All posts tagged: Augustine

Active Love Is a Harsh and Fearful Thing

In the second grade, my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I replied with what I saw as the two most appealing occupations—I would either become a veterinarian or a saint. While many Catholic parents’ eyes might begin to brim with tears at such a declaration, my knowing mother asked a prescient follow-up question. Do you know that you have to die before being canonized a saint? With the swift and definitive logic of an eight-year old, I promptly concluded that sainthood was not the professional trajectory for me. I set my sights instead on a future concerned with animal health. The subsequent parental encouragement that everyone was called to sainthood over their lifetime, no matter their job, did not sway my decision. If I could not get the credit for being a saint, what was the point? This story makes great Catholic cocktail party fodder. Everyone smiles and chuckles at my former precociousness. I feel great satisfaction in having a good anecdote in my back pocket for just …

The Exemplary Clarity of the Five Proofs of the Existence of God

Edward Feser has a definite gift for making fairly abstruse philosophical material accessible to readers from outside the academic world, without compromising the rigor of the arguments or omitting challenging details. As scholarly virtues go, this is one of the rarer ones—in part because it takes considerable patience both to acquire and to practice, and in part because it requires a genuine desire to entrust difficult ideas to those from whom they are typically withheld. Perhaps the best example of this gift in action hitherto was his 2006 volume Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner’s Guide (at least, speaking for myself, I have both recommended it to general readers and used it with undergraduates, in either case with very happy results). But this present volume, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, is no less substantial an achievement. In it, Feser has undertaken to explain and defend several of the most demanding traditional arguments for the reality of God, as thoroughly as possible, in a way that communicates their internal coherence to readers who may have no …

Whose Liturgy? What Sacrifice?

James K.A. Smith’s cultural liturgies project has concluded with his volume on political theology, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. In the three volumes, Smith makes an argument about the formative nature of Christian liturgical prayer. From the beginning of the project, Smith founds his liturgical theology of culture in an Augustinian anthropology: we are what we love. While secular culture has done an adept job at forming us in rites that shape our desires and imaginations (including shopping malls), Reformed Christianity has focused primarily on developing a worldview through an intellectual formation carried out in the Christian college or university. Smith argues that Christian education must turn away from an exclusive focus on the formation of the intellect to an approach grounded in liturgical practice. If we are what we love, then we need to cultivate those practices that shape the human imagination to love God and neighbor well. The first volume of the cultural liturgies project (Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation) established the anthropological basis of the argument, focusing on the manner …

No One Saw the Resurrection

No one saw the resurrection. We tend to forget this as the sensory richness of Easter floods our senses after a wintry Lent. Yet, the Gospels report only vestiges of the risen Christ: a displaced stone, a crumpled up burial shroud, and angels at the empty tomb. The absence of the account of the moment of the resurrection is especially striking when contrasted with the detailed account of the crucifixion: the nails, the lance, the blood and water, and the giving up of the spirit. Belief in the crucifixion is a matter of sight. But the resurrection requires an enlargement of our vision, a faith in what is unseen. The Gospels are replete with beautiful reunions between the resurrected Christ and his followers. St. Augustine attends to these encounters in his Tractates on the Gospel of John, delivered to his congregation in the early 5th century. For the Bishop of Hippo, the post-resurrection encounters with Christ are moments of healing in which Christ gives the gift of faith. This faith, Augustine writes in Tractate 79, …

Preaching Beauty

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. . . . You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. (Augustine, Confessions X: XXVII) As I sat on the bus, the sunshine of the morning sky flickered through the windows. We wound up and up through the hills toward the Golan Heights in upper Galilee. As we bounced and jostled, I realized how deeply early sandbox experiences of the warmth of the sun have impacted my image of God. I also wondered, as we drove north from Nazareth, how the radiance of the sunshine and the tenderness of the early morning breezes impacted Jesus’ youngest images of God his …

A School of Gratitude

Have you ever reached a milestone of achievement of some sort, any sort, and felt the thrill (and perhaps the relief!) at accomplishing something, but the next major challenge in your life has not yet begun? In such moments, it seems like the year seems to pause, and time seems briefly suspended, as though searching for an insight, as though laboring in vision, seeking some moment of revelation, “hieratic and profound” (Flannery O’Connor). Can we yet glimpse it? Before the season turns (or even the weekend) and we are back in the press of daily worries and pressures? What is it? What am I loving, when I love you? . . . when I love my God? I put my question to the earth, and it replied, “I am not he”; I questioned everything it held, and they confessed the same. I questioned the sea and the great deep, and the teeming live creatures that crawl, and they replied, “We are not God; seek higher.” I questioned the gusty winds, and every breeze with all …