Our weekly bible study/cell group was really interesting today. In fact, so many things were discussed, so many questions were raised (and left distinctly, unsatisfactorarily unanswered) that I hardly know where to begin. Tim and I had dinner at Chijmes and really…I think most of the time I was thinking about what we talked about at cell, even whilst munching on very yummy antipasti.
Firstly, I think all of us can agree that even after close to four years of an ostensibly intellectually stimulating and enriching education in the grande olde dame NUS law school…we still can’t do the darnest simplest thing. That is, draw a line. Or rather, draw THE line. It always come down to that doesn’t it? We’re all muddling through life, still trying to pin down that dratted elusive LINE.
I came to realise something about myself too… though I am a Christian, I’ve always more or less gone on the harm principle as my moral bottom line. Over and above that is well and good but I wouldn’t kill myself over it as long as I never caused anyone harm in pursuing my goals and the other constituents of daily life. That was also the least I asked of others…in a sense, what I believed a “decent” person should at least adhere to. But it shouldn’t be the case. Though the law does not operate on the principle that we are our brother’s keepers, we should make it the law of our hearts. Love is a positive thing, it is action and not passivity. It is not meagre decency. And that inevitably leads back to the first question….where should we draw the line in applying this principle to the myriad situations we would encounter? That’s the hard part isn’t it? Application. Stating the principle is but a sweeping statement.
We also talked about the Saints. I’m not sure if I explained it well enough…to be sure, I had wanted to elaborate but didn’t want to impose my views on others and we were straying from the point as it was (when do we not!?). In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, it says:
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us…”
I talked about the cultural background of how the idea of patron saints came into being…that to spread Christianity, the early church leaders tried to teach it to the people** by couching it in language they understood better and in practices that were similar. Hence we have the veneration of the Saints…veneration not as worship (which is reserved solely for the Godhead) but as pious respect, to revere, as it were. It seemed natural to the people then (many Romans and Greeks) to have Saints in various positions and roles, similar to the roles the Archangels possessed- Gabriel as Messenger, Raphael as Physician, Michael as Warrior, Lucifer (when he was an archangel) as Musician- and to appeal for their help in various situations. Now, when I say “appeal” or “pray” I mean this in the old english usage of the word which is to “ask” not worship. What really happens is that we ask for the Saints’ intercession, effectively, we ask them to pray with and for us, similar to the way we ask our friends to pray for us when we are in need. This is possible because we believe in the “Communion of Saints”, as recited every Sunday in the Apostle’s and Nicene Creed or Profession of Faith- the Communion of Saints is really just a fancy way of saying that the Church extends beyond the physical confines of our earthly abode to include those who have gone before us to Heaven and await the reunification of the entire Church at the Messiah’s Second Coming. We believe that the whole Church both on Heaven as on Earth is in communion, in Hebrews, the saints and angels are represented as a “cloud of witnesses”- we don’t believe they are segregated from us or oblivious to earthly comings and goings. Indeed, our every step is watched and known. The pretty/cool latin terms for these are:
The Church Militant (Ecclesia Militans), comprising Christians who are living, (militant is used for the sense of “struggle” here)
The Church Triumphant (Ecclesia Triumphans), comprising those who are in Heaven, and
The Church Suffering (Ecclesia Penitens) or Church Expectant (Ecclesia Expectans), comprising those Christians presently in Purgatory/The Happy Place as my friends euphemise.
Er yah. Anyway I wanted to make clear that not all Catholics are too happy about the idea of patron saints, in fact it is regardly widely as a stodgy, outmoded concept that is more of a stumbling block to the rest of Christianity than it is helpful. (Anyway, the patron saint thingy is not dogma so if Catholics wanna live their life without regard to them, they are welcome to…though they should at least be respectful of them and recognise their communion with us earthlings, sez the Church) So, while I find there is nothing wrong with the concept of the veneration and communion of saints, the idea that we have to give them specific tasks is kinda unnatural and really posthumously thrust upon them in many instances. Perhaps we should have a dialogue session with them to find out their views on the matter yah? *grin*
You know even though I feel as if I’ve just written a veritable wiki article here there are so many things I have yet to find out, such as the process of canonisation, etc. It seems that they more you find out, the less you know…it’s an endless pursuit of knowledge. Maybe I shouldn’t keep nitpicking. I always do.
**Edit: It could be that or that it evolved naturally as people gravitated to and incorporated Christianity in the practices they were used to. I see it as an organic cultural progression. Really, the idea of patron saints is highly cultural.