The Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Year: C(I). Psalm week: 1. Liturgical Colour: White.
Outsiders are often under the impression that the Church decides things. For instance, they think that saying that this or that kind of action is morally right or wrong is a decision, a decision rather than a determination of fact. (Indeed, the word ‘determine’, at least in American usage, sits nicely on the hinge of the question, since when the government determines the rate of income tax and when the Surgeon General determines that smoking is harmful, they are two different kinds of ‘determination’, reached in different ways, one reformable, one irreformable).
It is convenient, in a world where journalists see everything as politics, to treat doctrine as what we decide to believe. But it is dangerous, because in the end the whole point of our encounter with God is that it is an encounter with Truth Itself, whereas if everything is politics, then nothing is definitely true: if we argue for long enough, we can decide that apples fall upwards.
Theology is a science. It determines things in the Surgeon General sense, not in the tax sense. When we decide that we all need to celebrate Easter on the same date, and then argue about which date, that is like tax or deciding which side of the road to drive on. It is not science, and it is not truth. But then again, it is not theology either, but religion. Theology asks ‘What is true?’ while religion asks ‘What shall we do about it?’, rather as engineering asks ‘What shall we do about it all?’ about the laws of physics.
Theology is a science, and it uses the methods of science. That is not some unrealistic aspiration. It is not an invention of mediaeval academics. We see it in action at the Council of Jerusalem in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
A science has data, and a scientific discussion starts from the data and makes sense of them. So the Council hears one important item of data – the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the family of the Gentile Cornelius – which conflicts with certain ideas of what it means to be chosen, and righteous, and justified – ideas which have themselves come from other data, from the accumulation of scripture and salvation history.
The scientific task is to make sense of the whole.
Even in Luke’s compressed account, it is clear that the Council is not having a ‘What shall we choose to say?’ discussion but a ‘What is true?’ discussion: that is to say, a scientific one. Such discussions are of a fundamentally different nature from political or decision-making ones. It is not about getting a majority on the committee. It is about taking the data, however discordant they may seem, and making sense of them all. That is what science is. Is this an impossible goal, or a possible one? In the case of the physical world we believe that it can be done because we believe that the physical world really exists. When it comes to theological matters we know that it can be done because we know that we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our mind: that is to say, we are told that God makes sense.
Arguments will never cease, of course. That is the glory of having one race made up of many minds. But we do need to remember that when we believe, the root of our belief is not decision (let’s all drive on the right, or let’s all drive on the left) but truth. Then our arguments, and even our disagreements, can be truly scientific in the original, root sense, of the word: ‘productive of knowledge’.
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||1 Corinthians 12:13 ©|
In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Titus 3:5,7 ©|
God saved us by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.
|Afternoon reading (None)||(Colossians 1:12-14) ©|
We thank the Father who has made it possible for us to share in the saints’ inheritance of light. He has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves. In him, we gain our freedom and the forgiveness of our sins.