Metaphors in the Nicene Creed III

This is a continuation of a series about metaphors in the Nicene Creed.  The third article of the Creed concerns the Holy Spirit, and his role in the Church.  (Or if you want to impress people with your vocabulary, it's about "pneumatology" and "ecclesiology"!)  Interestingly, while almost all Christian denominations would agree with the words of this article, a lot of the disputes between different groups come in the details of these topics.  Several of these regrettable disputes will come up in the notes.  As before, red = metaphor, green = unsure, blue = another comment.

And in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord and giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son];
who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
who spoke by the Prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the time to come. Amen.

Spirit: literally means "breath", but metaphorically can be used to refer to an emotional state, to the "soul" or deepest aspect of a human being, or to a bodiless intelligent being such as an angel or demon. In a second metaphor on top of the first one, the "Holy Spirit" is God's spirit, called "holy" in order to distinguish it from the other spirits. The latter meaning is capitalized in English, but not in Greek, so in the original New Testament the readers have to guess which kind of "spirit" is meant in any given passage.
Holy ... holy: see here for my attempt to convey the meaning of this term. One of these refers to an inherent attribute of God, while the other (skipping ahead to the Church) refers to something which is holy because it is consecrated or devoted to God. Whichever of these meanings you think is the primary one, the other is a metonymy.
giver: literally refers to the act of conveying an object to somebody, but "life" is not an object in the same sense that a toy is, and furthermore we did not exist before we received it.
proceeds from: "proceeds" literally means comes after in order, for example in a parade. "proceeds from" therefore means comes out of, for example if a person emerges from a house.
[and the Son]: filioque in the Latin. This word was not originally in the Creed. In the West it was added several centuries later, in order to combat Arianism. However, it was regarded as heretical in the East, and contributed to the Great Schism of 1054 when the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic church excommunicated each other. Oops does not even begin to describe this one.
with ... together: suggests material proximity, but means "taken as a whole". Of course "taken" is another physical metaphor. You can't get rid of them, you can only change which one you use.
worshipped: of course the members of the Trinity are worshipped, but the text really means that they ought to be worshipped, that because they are divine they are worthy of it. This is a figure of speech, but I don't think it is a metaphor.
glorified: see "glory" above; this one is even more likely to mean God's invisible glory.
spoke: but indirectly through a human intermediary, who in turn did not necessarily "speak out loud". Means "communicated".
one ... Church: in its most basic sense "one" means that there is numerically one of some predefined type of entity, i.e. "she has just one child". But metaphorically when used as an adjective can refer to a quality of unity, e.g. "They are working hard to become one nation, but tensions remain between different factions," or "for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Here is a place where all Christians acknowledge the same Creed, but they may mean slightly different things by it. Roman Catholics say there is just one true Church, consisting of those who are in communion with the Pope, while the Eastern Orthodox agree but for the minor emendation that the Church instead refers to themselves. Protestants, on the other hand, don't believe that any one church is infallible. We say that all Christians from every denomination are a part of the Church, and that its unity comes from everyone being included in Jesus.
catholic: means universal or worldwide. When the Catholic church calls itself "Catholic", this is another way of saying that they are the Universal Church and that if you don't accept the authority of the Pope, you aren't a full member. Thus, the Orthodox also call themselves the Catholic church, and Protestants like myself believe that the Catholic church includes all Christians.
apostolic: The word "apostle" was coined by Jesus to refer to his Twelve disciples. It means a messenger or an ambassador. Metaphorically therefore, a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus' new kingdom. In the broader sense, an apostle can be any of the hundreds of people who witnessed Jesus after the Resurrection.
"Apostolic" means associated with the apsotles in some way. To add a metaphor from Scripture, the apostles are the foundation for the Church. As St. Paul wrote:

You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20)

while the Book of Revelation develops the same metaphor in a more glimmering way:

The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.... The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. (Rev. 21:14,19-20)

All Christians agree that the Church should be based on the teaching of the apostles about Jesus. Traditionally, there is also a concept of apostolic succession, that each bishop was ordained by another bishop in a chain of trasmission going back to the original apostles.  But most Protestants do not consider this to be of importance.
Church: the Greek Ἐκκλησίαν or Latin Ecclesia means "called out" and refers to a political asssembly or a religious congregation.  Here, since the church is "one" and "universal", it is being used in a metaphorical way to refer to all of God's people as if they were already assembled together in one place.  This is appropriate because even though the Church is divided into dstinct local congregations, they are all united by sharing the same Lord and the same Spirit.  We are also "called out" from regarding ourselves in an earthly way, since our citizenship is in Heaven.  Note that the meaning of Church the community of all Christians, not just clergy or organizational structures.
one baptism: In addition to saying that just one form of Christian baptism is recognized, this indicates that baptism does not need to be repeated multiple times for each individual—yet another meaning for that pesky word "one".  This is in recognition of the fact that Jesus' died once and for all in order to save us, and that even if we are unfaithful to our promises, God is not.
baptism: the sacrament of initiation into the Christian church, it involves being literally bathed with water (via immersion, pouring or sprinkling, although Baptists think only the immersion counts).  Some denominations (Catholics, Orthodox, some Protestants) baptize infants born to Christian parents, while other Protestants wait until the child is old enough to profess faith in Jesus, and will rebaptize those who were baptized as infants.  (Despite the name attached to the Anabaptist sect, this is not because they believe in two baptisms, but because they don't recognize the first one.)
remission of sins: to remit a debt is to cancel or forgive it.  In this analogy for salvation, moral wrongdoing (sin) is conceived as if it were owing money to God.  Since God is the one who is owed, he has the right to forgive the debt.
for: this is another place where different Christian theologies will say radically different things.  Does "for" mean "in order to effect", so that God uses the water to actually make a spiritual change in the person?  Or does it just mean "symbolizing the remission of sins", and baptism is an acted-out metaphor for what God has already done?
look for: as if anticipating a future reality involves the use of eyes.
resurrection: etymologically this is the same word root as "rose again" in the previous article, so the same comments would apply.  However, one could also regard this as a technical term for resurrection in the religious sense, in which case this would be (ironically) a dead metaphor.
life: the Resurrection life might not be powered by the same cellular and metabolic biological processes currently at work in our body, but I suppose that "life" is being used here in a nontechnical way to mean an animate being, in which case this is not a metaphor.
time: some theologians might speculate that time will not work in the usual way in our future eternal state.
to come: as thought the future arrived on the scene like a person entering a room.

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Metaphors in the Nicene Creed II

This is a continuation of the previous post describing metaphors in the Nicene Creed.  Red = metaphor, green = unsure, blue = another comment.  The second article of the Creed concerns the Son, affirming his full divinity, his role in creation, and his Incarnation as a human being:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all times,
God of God, Light of Light,
true God of true God,
begotten, not made,
of the same Being with the Father;
through whom all things were made;

Who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate
by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the living and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.

Lord: literally means an aristocratic nobleman ruling over some territory.
Christ: Greek translation of "Messiah"; both terms literally mean someone anointed by pouring oil on them, as a consecration ceremony in order to inaugurate them in some important role (such as priest or king).  Jesus is called Christ, not because he was anointed with oil, but because he is anointed by the Holy Spirit.
only begotten Son of God: literally "begotten" refers to the act by which a man or animal sires a child. But the Father did not generate the Son by having sex, so "Son" does not have the same meaning as for humans. Furthermore, earthly sires are older than their children, but this does not apply to the divine begetting of the Son, as the next line states. It means that the Son is not created ex nihilo, but rather is an offspring from the Father's being. (Although this could not have been otherwise, it was still voluntary in the sense that it was not a compulsion, but happens in accordance with the Father's will.) In a gender-mixed metaphor, St. Augustine even suggested we should think of the Son as coming from the "womb" of the Father!
times: a better translation of saecula/αιώνων than the more frequent translation "worlds"
before all times: literally if something happens before a time t_1, we mean that it happened at some other time t_2 which is earlier than t_1. Clearly this cannot be the case for "before all times", since by definition there was no time before time began. This must therefore be a metaphor for "eternally".
God of God: this text was in the original 325 Creed, but apparently someone tried to edit it out of the 381 version because of its redudancy. As a result it is in the Latin version but not the Greek version. Oops.
of: in "God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God", probably means something like "coming out of" which is a metaphor (the Son does not literally emerge from the Father, as if they were located in space.)
Light of Light: God is not made of photons
not made: same technical use of "made" found above for "maker": the Son is not a created being but is fully divine.
Being: also translated "substance" (from the Latin substantia) or essence (from the Greek "ούσια"). However neither word is exactly clear in English. To us, "substance" suggests a chemical or material, but to the ancient philosophers it meant the underlying being of something, its essential nature or existence.
of the same Being with: this is one word in the Latin consubstantialem or Greek ὁμοούσιον. This is the word which Arius and his followers were unable to accept. It is a metaphor to the extent that it differs from the standard philosophical usage of the word. It says that the Father and Son have the exact same Being. Since there is just one God, this does not just mean the same kind of being, as two human beings have the same basic nature. Rather, even though the Father and Son are distinguishable in certain respects, they are so closely associated that they should be regarded as a single "entity".
through: but the Son is not literally an opening. If we translate this "by means of", the Son is not literally a mechanical tool either.
for: this is actually pretty close to the literal meaning "for the sake of / in order to benefit"
men: believe it or not, this seemingly masculine English word includes women and children as well! However the Latin word homines and the Greek word ανθρώπους are even more gender-neutral than the English "men"; these languages have separate words vir and ανηρ which refer specifically to adult males.
salvation: literally means "rescue", for example if someone saves your life from a burning building. I wasn't totally sure whether to count this as a metaphor or not. Being rescued from the effects of sin and death would seem to fall under the general category of being rescued, but on the other hand the earthly examples of salvation are illustrative metaphors which help us think about the meaning of salvation in the technical theological sense.
came down from heaven: but heaven in the theological sense is not actually located vertically above the earth. Also, "before" the incarnation, the Son did not have a body, not even one "located" in a "place" called "Heaven". I think here heaven is best thought of as a metonymy for the presence of God, and so "came down from heaven" refers to the Son coming from a state of being with the Father, so as to take on a new existence on Earth. Even this is not quite right though, because the Son's existence with the Father is timeless, and in that sense the Son never stopped being in heaven. So strictly speaking, it would be better to say that the Son started being on Earth in a new way. What the language "came down" gets right is that the Son pre-existed before he was conceived in Mary's womb.
incarnate: means "became flesh", but with the caveat that his divinity was not transfomed into flesh, rather a complete human nature was added to his divinity.
made man: see above
by the Holy Spirit: that is "by means of" the Spirit, as thought the Spirit were an instrument. See notes on the next article for metaphors in "Holy Spirit".
under: refers to the jurisdiction of an earthly ruler using the metaphor of vertical elevation.
rose again: in 1st century Jewish burial customs, bodies were placed on slabs which were actually elevated from the ground. Thus, when Jesus "rose" from the dead, he actually would have moved downwards to reach the ground level. Once again the vertical axis is being used to describe a change of status (from dead to alive).  This is not what most people would mean by "taking the Resurrection metaphorically", but it is a metaphor nonetheless.
ascended into heaven: as in the case of "came down", Heaven is not literally located above the Earth. However, the ascent is not really the opposite of the descent. The descent was really the act of acquiring a human body (and mind). But the ascent did not involve discarding his body, as though Christ stopped being human. Instead he remains human forever, although in a transformed ("glorified") state. In fact, it is not even clear that "Heaven" means the same thing in both places. In the descent, I argued that Heaven just means the presence of God. In the ascent, one might suppose that there is some created "place" in which Jesus' body currently dwells. As Jesus said to his disciples:

"My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:2-3)

But see the next phrase.
sits on the right hand of the Father: but the Father has no body and therefore no literal "right hand". Instead this phrase means that Christ is elevated to a position of special favor with God. (Notice that if I translate into fancy phrases, we tend to think of it as being less crudely literal, but in fact the spatial metaphor of ascent is still implicit in the words "elevation" and "position"! The "cruder" expressions for metaphors are actually better, because you notice that you are using them.) Similarly, the verb "sits" emphasizes that he is at rest, and secure in his reign over the universe. As with the phrase "sitting monarch", it does not require him to literally be in a chair.
come again: once again a term for motion, used to describe something more subtle. Since this hasn't happened yet, we need to be careful, but we believe that Jesus' body—the same Jewish man that was crucified—will once again be visibly manifested on Earth, in a way that will be dramatic and obvious to everyone (Matthew 24:27)
glory: literally either fame or glowing. Both might literally apply to the situation of the Second Coming (if it is similar to the Transfiguration), especially if the point is to distinguish it from his first coming in humility. However, the term "glory" may also be a metaphor to describe the invisible glory that comes from being recongized by God, and being transformed into his spiritual likeness. In his letter to St. Timothy, St. Paul refers to this invisible glory as "unapproachable light":

"Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen." (1 Timothy 6:12-16)

Since no one can see it, it's clear Paul is not referring to electromagnetic radiation here.
judge: a literal judge is an earthly magistrate who settles disputes between people, but Christ refused that role: "Who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" (Luke 12:14).  He is the judge because our response to him determines our eternal destiny.  Even there he does not judge in the usual way:

"I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.  If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.   There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day." (John 12:47-48)

kingdom: Similarly Christ's kingdom is very different from an earthly kingdom. He reigns, not with force, but in men's hearts. "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, then my servants would fight, to prevent me from being delivered to the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place" (John 18:36).

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Metaphors in the Nicene Creed I

A "fundamentalist" is someone who takes everything in the Bible literally.  A "liberal theologian" is one who takes most of it metaphorically.  Or so everyone says.

The problem with this simplistic dichotomy is that language is fundamentally metaphorical.  We seldom open our mouths without resorting to a metaphor.  I'm not talking about explicit, literary metaphors such as my love is like a red, red rose.  (PS if you tell me that this is a simile instead of a metaphor, I will do something like shooting you.  Despite what they teach in schools these days, a simile is one kind of metaphor.)  I'm talking about metaphors which are embedded in the way we talk and thing, like in these phrases: flying into a rage, upper crust manners, a fever going down, and so on.

As soon as we talk about abstractions, or real concrete entities which happen to be outside of our immediate sensory experiences, we can only think about things metaphorically.  And this means that much of our language will be metaphorical as well.

Particularly endemic are spatial metaphors.  In addition to the ubiquitous up and down, these tend to be embedded in prepositions such as in, on, above, under, between, and so on.  Even in pure math, if I talk about an element in a set (as though a set were a box), or a function from the real numbers to the complex numbers (as though it involved motion), or a group over the integers, or I say that a number is higher than another number, I'm using metaphors without even realizing it.  For more information on the way metaphors pervade our language and thinking, I recommend (the first half of) Metaphors We Live By, which is by George Lakoff (one of my parents' linguistics profs) and Mark Johnson.

Thus it is not surprising that there will also be metaphors in theology.  Of course theology is metaphorical, just like everything else. To illustrate this point, I will discuss some of the metaphors implicit in the Nicene Creed.  This is the most important statement of Christian beliefs in the world, and is accepted by almost all Christians worldwide including Catholics, Orthodox, Coptic, Assyrian, virtually all Protestants, etc.  The first draft of the Creed was written in 325 in order to clarify belief in the Trinity, especially to combat the Arian heresy, named after a theologian named Arius who taught that Jesus was a created being, and therefore was not fully divine, but was subordinate to the Father.  In 381 the Creed was expanded and edited, to say more about the Holy Spirit, and about the Church.

The Creed was simultaneously written in Latin and Greek, with slightly different texts.  Additional variations come about from translation into English.  My base text of the Creed of 381 comes from here, but I have made some changes to the translation for clarity and accuracy of meaning.  Red indicates the presence of a metaphor which I wish to discuss; blue represents other kinds of notes.  Green means I wasn't quite sure whether it should be considered a metaphor—for example, it might be regarded as a dead metaphor, an alternative literal meaning, or just an unusual application of the ordinary meaning of the word.

Note that when I say that a word is metaphorical, I mean that it is metaphorical under the traditional/conservative/orthodox interpretation as it would have been understood by educated ancient people—which is often wrongly referred to as the "literal" meaning.  I am not talking about any modern "liberal" reinterpretation of what Christian theology means.

I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all times,
God of God, Light of Light,
true God of true God,
begotten, not made,
of the same Being with the Father;
through whom all things were made;

Who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate
by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the living and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord and giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son];
who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
who spoke by the Prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the time to come.  Amen.

As you see there are a lot of metaphors here.  There would be even more red here if I had highlighted metaphors every time they appear, instead of just once each.  Sometimes it is ambiguous whether a word involves a metaphor or not, so I had to make some judgment calls.

What follows is my commentary for Article I of the Creed, having to do with the Father.  In order to prevent this post form becoming unduly long, I will put my commentary on Article II (the Son), and Article III (The Holy Spirit) into separate posts.

I: Greek version has "We" here instead.
believe in: a standard English metaphor used in nontheological contexts.  One does not literally "place our belief in" something, as if it were a container.
God: At least in modern English, this word is not a metaphor, even though all of our thoughts about God involve metaphorical thinking.  "God" is not any specific metaphor, but rather the name for that reality to which the metaphors refer.  In order to confuse you, in Christian theology (and the New Testament), "God" can refer to either (a) specifically the Father, or (b) the divinity of all three Persons.
one ... God: denies polytheism.  There is only one God, who is the Father.  Since the Son and Spirit are natural outflowings of the divine nature, and are share the exact same divine nature as the Father, and the exact same will, they are not regarded as additional gods.  I'm not sure I'd want to call "one" a metaphor, but arguably the word is being used in a somewhat unusual way in Trinitarian theology.
Father: God is not literally a male parent
maker: normally this word refers to a person who constructs something out of something else, but God makes in the sense of giving things existence, ex nihilo.
heaven: literally means sky, but also means Heaven in the theological sense, another universe besides ours which was created by God.
invisible: I like to think about neutrinos here, but the theologians who wrote this were probably thinking about something more like angels.  In any case, this is a catch-all term for everything that is not apparent to our senses, emphasizing that God is the creator of all things.

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What's happening?

In the last post, I made a list of entities which we Christians believe exist (I'll be referring to numbers from that list in this post, so you might want to pull it up in another tab).

However, the composition of the universe is not the same for all time.  Like modern Big Bang cosmology (and unlike many ancient cosmologies) the Christian worldview is not static.  It is a story (or, if you prefer, a process) in which things start out one way and end up quite differently.  The main character in this story is God, who not only starts the ball off by creating (1-4) out of nothing, but is guiding it to a specific future culmination.

God is always involved in his Creation, and therefore events which seem random can in fact be attributed to him (this is sometimes called "providence").  However, there are times when God interacts with us in a much more definitive way.  These interactions include the following:

(a) Prophecy, in which God's Spirit speaks to the spirit of a particular human being (2) to communicate a message which is of benefit to the whole of God's people.  Sometimes these messages are communicated via angels (4).  (In biblical languages, the word "angel" literally means messenger, and can also refer to human beings carrying messages).

(b) Miracles, in which God arranges for exceptions to the usual course of events.  Normally, things in the physical universe proceed according to certain regularities, or "laws of nature", and in a miracle God does something different from the usual pattern, which would normally be impossible or extremely unlikely.

The primary purpose of (a) and (b) is to prepare for, or else to reveal more clearly, the main event:

(c) The central miracle/message is the Incarnation, in which the divine Son (Α—Ω) came into our physical (1) and mental (2) universe as a specific complete human being, namely Jesus Christ, whose body and mind were like ours, except that he never "sinned" i.e. never did anything morally wrong.  "Jesus" means "God saves" and refers to the fact that he is the way that the Father (Α—Ω) has chosen to rescue us from our two biggest problems: sin and death.  "Christ" is a title which literally means "someone anointed with oil to consecrate him as a king or a priest", but is used here metaphorically to refer to the power of the Spirit (Α—Ω) working in him.

He was born of a virgin mother (that's a miracle), taught about the Father's love for all human beings, allowed himself to be crucified by humans in order to forgive them for their sins (the Atonement), came physically back to life again (the Resurrection, another miracle), moved his body from Earth (1) to Heaven (3) (the Ascension), where he is ruling over all Creation as God's chosen King and Priest.

The Incarnation didn't change God's divine nature (Α—Ω) in any way (remember that's eternal and can't change), instead it transformed ordinary matter (1) by taking it up into the divine life.  This was not an isolated event, rather it has continuing implications for the future:

(d) As a result of the Incarnation and Atonement, the relationship between God and human beings has changed. This is called the New Covenant (a "covenant" is a contract or an agreement).  In particular, God's Spirit now lives inside of all Christians in order to transform us into people who are more like Jesus.  The community of Christians is known as the Church, and is referred to as the "Body of Christ"; he is the Head who directs the parts of his Body to love one another and to serve the world, using whatever gifts he has given us by the pouring out of his Spirit on human flesh.

Those who are in Christ are, so to speak, anchored to him: we trust that since we are in Christ and Christ is in Heaven (3), we cannot be totally destroyed by physical death.  Our real identities are stored in him for safekeeping.  In my mind, this has more to do with what God did in (c) than it has to do with any inherent immortality of the "soul" (2).

(e) Sacraments are events which occur in the material universe (1) which God uses to express his grace towards us.  Grace refers to God's love and forgiveness, based on his mercy rather than anything which we have done to deserve it.  The most important sacrament is called Communion, the Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper (depending on who you talk to).  It is based on the Passover dinner in which Jesus took bread and wine and said "This is my body, which is broken for you" and "This is my blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins".  In accordance with Jesus' command, almost every Christian group repeats this ritual, but they do not all agree about how to interpret Jesus' words.

Note that (c), (d), and (e) all involve the repeating the same phrase "the body of Christ", but referring to three different things.  God is not invading in a haphazard way but according to a consistent pattern.  In his book on Miracles, St. Lewis compares God's activity in the world to a "fugue", which is a piece of music where the same theme is repeated by different instruments, which enter at different times.

God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see.  Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off. The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana. Every year God makes a little corn into much corn: the seed is sown and there is an increase, and men, according to the fashion of their age, say ‘It is Ceres, it is Adonis, it is the Corn-King,’ or else ‘It is the laws of Nature.’ The close-up, the translation, of this annual wonder is the feeding of the five thousand. Bread is not made there of nothing. Bread is not made of stones, as the Devil once suggested to Our Lord in vain. A little bread is made into much bread. The Son will do nothing but what He sees the Father do.  There is, so to speak, a family style.

These Signs do not take us away from reality; they recall us to it — recall us from our dream world of ‘ifs and ands’ to the stunning actuality of everything that is real. They are focal points at which more reality becomes visible than we ordinarily see at once. I have spoken of how He made miraculous bread and wine and of how, when the Virgin conceived, He had shown Himself the true Genius whom men had ignorantly worshipped  long before. It goes deeper than that. Bread and wine were to have an even more sacred significance for Christians and the act of generations was to to be the chosen symbol among all mystics for the union of the soul with God. These things are no accidents. With Him there are no accidents. When He created the vegetable world He knew already what dreams the annual death and resurrection of the corn would cause to stir in pious Pagan minds, He knew already that He Himself must so die and live again and in what sense, including and far transcending the old religion of the Corn King. He would say ‘This is my Body.’ Common bread, miraculous bread, sacramental bread — these three are distinct, but not to be separated. Divine reality is like a fugue. All His acts are different, but they all rhyme or echo to one another.  (hat tip, Of Shadows and Substance)

The climax of God's composition will come when everything is taken up into Christ, not just Christians but the whole inanimate universe, so that as St. Paul says, God will then be "all in all". According to God's promise, this will occur in the future when Christ comes back to Earth (1) again from Heaven (3).  All human beings who have ever lived will come back to life again to be judged by Christ, and the universe will be recreated.  There will thus be:

(f) The New Heavens and the New Earth.  (Here the meaning of "Heavens" might be more like the sky (1γ) or outer space (1δ), but perhaps it includes (3) as well.)  The point being that the entire physical cosmos (1) will be destroyed and recreated, just as Christ died and was resurrected.  Note that this is not the same as "going to Heaven (3) when you die".  That is presumably the case (see (d)), but this is something which happens after that, to everybody at once.  Obviously we will know more about what the New Earth will be like when we get there, but we know that there will be no more dying, no more sorrow, no more tears.  The whole universe—animal, vegetable, mineral, angel (1-4)—will be in harmony with God (Α—Ω).

Those who have refused the Lord's free pardon and have built their identities around deception and immorality will be excluded from God's Kingdom.  But all who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be there.  May you, dear reader, take care to be among the blessed on that day.

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What exists?

My second pillar of Science is elegant hypotheses, that all else being equal we should prefer explanations which are (some combination of) "simple, uniform, common-sensical and aesthetically pleasing".  In a Bayesian analysis, this factors into our choice of prior probabilities, i.e. the probabilities we would assign to various theories before we consider any observational evidence.

There is no "neutral" choice of prior which assigns equal probabilities towards every conceivable hypothesis.  In other words, we are all biased in one way or another.  However, not all bias is bad.  Having a bias towards elegant explanations is a good thing, because simpler explanations are more likely to be true.

On the other hand, it very frequently turns out that the universe is more complicated than one expects.  So you don't want to overdo it.

Now, how "elegant" is Christianity as a philosophical system?  What are the different "moving parts" of theology, and how well do they explain the things they are supposed to explain?  Before asking how probable Christian theology is, we should start by asking what kinds of entities Christian theology postulates.

The question of what exists ("ontology") is one of the most basic questions of the area of Philosophy which is called Metaphysics.  Among scientists, this is a bit of a swear word: people use it in a derogatory way to refer to unmeasurable and potentially meaningless claims.  While some metaphysical questions may be unsolvable or meaningless, it is foolish to say we know absolutely nothing about the answer to this metaphysical question (i.e. we know that penguins exist, so that's a start).  And the scientistic claim, that Science is the only possible source of knowledge about important questions, is easily refuted.

I'm about to make a list of the different entities which Christians believe in.  However, there's a few caveats I have to discuss before I do so.  First of all, even atheistic, naturalistic philosophers disagree about things like whether numbers and abstractions etc. really "exist", whether objects are completely reducible to their parts, how to interpret the physical universe, and so on.  Since these arguments have little direct connection to religion, I'm going to gloss over them here.

Another thing which even atheistic philosophers disagree about is the philosophy of mind; whether it is possible to explain consciousness, the meaning of thoughts, and other psychological aspects of our minds in a purely materialistic way.  This question, however, is closely bound up with the religious question of the "soul" and so I don't think I should ignore this one.

The second issue is that Christians don't all agree on how to interpret Christian theology.  Some Christian theologies (such as Roman Catholicism) have a very long list of official doctrinal claims, some have shorter lists, others have non-traditional theologies, or "liberal" views which water everything down in order to accomodate naturalistic sentiments, modern ethical views, or cultural relativism.

However, if we exclude the liberals and few wacky outliers, there is a large set of beliefs which are common to the theologies of almost all traditional supernaturalist Catholics, Orthodox, Coptics, Protestants etc.—what St. Lewis called "Mere Christianity".  However, in a couple places (souls and sacraments) I will make note of potential disagreements amongst Christians about interpretation.

All right, then.  Christians believe that the following thing exists:

(Α—Ω) God, the One and Only, the First and the Last, the fundamental object in the universe, who is uncreated, eternal, and exists absolutely ("I am who I am"), who is absolute goodness and therefore also holy, whose identity consists of three persons related to one another as Father, Son, and Spirit.

This is the only thing that exists absolutely.  All other things exist only in relation to God, because God chose to create them and to love them.  The distinction between Creator and created is so great that it is misleading to put them in the same list together, as though they were two things existing side by side in the same universe, instead of one being completely dependent on the other.

Created things include the following:

(1) The material universe that we know and love, including (α) the land and all its animals, plants, and people, (β) the sea and everything in it, (γ) the sky with its clouds and birds, and (δ) the solar system, the galaxies, the entire observable universe, and whatever lies beyond it.

(2) The "souls" of animals and human beings, whether or not these happen to be reducible to material objects such as the brain.  (Yes, in traditional Christian thought animals have souls!  In fact our word animal is derived from the Latin anima and means thing-with-a-soul.)  Traditionally human souls are conceived of as being immaterial and—supposedly for this reason—immortal, but in my view this is not actually required by the Bible.  So, I'm listing it separately, but with the caveat that it may be best regarded as part of (1).  More on the subject of souls and immortality later.

(3) At least one other universe besides this one, which we can refer to as "Heaven".  Words generally have more than one meaning, and in the Bible the term "heavens" often refers to something more like (1γ) or (1δ).  But I take it that no scientifically educated modern person believes you can get to the religious-type Heaven by going far enough in a spaceship, so these are distinct concepts.  (Why do I not mention Hell?  Because my primary concern here is not with what happens to people when they die.  Most of the occurences of the word "heaven" in the Bible are not concerned with the afterlife.)

(4) Angels and demons.  (These are traditionally regarded as holy and unholy versions of the same type of angelic critter, just as Hitler and St. Bonhoffer are both human beings.)  I presume that angels are normally denizens of Heaven, but they sometimes interact with people in our universe, which is how we know that they exist.

That's pretty much it.  Of course, there might be additional created things, besides the ones we know about.

Sci-fi fans should notice that (3) is a kind of parallel universe and (4) is a kind of intelligent alien (4).  So if you're wondering if our faith will be shaken to its foundations if either of these things are discovered—I've got news for you: we already believe in them.  Admittedly, we don't know whether there are other life-bearing planets in our universe, but in any case we don't think we are the center of the cosmos, or that God is only interested in us.

Next time I will discuss the interactions between the different things I mentioned, particularly how things have changed, and are going to change, as a result of God coming into the world as Jesus.

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There's an interview of me in the July edition of the BioLogos newsletter.

Also, I've been going back and forth about whether to mention this, but as long as I'm going on about myself, it turns out that I won the Bergmann-Wheeler thesis prize which was awarded at the GR20 conference in Warsaw.  The prize was sponsored by the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, which I have sometimes published in, although all of my articles are also freely available on the arXiv, of course.  The prize was awarded for my proof of the Generalized Second Law for black holes.  In light of all the other excellent work out there, I feel deeply honored be recongnized in this way.

I have also added St. Martin LaBar of Sun and Shield to my blog roll.  Not only does he blog about both scientific and theological topics, he also is a role model in that he always takes a moderate and gentle tone, even with commenters who disagree with him.  His consistent tone of encouragement is commendable.

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Warsaw (where I was when I wrote this post) is supposed to have had a basilisk:

Also a friendly mermaid who is supposed to protect the city (although our guidebook cynically suggests that she hasn't been seen when needed most):

On the grand coat of arms shown above, she is accompanied by the motto semper invicta ("always undefeated").  However, this means something completely different for the Poles than it would for an imperialistic nation.

The entire city of Warsaw has been sacked and all but destroyed several times, most recently when Hitler destroyed their monuments and over 85% of the buildings, killing or exiling nearly all of the inhabitants, in vengeance for the Warsaw Uprising.  A city which had once had 1.3 million inhabitants was reduced to a population of 1000.

But the Varsovians just rebuilt as much as they could back exactly the way it used to be, so that it looks like an older European town even though almost all of it is actually post-WWII.  Even under communism, they did not lose their sense of identity.  It seems to be impossible to destroy a city that is loved this much.

As the Lord says through his prophet Isaiah,

"Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted,
I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise,
your foundations with lapis lazuli.
I will make your battlements of rubies,
your gates of sparkling jewels,
and all your walls of precious stones.
All your children will be taught by the Lord,
and great will be their peace.
In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
it will not come near you.
If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
whoever attacks you will surrender to you." (54:11-15)

These words were written of Jerusalem, but it resonates with the plight of every other afflicted and storm-battered city in the world.  If there is even a single Pole in the New Jerusalem, nothing can prevent it from being rebuilt to be the New Warsaw as well!

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Double Standards

A cynical, but probably accurate take on the double standard for government officials committing perjury.  One of the problems with the US federal government is that it seems almost impossible to bring people to any kind of accountability to lower federal officials without the President agreeing to it, but since all scandals tarnish the administration, Presidents from both parties have learned the best strategy is to bluster through it.  In theory, Congress has the power to impeach, but since this is almost always viewed as a partisan attack, and removal from office requires the consent of both parties, this is a nonstarter.

Sometimes people who are cyncial of the two party system talk as though this corruption arises because, when push comes to shove, the two parties are actually on the same side.  While that can happen, I think in the current hyper-partisan U.S. mindset that's quite the wrong explanation for tolerating corruption.  In some ways it's the exact opposite.  Because the parties hate each other, they can't view criticism from the opposition as anything other than a cynical attempt to win elections.  Since it is viewed in this way, there is no chance of getting people from both parties on board with any given clean-up act.

For example, when President Clinton was impeached by House Republicans, this was viewed as a shallow, partisan and moralistic attempt to topple a popular president for reasons completely unrelated to his fitness to govern.  Notwithstanding the fact that if Clinton had been the CEO of anything else, he would have been fired for sexual harrassment and jailed for purjury.  But he was the President, and that's what made it seem shallow.

There is actually a serious difficulty here, and I don't mean to suggest that there's nothing to be said for some degree of political immunity.  The ideal situtation would be if all officials, including the President, were fearful of accountability if they engaged in illegal or corrupt activity.  But we also don't want too much political instability.  The removal of an elected President is necessarily a highly political decision, and completely destabilizing to the balance of power and prestige in the entire federal government.  It seems especially unfair to remove a President of one party for something that the other party began.  Practically speaking, we cannot have "no one is above the law" for these reasons.

Another solution is to say that while "the King can do no wrong", his ministers can still be held accountable, even if one suspects the orders came from above.  It's unfair, but it may be the best compromise.  Specific wrongdoing gets eliminated while the President is still free to persue his agenda in all other respects.  But perhaps we are too high-minded to stomach this class divide, and as a result we get a different class divide: the lower level officials also effectively share in the Presidential immunity.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that, although Congress is as active as ever in passing bad laws, they seem to be rather ineffective in acting as any kind of check on the Executive branch, perhaps in part due to their extreme unpopularity as an institution.  In Federalist Paper #48, James Madison argued that in a tripartite republic, it was the Legislative Branch which was most to be feared:

In a government where numerous and extensive prerogatives are placed in the hands of an hereditary monarch, the executive department is very justly regarded as the source of danger, and watched with all the jealousy which a zeal for liberty ought to inspire. In a democracy, where a multitude of people exercise in person the legislative functions, and are continually exposed, by their incapacity for regular deliberation and concerted measures, to the ambitious intrigues of their executive magistrates, tyranny may well be apprehended, on some favorable emergency, to start up in the same quarter. But in a representative republic, where the executive magistracy is carefully limited; both in the extent and the duration of its power; and where the legislative power is exercised by an assembly, which is inspired, by a supposed influence over the people, with an intrepid confidence in its own strength; which is sufficiently numerous to feel all the passions which actuate a multitude, yet not so numerous as to be incapable of pursuing the objects of its passions, by means which reason prescribes; it is against the enterprising ambition of this department that the people ought to indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions.

The legislative department derives a superiority in our governments from other circumstances. Its constitutional powers being at once more extensive, and less susceptible of precise limits, it can, with the greater facility, mask, under complicated and indirect measures, the encroachments which it makes on the co-ordinate departments. It is not unfrequently a question of real nicety in legislative bodies, whether the operation of a particular measure will, or will not, extend beyond the legislative sphere. On the other side, the executive power being restrained within a narrower compass, and being more simple in its nature, and the judiciary being described by landmarks still less uncertain, projects of usurpation by either of these departments would immediately betray and defeat themselves. Nor is this all: as the legislative department alone has access to the pockets of the people, and has in some constitutions full discretion, and in all a prevailing influence, over the pecuniary rewards of those who fill the other departments, a dependence is thus created in the latter, which gives still greater facility to encroachments of the former.

Hence the need to design a weak, bicameral Congress, and to strengthen the powers of the Executive and Judicial branch.  But I think it is clear that things have now drifted to the point where it is the Executive branch that is too powerful.

I'm speaking abstractly here, but just to avoid misunderstanding: It should go without saying that neither Obama, nor Bush before him, did anything which merits impeachment, by historical standards, and in light of what many other recent Presidents have gotten away with.  We should nevertheless try to restore some kind of constitutional accountability to government.

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Problems and Beliefs

St. Brandon writes about problems in philosophy, but a lot of what he says seems applicable to physics as well.  In my field of quantum gravity, there's no experimental evidence so a lot of the back-and-forth has to do with identifying conceptual problems with different ideas.  It's not always easy to know which problems are fatal to a theory, and which should be viewed as an impetus to more research.

On a side note, we love to talk about the beliefs of scientific researchers (do you believe in string theory or loop quantum gravity or something else?) but in fact beliefs don't always directly affect how one does research.  The most important thing is what questions one thinks are worthy of further investigation.  Two researchers may be developing the exact same argument A, even though one person is trying to work out the consequences of idea X, while the other is trying to refute X by a reductio argument.  However, it is important to have enough flexibility of mind to realize when you have accidentally constructed an argument for the other side.

On the other hand, beliefs do matter indirectly for structuring research, because they help determine which problems you think are worthy of study, and what factors you take into consideration.  Also, they obviously help determine what conclusions you draw when you're done.  Beliefs about how one should structure an inquiry may be more important than beliefs about what the final conclusion should be.

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One Way Streets: Black Holes and Irreversible Processes

BioLogos has kindly published the first part of a 2-part series about thermodynamics and black holes.   The links are here:

One Way Streets: Black Holes and Irreversible Processes, Part 1
One Way Streets: Black Holes and Irreversible Processes, Part 2

For those seeking more information on this topic, I have also discussed it in more depth on my website: Introduction to Horizon Thermodynamics for Non-Physicists.

My previous contribution to BioLogos is about why God doesn't speak more clearly, and is available from BioLogos or on my website.

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