14 November 2007

Reading List for THEO5317: Post-metaphysical theologies

Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Derrida and their band, "The Categorical Imperatives"

For U.D. students who are thinking about registering for my senior/grad seminar in the Spring 2008 (THEO5317), here's a partial reading list :

J.L. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition

G. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine

J.-L. Marion, God Without Being

J. Milbank, Radical Orthodoxy

M. Wrathall, Religion After Metaphysics

There will be many other articles and book chapters assigned, including work from Caputo, Vattimo, Derrida, Heidegger, and many others. There will also be a few on-line articles to read such as this one.

Please contact me if you have any questions about written assignments or presentations. Leave a comment here or email me: ppowell(at)udallas(dot)edu.

13 November 2007

Nuns, resurrection, metaphysics, and Tom

The Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of Mary the Queen in Elmira, NY have invited me to give a series of lectures this coming weekend. (I will also endeavor to teach them to fry chicken and bake biscuits.)

They are sponsoring several lectures on the Nicene Creed for broader distribution to other OP monasteries.

I am lecturing on ". . .the resurrection of the dead. . ." This is going to be a wonderful trip! Please pray for me and the sisters as we plumb the depths of Mystery this weekend.

Speaking of Mystery. . .I could use the four books on my Wish List that deal with Thomas' metaphysics. Not only to help me get a better grasp for the sake of better grasping but also to be of more use to my students.

I have to beg at least once a week, or Tom will revoke my license.

Fr. Philip, OP

12 November 2007

On not being sinned against

St. Josaphat: Wis 1.1-7 and Luke 17.1-6
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

Aside from the crucifixion itself, there is perhaps no other moment in the gospels that shows our Lord’s ridiculous excess of love for us that this teaching on forgiveness. Only his love for us as he hangs on the cross surpasses the sheer magnitude of excessive love that we must muster in order to follow his teaching on daily forgiveness. If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. Repeat as often as necessary. We know this, of course! Doing it is something else. But if you think mustering the love required to forgive the same offense seven times a day is difficult, let me suggest an even more difficult way: strive to become that sort of person who cannot be sinned against, that sort of person against whom there is no offense. If charity requires that we forgive an offense, it seems only reasonable that the demands of excessive love would also push us toward becoming “inoffensible.” But then again maybe reason has nothing to do with it and what we’re really getting at here is a question about the limits of that good habit of trusting in God’s promises: the limits of faith.

The Apostles say to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” I’m sure Jesus smiles a little at this and probably thinks to himself, “Oh really? Increase your faith? Are you really asking me to expand your capacity for trusting in our Father’s promises? Really, now? Think about this for a moment: the larger your capacity for faith—the more faith I give you—the more faith you will be required to cooperate with. More faith, more work. More faith, more trust! More letting go, more just letting be.” Instead of all that, Jesus tells his apostles this: “If your faith is just the size of a mustard seed, you can uproot the mulberry tree with a word and replant it in the sea. Knowing that, do you really want more faith? Remember what I said about faith and moving mountains? You guys are having trouble with simple stuff like not putting stumbling blocks in front of one another and forgiving one another’s offenses. You want to uproot mulberry trees and replant them in the sea? And move mountains too? Tell ya what! You find a better way to put the faith I’ve given you to good use and then we’ll talk about more faith. Deal?”

Deal! Without becoming too much the cultural theorist/critic here, let me suggest a way of taking the faith we have and sharpening it like a fine-edged sword for forgiveness. Our culture, our American milieu, and we Americans thrive with a kind of Extended Wounded Ego—a sore psyche that pokes out there like a delicate nose, sniffing out offense…like French pigs rooting for truffles! How easily we are offended. How simple it is for us to be sinned against. Our eccentricities, weirdnesses, preferences, odd-ball opinions and fantasies—everything I think is essential to my ME-ness becomes an overripe fruit, too sweet, too tender, so soft and ready to be bruised by the slightest chiding touch, the most subtle word of the kind reprove that I spiral into sputtering indignation and collapse into a weeping heap. Am I exaggerating? Yea, just a little to make a point. And here’s my point: if faith requires you to tell me that I have sinned and then requires me to repent and then requires you to forgive me no matter how many times I sin…how much sharper will your faith become if you willed NOT to be offended, willed not to be sinned against? In other words, your daily work with the trust God has already given you becomes the work of building that sort of spiritual life where the sore, offensible, easily bruised ME-ness of You is emptied out, poured out like a libation (Paul says) and all that emptied space in your heart is made ready for a Larger Christ, a Bigger Jesus! How difficult is that? Very difficult. But also very necessary. Love requires it of us. . .and makes it possible.

Struggle with this: the grasp of your love is limited only by the reach of your trust in God’s promise of mercy to you. How far will His promise reach to grasp you? All the way to the cross…and back.

Pic credit

11 November 2007

We are Christians NOT Platonists

32nd Sunday OT(C): 2 Macc 7.1-2, 9-14; 2 Thess 2.16-3.5; Luke 20.27-38
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Paul
and Church of the Incarnation

We affirm it every week at Mass. We claim to believe it as a fundamental tenet of our faith. Without it everything we hold to be true about Christ, our lives with him now and for eternity makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, this event, and the promise of its eventual repetition for us all, gave the apostles what little courage they had to hang on after Jesus’ death, the steadfastness they needed until the Holy Spirit swept through them like a brushfire and gave birth to the Church! In answer to the Sadducees’ attempt to confound his faith, Jesus teaches them and us a rock bottom basic truth of our ancestors’ faith: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is “not a God of the dead, but a God of the living. . .to Him all are alive!” As the killer of Death, Jesus announces to anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see that the God and Father of all is Himself alive, a living and loving God; and for those for whom He is Lord and King, He is creator and ruler of the living, source and end of all life everlasting. We will say it again this morning/evening, so let me quote it to you now: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

Without knowing it most of you are religious Platonists when it comes to what you believe about your death and your life after death. I am willing to bet that most of you believe that you are your soul; that is, who you are as a person is best described as “my soul.” My soul is who I am. And I bet that most of you believe that when you die your soul is separated from your body and your body goes into the ground and your soul travels to heaven (or to purgatory or hell). Most of you believe that eternal life is a life lived for a really long time as a spiritual entity, some sort of indestructible ghost. Immortality then is the promise of living forever as a spirit, a soul without a body, a ghost without its machine.

This false notion is the root of our sometimes obsessive disdain for the body while we are alive here on earth. Religious Platonists believe we must temper the body in order to exalt the soul. The body is a trap, a cave, an anchor holding the pure spirit down, weighing down our mournful souls who want nothing more than to be free of the flesh and soaring unimpeded back to God who is pure spirit, pure soul. How often do you lament the weaknesses of your body? How often you do attribute your sinfulness to a tempted body, your flesh enticed and conquered by the flashy but ultimately empty promises of passing disobedience? Wouldn’t we all be better Christians, more pure, just better people in general, if we did not have to contend with the appetites of these smelly, disease-prone, slowly dying and decaying bodies?

If you think this Platonism is limited to Christians, think again. Our materialist culture holds to a rather perverse version of this heresy. Being happy is about controlling the body. Diets. Exercise. Plastic surgeries. Props, potions, pills, powders, ointments, lotions, gels, needles, patches—a whole pharmacology of chemical mixtures designed to give us control of the body b/c we believe that absolute control of the body is the key to our happiness. If you think the religious zealot is hateful to the spiritually indifferent or to those who actively reject his belief, just try to talk to a true Gym Bunny or a Gym Jock. Their utter distain for your physical weakness, your lack of motivation, your ill-defined abs and flabby butt, their venomous contempt for your high calorie, high fat diet and your ignorance of proper supplementation—all of these combine in a heart so spiritually pure in its hatred for the body that these Gym Bunnies and Jocks would scare the dungeon masters of the Spanish Inquisition with their zealotry! Make no mistake: their torturous routines on those robotic machines are not about loving the flesh…no, no, the flesh must be denied, tamed, shaped, and beaten into submission. And who or what is it that must conquer these mushy muscles? The will. The wanting. The desire. Yes, yes. It is the soul. Thank God we are Christians and not Religious Platonists!

Jesus is confronted by a party of Jewish philosophers and theologians known as the Sadducees. This group of highly educated men reject the recent developments of Jewish religious thought and argue vehemently against the resurrection of the body after death. Jesus and the Pharisees, appealing more to the common people and accepting recent theological progress, preach and teach the resurrection of the dead. The question posed to Jesus about the woman with multiple marriages is designed to expose the trendy teaching on the resurrection of the dead as scripturally unsound. Think of the question as a sort of “what if” problem. The Sadducees think that Jesus is going to have to answer them in one of two ways: 1) either deny the resurrection and say that the woman is not married to all those men simultaneously or 2) affirm the resurrection and say that she is married to them all at the same time. Either way the Sadducees are proven correct in their rejection of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Jesus, being Jesus and no one’s fool, does the unexpected. He affirms the resurrection and denies that the woman is married to seven men at the same time. How? Death marks the end of this life. The resurrection is the sure sign of new life. Those who are resurrected no longer marry nor do they die. In other words, a marriage is ended at death. Once we are dead and come to see the Lord face-to-face, we no longer need sacraments as external signs of His presence and grace. We are His presence and grace!

So, what is the resurrection of the dead? Or, as the Apostles’ Creed puts it “the resurrection of the body”? If you are not just your soul but your body AND your soul, then for You to share in the divine life, for You to partake of the divine nature in heaven, You must be You, that is, your soul AND your body, whole and entire, the complete person, the completed You. Our God is the God of the living not the dead “because to Him all are alive.” With the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, we too are made worthy to suffer, die, and rise with him. Just as he was given a body glorified and transfigured, so will we. Just as he was lifted into heaven, so will we. Just as Moses called “Lord” and just as Christ cried out “Lord,” so we too shout out “Lord!” Knowing that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Lord of Lord, and King of Kings is the God of the living—those who live always under His dominion!

If any of this is true for us, then we have to think carefully about how we live now. What is the moral theology of living now as dead folks who will live in transfigured glory? In other words, what does it mean for you right now to be a man or woman or child who has died with Christ in baptism, risen again to his eat and drink at his altar, and now live renewed until your natural death to rise again with him body and soul? It means we wait in joyful hope for the coming of the Lord—praying, fasting, believing, daily, hourly; working, sleeping, eating, daily, hourly; dressing, loving, feeding the hungry, daily, hourly; healing, forgiving, listening to the Word; daily, hourly waiting, waiting, waiting on the coming of the Lord; doing daily, hourly what Christ has given us to do as if we were with him now because we ARE with him now. We are with his Body now doing what we the Body of Christ does: offering to our Father thanks and praise for the gift He made of Himself to us. Our God is the God of the living not the dead because for Him we are all, always living, always alive in the Spirit that is life everlasting!