Monday, February 8, 2021



Albert Schweitzer called St. Paul’s religion Christ Mysticism,  

            releasing our egos to live en Christos, in Christ,

                        by  cultivating a character like Jesus. 

We understand his character in terms of 7 core virtues.

That isn’t an exclusive list. 

They are our starting point for how we live. 

The core qualities of character are:

            4 cardinal virtues: prudence, fortitude,

                     justice, and temperance;

            and 3 theological virtues: faith, hope, and love.


Prudence is wisdom in practical affairs, 

             seeing things clearly and acting sensibly.

Fortitude is inner strength, boldness and resilience.

Justice is right relationship, first with ourself, then other people.

Temperance is moderation, balance, 

                 self-control, and equanimity.


These virtues are interconnected.

Each is possible only in combination with the other three.

They are a rope of tightly woven cords.


Now we shift to Theological Virtues. 

So what’s the difference?

Some say that the cardinal virtues are innate in human nature,

            while the theological virtues are infused by grace. 

But everything is infused by grace.

No virtue is  possible without God’s help, 

         but God doesn’t force any of them on us.

We practice to perfect them over time. 

God plants the seed. We water it.


Others say that the cardinal virtues come 

             from Greek philosophy 

            while the theological virtues come from the Bible.

That’s mostly right, but it’s not completely accurate.

The thing that makes the cardinal virtues important is 

                that we see them in Jesus.

And Jesus is in the Bible. 


So what’s the difference?

While all virtues are interconnected, 

             the theological virtues are connected 

            in a different way. 

If the cardinal virtues intertwine to form the stalk of a plant,

            then where do the theological virtues connect? 

Are they the root or the flower, the source or the product? 

There are different opinions.  

So, just keep that question in the back of your mind for now. 


The virtue of Faith isn’t about doctrines. 

It’s a way of seeing and acting. 

St. Paul, Soren Kierkegaard, and Pope Francis 

             all regard Abraham as the prototype of faith.

He slipped occasionally. 

But when God told him to do something he did it.

When God made a promise Abraham counted on it.

The key verse says, 

       Abraham believed the Lord and it was counted to him 

        as righteousness.

Kierkegaard stood in awe of Abraham, 

           because Faith is how we live a bold, authentic life. 

Hebrews 11: 1 says, 

            Faith is confidence in things hoped for but unseen. 

            We are not of those who shrink back . . . , 

              but those who persevere . .  .  .



 Those things hoped for add up to our ultimate well-being 

           in God’s love

The old hymn calls it, Standing On The Promises Of God.


We get a better sense of Faith if we consider its connection 

             to three things:

            Faith & Reason; Faith & Fear; and last Faith & Hope. 

We’ll save Faith & Hope till next week 

            when the main topic is Hope.    


Today, let’s start with Faith and Reason.

Since the 18th Century, many have treated them as opposites.

If something can be observed or if it makes logical sense, 

              that’s Reason.

If we are just making stuff up, that’s Faith.

That creates a huge gulf with Science and Philosophy 

             on one side and Religion on the other.


Atheists define Faith as believing irrational things 

            for which there is no evidence 

            and call it a get out of thinking card. 

There is a grain of truth to that. 

2nd Century Church leader, Tertullian, said 

             What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

             and Credo quia absurdum – 

             I believe because it is absurd.

Using Faith as a protest against Reason 

             has never gone away. It still happens.

But Tertullian was excommunicated as a heretic 

            and the broad tradition of the Church

            has on the whole taken quite a different view 

                          of Faith and Reason.


But there are two Christian approaches.

First, St. Thomas Aquinas believed in Reason. 

He loved logic. He presented five logical proofs of God. 

But he said Reason takes us only so far before it hits a wall.

There are things that in principle we cannot know.


17th and 18th Century science thought 

              we could eventually figure Reality out.

But 21st Century science is humbler. 

We know there are things we will never know.

And post-modern philosophy doesn’t prove things. 

It just dismantles false certainties.

But St. Thomas thought Reason gives us a trajectory. 

Faith then takes us the rest of the way.

Faith is the extension of Reason’s trajectory.

If we link Reason to the cardinal virtue of Prudence, 

            then Faith would be the flower on the stalk of Prudence.

St. Thomas’s view guided Anglicans, 

            like 18th Century Bishop Joseph Butler 

            who wrote, The Analogy of Religion, 

            making science the floor 

            but not the ceiling for a reasonable faith.

A reasonable faith is faith because we can’t prove it; 

            but it’s reasonable because we can state reasons for it. 


That approach continued in the 19th Century 

            with Oxford’s Frederick Denison Maurice

            and Sewanee’s William Porcher Dubose 

            accepting Darwin and reinterpreting the Faith 

            in light of Darwin – then Darwin in light of the Faith --

            not rejecting Darwin as Fundamentalists would do 

                         later in the 1920s.

The Reasonable Faith approach continued 

            in the 20th Century

            with the science-based process theology 

                         of Charles Hartshorne, 

            and the New Physics theology of theologians 

                         like John Polkinghorne.

When the Hubble Telescope essentially proved 

            the Big Bang theory,

            one of the 20th Century’s greatest atheist philosophers,

           Anthony Flew, converted to theism because 

            it there was a Big Bang, someone had to light the fuse.

He was accepting Thomas Aquinas’s 2nd Proof of God. 


There’s another view of Faith that extends Thomas’s approach.

Contemporary philosopher Jean Luc Marion 

            wouldn’t call himself a Thomist,

            but I think he’s actually taken Thomas one step deeper. 

Marion says everything we experience is richer in meaning  

               than we can comprehend.

We look at things. We see them. But we never see it all.

Human consciousness is too limited.

The danger is being so arrogant 

           as to think what we see is all there is. 


Just a footnote on how this applies to Justice:

Faith never limits our sense of another person 

               to an assessment or diagnosis.

It always sees them as what they are 

             but with a halo of mystique. 


If we have the humility, the Temperance, 

           to realize there’s more afoot than we know, 

            then we set our limited knowledge 

                      in the larger context of wonder.

Understood this way, Faith isn’t a dogmatic insistence 

             on doctrines.

It’s an openness to the mystery 

            that lies beyond our understanding.

Faith is a flower on the twin stalks 

              of Prudence and Temperance.


In any approach where we put Reason or experience first, 

            Faith becomes the final interpretation.

But Post-Modern philosophy, starting with Heidegger,

             questions how much objectivity is out there.

So interpretation is huge. 

When asked “Is it interpretation all the way down?” 

            they say, “Yeah it kinda is.”

So Faith is not just an afterthought. 


Another strand of the tradition, however, 

           takes the opposite tack. 

St. Augustine was a philosopher before he became a Christian.

He had devoted his life,  as philosophers do, 

          to figuring things out.

But after having run up against a lot of brick walls, 

            he became a Christian 

            and said, Credo ut intellagam. 

            I believe so that I can understand.

In the 10th Century St. Anselm of Canterbury paraphrased him,

            For I do not seek to understand in order 

            that I may believe, 

              but I believe in order to understand. 

          For . . . . unless I believe I shall not understand.

Their point is that we see everything 

            through a lens of basic assumptions. 

 Thomas Kuhn said that science gathers data 

          and interprets it according to previously established 

              paradigms or models.

When too many things don’t fit the model, 

           we can just change the model.

By Faith, Augustine and Anselm meant a meta-paradigm, 

            an overarching model of Reality.

In that paradigm, there is a source, destiny, order, 

           and meaning to Reality. 

It’s Love. 


Jean Luc Marion identifies with this approach.

In his book, Believing In Order To Understand, 

            Marion points out that  the whole scientific process   

            depends on the idea that experiments 

                       ought to be repeatable.

Reality isn’t random. 

If x plus y equals z one time,

            then the next time you put x and y together, 

            you ought to get z.

 If you do, it isn’t a coincidence. It’s a law of nature.

Science depends on the unproven and unprovable Faith 

               that Reality is orderly. 


For Isaac Newton, the laws of nature are an expression of God.

Immanuel Kant used logic to show 

            that there is also a moral order to Reality. 

            Some things are right and others wrong.

But Kant acknowledged that his  proof of the moral order  

        depended on Faith  that logical proofs we construct 

          in our heads correspond to a Reality outside our heads.


 The poet, Donald Revell, once told me 

           he has Faith that language is meaningful.

So when he writes a poem, 

            he doesn’t start with a point he wants to make.

He starts with words that come to him, 

            he puts them together on the page,

            and lets the meaning emerge from language.


The point is that all Reason rests upon some sort of Faith.

We see the world through a lens. 

The lens we look through determines what we see.

In 17th Century Tibet, mystics had visions of dancing dakinis.

In 17th Century France, mystics had visions 

               of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

No one in France saw dakinis. No one in Tibet saw Mary. 

What we see depends on how we look at it. 

Faith is a way of looking at the world 

             that makes all the difference.


When the people of Nazareth looked at Mary 

              through their cynical eyes, 

            they didn’t see the Blessed Virgin.

They saw an unwed mother 

           and they didn’t say Hail Mary full of grace.

They didn’t consider Joseph a skilled craftsman 

         like today’s carpenters.

He was more like a day laborer.

People threw Jesus’ father in his face. 

             Is not this the son of the carpenter?

It was an expression of contempt.

But through the eyes of faith, 

             Luke saw Mary as the mother of God,

            and Matthew saw Joseph 

            as a saint who listened to his dream angel.


Galilee wasn’t the Holy Land then.

Pharisees rejected Jesus arguing, 

           Prophets do not come from Galilee. 

But Matthew quoted an obscure passage from Isaiah,

            Galilee of the Gentiles

            The people living in darkness have seen a great light.


The stable was a ritually unclean, dishonorable place 

           to be born. 

But St. Francis, through the eyes of faith, 

             saw it as a shrine,

            and built the first crèche as a holy object 

                    for us to venerate.


For Augustinians, Reason is impossible without Faith. 

The expression blind faith is nonsense. 

Pope Francis rejects it In his papal encyclical, Lumen Fidei

He says,


            There is an urgent need . . . to see once again that faith         is a light, for once the flame         of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. The light of faith is unique, since it is        capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot       come from ourselves but from a more primordial    source: . . . Faith comes from . . . an           encounter with the living God who reveals his love . . . upon which we can lean for security and build our lives.

Faith isn’t a set of ideas we shut our eyes to believe.

It’s the opposite. 

Faith is a way of seeing, a way of looking at everything.

The expression, the Light of Faith, means Faith shows us reality.


Christian Faith isn’t an object we look at. 

It’s a way of looking at everything.

Francis says Faith doesn’t mean just gazing at Jesus.

It means seeing things as Jesus sees them

             participating in his vision. 

Francis continues,  

            Those who believe see. They see with a light that 

            illumines the entire journey, for it comes from the Risen 

            Christ, the morning star that never sets.

If Prudence is the stalk, Faith is its root.

The world we see is determined 


by the kind of Faith we start with. 


Now let’s turn to Faith and  the universal human experience of Fear.

Fear doesn’t just react to the world we inhabit. 

Fear produces it.

Criminologist, Scott Bonn, agrees 

            that violence expresses anger. 

But he insists, anger isn’t a primary emotion. 

It’s secondary. Anger’s root is fear.

During a pandemic,  homicides, gun violence, 

              overdoses, and domestic violence

            surge because people are afraid.

For times like these, 

            Jesus gave us this central statement of Faith.

            Have no fear, little flock, 

            for it is the Father’s good pleasure

            to give you the Kingdom.



The imperative sentence Jesus said most often was 

            Do not be afraid.

The Bible says Do not be afraid 365 times.

It doesn’t mean, 

     Don’t feel the fear that automatically surges in the amygdala.

It means, Don’t believe your fear. Don’t trust your fear. 

              Don’t live in your fear.


Faith isn’t  giving intellectual assent to doctrines. 

It’s a matter of trust.

Abraham didn’t believe that God exists. He believed God.

To believe in someone, isn’t to acknowledge they exist. I

t’s to trust them.

Our Creed begins I believe.

That renders the Latin Credo, which is literally I give my heart –

            not I hold the opinion that there is a God, 

            but rather I give my heart to God –

            not we believe that; we believe in.

The English word believe wasn’t originally an opinion word, 

           but a loving word.

It derives from the Anglo-Saxon, beleven

            which is the root of beloved.

It’s about trusting a God we can’t manipulate or even define. 

But we trust the mystery. 

The late Bishop of Atlanta, Frank Alan, used to say, 

             Faith is trusting that the mystery is friendly.

Fortitude is the essential boldness to live our life.

Where do Christians get that Fortitude?

If Fortitude is the stalk of the plant, Faith is its root.

Faith gives us the Fortitude to live through pandemic, 

              political turmoil and economic insecurity.

Faith isn’t naïve confidence bad things won’t happen. 

Faith resides in the words even if. 

Faith trusts a redemption we can’t see yet.

People call Abraham the model of Faith; 

             but the one who stands out to me is Job

            in a verse sometimes translated,  

            Even if he slay me, I will trust in him.


So what do we trust and how does trusting play out in living?

The main Old Testament word for God’s love is hesed 

               which means covenant love.

It’s about promise keeping. 

God makes us promises we can stand on.


But faithfulness sounds stationary. 

Standing on the promises sounds stationary.

Pope Francis describes Faith and faithfulness 

           as more of a journey.


Abraham’s act of faith was a journey. 

The story begins with Genesis 12 verse 1: 

            The LORD had said to Abram, 

            "Go from your country, your people 

              and your father''s house to the land I will show you.”

Abraham’s whole life was a journey. 

Deuteronomy calls him a wandering Aramaean.



Now look at the structure of Luke’s Gospel.

Fully one-third of the book is Jesus’ journey 

             from Galilee to Jerusalem.

In real life geography, it isn’t that far.

But for Luke, Jesus is a man on a journey 

             like Abraham before him.

Most of his teachings are set in the context of a journey.

Then in Acts, the sequel to Luke, 

            we have the journeys of Paul 

            which ended with his death in Rome, 

            but he was planning to go to Spain.


Pope Francis calls Faith light for the journey.

To shift metaphors, I’d call faithfulness 

           dancing with the one who brung you.

But don’t miss the point, it’s still dancing. 


So what does this journey metaphor mean?

One meaning is that Faith isn’t stagnant. 

Our relationship with Jesus isn’t stagnant.

Over the course of a lifetime, we get to know him better. 

We learn to trust him more and more.

I don’t worry about what religious ideas people hold.

Ideas come and go like weather. 

What matters is the journey into relationship.

To call life a journey is a cliché but it’s a cliché because it’s true.

Even if we stay in the same place geographically, 

         each day the place is new and we are new.

The first challenge is to pay attention, 

            be alert to what’s happening, 

            including changes in ourselves.

The second challenge is to summon the Fortitude 

          to keep moving forward.

There are ups and downs. 

The road is sometimes smooth; sometimes, rough.

How do we navigate that? 

How do we navigate pandemics, recessions, and insurrections

            in a way that constitutes living well, living fully, 

                        living justly?


Faith in a loving God, a merciful and beautiful 

            source, destiny, order, and meaning to life

            is essential especially when the circumstances 

            are upsetting or demoralizing.

Christians see the source, destiny, order, and meaning of life

            not in an abstract principle we can put 

              in a neat paragraph.

We place our Faith in mystery so personal

            that it could be revealed only in a person, Jesus.