FAITH HOPE LOVE

“Love is patient, love is kind…It does not seek its own interests, it…rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. If there are prophesies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing…So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor. 13: 4 – 13)

This excerpt from the writings of St. Paul is among the best known passages from Scripture. Who has not heard it at a wedding, perhaps even at one’s own? But what does it really mean?

When we think of faith, we think of belief in the existence of a benevolent God; and often that is the case. But if we reduce faith to belief in God, we are putting the cart way before the horse.

First and foremost, faith is the belief that there are objective, transcendent values operating in our world: beauty, truth, justice, et al. – virtues that roll up into our concept of ‘Good’.  Faith is the belief that these values are universally normative.

Second, faith is the belief that all the actual entities that compose our world exhibit these values, albeit in widely varying ways and to vastly different degrees.

Third, faith is more than mere belief. To have faith is not just to give passive intellectual assent to propositions but rather to actually live our lives as though these propositions were true. Faith then provides the measures by which we may, nay must, judge our own lives.

Faith is not contrary to doubt. We will always question our beliefs. After all, we are only human. But from “the crucible of doubt” (Dostoevsky), we constantly recover and reaffirm our core beliefs.

Faith does put us at odds with a host of modern thinkers – existentialists like Nietzsche, Camus and Sartre; positivists like Ayer and Wittgenstein. These thinkers directly challenge the core proposition itself. They deny the possibility of objective, transcendent values. What you see is what you get. Whatever is is entirely contained in the actual entities and events that make up our world; there is nothing beyond.

To whatever extent we wish to live our lives according to values, we must invent those values for ourselves. There are no guideposts. There is nothing in the world that permits us to judge that world or anything in it. Dostoevsky and Sartre tell us, “Everything is permitted.”

Faith stares into the abyss of radical skepticism and moral relativism…and finds objective truth.

Hope confronts an even more terrible abyss – the abyss of nothingness. We are born, we live our lives, we have experiences, we acquire knowledge, we make decisions, and then we die. Everything is wiped out, as if with a giant cosmic eraser. It is as if we had never been born. Whatever meaning we thought our lives might have had is wiped away in the process.

We live in Shakespeare’s Tempest:

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air; and—like the baseless fabric of this vision— the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, and like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Marxists and others find hope in the idea that our lives contribute to the up-building of social structures, to the welfare of future generations, to ‘progress’ generally. Well and good, but science has now shown us that all social structures, every human generation, even the cosmos itself will one day pass away. So this sort of collective hope is ultimately just a ‘bad faith’ attempt to find solace in a stay of execution.

Still others are content with saying that we create our own meaning. But what does that mean? ‘To mean’, by definition, is to refer to something outside, something beyond. But if there is nothing outside, nothing beyond this “mortal coil”, then our so-called ‘meaning’ can be nothing but make-believe.

Real hope accepts the truth of personal and cosmic mortality but does not despair. Hope resides in the conviction that there is something about this world that does not pass way. Hope asserts that there is an a-temporal (eternal) dimension to being.

Finally, we come to the ‘greatest’ of these virtues: love. Love stares into the most terrible abyss of all, the abyss of isolation. What if there is just me…and none beside me? What if I am the whole world…or utterly alone in it? Hell is not relativism or nothingness; hell is ultimate metaphysical loneliness.

Love stares into the abyss of isolation…and finds ‘the other’. The virtue of love affirms that there is at least one being other than me who is independent of me and who enjoys the same ontological status as me. Love solves philosophy’s “other minds problem”. Who in love doubts the reality of his lover?

But loves comes with a terrible price tag. If I love, I must love my neighbor as myself. Not like myself, as myself! I have no ontological priority over the other. I should even be prepared to lay down my life for another.

Love is the greatest of these virtues because it puts faith and hope into action. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14: 15) Love enjoins us to act out the values that faith affirms. If we love another, we must behave toward that other in accordance with those values. Likewise, the eternity that we discover in hope enjoins us to care for others with a full realization that what we do today, we do forever.

In Greek mythology, Cerebos, a three headed dog, guards the gates of hell (Hades). For me, those ‘heads’ symbolize the ultimate unholy trinity: skepticism, nihilism, solipsism.

Faith, hope and love are called the three ‘theological virtues’; yet so far we have made no mention of God. How come?

In theory at least, one can believe in objective values without believing in God; one can believe that Being has an eternal dimension without believing in God; and one can love and be loved without believing in God.

In theory! Practice makes this a bit more difficult. We said earlier that every actual entity in our world exhibits the objective values in some way and to some degree. According to British philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, our world consists solely of ‘actual entities’, including the qualities (values) they display and the relations (‘prehensions’) that connect them.

For Whitehead, the universal objective values precede the actual world (and every possible actual world). However, these values cannot enter into an actual world and be operative there unless they constitute the essence of an actual entity. Of course, an entity whose essence consists of all the objective, transcendent values (‘eternal objects’) is what we call “God”.

Therefore, for Whitehead, God is a necessary term in his system. However, one could reject his axiom that values can only enter an actual world through an actual entity. That would require a different model but it’s not unthinkable.

Likewise, the a-temporal, eternal dimension of life, where we find the meaning of our lives, amounts to nothing more than an infinite present. According to the standard model of time, the present is at most an infinitesimal point. Actual entities exist only in the present and their ‘presents’ have real duration; they transcend the timeline and disprove the standard model.

Interestingly, no one is more closely associated with the standard model of time than Sir Isaac Newton. Few realize, however, that he fully realized the absurdity of this model. He invoked God to bridge the gap between theory and actual experience:

“He is Eternal and Infinite, Omnipotent and Omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from Eternity to Eternity; his presence from Infinity to Infinity… He is not Eternity and Infinity, but Eternal and Infinite; he is not Duration and Space, but he endures and is present. He endures forever, and is everywhere present; and, by existing always and everywhere, he constitutes Duration and Space.”

Likewise, according to Whitehead, an infinite present can only ‘be a thing’ if there is an actual entity for which all other actual entities are present. This, of course, is what we call “God”.

However, once again, one could attempt an alternate formulation.

Finally, when we love, we discover the ‘other’ in our fellow human beings. Every human being is different but the other we discover in each one is always the same per se. In fact, it is a reflection of our self but NOT in the sense of Narcissus’ superficial reflection in the lake. What we see in others is a reflection of our ontological core. Love confirms for us that the other we see in our fellows is just as real as we are and totally independent of us.

What is the origin of the ‘other’? Judeo-Christian theology gives us a ready made explanation. There is an archetypical Other whose image and likeness is found in every human being (and perhaps elsewhere) and that archetypical other is what we call “God”.

Now at last we can understand the deep meaning of the Great Commandment:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matt. 22: 35 – 40)

“Like unto it…” Exactly!

Once again, however, there may be other ways to account for the phenomena of the other and of love that do not include God.

Whitehead notwithstanding, faith, hope and love do not prove that God is real. However, they do stand a popular philosophical argument on its head. Theists are often accused of violating Occam’s Razor: “You insist on adding supernatural beings and processes when perfectly natural ones will suffice.”

In the context of God, faith, hope and love can be fully explained on a single piece of paper. Without God, we’re probably talking volumes. And when we do get there, having created a system that accounts for faith, hope and love without invoking God, will someone look at it and say, “But isn’t that exactly what we mean by God?”

So faith, hope and love do not begin with a belief in God but they may lead to it. If so, they are how we experience God in the world. God is essentially Good and the objective values are how Good manifests in our world. God is the eternal present and therefore the source of all meaning. To the extent that we experience the present and feel our lives have meaning, we experience God. And God is the archetypical other. When we encounter the other in fellow human beings, we encounter the image and likeness of God; and when we love the other in fellow human beings, we encounter God. For God is love!

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ANAMNESIS

“Anamnesis”; it’s a mouthful…but a very important mouthful. It refers to the idea that some (or all) memories are not just passive recollections of historical experiences but actual recurrences of the events themselves.

A prototypical example of anamnesis is the Passover Seder. In observant households, roasted lamb is eaten hurriedly with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, loins girt, sandals on, staff in hand. “It is the Passover of the Lord.” It is not a memorial of the Lord’s Passover; it is a reoccurrence of his Passover.

While there are numerous references to Passover in both the Old and New Testaments, the core text is found in Exodus. Exodus 7 – 10 is largely concerned with Egypt’s initial nine plagues. In Exodus 11, God tells Moses his plan to strike down the first born of Egypt; but it is still just a plan. It hasn’t happened yet.

Then, incongruously, Exodus 12 opens with God’s instructions to Moses regarding the annual celebration of the Passover Feast:

“This month will stand at the head of your calendar; you will reckon it the first month of the year. Tell the whole community of Israel: On the tenth of this month every family must procure for itself a lamb…You will keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole community of Israel assembled, it will be slaughtered during the evening twilight…This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand, you will eat it in a hurry. It is the Lord’s Passover. For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down the firstborn in the land, human being and beast alike, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt – I, the Lord!”

Only after this instruction do we hear about the first Passover and the actual slaughter of Egypt’s firstborn.

So if you accept the order of events as told in Exodus, God instituted the ‘sacrament’ of Passover before the event it memorializes even occurred. The pattern precedes its initial substantiation. The ‘sacramental Passover’ precedes the ‘historical Passover’.

Whenever and wherever the Passover is celebrated, “It is the Lord’s Passover”; and it is the night that the Lord executes “judgment on the all the gods of Egypt”. The Passover recurs annually when the historical event is ‘remembered’; memory is reoccurrence: anamnesis!

It should come as no surprise that this same doctrine of anamnesis also informs the Eucharistic Liturgy in many Christian churches. After all, the ‘historical Eucharistic event’ took place during a Passover Seder, albeit a day before the date of the traditional Passover celebration.

On the night before he was crucified, Jesus dined with his apostles:

“Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.’” (Luke 22: 19 – 20)

By these actions, Jesus prefigured in an unbloody way the very bloody sacrifice he was about to make on the cross. In distributing the transubstantiated bread and wine for his apostles to eat and drink, Jesus prefigured his Resurrection three days later.

The liturgies of most Christian churches include some reenactment of this event. According to some denominations, it is merely a symbolic reminder of Jesus’ Last Supper and subsequent Crucifixion. Such an interpretation betrays a lack of understanding of Passover and the connection between Passover and Eucharist.

Many other denominations (e.g. Roman Catholic and Orthodox) believe that the Eucharist actually re-instantiates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

According to the doctrine of Transubstantiation, when the celebrant recites the words of consecration (above) over the ‘species’ (bread and wine), that bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, exactly as it did when Jesus pronounced the same formula 2 millennia earlier.

The Roman Catholic Mass is not a memorial of the Last Supper, it is the Last Supper! In fact, the Roman Catholic Mass recapitulates all of salvation history, which is to say all of cosmic history, from creation to eschaton.

It begins with the Liturgy of the Word. According to Genesis (1: 3), “God said: ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’”  God created the world through the medium of his Word.

This theology is echoed in the Gospel of John (1: 1 – 14): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be…And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…”

The Liturgy of the Word consists primarily of scriptural readings. As such, it takes us from Creation to Incarnation; then the Liturgy of the Eucharist takes over:

  • When the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, Incarnation happens. Just as Jesus Christ is the Incarnation of God, so the transubstantiated bread and wine is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
  • When the celebrant breaks the bread, Christ’s sacrifice happens.
  • When the priest consumes the Body and Blood, Christ’s resurrection happens.
  • When the faithful consume the Body and Blood in Communion, they are absorbed into the Mystical Body of Christ. This is prefigures the second coming and the Kingdom of Heaven.

What do these two examples of anamnesis tell us? Obviously, they tell us a lot about Judeo-Christian theology…and ontology. But they also tell us a lot about the Universe itself. From the time of Isaac Newton, up until very recently, we have been enthralled by space and time. We take it for granted that every event is defined, at least in part, by a unique spatiotemporal locus.

The great British philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead wrote: “…No two actual entities originate from an identical universe.” By implication at least, there is then a one-to-one correspondence between an ‘actual entity’ and its ‘place’ in the space-time continuum.

Anamnesis shatters that conception. Events are defined solely by their patterns, not by their locations.  A single ‘event’ may occur at a specific spatiotemporal locus or it may occur at indefinitely many disconnected and disparate loci. Therefore, if you accept anamnesis, place and time cannot even be a component of real events. Real events must be space-time agnostic.

Whenever and wherever the pattern known as Passover occurs, the Lord executes judgment on the gods of Egypt. Whenever and wherever the pattern known as Eucharist occurs, the world is redeemed and transfigured.

Still, you are thinking, “How can this be possible? How does it work?” We find our answer in another section of Exodus:

God spoke further to Moses: “This is what you will say to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, this is my title for all generations.” (Ex. 3: 15)

In the New Testament Gospel of Matthew, Jesus offers a gloss on Exodus 3: “And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Mt. 22: 31-32)

To God everything is present; there is no past or future. God is Presence. Therefore, if God is the God of Abraham, he is the God of Abraham now. The text does not say, “God was the God of Abraham.” And if God is the God of Abraham now, then Abraham is now.

In Jeremiah we read: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you…See, I place my words in your mouth!” (Jer. 1: 5 – 9)

In Ephesians we read: “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” (Eph. 2: 10)

In all three texts, time is annulled or subsumed into a broader present. It is true that Abraham lived before Moses and me in historical time but that ‘fact’ is ontologically irrelevant. What is relevant is that Abraham, Moses and I are living now in God.

Perhaps this is one of the meanings of the Transfiguration (Matt. 17). Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain and there he appears, ‘transfigured’, conversing with Moses and Elijah. In every way that is important, the three are ‘contemporaries’.

It is characteristic of all three texts that only pattern matters:

  • In Exodus, we learn that we live contemporaneously with our ancestors, in God.
  • In Jeremiah, we learn that we were known and appointed to certain works before we were even formed in the womb.
  • In Ephesians, we learn that the good works we do exist independently of us. The ‘good works’ are ‘patterns’. We do not ‘do them’ in historical time; we ‘live’ in them in the eternal present.

How farfetched is this? Not very! Most physicists today have overcome their space-time fetish. Some regard space-time as mere illusion. Others view it as a product of events (rather than as a constituent component of those events). Others consider space-time as an ordering principle, extrinsic to the events themselves. Still others see space-time as a passive screen, suitable for the projection of ‘home movies’ (which are holograms, of course).

A major trend in contemporary cosmology is to view the cosmos as a hologram. This in turn is closely related to the concept of a ‘fractal’. A fractal is a pattern that repeats itself everywhere on every scale.

Ok but really, besides physicists and theologians, who thinks like this? Lots of folks! James Joyce wrote an entire novel, Ulysses, to show that 1904 Dublin was 8th century B.C. Greece. You could argue that this is the first ‘holographic novel’.

Marcel Proust wrote an even longer novel, Remembrance of Things Past, to demonstrate the concept of anamnesis. The poet Ezra Pound’s Cantos is an attempt to map events from different periods and cultures onto one another according to the patterns they share. Think of it as the original search algorithm.

So as strange as the concept of anamnesis seems at first encounter, it turns out to play vital role in human culture and, of course, a critical role in Judeo-Christian theology. To participate fully in the great adventure which is our lives, we need to overcome lazy habits of thinking and train ourselves to see the world in new ways.

 

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