Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Profusion of Thought, Economy of Belief

       The Earth is a marvelous Work, filled with a thousand holy grandeurs and a million fascinations and I shall never get to the end of it all.  Nor do I want to:  never in all of Reality will there be a Final Word.  The longer I live, the more interesting and informing life becomes, and the boundaries of possibility recede beyond knowledge like a far horizon backdropped with stars.

       Nature, they say, abhors a vacuum, but I am not so sure:  why then was she created with so much of that emptiness which she is said to abhor?

       But Life, I might say, loves to fill empty spaces.  He is always penetrating the bare slopes of mountains with hardy trees and grasses, and covering the nakedness of bare soil and plowed ground with weeds and creeping vines and high canopies he has at hand.  He ventures into the depths of the sea to seed volcanic vents with His strange creations, and thereby plants oases in the very heart of the Abyss.   And if the mathematical philosopher Leibniz is to be believed,  Life may actually infuse Light itself with intention and purpose, bringing direction, significance, and meaning to everywhere that is.

       As a living thing, then, my mind (and yours too, I am sure) tends to be filled with profusions of thought.  May it ever be, world without end, amen.

       But faith, being both more and less than thought, may not seek profusions: it may seek simplicity, even silence, in hope of finding its deeper joys.

       I wonder sometimes if certain Christians, in their attempts to elaborate "The Faith" and codify those elaborations, did more harm than good in transmitting that elaborate faith to their successors, ourselves, and the intervening generations that have joined us to them.  Truth and tradition joined with speculations and assertions:  some were no doubt very good; some perhaps were less so.  And here we are, and here I am.

       I like to be a free thinker; that is, I like to think freely, and to be free to think freely.  And I feel free to believe, and to search out the roots of that belief, and to seek some simplicity.

       I find myself deeply attracted to that very ancient thing, the Apostle's Creed, and the even more ancient Mystery of Godliness, found in St. Paul's Epistle to Timothy.  The Apostle's Creed has traditionally been divided into twelve articles: the Mystery of Godliness contains, by one count, seven.

       I believe, it is enough.  I am refreshed to muse upon what is meant, and what is signified.

The Apostles Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
The holy Catholick Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The Forgiveness of sins;
The Resurrection of the body,
And the Life everlasting.

The Mystery of Godliness

Great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifest in the flesh;
justified in the Spirit,
seen of angels,
preached unto the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
received up into glory.

*       *       *

The Apostles Creed is as given in the Book of Common Prayer.  
The Mystery of Godliness is as given in the King James Version of the Holy Scriptures.

Comments always welcome.


  1. One of the best pieces of writing I've read this year. Well done, Robert.

    I've run into doctrinal walls and bounds in my time. I believe that there are boundaries to orthodoxy, but I have often felt that the profusion of accumulated thoughts and dogmas over the centuries have put a weight upon many Christians that they need not bear.

    Whenever you propose branching out and examining things, you will be accused of undermining the essentials of the faith and careening into the abyss of heresy. So, wanting to keep up appearances and get along, you pipe down and let it go.

    If you're like me, you begin to wonder: if right belief in a long laundry list of doctrines is the key thing, then who has the authority to declare what those are infallibly? That leads in some interesting directions, though I am afraid to report those directions are not altogether healthy, though I respect those who've been there and decided sit under the big tent of Holy Mother Church.

  2. Having said that, I think that examining right belief and right teaching ought to take us back into history to the early Church. The concept of Apostolic Succession is important. If what we are doing bears no significant relation to what Christ and the Apostles were doing, we would be advised to take a listen and be willing to change.

    The Creed of Christ, as the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Apostolic Scriptures testify, is historic. It is connected to real events that happened in history. Which is good for those of us who are interested in history. If Christ be not raised, why bother? We should do something more productive with our time.

    One thing that stands out about the early Christians is the lack of centralized leadership, a Pope, a Magisterium, a Patriarchate, detailed confessions, compulsory tithing, a clerical class and other such authoritarian trinkets. Sure, many would disagree, but I think the historical record is hard to fudge on that point, though it hasn't stopped some from fudging it.

    It was during the period that the Church was least organized that she was the most successful and the most faithful.

  3. There is a movement among Christian young people today called "Young, Restless and Reformed." These folks insist on doctrinal purity, exacting statements of faith, very committed church membership and tithing and adherence to the teaching of Calvin, Luther and other Reformed teachers from the 16th Century.

    Much of what they are doing is good, and there is a sizable church of mostly young people in Louisville that is setting themselves up in such a way. Yet, looking at it, I think these well-intentioned people are asking for far too much. The Reformation giveth Christians freedom of conscience, the Reformation taketh away said freedom as soon as said Reformers nail everything down. The more things change...

    If evangelicals want to have a drop-down, drag-out fight about teaching authority and who's doctrine is right, I have bad news: the Catholics and the Orthodox can clean our clocks in this department. But we need not submit to either of those communions if we read the New Testament carefully. We don't need to fight this battle.

    God is reconciling the whole Earth to Himself through His Son. All who confess the Son have Life. All who follow the Son and conform their deeds to the righteousness of the Son will inherit eternal life. The Incarnation means that humans can touch God and discern Him as they are, with no priestly intermediary and no doctrinal police.

    For freedom hath Christ set us free.

  4. Good words, Uncle Stanley. I especially enjoy that closing paragraph that begins, "God is reconciling the whole Earth to Himself through His Son." The simplicity is perhaps essential to its true orthodoxy.