Category Archives: Theology

types of yoga (4 of 5)

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-pls click on the image for greater detail

FrEzra1
-by Rev Ezra Sullivan, OP

“In the first post we discussed “what is yoga?” In part two we learned about the polytheistic, hindu roots of yoga. And, in the third installment we saw that philosophic yoga teaches that the goal of yoga is union with a supreme reality, that is, it leads the practitioner to become dissolved into a “higher reality.” Once a person perfects her yoga practice, her individual self disappears, along with all distinctions among things.

In today’s post, I would like to show three things:

  1. There are many traditions of yoga.
  2. Practically all types of yoga practiced by Westerners are in the tradition of hatha yoga.
  3. hatha yoga is the first step to the other traditions of yoga.

In other words, the yoga that the West knows best is only the first step on a spiritually dangerous and morally unacceptable path.

St. Paul advises us: “Do not quench the Spirit … but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil” (1 Th 5:19, 21-22). Let us turn our minds to the truth, ask the Lord to bend our hearts according to His will, and explore yoga from a Catholic perspective.

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To the newly-initiated, the varieties of yoga may be overwhelming. At first a person might think that yoga is yoga wherever you go. But she soon discovers that the yoga offered at the local gym may not be the same as the yoga offered in a boutique studio. She might even meet connoisseurs who claim to practice “real” or “traditional” yoga. Perhaps she comes across aficionados and their flow-charts to help a person make their way through this jungle. Perhaps she reads an internet article with the leading question, “Which type of yoga is tight for you?” The implication is that everyone can find at least one of the dozens of options that fits her lifestyle. But there is another possibility, namely, that no type of yoga is right for anyone.

Since the goal of this post is not to sell yoga but to explain it, it may be useful to distinguish between traditions of yoga and styles of yoga.[1] A yoga tradition is like a branch on a tree; a style is like a leaf on the branch. The major classic traditions of yoga are these:

  • raja yoga, the yoga of mind control: the “original” yoga, focused on disciplining the mind in pursuit of union with the absolute.
  • karma yoga, the yoga of action: liberation from the law of karma and reincarnation through good works performed with complete detachment.
  • bahkti yoga, the yoga of devotion: offers nine means of maintaining a connection with the divine; often practitioners worship a guru as an embodiment of the divine.
  • jnana yoga, the yoga of hidden knowledge: a discipleship period with a guru prepares a person to engage hindu-yoga literature directly.
  • tantra yoga, the yoga of dynamism: instead of classic Yoga’s insistence on self-denial, the dominant form suggests salvation through the practice of sexual yoga.
  • kundalini yoga, the yoga of awareness: aims to unlock the “goddess energy” of the root chakra, seen as a serpent coiled around the base of the spine. It is called the “master”, the “mother”, and the “bestower” of yoga.
  • mantra yoga, the yoga of sound: uses sounds and songs, especially “OM”, in order to help the mind find union with universal divine. It is typically combined with other kinds of yoga.
  • hatha yoga, the yoga of opposing forces: focuses on physical postures and breathing techniques.

It is important to note that these varieties generally are not opposed to each other. In fact, many people employ more than one form of yoga at the same time. Nevertheless, one tradition of yoga has gained dominance in the West and, subsequently, wherever the West has had cultural influence. It is the tradition of hatha yoga.

There is a smorgasbord of styles that shape the basic techniques of hatha yoga. In this realm one finds ancient-sounding names, such as vinyasa and kriya yoga. Then there are styles named after famous founders including bikram or iyengar. “gentle” yoga caters to the elderly and injured, “hot”, “rocket”, and “power” yogas appeal to business types, and laughter yoga is touted as a cure for sad sacks.

What is the essence of hatha yoga? What do all the various styles have in common? The etymology of the word gives us a clue. In sanskrit, ha — tha means “sun – moon”, such that hatha yoga denotes the union of two opposite forces, something accomplished only by personal effort. The union of opposing forces occurs on different levels: on one level, physical postures unite with conscious breath; on another level, one’s body unites with one’s mind; on an even deeper level, the mind unites with the absolute. These levels of union are intelligible in light of the fact that hatha yoga aims at “self-realization” by building on the taja structure, often uniting it with mantra and other types of yoga.[2]

Experts tells us that hatha yoga is the “foundation” for the other traditions of yoga, the first step along the path of the truest yoga.[3] What is the first step of hatha yoga? The asanas, the physical postures.[4] How do physical postures do this? By means of bodily postures and breathing techniques, the body is tensed and relaxed, the mind is emptied, and then follows meditations with pantheistic or polytheistic content: “melt into the ground,” “become one with the universe,” “awaken the goddess within,” etc. A disciple of the yoga master patanjali explains the meaning of the asanas:

Posture becomes perfect when the effort to attain it disappears, so that there are no more movements in the body. In the same way, its perfection is achieved when the mind is transformed into infinity.[5]

In other words, through yoga postures a person begins by being hyper-conscious about her body as she tries to perfect her positioning. But if she perfects her posture, she gains control over her limbs, her breathing, her organs, her entire body as a complete whole. Then she is able to suppress all natural efforts of the body and to lose all conscious awareness of the body. This exercise is meant to facilitate, even make real, a union, a bond, a yoking with the infinite consciousness. The deeper union is supposed to take place during the feeling of expansion that occurs in deep relaxation. Because yoga postures calm the emotions, they help to empty the mind. The practitioner is easily led to assume that her physical experience also involves a spiritual experience.

A summary evaluation of the effects of hatha yoga is as follows. yoga postures often have physically beneficial effects, but we should not be fooled: feelings of quiet and relaxation, pleasant sensations, perhaps even phenomena of light and warmth, and even deeper insights into reality are not the same as deep union with God, nor are they signs of spiritual progress.

If a person calls upon gods during the practice of yoga, as in performing postures in the presence of hindu statues or in chanting mantras to a god or goddess, then she has practiced idolatry and her spiritual condition is worse than when she began. If a person accepts a philosophy that denies the distinctions between body and mind, gain and loss, good and evil, God and the self, then she has embraced falsehood and her spiritual condition is worse than when she began. If she believes that yoga is not dangerous or thinks that it is simply exercise, then her misunderstanding indicates that there is room for improvement. Probably her heart longs for deep spirituality.

The saints teach us the path to true holiness. From them we learn that the evidence of a deep spiritual life necessarily includes the love of God and neighbor, a regular prayer life, fidelity to the commandments, a real and abiding faith in the saving power of Christ, and obedience to the voice of God speaking through the Church. Without these, union with God is little more than a passing breath of hot air.

Love,
Matthew

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[1] For a helpful and accurate summary of the interconnecting branches of Yoga, see: http://theyogaposter.com/.

[2] See David Gordon White, “Yoga, Brief History of an Idea,” Introduction to Yoga in Practice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 16. “Without a doubt, hatha yoga both synthesizes and internalizes many of the elements of the earlier yoga systems.”

[3] The classic text Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Svatmarama begins with this dedication: “Reverence to Shiva, the Lord of Yoga, who taught Prvati hatha wisdom as the first step to the pinnacle of raja yoga.” Following this tradition, see B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1966), 23.

[4] Swami Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, verse 17: “Asanas are spoken of first, being the first stage of hatha yoga.”

[5] Quoted in Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 53.

“What is Truth?”, Pilate retorted. -Jn 18:38

caitlyn-jenner

Rachel-Dolezal-21

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest”…”You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.” -Jn 18:36-37.

Our recent media coverage of “identifying as” is symptomatic, only in a clearer way, of humanity’s difficulty with objective truth, imho.  Pilate’s question about truth is one of my favorite in Scripture.  I pray on it constantly.  Perhaps reality is even too much to ask of some?  Reality is too much of a tyrant?

Serpa_Fr_Vincent161[1]

-by Rev Vincent Serpa, OP

“I suppose the most basic definition of truth would be: the conformity of the intellect with what the thing perceived actually is. This would be objective truth. In our culture many want to make such truth relative. “You have your truth and I have mine.” Such is not truth. If one’s perception of something does not conform to what it actually is, then one is in error—no matter how convinced one is and certainly no matter how one feels about it. People who  are (Ed. willfully) colorblind  are not seeing all the true colors before them.

Their perceptions are distorted, even though they are not aware of it. When I make a statement about something that does indeed actually exist, then such a statement could be called a truth. Any statement that would contradict that statement would then be an untruth. If such an untrue statement is deliberately made in order to deceive, then that statement is called a lie. This is pretty basic stuff. Unfortunately, there is so much dishonesty in our society about the very nature of truth that many are confused. Since God is the source of all that is and knows His creation perfectly, He is the fullness of all truth.”

Love,
Matthew

yoga: isn’t it ALL the same thing? (3 of 5)

yoga

 

FrEzra1

-by Rev Ezra Sullivan, OP

“In the first post we discussed “What is yoga?” In the second post, we learned about the hindu roots of yoga. We found that there are certain hindu gods that have been understood to play a role in teaching and promoting yoga. We looked at shiva, vishnu, and shakti, and ganesh. The post concluded by noting four different positions on how to understand the gods of yoga:

  1. The gods don’t exist; they are mere fables.
  2. The gods do exist; they are good and can be helpful to us.
  3. The gods do exist; they are evil and can harm us.
  4. The gods do exist, but only as personifications or manifestations of the divine, Supreme Reality.

Here we will discuss claim number 4, since this is the understanding adopted by the general yoga tradition that continues even in our day. St. John tells us that we should not believe every spirit, but test them to see if they are from God (cf. 1 John 4:1). It’s going to be an enlightening experience, so set your intention and come join us as we explore yoga from a Catholic perspective.

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The ancient philosopher Aristotle famously said that the human is a being who desires to know. Wonder is not merely a Western attitude, he asserted: it is a human impulse. It is natural to us. In this light, it is perfectly reasonable to ask about the nature of yoga. The thing is, when I talk with practitioners about it and try to figure out its deeper meaning, I often receive messages like this one:

The most important thing is to practice yoga. We can discuss the theory for hours and hours. But it’s best to practice and then decide. Change your clothes, open your mind, and fix your attention while performing the postures and pranayama.

The more I investigate yoga, the more I realize that this advice is not simply saying, “Try it and see if you like it.” It reveals the essence of the yoga. It is saying that experience is more important than understanding, practice is more important than prudence. In other words, the mind of yoga is: “never mind.” Let’s see what this means and why it matters.

One of the central problems of an essential philosophy common in India concerns the relation between illusion, temporality, and human suffering.[1] The goal of all Indian philosophies and techniques, especially yoga, is liberation from these. Liberation entails, not merely relief from physical suffering such as a sore back, but emancipation from the suffering that comes from existing in this world. You can transcend the suffering that comes from karma, the law of universal causality, which condemns man to transmigrate through the cosmos. Through yoga, it is said, you can enter absolute reality, beyond the cosmic illusion, mirage, or unreality known as maya. No longer will you be imprisoned in becoming. You would be united with pure being, the absolute, known under different names: brahman (the unconditioned, immortal, transcendent); atman (ultimate self); nirvana.

Recall that yoga means “union” or “to bind together.” In a previous post, I asked, what does yoga bind us to? A preliminary answer was supplied: to the hindu gods, who teach yoga techniques. Another answer, however, is as follows. yoga is meant to bind a person to ultimate reality. The system of yoga teaches the individual how to be yoked or indissolubly united to that universal absolute (brahman) and to become undifferentiated from it.

Isn’t this a contradiction? Does yoga unite us to hindu gods or to the absolute?

Here we should distinguish between two forms of hinduism, namely:

i) A popular level of Hinduism and
ii) A higher level of philosophical and religious Hinduism.

According to the popular level, believed in by the masses for the most part, the world is populated by tens of thousands (or is it millions?) of gods and goddesses, myriads of genies, demons, and evil spirits. Those spiritual beings are propitiated and can be manipulated with sacrifices along with yoga practices and disciplines. In this respect, hinduism bears features that are common in most other pagan religions, including those of Greece and Rome. If it accepts Jesus, it is because it sees Him as one god among many.

According to the higher level, the spirit beings are illusions. Instead of renouncing the gods, this philosophy redefines them. They are considered different aspects of the one supreme absolute, which some hindus refer to as “god.” This brahman or god – it must be emphasized – is not God in the Judeo-Christian sense. It has no personality. It is not the One Creator, distinct from the universe, Who created humans in order to have a personal relationship with them. It is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is not Jesus Christ, God Incarnate. Or rather, according to this point of view, it is Jesus and it isn’t – at the same time. It is as much Jesus as it is vishnu, because both are representations or instantiations of the supreme reality, the impersonal absolute existence, of which each human is a part, that permeates everything.

From the perspective of the higher, more subtle hindu thought, yoga’s role is to help the practitioner to be dissolved into this “higher reality.” B.K.S. Iyengar, the renowned yoga practitioner and theorist, explains it this way: “Dualities like gain and loss, victory and defeat, fame and shame, body and mind, mind and soul vanish through mastery of the asanas [yoga postures].”[2] This is the doctrine of monism. It claims that there are no distinctions among things, that all is one and every difference is a harmful illusion, holding a person back from perfection. Once a person masters yoga, “He is then free from birth and death, from pain and sorrow and becomes immortal. He has no self-identity as he lives experiencing the fullness of the Universal Soul.”[3] This is supreme ego-centrism under the guise of self-realization. “I am Brahman!” the yoga practitioner can exult; “I am GOD; I am ALL!” But they should equally declare, “I am NO ONE. I am ILLUSION.”

People often claim they’ve “found themselves” through yoga. What an irony. If they looked deeper, yoga would tell them that they’ve found nothing.

In my next post, I will explore how hatha yoga, the physical postures and breathing techniques, is meant to help a person achieve union with the absolute – and what that means for the soul.

Love,
Matthew

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[1] See Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), xvi-xx.
[2] B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1966), 42.
[3] Iyengar, 48.

gods of yoga (2 of 5)

Silhouette of a woman doing yoga on the beach at sunset

FrEzra1

-by Rev Ezra Sullivan, OP

“In the previous post on yoga, we explored studies that showed a couple of important facts:

· Consistent practice of yoga is correlated with a diminishment of Christian belief.

· Practitioners typically begin yoga for physical reasons but stick with it for spiritual reasons.

We concluded with a basic definition of yoga: yoga is both a comprehensive system of human culture–physical, moral, and psychological–and it acts as a doorway on to the gently sloping paths that gradually lead up to yoga proper, that is, the spirituality of yoga rooted in hinduism.

In this post we will take a look at the hindu foundations of yoga in light of the gods found therein. St. John tells us that we should not believe every spirit, but test them to see if they are from God (cf 1 John 4:1). It’s going to be an enlightening experience, so set your intention and come join us as we explore yoga from a Catholic perspective.

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Part II – The gods of yoga

I’m not much of an exercise person. The practice of pumping iron or toning my body with a machine has never excited me: it seemed meaningless at best and slightly narcissistic at worst. This is one of the reasons why yoga appealed to me. It seemed to be exercise with a real meaning. What I didn’t expect was what that meaning actually is.

The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit yuj, which indicates “to yoke together,” “union,” “to join, to bind.”[1] Someone who practices yoga as a way of life is called a yogin or a yogi. Because yoga indicates binding, we must ask: what does yoga bind us to?

My jaw almost hit the floor when I found the answer.

To learn about yoga, at first I avoided classes and went to a local bookstore. I wasn’t ready to squeeze into yoga pants. The first paperback I purchased, chosen almost at random, was full of helpful photos of postures along with explanations and commentary. It explained what yoga “yokes” or “binds” us to: Hindu divinity or divinities. “Awaken the goddess within,” it suggested. Frightening for me as a Christian and as a male. It also invited me to consider ganesh, the “loveable” elephant-headed god, along with his friends who populate India’s pantheon. That sounds pagan, I thought. So I set the book aside and looked elsewhere. To my dismay, I discovered in a local Yoga studio something that confirmed the book’s approach: a little bronze statue of a Hindu god, presiding over the people within. It was too much even for this California boy.

GaneshCAM01396
-ganesh

Was my experience typical?

Clearly not every book on yoga promotes hindu gods, and not every yoga class has pagan statuary. But many do. The classical yoga tradition argues that all Yoga should associate with the gods of India. In order to understand why this is the case, we must uncover the hindu roots of yoga.

For Westerners who like everything, including religion, neat and tidy, boxed up and labeled, sitting on a shelf ready for inspection from a discerning customer, hinduism poses difficulties. “What we think of as one religion,” one writer notes, “is a multifarious collection of sects, traditions, beliefs, and practices that evolved from the Vedas, the world’s oldest sacred texts, and took shape across the vast Indian subcontinent over the course of many centuries.”[2] There is real difficulty in pinning down a precise doctrine of universal hindu belief because “hinduism has no central authority, no founding figure, no historical starting point, no single creed or canonical doctrine, and many holy books rather than one.” Because of this, hinduism has been called “the world’s largest disorganized religion.”[3] Nevertheless, hindus have generally recognized six principle schools that represent authentic developments of the Vedic scriptures. yoga is one of them.[4]

yoga, along with the religious beliefs and practices sheltered under the large umbrella called “hindu,” honors many gods. “hinduism is a perfect polytheism,” says a highly-respected scholar. In a real sense, this can also apply to yoga.[5] The gods are the ultimate gurus of yoga.

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-shiva

shiva has prominence among the gods of yoga. He is the “patron” of all yoga practitioners: “He is the deity of yogins par excellence and is often depicted as a yogin.”[6] Around his neck is a serpent, symbolizing his power over death; on his forehead is a third eye, through which he gains mystical vision and knowledge. His drumbeat is said to create the OM which reverberates in the heart and throughout the universe. In some depictions shiva assumes the lotus posture in deep meditation. In other cases shiva juggles fire while he dances with one foot in the air, indicating release from “earthly bondage.”

Some traditions include shiva in a hindu triad or trinity of gods, with brahman as the “creator”, vishnu as the “sustainer” or “preserver.” shiva is said to be “the destroyer,” the one who annihilates the illusions of the ego and therefore gains liberation into ultimate reality:

While of course many hindu deities are associated with different paths of yoga and meditation, in shiva the art of meditation takes its most absolute form. In meditation, not only mind is stopped, everything is dropped.[7]

vishnu
-vishnu

vishnu is another important god for yoga; he is said to preserve and maintain the cosmic order dharma. Like shiva, he is depicted with blue skin and four arms and is accompanied by serpents. It is said that vishnu was incarnate nine times, the last two being the most significant: as krishna and buddha. Here I will focus on krishna.

Sri_Mariamman_Temple_Singapore_2_amk
-krishna

The bhagavad-gita, part of an ancient hindu religious epic, portrays krishna as the perfect yoga guru to his disciple, the human hero arjuna. Chapter 6 of the gita contains material that would be familiar to many modern yoga practitioners. krishna defines yoga negatively as “renunciation” of illusion and positively as “yoking oneself to the supreme consciousness” (6:2). For him, a yogin is one “established in self-realization” (6:8). Through elevating himself through his own mind (6:5), a yoga practitioner attains the abode of krishna, perfect happiness, “by cessation of material existence” (6:15). The means to acquire this is by practicing control of the body, mind, and activity with specific postures and meditation techniques (6:11-18).

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-shakti

The yoga goddesses should not be neglected in our account. Here we can turn to the chief goddess, shakti or durga, known under different aspects. shakti is seen as the divine force that destroys evil and restores balance: she “represents the cosmic energy of destruction of the ego, which stands in the way of spiritual growth and ultimate liberation.”[8] In some instances, shakti assumes the role of parvati, the energy and consort of shiva; in other instances, the role of lakshmi, the energy and consort of vishnu. The most fearsome role shakti plays is as kali, the “dark mother” goddess, who, standing naked, wears a garland of skulls around her neck and a belt of heads around her waist, wielding a bloody sword and clutching a severed head. It is not uncommon for yoga teachers to recommend tapping into this feminine-divine source of empowerment. Here is one account:

“Ellen is a medical student, and thinks of herself as a rational person who doesn’t go in for mystical experiences. But one day as she closed her eyes and relaxed in savasana, Ellen felt a powerful maternal energy around her and “saw” the hindu goddess durga, whose picture graced the yoga studio’s back wall. For a moment, the many-armed goddess’s face lingered in front of her, looking alive and full of compassionate love. Then the image disappeared–though the sweet, strong energy stayed with Ellen for hours.[9]

Later Ellen asked Sally what the experience might mean. Sally replied: “Just sit in meditation and ask the durga energy to be with you. Then notice how you feel.” This is what Sally calls “deity yoga,” which she claims “isn’t specific to the Hindu tradition.” She says it could be practiced by anyone interested in yoga, even Christians.”

Is Sally right?

What are we to make of the pantheon of yoga gods?

It seems to me that there are four basic positions:

1. The gods and goddesses do not actually exist. They are only metaphors, imaginative fables meant to inspire the yoga practitioner. Some people may believe this, but I think it is insufficient and reductive; it does not adequately explain the cultural and experiential data available.

2. They do exist and are benevolent: they may be invoked in order to obtain energy, power, good fortune, etc. This is the position of a number of simple hindu believers.

3. They do exist but are evil, and should not be invoked. This is the position of traditional Christianity (and perhaps Islam and Judaism). “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image; you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:2-5).

4. They do exist, but not in the way one might imagine. They are all manifestations of the one supreme being, the all-encompassing reality, which one could call “God.” This is the position of the more developed understanding of hinduism, an understanding that has been adopted by yoga.

In our next post we will explore the last position: that the gods exist, not in themselves, but as manifestations, personifications, or realizations of the divinity.”

Love,
Matthew

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[1] Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 4.

[2] Philip Goldberg, American Veda (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2010), 3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice, 3rd Ed. (Chino Valley, AZ: Hohm Press, 2008), 72-78.

[5] Jean Varenne, Yoga and the Hindu Tradition, trans. Derek Coltman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 26.

[6] Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition, 84.

[7] http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/shiva.htm#.UvpGMLQkgf8 For a retelling of the Shiva legend, see Sadhguru, “Yoga Originated from Shiva,” The Times of India 19 March, 2009. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-03-19/vintage-wisdom/28031005_1_shiva-yoga-intimacy

[8] Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition, 87.

[9] Sally Kempton, “Oh My Goddess,” Yoga Journal Online. http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/1980 See also “Goddess, Where Art Thou?” http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/2617

Catholic view of yoga (1 of 5)

Patti-Maguire-Armstrong-Yoga-480x242

FrEzra1

-by Rev Ezra Sullivan, OP

“Yoga is hands-down — toes-up — one of the most popular forms of exercise in the world, including the United States. It is also controversial, eliciting strong reactions from enthusiasts and denouncers alike. Among Christians, perhaps the most commonly-heard question is, “Can I practice yoga?” or, said with a different emphasis, “I can practice yoga, right?” With a nod to modern practicality, in order to do justice to the question as well as to the questioner, we ought to consider a number of different issues.

This series is meant to address these issues head on, beginning with the nature of yoga and ending with a discussion of how Christians can exercise their souls and pray with their bodies. St. John tells us that we should not believe every spirit, but to test them to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). It’s going to be an enlightening experience, so set your intention and come join us as we explore yoga from a Catholic perspective.

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I – What is Yoga?

There is something funny about yoga. It is one of those things that can prompt double-speak, as I have found over and over again. Here is a typical conversation:

“So, Father, what do you think about yoga?” Someone will ask.

“Well, I have some misgivings about it,” I’ll say.

“But what’s wrong with yoga,” they will press. “It’s just exercise.”

“Then why not try Pilates?” I reply.

“I wanted something more holistic, something that focuses on body and soul. I like yoga because it’s spiritual too.”

“Then it’s more than physical exercise.”

To get beyond this impasse in the Tibetan peaks and valleys of conversation, let’s begin by analyzing a portrait of the typical yoga practitioner.[1] A 2012 Yoga in America study shows that 20.4 million Americans practice yoga. This was an increase of 29% since 2008. In addition, 44.4 percent of Americans could identify as “aspirational yogis”–folks interested in trying yoga. Among these millions, the most common yoga enthusiast is a youngish, upper-middle class woman.[2] Yoga is a thriving industry: practitioners spend ten to twenty billion dollars a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations, and media.

In and around the popularity of yoga stretches and twists, a vocal portion of the population nevertheless regards yoga as a way to become spiritually bent out of shape. Questions and misgivings arise, and people begin to wonder: what is this thing that some of my friends practice and so many celebrities preach – what is this thing called yoga?

At first glance, yoga is simply a great form of exercise. The top five reasons for starting yoga are: to improve flexibility, to aid general conditioning, to further stress relief, to improve overall health, and to promote physical fitness.[3] Doctors and practitioners both agree that, when practiced moderately, yoga can strengthen a person, help her lose weight, and give her more energy. It is also often associated with positive emotional well-being: because yoga calms the body, it often soothes the feelings. Adding on to the individual benefits, there are often attractive cultural aspects of yoga: it helps people meet beautiful people, so that they can become more beautiful themselves; it is often convenient; at a base level, it doesn’t hurt the wallet.

Yoga, however, is more than a physical exercise with social benefits.

One indication of yoga’s spiritual nature is the way it affects practitioners over time. The International Journal of Yoga published the results of a national survey in Australia.[4] Physical postures (asana) comprised about 60% of the yoga they practiced; 40% was relaxation (savasana), breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation, and instruction. The survey showed very significant results: although most respondents commonly began yoga for reasons of physical health, they usually continued it for reasons of spirituality. In addition, the more people practiced yoga, the more likely they were to decrease their adherence to Christianity and the more likely they were to adhere to non-religious spirituality and Buddhism.

In other words, whatever their intentions may have been, many people experience yoga as a gateway to a spirituality disconnected from Christ.

Doing justice to the complete nature of yoga, therefore, requires a more well-rounded definition: “A comprehensive system of human culture, physical, moral, and [psychological], and acting as a doorway on to the gently sloping paths that gradually lead up to yoga proper,” that is, the spirituality of yoga founded in Hinduism.

Its aim is to control the body and the various forms of vital energy, with a view of overcoming physical impediments standing in the way of other, spiritual, forms of Yoga. Its object is to ensure a perfect balance between the organic functions. Its ultimate goal and true end is to prepare man for the acquisition of that repose of spirit necessary for the realization of the “Supreme”, or for “experiencing the Divine.”[5]

Yoga’s religious and spiritual end is often forgotten or denied in a Western context; most people see it simply as a physical form of exercise. Such a simplification is unwarranted and dangerous. As we will see, reducing yoga to a mere beautifying technique frequently creates ugly effects.”

Love,
Matthew

[1] For the following statistics, see http://blogs.yogajournal.com/yogabuzz/2012/12/new-study-find-more-than-20-million-yogis-in-u-s.html. And http://www.statisticbrain.com/yoga-statistics/

[2] The majority of today’s yoga practitioners (62.8 percent) fall within the age range of 18-44. Women compose 82.2 % of the cohort. 68% of all yoga practitioners make more than $75,000 a year.

[3] http://blogs.yogajournal.com/yogabuzz/2012/12/new-study-find-more-than-20-million-yogis-in-u-s.html.

[4] Penman, Cohen, Stivens, and Jackson, “Yoga in Australia: Results of a National Survey.” Int J Yoga. 2012 Jul-Dec; 5(2): 92—101. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3410203/ The typical Australian yoga practitioner of yoga is comparable to the American parallel: typically a 41 years old, tertiary educated, employed, health-conscious female (85% female).

[5] J.-M. Déchanet, Christian Yoga (New York: Harper, 1960), 31.

Freedom of the Will

fr-walter-ciszek-survivor-of-23-years-in-soviet-prison-camps-on-freedom-and-the-will-of-god

nicene_guy
-by Nicene Guy

“False freedom, the fool’s freedom—the freedom to do whatever (s)he may want whenever (s)he feels like doing it—ultimately leads to his/her enslavement to the passions. It also threatens to strangle the real types of freedom, at least to some extent.

The first real type of freedom, which must ultimately underly any other type of freedom, is the freedom of the will. The philosopher Mortimer J. Adler describes this form of freedom as being the one “natural freedom, neither affected by circumstance nor dependent on acquired developments” (Ten Philosophical Mistakes). He continues by stating that:

“This natural freedom is the freedom of the will in its acts of choice. Freedom of choice consists in always being able to choose otherwise, no matter what one has chosen in any particular instance. As contrasted with a freedom that consists in being able to do whatever one wishes, it might be described as freedom to will as one wishes.”

Russell Hittinger calls the Natural Law and its resulting natural moral compass (conscience) our first grace. If this is so, then freedom of the will as the ability to always choose otherwise is the gift which enables this grace. It means that no matter how far we as individuals have fallen, and how poorly we have chosen, we may yet turn back, choose rightly, leave the self-destructive cycle of evil. This also implies that we are morally culpable for our actions—blameworthy in the case of sin and vice, or praiseworthy in the case of virtue [1].

The other two forms of freedom require first that we have freedom of the will. One is primarily internal, the other primarily external in nature.

1.  The internal form of freedom, which is sometimes called “moral” freedom, is the right ordering of the whole person so that (s)he is predisposed to virtue and against vice, so that his/her mind has control of his/her passions, and above all, so that (s)he is free to resist temptation. To return to Professor Adler:

“Only through acquired moral virtue and practical wisdom does anyone come to possess such freedom. It is a freedom from the passions and the sensuous desires that leads us to do what we ought not to do, or not to do what we ought to do. When, in the conflict between reason and the passions, reason dominates, then we are able to will as we ought in conformity to the moral law, or to normative rules of conduct” (Ten Philosophical Mistakes).  (Ed. NOT being a slave to our passions.  The freedom to choose to do other than what our passions tempt us, compel us to do.  To choose according to reason, as opposed to desire.  True freedom.  Colloquially, one of the forms of “self-discipline”, truly possible ONLY through His Grace!)

2.  While freedom of the will leaves us always able to choose differently, repeated choices in favor of virtue or in favor of vice can make us more pre-disposed to one or the other.  (Ed. habit is an important part of the moral life, as in ALL things, practice perfects, be it virtue, be it vice.  Lesson:  choose wisely, choose habits even more wisely, occasions of virtue, occasions of vice[2]) Temptation becomes harder to resist, or it becomes easier to resist, based on our choices. It is much easier to commit a sin for the second time than for the first, especially if we rationalize (let alone internalize) that sin. Virtue or vice can become a sort of “second nature.” What was unnatural to us becomes connatural, as Prof. J Budziszewski explains:

“One of the strangest and most intriguing things about human nature is its openness to what Plato and subsequent philosophers have called ‘second nature.’ We are designed in such a way that things which are not a part of our design can become so habitual, so ingrained, that they seem as though they are. Another old-fashioned term for this is “connaturality.” Consider the grace of a classically trained ballerina. Human beings do not spontaneously move like that; she must learn that exquisite poise, that heartrending beauty in movement. To that end, she retrains every nerve, muscle, and reflex until clumsiness would take effort, artlessness would take art, and her very walking looks like dancing. It isn’t that grace become effortless for her even then, although she makes it look as though it is. But her limbs have internalized the aesthetic of the dance; beautiful movement, or at least beautiful movement of that kind, has become connatural. It is second nature to her….

[In a sense], every acquired discipline, including moral discipline, goes against our natural inclinations. Consider the ballerina again. The young dancer persists in unpleasant practice for the sake of an end which is so fascinating delightful, and vitalizing that the boredom, pain, and exhaustion of the means are worth enduring. That is just how it is with the virtues. Initially, it is difficult to be good, to be brave, to be true—difficult, and most unpleasant. Yet, if with the help of grace, one persists in this unpleasant discipline, then one can see a day coming from afar when it will be more difficult and unpleasant to not be good, honest, and true than to be that way. On that day, the actions that virtue requires will be second nature” (The Line Through the Heart).”

3.  The third kind of freedom, which is an external sort of freedom, requires not only the first kind to make sense, but also needs the second to be reasonably widespread in order to flourish. This third type of freedom is sometimes called “political freedom” or “social freedom,” and it was summarized by Lord Acton as being “not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.” Pope St. John Paul the Great re-stated this point, in the context of the challenge of finding freedom in Truth. In his Homily in Camden Yards, he said that “Today, the challenge facing America is to find freedom’s fulfillment in the truth….Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

It should be evident that political freedom, at least, is ultimately in some conflict with the false freedom to do whatever we want (and when we want). To be sure, the two are intertwined to the extent that severe political restrictions against the one can result in (or be the result of) an attempt to restrict the other. If you are a virtuous person, that is, if you enjoy moral freedom and have developed a desire to good and eschew evil, then a law requiring you to participate in an evil act or prohibiting you from doing a good one is also a law against letting you do something which you want to do.

Political freedom, like moral freedom, is a type of ordered-freedom, in that it requires and acknowledges an ordering of rights along with responsibilities. This order is disrupted by demands that we each be given the right to do whatever we want, whenever we want to do it, however we want, and with whomever we want. If I have an absolute right to something, then somebody else now has the duty to provide it to me, regardless of their own desires. As David Warren explains:

“The idea of the autonomous “prince” is modern. The medieval idea of hierarchy precluded it. The man at the top was lynchpin for a regime consisting of persons in various ranks of nobility, but in a curiously invertible pyramid, for though each in his place is servant to a master above him, he is also servant to the servants of those below him in station, pledged to their defense. The idea of “public service” survives today, but with a much different flavor. This is because the individual has ceased to be defined as a soul, a “being,” with duties. He has been redefined as a cypher or “function” with “rights.” Where to the old Christian view, rights followed from duties in the same man, to our post-Christian view the arbitrary rights of one man translate to duties for unaccounted others. (My right to a free lunch translates to your duty to pay for it, &c.) In this sense, all modern political thinking is in its nature totalitarian.”

The right to do whatever I want, or to be treated however I’d like, ultimately imposes a set of often capricious duties upon those around me. All men may be equal under the law, or the law can attempt (and fail) to make them all socially equal, but not both. As Mr. Warren notes, “‘free and equal’ [is] a direct contradiction of terms, and therefore [the two are] never imposed without hypocrisy.” The fool’s freedom leads to the destruction of our political freedom, and then to the discouragement of our moral freedom.

As for moral freedom—this can be discouraged, but it is difficult to eradicate entirely from all members of a populace. The well-ordered social and political freedom which we enjoy relies at least in part of the well-ordering of the individual souls in a society, that is, on moral freedom. Therefore, social-political freedom should help to encourage and inculcate moral freedom, even if it cannot actually instill the virtues in a given individual.

And likewise, a fool’s freedom leads to tyranny, which in turn practically requires that at least some of the virtues be stamped out, that moral freedom be discouraged. The reason for this is aptly demonstrated in an exchange between St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea (Cappadocia, Asia Minor) and former monk, and Imperial Prefect Modestus [3], who was sent to demand that the saint adhere to the Arian creed formulated at Rimini. Saint Basil refused to embrace this heresy, leading to this exchange:

MODESTUS: What, do you not fear my power?

BASIL: What could happen to me? What might I suffer?

MODESTUS: Any one of the numerous torments which are in my power.

BASIL: What are these? Tell me about them.

MODESTUS: Confiscation, exile, torture, death.

BASIL: If you have any other, you can threaten me with it, for there is nothing here which affects me.

MODESTUS: Why, what do you mean?

BASIL: Well, in truth confiscation means nothing to a man who has nothing, unless you covet these wretched rags and a few books: that is all I possess. As to exile, that means nothing to me, for I am attached to no particular place. That wherein I live is not mine, and I shall feel at home in any place to which I am sent. Or rather, I regard the whole earth as belonging to God, and I consider myself as a stranger or sojourner wherever I may be. As for torture how will you apply this? I have not a body capable of bearing it, unless you are thinking of the first blow that you give, for that will be the only one in your power. As for death, this will be a benefit to me, for it will take me the sooner to the God for Whom I live, for Whom I act, and for Whom I am more than half dead, and Whom I have desired long since.”

If we live in a society which, in the name of promoting the fool’s freedom and equality, is increasingly oppressing political freedom, then we must strive all the more to gain moral freedom. This is a difficult task under the conditions of a society which at best is indifferent to moral freedom. Still, even such a society produces a few men who are heroic witnesses to the possibility of freedom in truth, to that freedom which cannot be totally eradicated by political action.

Thank God for the witness of the saints.”

Amen.  Amen.  Amen.  Praise Him!!!  Praise Him!!!  Our Savior, praise Him!!!! Thank you, Jesus!! Thank you, God, forever and ever!!!

Love,
Matthew

—-Footnotes—-

[1] Praiseworthy, in the sense that a virtuous person should be held in higher esteem as a model for emulation than an unvirtuous person. On the other hand, “far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).

[2] “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

[3] Found in Warren H. Carroll’s A Hisory of Christendom vol. II: The Building of Christendom. Prof, Carroll quoted this from Palanque’s Christian Roman Empire, History of the Church II, 63, and added the names for clarity. He further notes that after the exchange,”The prefect—and later, Eastern Emperor Valens himself—retired abashed.” Such is the power of moral freedom, virtue, and a bit of grace.

True vs False Freedom

false_freedom

As I struggle with my own temptations/passions, it is very helpful to remind myself of the below.  🙂  Grace is NOT burdensome!! Hardly. IT IS true freedom!  ASK FOR IT!!  Pray for it!!  Beg for it. Totally worth it!!! Totally!!! True freedom. True.

-by Nicene Guy

What makes us free? There are, on the whole, three true types of freedom and one false one. Among the three true types, one is beyond our control, one is ultimately determined by conditions in the larger society, and one is largely under our own control.

The false type of freedom, what might be called a fool’s freedom, is largely mistaken as the real meaning of freedom. It is freedom, of a sort, and as the philosopher Mortimer J. Adler notes, we all possess it to some extent: it is the freedom to do (or attempt to do) whatever we want. Note that I have qualified this notion of freedom—we all possess it to some extent. There are, of course, some limits to it…

Nor is this type of freedom a freedom from consequences [1]. I can enjoy fine dining, but it will cost most of my earnings if I make that my nightly meal. I can enjoy a pint or two with friends, but if I drink too much or too quickly, I can expect to feel tipsy (or worse!). I can leap into the air with hopes of flying, but I must be prepared for the disappointment of a quick landing. This false freedom can be enjoyed if it is rightly ordered—more on this later—but if not rightly ordered it can quickly master and enslave us…

I do not mean here that the freedom to do whatever we want is always bad, but rather that it can lead to bad philosophy of life—hedonism and its attendant philosophical errors—which in turn leads to a bad end. The freedom to do whatever we want leads to the consequence of being enslaved by our passions—these passions together are a cruel mistress. See City of God, Book IX, Chapter 3-6 (especially 3 and 6).

The Platonist Apuleius taught that demons were subject to “every faucet of human emotion,” and that since they lacked self control and any other virtues, they were “tossed about on the stormy seas of their imaginations.” Saint Augustine takes up this theme in his City of God, writing that Aupuleius was arguing that the demons lacked the condition necessary for happiness, but that they were wretched, because:

“Their mind…far from being steeped in virtue and thus protected against any surrender to irrational passions of the soul, was itself in some measure liable to disturbances, agitations, and storms of passion, the normal condition of foolish minds…”

“It is not any of the lower part of the souls of demons that Aupuleius describes as agitated as if by raging seas and storms of passion; it is their mind, the faculty that makes them rational beings. And therefore they are not worthy of comparison with wise men who, even under the conditions of their present life, offer the resistance of an undisturbed mind to those disturbances of the soul from which human weakness cannot be exempt… It is the foolish and lawless among mortals that these demons resemble, not in their bodies but in their characters” City of God, IX.3).

His is a fitting description of those who pursue this false freedom of “doing whatever I want,” namely, that such men are “foolish and lawless.” Worse, by pursuing the desires of the moment, they find wretchedness rather than satisfaction and misery rather than felicity—and that’s in this life. They are like the demons, slaves to their passions. Of the demons, and thus of the hedonistic men who follow them, Saint Augustine concludes that “their mind is subdued under the oppressive tyranny of vicious passions, and employs for seduction and deception all the rational power that it has by nature” [4]. The freedom which inexorably leads to such oppression is a fool’s freedom indeed.”

Love,
Matthew

—-Footnotes—-
[1] Freedom from consequences is an even more foolish form of false freedom than “the ability to do whatever I want.”
[2] See the discussion of the characteristics of the resurrected body http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12792a.htm in the Catholic Encyclopedia. The resurrected body possesses impassibility, brightness/glory, agility, and subtility.
[4] City of God IX.6. Saint Augustine also writes that “Demons are at the mercy of the passions…the mind of demons in in subjection to the passions of desire, of fear, of anger, and the rest,” and that no part of their mind is left for wisdom, or virtue.

The Argument from Desire

-by Fr Robert Barron

“One of the classical demonstrations of God’s existence is the so-called argument from desire. It can be stated in a very succinct manner as follows. Every innate or natural desire corresponds to some objective state of affairs that fulfills it. Now we all have an innate or natural desire for ultimate fulfillment, ultimate joy, which nothing in this world can possibly satisfy. Therefore there must exist objectively a supernatural condition that grounds perfect fulfillment and happiness, which people generally refer to as “God.”

I have found in my work as an apologist and evangelist that this demonstration, even more than the cosmological arguments, tends to be dismissed out of hand by skeptics. They observe, mockingly, that wishing something doesn’t make it so, and they are eager to specify that remark with examples: I may want to have a billion dollars, but the wish doesn’t make the money appear; I wish I could fly, but my desire doesn’t prove that I have wings, etc.

This rather cavalier rejection of a venerable demonstration is a consequence, I believe, of the pervasive influence of Ludwig Feuerbach and Sigmund Freud, both of whom opined that religion amounts to a pathetic project of wish-fulfillment. Since we want perfect justice and wisdom so badly, and since the world cannot possibly provide those goods, we invent a fantasy world in which they obtain.

Both Feuerbach and Freud accordingly felt that it was high time that the human race shake off these infantile illusions and come to grips with reality as it is. In Feuerbach’s famous phrase: “The no to God is the yes to man.” The same idea is contained implicitly in the aphorism of Feuerbach’s best-known disciple, Karl Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”

In the wake of this criticism, can the argument from desire still stand?

I think it can, but we have to probe a bit behind its deceptively simple surface if we are to grasp its cogency. The first premise of the demonstration hinges on a distinction between natural or innate desires and desires of a more artificial or contrived variety. Examples of the first type include the desire for food, for sex, for companionship, for beauty, and for knowledge; while examples of second type include the longing for a fashionable suit of clothes, for a fast car, for Shangri-La, or to fly through the air like a bird. Precisely because desires of the second category are externally motivated or psychologically contrived, they don’t prove anything regarding the objective existence of their objects: some of them exist and some of them don’t.

But desires of the first type do indeed correspond to, and infallibly indicate, the existence of the states of affairs that will fulfill them: hunger points to the objective existence of food, thirst to the objective existence of drink, sexual longing to the objective existence of the sexual act, etc. And this is much more than a set of correspondences that simply happen to be the case; the correlation is born of the real participation of the desire in its object. The phenomenon of hunger is unthinkable apart from food, since the stomach is “built” for food; the phenomenon of sexual desire is unthinkable apart from the reality of sex, since the dynamics of that desire are ordered toward the sexual act. By its very structure, the mind already participates in truth.

So what kind of desire is the desire for perfect fulfillment? Since it cannot be met by any value within the world, it must be a longing for truth, goodness, beauty, and being in their properly unconditioned form. But the unconditioned, by definition, must transcend any limit that we might set to it. It cannot, therefore, be merely subjective, for such a characterization would render it not truly unconditioned. And this gives the lie to any attempt—Feuerbachian, Freudian, Marxist or otherwise—to write off the object of this desire as a wish-fulfilling fantasy, as a projection of subjectivity. In a word, the longing for God participates in God, much as hunger participates in food. And thus, precisely in the measure that the desire under consideration is an innate and natural desire, it does indeed prove the existence of its proper object.

One of the best proponents of this argument in the last century was C.S. Lewis. In point of fact, Lewis made it the cornerstone of his religious philosophy and the still-point around which much of his fiction turned. What particularly intrigued Lewis was the sweetly awful quality of this desire for something that can never find its fulfillment in any worldly reality, a desire that, at the same time, frustrates and fascinates us.

This unique ache of the soul he called “joy.” In the Narnia stories, Aslan the lion stands for the object of this desire for the unconditioned. When the good mare Hwin confronts the lion for the first time, she says, “Please, you are so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I would sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.” To understand the meaning of that utterance is to grasp the point of the argument from desire.”

Love,
Matthew

The Heresy of Deism, the Enlightenment, & the Trinity

Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_(by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800)

-“Thomas Jefferson”, by Rembrandt Peale, 1800, official Presidential portrait, my favorite image of the sage of Monticello

“The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs… In fact, the Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself. He proves, also, that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck.”
-letter to James Smith discussing Jefferson’s hate of the doctrine of the Christian trinity, December 8 1822

As an alumnus of the University of Virginia, I am torn as a Catholic when it comes to its founder’s theology.  I really do not like Mr. Jefferson’s, as he is called on grounds, theology.  It does not ring true for me, nor many others, I confidently suspect, but it is a bellwether of Enlightenment thinking in which the USA was founded, for woe or weal, and does serve as an excellent example of Deism.

Deism/Theism

Deism combines the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge with the conclusion that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a single creator of the universe.  The Trinity is only known through Scriptural revelation, hence the Deist’s denial of this divinely revealed truth.

Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world but rather allows it to function according to the laws of nature.

Fides et Ratio

Catholic “Fides et Ratio”, Faith and Reason, holds that both faith, natural and revealed, should not contradict reason.  If there is an apparent contradiction, there is a requirement to go deeper in our theology or our science to more profoundly understand, and that the two systems of thought will come into alignment and congruity once again, for a time, until another apparent contradiction offers us the opportunity to go further still.

Truth is known through a combination of faith and reason. The absence of either one will diminish man’s ability to know himself, the world and God. Human reason seeks the truth, but the ultimate truth about the meaning of life cannot be found by reason alone.

To the Deist/Theist, only reason may or need be applied, the over-emphasis of reason over every other consideration.  The motivation was to move beyond the perceived “superstitious” Middle Ages.  Revelation is not a primary font, nor is historical Christianity, hence, heresy.

Trinity

“God is love.” (Jn 3:16)  It is antithetical, we know, that (the Father’s) love should remain unreciprocated.  So we know there must be a beloved (the Son).  Because there is this great love between the divine lover and the divine beloved, it is so great, it is so intense, another person is “generated” (the Holy Spirit), hence the Trinity, known from Revelation, not from reason.  Sounds like a family to me.

“My Venerable Brother Bishops, Health and the Apostolic Blessing. Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).” –JPII, Fides et Ratio

Pope St John Paul II
Crossing the Threshold of Hope

“In prayer, then, the true protagonist is God. The protagonist is Christ, who constantly frees creation from slavery to corruption and leads it toward liberty, for the glory of the children of God. The protagonist is the Holy Spirit, who “comes to the aid of our weakness.” We begin to pray, believing that it is our own initiative that compels us to do so. Instead, we learn that it is always God’s initiative within us, just as Saint Paul has written. This initiative restores in us our true humanity; it restores in us our unique dignity. Yes, we are brought into the higher dignity of the children of God, the children of God who are the hope of all creation.

One can and must pray in many different ways, as the Bible teaches through a multitude of examples. The Book of Psalms is irreplaceable. We must pray with “inexpressible groanings” in order to enter into rhythm with the Spirit’s own entreaties. To obtain forgiveness one must implore, becoming part of the loud cries of Christ the Redeemer (cf. Heb 5:7). Through all of this one must proclaim glory. Prayer is always an opus gloriae (a work, a labor, of glory). Man is the priest of all creation. Christ conferred upon him this dignity and vocation. Creation completes its opus gloriae both by being what it is and by its duty to become what should be.”

Love,
Matthew

Grace & Catholicism – #nuffsaid

grace (2)

FredNoltie
-by Fred Noltie

“It is not news to say that many Protestants claim that the Catholic Church teaches a form of salvation by merit in contrast to their own belief in salvation by grace. This claim about the Church’s teaching is of course false, as we have observed many times at this blog. A long time ago I wrote on the same subject, and it seems like a good idea to rehearse the main points I made at that time (along with, perhaps, some additions).

That about covers the gamut, I think, but it is hardly the last word from the Church on the subject. The much-maligned Council of Trent has a thing or two to say as well. By way of summary: “…it is necessary to believe that sins neither are remitted, nor ever were remitted save gratuitously by the mercy of God for Christ’s sake” (Decree on Justification, chapter IX). Furthermore, the entire seventh chapter (see previous link) of the Decree enumerates the various causes of our justification. As anyone can see, none of them are human efforts; all of them are divine.

This hardly seems necessary since Protestants have been resorting to the “legalism” canard since the sixteenth century, but for the sake of completeness it’s worth observing that the Church today still affirms salvation by grace alone.

Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God. (CCC 1996)

And: “Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him” (CCC 153).

And: “Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 154).

Our Protestant brothers’ claim is obviously based upon a deficit of information about the actual facts, which makes the claim invalid.”

Love,
Matthew