Thursday, May 17, 2007

Speaking of God

I once read a debate between John Calvin and a Thomist. I agreed with the Thomist on some points and with Calvin on some others, but when I finished reading the whole debate I was left with a vague feeling of disgust. As with so many things that one reads, I tucked that little debate and my reaction to it back into the recesses of my mind, but it has surfaced again. And now, some 25 years later, I have a better understanding of that vague feeling of disgust. Both St. Thomas and Calvin were brilliant men, and they seem to be in favor of Christianity. But I wonder if either of them is a very good spokesman for it. And I don’t mean to be flippant, but I must say that I don’t understand, when reading St. Thomas or John Calvin, why God would bother with mortals such as we. He seems so terribly self-sufficient and content without us in Thomism and Calvinism. I don’t see God the lover, the God who weeps, in either Thomism or Calvinism. What Richard Weaver said of Socrates – “One should not talk about one’s gods that way” – could also be said of St. Thomas and Calvin. Did St. Paul talk about Christ the way they did? Did Christ talk about Himself that way?

The Rev. Hislop makes a very good critique of the pagan, Greco-Roman structures of the Roman Catholic Church, but he fails to see the other subcurrent. St. Patrick and thousands like him did not set Europe aflame with tales of Babylon or the Greek philosophers. They set Europe aflame with the Christ story.

What was good and pure about the Protestant Reformation was the attempt to know Christ the lover again, to know Him as St. Paul and as St. John knew him. But He cannot be put into the golden bowl of a narrow theology. The analytic mind cannot comprehend God; He is unknowable when approached by way of the syllogism, but He has made Himself accessible to us through the human heart. George Fitzhugh has written eloquently of that mode of perception: “The problem of the Moral World is too vast and complex for the human mind to comprehend; yet the pure heart will, safely and quietly, feel its way through the mazes that confound the head.”

It’s truly remarkable that when we want to get serious about God, we bring out the theologians and start to talk in the mumbo-jumbo of the dialectic. There is no time for that kind of talk anymore. European culture is facing extinction because the intellectual hierarchy of the Christian churches have turned the God of Abraham, Isiah, Jacob, and St. Paul into a solution to a riddle in a philosophical parlor game. In the face of death we need the Christ of whom the elder Thomas Campbell spoke in 1828. He was moved to write an essay, “Christianity is Neither a Theory Nor a Philosophy,” after recovering from an illness that had brought him to the brink of death.
The vain pride of attempting to improve Christianity in the external exhibition of it in the churches, that it might vie in splendor with the pompous exhibition of the Jewish and pagan religions, and the presumptuous folly of explaining its mysteries according to the notions of the heathen philosophy, and finally, of reducing the whole subject of divine revelation into the form of a rational, systematic science, [italics added - Ed.] an attempt this, which rendered it as unfit for its primary purpose, the salvation of mankind, as the chemical process of distillation does our vegetable productions for the sustentation of animal life. The sublime productions of Aquinas, Maestricht, and Turretine, are exquisite monuments of this egregious folly. As well might we attempt to imbibe vital heat by embracing a corpse, as to derive spiritual life, light, or comfort, from the perusal of those voluminous works. Do you ask, why? The reason is obvious: these are the works of men, not of God. Not from heaven, to make us spiritually wise unto salvation; but from the pride and folly of man, to make us metaphysically and logically wise unto disputation. Vain man would be wise,
though man be born a wild ass’s colt (Job XI: 12). Wise, indeed, in his own way; wise above what is written; yea, constructively wiser than God, for he would improve upon his works.
I think Thomas Campbell has honed in on the terrible error we make when we set the Christian God within the confines of pagan philosophy. His uniqueness is blurred when we do that, and consequently we turn hearts of fire into dead embers. Men and women who should be aflame for Christ turn to alternative gods.

The marriage between Christ and Europe has ended in divorce not because He has ceased to love us, but because Europeans have ceased to see Christ as distinct from Socrates and other great thinkers. And wasn’t that inevitable when the “best” theologians talk about Him within the context of pagan philosophy?

Pat Buchanan talks about putting a moratorium on immigration. I would certainly like to see that. But there is another moratorium that I would also like to see, and that is one on mumbo-jumbo, scientistic God-talk. And then we might be able to see the Christ, the son of the living God, as St. Paul saw Him on the road to Damascus. And then “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”