Different birds and different people
In November 2014 my wife and I decided on an autumn break in Madeira. It is situated just under 400 kilometres (250 miles) North West of the Canary Islands. Its origin as volcanic Island at the top of a massive volcano that rises about 6 km (20,000 ft) from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, on the Tore underwater mountain range over 5 million years ago, continuing until about 700,000 years ago.
Being partly isolated from mainland Africa species that make up the regular breeding birds have in part become distinct sub species of some common mainland birds and migrants. There are a few species on Madeira that have become isolated for so long that that they are now separate and “endemic” species only found on Madeira.
It is part of evolution in action with an isolated population that has lost contact with others and so adapts in its own unique way to the environment and so and isolated gene pool may become slightly but distinctly different to the former race to which it belonged. For those species that become “endemic” to a small region of the earth then there is a sense of seeing something unique, only to be seen in that place which can be a source of wonder. Unfortunately it also makes them vulnerable to extinction if something goes wrong with the habitat.
The relative isolation of Madeira means that is does not have a huge list of regular species but it is the endemics and sub-species that are of the greatest interest to birdwatchers. (I am also told that the Island has many exotic and endemic plants as well). On my target list of “wanted to see” included the endemics Trocas Pigeon, Plain Swift, Madeira Firecrest, Berthelot’s Pipit and the subspecies of Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Chaffinch. We ended up seeing all of them, as well as some other accidental migrants and more recent arrivals from Africa.
Although previous travels to parts of India and led me to see “endemics” and unique subspecies in various regions it was on Madeira with is much smaller and compact geography that the sense of uniqueness struck me the most. I also had cause to consider that little piece of theology by Duns Scotus that God has created a world of great difference of form and being, stemming from the Being of God. It is a differentiation that is loved in all its variety and uniqueness. God loves all the difference and it is all part of God’s glory.
From the such differentiation in nature we may turn to the differentiation between people, in their race and culture, and despite the fears often raised by this it also something to be loved and embraced as God does. God loves the uniqueness of each person and things that exists and if we are the Children of God, they are ours to love as well. This is something to be remembered when there is often fears about “immigration”. We must always look beyond race and culture in thinking about worth, and see people in their unique individuality, which linked with their origins is not confined by it. They are to be loved, as God loves their individuality in which they have been shaped.
Scotus and The Immaculate Conception and Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
(Recently revisited, August 2018)
Although developing an interest and sympathy for the theology and philosophy of John Duns Scotus there are issues on which I cannot completely agree with him. One point of argument is the status that he gives to Mary the mother of Jesus as having been conceived by “Immaculate Conception” without taint of sin and preserved from sin thereafter.
It is clear that Scotus’ view on Mary is very much linked to his view of the Primacy Of Christ (also in Bonaventure) that God’s original intention for the Incarnation was for God’s glory to be made present in Christ quite apart from the necessity of human salvation. It is because of this special-ness in bringing forth the Christ that there is the special-ness of the preparation of Mary to help that event take place. As Mary bears the Christ she has a special role in that divinely ordained event and is chosen for it. For Scotus this choice and will involves the special grace of preserving her from the taint of Original Sin.
It’s at this point that I step into my Protestant shoes because I think it is making unwarranted assumptions for which there is no canonical scriptural warrant. I also think it detracts too much from the possibility of God becoming human through an ordinary and fallible human being in need of salvation as much as anyone else. I would prefer an ordinary Mary, a potentially sinful Mary, through whom God reveals His radical grace to all humanity, including her. A Mary who gets things wrong and fails, even sometimes failing to believe in her son and his vocation.
It may be true that she finds favour with God because of God’s love for her and all humanity. Perhaps Scotus wants us to think that God’s radical love is given to her prior to her birth, to Justify and bless and specially sanctify her beforehand, because of what God would do later in her and in Christ.
But Scotus’ argument seems to go onto imply that following that special grace of status given to her she is also preserved from committing all other actual sins in her life. A prior graced status of being acceptable in God’s sight is one thing but I still believe in an ordinary Jewish girl, like all other potentially sinners as the womb of Christ, not a superwoman and paragon of virtue incapable of sin. I may grant some degree of thinking she may have been specially led by the Holy Spirit, intentionally more responsive than most of us. But still not sure of her complete freedom from sin and sinfulness, at least in her earthly life.
God’s Will and Predestination
Sometime ago I was reading something related to Duns Scotus by Richard Cross that introduced me to Scotus’ views on the predestination of certain persons to salvation and not others. It sent me back to certain biblical texts and from there to a whole history of interpretations of such texts, as well as reading for myself a translation of what Duns Scotus had written on the subject.
It would seem that for some such as Scotus (and alter Calvin) there is a predestination to salvation that is purely from God’s almighty Will that none can or should question. God as God can do whatever He likes and who are we to question that choice? But for others such as Bonaventure the will of God also includes some prior knowledge by God of how persons might respond to the gospel invitation to faith.
I confess I am uncomfortable with any idea of predestination by God if it is simply from an unquestionable and potentially arbitrary Will, especially if the divine Will is from the character of love. I am more sure that any such choice of God for any person’s destiny also relates to some divine knowledge of the person and how they may respond to God’s invitation to come and find salvation. Anything else seems too arbitrary and God’s will is not arbitrary but is based upon the essential loving character in the nature of God. Any choice of God for or against a person’s destiny to salvation must be according to God’s love and actual knowledge of the person, as well as their known freedom to turn away from what is offered in hope.
It seems ironic that the first few chapters of Acts and indeed the teachings of Jesus did not influence subsequent “Christian” societies to create much more egalitarian societies. How is it that the “Christian” West, supposedly influenced by Christian faith and ethics, has become the origin and home of “free market capitalism”? How can a Christian society be an unequal one? Where is the sense of sharing and desire for economic equality within communities and between communities?
Perhaps the recorded sayings in the gospels, in the letter of James and in Acts were recorded because after the events it was not happenning, the church was unequal and failing to be what Christ intended. After the church became part of the empire of Constantine pagan and not Christian values prevailed more than truely Christian ones.
The lives of St Francis and others stand testimony to a revolt against material selfishness and aquisition of wealth but they were then and remain a minority strand of living in Christian history down to the present. The poverty and simplicity of Francis has been called an “Evangelical” (good news) counsel, along with enshrining an obedience to the words of Jesus about wealth and possessions in the gospels. The sharing is part of the kingdom of God and the reign of the Christ. The kingdom is not just some happy ending after death, as” saved” souls in heaven. Its about also a dawning reality of new relationships for the believer with his and her neighbours in the present.
Perhaps we cannot expect secular society to adopt economic equality as a goal but surely “Christian” politicians should care more about reducing differences and divisions of income? Surely Christian politicans should preach shaing values and not competitive ones, Interestingly Communism and Socialism, hated by some Christians , have more in common with the values and sharing expressed by Jesus and in Acts.
Sometimes it seems that “Christian” politics cares more about unborn babies in the womb rather than for the conditions into which they may be born and have to live out their lives, often in poverty alongside some -one elses mansions.
The Francisan tradition still stands testimony to the more radical sharing of things in common and decent life for everyone. The more we have inherited and earn the more we must consider that we give away and share with our neighbours, and seek more the alleviation of need alongside anything we may possess. Perhaps we should ask our Christian politicians if they care about that. But at least we should attempt to live it ourselves.
My knowledge of the Anglican Third Order of the Society of St Francis stretches back to my youth. My church had several members of a local group of the Third Order and I attended a few meetings but it never seemed to me at that time that I wanted to join in. Sure, I was attracted to somethings I learned about St Francis of Assisi, not least his renunciation of wealth and joyous devotion to Jesus Christ and wanting others to know that salvation that he had found.
There was also my love of creation as found in my bird watching and sense of wonder and joy I often felt when viewing the natural world, which I was told was also found in the life of Francis. Then as I later came to study the Old Testament prophets and their denunciations of inequalities in society this prophetic message seemed to make me see the inequalities of the world around me and therefore the graced need of more sharing in society and less accumulation of things to please myself. So too Jesus seeming demands to love people rather than things to possess.
I had become a Reader (Lay Minister) in the church, and therefore often preaching. But if I was to preach to whom was I to be accountable for my own spiritual growth? How would I be accountable for my own life of prayer and what I was intending to preach to others? I needed some kind of spiritual direction and accountability to some-one. I had a few people in my church who were helpful spiritual friends, including those Third Order members.
Early on in my Reader ministry I had a period of questioning of my vocation and what I thought Christ was asking of me and I attended a series of workshops called “Seeking the Way”. Did God want me to give my full time job and train for full time ministry?
The course was lead interestingly by a Franciscan Brother of the First Order. It was partly an analysis of myself with the tools of the Myers Briggs Personality profile. It helped me to affirm my duel role as a Reader and my normal full time work.
And so it was a few years later that I attended an additional Myers Briggs Spirituality workshop, looking at different aspects of the life of prayer that seem most suitable to one’s MB Personality Profile. What came out of it? Franciscan, Franciscan, Franciscan! That was it. I had no excuses any longer and I made enquires about joining the Society of St Francis as Third Order member and was professed about 3 years later (that was about 10 years ago).
The principles and aims of the Third Order ungird by spiritual walk with Christ and through it I have a spiritual counsellor and other spiritual friends with who I share my commitment to the Franciscan way, and to who I feel accountable for my life of ministry and my working and home life to.
Take a look at the page Third Order. Even if not an Anglican or Catholic I hope the Principles and Aims can also be yours as a way of following Jesus Christ.