Through a Glass Darkly – How Certain is Faith? A Thomistic Institute Lecture at the University of Kansas

Does God really exist?  How can we be sure of it?  Is Jesus Christ divine?  How do we know he is not just another legend like myriad other figures throughout history?  What about the Church’s moral teachings?  Are those truly grounded in reality, or are they just artifacts of a bygone age that we aren’t bound by anymore?  Friedrich Nietzsche was one of history’s greatest critics of Christianity who insisted that the Church’s teachings were fundamentally a power play with no objective truth behind them.  For this reason, he wrote to his sister, “If you wish to strive for peace of soul and happiness, then believe; if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then inquire.”  So do the Church’s teachings really give us knowledge, or is Nietzsche right and they just give us comfort?

If my experience is any indication, one of the most oft-recurring questions in the minds of college-aged Christians concerns the relationship of faith and doubt that I have just identified.  Believers often tend to think that their faith is supposed to be absolutely certain.  The reality is, though, that belief experienced in the actual lives of people today often appears more along the lines I’ve just described than by Thomas Aquinas, for whom doubt is incompatible with faith.  Check out this talk that I recently gave at the University of Kansas in which I show that the Catholic Church, especially as enshrined in the towering theological figures of Thomas Aquinas and Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, has something profound to say to those of us today who find ourselves caught in the situation of believing while doubting, of being a new apostle Thomas.

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Unless You Believe, You Will Not Understand: Biblical Faith according to Benedict XVI and Thomas Aquinas

It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted here.  There are really two reasons for this.  First, over the past year I’ve had to deal with rapid kidney failure as a result of my lupus and then the aftermath of a kidney transplant.  Thanks be to God for my friend who gave me his kidney and thus the gift of life.  And thanks be to God that, after an incredibly challenging recovery process, I’ve now mostly healed and am back in action.

The other reason I haven’t posted here is that I’ve had no new publications to share.  Rather than writing shorter pieces, this year I was busy with alot of speaking engagements and completing 2 books which have now been accepted for publication.  I’ll share more on those another time.  For now, I’d simply like to share what I’m up to in the immediate future.

Next weekend, I’m giving a paper at the conference Aquinas the Biblical Theologian, co-sponsored by the Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal and the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, hosted by Ave Maria University.  The title of my talk is “Unless You Believe, You Will Not Understand: Biblical Faith according to Benedict XVI and Thomas Aquinas.”  For this talk, I’ll be distilling a longer paper that I wrote into a reflection on how Aquinas and Benedict interpret Isaiah 7:9 according to the Hebrew and Greek.  The two are actually very different: the forrmer reads, “Unless you believe, you will not be established,” while the latter changes “be established” to “understand.”  I’ll be discussing the implications of this change for how these authors understand what faith is, how much certitude it enjoys, and whether one needs to profess the whole Catholic faith in order to have faith at all.

I am so excited to speak at this conference next weekend and get out of town in the midst of a long physical and spiritual winter. Initially, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to accept the invitation to speak at this conference because we were supposed to be teaching again for Benedictine College’s study abroad in Florence this semester. But then I had this kidney transplant in December. Well, now I’ve mostly healed from it and am ready to escape Midwest winter for a few days. Southwest Florida, I love you–here we come!

Find out more about the upcoming conference here on Ave Maria University’s website.

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Integral Ecology and the Ecological Virtues in Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’

Over the past couple years of Francis’s pontificate, I have had fielded innumerable questions from college students, colleagues, and parishioners who are confused by our reigning pope’s approach in general and his views expressed in Laudato Si’ in particular.  Actually, I think that the pontiff’s recent encyclical ought to be applauded by all Catholics, and this is what I have taken up in my recent article published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

Contrary to the perception of many who have not read the document, it turns out that the question of climate change holds only a minor place within the scope of the encyclical, and it is largely irrelevant to Francis’s overarching message. In other words, the text is not “an encyclical on climate change,” as some have called it. It treats a number of other scientific issues and much, much more besides that. In this piece, what I do here is to offer a reflection on what I take to constitute the heart of Francis’s vision for an “integral ecology” and the “ecological virtues” demanded by it.  In so doing, I assuredly touch on certain themes that others have treated, but I also hope to add some nuances that have not been addressed in the various commentaries currently circulating in the blogosphere.  You can read the entire article here.

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