Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Scandal of the Glorious Mysteries

There is, in some sense, an inherent dualism in Christianity and one that has been exploited too much by extremes. Too far in one direction and we find ourselves in the black and white world of the absolutist to far in the other direction and there is a denial that any distinctions are all relative and of no consequence. It occurred to me, as I was praying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, just how scandalous these Mysteries are and how they set up a dichotomy whose dynamics can be exploited by our common enemy, but also, if we are prudent and seek Divine assistance, by ourselves.

  1. The First Glorious Mystery: the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the Dead - the Dichotomy of Reason We are presented with a stumbling block for the non-Christian. The Resurrection pits our empiricism and desire for scientific understanding of the world against our faith in a loving God who not only dies in order to save us, but also to rise again to give us hope. Without the presence of science and the empirical evidence of our own eyes that "people do not simply rise from the dead" we lose the impact of the Resurrection, its significance for the future, and indeed any wonder in a God who can leap between possibilities to make something a reality. Without the scepticism of science, we would actually lose faith in God. Yet, without the presence of Faith, then there is no Christianity and empiricism merely traps us in a world of stories which we cannot believe to be true. Life loses meaning and we find ourselves purposelessly following a morality which now means nothing. Everything becomes permissible, even the grossest violations, because ultimately they shall pass, there is no Eternity for them to be remembered. Without Faith, the Resurrection saves no-one.

  2. The Second Glorious Mystery: The Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven - the Dichotomy of Purity This is the stumbling block to the extreme purist. We are faced with the dichotomy of purity and involvement which reflects the dichotomy of immanence and transcendence. While the Lord walks with us, we have a focus - someone physical who can answer our questions and whose voice we can hear. With an objective physical focus we can strive to live as He wishes, for our focus drives our purity, our single mindedness on Him. The Ascension means that, in order for others to be focused, we must lose the focus. We face the challenge of living and preserving the Faith in a World that is constantly changing. God remains constant; His Word remains constant, but its surroundings do not. We can fight to keep our lives pure, withdraw them, lock them away, prevent the World from ravaging them. However, this betrays a lack of faith in God who will preserve the Faith around us. Without involving ourselves with the world, our own personal purity causes us to wither and die. On the other hand, too much involvement in the world wrests our focus away and we succumb to worldly ideas and philosophies which lead us inexorably away from the Truth by colouring it with relativistic visions and nuances. The new meanings take over and we lose what we once had because we become unaware that our focus is no longer the right focus. The waters have become muddied, our single mindedness has gone and we have been made impure and confused.

  3. The Third Glorious Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Ghost - The Dichotomy of Authority This is the stumbling block to the relativist and anarchist. We are presented with the empowering of the individual with the power of God. This is the reverse of Babel and yet it is in someway another Babel because it scatters as well as unites. The Church becomes a group of unique individuals each with different gifts, and each with different ideas. We are thus presented with the dichotomy of the authority of individual conscience and that of the institution of the Church - differentiation versus integration. Too much individualism and there can be no leadership. It becomes less possible for the individual to trust a spiritual leader in favour of his own individual faith in the Holy Spirit whom he claims to have received. He finds that his "Holy Spirit" suddenly leads him into darksome realms. Too much institution and the Church becomes an impassive monolith intent on insuring absolute uniformity of belief and the eradication of all that is heretical, yet crushing the delicate petals of the revelation of God through the blessed individuals whom He calls to challenge the humanity of the Church and stir it up into continual conversatio morum.

  4. The Fourth Glorious Mystery: The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven - The Dichotomy of Reliability This is the stubling block for the Sceptic. With this being one of the few dogmata made using Papal Infallibility, we are presented with the dichotomy of fallible and infallible. While this is a variation on the above notion of authority, it points us to the problems of just how certain we can be about our faith, upon whom or what to we place our reliance? Upon God, of course, but how does he reveal Himself? Is hearing the pronunciation of a dogma from the lips of God's representative on Earth sufficient? Does it need to be "proved" from the Bible? What does "proving from the Bible" really mean? We are faced with the challenge of the reliability of Heavenly Truths being promulgated by Earthly beings, and Pope, Bible, Catechism and Creed are temporary in their very nature. If there is no reliability, how can our Faith grow? Yet, there seem to be many interpretations of the same sources, and which is reliable?

  5. The Fifth Glorious Mystery: The Coronation of Our Lady in Heaven -the Dichotomy of Humanity. Finally, we have the stumbling block for the communist. A Pentecostal friend of mine nearly decorated the wall opposite with a mouthful of tea when I spoke of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven. The problem here is the scandal of Theosis - the notion of God making Humans divine. Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπισεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν God became Man so that Man could become God. (St Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word liv.) We are faced with a grave dichotomy, we either see ourselves too much as gods and thus demand worship from others, or we see no-one as gods and begin to despise any man who would dare reach out and touch the Creator or who would set himself apart from his fellow men. One smacks of Fascism, the other of Communism, especially a Communism which would rather see God abolished rather than have any man dare to try and separate himself from his humanity. We are tempted to despise our flesh in favour of our souls, or to despise our souls in favour of our flesh, and thus we divide up our very selves into a duelling dualism.

Of course, the fact is that many of these dichotomies are false or immaterial. Our existence is held in this elastic tension so that our lives can be catapulted into the arms of God. There is no dichotomy between Science and Religion. Human beings are both flesh and spirit. God is Three persons and yet only One being. The Church is both Temporal and Eternal. The Bible is indeed the inspired word of God written by human beings.

The challenge of the Rosary is to confront these dichotomies within our very selves, to address where we ourselves are inwardly biased and to appreciate that there are others who share different biases. That doesn't mean that we relinquish the notion of objective Truth and the Tradition of the Church in order to be "ecumenical" but it does mean that we try to love others of different views as much as we can.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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