Some notes on Logotherapy – Pt 2

Read part one.

Logotherapy seems immediately relevant to another area of interest that I am pursuing right. Next week is the last of five modules that I have taken in order to become a Spiritual Care volunteer in the Fraser Health region. Within the next few weeks I hope to be working on the medical ward at the local hospital. As I read Man’s Search for Meaning I couldn’t help but find a wealth of thoughts that I think will become incredibly beneficial to working with patients who are probably at two of the most difficult stages of life: illness and death. Frankl’s personal experience of suffering in four different concentration camps during World War II and his subsequent reflection on the role of suffering in human life is fascinating.

For example, Frankl writes:

  • “Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances [as a concentration camp], decide what shall become of him–mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski [sic] said once, ‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” (75)
  • “Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.” (76)
  • “When we are no longer able to change a situation–just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer–we are challenged to change ourselves.” (116)
  • “It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.” (117)
  • “There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one’s work or to enjoy one’s life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end.” (118)

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Meeting Aquinas along the Via Negativa – Pt 4

Question 13 in Aquinas’ Summa wrestles with the question of theological language. How do we use words, of human construction and origin, to speak about transcendent realities? Can we use words to speak of God? Can we name God? Do our words describe God’s essence? Does a word that is applied to a human or a thing mean the same when applied to God? What does the word ‘God’ even mean?

Article 1. Can we use any words to refer to God?

  • Aquinas quotes Pseudo-Dinoysius’ radical statement: “Of him there is no naming nor any opinion…” (Divine Names, 1)
  • Aquinas differentiates between two types of nouns: the concrete and the abstract. Both types of nouns cannot be adequately and properly used to speak about God.
    • Concrete nouns are said to be “inappropriate” because God is “altogether simple.” (1a, 13, 1)
      • While I don’t quite understand what Aquinas means by this, I did a little bit more reading elsewhere and a concrete noun is often used to refer to a physical object that is sensible. (At least this is the contemporary usage.)
    • Abstract nouns are equally problematic because they “[do] not signify a complete subsistent thing.” (1a, 13, 1)
      • Abstract nouns refer to ideas, not an actual existent reality. God is not just an idea. God is a “subsistent thing.” (Though he’s not a thing.)
  • Aquinas then talks about other grammatical considerations one should be aware of with theological language: “A noun signifies a thing as coming under some description, verbs and participles signify it as enduring in time, pronouns signify it as being pointed out or as in some relationship. None of these is appropriate to God…” But why? (1a, 13, 1)
    • Nouns are not appropriate because we don’t have a definition of what God is and any “accidental attributes” (that which we see God do?) are also not available to us.
    • God is also outside of time so verbs and participles break down in their use when applied to God.
    • Pronouns also are problematic because a pronoun requires some other descriptor (like a verb and noun) to be applied.
  • Thus, it seems as if God is so far beyond speech that we are left speechless.
  • But, what about Scripture’s statement that “The Lord is a great warrior, Almighty is his name.”
    • Aquinas quotes Aristole’s idea that words signify a thought and thoughts bear the “likeness of things.”
    • Thus, Aquinas writes that “how we refer to a thing depends on how we understand it.” (1a, 13, 1, Reply)
  • Aquinas refers back to his already decided upon beliefs that “we do not see the essence of God, we only know him from creatures…”
    • God is known as the source of all creatures who is beyond them.
    • “It is the knowledge we have of creatures that enables us to use words to refer to God, and so these words do not express the divine essence as it is in itself.” (1a, 13, 1, Reply)
    • Words are dim indicators of the essence of God and should (perhaps?) not be taken as literal statements of God’s essence.
  • Thomas concludes that “God is said to have no name, or to be beyond naming because his essence is beyond what we understand of him and the meaning of the names we use.” (1a, 13, 1, 1)
  • Moreover, we know God through creatures (analogy of being), and we use language that refers to creatures to refer to God, with the caveat that the words we use are limited and analogical.
  • God is a composite of the form and the subsistent (the abstract and the concrete). This means that we are able to use both concrete and abstract nouns to refer to God. “…though neither way of speaking measures up to his way of being, for in this life we do not know him as he is in himself.” (1a, 13, 1, 2)
  • Because we can use these nouns, we are also free to use verbs, participles, and pronouns because we are speaking of God as a definite form that is subsistent.
  • Verbs can be used because even though God is not bound by time, he contains time within himself.

 

A Reading Miscellany – Merton, Bonhoeffer

Some interesting ideas from today’s readings.

Honouring God with a mature wordliness.

I am sure we honour God more if we gratefully accept the life he gives us with all its blessings, loving it and drinking it to the full, grieving deeply and sincerely when we have belittled or thrown way any of the precious things in life…than we do if we are insensitive toward life.

Bonhoeffer, Ethics

Humaneness and the Gospel are not mutually exclusive.

Pope John could very well have called the world to peace purely and simply in terms of the Gospel of Peace. Instead he called it to peace in the name of humanity and reason. But was this a contradiction of the Gospel? No. Since Christ is fully and truly man, since the world, society, humanity, human and social life have been taken up and sanctified in the Incarnation, the Church can speak to the world in terms of humaneness, a reason, a compassion which both the Church and the ‘world’ are capable of understanding, but of which the Church also has a much deeper, theological understanding than the world.

Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Merton on ‘Religion’

Merton sympathizes with the effort to resituate Christianity in the world as a “religionless religion” (Bonhoeffer’s term). Religionless Christianity critiques the

“‘religious’ tactic that tries to cajole and pressure modern man, scientific and technological man, into having religious needs which he does not have. This ‘religionness’ is negative, ambiguous, and moralizing: it preaches on one hand that one must run to God and the Church as to a refuge from life, yet once one has given the sacred its due, one can be unashamedly secular as regards [to] making money and enjoying the good things of life, provided one maintains a rigid and negative set of standards in the matter of sex. One need not worry too much about things like war, civil rights, and so on, regarded as moral issues. One leaves such things to the secular authorities, and one prays for those concerned to get the right answers.

Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Merton on not being concerned with ‘getting into heaven’

I would even say that, like most modern men, I have not been much moved by the concept of ‘getting into heaven’ after muddling through this present life….[in the Christian tradition] I  find the strongest warrant for this immediate and direct access to God in everyday Christian life, which is to be regarded not merely as a moral preparation for a heavenly existence but…the very beginning of eternal life.

Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

The Sin of Bad Theology: To call others ‘anti-Christs’

The sin of bad theology has been precisely this–to set Christ up against man, and to regard all flesh and blood men as ‘not-Christ.’ Indeed to assume that many men, whole classes of men, nations, races, are in fact ‘anti-Christ.’ To divide men arbitrarily according to their conformity to our own limited disincarnate mental Christ, and to decide on this basis that most men are ‘anti-Christ’–this shows up our theology. At such a moment, we have to question not mankind, but our theology. A theology that ends in lovelessness cannot be Christian

Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

On a sidenote, I will have to read this to my DSO who mentioned John’s use of the term anti-Christ to refer to those who don’t believe in the Incarnation (cf. 1 John). I wrestled with that term on the drive home this morning.

The Ordinary Ways are Safer, More Perfect.

An excerpt from Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

We have to remember the principle that certain desires and certain pleasures are willed for us by God. We cannot live in the truth if we automatically suspect all desires and all pleasures. It is humility to accept our humanity, pride to reject it.

Von Hugel, in one of his letters, writes of W.G. Ward (“Ideal Ward”) as an “eager, one-sided, great, unintentionally unjust soul” who on his deathbed saw the mischief of his life–he had consistently demanded that all others be like himself!

This is the root of inhumanity!

It is often more perfect to do what is simply normal and human than to try to act like an angel when God does not will it. That is, when there is no need for it, except in the stubborn passion of our own impatience with ourselves.

It is not practical, it is not honest, it is not Christian to fly from “every desire” and “every pleasure” that is not explicitly pious.

For others who are human enough to be ascetics without losing any of their humanity, it is all right to risk things that seem inhuman. For one as deficient and self-conscious as I am, the ordinary ways are safer. They are not just an evasion to be tolerated; they are the more perfect way.