Bright, Beautiful, Deadly

Sunrise

SCIENCE-Meteors-070198zz66[1]Every morning is the same; wake up before the sun, skip breakfast, race the rays of sunlight down from the highest point in Sydney to the lowest lane for the bus stop. Board the bus, watch the people, watch the window, see past the glass to the wonderful world. Repress the thought that there’s yet another English assessment task that is worth no marks begging to be done. One hour later arrive at the train station. Hop on a train, take another hour, and arrive at school. Rinse and repeat!

Today was different. There were no new faces on the bus, the sky was grey but without any rain to keep things interesting, and there was a thick fog obfuscating what would have been a glorious view outside. I found myself longing for a new face to pick to pieces, but not just any face; I had a very particular sort of person in mind. Someone who radiates magic; a person who overwhelms both man and woman with infinite beauty; the one who can redefine osmosis with a meaning that is more fitting of a word that sounds so good.

This train of thought was interrupted by a loud expletive from the driver as the bus suddenly came screeching to a halt. It was as if someone had hailed the bus right as it would run them over in order to save their own life. The doors opened, and I could see nothing through the fog seeping into the bus between the cold metal doors. Excitement filled my mind as I wondered who it could be. As the silhouette of this newcomer drew closer towards my seat, my electrified anticipation flew higher than I thought possible in this temperature. Out of the fog, appeared none other than that amazing person that had occupied my minds eye ten seconds before; the most beautiful, the most wonderful, the most graceful, glorious and gentle person on this planet; The absolute zenith of humanity; An angel trapped in mortal clothing; The light that can start and end all wars; The greatest of gods people; a sublimated form of god himself! The very reason life exists at all; the meaning of life!

Out of the fog stepped none other than a Redhead.

The doors closed and the bus lurched as it prepared to attack the steep hill with its’ wheels once again. The sudden jerk caused the beautiful angel before me to stumble slightly, and yet even in this imperfection was there embodied a sort of cosmic correctness that brushed aside any thought of corruption. Her beautiful eyes swept the seats, searching for a place to sit herself. There were hundreds, thousands of seats she could have picked, and yet by some strange stroke of fate she chose the seat, opposite and facing, me. Blood rushed through my whole body as I blushed a blush that could not be blushed for anyone else; a blush that set my whole face red, extended itself to my neck, and didn’t stop there. Soon my arms and fingertips had turned a bright bright red and begun to melt the ice which was coating the window on which they lay. My toes began to burn and steam quite visibly began to rise from my feet. The blush continued consuming my body, and finding that it could do no more there, begun to seep out onto the floor of the bus; creeping up to the other passengers and setting them in a hot flush as well. Suddenly my whole body burst into flames, the bus flew off the edge of a cliff, the other passengers on the bus melted into a void, and right as a mushroom cloud was beginning to appear on the hyperbolic horizon; the redheaded Goddess sat down.
The other passengers were still sleeping, despite the bus blowing its’ horn at some slow cyclists who were getting in the way more than the fog, and despite the presence in the bus of the very reason they walk in this world. I frowned at them all; stereotyping themselves and the whole world with no shame. It is a sad thing indeed when the entrance of a redhead is not met with immediate awe, respect and praise. But unfortunately, this is how the world stands. The world rejects their true kings and queens, labelling them gingers. Outcasts. Outsiders… How horrible, that the most godlike, angelic figures in all time and space must meet with such mad manners. Even now; in shops all around the globe, Dominant pants are being chosen over red denim, those most recessive of jeans. The red gene is reason for respect not racism! But no, society would call it a curse to be blessed with such beauty. They give the gift many names; Gingeritis; “You Fucking Ranga”; The curse of the outsider. How could this picture of pure beauty before me be treated so? What could this visual elegy of elegance have done wrong to deserve it? How could she do wrong at all! What a piece of work is a Redhead; how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty; in form and moving, how express and admirable; in action how like an angel; in apprehension… How like a God!

istockphoto-642266374-612x612[1].jpgThe only thing “Outsider” about the praeclarus girl facing me was that she had been outside too long, in the cold cold icy cold air, and was shivering. Shivering and shaking. Shaking her hair; Her long, silky smooth, burning hair running down past her neck and wrapping her body in a waterfall of warmth, casting off the shivering shell and kicking it to the side so that she could sit still, safe, and content; wrapped in the warmth of her own magic. I could not draw my eyes away from her, no, and neither could I restrain my ears! She sighed a sigh that sent shivers down my spine with such intensity that I could hear it cracking under the stress, the sound almost interrupting this ethereal music washing over my senses. It was as if she could simply pluck music out of the air without aid of pipe or wind, and with a mere breath set the elements to movements of chromatic harmony. Oh her breathing! The perfect, regular, waves of warmth carried with them a tale of a body that knows no sickness and is immune to all injury. So overwhelmingly powerful was her influence on my sense of sound that even my nose and tongue could detect her perfection in the air. My olfactory system exploded with sensation; she was the thirteenth essence! You would have to distil all the roses in the world to even come close to imitating how wonderfully this was received in my nose. Her scent was more precious than the most expensive perfume; with it came memories of all the most wonderful, happy, exciting, sad, victorious and unfortunate events in my life. All these moments came back to me and played out again, as if I were looking into the past, looking into the very crux of my identity, peering through a window to my immortal soul. I was reminded of what it meant to be human. The images dissolved into fireworks and stars, and glittering, shimmering, glowing red hair as my eyes opened and returned to the present. Reflected in her eyes was absolute infinity, those beautiful blue orbs; the two blue planets beneath the red curtain that align on the truth – but I could have sworn they were green not two seconds ago, and now they are a grand Hazel! Magical eyes of innocence, infinity, intelligence… and ignorance; From the eyes of everything, I wanted nothing. I only needed a single image, and it was sitting before me already.

Her long, slender legs were unbruised and smooth; showing no sign of being spoilt by worldly action. Her arms glowing with the power held within, her lips wearing a smile that could melt the hearts of a whole nation. Her perfectly rounded thighs put to shame the most well-crafted sculpture; an artist could spend his whole life trying to emulate those thighs and never come close. Her breasts needed no support, they were as light as air, unfreckled, smooth, bright, beautiful! Oh, what would I give to run a finger across those sacred domes, down to her luscious legs, up to stroke her gentle face, and then to engulf my hand, my arm, my whole body in that hair! Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful! Bright. Beautiful. Deadly. Bright, Beautiful, Deadly. Bright Beautiful Deadly. BrightBeautifulDeadly. BrightBeautifulDeadlyBrightBeautifulDeadlyBrightBeautifulDeadly…..

I sat there, under the full effect of this redheads magic; this angels enchantment; this outsiders curse. My freedom lost to beauty. Fair tresses man’s imperial race ensnare, and beauty draws us with a single red hair.

6383085293_49e1ea99f9_b[1].jpgThe bus stopped again. My redhead rose, and with hair shining brighter than a thousand stars, did exit and return to the outside world, the fog parting before her and joining behind her with every step. The three word poem “Bright. Beautiful. Deadly.” repeated over and over in my head. As she moved further away the spell she had cast over me grew weaker and weaker until finally… I woke up. Suddenly I felt cold again. The bus was still covered in frost, the passengers were still sleeping, there was still no light. I yawned and peered outside the window, my eyes winking away tiredness. I searched for the redhead, hoping that I could fill myself with warmth for a second longer. I searched and searched; stretching my sight to the heavens, but I couldn’t find her. Over the water I could see the sun rising, a semicircle of orange beauty. Bright, Beautiful, Deadly indeed. Some of the other passengers opened half an eyelid and briefly joined me in lending their gaze to the horizon. The soul of our solar system sparkled bright, but not so bright that it would force a wince of pain and my turning away; Dawn is the hour to appreciate our majestic sun. I heard a snore behind me and turned around. Everyone had returned to sleep but me. I sighed and for the final time glanced out the window at nature’s light show, smiling as I noticed a familiar face on the horizon.

Alex Herlihy – 2010

Beautiful Heresy 101 – Catholic Idolatry: “Venerate by your Hands; Worship in your Heart”

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Idolatry

Catholics cop a lot of crap from fundamentalists for having statues in their churches. According to these fundamentalists, Catholics are committing the grave sin of idolatry by doing this. Even more damnable in the eyes of these heathen Protestants is the fact that Catholics bow down to the statues and some Catholics even go so far as kissing them. This seems like clear and undeniable evidence that Catholics disregard and stand in contradiction to the scriptures; our good God’s infallible words:

Exodus 20:1-6 RSV-CE

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.“You shall have no other gods before me.You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

The basic moral principle that both Catholics and Protestants (and Jews and Muslims) agree on is that it is inappropriate to worship anyone but God alone. To worship something that is not God as God is the grave sin of Idolatry.

So, why do Catholics do this? Why do Catholics bow down to statues? There are lots of things to consider.

Veneration versus Worship: Which one is related to Idolatry?

A very helpful distinction to keep in mind is that between veneration and worship. Simply stated, veneration is a physical action that someone performs with their body towards some other physical object, whereas worship is an attitude in the heart of a person towards an object that may or may not be physical. In this way, it becomes possible to venerate an object without worshipping it, as well as to worship something without venerating it, and finally to both venerate and worship an object simultaneously. To worship anything other than God is Idolatry, however it is permissible to venerate almost anything without any Idolatry being committed.

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Idolatry

Some examples may be helpful. If you were ever to meet someone of royalty, for example a Saudi Arabian prince or the Queen of England, etiquette would require that you make some sign of deep respect towards the monarch, for example by genuflecting or kissing a ring. Now, some fundamentalist Muslims and Christians would get uncomfortable about this and their overclocked idolatry detectors would be pinging deep in the red end of the scale. However the vast majority of both Protestants and Catholics would consider this to be a socially acceptable expression of respect towards the Monarch. Reasonable people would not consider these actions of veneration to be idolatrous, because it is understood that we are not worshipping the monarch, we are merely venerating them.

It is the same with Catholics and their statues. When Catholics kiss, genuflect before and bow down to statues of Saints, Mary or Jesus, they are simply Venerating the depicted figures, but they are definitely not Worshipping them. There is therefore no idolatry occuring.

Another example may help. When a mystic sits completely still for an extended period and focuses his mind on union with God, his heart may very easily slip into a state of extremely intense and ecstatic worship of the good God on high. In this case, he is sitting completely still and so is not demonstrating any evidence of veneration, however within himself there is occurring extremely strong and delightful waves of love and worship towards God. It is appropriate that there be no act of veneration in this case because acts of veneration always have to be directed towards some physical object or location, however God does not have a physical location; he is simultaneously omnipresent and located nowhere. For this reason even if the mystic wanted to venerate God, he wouldn’t be able to. Instead he must direct his worship towards God in an abstract sense. So in this case, there is worship without veneration.

An interesting example for Muslims is the fact that during their five daily prayers they prostrate towards the Kaabaah in Mecca. Prostration is an extremely profound movement of veneration, so it is rather telling that Muslims pray towards a physical location, despite their intense aversion to idolatry. The explanation in this case is that their action of veneration – the Salat prostrations – are directed towards Mecca, however their attitude of worship is directed towards God alone, who has no physical location.

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Idolatry

A final example is appropriate. When Catholics engage in adoration of the Eucharist, this is an example of a simultaneous veneration and worship, because the Catholic belief is that the bread they are staring at has literally been transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ himself. The Catholics believe they are literally staring at God, and so they may bow down towards the Eucharist as an act of veneration whilst simultaneously confessing the divinity of that towards which they bow in their hearts as an attitude of worship. In this case, there is both veneration and worship. Whether you believe that this is idolatry depends on your view of the Eucharist.

The crucial point is that veneration and worship are distinct. It is permissible to venerate pretty much anything, but it is only appropriate to worship God. In summary, veneration is an action of the hands, whereas worship is an attitude of the heart. Idolatry is the worship of anything other than God, but veneration of pretty much anything is always permissible.

Dulia, Hyperdulia and Latria

The doctrine of theosis declares that God became man so that man might become God. According to theosis, the saints all participate in divinity to different degrees, and therefore it is appropriate to “worship” the saint to the exact degree that they participate in divinity. Of course, Mary participates in Divinity to the maximal possible extent, so it is appropriate to direct maximal worship towards her. However, it is an established principle that worship is to be directed to God alone, and while Mary and all the saints have been truly “divinized”, when push comes to shove they are fundamentally human and not divine. The water is muddied: should we or should we not worship these saints who have attained to a combination of created and divine natures?

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Idolatry

It is helpful to introduce a helpful historical distinction at this point. There are three different kinds of worship: Dulia, Hyperdulia and Latria.

Dulia is worship reserved for a divinized saint. To the extent that the saint is united to God and has divinity permeating his soul, it is appropriate to worship the saint. The reason why is that you are not actually worshipping the saint as a created being, but are instead worshipping the divinity that is united to that saint. To the extent that the saint is divine, we worship them, to the extent that the saint is created, we do not worship. The technical term for this mixture of worship and non-worship is the word Dulia.

Now, Mary has achieved maximum theosis. She is as closely united to God as it is possible to be. As such, it becomes appropriate to direct maximal worship towards her. However, the fact remains that Mary is essentially human before she is divine, and therefore it would be inappropriate to give her the fullness of worship reserved for God himself. In this way, the worship we give to Mary is also the worship of Dulia, just as with all the other saints. However on account of the fact that Mary has achieved maximum theosis, she also receives maximum Dulia. Theologians invented a new term for this maximal level of worship: Hyperdulia. In essence, it is still just the worship of Dulia, however due to it’s maximal nature, it is called hyperdulia.

Finally, there is the worship reserved for God himself. This is the worship of Latria. To give Latria to anything but God would be the deepest idolatry, for this is the form of worship reserved for him and him alone. Catholics direct their Latria towards the Eucharist during adoration, or towards God in the abstract during deep prayer. To direct Latria towards Mary or a Saint would be gravely sinful, because regardless of how deep their experience of divinity, they are fundamentally human before they are God. Whereas God himself is Divine before he is human, and it is therefore appropriate to give him the infinitely elevated worship of Latria, rather than the lower and lesser worship of Dulia.

In summary, it is appropriate to worship anything that is divine just to the extent that it is divine, however it is important to pay attention to the essential nature of the object you are worshipping: If the object is fundamentally created before it is divine, then we should only give it the worship of Dulia, whereas if the object if fundamentally divine before it is created (ie, God himself) then we should give it the worship of Latria.

But what about the commandments against statues, images and idolatry?

Someone might be reading this and think “That’s all well and good, but in scripture doesn’t God explicitly say that it is not permissible to make statues and bow down to them? All the arguments in the world can’t change that brute fact.”

This is true, so it is helpful to examine the status of the law in Christianity. The idea is that there is the Moral law and the Mosaic law. Jesus abolished the Mosaic law when he died and resurrected, however the Moral law is still in force. It can sometimes be hard to tell which commandment belongs to which law. However in this case the church has identified the commandment concerning statues as belonging to the Mosaic law, and as therefore having been abrogated by Christ along with the laws concerning ritual cleanliness, clean and unclean foods, sacrificial rituals and so on. Whereas the moral law against idolatry remains in force in the sense that it is inappropriate for Christians to worship anything that is not divine, and it is inappropriate to give the worship of Latria to anything but God himself.

Idolatry

Idolatry

It is interesting to revisit the arguments that were put forward at the seventh ecumenical council, which was primarily concerned with this very debate. The fathers of the council claimed that God abrogated the commandment against images when he became incarnate: When God took on the form and image of the man Jesus, he for all time made it permissible to make use of created images as an aid to worship. God represented himself with flesh, and in doing so made it lawful for Christians to represent the divine via other created images. If the commandment against representing God with images were still in effect, it would imply that God had broken his own commandment by becoming incarnate! This is clearly an impossibility, and the only possible conclusion is that God has abrogated the commandment in question by his incarnation.

One final consideration from the seventh ecumenical council is worthwhile touching upon. When a Christian venerates a statue and directs his worship of Dulia towards the depicted saint, they are not actually worshipping the statue; they are instead worshipping the saint whom the statue depicts. In the language of the council fathers, the worship directed towards a statue or image travels through the image to the “prototype”. In this way it is not the statue being worshipped, but the saint that the statue depicts.

Conclusion

An easy to remember way of expressing the principles outlined in this post is the following: Veneration is an action of the hands; Worship is an attitude of the heart. Also, we only worship an object to the extent that it is divine; Saints receive Dulia, Mary receives Hyperdulia, and only God himself receives Latria.

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Beautiful Heresy 101 – Adoptionism: “Jesus was not born God, he ‘became’ God”

20091210_thisissue_600-kindle-cover_w[1]The Muslims are right: Jesus was just a man. He wasn’t God. He was just a dude. He had a single nature and that nature was human. In fact, Jesus was peccable, which is to say he was able to sin. Adds a whole new dimension to the temptation in the wilderness story doesn’t it? Our saviour really could have failed, he really could have given in to the temptations!

However, at no point did he actually sin. If we conceive of sins as the bricks in a wall that stands between us and God and separate us from him, then consider what it means for Jesus to not have to contend with such a barrier. At all times, Jesus the man had full and direct access to God. There was no sin that stood in his way. In other words, from the moment of his conception all the way through his life and ministry, and even up to his death; Jesus experienced a profound unity with God and a full theosis.

Now, Jesus was fully man, which means that he inherited a fallen, imperfect human nature just like the rest of us. And this was why he needed to be baptised! Baptism removes the curse of original sin, which Jesus suffered from just like all of us, even if he never commit any actual moral fault.

But Jesus experienced full theosis, which is to say that even though he was merely a man by nature, it would be accurate to call him “fully God” by participation. And this would hold true for the duration of his entire life. So there is a sort of dyophysis at play: Jesus is fully man by nature, and fully God by participation, and there is a strict separation between the two natures. If at any time he had slipped up and sinned, he would have lost his full participation in divinity, as the bricks in the wall between him and God would have begun to stack up.

But no, Jesus was fully united to the divine λογος for his entire life. Never did he slip up. There have been many saints, Christian and otherwise who have also achieved a full unity with the λογος, for example Muhammad and Buddha, but what separates these saints and mystics from Jesus is that they begun their journey behind the wall of sin, and had to dismantle it brick by brick, whereas Jesus experienced theosis for the entire duration of his life.

Now, Jesus died. For the purposes of this discussion the details are not relevant, whether it was by murder or by old age does not matter. The crucial point is that this innocent man died; the only man who had ever lived his entire life without sinning once. But the wages of sin is death, so how could a man who had never sinned be subject to the penalty of death? And so the Justice of God becomes manifest as God raises Jesus from death to new life; a new life from which he will never die again.

But something funny happened as Jesus passed from death to new life. His nature changed. He took on an eschatalogical existence. No longer was he a dyophysis of created nature and divine participation. Instead he takes on the divine simplicity of a miaphysis; he becomes God! My thesis is therefore that the full incarnation did not occur at Christmas, but at Easter. Jesus was not born as God, he became God. Yes there was a sense in which he was fully God for his entire life and ministry, but this was merely by “participation”, not by “nature”. However the game changed after the resurrection. Jesus truly could be referred to as fully God in every respect. In fact, all of the imperfections and limitations of his human nature were swallowed up in the divine nature, like a drop in the ocean. Nevertheless he retained his created attributes.

This is why it is now appropriate to worship Jesus as the one true God. He has attained the divine perfections and exists already at the end of history, in the eschaton. This is why he says “no one comes to the father except through me”. God is eternally hidden, unmanifest, and there is valid no way to worship him, despite his being the only valid object of worship. But Jesus changes all that. He has broken the curtain that separates us from God in half and taken on a tangible form. Now we direct our worship towards this man Jesus, in the Eucharist, in the flesh. He became God, but by being God, he always was God. And so it will be with us. All of us will achieve theosis, and then all of us will achieve resurrection, and finally all of us will become the λογος incarnate. But while we are pilgrims here, on this side of the eschaton, waiting for that glorious resurrection, only Jesus is God, and only him do we worship.