In the Bible and in theology, Jesus is the called the Logos, Greek for the divine Word, understood as ordering principle. I’ve always found the term “Word” applied to Jesus to be confusing, even incomprehensible. I accept it, but I didn’t really see the relation of “Word” to the person of Jesus, until recently
Lately, I’ve renewed my time spent on reading, writing and Latin and the uses and effects of language. Goodwriting, to me, puts names to concepts, feelings and experience we hadn’t been able to label accurately and so allows us to think about them more in depth and from the separation of wisdom. This can be fiction, philosophy, theology, psychology, history, any area even math. What the Word calls out accurately is truth. A truth experienced but not named. In a sense, the truth is uncreated by us humans–it was always there, and so we experienced it. But it wasn’t ordered for us to think about or understand until it was named. This naming, or Word, brings order to our minds that enables us to think about and understand the truth that was already there.
This is true in our day to day experience of reading and naming. It is also true of the Second Person of the Divine Trinity. Jesus is the logos, the Word, the naming of God, the unnamable. In his incarnation, Jesus makes the eternal experience of truth in God, that was however removed from our direct experience and inaccessble, accessible in a direct bodily way. As words make vague experiences of truth comprehensible (or orderly) through naming, The Word brings understanding and access to the transcendent Truth of the Father, the First person of the Trinity.
Both are transcendent and eternal and the Word draws its meaning from the Truth, so they do not and cannot exist in isolation, but are intrinsically interconnected. Jesus as the “Word” of the Father makes sense in this way. In the analogy of Truth and Word, perhaps the Holy Spirit would best be represented as communication itself.
–-Further thoughts on the Trinity and the limits of Language
Many people wonder how we Catholics can still believe given some of the more infamous events in Church History; the classic duo of the Crusades and the Inquisition spring to mind. First, yes, the human members of the Church have made mistakes and lots of them. (See last article on hypocrites in the Church). One only needs to think of the Renaissance Popes who, despite all their misdeeds, never attempted to change Catholic teaching to justify it. Regardless, the Church’s members, today and yesterday, have hurt and turned away many well-meaning people, and that is tragic. The Church is meant to be a haven for all humankind, the mustard seed that grows into a tree large enough for all the birds of the air to nest in.
When approaching historical matters in the Church, particularly controversial ones, two extremes must be avoided: the first is a Catholic triumphalism that seeks to gloss over any real error a member of the Church may have made. We have no reason to do this because we understand that Church members can and do sin while on the path to eternal glory. Second, we have to avoid the opposite extreme of demonizing everything the Church has ever done and leaping on the bandwagon of criticism before giving an honest investigation. For most of these events, hundreds of years have passed, and the history that we learned from a few paragraphs of a high school textbook is woefully over-simplified (not without a few decent reasons) and can tend to distort our view of what actually happened.
To understand history honestly is to try to see through the eyes of the people who experienced it back before it was called “history”, when it was simply their day-to-day lives. The Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc wrote “the most difficult thing in the world in connection with history, and the rarest of achievements, is the seeing of events as contemporaries saw them, instead of seeing them through the distorted medium of our later knowing.”
I’ll start with the Crusades, perhaps the biggest bogeyman in the anti-Catholic rhetorical camp. The commonly received narrative of the Crusades is that they were despicable unprovoked wars of religious aggression, publicly endorsed for the sake of “converting” the Muslims, but actually meant to seize all their territory through colonization.
It is not the place of this essay to take on all of these one by one and separate fact from fiction, but I will throw out a few relevant points:
“The crusaders did not insist on converting those living under their control; rather they fought to defend the Christians already living in the Holy Land and those making pilgrimages there. And as for the colonization or imperialism myth, it is debunked by the reality that the crusaders held only a few cities at any one time and left hardly enough troops to maintain the garrisons let alone expand an empire. The vast majority of the survivors returned home, battered and poorer for their efforts.” (More on the Crusades here)
“Fortunately, the Westboro Baptist Church, famous for the “God hates fags” signs, really are outliers. But generally yes, this criticism of the Church is resoundingly true; there are hypocrites among us. Even in smaller settings, I myself and my friends have run into petty bureaucracy and slights in the offices of our own local churches.
So, how can I continue to believe when the lived examples of believers so often fall short? When I myself fall short as well?
What are we to do then with this beleaguered institution full of fallible people, especially the Catholic Church which claims infallibility?
Three reasons that undergird my continued Faith are these 1) Jesus came to heal sinners. 2) The Church has both divine and human elements, and we human elements err frequently, but are still guided by the divine. 3) At a basic level, at least we are hypocrites; we fall short, but we have an ideal to aspire to.
Jesus Came For Sinners
When the Pharisees take offense at Christ eating meals with tax-collectors, prostitutes and other sinners, He answers them: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world precisely because we humans had screwed up; Christ is the remedy for the Fall of the human race in Adam and Eve. He came because we do sin, or perform misdeeds or hurtful actions, to use a more modern-friendly term, quite a bit. The entire role of Christ in the Incarnation is to draw us back to God because we can’t do it ourselves, though we do cooperate with our free will.
Hypocritical conduct is scandalous, and it turns people away from the Church, which is a true tragedy. Somehow though, Christ himself knew that sinners would be part of the Church. He taught, that there was a farmer, God, who sowed grain (the Church) in a field, Continue reading →