Monday, July 18, 2005

Re: St. Paul

Ryan asked a question in the post below, and I thought it deserved a full post answer. He asked if St. Paul himself was not a Catholic mystic.

First, it really depends on who you're asking. Myself, I wouldn't use the word Catholic, though I might say catholic. But that really isn't the important part there.

Yes, Paul was a mystic. He had spiritual gifts of prophecy, tongues, speaking, and had more visions than you could shake a stick at.

But that's not really what modern mysticism is all about. Very few people talk about having visions these days. Even fewer talk about prophecy, healing, and so forth. Most modern mysticism is about "hearing" God, "feeling" God, "experiencing" God.

And that is the part I have problems with. Nobody talks about literally hearing God. It's never an audible voice. And when they talk about feeling God, it's never through one of the other 4 physical senses. So what, then, are they talking about?

Is it mental? Emotional? It would seem to be, given how some people talk about it, but there is also the possibility of a "sixth sense" type of experience here. But even talking about that is akin to nailing jello to the wall. Imagine trying to explain color to a person blind from birth. You can't. They just don't have the sensory experience to grasp the most basic concept. The same would be for a "sixth sense"; you can't explain it to someone who has never experienced it.

Was Paul a mystic? Of course. But certainly not in the sense of today's mystics. When the Bible discusses the mystical experience of the faith, communing with God, people actually communed with God; they talked verbally with him, they received dreams or visions, they were in the very presence of the Lord of Hosts.

And it is modern mysticism's severe distinction from that which explains my problems with it.

1 comment:

Ryan Herr said...

"... it really depends on who you're asking."

Well to get technical, Hal I think you would agree with me that truth in no way depends on who you're asking.

But I do understand and agree that whether or not St. Paul was a Catholic mystic does depend on how one defines the terms 'Catholic' and 'mystic.'

For example, if "Catholic Church" is defined as "the Church that Christ founded," then we'd likely agree that St. Paul is a Catholic. However, if "Catholic Church" is defined as "a man-made institution of apostasy which has abandoned true Christianity," then we'd likely agree that St. Paul is not a Catholic. And, we'd likely agree that one of these definitions of the "Catholic Church" is right, and the other is wrong, or else both are wrong, but that both cannot be right simultaneously.

But anyways ... Like you, I'm more interested at the moment in what 'mystic' means.

Like you, I have a big problem with any mysticism that confuses "being in the very presence of the Lord of Hosts" with a mere mental or emotional experience.

You write: "There is also the possibility of a 'sixth sense' type of experience here. But even talking about that is akin to nailing jello to the wall. Imagine trying to explain color to a person blind from birth."

Here I think of the song by Chris Rice, "Smell the Color Nine."

You write: "Very few people talk about having visions these days. ... Nobody talks about literally hearing God. It's never an audible voice."

If you're very interested in learning more about some Christians besides St. Paul who have claimed to be among the small "visions & voice & 6th sense" crowd, I'd point you to the autobiographical writings of St. Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, and Catherine of Siena. (I discourage anyone from 'googling' these or other saints ... short 'bios' of saints can tend towards hyperbole bordering on mythology, and are at times incomprehensible apart from context.)

But my primary interest isn't in the "visions & voice & 6th sense crowd" crowd either.

I'm interested in the contrast between the beliefs of the largest Christian denomination, and your statement that "when they talk about feeling God, it's never through one of the other 4 physical senses."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1373-1374, states:

Christ Jesus ... is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church's prayer, "where two or three are gathered in my name," in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But "he is present ... most especially in the Eucharistic species." ... In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained. This presence is called 'real' ... it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.

The Catholic Church makes the bold and perhaps absurd claim (see St. Paul's words on the foolishness of Christianity) that today as in Biblical time, people "actually commune with God," that today as in Biblical time, we are "in the very presence of the Lord of Hosts."

The Catholic Church makes the bold and perhaps absurd claim that the opening words of the first letter of St. John describe not just the past and future of the Christian people, but the present as well:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3, NIV.)

How does a Protestant intepret this Scripture?

The Catholic Church makes the bold and perhaps absurd claim that God is with us, "always, until the end of the age." (Mt 28:20)

Of course, if the Catholic Church is wrong about Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, then its liturgical practice and belief is an abomination, a crime against God and man, a horrendous form of idolatry which must be opposed.

Of course, if the Catholic Church is right about Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, then this sacrament is the greatest miracle which any of us will ever experience.

Now I'm not so much trying to persuade as I am emphasizing what's at stake.