In the Search Of The One Called “God”. If you were simply to Google “Spirituality” you will quickly realise the wide world out there that looks at spirituality in so many different ways. But, briefly, they all indicate an attempt to contact or to union with Something Else – call it a god, G-d or a God. Or some other name.
“The Divine Names”, the classic treatise by Pseudo-Dionysius, defines the scope of traditional understandings in Western traditions such as Hellenic, Christian, Jewish and Islamic theology on the nature and significance of the names of God. In a way, these show parallels in the history and interpretation of the name of God amongst Kabbalah, Christianity, and Hebrew scholarship in various parts of the Mediterranean world.
In Judaism, the pronunciation of the name of God (Elohim, masculine, but generally reduced to simply El), has always been guarded with great care. It is believed that, in ancient times, the sages are said to have communicated the pronunciation only once every seven years. The nature of a holy name can be described as either personal or attributive. In many cultures it is often difficult to distinguish between the personal and the attributive names of God, the two divisions necessarily shading into each other.
Philosophy and “God”
Philosophy too has had its share in this search for god. It is full of titles for this entity that we all seem to search for so much. “The Unmoved Mover”, “The One”, ….. Aristotle made God passively responsible for change in the world in the sense that all things seek divine perfection. God imbues all things with order and purpose, both of which can be discovered and point to his (or her or its) divine existence. Much later, Georg Hegel reasoned that the finite has no genuine being and when that state was reached all that exists will be harmoniously at one with itself.
Since he viewed the essential stuff of what exists as something non-material his philosophy became known as Absolute Idealism. Hegel himself combined his ideas with belief in Christianity though some of his followers saw it more as a form of pantheism while others saw it as a sort of religion-without-God, the most radical of them being Marx (who only saw the material – one economic growth – instead of the spiritual).
Nonetheless, in the search for god, other deep thinkers continued to ponder the God-existence or not. In a time of upheaval, Rene Descartes (1596-1650) famously sought to ground all knowledge on a foundation he could not doubt: that he was a thinking being, “I think therefore I am”, a statement with obvious throwbacks to Jesus Christ’s own description of himself.
Descartes says this about himself:
“I know myself to be a very imperfect being, ephemeral and perishable, and finite, and yet I have in my mind the concept of an infinite being, eternal and immortal, perfect in every way; and it is impossible that anything should be able to create something greater than itself out of its resources; therefore this perfect being must exist, and must have implanted in me an awareness of itself, like a craftsman’s signature inscribed on an example of his handiwork. The fact that I know that God exists, and is perfect, means that I can put my trust n him: he will not, unlike the malicious demon, deceive me. So provided I play my full part, pay serious attention and do all the disciplined thinking required of me, I can be certain of the truth of whatever is then presented clearly and distinctly to me as being true – not by my senses which I already know deceive me – but by my mind, that part of me that apprehends God and also mathematics, neither of which the senses can do; the mind that I irreducibly am!”(salirickandres, 2016)
Christian thinking developed from the early Greek philosophies especially Plato’s (though also including thoughts from his mentor Socrates and pupil Aristotle) which were taken up by St Paul in his letters. Later developments came from St Augustine sometime later and from St Thomas Aquinas with his monumental “Summa Theologica”. He expressed himself through syllogism to express his logic. Such that he would reason on the lines of “If it is raining, the streets are wet. It is raining, therefore the streets ARE wet!”
Aquinas described the state of the being as a combination of the natural and the supernatural, the former combining the eternal law, the natural law and human law. The supernatural state was simply the divine. Aquinas puts a moral obligation on believers to disobey human law. Because, as he puts it, God speaks to us through our conscience and empowers us to disobey. (To avoid confusion, a typical example application of this would be the Germans under Nazi rule and ideology).
The sum total
The sum total of all this is that Catholic spirituality is the spiritual practise of living out a personal act of faith (fides qua creditur) following the acceptance of faith (fides quae creditur). Although all Catholics are expected to pray together at Mass, there are many different forms of spirituality within this Church which have developed over the centuries. Each of the major religious orders of the Catholic Church and other lay groupings have their own unique spirituality – its own way of approaching God in prayer and in living out the Gospel.
On Wikipedia’s post on Progressive Christianity, it claims that this is a form of contemporary movement which seeks to remove the supernatural claims of the faith and replace them with a post-critical understanding of biblical spirituality based on historical and scientific research. It focuses on the lived experience of spirituality over historical dogmatic claims and accepts that the faith is both true and a human construction, and that spiritual experiences are psychologically and neurally real and useful.
So, where does this leave us in our search for god? What or where is the God that Christians believe in? Does God exist after all? How or where do we start our search to find the one called God? Leave your comments below.
Hopefully, we will find some answers on my upcoming second sharing in this blog!
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Bergoglio, J. M., & Skocka, A. (2014). On heaven and earth – Pope Francis on faith, family and the church in the 21st century. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
Greenspahn, F. E. (Ed.). (2011). Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah: New insights and scholarship. New York, NY: New York University Press.
Magee, B. (1998). The story of philosophy. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.
Rohr, R. (n.d.). Daily meditations. Retrieved from Center for action and contemplation: https://cac.org/category/daily-meditations/
salirickandres. (2016, July 31). Rene Descartes. Retrieved from The mindsmith: https://salirickandres.altervista.org/rene-descartes/