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
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
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.