How wonderful is God among his saints: come, let us adore him.
Year: A(II). Psalm week: 3. Liturgical Colour: White.
All Saints of Africa
Today we celebrate the feast of all the Saints of Africa who, down through the ages, have followed the Lord with courage, love and dedication. Many of these saints are unknown to us, while others are remembered in various countries on account of their exemplary life of discipleship. Their example and teaching remind us of our call to holiness, while their intercession makes it possible for us to achieve it, thanks to God’s grace. The feast we celebrate today is a foretaste of the joy we shall experience one day in heaven.
Other saints: All the Saints of Ireland
Ireland, especially in the early Christian centuries, was known as an isle of saints and scholars. More than once, when the rest of western Europe was submerged in ignorance and chaos, Ireland kept learning alive.
Many of the Irish saints combined pastoral care with an observance of the monastic life. The Irish also did much as missionaries, bringing the faith to other parts of Europe, and the story of St Brendan, whether authentic history or not, shows that they set their sights even further afield.
Other saints: St Illtud or Illtyd
He was a Welsh abbot in the early 6th century, and founder of a monastery in Glamorgan that carried his name. He may have been a disciple of St Germanus of Auxerre. No reliable biographical details survive: the earliest Life that we have was written 500 years after his death.
Other saints: St Nuno Alvares Pereira (1360-1431)
6 Nov (where celebrated)
Nuno was born into a Portuguese noble family, a family noted for its history of distinguished religious and military service. He followed the path of a young nobleman becoming a royal page at thirteen, and marrying a wealthy noblewoman at sixteen. He and his wife had three children, but only their daughter Beatriz survived to adulthood.
At the age of twenty-three, Nuno was named the Constable (commander in chief) of the Portuguese loyalist forces who were formed to defend Portugal against the King of Castile’s plans to annex the country after the death of the Portuguese king. Between 1383 and 1411 Nuno led many battles, insisting that his soldiers remembered the holy cause for which they were fighting and that they acted as moral Christians who were ready to die, if necessary. He was strict on moral behaviour in camp, urged the soldiers to pray and receive the sacraments, and upheld respect and mercy toward enemies and civilians. Every victory Nuno attributed to the protection the the Virgin Mary offered to the Portuguese nation. After the fighting had ended and the stability of Portugal was re-established under King John I, Nuno had become a popular, powerful and wealthy man. His wife having died during his military career and with his daughter married to the King’s son, Nuno gave much of his wealth to his veterans and at his own expense built numerous churches and monasteries, one of which was the Carmelite church in Lisbon.
In 1423, Nuno decided to enter the convent of Carmelites he had founded in Lisbon, abandoning any remaining power and privilege he had gained as the glorified commander. He entered the convent as a serving brother and took the name Brother Nuno of Saint Mary. He did not seek any privileges but put himself at the service of Jesus in the poor and offered his work to the Virgin Mary his loyal patron. He died on Easter Sunday, 1 April 1431 after which the people acclaimed him as “O Santo Condestavel” – the Holy Constable. At Nuno’s canonisation in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI presented Nuno as one who having gained all wealth, power and acclaim, gave it all up in thanksgiving to a merciful God and to Mary who remained with him even in the darkest moments.
Other saints: Bl Josepha Girbes (1820-1893)
6 Nov (where celebrated)
Josepha Naval Girbés was born at Algemes in the Archdiocese of Valencia, Spain, on December 11, 1820. As a very young woman she consecrated herself to the Lord by a perpetual vow of chastity. Josepha’s life was simple. She stood out for her ardent love, and she made progress along the way of prayer and evangelical perfection, while dedicating herself generously to apostolic works in her parish community. In her own home she opened a school where she taught needlework, prayer, and the evangelical virtues. She formed many young girls and women and shared with them her wisdom and spiritual understanding. She was a member of the Third Order Secular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Teresa of Jesus, and had a special love for the Virgin Mother of God. Her holy death took place on February 24, 1893. She is buried in her parish church of Saint James in her native city.
Today's Gospel: "With all your mind"
Sometimes there is a message for us in some words of the Gospel that even the evangelists don’t notice. There is an example here, hidden in words so uninteresting that we can’t even be sure who said them. Matthew and Mark say Jesus, while Luke says the scribe.
Jesus (or the scribe) appears to be quoting from the Old Testament, but one phrase does not exist in any text of the Commandments: that we should love the Lord our God with all our mind.
It is easy not to notice this phrase, and indeed Matthew, Mark and Luke don’t notice it. We know this because normally when Jesus departs from the Old Testament it is noticed, and remarked upon, and made the subject of a whole “But I say to you…” discourse.
There are two aspects to this. One is what it says about the past, the other is what it says to us. The past is straightforward. The Jews have never been “people of the Book” in the sense of believing in the Bible and nothing but the Bible. They have, it is true, had a peculiar reverence for every sacred word, but they have lived not in unthinking obedience to those words alone but in a dialogue, you might even say in a relationship, with the sacred text. So the fact that “all your mind” appears here, without attracting notice or comment, must mean that it had become a part of the generally accepted interpretation of the words of Scripture. When, centuries after the Pentateuch, the Jews came across the new, Greek ways of thinking – as the Wisdom literature shows that they did – they immediately realised that this new thing called “mind” was included, no doubt about it, in the commandment to love.
What this says to us is more important than just a footnote in the history of ideas. It is the foundation and justification of all science. God does not command the impossible. If he is to be loved with the mind, that can only be because he is lovable with the mind, or, to detheologize the language, because Ultimate Being can be related to rationally. The Gospel phrase tells us that things make sense and that we have the equipment to make sense of them.
What does omnipotence mean? Does it mean that the Omnipotent can do anything at all? If that were true, all science would be at an end. If God willed that when I dropped a glass on the floor it would shatter, then even if God had willed the same whenever anyone in the past had ever dropped a glass, that would still not bind God. God would still be free to decide, if I dropped a glass on the floor now, that this particular glass, alone among all the glasses in history, should bounce and not break.
Which is to say: on this interpretation of divine omnipotence, science is impossible. We cannot predict the result of an experiment, because next time God may decide differently. We cannot even lay down laws of nature based on previous experience, because to call a law a “law” is to claim to be able to bind God, which is blasphemy.
This is not merely an academic quibble. When the 11th-century Muslim philosopher al-Ghazāli propounded this very idea, it captured the mainstream of Islamic thinking and led to the virtual suicide of science in Islam and the abandonment of rational thinking about the physical world, as being unnecessary, or sacrilegious, or both.
We are saved from this by this one little phrase in the Gospel, about loving God with all our mind. It is more than mere permission, it is a command to understand, to go out and do science, and it was followed whenever Christians had leisure to think. It led to the dazzling 13th-century renaissance and the birth of modern science, and we are still living through its consequences.
As for divine omnipotence, this is not the place to go into it in detail, but the answer to al-Ghazāli must surely be that God can indeed make the glass bounce, but God cannot make the glass bounce and still be God, since to break the laws and regularities of nature whimsically and without reason would be to abandon lovability-with-the-mind. This is exactly the argument that theologians use against pointless or frivolous miracles, but it applies to science as well, and to the possibility of doing science at all.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Gregory Nazianzen (329 - 390)
Gregory Nazianzen, “Gregory of Nazianzus”, was the son of Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzus, a Christian convert. (Nazianzus is a small town in Cappadocia, now the village of Nenizi in the Turkish province of Aksaray).
The culture of the Hellenic world means that a religion is not merely something to be lived: it also has to make sense. It has to work not only in practice, but in theory as well. Despite the passionate anti-Greek reaction of the Reformation, we are still, in this sense, all Greeks today. Take the doctrine of the Trinity, for example. Some people reject it because it sounds like polytheism. Instead, they make Jesus not God but only a man supremely favoured by God: the Arians believed this, and the Koran reflects this idea. Or they make Jesus not man but only God, and relegate the intense humanity of the Passion to the status of a mere performance, a show put on by God through phantoms and angels rather than something utterly real and of eternal significance. Both these responses show a general feature of heresies, which is that they simplify the richness of orthodoxy and flatten it into a shadow of itself. “Simpler” may well mean “more easily acceptable”, but that is not the same as “true”. One could simplify quantum physics and get rid of its paradoxes until there is no metaphysical weirdness for anyone to object to – that might well make more people happy, but it would not be true.
The three men we call “the Cappadocian Fathers” were active after the Council of Nicaea, working to formulate Trinitarian doctrine precisely and, in particular, to pin down the meaning and role of the least humanly comprehensible member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. St Basil of Caesarea, “St Basil the Great”, was the leader and organizer; Gregory of Nazianzus was the thinker, the orator, the poet, pushed into administrative and episcopal roles by circumstances and by Basil; and Gregory of Nyssa, Basil’s younger brother, although not a great stylist, was the most gifted of the three as a philosopher and theologian. Together, the Cappadocian Fathers hammered out the doctrine of the Trinity like blacksmiths forging a piece of metal by hammer-blows into its perfect, destined shape. They were champions – and successful champions – of orthodoxy against Arianism, a battle that had to be conducted as much on the worldly and political plane as on the philosophical and theological one. The sciences ought not to have to work like this, but all of them, at one time or other in their history, do.
It is a relief to us as readers to note, after all this, that St Gregory of Nazianzus, as well as receiving the title of Doctor of the Church, is acknowledged as the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age, and that this “style” does not adopt the over-ripe excesses of some late-imperial rhetoric (Augustine can get carried away in this direction sometimes, and Cassiodorus, in the sixth century, spends altogether too much of his time there). Gregory’s Second Readings do sound almost operatic at times, but the grandeur of the style does not exist for its own sake but comes from the splendour of its subject-matter. It is possible to be carried away by it, and enjoyable, even, to let that happen; but underlying the experience there is always a sense of being carried away in the direction of somewhere definite and somewhere worthwhile.
Liturgical colour: white
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)||Romans 1:16-17 ©|
The power of God saves all who have faith – Jews first, but Greeks as well – since this is what reveals the justice of God to us: it shows how faith leads to faith, or as scripture says: The upright man finds life through faith.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Romans 3:21-22 ©|
God’s justice that was made known through the Law and the Prophets has now been revealed outside the Law, since it is the same justice of God that comes through faith to everyone who believes.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Ephesians 2:8-9 ©|
It is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit.