Sunday, June 15, 2014

Identity, reference, address; praise, worship, life

So, there is from events last Sunday, a flurry of debate going about whether a certain close family of doxopraxical cultures is doing something reasonably similar, in a similar direction, to what the Catholic Church does. In particular, there is a resurgence of argument among bloggy Catholics, whether the Divinity is in partwise known to members of the cultures of this close family, and whether they render Him worship, or whether they perhaps worship another.

One argument proposed in favour of identity-of-referent between God the Holy Trinity and whomever it is our estranged-in-faith neighbors worship is the commonality between our respective first credal formulae: Credo in unum Deum and There is one god ... (I beg your pardon, I do not read or write or understand the language of the source text, and rely on others' translations). The argument proceeds: since we both assert there is only One, they must be the same one. It echoes (or perhaps is echoed in) something from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, (and now I must kick my mirror for that I can't find the book and don't trust myself to quote from memory — if you've read it, you'll know what I mean); whether or not the argument works... I am suspicious, of course. My mathematical training has taught me to be suspicious of claims of identity. Certainly, if the category spanned by Holy Trinity and the subject of our strange neighbors' worship indeed contains exactly One, then that One is both our God and their one-and-only-god, but this is begging the question. Heck, there's exactly One of me, and no-one would ever suggest that I and He are the same One!

Even more suspicious am I of claims that a list of properties is useful for naming something. That might sound strange, but my stockroom bad example is
\[ \lim_{x\to\infty} \sin x \]
The $\lim$ part of the expression means we are trying to pin down a number by its properties. If there is such a thing, then (by defining properties of $\lim$ in the relevant context) there is exactly one; but that doesn't tell us that there actually is such a thing. It so happens, indeed, that there isn't. And the absence of such a thing is even deeper than the strange-looking expression $\sqrt{-1}$! But I digress.

However, I particularly want not to say that these neighbours of ours are entirely lacking in reverence for the One, True, Creator God. There are one or two long prayers these our neighbours say in a particular context which we as Christians could most fittingly recite with sincerity and devotion, given a suitable understanding of all the words (which I learned from Robert Reilly who also writes about music). I think I want to move the question away from one of whether we and they worship the same God, but whether we both worship the same God.


3 Time passed, and Cain brought the Lord an offering out of the crops the land had given him; 4 Abel, too, brought an offering, and his offering was out of the first-born of his flock, with their fat. On Abel, and on his offering, the Lord looked with favour, 5 but not upon Cain, or his offering; so that Cain was much enraged, and his looks were lowering.
Can it be doubted that Cain and Abel both sought favour of the One God, by means of sacrifice? Or can it be doubted that in one was found acceptable worship, and in the other was not? And so a more interesting question is: what sacrifice do our neighbours offer? And can it be pleasing to God?

From the other end of our revelation,
21 Believe me, woman, Jesus said to her, the time is coming when you will not go to this mountain, nor yet to Jerusalem, to worship the Father. 22 You worship you cannot tell what, we worship knowing what it is we worship; salvation, after all, is to come from the Jews; 23 but the time is coming, nay, has already come, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; such men as these the Father claims for his worshippers.
Note! it is implicit in the language here that worship means sacrifice; for one can pray and sing hymns to God anywhere, but for sacrifice one must have an altar, and the Jews had one altar, in the Temple in Jerusalem, within hearing of the Ark (originally) wherein dwelt the presence of God! But our Lord turns aside the issue of place, letting it give place to truth, which is the matter for contemplation and the object of study. But of the Samaritan he says: "You worship you cannot tell what". One needn't read it as saying "what you worship is not God", but it does cut between the worship and the truth of it. Whether or not the god of our neighbours is our God indeed, they most of them would deny that one can or should try to know God himself. If they nonetheless, without the Church and Her Sacraments, without knowledge or understanding, give worship to the Father in Spirit and Truth, it seems to me it is by God's own grace, and not the doxis or praxis of their culture. I can't believe that it is always so, but I cannot say that it is never so.

A blessed Trinity Sunday to all of you,
cantis amator


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