How wonderful is God among his saints: come, let us adore him.
Year: B(I). Psalm week: 1. Liturgical Colour: White.
St Hilda (614 - 680)
Saint Hilda (or Hild) was born in Northumbria in 614. She was the grandniece of King Edwin of Northumbria and was not baptised until the age of 13, when she was received into the Church by Paulinus at York, at the same time as King Edwin and many of his nobles.
The first part of Hilda’s life was spent in the ordinary secular pursuits of the day. But these were years of constant warfare and in 655, her sister Hereswith, the wife of the King of the East Angles, suffered the loss of her husband in battle and decided to withdraw from the world to the monastery of Cale in Paris where she entered religious life. At the age of 33, Hilda decided to follow her and was only prevented from doing so by the intervention of St Aidan who directed her first to establish a small religious house on the north bank of the Wear where she stayed for a year, and then to take charge of the monastery of Hieu at Hartlepool. She proved to be an able and wise superior and, after several years at Hartlepool, she set about establishing the famous double monastery at Whitby which she governed for the rest of her life.
Hilda was an extraordinary woman for her time. Her influence was widespread and her advice was valued by high and low alike. In her monastery she gave ‘a great example of peace and charity’, as Bede says ‘all who knew her called her mother, such were her wonderful godliness and grace.’ She laid emphasis on the study of the Scriptures and insisted on careful preparation for the priesthood, after the manner of St Aidan on Lindisfarne. Among her community was the first English poet, Caedmon, who had been the community’s herdsman until his poetic genius was discovered. After the death of St Aidan, when the divisions between those who held the Celtic tradition and those who supported Roman ways became critical, it was at her monastery that the important Synod of Whitby was held in 644 to decide upon a common Church order among the rival parties.
Although her last seven years were a time of constant illness, she continued to lead her community to the end. Towards daybreak on 17 November 680 she asked for, and received, viaticum and died peacefully with her community around her or as St Bede says, ‘she joyfully saw death approaching… and passed from death to life.’
In other years: St Elizabeth of Hungary (1207 - 1231)
She was a daughter of the King of Hungary. She was given in marriage to Ludwig, the Landgrave of Thuringia, by whom she had three children. She frequently meditated on heavenly things and when her husband died she embraced poverty and built a hospice in which she cared for the sick herself.
In other years: St Hugh of Lincoln (1140 - 1200)
He was born near Grenoble in France and entered the Carthusian monastery of La Grande Chartreuse at the age of 25. In 1175 he was asked by King Henry II of England to become prior of a Carthusian house in England, and a decade later he was appointed bishop of Lincoln, a post which he accepted only when directly commanded to do so by the prior of La Grande Chartreuse. His diocese was the largest in England, and he spent the rest of his life in ceaseless work there. He delegated much authority. He was a friend (and critic) of successive kings, but also worked with his own hands on the extension of his cathedral. He gained a great reputation for justice, the care of the sick, and the support of the oppressed: he risked his life to help the Jewish community. He died in London on 16 November 1200 and was declared a saint in 1220, the first Carthusian to be canonized.
Other saints: St Dionysius of Alexandria, Bishop (190 - 265)
Dionysius was born in Alexandria in 190. After studying literature and philosophy, he became a Christian and joined the catechetical school where he was taught by Origen. In 232 he became the head of that school. Fifteen years later he was appointed bishop of Alexandria and had to endure severe persecutions and even exile because of his boldness in proclaiming the faith. He involved himself in major theological disputes of the time. He died in 265.
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 Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430)
Augustine was born in Thagaste in Africa of a Berber family. He was brought up a Christian but left the Church early and spent a great deal of time seriously seeking the truth, first in the Manichaean heresy, which he abandoned on seeing how nonsensical it was, and then in Neoplatonism, until at length, through the prayers of his mother and the teaching of St Ambrose of Milan, he was converted back to Christianity and baptized in 387, shortly before his mother’s death.
Augustine had a brilliant legal and academic career, but after his conversion he returned home to Africa and led an ascetic life. He was elected Bishop of Hippo and spent 34 years looking after his flock, teaching them, strengthening them in the faith and protecting them strenuously against the errors of the time. He wrote an enormous amount and left a permanent mark on both philosophy and theology. His Confessions, as dazzling in style as they are deep in content, are a landmark of world literature. The Second Readings in the Office of Readings contain extracts from many of his sermons and commentaries and also from the Confessions.
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)||1 Peter 1:13-14 ©|
Free your minds, then, of encumbrances; control them, and put your trust in nothing but the grace that will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Do not behave in the way that you liked to before you learnt the truth, but make a habit of obedience.
|Noon reading (Sext)||1 Peter 1:15-16 ©|
Be holy in all you do, since it is the Holy One who has called you, and scripture says: Be holy, for I am holy.
|Afternoon reading (None)||James 4:7-8,10 ©|
Give in to God: resist the devil, and he will run away from you. The nearer you go to God, the nearer he will come to you. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.