Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Friendship as a Reciprocal Love

In his second chapter, Meilaender poses the challenge of friendship being reciprocal. He demonstrates that in fact friendship love must be reciprocated. This seems like common sense to most. Meilaender then poses the question of how do you handle the idea of reciprocal love in friendship is the Christian is to love his or her enemy. He points out the differences between these two loves, the agape love or Christian self-giving love, and the philia love or friendship reciprocal love.

Meilaender tries to first solve the conflicting ideals of the philia love and agape love through Seneca’s writings. Seneca writes “the wiseman desires friends…if only for the purpose of practicing friendship, in order that his noble qualities may not lie dormant.” (38). This line of thought makes friendship not necessary and says that human beings can be self-sufficient on their own.

Meilaender does not see this as true. He then looks at the Epicurus way of dealing with friendship. Epicurus believes that “the first cause of friendship was man’s needs” (40). He was see that Epicurus is arguing something different than Seneca. Epicurus believes that human beings need friendship. “Friendship, a reciprocal and mutual love, recognizes this truth about our nature: that we need not only to give ourselves in love but also to receive love in return” (41). Here we can hear echoes of the familiar phrase no man is an island. Epicurus wants to argue that part of being human means that we need to give love and receive love and that we are not self-sufficient individuals whom can cut themselves off from others. We see the importance now for philia love, however Meilaender makes a point that we have sharply contrasted agape and philia love.

We see our best form of agape love through the love of God. Only God who is eternal and perfect can continue to give love without needing love in return. God can not fall into the notions of philia and reciprocal love because then God would be dependant on love being reciprocated.

Meilaender places these two loves within Christian possibility when he says: “Christian through cannot make reciprocity a required feature of all love. A mutual love like friendship, however important for human life and well being cannot stand alone. Christian thought knows also a love which does not seek its own.” Here we understand that Christians can know the love of reciprocated friendship love but since they also know the agape love of Christ and aspire to that they must practice both of these types of love. We must succumb to our human nature and our need for others in mutual love, but we as Christians must also “love in a ways which is not dependent on any return.” Here we see the intermingling of philia and agape love.

We see these two loves commingled through Jesus’ Golden Rule: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friend” (50). Another example of the great bridging of the two loves is through the Trinity. Each person in the Trinity Begets freely (agape love) and also receives the love and offers the love back (philia love). Through these two holy models we can begin to understand how these two loves are not so separate as through earlier in the chapter. In fact for Christians, philia and agape love very much must be intertwined in practice.

Meilaender: Friendship as Preferential Love

Gilbert Meilaender poses interesting insight into the world of friendship as it belongs to Christians. He begins by saying, “Friend must be preceded by various modifiers” (6). Friend, like love, has multiple uses and meanings depending on the situation. However, can Christian’s have friends since they are called to a universal friendship? Dr. Johnson says, “All friendship is preferring the interest of a friend, to the neglect, or perhaps, against the interest of others. Now Christianity recommends universal benevolence, to consider all men as our brethren; which is contrary to the virtue of friendship” (7).

Meilaender brings up the two most common competing theories about friendship from a couple of classicists- Plato and Aristotle. Plato thinks, “friendship is a universal love which grows out of more particular, affective attachments” (8). He thinks of friendship out of sentiment for all of humanity. Aristotle thinks otherwise, “friendship is a narrowing down of the many towards whom we have good will to a few friends whom we especially choose” (8). There are dangers for both, as acknowledged by Socrates. Preferential love can be too narrow; it can become too possessive or dependent. Rather, he suggests that friendship (philia) is a sublimated eros, where lovers can share a life in pursuit of wisdom. It is more disinterested love. Kierkegaard writes, “it is an impossibility of love according to both explanations simultaneously” (27).

Aristotle thinks that preferential love is the highest sort of friendship and that no one would choose to live without friends. He also notices that friends expect certain treatment from us as well as a certain obligation. Strangers, on the other hand, have no expectations and do not feel offense like a friend would. However, Meilaender notices, the story of the Good Samaritan disregards Aristotle’s observations. The Good Samaritan was a stranger to the man he helped. There were no loyalties of friendship and yet he treats that other man as a friend. The implicit point from this Christian story, says Meilaender, is, “The stranger, just as much as the friend has claim upon us for all the care and consideration on which we can muster and that to fail here would be not only injustice but also a betrayal of common humanity” (16). However, the Good Samaritan is also criticizes because the good Samaritan is unrealistic and maybe even lonely since apparently his time and money was not needed by anyone else.

Augustine is also introduced in this reading. He thinks, “The highest form of friendship, intimated by out particular friendship is, that which joins all who share in the love of God. Thus, particular friendships (philia) are transcended into caritas itself, God’s love that unites those who are his. Yet, caritas itself, though universal in scope, does not lack the intimacy of philia” (17). There is, in a sense, a divine lottery. Because of time, place, or circumstance, we become closer to some than others. However, this is all God’s doing because these closer friends “are merely the school in which we learn what it would be like to love anyone, in which we become more open and ready to receive others” (20). Preferential friendship is extended into a larger context.

Contemporary Christian thinkers have other suggestions. Some criticize Augustine because he begins with earthly, natural love and extends that into a universal scope. They think that it should “build down” from universal love into particular attachments. Johnathon Edwards, by contrast, “cannot regard any bond of love as virtuous which is not a narrowing and specifying of universal and general benevolence” (24). Preferential love runs the danger of being egocentric and exclusive to too few. Jeremy Taylor offers to try to justify particular loves on the basis of universal charity. He thinks that since human beings are finite, that our benevolence towards toward others is finite too. He says, “universal love much be expressed in this way” (26). Infinite friendship must be left to God because he is the only one who can do that. Kierkegaard makes this statement, “It is no mistake because when we are speaking of neighbor love, of “friendship of the world,” it really makes no difference” (28).

It seems that how we Christians experience friendship and the love we are to give to everyone as Christians is different. Can they be reconciled? Meilaender thinks that there are various moral goods in human life and friendship, in whatever form is one of them. Both kinds of friendship are necessary though. There is both a universal and a personal factor when it comes to this because we are humans. We need close friends but we also need to take that view of friendship to the service of all of our neighbors. The dynamic force of love will always hold this tension. He says, “To prefer some to others, but to remain open to those others and refuse to harm them for the sake of those we prefer—this may not be ‘friendship of the world,’ but it can be defended as a legitimate way of incorporating the love of friendship as we actually experience it into a system of Christian belief” (31).

Our temporality is what confuses us. Meilaender, after all this, thinks, “to claim that all must strive to transcend that mark would be mistaken—but equally mistaken would be the claim that none should” (35).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Toward Liberating Conscience

Anne Patrick starts her chapter by introducing Pope John Paul II's encyclical Veritas Splendor by saying that it is important because it highlights the danger of celebrating individual liberty in modern society and shows that true fulfillment comes from expressing one's freedom. She states that the encyclical's purpose is to "inspire moral seriousness and a life of loving discipleship," (170). Going off of these ideas from Veritas Splendor, Patrick introduces McCabe and says that we should take this document as a training manual instead of a rule book. She explains that since everyone is different and has different dispositions, even in moral theology, different moral advice will work for different people, as if the training book were a set of glasses that someone could look through to see clearer, knowing that everyone has different vision strengths and weaknesses.

Then she points out that the idea of moral theology came out of the practice of confession, which has recently been declining among Catholics. In contrast to this, seeking "spiritual direction" has been increasing among Catholics. Because of this, the church has been hesitant to say that pluralism is right for certain debatable moral issues, one of these being sexuality. Because of recent scientific data, Catholic sexual teachings are being questioned by some Catholics.

Patrick then returns to the idea of the rule book and training book. She quotes McCabe again who says that the virtues cannot be fitted into a rule book without reducing them. He wishes that Christian morality could be looked at the way Aristotle and Aquinas looked at it, which is "the movement towards our real selves and towards God guided by the New Law which . . . is no written code but nothing other than the presence in us of the Holy Spirit," (173).

Patrick then returns to the idea of pluralism. She suggests that the spiritual life recognizes diversity in morality, and one way we can see this is by the recent shift from patriarchal to egalitarian-feminist understandings of goodness in recent literature (174). She thinks that spirituality is on the rise because of the appeal to question, search, experiment and discern spirituality without having to be right all the time, as she thinks people feel they have to be with studying doctrines. This is especially appealing to those that feel religious authorities can be overly controlling, (175). Also, she thinks by appreciating historical change, people have more hope for the future when we see how far we have come and that there is a possibility for things to change. Also, she points out that appreciating other religions comes into play here, especially ones which share some of the same ideals. She notes even nonreligious religions, such as secular feminists or peace actiists. This helps those in touch with spirituality to question ideas such as sexuality and patricarchy. Here she quotes Elizabeth Johnson who questions God's role as male: "Is this idea of God not the reflection of patriarchal imagination, which prizes nothing more than unopposed power-over and unquestioned loyalty? Is not the transcendent, omnipotent, impassible symbol of Go the quintessential embodiment of the solitary ruling male ego, above the fray, perfectly happy in himself, filled with power in the face of the obsreperousness of others? (177).

Patrick also thinks that this idea of spirituality holds a different meaning for fulfillment here on earth as opposed to traditional views "when earthly existence was regarded mainly as a testing period preliminary to 'real' fulfillment in the afterlife," (177). Also, she thinks this approach means we can understand grace in more personal terms, for example, as understanding grace to be the "spirit of God."

What these new understandings of God and grace do, in her mind, is to consider matters of justice and egology to be at the heart of discipleship (178). She points out that while there are various ways of understanding spirituality, they all share an appreciation for history. Patrick quotes Roger Haight who writes that in Matthew's gospel, it is how we treat others that matters, not on orthodoxy or regular church attendance. What Patrick is calling for is a balance between an "other-worldly" spirituality and a "this-worldly" spirituality.

What she thinks we should do, then, is renew moral theology to include connections with spirituality and collaboration between experts from both disciplines (180). Here is where Patrick brings in the example of the man on a bus with a shotgun and the two editorials resulting from that incident. Here is where responsibility is questioned. Patrick suggests two types of responsibility: passive and creative. She states that "Creative responsibility looks beyond the predefined role descriptions of the 'good Catholic,' 'the good homemaker,' and the like and sees a myriad of needs and possibilities for action--indeed, a world calling for transformation," (184). She notes here that she believes that both men and women are at a disadvantage when it comes to practicing creative responsibility because of our society, but especially women because of the passive roles they are conditioned to practice because of our culture. Here she quotes sociologist Virginia Sapiro and her findings from 1983. Patrick then quotes Madonna Kolbenschlag's study of fairy tales where women are taught to wait for someone else to "awaken them to existence," (186), instead of taking their spirituality into their own hands.

Then Patrick talks about the "Map of the Moral Life," where she identifies 5 crucial and interrelated elements: God, the moral agent, the context or situation calling for a moral response, the principles and values inflencing that response, and the persons who mediate or interpret for the agent the other factors (188-189). For God, she points out how crucial it is the way we understand God, and how different that can look to different people. The agent is looked at as having a different level of responsibility to situations depending on age, commitments, marital status, and gender. Principles and values include rules or norms and goods. Patrick points out that rules and values can sometimes be in conflict with each other, making this element difficult to grapple. Circumstances and events, can be, as Patrick points out, different "Depending on one's experiences and perspective, the same objective data will have different meanings for different agents," (192). Her last element shapes how we view the other four elements.

Then Patrick talks about "The Rachel Principle," where the biblical Rachel is looked at as everywoman, "mourning every loss from violence and injustice," (196). Here Patrick introduces the idea of solidarity, or challenging us to love our neighbors, which is more than support for a people's cause (196). Here is where we are called to look at those who are oppressed and change the structures that make the people oppressed, and not just agreeing or supporting their cause. Patrick says, "Asking Rachel what she is going through will invite a whole range of activity designed to allow Rachel to know that there is hope for her future," (196). Also, by looking at who Rachel was in the Bible, Patrick wants to point out that even Rachel is product of scandal. Patrick says, ". . . we will do well to remember that for every Rachel we encounter, there is a Leah and a Zilpah and a Bilhah, a less-favored sister and a pair of female slaves," (197).

1. what do you guys think about spirituality vs. doctrine? what are the dangers in each? (especially in spirituality, as Patrick already touched on the dangers of doctrines in the chapter).
2. what do you think about the issue of patriarchy? what about women as being in charicteristically passive roles? is this true?
3. what do you think about the inclusion of other religions in regards to spirituality? what about questions of sexuality? (this really ties in with the first question).
4. what about thinking of the here and now as a fulfillment of our lives instead of the traditional afterlife fulfillment?

Thanks guys! see you tomorrow! hope you had a happy thanksgiving! :)

Mary & Anthropology

  • The first section argues that we need an anthropology that can better reflect humanity, one that can "encompass the difference, multiplicity, non-homogeneity, and creativity of the human-man and woman" (12). Furthermore, this anthropology must address how "the human word becomes divine word" (16).
  • Mary is such an example of "divine word", "a word that becomes 'divine word' for human beings" (17). And, like humanity, the images of Mary are vast, varying from culture to culture (18).
  • The second section begins by talking about 'base communities', which are "true communities", "ecclesial", and "base" (161-2). They are strongly bonded communities, founded on the church, and are constituted with the "poor and humble" (162). This is linked to Mary, who was "totally God's"& "totally the people's" (162).
  • The Magnificat has a dual expression: one of complete acceptance and one of complete denial. Through this song, Mary accepts all of the Lord's servants (poor & humble though they be) and rejects all sin which would separate the Lord from His servants.
  • Through devotion to Mary, we come to sing this song ourselves - we accept the poor, the undesirable, the diseased while rejecting all sin and injustice.
While talking about the need for a revitalized anthropology, Gebara & Bingemer state "we are both product and producers of what we live, know, inherit, believe, and hope" (15). In essence, we are tellers of the story, having been given the story from generations of the past. We are not wholly independent of the story we've been given, but continue the story in our own lives. We are able to do this because we continue to experience God in our lives today.

One of the ways in which we experience God is through the story and through human word made divine. Here, Mary is a central figure. She is "an 'endless' revelation of God" (18). There are many traditions that speak about the Holy Mother, and "they do not have to be mutually exclusive" (18). Just as we value diversity in education and politics, we can come to appreciate the many ways in which Mary exemplifies the Christian life and speaks to different cultures.

This is not to say that we need not be mindful of negative stereotypes that have stemmed from devotion to Mary. Rather, we need to tell the story with our gained perspective and re-claim the strengths of the story. For example, Paul VI claimed that "Mary of Nazareth, 'far from being a passively submissive woman or one with alienating religiosity, was indeed a woman who did not hesitate to say that God is the one who vindicates the poor and the oppressed and who has cast the powerful off their thrones'" (163-4). We can follow this example and place it at the center of our story, rather than stories of being passive and submissive.

In doing so, we can learn to take up her song, the Magnificat - accepting God's will and rejecting sin and all its forces. Devotion to Mary, hence, is a calling to accept God's will and to praise God, despite its many forms.

So, knowing that we are called to accept God's will and reject sin, what are our obligations? If Mary is the Mother of the poor, ought we not also work to protect and serve them? If we have strong obligations, are we called to them in ways besides Mary?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Deus Caritas Est Part II

The complete focus of the church should be one of love. The church should seek the integral good of man. "Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community. Unfortunately, society has become swarmed with concerns of material things. However, in response to this the church must retain its sole responsibility in love. "The social service which they were meant to provide was absolutely concrete, yet at the same time it was also a spiritual service; theirs was a truly spiritual office which carried out an essential responsibility of the church, namely a well-ordered love of neighbor.

"The church can never be exempted from practicing charity as an organized activity of believers, and on the other hand, there will never be a situation where the charity of each individual Christian is unnecessary, because in addition to justice man needs, and will always need, love."

Society cannot live without love. Love plays a vital role in all humane and just societies. Without love, man would not exist, and the state would have to provide everything for humans. "The state would have to provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person--every person--needs: namely, loving personal concern.

Along with the focus of love, the other mission of the church is charity. "The church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the sacraments and the word. The church is built on charitable acts. Charitable acts are part of any Christian tradition. "The church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments, and exercising the ministry of charity. These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable."

"The church is God's family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life. Without in any way detracting from this commandment of universal love, the church also has a specific responsibility: within the ecclesial family no member should suffer through being in need." This validates a good point. It is our mission as Christians to provide a healthy and happy life for all people. These works and concerns for others aren't because Christians are forcing their beliefs on others--these works show our faith themselves. These acts demonstrate the love we have as Christians. "It is the responsibility of the church's charitable organizations to reinforce this awareness in their members, so that by their activity--as well as their words, their silence, their example--they may be credible witnesses to Christ."

The church doesn't want to take over the state, the church's position in this matter is to provide a conscience and a sense for good living for people in politics. "The church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Deus Caritas Est

Pope Benedict XVI begins by discussing the current misuse and overgeneralization of the word ‘love’, which has many different forms and expressions. (As we fall into the first generation to adopt the slang of the internet—i.e., “i luv u 2!”—we ought to be acutely aware of this abuse of the word.) Benedict poses the question, “are all these forms of love basically one, so that love, in its many and varied manifestations, is ultimately a single reality, or are we merely using the same word to designate totally different realities?” (2). In the past, theologians have focused most of their attention in particular on the fundamentals of ‘eros’ and ‘agape’ love. Benedict explores Nietzsche’s criticism that “Christianity poisoned eros love,” and admits that in the past the Church has tended to associate eros love purely with sex and the body. This association proved damaging to our perception of eros, particularly in those periods of history in which the body was viewed in a very negative light.

In truth, the Church, “has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility” (6). Eros love is not merely “sex” or some undisciplined and purely biological expression of love. Rather, Benedict writes, eros “calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing” out beyond ourselves, ascending “in ecstasy” towards God (6). Even if eros initially stems from desire, it eventually grows more concerned with the other and moves out beyond the self into agape love. In a sense, agape love purifies eros love. Thus, agape love and eros love exist in a mutual and inseparable union, and humans cannot achieve the fullness of God’s true love without both. They are forms of love that represent different dimensions of the single reality of God’s love, and to cut off one from the other is to discount the fullness of love.

Benedict goes on to describe the ways in which God, who is love, expresses His love for creation, beginning with God’s relationship with Israel. The fidelity and forgiveness of the relationship exemplifies both God’s eros and agape love for His people. Benedict focuses on Song of Songs in particular as an expression of God’s unity with man, “a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one” (10). He then touches briefly on the connection between eros and marriage, saying that in terms of creation, eros fulfils its deepest purpose when it “directs man towards marriage” (10).

The last few paragraphs of Part I focus on Jesus, who displayed the most radical form of love that Christians can encounter, and His continuous expression of love through the Eucharist. Benedict explains (much more articulately than I!), “The imagery of marriage between God and Israel is now realized in a way previously inconceivable: it had meant standing in God's presence, but now it becomes union with God through sharing in Jesus' self-gift, sharing in his body and blood” (13). Through this sharing in Christ’s body and blood, which is the bodily extension of God’s agape love, we draw nearer not only to God in a mutual giving and receiving of love, but we also draw nearer to our neighbor. Benedict emphasizes the importance of the connection between our love of God and our love of our neighbor. As we mature in the fullness of love for God, we begin to look upon others through the eyes of Christ, and thus to serve and spread God’s love within our community. Indeed, “love grows through love,” and we are called to reunite all the earth with God’s love (18).

NOTE: This is purely a summary, and I didn't go into the many connections between Deus Caritas Est and Theology of the Body, because I trust that we'll do that in class. However, if you'd like to explore more, feel free to check out this link for a glimpse at Christopher West's analysis of the encyclical:
There are also links to all sorts of information on Theology of the Body.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Christopher West Theology of the Body for Beginners

  1. Christianity values the body because humans "can experience the spiritual world - in and through the physical world, in and through their bodies" (3).
  2. Since Jesus is the Word made flesh, God's mystery is revealed to us in Jesus’ human body.
  3. The exchange of sexual love between a husband and a wife to produce a child is the “earthly image” that resembles the "eternal exchange of love" between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  4. Spouses have to give themselves to each other completely in total self-giving love so that they may become one flesh just liked Jesus gave Himself completely in self-giving love to the Church.
  5. In order to love each other like Christ loved us, married couples must express their love as free, total, faithful, and fruitful.

George Weigel, a Catholic theologian, thinks John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” “has barely begun to shape the Church’s theology, preaching, and religious education” and he predicts “it will compel a dramatic development of thinking about virtually every major theme in the Creed” (WH, pp. 336, 343, 853). Why is “Theology of the Body” such an important work and what effect could the Pope’s teaching have on future generations?

By reading John Paul II’s work, individuals can come to understand why the Pope thinks the body is such an important and essential part of theology. Many people think that Christianity often views the body as a bad thing and the spirit as the only holy thing. This is however very far from the truth! “As bodily creatures, this is in a certain sense the only way we can experience the spiritual world – in and through the physical world, in and through our bodies” (3). The physicality of the sacraments allows us to “intimately encounter God through our bodily senses” (4). The Pope says, “The body, in fact, and it alone is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine” (Feb. 20, 1980).

To emphasize the idea that people needed to recognize the importance of the body, the Word was made flesh! “In “the body of Jesus ‘we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see’” (CCC, n. 477). On Christmas, “the mystery of a God took on human” form and Christians should no longer deny the theology of the flesh, the theology of the body (7). Through the life of Jesus “God has made himself known” (7). God did not need to send Jesus into the world, but He did it “out of sheer goodness and generosity. God wanted to create a great multitude of other persons to share in his own eternal, ecstatic exchange of love” (8).

To understand the type of love God wants to share with us, we have to understand the Trinity. The love shared between God the Father and His Son Jesus is the Holy Spirit. “God imprinted in our sexuality the call to participate in a “created version” of his eternal exchange of love” (8). The love shared between a husband and a wife can produce a child. This is therefore an earthly resemblance of the love poured out in the Holy Trinity.

The sexual love exchanged between a married couple is also supposed to reflect the relationship of Christ and the Church. Christ gave “up his body for his Bride (the Church) so that we might become “one flesh” with him” (9). Married couples are supposed to reflect the union of Christ and the Church and “to give themselves up for one another out of reverence for Christ” (81). The love between husbands and wives “must express the same free, total, faithful, fruitful love that Christ expresses” (91).

The Pope believes if people begin to follow this kind of theology, we can move from a “culture of death” to a “culture of life”. The idea of family will begin to flourish once again and cultures will “live the truth of love and life” (14). “The Father of Lies wants us to speak his own language with our bodies”, but God calls us to speak the language of truth and life instead (92).

How do John Paul II's ideas tie into the idea of Hauerwas' church? Does John Paul II embrace Anne Patrick's Liberation Theology or does he completely disregard her ideas?