Flotsam: Councils of the Church and On Underestimating God

1. Moving on Tuesday, so most my time is taken up in packing. Fortunately, I’ve been doing it in increments for months, so there isn’t a whole lot left to be done. Mostly it’s a matter of deciding how to pack up the delicates and deciding what will be needed between now and then.

2. I’ve been listening to a series of lectures on the Church councils on the way to and from work, which is also a handy little summary of Church history (and, consequently, the history of the west). It’s fascinating and, oddly enough, comforting. Yeah, things are bad now, but things have been bad before, and people survived.

Not only survived, but thrived. At the same time as the corruption, petty power plays, and rampant stupidity was operating in the highest levels of the Church, there were also great Saints pursuing piety and working to save souls. The trick, it seems to me, is to focus on your own duty and make sure that, whatever may be said of the rest of Christendom, your own little patch of the kingdom is doing its job.

3. A rather interesting thought: the lecturer on the above happened to touch on Limbo, the section of Hell where those who die in Original Sin, but without grievous personal sins (e.g. infants, the just pagans, etc.) dwell. He commented that when most people describe Heaven – “a place of total happiness, where you meet all the dead and are content forever” – they are actually describing Limbo. The Beatific Vision – that is, Heaven proper – is something quite beyond that.

The way I think of it is that what God wants to do is not simply to make us perfect men, but something well beyond manhood. The Saints are, in the most literal sense, super human: something that is human and more. Which means they are not just happier than those in limbo, but happier in a way and to a degree that a simple human being could not conceive.

4. To take an analogy I think I’ve used before, it’s the difference between the happiness of a dog and the happiness of a human being. Dogs can be thoroughly happy in their doggish way, but the particular happiness of intellect, art, human love, and piety, and so on is simply beyond them. They can just sort of scrape the surface of it through their interactions with human beings, but they can’t go any further.

A saintly life in this world is like being the dog of a good and happy family: we experience the full doggish life, but also touch on something greater that we could never have gotten on our own and cannot fully experience or understand. Becoming a saint would be akin to a dog becoming fully human (except without the evil side of human nature: so, like a St. Bernard becoming the St. Bernard or something).

5. The short version is that, even while acknowledging that God will always be far beyond any conception we have of Him, we have an inveterate habit of vastly underestimating Him.

“That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him” is not hyperbole.

6. Anyway, I recommend that series on the councils. You can find the whole playlist linked below (it’s especially useful for getting a grasp on the Catholic-Eastern Orthodox issue, though further reading is necessary before I’d feel safe really wading into that).

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