Immaculate Conception

So I decided my next paper will be on the immaculate conception.  Interestingly enough, this is not about the birth of Christ, but rather about the birth of Mary without original sin.  It is doctrine within the Catholic church, per a Papal Bull released by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854, but it was considered accurate theology since the mid-2nd century by quite a large number of people.

While some of the basis of the theory comes from the Apocryphal Gospel of St. James, there are interesting arguments in favor of the sinless nature of Mary (as well as interesting arguments against it) from the time of her conception which offer their roots within the Old Testament.

Arguments in favor:

Mary is full of grace:  past, present and future, having been gifted with the grace at the time of her own conception.

Mary is the “new Eve” having enmity with Satan:  Gen 3:15 says “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall strike at His heel.”  In this verse God addresses Satan. The Seed here is Christ. The Woman is His Mother, that is, Mary. Thus Satan has perfect enmity with Christ and with His Mother. The Catholic Church has interpreted this as indicating the sinlessness of Christ and Mary. If either actually committed sin, then they would not be at enmity with Satan but actually a cooperator with Satan at times.

Mary is the ark of the New Covenant:  In the Old Covenant the Ark of the Covenant contained the Word of God on stone. In the New Covenant, the Word made Flesh was also contained – and that in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. The Catholic Church has therefore understood Mary as the mystical Ark of the New Covenant. This connection is made in the book of Revelation (11:19-12:2) “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child.”  The Ark of the Covenant appears in Heaven and then in the next breath (and next verse) St John describes a pregnant woman appearing in Heaven. This Woman “contains” the Messiah.  The thinking goes that if Mary is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant, then she must be “all holy”. Remember that in the Old Covenant a man was killed for touching the ark. It was holy. If the box that held stone tablets was so restricted – so also would be the woman who actually carried God Himself. And so she is all pure and all holy, without the stain of sin.

Arguments against:

Mary is full of grace; grace is only provided to sinners.

Mary’s spirit rejoices in God her savior; God saved Mary from the sins of arrogance and pride; salvation (rescue) is for sinners.

Mary is considered the ark of the new covenant; as a created being, Mary is subject to corruption and sin, just as the ark was.

Arguments for an argumentative paper:

Here’s where I get stuck.  The two main arguments are either she was conceived without sin, lived a sinless life, and had Christ – which brings up things like the predestination/free will argument; or she was a normal woman, conceived in the normal way, who was chosen by God as the vessel through whom He would be born and have a human nature.  Lots has been written about both points of view – generally Catholic on one side and Protestant on the other, although there are also Islamic arguments for a sinless nature and Orthodox arguments against a sinless nature.  What exactly am I going to be arguing about that hasn’t already been said?


Natural Evil

Okay, I had been leaning this way for a very long time, having even argued with the professor that “natural evil” does not exist.  Things can occur in nature that have bad, sometimes devastating effect on humans, but that doesn’t make them evil.  And finally, just read (which is truly screwing with my paper) an excellent article ( Faro, Ingrid. “The question of evil and animal death before the Fall.” Trinity Journal (September 2015): 193-213) that points out that the cycles of nature (weather patterns, death of animals and plants, earthquakes, tidal waves, etc.) occurred prior to the history of mankind.  And, since God did not create evil but only good, natural evil does not exist.  Entire species of plants and animals existed prior to an ice age – we have evidence of it through paleontology; the continents used to be in different formations.  Just because the “furniture” has been rearranged does not mean there was evil in the cycle.

I truly think that evil must have an actual intent – not that it is part of the cycle of life.  Death happens because we are limited creations – we have a finite existence.  That doesn’t make death bad.  Now we can die of horrible diseases – but does that make the disease evil?  Whatever microbe has caused the disease, or warping of the cancer cells that we are all born with, or failure of our body to fight off the disease – it can have devastating effects on the people suffering, their families and friends, but I still don’t think it’s evil.

Which is why I’ll still use the example of “natural evils” in the paper, because I believe that they still provide an opportunity for mankind to learn, to grow, to utilize overwhelming good to overcome some of these effects.

Nature of Evil

Okay, so some of my best thoughts happen when I’m mowing the lawn, and whilst attempting to come up with a thesis statement for this argumentative paper, my mind took it a completely different direction.  Now I need to figure out the focus so I can actually find some academic support.

So, if St. Augustine was correct, and evil is essentially a corruption or byproduct of good, AND everything God created was good (except that he separated darkness from light – called the light good, but did not call the darkness good – darkness only exists in light (see previous post), so it too is a byproduct of a created good), then we will go with that concept.

So, the Tree of Knowledge – God created knowledge, created good, but included the byproduct of good (evil) as an element of knowledge.  If we add in the Rabbi’s concepts from the previous post, we could have had the knowledge had we waited until it was God’s time to give it to us and we would have been prepared.  However, we didn’t wait, and thus, we had knowledge of what was good and evil, but no real understanding.  Now, all evil serves as a teaching tool for good.

Think about it – natural “evils” – cancer, tsunamis, earthquakes, storms – each of these provide us with an opportunity to learn, to find a cure for cancer, to develop better warning systems and preparedness plans for natural disasters, to build things differently, etc.  If we respond to a natural evil with an overwhelming good, we can eventually eliminate the threat it is to us.  In this way, the concept of treating cancer with chemo is bad, because we’re choosing the “lesser of two evils” rather than finding the overwhelming good path to eliminate it.

Now we get to the interesting concept of sin with evil.  People who choose to do evil, whether it be minor (dishonoring one’s parents) or major (genocide) – both are against the commandments God provided us with.  We have the free will to do so, but we have the ability to educate, to teach that chosen evils will always eventually have consequences that are negative, and to teach that choosing good will provide the ultimate in good – that of eternal life with God.

Sometimes evil is placed in front of you as a temptation, and your task – just like with Christ in the desert – is to turn away from the temptation, to not give in to it.  Perhaps you’re ready for that test; perhaps not.  Sometimes it is placed in front of you because the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. (Quote sometimes attributed to Edmond Burke, but no firm proof exists.)  In that instance, an act of overwhelming good has the potential to overcome the evil.

So evil, while not a duality but rather a byproduct, is used by God within His Divine plan as a tool to teach us to choose good….

Tree of Knowledge/Good and Evil/Bad

My brain is currently on overload, so I’m going to put a bunch of thoughts down (I ran out of hands, so if I say “on the other hand”, just add somebody else’s hands in), to try and figure out where I want to go with things.  The impetus for this is twofold.  This week’s assignment is to write 500 words on “Why does God allow evil in the world?”  The second part is that my first paper will be on the nature of evil.  Those two topics will be intertwined here.

First, we have Augustine’s concept of evil being not evil, but a corruption of good.  (See previous post.)  My initial thought was to disagree with this concept (it’s an argumentative paper).  And then that same day that I decided on a paper topic, in chapel, I heard John 11:1-16.  The important part here was “If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”  This was important for two reasons:  despite my preference for the logic of duality (light/dark, good/bad, beautiful/ugly), these are societal judgments.  Jesus came here without a balance.  And in John 8:12, He said, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

So, now let’s go to light and darkness.  According to physics, darkness cannot exist without light; it is the absence of light.  Light, however, can exist without darkness.  So here’s the first of my fallacies on duality debunked.  Light is a wave, and its brightness is determined by the speed, amplitude, length and frequency of the wave – just like all matter in existence.  Everything is energy.  And while light has a wave, darkness does not.  Therefore, darkness only exists as an absence of light.  Light is an absolute.

The point of all this was that I now had biblical evidence that Augustine’s concept had merit.  Not everything exists as a duality.  Some things can only exist if there is some element of energy to make them so.  Everything God created was pronounced “good” by God in Genesis.  Nothing was pronounced bad.  Therefore, evil can only exist as an absence (or corruption, per Augustine) of good, but cannot exist by itself, as it was not created.

Now we get to the conundrum (why else would I be writing if I could actually figure something out?).  God created and put into the Garden the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (or Good and Bad as Hebrew translates out).  Now, there is supposition that “good and evil” is a phrase that would have fit into society similar to A to Z or soup to nuts – meaning “everything”.  There’s linguistic evidence to support this concept from Egypt at about the same time.  However, rather than creating a tree of the knowledge of good and lack of good, God created the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Part of the reason I’m shying away from “evil” as a term is not because I don’t believe it exists, but rather that so many want to put the concept of a natural “bad” in with the concept of “evil”.  To my way of thinking, evil has to have an intent.  Bad is more in alignment with things happen that have negative consequences, but there wasn’t an evil “intent” involved – think cancer, floods, earthquakes, etc.  Our professor includes these under the concept of “evil”.

So, back to the Tree.  There is an absolutely fascinating article by Tamar Frankiel, the whole thing of which is worth reading, just for mind candy.  The interesting part for this discussion is:

What was the attraction of knowing something other than perfection? Eve saw that the fruit was good-to-eat and beautiful, but so were the other trees’ fruits. The additional element was that this tree suggested the quality of intelligence. Samson Rafael Hirsch observes, in his commentary on Genesis 3, that the animal with “cunning” (as in “kenning,” knowledge) came to point this out, because most animal-knowledge is instinctive, completely programmed into each individual of the species. The snake was trying to convince her that by following her animal programming–good to eat, nice to look at–she would also gain knowledge.

But humans can achieve a higher level of knowledge which does not depend on their animal nature. Eve intuitively was seeking this greater level–intuitively, because seeking a higher level is part of human programming. Intuitively also, humans seek that greater and deeper knowledge through moving into all realms of experience, from deep-sea diving to exploration of outer space. She knew that G‑d had given a command, but what she did not understand–and could not have understood until she followed the command–is the purpose of observing such an external command. Neither she nor Adam knew that discipline of the natural human urges–in this case, to inquire into all realms of experience–would eventually lead to the higher knowledge she sought.

Thus the Midrash tells us that if only Adam and Eve had waited until the Sabbath, they would have been permitted to eat of the Trees of Knowledge and Life, and the purpose of creation would have been complete. This is an astounding concept: lf humans could follow G‑d’s commands on an external basis, for no apparent reason, they would develop a special capacity that would enable them to fulfill their potential for higher knowledge. That capacity was the ability to achieve penimiut (inwardness). With this, all experience would be integrated; without it, knowledge would remain external and fragmentary. With it, they could indeed become like-G‑d. Without it, they would remain knowledge-seeking humans.

The result of this article talks about human knowledge with the three “voices” we have been given for guidance.  First is that of instinct, connecting us to the animal level of our souls.  Second is that of the external voice of God’s commands – i.e., the Bible.  It “guides us in most practical, everyday issues. Second, when we practice listening to this voice by studying and following Torah, we attune ourselves to a higher vibration.”  Third would be the voice of critical thinking:  we are asked to:

“develop a third, more complex and ultimately more mature voice, a voice acquired through learning and imbued with humility. G‑d wants us to develop this voice. The Divine call that Eve felt was to “become like G‑d,” and we are later told, “Be holy as I am holy” [1 Peter 1:16] and “Walk in My ways.” [1 Kings 3:14, etc.]  We are not to become merely mechanical followers of G‑d’s will. We have to learn and learn more deeply, and always be willing to question the state we have achieved.”

All told, this would give a different concept of the Tree of Knowledge.  Not that it gave knowledge of those things that were good and bad, so much as it gave the ability to critically examine everything and know all there was to know about it, and the consequences of it, both short and long term.  We could know the proper decisions and paths to take because it would be clear.

So the question is, can I use this interpretation of the Tree in the Garden as justification for going with Augustine’s concept that Evil does not actually exist except as a corruption of Good?  Or, do I take the Tree as literally the knowledge of Good and Evil and go back to the original premise of duality?

The other thing that occurs to me is that there are absolutes (light), and there are relative judgments (up/down, in/out, difficult/easy), and then there are societal judgments (beauty/ugliness, harmonious/discordant).  Is “good” an absolute?  Or is it a societal judgment?  I think that “bad” has to fall into the societal judgment concept, because we often judge a “natural evil” as being bad for us as humans.

But I think I’ve at least boiled the concept of good down to those two options – absolute or societal judgment (including God in this discussion as “society”, since He’s the one who first pronounced His creation good.).

Creation of the World

As requested by my dear sister, I’m posting my final draft of this week’s assignment here for her critique.  You’ll see, it’s absolutely nothing like I started out with. 🙂

I was asked a question by a seeker this week, “Why aren’t dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible?”. My response was that most of the dinosaurs ceased to exist 65 million years prior to humanity’s entrance in the world, and had no bearing on human history. Why would they be in the Bible, a historicity made for humans?

It is a Christian concept that all that we know of God has been revealed through His Word, or as John puts it: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (6:1) So what we know of evolution begins with God speaking light into existence, through the Word, the first electromagnetic wave (the substance of which determines through wave length and speed, amplitude, and frequency what form something will take) that vibrates in such a way that light exists from that source, and not from an external source. “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” (John 8:12)

We also know, however, that the earth, while without form and void, existed, and the spirit of God moved over the face of the waters. (Gen 1:2) Here is where faith enters – do you believe the uncreated God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, and then Christ (as the Word) created order and life from chaos (Aquinas’ Five Ways; Kalam Argument) (McGrath, 182-185), or do you believe the uncreated universe always existed and accidentally fell together to create order and life from chaos? Either position is one of faith, and is a matter of how one chooses to believe.

Aquinas and Calvin discuss the concept of general revelation, where God reveals Himself through His creation, such that at least some truths about God can be learned by the empirical study of nature, physics, cosmology, etc., but Calvin still values special revelation, the spoken Word through Christ, above natural. What none discuss is that communication is not only spoken, but pictorial, experiential, and observed. Science merely creates methods by which we can understand that non-verbal communication of the Word through creation; it is an unending process of discovery of that which the Word of God created.

As Augustine of Hippo argues, “God brought everything into existence in a single moment of creation. Yet the created order is not static, in that God has endowed it with the capacity to develop.” (McGrath, 218) Evolution is merely the potentiality of God’s creation, and we, as the part of God’s creation created in His image, were given the brains to see if we can understand part of His created world. Each time we find a new design, “discover” a connection we didn’t know about, locate a history before humanity, or acquire another piece of the blueprint of creation, humanity touts its supremacy – while forgetting that God planned it all and reveals it to us in His own time.

The Unpronounceable Name

So recently, I’ve been reading a book by Keith Johnson called His Hallowed Name Revealed Again.  Part of what started this is when attending Christian churches, they insist on attempting to pronounce the Tetragrammaton (the unpronounceable name of God) as either Yahweh or Jehovah.  The first is actually a nonsense word that doesn’t mean anything – the second is actually another name for God, but not with the same root letters of the Tetragrammaton (all Hebrew words have a root of 3 letters).  The Tetragrammaton was never supposed to be pronounced (according to the oral tradition of the Torah, or the Kaballah) because it never included vowels.  That, of course, comes from the rabbinical tradition.

Keith Johnson, on the other hand, learned from a friend of his named Nehemia Gordon, who is a Karaite Jew.  I’d never even heard of that before reading this book, and find their tradition to be slightly odd.  They say that they only go by the written word, basically discounting the oral teachings, but they use writings from a time period when the oral tradition (which included the vowels in the Hebrew writings) was written down – so their sect is only from about 200 B.C., rather than the thousands of years more of the rabbinical sects.  Still that’s over 2000 years of history, so they can’t be completely discounted – would be rather hypocritical, wouldn’t it? <g>

From what I’m understanding (having only read 4 chapters of the book thus far, which is quite interesting, and I’m learning a lot, as well as practicing my Hebrew), the way the Tetragrammaton is pronounced is that they simply say the letters.  O-kay.

Having learned from the rabbinical traditions (orthodox Chabad and slightly odd reform), saying the letters of the Tetragrammaton is fine, but being aware that anything you write it on becomes a piece of holy writing so that you understand just how important the Name is, is part of learning the proper respect, fear and love of the Name of God.  Generally, when a Jew comes across the Tetragrammaton in the writings, they substitute one of the other names of God – most often Hashem (the Name) or Adonai (the Lord – which is how you see it translated in Christian Bibles).

Interestingly, Chapter 4 got to me because of the number of times the Tetragrammaton was written.  (To be fair to reading the book, I am focusing on actually saying the letters in my head when I come across them, rather than going with my normal habit of substituting.)  So I’m attempting to evaluate, is this a learned response from my previous classes?  Or is this a bit more of a visceral response that says, you’re not to invoke that sort of power without really good reason.  I guess it’s kind of like calling “wolf” – if you do it often enough, people stop paying attention.  I don’t want God to not pay attention, but at the same time, I can understand that there are times you would want to invoke the Tetragrammaton to actually indicate importance.

Then of course, comes the question of, is it hubris to think that I have any clue whatsoever what God believes to be important?  That can go one of two ways – is whatever I consider important enough to bring to God important to God?  Or is anything one human needs or wants important in the grand scheme of things?  Are any of us worthy of actually invoking God’s name?

I wish I could post the reply that I got from one of the old Rabbis I used to learn from (Joel Bakst – City of Luz) when I wrote to him about it, but his reply was actually part of a book he’s working on.  It does go into rather a lot of detail on the cosmology of Kaballah, but one portion of it cause the entire thing to make sense to me.  “The rearrangement of the letters Y-H-V-H as H-V-Y-H in order to pronounce it as Havayah also spells out a real word in Hebrew. The literal dictionary definition of havayah means “existence”!”

This, to me, is explained quite clearly when God told what His name was in Exodus 3:14:  “I AM that I AM.”

Still working on the questions. 🙂

Glitter and Ash Wednesday

I’ve now read two blogs about Ash Wednesday.  Ashes and Affirmation in the Light of True Humanity, by Jon Jameson, a classmate of mine, which emphasizes pretty much everything I think about Ash Wednesday.  He’s a very talented author – there’s another entry on there that I recommend people read as well.

The second one is actually disturbing to me, being called “Glitter Ash Wednesday“, and has been created to be supportive of the GLBTQ community.  I guess what disturbs me most is that they seem to miss the point – from dust we were created, and to dust we will descend.  We are all sinners in the sight of God, despite being His beloved, and saved through the passion of Christ.  This isn’t about one group or any special interests or political statements.  To reference my last entry, I’m thinkin’ these people, with the best of intentions, are listening to Dame Folly.

But then I realize that I have just been terribly judgmental.  I guess part of it is that I think people are being led astray from the meaning of Ash Wednesday.  And at the same time, I can see that part of what they’re wanting to emphasize is persecution, which Christ certainly suffered in abundance.  But during His time in the desert, He overcame the temptations of the flesh, and showed us how the spirit can overcome.  It was about mastering Himself, and fulfilling the commandments of God – truly being the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

So as usual, I’m beginning to have as many hands as Shiva.  And I’ll leave this here. 🙂

Cranmer’s Preface and Pope Francis’s Training on Marriage

It’s been forever since I posted here.  I posted the following to the general discussion in my current Church History class, but I doubt anyone will respond.  Figured I’d save it here.

Okay, so this doesn’t actually go with anything we’re posting on, other than the concept that struck me when I read this article on Pope Francis’ training of parish priests regarding marriage preparation.

Cranmer’s Preface to the Bible in 1540 talks about the objections being made by people not wanting to read the Bible in vulgar (vernacular) language.  He points out that it was only about 100 years ago that it was read in the Saxon language, and then switched to Latin (which was also not a language Christ spoke).  Toward the beginning, he says “Neyther can I well tell whether of them I may judge the more offender, him that doeth obstinately refuse so godly and goodly knowledge: or him that so ungodly, and so ungoodly doeth abuse the same.”  I think Tom addressed the Holy Spirit as being a necessary part of determining what was godly and ungodly in one of his posts.

So there were a few things that struck me in the article about the Pope’s training:

In his speech, Francis said priests have a twofold responsibility when it comes to marital ministry: to always bear witness to the beauty of marriage, and to be a consistent support to couples, regardless of their marital status. …

Faced with so many “complex situations” affecting families today, “no one knows better than you and is in contact with the reality of the social fabric in the area,” experiencing firsthand the complexity of various situations they encounter, including valid sacramental marriages; domestic partnerships; civil unions; failed marriages and families and youth, both happy and unhappy. …

He told them to imitate “the style” of the Gospel by meeting with and listening not only to engaged or married couples, but also youth who prefer to cohabitate rather than getting married.

People in these situations “are among the poor and little ones toward whom the Church, in the footsteps of her master and Lord, wants to be a mother who never abandons but who draws near and cares for them,” Francis said.

I can see that there will likely be quite a bit of push-back from both clergy and the Catholic community on these statements, despite this pope’s direction of leaving judging to God and attempting to emulate Christ’s actions to love all your neighbors.

So to go back to our Proverbs 9, how do we recognize Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly?  We may think that we’re listening to the Holy Spirit, but how are we certain that we’re perceiving correctly, rather than potentially following societal changes – which may or may not also be led by the Holy Spirit.

I do realize the two subjects deal with disparate topics, but it essentially boils down to just that:  how do we recognize the work of the Holy Spirit?

Mary Magdalene

So, there’s an interesting contemplation that just occurred to me – as I’m supposed to be doing homework, of course.

John includes Mary as being present at quite a few major events, where the other Gospels either have her with others, or not present at all.  But the last mention of Mary in John is at the tomb.  I mean, he has her going to tell the Apostles that Christ is gone, but he doesn’t mention her again.  He appears to his other followers repeatedly between Easter and Pentecost, but Mary is not mentioned in those appearances.

So then we have the Gospel of Thomas, and the ever controversial Verse (Chapter?) 114:

Simon Peter said to Him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Now, interestingly, there’s a young man who wrote a paper on this very topic, which can be found here.  The whole paper is interesting, but the portion that caught my attention is:

This interpretation of logion 114 is supported by logion 22, in which Jesus says in part, “When you make the two one … when you make the male and the female a single one, such that the male is not male nor the female female…then you shall enter into [the Realm of Heaven].” Likewise he says in logion 75, “There are many standing at the door, but the united/whole/single ones (are) the ones who will go in to the bridal chamber.” Speaking to his mother-in-law Salome in logion 61, Jesus says that of two who share a bed (who are married) one shall live and the other die, implying the crucifixion and also Mary becoming one with him, and adds: “If one is whole, one will be filled with light; however, if one is divided (into separate male and female), one will be filled with darkness”

So, why is there no mention of Mary Magdalene after Christ’s resurrection?  I can’t imagine that she would have left the cause.  It’s a fascinating concept.


Today’s prayer and meditation brought up an interesting correlation – that between the Judges of the Bible and potentially the Báb (Ali Muhammad Shirāzi) and Baha’u’llah (Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí).  The differences would be that the latter two actually brought in new, or possibly updated teachings – not spiritually different, but rather socially advanced.  The Báb actually translates as The Gate, the forerunner to the one who declared himself to be a manifestation of God, Baha’u’llah – which literally is the title of Glory of God.

Judges were provided, appointed, etc. by God when His chosen people were in distress and called out to God to send them a leader.  So what happens when people other than His chosen call out for help?

It was an interesting contemplation. 🙂