Last Wednesday night I went, as usual, to the USC Catholic Center to attend the course taught by Father Ed, ‘Catholicism 101.’ It is a basic introduction to the theology of the Catholic Church, and in past weeks I had found it to be very interesting and rewarding to sit in on. I have found that there are a great many philosophical principles on which I disagree with the Church- for example, the Church sees the inherent goodness of matter while I see its inherent neutrality, the Church teaches that Man can know objective truth with certainty of mind, I do not believe it is possibility to escape one’s own subjectivity, etc- but it is nonetheless quite refreshing and enlightening both to discuss these grand issues with actual theologians and to attain a higher understanding of what it is that has informed my conscience since as long as I can remember going to Church.
This last week, however, Father Ed was out of town. In his stead was Ethan, a seminarian only a few years older than I, who is presently studying at a seminary up on a mountain in Ventura with hopes to become a priest in about three years, around the time I graduate. Ethan has been sitting in on the classes too, helping Father Ed, but this time was the first time he taught the actual class. As luck would have it, we were just out of midterm season and I presume most of the brains normally in attendance were too exhausted to ponder great metaphysical issues; so I was the only other person in attendance. I being the awkward individual I am, and Ethan having the somewhat odd and mystical demeanor of one inspired by the Spirit, I figured that this would probably be one of the more awkward evenings of the semester, so I held my breath as we went up to one of the conference rooms to discuss Catholic theology.
As it turned out, this was one of the most interesting evenings I’ve had all year. After a brief prayer, Ethan began to lecture on the nature of the Holy Spirit, and as I was the only student in attendance, I felt quite comfortable asking questions liberally. What started as a lecture turned into an impassioned conversation, and his passion to share complemented my thirst to know. I had a meeting I had to get to at eight o’clock so I was only able to stay for one hour, but in that window Ethan explained to me quite clearly the Church’s teachings on three key issues I have never quite understood, and in fact still do not understand. Yet his understanding passed somewhat onto me, and though I am admittedly somewhat agnostic about all these issues, I nonetheless hold a greater respect for the traditions of the Church and a greater awe for God’s majesty now that I understand the metaphysics of the Church a bit more clearly. The three issues we discussed were the Trinity, Marriage, and Communion. I will endeavor to explain what I have learned below, however poorly.
The Holy Trinity
The basic conception of God in most monotheistic faiths is an all-powerful, all-knowing being with his own purposes and his own ways. “High above the ways of Man are the ways of God,” say a thousand different aphorisms and hymns, and in general this explains the humility of most of these monotheistic faiths- as Man cannot know much about God except that he is the prime mover, the first force, the eternal judge, there is not much to do but to accept his existence and worship him. It is a somewhat grave outlook, but nonetheless a majestic one.
In Catholic Christianity, however, (and I am in no way qualified to discuss the teachings of Protestant or Eastern Orthodox Christianity,) there is the odd paradox taught, that God is one Being, yet three distinct and separate Persons. This almost looks like polytheism, when compared to the traditional monotheism of One God who is one Supreme Being and one Person. The Catholic Church teaches that God exists in the three persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
It is tempting to simply revert to a semi-polytheistic view, and suggest that God the Father is the traditional monotheistic all-powerful Being, God the Son (Jesus Christ) is his entirely holy iteration on Earth, and God the Holy Spirit is his mystical delivery boy and courier and messenger.
This, however, pays no homage to the actual subtlety of the teaching. Bear in mind that each of these three persons is said to be ENTIRELY the essence of God, not merely an independent divine entity. There is a much subtler explanation, inspired in part by the metaphysical works of Plato and Plotinus, which is hard to grasp but mind-blowing to understand.
In short, the Church teaches that the Creator of the Universe, God the Father, thought about himself and the subtle truths of reality which he had written, and in so doing begot God the Son, who was entirely an image of God the Father. God the Father did not CREATE God the Son; but God the Son came into existence by God the Father’s pondering himself. And into God the Son, God the Father poured all his love, his devotion, his ESSENCE. And God the Son looked back at God the Father and returned all that love, and devotion, and essence. And thus God the Father and God the Son were bound together in an inseparable cord of love, which might be described as a two-way field of cosmic energy pulsating and flowing throughout all reality. From this field, from this essence, arose God the Holy Spirit, literally the spirit of the love of God. And when this image is visualized, it is somewhat easier to understand why the symbol of the Holy Spirit has always been Wind, or Fire- a flowing, untouchable mass of energy that is there, that can be felt, that can be known, but cannot be understood. (Modern science notwithstanding; it is the symbolism that matters here.)
These three entities- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit- each have their unique roles in the Catholic understanding. The Father created the Universe and wrote its laws. The Holy Spirit is his prime actor, and it is generally understood that Creation is governed by the Holy Spirit’s bidding. These two concepts, the creator and the messenger, are accepted and shared by many religions. Where Christianity is distinct from most other religions is in the existence of God the Son as a Savior. It is the heart of all Christian doctrine, that God saved Mankind through Jesus Christ as Savior. Catholic theology teaches that God the Son came to Earth for two main purposes- first, to teach Men the proper way of living, and second, to die for their sins out of love. (More on that particular principle in the Communion section.) It is a long and convoluted thing to understand- perhaps sometime around Easter I will post a long and sappy essay detailing it- but in essence, by coming to Earth and sacrificing himself for humankind, by allowing himself to die, God redeemed humankind from its sinfulness and showed how much he loved the human beings he had created. Thus the role of God the Son is the primary connection between God and Man- the messenger who teaches Men how they ought to live, and the sacrificial lamb who redeems Mankind’s sinfulness out of love.
Now, it is crucial to remember that, although each of these persons plays a very different role, THEY ARE ALL OF THE SAME ESSENCE- they are all God. And they all must exist with each other, and cannot exist without each other. The image of two radiant balls of light with a steady stream of cosmic energy flowing between them is perhaps the best visual impression I can give of how this might look physically.
I hope I have adequately explained the doctrine of the Trinity, for both my Catholic and Non-Catholic readers. I will proceed to detail the Church’s teachings on two of its most important sacraments, two of its most important institutionalized rituals- Marriage and Communion. It is critical to understand at least at a basic level the principles of the Trinity in order to understand why it portrays Marriage and Communion as it does.
When the Church speaks of Marriage, it does not primarily refer to the civil compact bequeathed by human political entities, though it often seeks to influence this compact. When the Church speaks of Marriage, it primarily refers to Marriage within the Church, in terms of the union between a man, a woman, and God which is taught to be the highest form of love possible on Earth, second only to the love of God.
I want to make it clear that this is not an argument against gay marriage, though it should explain why the Church teaches against gay marriage. I merely wish to explain the teaching of the Church as I understand it.
A man and a woman able to procreate engage in the sexual act and, in so doing, CREATE new life- a child who is theirs. This is important primarily as an analogue for the Holy Trinity- as God the Father and God the Son loving each other create the Holy Spirit, so a man and woman loving each other create a child.
It is important not to misconstrue this analogy, as I have stated it is incredibly imperfect (as everything in our world tends to be.) Jesus and God are not literally having sex, man and woman do not correspond to God and Jesus, and an infant does not correspond to the Holy Spirit. What is important here is the notion of creation through love as the ultimate reality of the Universe, and the ultimate good attainable by Man save loving God alone. It is in essence Man’s connection to the eternal, that act which brings him in contact with his Maker by making him slightly more like him.
Funny and ironic that the Church, so stringent and puritan about sexuality, should view sex as the ultimate form of love! I hope it is obvious, however, why the Church is so prudely and dedicated to strict rules. It views the sexual act as a tool of ultimate love; and when that act is used for different purposes, for self-gratification or otherwise, sex is misused and cheapened, tarnished and disgraced. It is not so much that the Church condemns sex, but that the Church advocates sex in what it views as its proper role.
Note, too, that the Church marries infertile people and supports adoption. It is not entirely idealistic and has its practical moments; but like so many other teachings of the Church, its teaching on Marriage is based on a theological view of how human society ought to be and the tradeoffs between metaphysical purity and sheer practicality which it must use to march forward.
There is another analogue in Marriage and Parenthood, perhaps stronger than the analogue with the Holy Trinity. This is the analogue of the Creator to the Created. We refer to God as the Father because the Church’s teaching of God’s nature most closely resembles the ideal role of a father figure- strong, strict, yet loving and merciful. As a parent raises a child through the child’s helpless years and provides them with those things necessary for them to grow independent and strong, so God protects his Creations and provides them with the opportunities to most closely realize themselves. As a parent loves their child unconditionally, so God loves his Creations. Yet this, too, is an imperfect analogy, for parents are mortal and God is immortal, and parents’ power is limited while God’s has no bounds. The same is true of the wisdom of parents compared to the wisdom of God. Thus the family is sacred in Catholic teaching, for by the relations of Marriage and Parenthood, the fundamental realities of human existence are, however imperfectly, symbolized on Earth.
I hope I have made somewhat clearer the Church’s perspective on the institution of Marriage. I do not intend it to be a political diatribe, but an explanation of theology which can inform both political discussion and those thinking on metaphysical issues, as well as those thinking about Marriage personally.
This last part will cover the greatest sacrament of the Catholic Church, Communion, and its relationship to the mysteries of Catholic lore.
I discussed at short length the mystery of the sacrifice of Christ in the first section above. I will presume that most of my readers are at least nominally familiar with the Passion and the Crucifixion (to have gotten this far without being bored out of your mind implies that you likely have some previous interest in theology) and proceed to detail the significance of Communion in light of the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.
Now Jesus, God the Son on Earth, incarnate as a human, had spent his life on Earth doing good, preaching good, showing through his life and his teachings how Man ought to live in order to attain salvation, etc etc etc. He knew how the events which would end his life as a man would transpire, and when the time came called his followers together at the Last Supper.
When he prepared the bread and wine, he essentially told his disciples that it was his actual flesh and blood- that it was his body that his disciples now ate and drank, his sacrifice that they might be purified. And when the next day he died on the cross, the sacrifice was complete. The best explanation Ethan gave me for this- how can you actually consume Jesus’s body if he’s still alive? How can he be sacrificed if he’s not dead yet? How does he transfer his essence to the bread and wine before the Crucifixion?- was, and it should be noted that profound mysteries never really have satisfying answers, “Because he’s God.
I would ask my readers to pause and consider the implications of this for a moment.
God the Son, a definite part of the Holy Trinity, definitely God, loves Mankind so much that he comes to Earth with the intention of teaching them, suffering for them, and dying for them. He takes upon himself the sinfulness of Mankind, soaking it in like a sponge; and makes himself one with the bread and wine. He has his disciples consume that bread and wine, and dies. In effect, in essence, his disciples consume his flesh and blood, and by so doing are cleansed, are purified, for he died for their sins as a sacrificial lamb. The ritual is formalized and repeated time and time again until it is institutionalized among the various Christian churches serving over a billion people worldwide today.
The oddity and confusion of this ceremony can only be understood in the context of so many other similar rituals in peoples around the world- it is basically sacrificial ritual cannibalism. But it is done out of God’s love for his Creations, to save them from their sinfulness. And that is Christ’s purpose in the Holy Trinity.
I hope I have clarified, to some mean degree, the place of Communion in Catholic theology. It is a very confusing topic and, in truth, as I read over it again, I doubt I have done service either to the Church in explaining it adequately, or to my readership in explaining it coherently. In any case, it is what it is, and hopefully I have sparked some thought and discussion.
This concludes my dialogue on some of the metaphysical and ritual teachings of the Catholic Church. In writing it, I do not expound my own opinion, but my understanding of the opinions of the Church.
Indeed, I disagree with the Church on any number of critical issues. I already noted, in my introduction, my disagreements with the Church on the nature of knowledge and the morality of nature. I also have grave doubts about the conception of the Trinity, the logic of a God who exists outside of history choosing to act within history, the idea of love as the universal force, the teleological conception of a Universe advancing slowly towards a perfect ending, the political, social, and moral stance that there is an ideal society which ought to be striven for, and countless other points.*
Nonetheless, these beliefs, as well as those which I agree with and those I am dispassionate about, have helped to shape my worldview and understanding, as well as those of essentially all Catholics. Thus it is critical that we discuss them and ponder them, that we might know better ourselves and our faith.
I would here invite all Catholics attending USC to come to the Catholicism 101 sessions. They are usually Wednesdays at 7PM at the Catholic Center, and the topics of lecture and discussion are only getting more interesting. Moreover, the course has been woefully under-attended in recent weeks, and profound knowledge is flitting past all those who may show up but do not.
Finally, all those non-Catholics reading this who are interested in theology, would like to understand Catholicism for their own purposes, or are curious about the Church- you, too, are welcome to attend. All are welcome.
*This does not even begin to cover my political quarrels with the Church, both in the realm of practicality in social and social justice issues, and in the ideologies of perpetual world peace, just wars, and win-win solutions.
It has been quite some time since I posted an original piece of writing written specifically for this blog; most of my recent posts have either been reposts from works I find inspirational, or reposts of my own past writings on different forums.
It will be quite some time before I post another such original piece; business and affairs of all sorts now squeeze out those bits of time and sparks of thought by which I usually produce eccentric essays. I have literally dozens of half-finished and unedited pieces saved in my browser, and dozens more thesis sentences on critical ideas which, over the last few months, have blossomed long enough for me to record their overriding concepts. But I have completed only a very few.
Tonight I will content myself with recommending to my readers three articles which I believe are quite revealing and instructive. Their authors, Adam Garfinkle and Walter Russell Mead, are highly intelligent and evenly balanced men whose hearts lie in line with the interests of America. That penetrating minds still exist with patriotic hearts ought to placate each and every doomsayer present in our midst.
Garfinkle, in ‘Broken,’ argues that the present state of the American system is problematic and unsustainable, and must be resolved. This is a common call among the punditry nowadays, but his argument focuses on three main trends.
First are the trends of globalization and automation. The changing nature of the world economy, in its interconnectedness, has undermined the relationship between national business enterprises and governments; and that has placed immense pressure both on national economies and the governments and bureaucracies tending them, all the while producing vast piles of wealth. Thus the “blue model” (see my summary of the next article) has been doomed to be wrought impotent by the advance of the world market, while the markets are doomed to become immeasurably rich. The automation of labor, by undermining traditional labor structures, has served the same purpose.
But the effects do not remain economic. As the political structure of the United States has been intimately connected with its economic structure, has affected it, and has been affected by it, so there are undoubtedly direct political effects. Trends in politics and institutions form the next set.
Whereas previously the American electoral system had invested power in party bosses and national caucuses, by the 70s and 80s, influxes in global wealth made reform more plausible, until a situation was worked out wherein candidates would finance themselves. Thus began the infamous “funneling of money into politics” which so many young idealists rightly declaim today. The resultant emphasis on ideology in elections (I will post about the direct connection between moneyed elections and ideological politics later) has led to the increased degrees of gridlock we have seen over and over again in the last two decades. And we have all seen the tremendous political consequences of that development, and how it has affected our institutions and polluted our democracy.
Finally Garfinkle examines the effects of trends in corruption and plutocracy. In short, the rise of lobbying culture within the Beltway, to the degree that Lobbyists become as powerful as politicians themselves, has paralyzed the regulatory agencies of government by making them effectively beholden to the very corporations and other entities which they are tasked to regulate. Thus monopolies still proliferate, and laws which would seem to punish harshly are enforced loosely. Moreover, there is a good degree of back-patting that enriches many pockets of many different people, as this goes on.
The link to the article is here:
Walter Russell Mead has two essays, the first a broad overview of two trends in American political thought, the second a review of the last century and an exhortation to build a new century.
In ‘Age of Hamilton’ Mead explores the Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian traditions in domestic policy. These should be fairly straightforward to the observer: Hamiltonianism emphasizes government activism in producing wealth and creating a strong society, whereas Jeffersonianism decries the excesses of government and counsels a republic made strong by the weakness of its leaders.
Clearly the American republic has always had a strong Hamiltonian core with various Jeffersonian peripheries. Mead’s Blue Model, the 20th Century way of doing things epitomized by TR’s Square Deal, FDR’s New Deal, and LBJ’s Great Society (basically a powerful government allied with banks and corporations, providing certain social welfare and regulatory measures aimed at a just and stable society) is more or less the norm most Americans are used to. But the rise of Jeffersonianism again, under Reagan, proved itself a worthy adversary, and as the Blue Model continues to sputter, it appears that the prudent thinkers of American must devise a new governmental model for the 21st Century, retaining the critical aspects of Hamiltonian rule while embracing the certain vigor made possible by Jeffersonianism.
The link to the article is here:
The final article, ‘The Once and Future Liberalism,’ is phenomenal. It more or less covers the same points as ‘Age of Hamilton’ but in much clearer detail, and with a review of the 20th Century and an exhortation to build a better 21st Century.
If you read nothing else on this post, you should read ‘The Once and Future Liberalism.’
The link to the article is here:
I have done Mr. Mead and Mr. Garfinkle a disservice- these are terrible summaries of their works. But I hope they pique someone’s curiosity enough to merit that person’s further inquiry; all Americans seeking to be a part of the solution to our present woes love their country with the depth of their heart, and would be wise to educate themselves by wise and designless men’s counsel. They can find that in these articles. I hope to have great conversations with those who read these.
This has been incoming for some time.
Here is another speech-style piece I composed the day after Veterans Day about a year ago, in 2012. The effort I intimated I would spearhead looks, at the moment, as though it may become a reality.“If there ever were a reason for me to be ashamed of the University of Southern California, I found it today- USC and its schools and student organizations did not, to the extent of my knowledge, host a Veterans Day event of any kind; or if they did, they did not announce it to the public or the Student Body.Next year, this must change, and if I have to be the one spearheading the effort, so be it.
Now I grew up believing strongly in God, and I expected that when I delved deeply into science in AP Biology, that that faith would be challenged and fade. But in reality, my belief in God was reaffirmed and strengthened immensely; for I discovered, in the sheer complexity of the biological world, a system of such perfection and continuity- despite its seeming flaws and contradictions- that it seemed to me totally irrational that such a phenomenom could be fashioned wholly by impersonal forces.
The same holds true of America. In the development of my political conscience- As the child of a Naval Officer, as a Boy Scout, as a Boys Stater, as an avid Tom Clancy fan- I was an American patriot, perhaps by some descriptions a Nationalist. I did not delve into the Realist school of political science until much more recently; I did not attempt to actually understand the world and its ways until my ideals were already set. I expected that a more rational understanding of the world would kill the patriot in me. But the reverse occurred. Seeing the course of history, seeing the nature of human societies, I began to appreciate more truly what a miracle America really has been in her past, is in the present, and will be in her future, unless we fail her.
To begin, her position between two oceans, essentially impervious to land invasion, provided her with sufficient natural security to develop a liberal state apparatus.
She was descended from a nation which valued individualistic politics and social decency, trends which she inherited.
Her interior and its vast natural resources were unmolested and nearly unexploited by any foreign sovereign.
Due to the nature of her government, she was only once racked by a serious political division, the lessons of which were learned and provided against.
But perhaps most remarkably, her military establishment never once sought to usurp the sovereignty of the civilian government, a phenomenom nearly unknown in the rest of the world. Perhaps this would not be so remarkable, were it not true that this same military is, at present, the most well-trained and disciplined force extant today, and has been for a large chunk of its history. Not as the Roman Legions, annoyed with political squabbles to the point of marching on the capital; not as the Mercenaries of old, fighting for the highest bidder; not as the mammoth armies across Asia, prodded into battle in line, by whip and spear; but as a blend of Pragmatism and Patriotism unique in this hemisphere- Warriors dedicated to and fighting for the idea that man can govern himself and ought to live freely, yet Warriors keenly trained in the brutal arts of War and ready to bring horror upon those standing in the way of America’s pragmatic national interest.
In history it is a unique position, indeed. No other national force has volunteered so enthusiastically for the dual mission of national defense and protection of ideals. Yet America’s armed forces have stood at the ready throughout their history to do just that.
In the last Century they fought through the horrors of three conventional wars, two undeclared unconventional wars, and dozens of smaller conflicts in between. In this Century they have fought two major unconventional wars and, in twelve years, as many undeclared minor wars as they did in the last hundred.
Unlike most of us, they have seen the ugliest face of human life; and many have told us that the games and movies representing and glorifying it compare in no way at all. They have spent their lives preparing to enter again that face, that hellish state of war, and use its dark power against the enemies of America and the American people. An ugly job, no doubt; yet it must be noted, that oftentimes, these very veterans are some of the most energetic, enthusiastic individuals in our lives, with interests, livelihoods, and passions far removed from the Art of War. They are humans, just like us; but perhaps they understand a little bit more what it means to be human.
One thing, however, cannot be doubted. Our veterans certainly understand more profoundly than we do what it means to be an American. They are the ones who have been putting their lives on the line- not for personal gain, though personal gain they receive; not for philosophical understanding of life, though undoubtedly a philosophical understanding of life they might develop; but in a true sense of duty, for defense of their countrymen, and defense of their country.
Empires throughout history not unlike our own have discovered that war is an unfortunately circular occurrence; but that wars fought away from the homeland preclude wars for the homeland. It is a lie to say that we, as a nation, bear the same load (and virtue) as the warriors who, in effect, set themselves up as shields before the wrath of the world. Their understanding is keener; their deeds more valorous.
This is not to suggest that citizens who are NOT warriors whose talents truly lead them elsewhere are inferior to the members of the Armed Forces, or ought to be in a lower class, or ought to be looked upon with more disrespect; nor that war itself is to be glorified as the maker of men. But those who do make the choice to spend their time in dutiful and dangerous service ought to be afforded a certain degree of honor; for in their sacrifice, they truly are a different breed of men.
As a final note, I here exhort those with the power to shape America and to use means in lieu of war- in particular, those who dedicate their lives to intelligence, diplomacy, finance, and media, and especially our political leaders and aspiring political leaders- to do what they can to strengthen America internally, and preclude wars externally. Though the various means of achieving the latter end are ugly, none are so ugly as the casualty counts and the tears of families. This is an imperfect world, and we must first care for our own.
I am proud of my Dad, the hero who has most shaped me, and of my Uncle and my Grandpa, two other heroes close to me, and of the heroes I have known through Scouting who have mentored me and guided me. I am proud of the heroes of the past, whose deeds have been sung down the ages throughout our countries history; those both living and deceased, but on Veterans Day a particular emphasis is given to those living.
And I look forward to the day when I can be proud of a long list of friends of mine- not for training to serve our country, for I and all who know them are already proud of them for that. No, I look forward to the day when I can be proud of a new generation of veterans, several of whom I have the honor to know personally and call my friend. You guys out there, you know who you are, and you are becoming heroes, and I admire you immensely for it.
Happy Veterans Day to all, God Bless our Vets, and God Bless the USA!”
I, in my vanity, enjoy the opportunity to engage in speechwriting of various sorts, particularly as I self-righteously believe that the present state of American political rhetoric is nothing short of deplorable. I composed this on September 11th this year.
“Let not die in the hearts of Americans that gold wrought by fire, that knowledge that beyond their petty differences of sect and blood they are indeed one people inhabiting one country, professing one code of political faith. In their life thus far as a nation they have truly changed the world. Few times before in the history of humanity has such a rendezvous with destiny been ordained; it is likely that after us another such encounter will be long in-coming.
In the grand alloy of glory and horror, virtue and vice, that is the state of empire, the Americans have had as checkered, ambiguous a past as any other nation- the difference being that the American past inherited and developed the burgeoning world order. Indeed, what nation on this Earth does not contain a faction who speaks the words of Jefferson and Lincoln? Do certain of our ideals not profoundly resonate with the major portion of Mankind? Has the fire of 1776 not truly lit the world?
Any American being fully honest with themselves and to Truth must admit the unique entrepreneurial-missionary-imperial qualities of our nation, and with them the benefits and consequences to all nations, including our own. The more sober among them will realize that, though it might be wise to operate by different tendencies, we cannot- for these passions are part of our political DNA. The best that can be done is to make the best of them.
Therefore let no American forget their heritage, lest they forget who they are, and allow our mantle of leadership to become polluted by ignorance. Let no one forget our utter unity twelve years ago today. Our responsibility to our forefathers, our posterity, and to all human beings at large, is to use wisely our power, and perfect the ideal of liberty; for when we are erased from this Earth, and only our words and walls remain, history will judge us by these twin responsibilities alone, and no others.”
I give my Protestant friends a hard time, sometimes, about excessively quoting the Bible and other similar behaviors, such as setting aside special Bible-study times and possessing favorite Bible verses. In truth, I am just as bad, though for a different set of books.
My Protestant friends usually find their power-verses in the uniquely Christian theology of the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul. I, the dark, comparatively mystical Catholic, instead find solace in the wisdom books of the Old Testament, in particular Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach. The brutal and incessantly salient advice of these passages, combined with their extreme emphasis on a broad portrait of the structure of the Universe and nature of God, strike a thousand more chords in me than do the histories and law codes present in other portions of the Bible.
Now, these books are in the Old Testament, and in them there is indeed praise of the genocidal and misogynistic dictums of older books. I will comment on these in general later; for now it will suffice to say that I have chiefly interpreted such pieces of information as symbolic.
On, then, to the matter at hand- this passage nestled between Chapters 42 and 43 of the Book of Sirach. Jesus Ben Sirach was a Jewish scholar and sage who lived about a century before Christ, who composed much great literature on personal conduct and decency, as well as the nature of wisdom. I find that reading him is similar to reading Confucius. He has dozens of other passages equal to or better than this one, some of which I will probably lump together and post later- they are too juicy to keep to myself.
This particular passage is a harangue on how the greatness of God is hinted at through the works of nature, delivered in a semi-poetic method. John Muir comes to mind. Much of it is rather half-rate, and I cannot say that any particularly astounding conclusions or realizations burst out after reading it- a few delightful and profound aphorisms poke up here and there, but they are not unified- but it is nonetheless a pleasant passage which can inspire a few thoughts. It is certainly a good example of the notion that some things ought to be written in a confusing style and pondered by their readers for ages if they are to be truly understood. Moreover, it presents a charming little exercise for those obsessive enough to have a mind for it- I have many times found myself composing prose of similar style when surrounded by the grandeur of nature, unable to express the wonder bubbling in my breast by any other method.
‘The Works of God in Nature’
‘Now I will recall God’s works;
What I have seen, I will describe.
At God’s word were his works brought into being;
They do his will as he has ordained for them.
As the rising sun is clear to all,
So the glory of the Lord fills all his works;
Yet even God’s holy ones must fail in recounting the wonders of the Lord,
Though God has given these, his hosts, the strength
To stand firm before his glory.
He plumbs the depths and penetrates the heart;
Their innermost being he understands.
The Most High possesses all knowledge,
And sees from of old the things that are to come:
He makes known the past and the future,
And reveals the deepest secrets.
No understanding does he lack;
No single thing escapes him.
Perennial is his almighty wisdom;
He is from all eternity one and the same,
With nothing added, nothing taken away;
No need of a counselor for him!
How beautiful are all his works! Even to the spark and the fleeting vision!
The Universe lives and abides forever;
To meet each need, each creature is preserved.
All of them differ, one from another,
Yet none of them has he made in vain,
For each in turn, as it comes, is good; can one ever see enough of their splendor?
The clear vault of the sky shines forth
like heaven itself, a vision of glory.
The orb of the sun, resplendent at its rising;
what a wonderful work of the Most High!
At noon it seethes the surface of the Earth,
and who can bear its fiery heat?
Like a blazing furnace of solid metal,
it sets the mountains aflame with its rays;
By its fiery darts the land is consumed;
the eyes are dazzled by its light.
Great indeed is the Lord who made it,
at whose orders it urges on its steeds.
The moon, too, that marks the changing times,
governing the seasons, their lasting sign,
By which we know the feast days and fixed dates,
this light-giver which wanes in its course:
As its name says, each month it renews itself;
how wondrous in this change!
The beauty, the glory of the heavens are the stars
that adorn with their sparkling the heights of God,
at whose command they keep their place
and never relax in their vigils.
A weapon against the flood waters stored on high,
lighting up the firmament by its brilliance,
Behold the Rainbow! Then bless its Maker,
for majestic indeed is its splendor;
It spans the heavens with its glory,
this bow bent by the mighty hand of God.
His rebuke marks out the path for the lightning,
and speeds the arrows of his judgment to their goal.
At it the storehouse is opened,
and like vultures the clouds hurry forth.
In his majesty he gives the storm its power
and breaks off the hailstones.
The thunder of his voice makes the Earth writhe;
before his might the mountains quake.
A word from him drives on the south wind,
the angry north wind, the hurricane and the storm.
He sprinkles the snow like fluttering birds;
it comes to settle like swarms of locusts.
Its shining whiteness blinds the eyes,
the mind is baffled by its steady fall.
He scatters frost like so much salt;
it shines like blossoms on the thorn brush.
Cold northern blasts he sends
that turn the ponds to lumps of ice.
He freezes over every body of water,
and clothes each pool with a coat of mail.
When the mountain growth is scorched with heat,
and the flowering plains as though by flames,
The dripping clouds restore them all,
and the scattered dew enriches the parched land.
His is the plan that calms the deep, and plants the islands in the sea.
Those who go down to the sea tell part of its story,
and when we hear them we are thunderstruck;
In it are his creatures, stupendous, amazing,
all kinds of life, and the monsters of the deep.
For him each messenger succeeds,
and at his bidding accomplishes his will.
More than this we need not add;
let the last word be, he is all in all!
Let us praise him the more, since we cannot fathom him,
for greater is he than all his works;
Awful indeed is the Lord’s majesty, and wonderful is his power.
Lift up your voices to glorify the Lord,
though he is still beyond your power to praise;
Extol him with renewed strength,
and weary not, though you cannot reach the end;
For who can see him and describe him?
or who can praise him as he is?
Beyond these, many things lie hid;
only a few of his works have we seen.
It is the Lord who has made all things,
and those who fear him he gives wisdom.’