Friday, 11 December 2009

Mary, Mother of the World

Image © 2008 Gregory Watson

Oil on Canvas, monochrome (French Ultramarine Blue, Titanium White). 12" x 16".

This was the first project of my first year Oil Painting class at Mohawk College's Continuing Ed Creative Arts Certificate. I was originally going to title it somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "Sacre Bleu", but Melissa objected and retitled it Mary, Mother of the World.

The image is based somewhat on the "Miraculous Medal" image that Mary revealed to St. Catherine Labouré in 1830, as well as St. John's depiction of her in Revelation 12, clothed with the sun, standing on the moon, with a crown of twelve stars. She looks down from heaven with compassion on us, and showers us with the abundant graces she has received from Jesus.

I donated the original painting to my parish, St. Margaret Mary, to be raffled off in a youth group fundraiser. It was won by the youth minster, Nassrin Msiss, who assures me that the contest was not rigged, and that the prize-winners were drawn by objective third parties. Congrats, Nassrin!

Until I figure out how to set up PayPal with this site, please email to order Prints.

  • Full size (12" x 16") limited edition high quality giclée print (unframed): $30.00 (CAD)

  • Full size (12" x 16") limited edition high quality giclée print (framed): $60.00 (CAD)

  • Image on 4¼" x 5½" Greeting Card (blank): $1.50 (CAD)


Image © 2008 Gregory Watson

Oil on Canvas, limited palette (Permanent Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre, Titanium White). 12" x 16".

This was the second project of my first year Oil Painting class at Mohawk College's Continuing Ed Creative Arts Certificate. It was inspired by the main altar at St. Dunstan's Basilica in Charlottetown, PEI, based on a photo I had taken while vacationing there in 2007.

The title, Adoration, refers to the Catholic devotion of Eucharistic Adoration--the contemplative form of prayer engaged in while before the Eucharist exposed in a "monstrance", which is depicted on the altar in the painting.

I donated the original painting to my parish, St. Margaret Mary, to be raffled off in a youth group fundraiser. It was won by the parish priest, Fr. Bill Trusz, who claims that, for the amount of tickets he bought to win it, he deserves it! It's nice to have a fan! Congrats, Fr. Bill.

Until I figure out how to set up PayPal with this site, please email to order Prints.

  • Full size (12" x 16") limited edition high quality giclée print (unframed): $30.00 (CAD)

  • Full size (12" x 16") limited edition high quality giclée print (framed): $60.00 (CAD)

  • Image on 4¼" x 5½" Greeting Card (blank): $1.50 (CAD)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Hadewijch of Antwerp's 7th Vision

Hadewijch of Antwerp was a "bequine", a form of lay religious common in the Middle Ages (after which modern lay orders were modelled), who likely lived c. 1250. She wrote about mystical experiences which she received during her reception of the Eucharist, and a deep, even "erotic" relationship with Jesus which she experienced in Communion. I reproduce this vision of hers as it directly relates to my previous post, Way Beyond "Personal Relationship"... Again, potentially not for the faint of heart.

One Pentecost at dawn I had a vision. Matins were being sung in the church and I was there. And my heart and my veins and all my limbs trembled and shuddered with desire. And I was in such a state as I had been so many times before, so passionate and so terribly unnerved that I thought I should not satisfy my Lover and my Lover not fully gratify me, then I would have to desire while dying and die while desiring. At that time I was so terribly unnerved with passionate love and in such pain that I imagined all my limbs breaking one by one and all my veins were separately in tortuous pain. The state of desire in which I then was cannot be expressed by any words or any person that I know. And even that which I could say of it would be incomprehensible to all who hadn't confessed this love by means of acts of passion and who were not known by Love. This much I can say about it: I desired to consummate my Lover completely and to confess and to savour in the fullest extent--to fulfil his humanity blissfully with mine and to experience mine therein, and to be strong and perfect so that I in turn would satisfy him perfectly: to be purely and exclusively and completely virtuous in every virtue. And to that end I wished, inside me, that he would satisfy me with his Godhead in one spirit (1 Cor 6:17) and he shall be all he is without restraint. For above all gifts I could choose, I choose that I may give satisfaction in all great sufferings. For that is what it means to satisfy completely: to grow to being god with God. For it is suffering and pain, sorrow and being in great new grieving, and letting this all come and go without grief, and to taste nothing of it but sweet love and embraces and kisses. Thus I desired that God should be with me so that I should be fulfilled together with him.

When at that time I was in a state of terrible weariness, I saw a great eagle, flying towards me from the altar. And he said to me: "If you wish to become one, then prepare yourself." And I fell to my knees and my heart longed terribly to worship that One Thing in accordance with its true dignity, which is impossible--I know that, God knows that, to my great sadness and burden. And the eagle turned, saying, "Righteous and most powerful Lord, show now the powerful force of your Unity for the consummation with the Oneness of yourself." And he turned back and said to me, "He who has come, comes again, and wherever he never came, there he will not come."

Then he came from the altar, showing himself as a child. And that child had the very same appearance that he had in his first three years. And he turned to me and from the ciborium he took his body in his right hand and in his left hand he took a chalice that seemed to come from the altar, but I know not where it came from. Thereupon he came in the appearance and the clothing of the man he was on that day when he first gave us his body, that appearance of a human being and a man, showing his sweet and beautiful and sorrowful face, and approaching me with the humility of the one who belongs entirely to another. Then he gave himself to me in the form of the sacrament, in the manner to which people are accustomed. Then he gave me to drink from the chalice in the manner and taste to which people are accustomed. Then he came to me himself and took me completely in his arms and pressed me to him. And all my limbs felt his limbs in the full satisfaction that my heart and my humanity desired. Then I was externally completely satisfied to the utmost satiation.

At that time I also had, for a short while, the strength to bear it. But all too soon I lost external sight of the shape of that beautiful man, and I saw him disappear to nothing, so quickly melting away and fusing together that I could not see or observe him outside of me, nor discern him within me. It was to me at that moment as if we were one without distinction. All of this was external, in sight, in taste, in touch, just as people may taste and see and touch receiving the external sacrament, just as a beloved may receive her lover in the full pleasure of seeing and hearing, with the one becoming one with the other. After this I remained in a state of oneness with my Beloved so that I melted into him and ceased to be myself. And I was transformed and absorbed in the spirit, and I had a vision about the following hours.

(From The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism., Bernard McGinn, editor. Modern Library Classics, 2006. pp. 103-104.)

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Way Beyond "Personal Relationship"...

(Warning: This post contains some mature themes pertaining to the Eucharist and Its relationship to us as "the Bride of Christ". I'd hesitate to let anyone 13 or younger read it without a parent's teaching presence.)

Since becoming a Catholic, I've encountered all sorts of criticism from well-meaning Christians who know that the main thing in Christianity is to have a "personal relationship" with Jesus. What they don't seem to know is that this relationship is available and encouraged in Catholicism. Many seem to think that the rituals and stuff stifles a free, spontaneous interaction with Jesus. Others claim that Mary and the Saints compete with Jesus and distract us from a relationship with Him. In fact, many people who leave the Catholic faith to become Protestant claim that they "weren't being fed," or "didn't ever hear the Gospel presented," or that they had never "asked Jesus into their heart." All these claims boil down to one simple statement: People believe that knowing Jesus personally is not the be all and end all of the Catholic Faith.

I'm here to say that that just ain't so.

All Christians will tell you that "God is everywhere." The more spiritually discerning will recognise that God, who is everywhere, will "concentrate" (for lack of a better word) His ubiquitous presence in a certain place at a certain time. After all, what else could Jesus mean when He claimed in Matthew 18:20, that "When two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them"? If Jesus is always everywhere in the same manner and proportion, why promise to be especially with those gathered in His name?

Yet, even this special, spiritual presence of Christ is but a pale shadow of the reality and enormity of His Presence in every Catholic Church. For Jesus is not only present in some sort of intangible, mystical way, but He is as physically, locally present to us as He was to the disciples 2000 years ago, albeit in a different manner. I'll say it again: Jesus makes Himself physically present to us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity! And He is always there, in the Church, in the Tabernacle, waiting for us and welcoming us! He may be spiritually present among us when two or three are gathered in His name; but He is physically present in the Tabernacle, whether any living soul is around or not! And just as with His Disciples so long ago, so now He "eagerly desires to celebrate the Passover" with us (cf. Luke 22:15).

For it is here, in our "Passover", that is, the Eucharistic Celebration of the Mass, that Jesus comes again to us, and meets with us in a most intimate way! He not only comes to dwell near us, or with us, but in our devout reception of the Eucharist, He comes to dwell physically, intimately, in us! No wonder, then, that Jesus' Real Presence in the Eucharist is called by the Church, "the source and summit of the Christian life" (CCC #1324). And it is precisely this that gives the lie to the objections that Jesus is not emphasised, or that no true relationship with Him exists in the Catholic Church.

There has been much criticism regarding modern "praise and worship" music that portrays our relationship with Jesus almost in terms of a love relationship. Songs are criticised as being such sappy love songs that if we substituted "baby" for "Jesus" it would be just another pop love song on the radio. As far as aesthetics go, I quite agree with the criticism. But the message? The problem is not with comparing our love with Jesus to romantic love. Let's remember that the monks and mystics of the Church since time immemorial have viewed our relationship with Jesus in the most graphic terms of intimacy. The favourite book of monasticism seems to have been Song of Solomon, which they interpreted allegorically as being about our relationship with Jesus! Nothing in popular praise and worship songs rivals the erotic poetry of Solomon. In fact, the problem with most of these (Protestant) songs is that they are incomplete expressions of that fullness of intimacy. It is, to put it bluntly, singing about going all the way, when you've only ever made it to first or second base!

Modern scholars often are heard accusing the monks of "twisting" the Song of Songs into this allegorical meaning because they couldn't bear the thought of sex being so glorified in Sacred Scripture. What these modern scholars fail to realise, is that every monk knew that the key to understanding the allegorical meaning of Scripture was to base it on the literal meaning. They knew good and well that the Song of Solomon was a poem of unbridled eroticism celebrating the consummation of marriage! And it was from this understanding that they grew to understand the deeper meaning of our intimacy with Christ.

The reason modern scholars fail to grasp this, I submit, is that modern scholars have not experienced that deeper intimacy with Christ. Bluntly, there is more than metaphor going on in the Bible's description of the Church as the "bride of Christ"; and it is more than linguistic accident that that first marital act of sexual intercourse is known by the same term as the act of partaking of the Eucharistic Body of Our Lord: Consummation.

In first century Jewish culture, a man would betroth a woman in a legally binding covenant. For all intents and purposes, the couple was "married", and could share in all the "attendant privileges" of marriage. However, despite this, the betrothal period usually lasted about a year, because the groom had to "prepare a place" for his bride to live in his family's home. This preparation included both the physical living arrangements, as well as his establishment as provider. At the Last Supper with His Disciples, Jesus inaugurated the "New Covenant" in His blood (cf. Luke 22:20). It was through this Covenant that He betrothed His Church, and He specifically used language to convey that point, when He said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in Me. In My Father's house there are many places to live in; otherwise I would not have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you to Myself, so that you may be with Me where I am" (John 14:1-3, emphasis mine). This is the same formula as the marriage covenant that I discussed above! It's little wonder that Thomas and the other disciples were confused by Jesus' words! In their minds, the marriage connotations would have stood out, but not really made a lot of sense until later.

Thus, we are in the betrothal period, until the return of Jesus, when He will take us up to the Heavenly Wedding Feast! In the meantime, He comes to us, as the first century Jewish groom, and shares with us the intimacy of married life in the interim. The monks and nuns were not wrong in viewing themselves as "married" to Christ. They live in an extreme and symbolic way the marriage with Jesus to which we are all called, and in which we all participate in the Consummation of His Real Presence in the Eucharistic Host. And as in all such unions, the purpose is to "be fruitful and multiply," as Jesus Himself teaches us, when He continues the conversation at the Last Supper, telling us that we must abide in Him, and He in us, so that we can bear much fruit. And it is in the Eucharist (the Vine, of which we are the branches) that we achieve this abiding state. For Jesus is not only present to us in the celebration of the Mass--but He remains there, afterwards, in the Tabernacle, calling us to spend time in His Presence, in Adoration before the Tabernacle or the Monstrance. And as we leave, His Eucharistic Presence within us, we are filled with His grace, and transformed ever more into His likeness--that we too can become His monstrances to the world!

Why settle for first base, when Jesus calls us to go all the way?

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Sean Asks... About Forgiveness

As I mentioned in my Welcome post, this blog was born out of an ongoing relationship with a friend named Sean, who has asked me many insightful questions about the nature of God and Christian faith. His satisfaction with my answers led him to believe that those answers, and others that I might be able to provide, could benefit other people in similar situations of questioning or doubt. With this post, I'll be beginning a regular "series" revisiting the questions that Sean has asked me over the past year or so (at least as many as both of us can remember). It will be labelled in the sidebar as "Sean Asks..." I hope my answers might help you as much as they helped him.

Oh, and just a note about the Q&A forums--just because I put a new post up doesn't mean you can't still ask questions in them. To find them easily, click QnA in the sidebar.

Sean asked me once about the topic of forgiveness. Particularly, he was troubled by the fact that God seems to ask us to forgive other people no matter what--even if they never ask for it or do anything worthy of our forgiveness; but God Himself does not forgive us in a similar manner. Rather, He withholds forgiveness until we have suitably repented of our sins. To Sean, this seemed unjust--that God would demand something of us (indeed, hinge our own forgiveness on it--Matt 6:14-15) that He Himself is not willing to do.

In order to answer Sean's question, we have to look at what Forgiveness is, how God forgives us, and finally, how God requires us to forgive. For I think many of us have a somewhat skewed notion of these things.

Forgiveness, first of all, does not mean ignoring a problem with another person, pretending it didn't happen, or that it didn't really matter. We often hear that we are to "forgive and forget." However, it seems to me that one is a choice, while the other is not. Unless my wife sustains a severe head injury, she not likely to forget that a friend of mine gravely and unfairly insulted her. Now, my wife, full of grace and compassion, may choose to forgive my friend, whether my friend asks or not. But she will for ever after be rather wary around my friend, lest she should be hurt again.

Forgetting would, in all honesty, be rather naïve. Consider the example I gave to Sean: If his children were molested by a paedophile, by the sheer grace of God, Sean might one day come to forgive the offender. Despite that choice, Sean would be incredibly foolish to ever let his children be in the man's company again.

If forgiveness is not simply forgetting about our hurt, or pretending that it never happened, or that it didn't really matter, then what is it? What is Jesus commanding us to do, in telling us to forgive another's failings towards us, even if they don't ask for it or don't deserve it? I believe it is this: When we forgive, we let go of our right to punish or avenge the wrong done to us. This does not mean that the wrong never occurred, or that the harm has been diminished; it does not let the offender off the hook, so to speak. Rather, it keeps us from ending up on the same hook, ourselves. Forgiveness is humbly acknowledging that we don't know the whole story. Because of this, our judgement will never be fully just. Only God, who knows everything, knows exactly what the offender deserves. When we forgive, we are surrendering our bitterness, our hatred, however valid, to God. We make an act of trust in the goodness of God, that He will judge fairly, and that we will be vindicated.

That, as hard as it is, is actually the easy part of forgiveness. But there is one more aspect. When we forgive, we make a choice to be willing to reconcile with the offending party. That is, if the other person never repents or apologises to us, never tries to make amends, we nevertheless must hold out hope for that possibility. And more, should that opportunity arise, forgiveness means that we embrace it, and that we do, in fact, reconcile. As with pretty much everything else that God calls us to do, forgiveness and reconciliation can only be accomplished through God's grace at work in us. So don't be discouraged if you read this, and think, "I could never do that!" It's true--on your own, you certainly can't. I certainly can't! But as Scripture says, "There is nothing I cannot do in the One who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). The key is, though, we have to cooperate with that grace. We have to ask for it, and when God grants it, we have to act on it. Forgiveness is ultimately an act of surrender.

This leads to the second part of the answer to Sean's question: Is God's method of forgiveness contrary to what He asks of us? The short answer, I believe, is "no." We often speak of needing to repent in order to be forgiven by God, and in a sense, this is true. However, I believe that sense is best labelled "synechdoche". Synechdoche is one of those fun obscure literary terms that one learns about in high school English, in the poetry unit (I believe I first encountered it in Grade 10). It means to substitute a part for the whole, such as when we refer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus--we're not adoring only His heart, but all of Him, summed up by the symbol of His Heart, imaging His great love for us. Or, it's like when we tell someone to "take the wheel". We aren't saying that they should only use the steering wheel when driving our car. They "take" the pedals, the gear shift, the signal lever, and, quite frankly, the whole car.

Thus, I submit that when the Bible says "Repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of your sins" (cf. Acts 2:38), it is using "forgiveness" in a synechdochous fashion for the whole process of our reconciliation with God. It does not mean that God is unwilling to forgive us, or hasn't provided the way for our forgiveness, until that moment when we turn to Him. Rather, God has forgiven us in an analogous sense to that which He asks of us. Namely, He sent His Son into the world to die for us, to purchase our salvation, in order that the debt of our sins could be forgiven. He's made our forgiveness possible, and, as such, has "forgiven" us, just as we forgive our enemies by surrendering our bitterness to God and allowing Him to be the just judge, and not we ourselves.

But, just as our personal act of surrender, that act of forgiveness, is incomplete without participation from our enemy--that is, if the offender never apologises and makes reparation for his offences, there is no actual reconciliation between us--so too must we, the offenders of God's Law, turn to Him with contrition and apologise for our sins. We must do penance to demonstrate that we are indeed sorry and want to make it up to Him. Now, of course, just as with our attempt to forgive, our attempt to atone is fruitless unless it is empowered by God's grace. But the small acts of penance are our cooperation with that grace, and, empowered by grace, do actually merit that atonement, that reconciliation, for us.

So, we see that God has forgiven us before we repented--that is, as St. Paul says, "while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son" (Romans 5:10), or, as St. John tells us, "Love consists in this: it is not we who loved God, but God loved us and sent His Son to expiate our sins. My dear friends, if God loved us so much, we too should love one another" (1 John 4:10-11). However, in order to receive that forgiveness, we must indeed turn to Him with sorrow for our sins, and "produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Luke 3:8).

Through baptism, our sins up to that point are washed away. Our further sins are forgiven through their sorrowful confession, and the acts of penance, in the sacrament of Reconciliation. God has made this possible through Jesus Christ, who, ministering through the priest, absolves us and reconciles us to Him. But we don't benefit unless we participate.

So too, God calls us to forgive our enemies, as He has forgiven us already while we were still His enemies. Whether our enemies ever come to reconcile with us is ultimately between them and God. Through our forgiving, we have surrendered the need to judge them to Him, the rightful and just Judge. And, if by the grace of God, they do come to us repentant, then we are called to offer them the gift of reconciliation, just as God freely gives us that gift as often as we need it and seek it.

Now that you've read this, please remember that I said I'd do my best to give you the answer. I never said you'd like the answer I give you :) Jesus didn't say that following Him would involve dying to ourselves for nothing! But the emblem of our faith, the Crucifix, reminds us once more that God doesn't ask us to do anything that He wasn't willing to do for us already.

God bless

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Q & A Forum #1

And so it begins. Ask your questions, and I'll do my best to point you in the right direction for the answers.

Remember to follow the Rules when posting comments and asking questions.

Questions so far...
1) Can non-Christians be saved?
2) Do Christians still need to tithe?
3) What about similarities between Christ and pagan myths such as Horus or Mithras?
4) How exactly is one saved?

God bless, and have fun!

Why I Am A Catholic: G.K. Chesterton's Apologia

I have to say, Chesterton is one of my all-time favourite authors--if not the favourite. I thought I'd reproduce his reasons for converting to Catholicim from Anglicanism here, since it fit so well with the themes of Common Sense and knowable Truth that I discussed in Thomas vs. Thomas. Enjoy!

The difficulty of explaining "why I am a Catholic" is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, "It is the only thing that..." As, for instance, (1) it is the only thing that really prevents a sin from being a secret. (2) It is the only thing in which the superior cannot be superior in the sense of supercilious. (3) It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. (4) It is the only thing that talks as if it were the truth, as if it were a real messenger refusing to tamper with a real message. (5) It is the only type of Christianity that really contains every type of man, even the respectable man. (6) It is the only large attempt to change the world from the inside, working through wills and not laws; and so on.

Or I might treat the matter personally and describe my own conversion, but I happen to have a strong feeling that this method makes the business look much smaller than it really is. Numbers of much better men have been sincerely converted to much worse religions. I would much prefer to attempt to say here of the Catholic Church precisely the things that cannot be said even of its very respectable rivals. In short, I would say chiefly of the Catholic Church that it is catholic. I would rather try to suggest that it is not only larger than me but larger than anything in the world, that it is indeed larger than the world. But since in this short space I can take only a section, I will consider it in its capacity as a guardian of the truth.

The other day a well-known writer, otherwise quite well-informed, said that the Catholic Church is always the enemy of new ideas. It probably did not occur to him that his own remark was not exactly in the nature of a new idea. It is one of the notions that Catholics have to be continually refuting, because it is such a very old idea. Indeed, those who complain that Catholicism cannot say anything new seldom think it necessary to say anything new about Catholicism. As a matter of fact, a real study of history will show it to be curiously contrary to the fact. Insofar as the ideas really are ideas, and insofar as any such ideas can be new, Catholics have continually suffered through supporting them when they were really new—when they were much too new to find any other support. The Catholic was not only first in the field but alone in the field; and there was as yet nobody to understand what he had found there.

Thus, for instance, nearly two hundred years before the Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution, in an age devoted to the pride and praise of princes, Cardinal Bellarmine and Suarez the Spaniard laid down lucidly the whole theory of real democracy. But in that age of divine right they produced only the impression of being sophistical and sanguinary Jesuits, creeping about with daggers to effect the murder of kings. So again, the Casuists of the Catholic schools said all that can really be said for the problem plays and problem novels of our own time, two hundred years before they were written. They said that there really are problems of moral conduct, but they had the misfortune to say it two hundred years too soon. In a time of tub-thumping fanaticism and free and easy vituperation, they merely got themselves called liars and shufflers for being psychologists before psychology was the fashion.

It would be easy to give any number of other examples down to the present day, and the case of ideas that are still too new to be understood. There are passages in Pope Leo’s Encyclical on Labor (Rerum Novarum, 1891) that are only now beginning to be used as hints for social movements much newer than socialism. And when Mr. Belloc wrote about the servile state, he advanced an economic theory so original that hardly anybody has yet realized what it is. A few centuries hence, other people will probably repeat it and repeat it wrong. And then, if Catholics object, their protest will be easily explained by the well-known fact that Catholics never care for new ideas.

Nevertheless, the man who made that remark about Catholics meant something, and it is only fair to him to understand it rather more clearly than he stated it. What he meant was that, in the modern world, the Catholic Church is in fact the enemy of many influential fashions, most of which still claim to be new, though many of them are beginning to be a little stale. In other words, insofar as he meant that the Church often attacks what the world at any given moment supports, he was perfectly right. The Church does often set herself against the fashion of this world that passes away, and she has experience enough to know how very rapidly it does pass away. But to understand exactly what is involved, it is necessary to take a rather larger view and consider the ultimate nature of the ideas in question—to consider, so to speak, the idea of the idea.

Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes. The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making those old mistakes, from making them over and over again forever, as people always do if they are left to themselves. The truth about the Catholic attitude toward heresy -- or, as some would say, toward liberty -- can best be expressed perhaps by the metaphor of a map. The Catholic Church carries a sort of map of the mind that looks like the map of a maze but is in fact a guide to the maze. It has been compiled from knowledge that, even considered as human knowledge, is quite without any human parallel.

There is no other case of one continuous, intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years. Its experience naturally covers nearly all experiences and especially nearly all errors. The result is a map in which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked, all the ways that have been shown to be worthless by the best of all evidence: the evidence of those who have gone down them.

On this map of the mind the errors are marked as exceptions. The greater part of it consists of playgrounds and happy hunting-fields where the mind may have as much liberty as it likes, not to mention any number of intellectual battlefields in which the battle is indefinitely open and undecided. But it does definitely take the responsibility of marking certain roads as leading nowhere or leading to destruction, to a blank wall, or to a sheer precipice. By this means it does prevent men from wasting their time or losing their lives upon paths that have been found futile or disastrous again and again in the past but might otherwise entrap travelers again and again in the future. The Church does make itself responsible for warning its people against these, and upon these the real issue of the case depends. It does dogmatically defend humanity from its worst foes: those hoary and horrible and devouring monsters of the old mistakes.

Now, all these false issues have a way of looking quite fresh, especially to a fresh generation. Their first statement always sounds harmless and plausible. I will give only two examples. It sounds harmless to say, as most modern people have said, "Actions are wrong only if they are bad for society." Follow it out, and sooner or later you will have the inhumanity of a hive or a heathen city establishing slavery as the cheapest and most certain means of production, torturing the slaves for evidence because the individual is nothing to the state, declaring that an innocent man must die for the people, as did the murderers of Christ. Then, perhaps, you will go back to Catholic definitions and find that the Church, while it also says it is our duty to work for society, says other things also that forbid individual injustice.

Or again, it sounds quite pious to say, "Our moral conflict should end with a victory of the spiritual over the material." Follow it out, and you may end in the madness of the Manicheans, saying that a suicide is good because it is a sacrifice, that a sexual perversion is good because it produces no life, that the devil made the sun and moon because they are material. Then you may begin to guess why Catholicism insists that there are evil spirits as well as good and that materials also may be sacred, as in the Incarnation or the Mass, in the sacrament of marriage or the resurrection of the body.

There is no other corporate mind in the world that is thus on the watch to prevent minds from going wrong. The policeman comes too late when he tries to prevent men from going wrong. The doctor comes too late, for he comes only to lock up a madman, not to advise a sane man on how not to go mad. And all other sects and schools are inadequate for the purpose. This is not because each of them may not contain a truth, but precisely because each of them does contain a truth and is content to contain a truth. None of the others really pretends to contain the truth. None of the others, that is, really pretends to be looking out in all directions at once.

The Church is not armed against merely the heresies of the past, or even of the present, but equally against those of the future that may be the exact opposite of those of the present. Catholicism is not ritualism; it may in the future be fighting some sort of superstitious and idolatrous exaggeration of ritual. Catholicism is not asceticism; it has again and again in the past repressed fanatical and cruel exaggerations of asceticism. Catholicism is not mere mysticism; it is even now defending human reason against the mere mysticism of the pragmatists.

Thus, when the world went Puritan in the seventeenth century, the Church was charged with pushing charity to the point of sophistry, with making everything easy with the laxity of the confessional. Now that the world is not going Puritan but pagan, it is the Church that is everywhere protesting against a pagan laxity in dress or manners. It is doing what the Puritans wanted done when it is really wanted. In all probability, all that is best in Protestantism will survive only in Catholicism, and in that sense all Catholics will still be Puritans when all Puritans are pagans.

Thus, for instance, Catholicism, in a sense little understood, stands outside a quarrel like that of Darwinism at Dayton. It stands outside it because it stands all around it, as a house stands all around two incongruous pieces of furniture. It is no sectarian boast to say it is before and after and beyond all these things in all directions. It is impartial in a fight between the Fundamentalist and the theory of the origin of species because it goes back to an Origin before that origin, because it is more fundamental than Fundamentalism. It knows where the Bible came from. It also knows where most of the theories of evolution go to. It knows there were many other gospels besides the four Gospels and that the others were eliminated only by the authority of the Catholic Church. It knows there are many other evolutionary theories besides the Darwinian theory and that the latter is quite likely to be eliminated by later science. It does not, in the conventional phrase, accept the conclusions of science, for the simple reason that science has not concluded. To conclude is to shut up, and the man of science is not at all likely to shut up.

It does not, in the conventional phrase, believe what the Bible says, for the simple reason that the Bible does not say anything. You cannot put a book in the witness box and ask it what it really means. The Fundamentalist controversy itself destroys Fundamentalism. The Bible by itself cannot be a basis of agreement when it is a cause of disagreement; it cannot be the common ground of Christians when some take it allegorically and some literally. The Catholic refers it to something that can say something, to the living, consistent, and continuous mind of which I have spoken: the highest mind of man guided by God.

Every moment increases for us the moral necessity for such an immortal mind. We must have something that will hold the four corners of the world still while we make our social experiments or build our utopias. For instance, we must have a final agreement, if only on the truism of human brotherhood, that will resist some reaction of human brutality. Nothing is more likely just now than that the corruption of representative government will lead to the rich breaking loose altogether and trampling on all the traditions of equality with mere pagan pride.

We must have the truisms everywhere recognized as true. We must prevent mere reaction and the dreary repetition of the old mistakes. We must make the intellectual world safe for democracy. But in the conditions of modern mental anarchy, neither that nor any other ideal is safe. Just as Protestants appealed from priests to the Bible and did not realize that the Bible also could be questioned, so republicans appealed from kings to the people and did not realize that the people also could be defied.

There is no end to the dissolution of ideas, the destruction of all tests of truth, that has become possible since men abandoned the attempt to keep a central and civilized Truth, to contain all truths and trace out and refute all errors. Since then, each group has taken one truth at a time and spent the time in turning it into a falsehood. We have had nothing but movements, or, in other words, mono-manias. But the Church is not a movement but a meeting place, the trysting-place of all the truths in the world.

-- Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874–1936).

Friday, 6 November 2009

Thomas vs. Thomas

So, in case you were wondering about the URL for this blog, "Doubting Thomist", I thought I'd reflect a bit on it, in an effort to set the tone for this blog.

There were and are a lot of great Thomases in the Catholic faith, starting with Thomas the Apostle, and including such philosophers, monks, martyrs, and mystics as St. Thomas à Beckett, St. Thomas More, Thomas à Kempis, and, of course, the great Dominican theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas.

Thomas the Apostle has gone down in history as being the guy who didn't believe in the Resurrection until he could actually see and touch Jesus. Hence the expression, "Doubting Thomas". St. Thomas Aquinas, as I said, was a great theologian, who gave us the Summa Theologica and the definitive Catholic understanding of the Eucharist, known as Transubstantiation. People who follow his particular theological methods and opinions are known as "Thomists." So I stuck the two terms together to make a neat pun that seemed to sum up the intentions for this blog. Hey, it was that or "", and that just seemed a bit sacrilegious.

I find that "Doubting Thomas" gets a bit of a bad rap. Personally, I quite respect the man. True, Jesus did say that those who would believe without seeing would be "blessed". Nevertheless, He still took the time to show Thomas what he needed to see in order that he would have faith. And while Thomas maybe didn't come to that faith in the most blessed way possible, the faith he received in that experience remained unshakable throughout his life, as he travelled throughout Asia preaching the Gospel as far as India, where he eventually gave his life for his faith in Jesus.

St. Thomas, and his compatriots, the other Apostles, got to see Jesus in a real, dramatic, life-changing way that none of us will ever get to do again until we meet Him face to face at the end of life, when the opportunity to respond in faith is over. Those who choose to believe without that experience are "blessed" says Jesus, since their act of faith is full of merit for them. But what about those of us who can't just take that blind leap of faith? What about those nagging questions that we have and just can't shake? This, I think, is where that other great Thomas steps in. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us (as does the Church as a whole) that faith is rational. It is reasonable. It makes sense. It's complicated, and often hard to understand at times, but it stands as a bastion of common sense. In the words of G.K. Chesterton's lovable sleuth, Fr. Brown, "I know that people charge the Church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really supreme. Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God Himself is bound by reason" (from "The Blue Cross", in The Innocence of Father Brown, p. 24).

In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas brings us right back to the same source for reason and for faith as St. Thomas the Apostle left us--with the senses. Again, in the words of G.K. Chesterton,
Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody's system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody's sense of reality; to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense. Each started with a paradox; a peculiar point of view demanding the sacrifice of what they would call a sane point of view. That is the one thing common to Hobbes and Hegel, to Kant and Bergson, to Berkeley and William James. A man had to believe something that no normal man would believe, if it were suddenly propounded to his simplicity; as that law is above right, or right is outside reason, or things are only as we think them, or everything is relative to a reality that is not there. The modern philosopher claims, like a sort of confident man, that if we will grant him this, the rest will be easy; he will straighten out the world, if he is allowed to give this one twist to the mind...
Against all this the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkelian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists, since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled eggs by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs. The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God. (Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 136).
What we know, St. Thomas reminds us, begins with what we experience with our senses. The truth of what we know depends on our correct interpretation of those experiences, and right reason helps us form right conclusions. But we all start in the same place, and go on from there.

Our doubts and questions about a God that we cannot see, hear, touch, smell, or taste are only natural. So many times, however, those same doubts are chastised or ignored by the people we turn to for answers. We're told to pray about it, read the Word, ask God, or worse, that our questions mean we don't have enough faith and are therefore sinners. Such attitudes discourage our search for truth, the Truth who is Jesus Himself. Often, such answers indicate that the person asked simply doesn't know the answer, and is threatened by that fact. We like to have our theologies tied up in neat little packages, and when something pops up that we hadn't considered, it really shakes us up.

That's why I'm so glad for the Catholic Church--for St. Thomas the Apostle and St. Thomas Aquinas, and everyone in between and since. It's pretty likely someone in the past 2000 years of Catholic Tradition has given your question some thought, and just as likely that they've managed, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the logic of common sense, to give a pretty good answer.

So I encourage you to bring your questions here, and promise to do my best to answer each and every one of them with concrete, common sense answers. And if I can't answer it, I'll turn to the vast annals of the Church to see if one of the keen minds in that great cloud of witnesses can't help us out.

Sts. Thomas the Apostle and Thomas Aquinas, pray for us, and help us know Jesus better! Amen.

Legal Mumbo-Jumbo

Privacy Policy
On certain portions of this blog, you can order original works of art, or print reproductions, by use of the Paypal payment system. Please see their policies regarding privacy. Any information that I collect in any transaction will be used solely for the purpose of completing that transaction, and will not be sold or given to any other party, except, if necessary, for the completion of the transaction.

Unless otherwise noted, the writings and artwork on this blog are my own, and copyright © Gregory Watson. Please do not steal or otherwise reproduce my words or images without prior permission (which I will likely gladly give--it's just nice to be asked).

I reserve the right to use any comments left in comment boxes at the end of articles as material for new posts. I will always source the commenter and will never, to the best of my knowledge, use such comments to misrepresent the views of the commenter. If such misrepresentation inadvertently occurs, feel free to let me know in the comments section of the new post, and I will remedy the issue as soon as possible.

Contact Information
Questions, Comments, or Commissions of new Artwork can be made by calling 905-745-2046 or emailing doubting-thomist @ Comments can also be left in the Comment Windows at the end of each article, provided the Rules for Comments are followed.


The First Rule is that all comments must be charitable. Insults and attacks on people will not be tolerated. Criticising ideas is one thing, but people are not their ideas. Further to that, any critical remark should still be done in gentleness, and with with definite reasons given so that the criticism can be responded to. Simply saying that something is wrong does not make it so.

The Second Rule is that there will be no monopolising of Q&A Forums. I've found, doing Q&As at Barque, that they often tend to become one commenter and me having a very lengthy debate, while all other readers end up feeling alienated, and not bothering to participate--ever. That will not happen here. If you want to pick a fight with me, I encourage you to do so at Barque of Peter or by emailing me directly at doubting - thomist @ hotmail . com (without the spaces, of course). Similarly, I'm typically going to limit commenters to three comments per Q&A Forum. If you want to continue discussing your question(s) after that, again, email me directly. If you have more questions, please wait until the next Forum. (I'll post a new one each time the prior one goes off the Front Page. Each Forum will also be tagged so as to be easily accessible.) Also, if you want to email me your questions directly, send them to the above email. Please understand that emailing me at that address will be with the understanding that it may be posted on this blog at some point, unless you specifically say otherwise.

The Third Rule is no anonymity. I don't mean you have to tell me your name, but give some sort of identifier. If you don't have a blogger account or Open ID, or whatever, click the "Name/URL" option and enter a handle of some sort. When I get a number of "Anonymouses", I can't tell them all apart. If three people post as Anonymous, then they'll each only get one shot to say something in any Q&A Forum (as per Rule 2). Plus, it just feels so dang impersonal. I don't care what you call yourself, as long as it's not "Anonymous", and as long as it's the same name each time you comment.

The Fourth Rule is that spammers and trolls will not have their comments published, so please don't waste my time by spamming or trolling. If I don't publish your comment, I will make a comment in the article telling you that I've received your comment, but am not publishing it for whatever the reason might be. If you feel that I'm in error as to my reasoning (you really weren't trolling, say), you may email me to tell me why you didn't actually do what I thought you did, and we'll go from there.

The Fifth Rule is simply, please don't steal my stuff. As I said, the images on this site are mine. So are the thoughts that I'll publish. If you want to use them somewhere else, please ask permission first.

That pretty much covers the Rules. A few last notes:
1. If you comment here or email doubting - thomist @ hotmail . com, I reserve the right to reproduce your question and my answer as a new article on this blog.
2. If you email me, I will never, under any circumstances, share your email address with anyone else, ever.
3. While the way I express myself is all me, my answers, to the best of my knowledge, will be in agreement with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. If I happen to have inaccurately represented the Church's official teachings on some point, please show me (with sources) so that I can correct my mistake. In case I'm being particularly obtuse or obstinate, you may also try contacting my pastor or bishop to bring my error to their attention, and keep me accountable.


Greetings to all who stop by! Allow me to welcome you to my new blog, and explain who I am, what this blog is for, and how you, the reader, are invited to participate!

About the Author
I myself am nobody too special. I'm not a prophet or a priest or any sort of official. At best, right now, I'm an arm-chair theologian with a knack for explaining tricky concepts (so I've been told), who loves Jesus and the Catholic Church which He founded. I write the apologetics blog Barque of Peter, which is a bit more of a systematic, structured, and scholarly place than I hope Contemplare will end up being. I converted to the Church from Pentecostalism in 2004, and a year and a half later married my wonderful wife, Melissa. I'm currently feeling drawn towards the Lay Dominicans, and, once I'm old enough (funny phrase from a 29 year old), I plan to enter formation for the Permanent Diaconate.

Why This Blog
I'm starting this blog at the urging of a friend, Sean, who was directed to me by another friend, because Sean had some deep spiritual questions that he just couldn't seem to find answers for, no matter who he talked to. Our mutual friend thought, for some odd reason, that I might be able to help Sean out--and apparently he was right. The other day, Sean remarked to me that he keeps running into other people who have many of the same questions, or the same types of questions, that he had, and that I seem to be good at answering, and he wanted to send them my way. Lucky me! My darling wife, that same day, in a completely unrelated event, thought, "Hey, you should blog your answers to your friend's questions. They might be able to help other people too." So, as a result, welcome to Contemplare.

What You'll Find
The Dominican motto, after which I named the blog (See? I told you I was drawn to the Dominicans), basically provides the purpose and source of what will happen here. That is, I intend to use Contemplare as an outlet for the "fruits of [my] contemplation", to reflect on the mysteries of God, of life, of faith, so that my prayerful contemplations can be passed on and hopefully of some use to anyone who stops by. As an artist, these "fruits" won't be in word, only, but also in image--and all the images that you'll see on this blog (unless otherwise noted) will be my own (and, y'know, copyrighted and all that).

How You Participate
As I mentioned, though, this blog is, hopefully, about answering questions. As such, apart from just writing personal spiritual reflections and commentaries on things, I'll be putting up "Q&A Forums", where you're encouraged to ask any and all sincere questions that you might have. I say sincere, because I've found that a lot of the time, people ask questions more to pick fights or to "troll", rather than because they're sincerely seeking the Truth. As such, I've enabled comment moderation, so that I can minimise harmful and destructive comments (and spam). Likely, though, the vast majority of the comments I receive will be posted.

Of course, you're more than welcome to comment on any other article, too--but please, for the sake of my sanity, stay on the specific topic of that article.

God bless,