I hope Fr Mullen won’t mind if I attach a few random notes and thoughts.
1. There are seven “last words”, but Fr Mullen discusses the last two together, which may give some readers the mistaken impression that he can’t count.
2. Aramaic isn’t a colloquial form of Hebrew, any more than French is a colloquial form of Spanish. It’s a distinct language. It would be more correct to say that, in the time of Jesus’s earthly life, Aramaic was used instead of Hebrew for colloquial purposes.
3. it’s possible to be too mystical about the Name of God in the Old Testament. The prophets called him Yahweh (sometimes spelt as “Jahveh”). Later Jews, in an excess of reverence, refused to speak the name, preferring to say “Adonai” (which means “my lord”). Nobody until modern times ever called God “jehovah”, which is a muddle of the consonants of one name with the vowels of the other. The Greek translators of the Old Testament represented “Adonai” as “Kyrios” (“the Lord”), and almost all early Christians knew the OT from the Greek translation, not the Hebrew original. So the early affirmation of faith, “Kyrios Iesous” (“Jesus [is] the Lord”) , amounted to a declaration that Jesus was the God of the Old Testament, a God who is just and sometimes terrifying, as well as infinitely loving, not the namby-pamby proto-Marxist of modern liberal “Christianity”. (Fr Mullen knows all this, but I thought the elucidation might be interesting to others.)
4. “God is love AND NOTHING ELSE.” No, I disagree. God is not only infinitely loving, but also infinitely just. God’s infinite love doesn’t mean that sinners don’t need to repent (as the heretic Origen implied), or that everybody, even the devil, will repent in the end (as the orthodox St Gregory of Nyssa hoped). It means that God offers his infinite love to everybody, but with conditions attached. God’s love has to be reciprocated (and proved to be real by repentance) if sinners are to be saved.
5. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Some of the Fathers interpret this the way Fr Mullen does, as the announcement of a psalm that ends in triumph, but I agree with those Fathers who see it, together with “I thirst”, as a proof of the Word of God’s complete union with humanity. Jesus experienced every weakness that a human can experience without sinning, including this worst of all imaginable terrors. (Similarly, some of the Fathers think that Jesus had previously experienced genuine ignorance, and doubt about what he ought to do.)
6. “There is a sense in which Christianity is the most materialistic of religions.” A few years ago I offended an old friend, who is now the Pastor of a thriving Baptist congregation, when he accused me of not being “spiritual” enough. My reply included the sentence, “If we believe that Jesus wept, we must also believe that Jesus regularly voided his bladder and bowels.” Sadly, I haven’t heard from him since, but I think I was right.
7. Fr Mullen has comprehensively answered the Gnostics and Docetists who think that Jesus Christ wasn’t really human. I hope I’ll be able to read future meditations in which he answers the equally numerous modern heretics who think that Jesus Christ wasn’t really God. Despite all my theological nit-pickings, Fr Mullen is my hero.
I can read only Good Friday. I’m getting a lot or error messages 400 and 404 when trying to log on to this site. My computer i guess.
Peter’s remarks on modern Gnostic fantasies made me think about modern physics which seems to have departed reality into ideas that cannot possibly be empirically tested (parallel universes for a start). Then there’s the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang theory was first proposed in Genesis: ‘Let there be light’. It makes no logical or physical sense and raises the theological question: how could an infinite deity add something to itself?
What existed before the Big Bang? Was it infinite and eternal? What came along and exploded it and how was that possible? Something cannot come into existence from nothing. Where were these substances or parcels of energy located, and if they are now the material of an expanding universe, what is it expanding into? Nothing? So where has that come from?
Is it not more plausible that what exists now has always existed; that time could not begin since a beginning implies the existence of time; and that the universe is unique, infinite and eternal? Melissus of Samos put questions like these in the 4th century BC and to my (limited) mind they await an answer.
Thanks for this Rev. Several minutes without thinking about you know what.
I’m a fan of the pre-Socratic philosophers, and Melissus is one of my favourites. But their reasoning is necessarily childish, since reasoning was something that they’d only just invented.
Most physicists prefer the Big Bang theory to the Solid State theory because it fits the observations better, and can be explained mathematically. I don’t think Melissus’s childish reasoning trumps either observation or mathematical explanation.
You ask, “How could an infinite deity add something to itself?” This is like saying, in mathematics, that, because there is an infinite number of members of the set of integers, there’s no room for any other numbers. But in fact there’s an infinite number of real numbers between every two integers. There’s more than one kind of infinity.
Besides, to a Christian, the whole concept of an “infinite deity” is suspect. God is infinitely wise and infinitely good, but he isn’t infinitely numerous: in fact, there are precisely three of him. He also isn’t infinitely fat, which he’d have to be in order to exclude anything else from having room to exist.
I’m pretty sure that all speculations about infinities are beyond rational solution (e.g. dividing a number by zero produces not infinity but absurdity), but, as Fr Mullen suggests in his excellent meditations, some insight into infinities of the theological kind can be gained by contemplating the Cross.
Happy Easter to you and to all SR writers and readers!
I’m puzzled by your saying the pre-Socratics used childish reasoning. Maybe I’m in my second childhood and that’s why I find them so interesting – as you do. As to the infinity maths games, the hotel with infinite rooms that’s always full but always has a spare room and the infinite series that can always be doubled etc, those strike me as specious reasonings – though don’t ask me to say why!
I was under the impression that the BB theory had been questioned because someone had suggested that the red shift had been misunderstood and that it indicated not movement away from us (us!? are we back at the centre of the universe?) but just light wearing out over unimaginable distances.
I still think Melissus had a strong point but as Peter Mullen says, following Aquinas, Kierkegaard et al, if you don’t make that initial leap of faith you can’t understand. As the philosopher (whose name escapes me just now) said our reasonings follow our passions, and mine remain sceptical and uncertain.
Thanks again. Good wishes and a Happy Easter to you and yours.
There in, in Hebrew, HYH (haya) – “he was”, from which we get “I was”, “you were” etc. by adding letters. Similarly there is YHYH (Yihiyeh) – “he will be”, from which we get, in particular, “EHYH” – “Eheyeh”, “I will be”.
But almost never is there a use for the present tense of “to be” – no “am”, “is”, or “are”! In 99.99%+ of cases, one simply says “I hungry” (I am hungry) or “He happy” (He is happy) etc.
You almost only use the present of “to be”, “is”, to speak of God. “Hu HVH” – “Hoo Hoveh” – “He [God] is” – not in the sense “God exist” (another unrelated word, “kayam”, means “exists”) but in the theological sense of “He is what he is”.
YHVH is closely related to HVH, and was probably originally promounced “Yeheveh”, not “Yehovah” (Jehovah) – meaning something like “I AM” or “I who continually is”. It is God emphasizing, not that he is anything in particular, but that he IS – that his is existence, being, per se.
Oops. Meant that as a general comment on the original lecture, not as a comment on the presocrarics…
Skepic, your post was effectively simultaneous with mine, in which I warned about making too much fuss about the Name of God.
Your speculations aren’t uninteresting, but they’re partly based on the false idea that Biblical Hebrew verbs have tenses. In fact, Biblical Hebrew has no grammatical distinction between past, present and future.
What I meant when I used the phrase “childish reasoning” was that the Pre-Socratics were taking the human race’s first baby steps in rational thinking. I didn’t mean to disparage their unprecedented achievements. They began the unending tradition of learning *how* to think, instead of *what* to think. I could equally well describe their reasoning as “pioneering reasoning”, instead of “childish reasoning”, if you prefer.
How’s this for a refutation of Melissus? If the universe has always existed, then everything that can be imagined must already have happened an infinite number of times. Creation out of nothing can be imagined, therefore creation out of nothing has happened an infinite number of times.
It’s not a great argument, but neither is Melissus’s.
Melissus says (in Fragment 1),
aei ēn ho ti ēn – That which existed always existed,
kai aei estai – and will always exist.
ei gar egeneto – For if it came into being,
anankaion esti prin genesthai mēden – it is necessary that, before it came into being, [there was] nothing.
ei toinyn mēden ēn – However, if nothing existed,
oudama an genoito ouden ek mēdenos – nothing could ever have come into being out of nothing.
To which the Christian answer, and also some physical scientists’ answer, is, “That’s all very logical, but it happens not to be the way it really happened.”
To which I’ll add that it seems to me that Melissus, like Parmenides before him, is describing an ideal world, not the monstrously changeable world in which real reality is experienced by you and me.