Haecceity, the Concrete, and Love

Last week I was reading in Richard Rohr’s Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (2014). Toward the end of the book he is talking about John Duns Scotus and St. Bonaventure. He says this:

‘Scotus is fully an incarnationalist, which is our great Christian trump card. The universal incarnation always shows itself in the specific, the concrete, the particular, and it refuses to be a mere abstraction. No one says this better than Christian Wiman: “If nature abhors a vacuum, Christ abhors a vagueness. If God is love, Christ is love for this one person, this one place, this one time-bound and time ravaged self.”  The doctrine of haecceity is saying that we come to universal meaning deeply and rightly through the concrete, the specific, and the ordinary, and not the other way around, which is the great danger of all the ideologies (overarching and universal explanations) that have plagued our world in the last century….

(In those ideologies) it is then easy to “love humanity, but not any individual people.” We defend principles of justice but would not put ourselves out to live fully just lives ourselves.

….In fact, this is often quoted as the essential difference between Scotus and Thomas Aquinas. For the Franciscan School, before God is the divine Logos (“rational pattern”), God is Eternal Outpouring (“ Love”). The divine pattern is first and itself Love, as opposed to thinking that God can be rationally understood, and that this God then orders us to love. Love is then a mandate instead of the nature of being itself. For Scotus, as for Bonaventure, the Trinity is the absolute beginning point— and ending point too. Outpouring Love is the inherent shape of the universe, and when we love, only then do we fully exist in this universe…. (However, most often in Western theology) truth was equated with knowing instead of loving. Josef Pieper, a Thomist scholar himself, rightly said that “The proper habitat for truth is human relationships.”  Ideas by themselves are never fully “true,” which is Platonism and not incarnate Christianity. At that level, we just keep arguing about words, and this keeps us from love.

….This intense eagerness to love made Francis’ whole life an astonishing victory for the human and divine spirit, and showed how they can work so beautifully together. That eagerness to love is the core and foundation of his spiritual genius. He encountered a love that just kept opening to him, and then passed on the same by “opening and opening and opening” to the increasingly larger world around him.’

Rohr, Richard (2014-07-27). Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (p. 181-183; 191). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.

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“That’s Just A Feel Good Church”

On the way to a foreign embassy yesterday, I enjoyed six hours in the car with my 77 year old dad. Amidst all the family history and updates, we talked about a second cousin of mine.

It’s a sad story, a young man raised in tragic circumstances, removed from his family for years by Children’s Services, finally to be returned traumatized, a recluse, prone to uncontrollable rage, and possessing zero social skills. Nearby is a big non-denominational church who has reached out to this young man’s extended family.

His young uncle, who attends a traditional Pentecostal church that is big on shouting about sin, fire and brimstone, said disparagingly about the big church, “Oh, that’s just a feel-good church.”

And I said to my dad: that’s exactly what my young second-cousin needs. He needs a place where people will come around him, love him, make him feel worth and valued, draw him into community, a place where he will begin to feel the powerful virtue of goodness  – and a church where there are competent counseling professionals who can help this poor kid sort through all the things that have happened to him in life and experience some healing. I said to dad, he needs that A WHOLE LOT MORE than he needs to hear about his sins, God’s wrath, and hell.

I hope this finds you well.

Left Brain/Right Brain, Life, and Spiritual Knowledge

Towards the end of the last blog’s quote of N.T. Wright, Wright says “We cannot use a supposedly objective historical epistemology as the ultimate ground for the truth of Easter…..  not because we don’t believe in evidence and argument, not because we don’t believe in history or science, but because they will have been overtaken by the larger reality from which they borrow, to which they point, and in which they will find a new and larger home.” It’s not hard to see why someone could say he is pulling a cheap end-run, trying to skirt the argument,  encapsulating science within a larger epistemology, like Hinduism encapsulating Christ within its pantheon, arguing for a both-and approach, when everyone with our Western Enlightenment mindset knows the question is really either-or.

However, I think Wright is actually expressing something thoroughly true to human existence. (Richard Rohr also does very good work in this area, among others, see his Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi). There are certainly more ways of “knowing” something than empirical science. I know that I love my wife, I know that I will be deeply content the next time I am surf-fishing, I know what musical transition will sound good, I know when I have done the right thing, I know my children, I know how much pressure to apply to jump the first step of our staircase, I know that that sunset will thrill my daughter. None of these types of knowing are based around empirical scientific evidence. Knowing that you love someone may be the most accessible example in everyday life. Humans know all kinds of things, all day, every day, which have nothing to do with empirical scientific proof. Western Enlightenment has acted like really only empirical evidence matters in the real world of grown-ups, but real life indicates conclusively that that is nonsense.

We have a left brain and a right brain, and I mean it literally, but more than literally as well, to say a person needs both sides of the brain to be alive. The left crunches numbers and facts, the right handles, music, art, beauty, intuition. The left handles science, the right handles spirituality. As the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathon Sacks, has said, science takes things apart to see how they work, religion puts things together to see what they mean. And I would argue that human experience shows, that when we opt for simply one dimension, we lack a balanced, healthy, whole life.

Even within Christian spirituality this is evident. We can’t go on simply reading. We need to sing – it’s literally a different part of our brains. We need to get up and do something as an expression of the imago dei, because sitting and being only cerebral will distort, and sometimes literally kill, us. (Sitting too much is linked in numerous medical studies to early death). We need to interact relationally with other people. We need our imaginations fired, which is not the empirical part of our brains, to receive the benefit of exemplary causation, a much more powerful reality than “role model” and one medieval Christianity understood thoroughly in its attention to the role of the saints. One evidence of this is the number of evangelical protestant – oriented people who struggle so much with a male authority-figure image of God because of bad experiences with their fathers or other male leaders. Well, with our down-grading of Mary’s role in Christian spirituality, we’ve taken away from them a feminine aspect in Christian devotion that earlier generations had access to, and we’ve stuck people with only a get-over-it option, which other generations weren’t trapped in.

All of that to begin to say, though of course we can’t unwind it all in a blog post, that science, though it contributes wonderful things to our life and understanding, is not the only dimension of human knowledge which we need for a full, flourishing human life and civilization. Nor can science prove or dis-prove something like the resurrection of Jesus.