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The Divinity and Humanity of Christ

“”God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, one in Being with the Father”” – Nicene Creed



Introduction


From the beginning of the Church, the vast majority of Christians have accepted the humanity and divinity of Christ. This is evident from Scripture, the documents of the early Church, and the martyrs. In early times, the Gnostics denied the humanity of Christ and the Arians (hence Arianism; he was excommunicated in 319 A. D.) denied the divinity of Christ. Strangely enough, both the Gnostics and the Arians seem to have been motivated by a distaste for the world (in the physical sense), possibly the philosophical descendant of Platonic ideas. In any case, the Gnostics did not last long and the Arians, allied with Roman emperors after Constantine, enjoyed only fifty years of favor before dying out. Together, the councils of Nicaea (325 A.D.) and Constantinople (381 A.D.) addressed both of these conclusively, and we still refer to the Creed by the name of the council in which the bishops wrote it.


The Scriptures


While it is good to meditate on the dual nature of Christ, the intent is not to convince the reader, but to inform. As the proliferation of Christian denominations attests, proofs of anything from Scripture are impossible for those who have already made up their minds. Nevertheless, those who want relevant Scriptural texts will find them here, in no particular order:



  • The Virginal Conception (Matthew 1, Luke 1) – If Jesus is only a man, what is the necessity of a conception in this manner? Prophets and judges were born under miraculous circumstances, but not like this. Related text on the Incarnation
  • The Lord said to my Lord (Matthew 22:43-35, Mark 12:35-37, Luke 20:41-43) – Jesus offers this quote from David himself as a proof that he is not merely the human descendant of David.
  • Before Abraham came to be, I am (John 8:56-59) – Related to John 6:61-62. Jesus’ hearers would have understood the reference “”I am”” as an allusion to the name of God given to Moses at the burning bush. No wonder they were perplexed and angry.
  • Jesus has the authority to forgive sins (Luke 5:18-25) – As the Pharisees said, only God has the authority to forgive sins. The words of forgiveness are very direct.
  • My Father and your Father (John 20:16-18) – There are too many places to list them all, but Jesus consistently calls God “”my Father,”” not “”our Father.”” The “”Lord’s Prayer”” is for the disciples, not Jesus. The distinction between the two is consistent in the Gospels, and repetition in Scripture indicates an important point.
  • …and worshiped him (John 9:37-39) – Of the many times in Scripture where Jesus is worshiped, this one is special because it was used during the preparation for baptisms in the early Church (this Gospel chapter has been reinstated in the modern preparation of adults in the Catholic Church). Jesus was very clear that God alone could be granted worship, but did not correct those who worshiped him.
  • Through him all things were made… (John 1:1-3) – This was quoted in the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D.
  • …every knee shall bend (Philippians 2:9-11) – Combine this with Romans 14:11 (the same phrase applied to God).
  • There is no other name by which we are saved (Acts 4:12) – How could the death of a mere man bring about salvation for all? Salvation itself witnesses to the divinity of Christ. Yes, through Adam all sinned, but we also choose it. In salvation, we cannot will it on our own, we must accept what is offered. Salvation is greater than sin, and so the savior must be more than a son of Adam.
  • In Revelation, Jesus is called “”King of kings and Lord of lords”” (Rev. 19:16) – Again, this seems far above a mere man. This title can only be applied to God, at least at the end of the world. Granted, there are powerful people now, but their power ends when Christ returns.
  • Ephesians 5:21-33 – St. Paul says marriage gives a sign of the love between Christ and the Church, but the Hebrew scriptures (Hosea for example) only use this for God and Israel, never for Moses and Israel. St. Paul knew this very well, and saw nothing wrong with putting Jesus in the place formerly reserved for God.

The Documents of the Early Church


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The Martyrs


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Our Response


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For another view of the Incarnation (a much older one), go here

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The Bible

What is the Bible?


A collection of stories, poems, wise sayings, doctrine and letters that we regard as the word of God through the abilities of human authors.


– adapted from the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation – Vatican II


What is it used for?


Christians find their lives expressed in the Scriptures. This is especially true in the Psalms and the Gospel accounts of the Passion of Christ. The Bible contains a great deal of wisdom as well and is “”useful for teaching.”” Praying the Scriptures means reading them in a more leisurely way, with a conscious effort to join our reading with what God is trying to tell us. We sometimes may pause in our reading and become lost in a prayer sparked by quiet reading of the text.


What does “”without error”” mean?


As Catholics, we believe that the Scriptures are without error. This does not mean that we take the Bible literally in every case. It means that we can completely rely on the Scriptures to faithfully be God’s Word to us. In other words, the Scriptures will not say something about the nature of God, our relationship to Him or how we should live that is incorrect.


What should we not do with the Bible?



  • The Bible is not a fortune-telling machine. Using Scriptures to predict the future or determine when the end of the world will occur is generally wrong.
  • Taking Scripture verses out of context sometimes distorts their meaning. Scripture is made to be taken as a whole or at least in context

What should we do with the Bible?



  • Read it! St. Augustine said that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of God.
  • When someone gives you a verse to read, always read the verses before it and after it.
  • Read it again! We should be refreshing the memory. We need to be reminded. Speak the truth to one another in psalms, hymns and inspired songs. (cff Ephesians and Colossians)
  • Pick a theme, and try to find it all through Scripture. Try finding all the references to friendship, love, patience, marriage, death, etc…
  • Enjoy it! Pass it along to your children, and tell the stories. Our children’s favorite is Elijah and the Prophets of Baal. The link points to a modern telling.

Can I read the Bible or search it on the web?


www.gospelcom.net/bible/ is very good, and it has translations into many languages.


http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/ is the New American Bible, which includes the books removed during the Reformation. It is the English translation used in the Mass.


Can I ask you a question?


Sure, hundreds of people do. A few of the questions and answers are here. Or you can e-mail us at the address below.

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Testimony: How I Came to Know and Follow Jesus

I was raised for eleven years with practically no formal religion, although Jesus was considered a good man who lived a very long time ago. My parents were divorced when I was about two and it was usually just my mother and me. She had a hard time trying to make a living and care for me so my brother and his wife took me into their home for a summer when I was nine to give my mother a break.



Being introverted and 3,000 miles from home, life was pretty boring with my brother except when he was teaching me chess. I think I irritated my brother and his wife, but they tried to be patient. They had a Bible on a coffee table, and because I liked to read I decided to start from the beginning and work my way through. Over the summer, I read it about three times although I’m sure I skipped some parts like the “”begats.”” Anyway, I went home and didn’t think any more about it…


Because of my neighbors and teachers, I was almost baptized in the Episcopal, Lutheran and Mormon churches. In one of these, I was actually standing in line with a robe of some sort on when my mother asked me if this was what I wanted. I said no, it doesn’t feel right, and my mother said, “”Then you shouldn’t do it. You have to do what you think is right.”” We got in the car and went home.


When I was eleven, I was really afraid of going to the local junior high school. I was picked on a lot and undersized so more of the same was expected there. My mother talked to the local Catholic school principal, a Benedictine nun, and she accepted me into the school. In American Catholic schools, seventh and eighth grades are in a primary school environment. Now that I think of it, only one of the boys there picked on me, and we later became best friends. Anyway, Sister Agnella gave me a “”Baltimore Catechism”” in case I wanted to know more about the Church. I’ve always read anything I could get my hands on so I consumed it very quickly. It seemed to fit with what I had read before. One of my teachers, Mr. Perry, was a Marine. He would tell us stories about the Saints and some of his own faith stories. He taught us African and South American history, which I now know was unusual for the time. His classes were great although he was very strict. One of the families in the parish helped my mother out by picking me up after school and letting me stay with them until she was off work. Much later, I found out that they had been giving us money so I could stay in the school and eat. Did I mention how bad our financial situation was?


Anyway, I decided to become Catholic. I was due to be baptized in November, and about two weeks before that something happened I will never forget; the memory is still clear. Up until this time I would sometimes take money from my mother’s purse. I thought she didn’t know, but of course she did. Given our financial troubles, it was an especially bad thing to do but I really didn’t have much guilt about it. I remember standing in the middle of the living room thinking about where I could find some money for a toy I wanted. As I thought about it, I remembered that my upcoming Baptism would wipe away the sin (of taking the money). I think it was the first time I really saw it as sin and I knew that I could take it and be forgiven at baptism. For the first time in my life, I heard someone say, “”No, that’s not right. If you are going to be baptised, it starts now. You know what is right now, and you will never be able to steal from your mother again.”” I’ve tried to state it as much like it seemed at the time; it wasn’t exactly speaking, and it wasn’t my imagination, either. I know my imagination, and this wasn’t it. Some people will say my conscience was awakened, but it was personal and I remember a kind of thrill at the time, kind of like a piece of music that gives you chills, or like being a child in bed in the morning, sleepy, hearing the voice of an unexpected, beloved relative down the hall. Now, I know this was the call of the Shepherd, and I knew His voice. At the time, the temptation to steal left me. I’d like to say that I was never tempted again, but I was. The Shepherd never spoke to me about it again, but each time I was tempted, I remembered that I belonged to Jesus and that such a sin was not for me anymore. After a short time, the temptations left me and I never again took anything from my mother’s purse.


This would be a great story if I lived a perfectly righteous life after that, but this is real life, and I’m a fool.


I went to a Catholic high school for three years and graduated early because I was anxious to get to a university. Baptism had changed me but there wasn’t much for me to do in the parish so I just sort of rotted. At the university, I tried to get dates but I was hopelessly homely and eventually took a “”social dancing”” class to get close to some women. I dated once, dropped out of school, and went to work in a retail store. Life was dull and miserable. I dated a family friend (who was much younger) for about five years, off and on. She was Catholic, with strong enough convictions about premarital sex for both of us, even during our engagement, thanks be to God. Eventually, we broke up for the last time after a brief bit of counseling with a priest, who tried hard to straighten me out, with no success. At this point, I was entering my twenties and my life was spinning down the toilet faster and faster. I moved out, started drinking heavily and doing drugs, and desperately trolled for women in discos (OK, please stop laughing). The breakup with my fiancée caused me to lose a lot of weight and my way of life was eating away at what remained of my health. Work was worse, and I lost my managing position, which was for the best because of the added strain.


Finally, I was so sick I had to go to a doctor. After assessing my condition, he asked me if I had any religious upbringing. I replied that I was baptised a Catholic, but didn’t follow it. He recommended that I start or else I’d be dead soon. By this time, I had been suicidal for years, anyway, so this was not much of a threat. I knew my life was bad, and my conscience was killing me. It sounds crazy, but I was even afraid of lightning storms, expecting God to zap me for all my sins. That was the lowest point of my life.


During my brief years in Catholic school, I had the chance to go on retreat with my dad twice. Even though he wasn’t Catholic, he went on retreats at a Jesuit house and took me. I don’t know if he did it because my mother nagged him (they were still divorced), hoping it would cure his alcoholism or for my sake. Whatever it was, I went. The men on the retreat mystified me. They were big, in dark suits and ties. The retreats were silent, except for talks by the priest, and occasional conversations among the men. They would sometimes discuss how they would share their faith with people at work, in a very matter-of-fact way. They had no idea how highly I thought of them. I felt that they were some other kind of species, and it absolutely never occurred to me that I would someday be a man. Much later, when my self-imposed suffering was overwhelming, the memory of the retreats came back to me. One of my co-workers had mentioned that his sister was Christian. When I saw him at work, I asked him if his sister knew anything about retreats in the area. As it happened, she worked on them. He called her, and she gave me an application for a retreat, which was called “”Search.”” A lot of weird stuff happened so that I almost didn’t make it to the retreat, which was a whole weekend long. I still don’t know how I made it, but I did. I was a complete wreck emotionally and physically by this time, and I looked it.


When I showed up, everyone treated me like a lost relative. It turned out that it was a Catholic retreat, with both men and women, mostly younger than 21. My partner for the ice-breaker was about 18, and I was 23. I’ll leave out the details, but so many people there seemed alive and joyful that I was fascinated. They had a priest for the weekend, but it was his first time and the poor man had me for his first penitent. Before bedtime, I asked him if he would hear my confession. He assured me that God had already forgiven me and that I should try to concentrate on Jesus during the retreat, and not dwell on my problems. He said to “”get as much as you can out of it.””


I took him at his word and had a great time. Most people working on the retreat and giving talks had joy in their faces that I had never seen before. They spoke of Jesus as their friend and prayer as the intimate conversation of a Christian with God. Jesus became real for me, if you understand. I think I heard the Shepherd’s voice again that weekend. There was a married couple there to give talks and be adult advisors. The husband was Ray, and I spent some time with him. In fact, my co-worker’s sister had told him that I was a mess and really needed the help. By the end of the weekend, I had fallen in love with God, especially through Jesus as I saw him in the people and in the Blessed Sacrament. I remember telling Ray, “”I wish this would never have to end.”” He told me, “”It never has to. You can follow Jesus the rest of your life.””


He spoke the truth. Later, Ray introduced me to the writings of C.S. Lewis. I pulled out my Bible and spent hours every day, at lunch and at home, reading it over and over again. I read every book Ray and other friends in the retreat group recommended. There was a fellowship meeting on Wednesday nights for people that had made the retreats through the years, and we would often go out for a snack afterward. We spent many hours discussing Scripture. Many people in the group were also involved in local non-denominational churches as well, and we debated about whether the Catholic Church was truly Christian, the Sacraments, the priesthood, everything. I was forced to study and research so I could keep up and my faith grew even more. I began to work on the retreats, moving things around, waiting on tables, and once even giving a talk on prayer, Scripture and the Holy Spirit.


That was almost 30 years ago. I married a holy woman and now have six children. We live in peace together, not perfectly, but well. Our marriage has lived up to the promise of abundant life Jesus came to give us. Our earthly needs are met, and we are surrounded by good people who encourage us and love us. My work changed almost overnight, and though my job is very difficult and often trying, the Lord has made it possible for me to thrive in this environment, so that I can even have a kind of joy in the midst of it. My wife says I have grown a lot since we were married, but it’s hard for me to see. I only know that Jesus spoke the truth to me, and He has set me free.


Christianity Catholic Church What the Catholic Church Teaches


 


 

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Tears

I saw a vision of Heaven


but could not hold it


as my eyes became dry


and blinking


I lost it to darkness.


Weeping at the loss


the tears restored my eyes


and the vision


was clearer than before.


It was not to be for long


because an evil splinter


blinded my eye.


I wept at this greater loss


with more tears than before.


The splinter was washed away


and the vision returned


with such beauty


that I died


of love.


 


William E. Rushman, November 1997

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Spiritual Direction

What Should I Look For?


The history of spiritual direction can be traced back to the desert fathers in the first few centuries of the Church. It was natural that new Christians (or established ones in search of a deeper experience of God) would seek wisdom from Christians with more experience, knowledge and sanctity. There are a few points to consider when seeking a spiritual director:



Who Wants to Do It?


A priest we know quoted one of his teachers in the seminary:




      “”If anyone tells you they would like to be your spiritual director, RUN!””


This is excellent advice. There are a lot of people out there want to help you so they can feed their own ego or brag about all the disciples they have. Some of these types even write books and have PhD’s. Don’t be fooled by credentials.


A spiritual director is not a peer. Groupings and fellowships are important and maybe essential, but most of us also could use the guidance (at times) of someone already standing where we want to be. If a person you are considering as a spiritual director does not impress you as the kind of person you wish you could be, they are not the one. It is entirely possible no one you know fits this description. Remember that you don’t have to have one, and that if the Lord does not put the right person in your path, it must not be his will. Of course, if your dominant fault is pride you have little chance of obtaining successful spiritual direction anyway, because it will affect both your choice and your acceptance of direction. See our page on the “”Seven Deadly Sins.””


For Spiritual Directors


What Are the Kinds of Spiritual Direction?


There are two principal models worth considering:



  • Spiritual master – Someone that has attained the kind of life described in 1 Timothy or Titus (in the descriptions of priests or bishops). This requires complete trust in the director. Many people that accept direction under this model end up abused by phonies. The gift of discernment is essential.
  • Spiritual coach – In this model, it is only required that the director be capable of drawing out the spiritual talents of the one being directed. This is often done by asking insightful questions and restating ideas expressed by the one receiving direction. In baseball, the best coaches are not the best players. Similarly, the spiritual coach may guide you to a place that he or she cannot go (in a sense). The spiritual coach knows what can work for others and does not limit their guidance to what has worked for them.

Spiritual directors are not psychics or fortune tellers. If you are referred to a spiritual director that claims to have special information about the “”end times”” or has set a date for the Second Coming, avoid that person and the one that referred you as well. Spiritual directors that receive special/miraculous graces from God do not advertise. They are loath to speak of any of the wonderful private graces they receive. They are suspect if they talk about themselves at all.


Who Should Seek Spiritual Direction?


First of all, if you are having visions, hearing voices or experiencing spiritual phenomena, see your priest or minister right away and be very frank about what is happening. They may refer you to a doctor.


If you have had some success with prayer, and pray often, perhaps it is time. If you are doing better at resisting sin, and in fact feel less tempted than before, maybe it is time. If you realize that your worst sins are pride, envy, gluttony, laziness, etc� it is a great time.


Is it Required?


No. Lots of good Christians never have spiritual directors. If you find someone worth trying, do. If it doesn’t work out, let it go. Always pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit no matter what. The Holy Spirit will guide you with or without a spiritual director if you desire it: this is a promise from Jesus.


I Have More Questions


You can mail us, and we will put some new material here based on the reply. Check “”Higher Ground“” for updates on this subject. You can also look at our Web Site: http://www.rushman.org. There are many links and essays to help you in your growth.


May you grow in the love of God!



Below are notes from a handout on spiritual direction. I’ve lost track of where it came from. If it helps, great. If not, let it go. It’s a little too “”New Age”” in some ways�but has some good points.


Spiritual Direction – What is it?


Definitions



  • Companion . . . On the Way
  • Involves gift with skills to make the gifts operative
  • Goal = the enjoyment of God and oneself
  • Call for reverence. . and Hope for more “”to come””
  • Aids person to be open to calls of Holy Spirit
  • Conversion
  • Summons toward deepening Union with the Lord.
  • Cultural Shift. Creates demand for spiritual direction

Role of the enabler/companion/director/directress



  • Helping relationship in the context of Church
  • Helper as Sacrament
  • Enables person to bring alive potentialities, possibilities
  • Centrality of Religious Experience
  • Helps him/her grow and develop a lived dialog with God.
  • Philip and The Eunuch Acts 8:26 ff

Person as enabler/companion



  • Makes present the story
  • Lives the vision
  • Choose Life
  • /a1ues Gospel priorities …. Person, Presence and Power of Jesus
  • Believes that God speaks through the events of life
  • Believes that person is capable of growth
  • Believes that freedom is a precious possession
  • Believes that decisions must be person’s own choice
  • Works in faith context
  • All is Gift… Must trust in the power of the Spirit
  • Romans 8:26-27
  • l Corinthians 3:5-15

What happens in spiritual direction?



  • Listening
  • Affirmation
  • Confrontation
  • Clarification
  • Teaching
  • Integration
  • Counseling
  • Help through the Desert
  • Discernment
  • Prayer

The process of spiritual direction



  • Faith context
  • First meeting – lay groundwork
    Discuss and discover expectations

  • Getting to know person�s sacred history
  • Spiritual Direction as Interpersonal Relationship, involving trust, empathy, timing, patience, noticing, self-knowledge, non-verbal elements, silence and feelings, etc…

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Dont understand me so fast

Jesus asked his disciples, “”Have you understood all these things?”” It is like a scene in “”The Magnificent Seven”” where Yul Brynner says to his friend, anxious for treasure, “”Don’t understand me so fast.”” The quicker we say we understand, the less likely it is that we do. — William E. Rushman

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social order 1

Young people make the mistake of rebelling against the Gospel because they reject the way it is applied by their parents. Parents make the mistake of treating the Gospel as a social order, mandating the nuclear family, a house and cars, steady job and retirement, and good social standing. Jesus achieved none of these things; is he then a failure? — William E. Rushman

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Soldier for a Wrongful Cause

No soldier is as weary


as the one for a wrongful cause.


Pressed into service


for the enemy


from an early age.


An unwilling collaborator


not resisting enough


to merit rejection.


Worn out from years of


fighting against a friend


and against self.


Without is rebellion;


within is civil war.


It is a fight to the death,


hoping to lose.

William E. Rushman, January 1998

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The Tao of Pope St. Gregory the Great

The Seven Deadly Sins and Wu Wei


Please don’t send corrections for the spelling of “”Tao””. Yes, it could be “”Dao””. There is a certain humour in the controversy.


A rough translation of “”The Tao”” is “”The Way,”” and this philosophy/religion appears to have originated in China between 500 B.C. and 200 A.D. The broad dating is due to disagreements. It is attributed to Lao Tsu. For now, let us not debate the origins and distortions of Taoism. We will look at one aspect, wu wei, and consider Gregory’s list of seven deadly sins (attitudes) from this perspective.

Translations of philosophy from ancient languages to modern often pose a problem. Wu wei can be translated as “”no purpose””, but the complete phrase is “”wu wei and not wu wei.”” Some translate the whole phrase as “”do not act, yet act.”” Huston Smith’s translation: “”Don’t waste energy.”” Some translate it as avoiding purposeful action, others as avoiding unnatural, affected actions.

Dante will be our guide, as we will use his sequence for the Seven Deadly Sins, starting with the least hellish attitudes and working our way toward the worst. Think of it as a conversation between Dante, Gregory and Lao Tsu.

1) Lust – From a Catholic perspective, Lust is the desire for pleasure run amok. Most people, reasonably, think of the drive for sexual pleasure as Lust. Quite literally, sex outside of marriage is useless activity. In marriage, sex can be a useful activity, bringing new life and strengthening the bond between husband and wife. In marriage, the couple has decades to pursue sexual closeness at a leisurely pace, without striving or artifice. Outside marriage, sex is a source of conflict, proof of power or beauty, commodity to be bought or sold, marketing tool or agent of death. The drive for illicit sex fuels a multi-billion dollar sex industry while human beings starve and kill each other. Men go to great lengths for sex, and women spend time and money to be more attractive to these men. What a waste of energy. And those who often succeed in these pointless pursuits find no happiness, just a desire for a different partner or experience.

2) Gluttony – Although it applies to food, let us consider the consumption of anything past the point of usefulness. Clearly, this is wasted energy. People eat more than they need, drive bigger cars than necessary, waste electricity on all manner of useless trinkets and have more shoes than they truly need. All of this while so many starve. Sadly, the world economy might collapse if people only consumed what they must. Not every treat is useless, though. Parties and desserts serve a worthy purpose, but lose their charm when commonplace. Gluttony is like a musical piece played entirely loud, with no soft passages.

3) Wrath/Anger – There is a kind of useful anger, as demonstrated by Christ in the Cleansing of the Temple, but most anger is a waste of energy. Shaking a fist at drivers who displease us, yelling at children for being children, resentment because someone didn’t do as we might have liked, these are all a waste of energy. People say, “”No, it feels better to express it.”” Maybe, or maybe not. Expressed anger causes stress for others and is not calming to the one who expresses it. It would be better to consider the “”Serenity Prayer,”” and accept what we cannot change.

4) Sloth/Laziness – This is a funny one, because some might consider wu wei laziness. But only taking effective action is taking action and far from laziness. And laziness is a kind of action, too. It can be difficult to do nothing, especially when others require our assistance. Children ask their lazy parents for a cup of water. Customers have a question about a product. The boss wants that report. Zeal does not seem wu wei, but it is. Not the foolish “”zeal”” of zealots, idealogues who “”having lost sight of their goal, redouble their efforts,”” but focused and effective action, and no more or less than necessary.

5) Avarice/Greed – Like Gluttony, this is about desiring to possess more than is useful. No matter how much is acquired, it is never enough, and there is no real enjoyment, only the fear of loss. This useless striving can never result in happiness, and is truly a useless activity.

6) Envy – In the first place, we can never have what is possessed by another. Possession is a matter of both what we have and who we are. This is why the same object may bring happiness to one person but grief to another. So to desire what another has is foolish because it will not be the same for us. Riches, fame, or power wielded well by one may destroy another, so wearing out our souls in envy is a waste of effort.

7) Pride – And so we come to the biggest waste of all. In the poem, “”Ozymandias,”” we hear the boasting of a mighty king long since dead. Death is indeed the great equalizer, coming to the great and small, and none avoid it. Ants and corporate giants both die, but for us there is also judgment. All pride is a waste because our view of ourselves matters not at all in the end, when our lives are revealed for all to see. All pretense, all show, all vain posturing is gone, and there is none but the self remaining, naked before its Maker. Far better to live in truth, simply and without spin or image. This is humility, prized by many but understood by few.

This article does not attempt to explain either Taoism or Christianity, but rather provide something to think about. More on Taoism and wu wei can be found through search engines, and more articles like this one abound on this site.

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Ethics – Part 1

Right and Wrong in the Christian Context





Introduction


According to Webster, ethics is “”the science of moral duty.”” He further describes it as “”the science of ideal human character.”” The word in Greek means “”dwelling”” or “”stall,”” as in a safe place to live (our word “”morals”” comes from the Latin word for ethics). The implication is that humans depend on right choices for security. For a Christian, and indeed for many non-Christians, Jesus Christ is the only perfectly ethical person. He is the perfect man, always making right choices, and to believe him to be flawed is to abandon Christianity completely. Upon this fact and foundation, we have a second belief that we are to allow God to transform us into an image of His Son, Jesus. Jesus calls us to follow him, become his disciples and inherit eternal life. If Jesus is the ideal human being, and we are called to imitate him, then we are called to an ethical life.


What is the Basis for Christian Ethics?


Christian ideas of right and wrong originate in revealed truth, i.e. they stem from what God has taught us through Jesus and the prophets and Apostles. This primarily means the Bible for some, although as Catholics we accept as equally true the teachings of the Apostles handed down through the bishops and known as Tradition. For both the Bible and Tradition, we believe we must obey because the teachings come from God, not because they are wise, will ensure a long life or prosperity. Christian ethics may be contrasted with Utilitarianism, whose adherents simply “”do what works.”” Utilitarian ethics allowed the Holocaust, slavery, and totalitarian Communism. Because Christians do not believe humans made themselves or occurred “”naturally,”” we do not believe we are free to do whatever suits us. Because God is the author of life, He also determines the standards of behavior for those members of His creation with free will.


How Does Free Will Fit In? What Is It?


Free will is a gift from God. It means human beings have been given the ability to choose between right and wrong. We do not believe God runs our lives like a puppet show. We are completely free to choose, but are not shielded from the consequences of our actions as they interact with the rest of the humans (also with free will). Some people feel that we do not have free will because God punishes us for the choices he does not happen to like. Christians answer that God determines the standards of behavior because He is God, the Creator. Rather than punish, God simply allows people to choose to reject Him. As there is no happiness apart from God, permanent rejection of God results in permanent unhappiness. Without free will, no opportunity for choices between right and wrong exist. Creatures without free will cannot have ethics because they have no choice.


What Ethical Rules Have Been Revealed?


When the rich young man asked Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life, the response was: “”You know the Commandments�”” When Jesus was pressed further, he offered the chance to follow him as a disciple. Taking these together, following Jesus while keeping the Ten Commandments would seem to be the revealed answer. Jesus also said that loving God and neighbor summed up the Commandments, but our poor understanding of love sends us back to the Ten Commandments and the example and teaching of Jesus as a practical guide. Some traditions hold the Beatitudes as the highest ethics (Matthew 5:1-12). Each of these “”blessed attitudes”” fulfills God’s Law.


Why Can’t We Accept Some Rules and Not Others?


Our own ethics must be built on revealed truth. Over time the Church has spoken out on moral issues. Each teaching of the Church is built on some more basic ethical truth. Each of these truths is built ultimately on the Ten Commandments, which originated with God Himself. God has commanded obedience and trust, and to disobey any commandment is to disobey God in at least two ways. Jesus never said to obey most of God’s Law. He did say that to disregard even the smallest part of God’s Law is to be considered least in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:19).


An Exercise In Ethics


In class, choose a few Church teachings and try to follow them back to the Ten Commandments, the Gospel or the early Church. Use a chalkboard or large paper to draw these in the form of branches in a tree. Try to follow what would happen if one of the more basic truths were removed.


Copyright 1998 William E. Rushman – Permission to copy granted provided this notice is retained.

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