Thursday, February 24, 2011

Concupiscence as Defined by Catholics and Protestants

So, I am in the process of reading The Concept of Dread by Vigilius Haufniensis (one of Søren Kierkegaard’s many pseudonymous works). I read a passage from the book and realized that I did not know what concupiscence was. So, in this post I will define concupiscence for you all and explain its implications in both Catholic and Protestant theology. The American Heritage Dictionary defines concupiscence as “A strong desire, especially sexual desire; lust*.” I am going to explain concupiscence as defined in Catholic theology first and then compare it with the conclusions that the Protestant Reformers came to concerning this “strong desire” and its relationship to justification and salvation. 

In Catholic Theology, before the Fall, Adam and Eve were in a perfect relationship with God because of a special gift that God had given the first humans. After the Fall, Original Sin entered the world. Concupiscence in Catholic theology is not sinful in itself but can lead to sin if it is voluntary. In Baptism, St. Augustine maintains that Original Sin is washed away so that it is not the human person that is intrinsically evil but that the human person always has the ability, the choice, to fall into sin, to voluntarily exercise concupiscence. Thus, for Catholics, it is possible to be in a state of Grace. A person is justified only by being in this state through receiving the Sacraments and avoiding sin wherever it is encountered. In other words, a Christian must “wash his/her robe clean” before he/she can be justified and enter Heaven.

In Protestant Theology as in Catholic Theology, Adam and Eve were in a perfect relationship with God before the Fall. However, in the former, it was the human nature that was in a perfect relationship with God and the perfection was not a result of a special gift that God gave the first humans. In other words, humans were intrinsically good before the Fall, and after the Fall, they became intrinsically evil. Thus, Original Sin is not fully washed away at Baptism since human nature is now in essence sinful; Protestants deny that a person can ever be in a state of Grace in this world. Concupiscence is sinful in itself in Protestant Theology and can manifest itself both voluntarily and involuntarily. While, Catholics call an action or thought sinful only when it is voluntary, Protestants maintain that sin can be exercised involuntarily and its punishment is equally death. Luther goes on to say that because humans can never achieve perfection on earth, this cannot be a prerequisite to being justified. A true Christian is “simul iustus et peccator” (simultaneously justified and a sinner). It is in faith alone that a Christian is justified since in faith God (using the robe metaphor) overlooks our dirty robe. A Christian, following the Reformers, tries to avoid sin, but all sin can never be avoided in this world. All efforts to overcome sin fully and completely are in vain because this is impossible.

I know that through this brief research that I did, I learned quite a lot. It really helped me understand better the ways our churches' theologies are similar and different. Of course, I chose to focus on Luther but some time I may talk about sin and justification from the perspective of another reformer like Calvin. When I speak of Protestantism, I tend to focus solely on the founder of the Reformation: Martin Luther. He has directly and indirectly affected almost all Protestant churches. In any case, focusing on one Reformer makes writing posts a lot easier.

Friday, February 18, 2011

We are Unprofitable Servants

How easy it is easy for us to forget what God has done for us. Suddenly, God ceases to be our Savior and becomes our enemy. In the book of Numbers we read of Moses’ struggles with the newly liberated Hebrews. God saves them from slavery, but this is quickly forgotten. It seems to me that often trials in our lives are “wildernesses” that we must walk through before we can receive the peace and joy that God has promised us. The Israelites will soon forget what God has done for them: how He had mercy on them and by His own free love, gave them the Promised Land. Pride is something that many of us struggle with (at least I do), and trials teach us to humble ourselves. For, how amazing the Promised Land must have seemed to the new arrivers after wandering in the wilderness for forty years.  Let us not forget that the trials we face today do not compare to the joys we may face tomorrow."I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Romans 18-21).

Moses is called to lead a group of stubborn, angry Jews who have quickly forgotten God’s goodness and love; they are not willing to make sacrifices because they do not really have faith that God will keep his promise.  In their wavering “faith”, they call God a liar. It is so hard to have faith when we are faced with challenges, but it precisely during those times that God is testing us. He tries so hard to remind the Hebrews over and over again that it is not because of their own merit that He has saved them, but because he cares for them. The Hebrews are really in debt to God, but they do not realize it. "The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession" (Deuteronomy 7:6 NIV). We, even more than them, are indebted to Christ because He sacrificed Himself for us. As Lent approaches, let us remember that our sacrifices are nothing in comparison to what God sacrificed to liberate us. The Hebrews were not willing to give up meat, a luxury they had probably taken for granted in Egypt. In Egypt, while slaves, the Hebrews overlooked all of their blessings; after they were liberated from slavery, they still overlooked them. They felt that God was their servant. They had gotten it all wrong. As Christ said in the parable of the unworthy servant, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do’ “ (Luke 17:10). We are and will always be indebted to God. No sacrifice is too large. God always gives us much more than we would ever dream to ask for. Let us not overlook the blessings in our lives.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day: A Counter-Cultural Message of Love

Happy St. Valentine’s Day everyone!!! I have been thinking a lot recently about this day. We all know the passage from 1 Corinthians 13 and the song based on this passage: The Gift of Love. However, I feel as if not enough people have defined love from a Christian perspective. Seeing that today is the feast day of a martyr for Christian marriage, I think that it would be a good idea to discuss Christian love vs. worldly love. Often, we cannot tell the difference, or do not know that Christian love is radically different, in fact the opposite of, worldly love. Søren Kierkegaard wrote a book that I am in the process of reading called Works of Love where he analyzes Christian love as defined in the scriptures. (People who wrongly consider Kierkegaard as the philosopher of doom and gloom may be surprised that he wrote quite a few books on love).

Kierkegaard asks us why we can say that Jesus is Love when He was not the liberating Messiah of Israel that the Jews were looking for and who’s controversial life led to the persecution and death of almost all of His apostles. From a worldly (secular) perspective Jesus is the opposite of love; He seems selfish and inconsiderate. However, as Christians we believe Christ and the teaching that He was and is Love. So what kind of love is He? Kierkegaard argues that true love requires one to help the beloved love God. This requires one to sacrifice some of his/her personal love for the other so that the other may know God better. Jesus is Love because His life, and especially His death, reconciled humanity to God. This was the ultimate sacrifice. Poets do not praise this sort of love, finding it selfish that a couple would place Jesus in the middle of their relationship. This is, though, what we must do. True love for another person never betrays the first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). From a Christian perspective, if a person does not help the beloved know God, he/she is actually selfish and really does not love but hates the other person. This is definitely not what people talk about and exalt on Valentine’s Day. But maybe this is the reason why promiscuity and abortion are misdefined as love in our culture. True love always involves obedience to God. Any relationship that leaves out God is not based on love but hatred.

What kind of relationship is Kierkegaard interested in? He asks us to listen to Jesus for the answer. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). This is a command that must be followed at all times, no matter who our neighbor may be. Kierkegaard argues that this is good news for those of us, like him, who do not have a “special someone.”

“[I]f your love for your neighbor remains unchanged, then the neighbor also remains unchanged just by the fact of existing. And death cannot deprive you of your neighbor for if it takes one, then life at once gives you another. Death can deprive you of a friend, because in loving your friend you are really united with the friend; but in loving your neighbor you are united with God, and therefore death cannot deprive you of your neighbor. If you have therefore lost everything in love and friendship, if you have never enjoyed any of this happiness: you still have the best left in loving your neighbor.”*

True love does not play favorites but loves all equally because each person was created equally by God. This is why Christians must love their enemies. This kind of love is not the charity that the world boasts of. True Christian love is thankless. True Christian love is considered hateful and selfish by many. Couples think that if God gets in the way, their relationship has been ruined. Each person wants the other exclusively for his/herself. What the world exalts, Christianity condemns and what Christianity exalts, the world condemns.  I must admit that I am utterly shocked and scandalized by this. Love is thus not the gushy feeling people have for each other but the desire to help everyone have a relationship with God. A lover becomes responsible, in a way, for the beloved’s soul. Now St. Paul can be better understood:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Let’s be counter-cultural in our love for others. Peace.

*Kierkegaard, Søren. Works of Love. Trans. David F. Swenson, and Lillian Marvin Swenson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1946. Print.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Søren Kierkegaard: What Does it Mean to be Christian?

I have not posted anything in almost a month it seems, but I will try to post a lot more in the next few weeks. Come back February 14 because I will have a post on Christian love.

A few posts ago, I wrote a reflection on Søren Kierkegaard's book Fear and Trembling, written under his pseudonym Johannes de Silentio. This book really changed the way that I had previously viewed Abraham. I highly recommend others to read this book as well. If nothing else, it will make you to read the story of Abraham and Isaac with fresh eyes. Is faith always reasonable? We would like to think so, but Scripture does not reflect this claim. What is reasonable about Abraham being called to sacrifice his son (an act that would have been in direct opposition to the standards of the Ethical), Hosea marrying a prostitute, God coming into the world as a human, Jesus resurrecting from the dead, Moses leading a whole group of people from Egypt into the desert where they have to wander for 40 years with only their faith to guide them...? Kierkegaard argues, that faith and reason are different spheres and that when reason is overemphasized, faith is sucked out of Christianity. In other words, when we make reason a prerequisite to having faith, we do not have faith. Intellectual gymnastics is not faith. Once again, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 comes to mind. 

"For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength" (v.25).

Kierkegaard lived in Denmark at a time when the Hegelian System was highly regarded. Kierkegaard noticed that the so-called Christians of the Danish National Church felt that they belonged to a sort of Christian ethnicity: Christendom. They felt that going to church, getting baptized and confirmed, and being "good" made someone a Christian. But they did not have true faith. They thought that because they followed the "Universal" (the Natural Law, whatever that may be), they were Christians. They never really thought about their individual relationships with God. They failed to realize that once they died, they would stand alone before God and it would be to Him alone that they would have to render an account of their lives. Sound familiar? We fall for this daily.

What does it truly mean to follow Christ? Kierkegaard argued that true faith requires one to surrender oneself totally to God no matter the consequences. He wanted to reintroduce Christianity into Christendom. The Hegelians made faith something that immature people cling to, and that mature people go beyond (outgrow faith and cling instead to a reasonable form of Christianity at best). Kierkegaard was strongly against this. As he wrote in Fear and Trembling, "Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further." Kierkegaard's works are very thought-provoking not because he necessarily says anything new but because he brings us face-to-face with the Truth.