All Saints Day Roundup

In honor of All Saints Day, here are some links to the saints on my blogroll:

This blog has its own canonization policy: every serious Christian, whom I refer to by name in the 3rd person, is a "Saint" (e.g. St. Faraday).  This policy is inspired by how the word "saints" was used in the early church to refer to ordinary Christians, e.g. St. Paul addresses one of his letters to "the saints in Ephesus", meaning every person in the congregation.  It emphasizes the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells inside every person who gives their life over to Jesus in order to become one of his Fathers's children.

The Hebrew word qadosh means something sacred which is set apart and dedicated to God's service, while the English word holy is related to whole or wholesome.  In its most proper sense, holiness is a property of God alone, and expresses that he is Good, not just in some conscientious ethical sense, but in the sense of a numinous, awe-inspiring Otherness which, for those fortunate enough to experience it, overpowers us with its majestic glory and weightiness.   The bodies of the "saints" are living Temples in which the Holy One dwells, and we become holy in a derivative sense, sanctified because of his presence inside of us.

Imagine a pond, which has some sort of flowers growing on its surface (a little like water lilies).  Most of these flowers float aimlessly on the surface, but some of them grow stems downwards in to the water.  This makes them rather awkwardly shaped at first, but when the stems reach the ground, they attach to the solid earth underneath.  From then on, the flowers share in the Solidity of the ground beneath.  They no longer drift with the surface currents, and they receive nutrients from below as well as above.  This is only an analogy, but perhaps it gives an idea of the kind of difference that holiness makes to a life.

When I call all Christians saints, this is to bring home the awareness of this astonishing fact.  It is not intended to deny that we all struggle in many ways with sin and bad habits, grieving his Spirit, and that we are therefore in constant need of forgiveness, from God and from one another.

Nor is it intended to deny that some people, because of their fellowship with Jesus, through suffering and joy, become especially holy in a way that serves as a special example of holiness to the rest of us.  I think of St. "Father John", the priest of Holy Trinity Orthodox church of Santa Fe, who cannot be in the same room with anyone without expressing deep love for them.

Nor do I mean to imply that only religious people can be ethical—if by ethics, one means a conscientious effort to be courageous, kind, honest, generous and self-controlled.  However, nonreligious people cannot be, and are not even trying to be, holy in the sense described above—unless indeed they have a relationship with God without knowing it.  (For we must never forget, that even before a person has a relationship with God, God is still having a relationship with them.  Like a host at a party, he provides them with food, drink, and entertainment, and if they happen to be ungrateful or mistreat the other guests, he takes it personally.)  For Christians, ethics comes out of holiness, because of God's love for us; it does not come out of conscientiousness.  That is the most important distinction between religious and nonreligious ethics.

About Aron Wall

I am a postdoctoral researcher studying quantum gravity and black hole thermodynamics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my first postdoc at UC Santa Barbara.
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4 Responses to All Saints Day Roundup

  1. Tom says:

    "For Christians, ethics comes out of holiness, because of God's love for us; it does not come out of conscientiousness. That is the most important distinction between religious and nonreligious ethics." That's a powerful statement. I'm going to let that hang out in my brain a while. Is there any way you could expand on that beyond what you already have? Maybe some analogies would help or some examples. Thanks.

    -Tom

  2. Tom says:

    Also, how do you pronounce your name? Is it like Aaron or "A"-ron or maybe uh-Ron? Just curious never seen a name spelled that way before.

  3. Aron Wall says:

    Tom,
    My name is pronounced exactly as if it had two A's. It is an old Mennonite name--I have at least 3 ancestors named "Aron Wall". The eldest St. Aron (6 generations back) was a pastor who led a group from Russia to the United States. But they weren't from Russia originally either.

    The best possible exemplar of holiness is an entire human life devoted to God, not a few words in a blog post. But perhaps it would help if I said that holy love is more like a shining light, a fountain of water, a consuming fire, a seed sprouting, yeast reproducing in dough, an erotic passion, musical harmony, or wind blowing the branches of trees, then it is like appeasing ones conscience or following a set of rules ("The kingdom of heaven is like...). It is contagious. However, one does not get it directly from other saints, one gets it from looking through them at Jesus. Regarding the insufficiency of conscientiousness, perhaps it would help to reread Romans and Galatians while thinking about this issue, since St. Paul makes a similar distinction between law and Spirit.

    UPDATE: Oops, I forgot my own canonization policy. I've fixed it now.

  4. Tom says:

    I will read Romans and Galatians and see what I find. Thanks. Pretty cool you can trace your ancestors that far back.

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