This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fitfully and Wonderfully Made - Where Theology Intersects Philosophy

It is hard to believe that this is the 4th year already of the Sacramental Present Truths blog, and although I laid out an agenda for it at the end of last year, I want to take a different direction with this first 2014 posting.  This is somewhat involved, and it is largely based on some material I have been gleaning from my coursework at Franciscan University of Steubenville, as I have been exposed to some very good, sound, and theologically orthodox material that has aided in my getting some good fresh perspective.  One of the courses I am taking currently is called "Philosophy of the Human Person," and it is taught by a very astute professor, Dr. John Crosby.  Philosophy has never, honestly, been one of my strongest areas although I do realize it has tremendous importance, as well as also having close proximity to Theology.  This course, however, is thoroughly grounded in a very Judeo-Christian foundation, and thus its value to Christian growth is actually quite substantial.  The focus on what I am about to write will gravitate toward this theme, as it has some significance for our spiritual development as Christians too.

In this course, we use Crosby's own text, entitled The Selfhood of the Human Person (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996).  Although a somewhat involved text to read (on some things, it takes a couple of times to thoroughly digest what he is saying) it is also quite insightful.  Crosby begins the text by stating that there are three primary moral imperatives, and they are as follows:

1.  Persons belong to themselves and not to another (persona est sui iuris)

2.  Persons are whole in themselves and are not mere parts

3.  Persons are ends in themselves and not mere means.

To violate these imperatives, Crosby in so many words argues, constitutes the basis of depersonalization in various ways.  For instance, treating a person as property of another (slavery) depersonalizes the individual in such a way that it violates persona est sui iuris.  Likewise, seeing a person as a mere commodity to be exploited (a mere means) violates the imperative that each person is an end in themselves) - this is a moral ground for opposing such things as prostitution and bad work ethics.  Finally, seeing a person as just a part rather than an entity whole in themselves diminishes the personhood of the individual, thus violating their personhood in varying ways such as racism, abortion, and stereotyping/scapegoating.   From that foundation, then, is defining what personhood is, and in essence Crosby does so by noting that a person can be defined as an individual substance (substantia individua) of rational nature - we'll get to the latter momentarily.  A "substance" in this case is defined as something not dependent on something else.  An Aristotelian term, "rational animal," comes into play here, but as the late Pope John Paul II (as Karol Wojtyla before his papacy began) this reduces human beings (persons) to the level of a mere object, thus robbing said human being of subjectivity (meaning that each individual lives and exists from own center - not to be confused with subjectivism or solipsism, both of which allude the relational aspect of humanity) and thus making human individuals overly cosmological instead of recognizing they are personal as well.  Much more can be said on this, but now I want to move onto a theological dimension as it does relate.

Dr. Kip Laxson, the senior pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL, said something profound recently in a crusade he preached at Lake Gibson Nazarene Church here in Lakeland when he noted that Christian faith is personal but not individual.   What he was saying was this - a Christian has a relationship with Christ that is personal, but it is not some solipsic experience where the individual's relationship is determined to be correct to the exclusion of others.   Crosby too makes similar ideas in his text by talking about communicability vs. incommunicability.   When Crosby defines communicability, he does so by saying that it entails attributes which are common to all - those would be defined as universals.  To put it on a theological level, a church body is made up of a lot of people who maybe share common stories and experiences, which Kenneth Archer calls Central Narrative Convictions (or CNC's), and the CNC's in turn make up the universals which would constitute the "story" of that church body (Kenneth Archer, A Pentecostal Hermeneutic - Spirit, Scripture, and Community {Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2005} pp. 156-161).  These CNC's, therefore, are the communicable traits (universals) of the members of the particular church body.   However, each person's experience also has a lot of incommunicable aspects that are not necessarily shared by others in the group, and thus these incommunicabilities are things that define the individual as persona est sui iuris.  However, again, far from making the person a solipsic entity (meaning that they exist to the exclusion of others), the incommunicable is what foundates human relationships and also nurtures a true love for another individual person.  And, it is here that we begin to see a Biblical basis for incommunicability as the way God made us as individual persons.

Scripture tells us, in Psalm 139:14, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God, to the very point that he even knows the number of hair follicles on our individual scalps (Matthew 10:30).  We are also made in God's image (imago Dei) and he therefore deals with us personally.  This is beautifully illustrated by singing evangelist Jeff Steinberg when he notes that when God talks about us being made in his image, it does not mean we are carbon-copy cookie-cutter cutouts - rather, we are made in the image God sees of us, his vision if you will.  And, as Jeff titled his autobiographic testimony, we are indeed "Masterpieces in Progress."  If we read this in relation to what I talked about regarding Dr. Crosby's material, our incommunicability is to be seen as a gift from God, and just as God as a whole is incommunicable (hence, by his nature there can be no other gods!) we are incommunicable as individuals even while possessing many universal traits by our virtue of being part of the human race.  However, our incommunicability was never meant to separate us from others; rather, our very incommunicability forms the basis of our fellowship with others, whether with our parents, our spouse, our church community, etc.  Recognizing, respecting, and appreciating the unique traits of incommunicability in other persons is what allows us to freely love them and see them as a person too.   This is why so many of the Ten Commandments, and indeed much of Jesus' own teachings, focus on interpersonal relationship - after all, when we recite the Liturgy in our churches on Sunday, does not our priest remind us that "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets." (The Book of Common Prayer, 1928 American Edition {New York: The Church Pension Fund, printed 1945}p. 69).   Indeed, as I have noted in my Ephesians study which is being edited for publication, there are two aspects to the Christian life as to what the Gospel summarizes:

1.  Our relationship to God (personal but not individual)

2. Our relationship to one another (incommunicability loved and appreciated in others)

In short, we as Christians need one another, as we need relationship in order to grow as individuals.  However, that relationship as noted in Romans 12:4-5 has the allegory of a human body, but unlike the literal body the members of the Body of Christ are wholes in themselves, and are members unto one another insofar as each respects the God-given dignity of their fellow members.  That is the mystery of the Church - a Body who is a person in herself, yet made up of wholes and not parts.  Cults fall into their heresies a number of times by diminishing or even outright dismissing a couple of key factors - first, the person of Christ and His place in the Triune Godhead, and secondly in the way personhood is viewed.  Surprisingly, the two are actually interconnected, which warrants a whole ecclesiological study of its own.

More - indeed much more! - could be said on this subject, but as I learn more it requires a more detailed analysis in smaller doses, which from time to time I will share here with you.  However, let us remember that philosophy and ethics are close cousins to theology, and instead of seeing them as antagonistic disciplines as some Fundamentalists view them, we should begin to see how ethics and philosophy can actually affirm the infallible truths of Holy Scripture as well as affirming the historic teachings of the Church Catholic.  God bless until next time.