than one witness testifies, even if the testimony does not exactly match, the proof that something happened somewhat as described is greater, not less.


ruined-cathedral

“You say that our conscience is there to convict us when we are allured by bad actions – but why is it that we are designed to be so drawn to wicked deeds?”

There are only two possibilities: the first is that wickedness serves some purpose and does us some good. The second is that the design is marred by some primordial catastrophe and the mar is not part of the design, but a mistake, an error, a sin.

The logical difficulty with the first possibility is that if wickedness serves some good end, then it is not wickedness, and our consciences would not condemn us. If sinful man was designed to be sinful (either by a thorough process of evolution or by a benevolent and competent creator) then any conscience which condemns us for the useful and good sin is malfunctioning.

If the design (either of evolution or of a divine creator) were marred or broken, we would see the result we actually see in real life: men who know what is good (thanks to the conscience which is not broken) but who cannot do what is good (thanks to a corrupt willpower, or some racial incapacity in our nervous systems to adhere to standards of self control).

The name for this among Christians is Original Sin, that is, the sinful inclination which comes from human nature itself, which is marred to its core.

If you see a cathedral on a hilltop, and half of it is gorgeous with strained glass and bold with flying buttresses, brilliant with white statues of solemn, noble faces, but the other half is toppled stone, cracked roofbeams, shattered glass, toppled figures, there is again only two possibilities. One is that the builder has not yet completed his task and is working on the second half. Call that the evolutionary model. The other is that the cathedral was whole at one time, and now some disaster wrecked it, but not entirely, so that the original shape and beauty can still be guessed. Call this the Christian model.

You can look at a roof with a hole in it and guess that the purpose of the roof is to hold off rain and wind, and you can SEE that it is the purpose, even if the roof at that moment clearly does not hold off rain and wind.

The evolutionary model says that man used to be less perfect, when he was an ape man, but soon will be more perfect, when he will be a superman. Some unseen process will slowly eliminate the vicious beast that lives in our minds and glands. The problem with the evolutionary model is that real evolution, Darwinian evolution, is not directional, not aimed at a goal, and is nothing like a builder who builds a structure according to a blueprint. So if you saw half a cathedral that was being evolved, rather than built, you would have no idea what the other half would end up being, because a blind and random process would determine this, not a deliberate process. The appearance that the whole structure, roof and all, is meant to serve a given purpose is an illusion. There is no purpose to anything: roofs are not meant to hold off rain.

The Christian model says that man once was perfect, in Eden. And that his disobedience to God, the source of good, and of truth, and of life, put a gulf between Man and God.

Deprived of good, man grew evil; lacking truth, man became infatuated with believing and telling falsehoods; cut off from life, man became mortal.

Now, whatever else you may or may not believe about the Christian teaching, that man is a fallen creature is the only one that is too obvious to bear repeating. If we were just not-yet-supermen we would not have a conscience that condemns us: our minds would be at the same stage of evolution as our bodies and souls, and we would be content with what we do the way animals are.

” Does the complex universe come from an uncomplicated God like how a painting comes from orderly tubes of paint – is God’s entropy zero?”

Entropy is a material condition that relates to imperfect mechanical interactions. Thoughts, spirits, concepts, beings made of purely intellectual substance cannot suffer entropy any more than the number “2” can get worn out or used up if people count too often. The concept does not make any sense.

The question of HOW a simple and all powerful being who is outside of time can act inside time, and set complex matters in motion, is both too complex for me to comprehend and too simple. When you make up a thought, and sit, and type it, the thought you make up is simple because it is made of thought. Your thought not made of atoms and molecules that get worn out or used up.

Your personal thought, it is true, can be forgotten. But your personal thought, if you examine them patiently, sooner or later can be seen to come from concepts, things like Truth, Beauty, Virtue, or things the Magnitude, Logic, Justice, and so on. These things cannot be forgotten. Like the abstract concept “2” they are not in time, do not suffer entropy, are not material, and are not made of parts. Only things constructed of parts can be deconstructed back into parts. Only integrated things made of pieces can be disintegrated back into pieces.

But notice that your personal thought, let us say, “It is good to eat a sandwich when I am hungry” which you may forget thinking about in an hour, is derived or deduced from concepts related to nutriments and life. The reason why it is good to eat a sandwich, whether you or I says so or not, is because life is better than death. Now, the idea that life is good is like the number “2” in that it is not going to get used up or worn out.

The relationship between your personal thought and the basic concept is the same kind of mysterious yet simple relationship the creator has to the creation. Your temporary personal thought of eating a sandwich is somehow caused by and participates in the eternal and abstract concept of the nature of life. Life causes your hunger and also causes your desire for life. Rocks have no life, hence no concept of it nor yearning for it.

But at this point my wisdom fails and I grow mute: I cannot explain or understand the relationship between the concepts that guide me, the thoughts I think, and the acts I do.

Especially for a writer this is true: I serve an abstract concept called Beauty, or Truth. That is what I try to put into my books. The idea of the story is elusive and eternal, but I have to hunt and find words fitted to capture it. Once the words are written on the page, they become material and mortal. A book can be burned. It suffers entropy. The story concept as it exists before I find the words to capture it is immortal. You can see this in the fact that different men in different periods of history have all attempted stories on the same or similar themes. Truth and beauty are abstractions more fundamental still, and are served not just by writers and artists, but by all men in all ages in many different ways.

I cannot tell you how the simple and divine spirit of truth makes me write a complex and imperfect book, even though I have gone through every step many times. Neither can I tell you how a simple and motionless God can create the wondrous complexity of a universe of time and events, of being and becoming. But I can see it is an analogous process.

” I also do not understand the logical reasoning leading to His unmoving nature – nothing is greater than Him to move Him, He has no parts with which to move Himself, thus He is unmoving?”

Yes, God is unmoving, but is the source of all motion. In the same way, a steadfast love does not flag or fail, but love moves all living things to furious activity, and is at the source either of most or of all biological motion, all desire, all appetites.

” Could something lesser not move Him if He permitted?”

If God is a spirit, not a thing made of matter, and a perfect spirit, he can no more “move” than the number “2” can move, or the concept of “Justice”.

Imagine him as the opposite of a black hole in space: a motionless point out from which all thing come in an endless, furious, enormous explosion of love, light, truth, beauty and virtue. The explosion has no recoil. Nothing outside the pinpoint is causing the explosion. It is the source; the fountainhead; the first cause.

If this point is outside of time and space, all events within time are simultaneous to him, and his so called reactions to them take place at the same moment as the whole creation of the universe: everything part of the same plan and same pattern down to the smallest detail.

This is why we should be careful to understand that when we humans talk of God talking, thinking, forgiving, regretting, we are fish swimming in the stream of time looking up through the water at the motionless star which is not literally doing any of these things. We describe his acts in a linear step by step fashion because that is the way we see the stageplay. The burst of inspiration which struck the playwright, however, was not step by step. He sees it all at once.

Now, as a Christian, I hold that God took on human form as Jesus, and not only did Mary change his diaper and burp him on her shoulder, but the soldier of Pilate smote him on the face, led him bound, scourged him with whips, and moved him in many ways. He hungered in the desert when the Devil tempted him to turn stones to bread. He wept at the death of Lazarus. So, in a way, yes, God can be moved.

” Maybe I am thinking of this too mechanically which is inappropriate for matters of the supernatural.”

Maybe. But keep in mind that these theological speculations and conclusions are generally less complex and confusing than wave-particle duality, or the Schrodinger equation reconciling that duality, and that is merely physics. The universe is a strange place, even to those of us who live here.

” Following that I fully do not understand the next statement about Him being able to create motion despite immobility by setting all things into motion at all points in time.”

The railroad track does not move, but without it, the traincars do not move. Shakespeare is not a character in the play HAMLET, but without Shakespeare, Hamlet never sees a ghost, seeks revenge, or dies.

“I was coincidentally stopped for the first time in my life by Christian missionaries while walking home. Specifically they were Mormon missionaries and we chatted for awhile, at one point she stated that God continues to send us prophets, such as Joseph Smith. I have read your essays on the validity of the Catholic Church as being the one true church dating back to Christ, but I do not recall you directly addressing the Mormon church May I assume you would logically dismiss it for the same reasons you dismissed Protestant churches in your essay?”

Correct. While I love every Mormon I meet, who show more stalwart love of God in their lives and deeds than my people do, I hate their theology and teachings, which are blasphemous and heretical, luring good men away from the truth. The Mormon idea that everyone baptized by the apostles went to hell, and all Christians after Saint John was assumed to heaven were merely pagan impostures, is among the most risible and most offensively, aggressively, insolently untrue and absurd ideas I can imagine. Forbidding alcohol but permitting polygamy remind me of that other, more violent, group of heretics, the Mohammedans.

But I love the Mormons. Notice that it was Mormons that stopped to talk to you about the love of Christ, and not wandering nuns, mendicant friars, Dominicans nor members of the Knights of Columbus. You see? The Mormons have more grit that we.

Not to disparage my fellow Catholics, but I notice dozens of public Catholics in politics supporting abortion and divorce and other abominations directly against Catholic teaching. I cannot recall a single Mormon I’ve ever met who lived his life in scandal against the teachings of his own Church.

So on a scale of one to ten, I place Mormon faithfulness at a ten, and their theological reasoning at a zero. The best men in the world with the worst Christian doctrine.

(And, contrariwise, I give Catholicism a ten for theology, and very low marks for faithfulness. Sorry, fellow Catholics, but it has been a long, long time since we made any emperor walk barefoot in the snow.)

” And also remove Joseph Smith for the reasons given in your writing just now, about looking for threads of similarity amongst the prophets and removing those who are dissimilar?”

Correct. I have found a useful resource in the book A HISTORY OF HERESIES AND THEIR REFUTATIONS by St. Alphonsus Liguori. (http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/1696-1787,_De_Ligorio_Alphonsusi,_The_History_Of_Heresies_And_Their_Refutation,_EN.pdf)

Even a reader who is convinced that the Roman Catholic Church lost the authority to teach Christian doctrine at some point before the Sixteenth Century, if that reader accepts the Bible as canonical, he must therefore accept the doctrines of the Church before the Fifth Century, when the Bible was canonized, because to accept the teaching means to accept the authority of the teacher.

Hence, even a non-Catholic can study this book to discover what heresies he is bound and obligated not to believe, if he believes in Christianity at all. Anything determined by the Church before the date of the alleged apostasy of the Church must therefore be binding.

In the case of Mohammed and Joseph Smith, the idea of private revelation overruling public revelation falls into the heresy of Montanism, and has been anathema since the Second Century, long before either of these false prophets took pen to paper.

” I have gathered from my dubious secular sources is that in the Old Testament God was rather wrathful whereas in the New Testament he is loving. If so is that not a dramatic change in the message being told by the prophets of the same divine being?”

Except it is not so. Most of what Jesus says is quoted from the Old Testament. Jesus promises wrath and hellfire in no uncertain times, just as God does, and he speaks of love and forgiveness in no uncertain terms, just as God does.

I would prefer not to take the time to track down the specific quotes, because it will be more convincing for you to do so on your own, if you actually have any doubts about this.

Please read and support my work on Patreon!