Friday, October 28, 2011

I, Heretic

Heresy is a dreadful thing.  In general, on this blog, with its mathematical and poetic focus, there is little risk of that;  but, when in doubt, I check with my spiritual advisor, Dr. Massey.  (If you are reading this, it has received his nihil obstat.)
(BTW, neither he nor I is officially a Catholic -- Wheels within wheels.)
Yet there is one point on which, if it ever came to that -- which GOD forbid -- I might (in grief and trembling) defy the Church.   Namely, on the matter of Free Will.  Should she ever (deus avertat) deny that, thus implying that we are but robots, and that Christ coming to redeem us was no more than the Repair Guy coming to fix the Xerox machines -- I would cry,  Thou, heretic !  to the whole church.

Which raises the matter of Predestinarianism -- a part of Calvinism, and hence of Presbyterianism, and hence of the confession which I joined when I was baptised, and from which I have never officially withdrawn.
The matter was moot, in practice, since On Any Sunday, at Nassau Pres, in Princeton, the matter never ever came up.   In fact, actual contentious points of theology were almost never mentioned, despite the relatively detailed and well-delivered sermons.  Which is odd, come to think of it, for a church  but a stone’s throw from the Princeton Theological Seminary.

Now:   Logically, philosophically, Predestinarianism does by no means contradict the thesis of the existence of Free Will.  Neither does the Satanic scenario of Brains in a Vat contradict the existence of Free Will.   In both cases, you have it -- it just doesn’t do you any good.  Faith, shmaith;  charity, shmarity -- You doomed, ‘bo, just ‘cos We felt like it ! !

Wondering -- actually mostly about how to spell the thing, whether the word even exists or whether you have to say predestination both for the (alleged) fact of the thing  and for the doctrine,  I googled the word, and found this, from, as it turns out, the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Predestinarianism is a heresy not unfrequently met with in the course of the centuries, which reduces the eternal salvation of the elect, as well as the eternal damnation of the reprobate, to one cause alone, namely to the sovereign will of God, and thereby excludes the free co-operation of man as a secondary factor in bringing about a happy or unhappy future in the life to come.

Y-y-y-y-YES !!!! 

~     ~     ~

Why the dramatic subject-line?  -- On the model of:  He who hath committed adultery in his heart, hath already sinned.  Well:   Might I die before it ever came to that, but on this one issue of Free Will, I stand ready to bid defiance to any who deny it, though they be mitred.
Fortunately, the only ones I’ve had to break a lance with  on this issue, are drooling one-eyed God-denying hunchbacks, scuttling like dry scorpions around the neuroscience lab.

[Note:  The subject-line is modeled on the title of Isaac Asimov’s classic sci-fi novel, I, Robot.  Quite a brilliant title, if you think about it.   We could well more imagine robots -- or animals -- attaining consciousness, than admit that Satanic thesis,  that the offspring of Adam are no more than robots.]

~     ~     ~

I ran this past the learnèd Doctor, and he replied:

A fine treatise. But you do realize that the Catholic Tradition, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic, can never  and will never  waver  on the defense of Free Will. You will rest peacefully in your grave five hundred years from now, your soul in sweet Communion with the Savior,  while the sixth Chinese Pope issues yet another Encyclical stating pretty much what this post asserts.

My soul is at rest;  my heart is at ease.  The grave holds no terrors, for folk of the faith.

~     ~     ~

[Update, 26 II 2012]   Dr. Massey’s comment is absolutely valid and solid.  I had not realized until recently, just how fiercely militant  is the Historical Church  in upholding Free Will:   not merely as existing -- a plain and pallid, commonsense thesis, which I have spent ink defending, simply because it is currently under academic attack --  but as… central to our very being… certain beyond the existence of coffee-cups … and mystically crucial to the whole panorama of the cosmic arc.
Contrast the humdrum received account, whereby the Church is merely trying to get us to behave.   (Whereas our greatgreat-grandsires, e’en Eve and Adam,  in exercise of God’s own freely-granted gift of freedom, so grandly  misbehaved, that by comparison, our present peccadillos  are on the order of failing to wash the dishes or take the garbage out.)

Compare this passage, written by a Jesuit, and which I stumbled upon  just a moment ago:

The felix culpa  does imply that the Incarnation … is the surprising, almost shocking, response of God  to our freedom.
-- James Schall, S.J., The Order of Things (2007), p. 193

This, merely by way of noting, that Christianity, preserved in its full richness by the Historical Church, is simply … astonishing.

That fact I first learned  from that rollicking rotund teacher, G.K. Chesterton, several decades ago;  and yet this strange religion still continues to astonish.  That the Church could describe the Incarnation as…. “shocking”.  Well of course  she is right -- but how dare they say it? --   And that  felix culpa … look up the phrase, Wikipedia is perfectly sound on this.  (Again, Chesterton, with his keen appreciation for paradox.)

The Dementors -- known in our day as “neuroscientists” -- strive to deny Free Will, against all evidence of reason and the senses.  And we, beleaguered, logicians, defend it, in terms of finger-twitches, or immobile-and-merely-willed finger-twitches (brains-in-a-vat, we yet can yearn).  But the Holy Mother Church  portrays the same as

 ~ ~  PEGASUS  ~ ~

soaring, unbound ….

[I have attempted to portray the wild mad wonderful superbly soaring Pegasus-nature of Christian doctrine  here. ]

No comments:

Post a Comment