How do you feel today?

We may like to think of ourselves as rational people but, in truth, we are not only guided by emotions we are often ruled by them. They play a major role in our decisions, in our reactions, in our relationships. So making emotions our servants rather than our masters is perennially a challenge in our path towards maturity. At the extreme end of the spectrum there are those with borderline personality disorders. Their lack of emotional control makes them a danger to society, and sometimes society must be protected by putting them into care. But for most of us, I hope, the ambition is simply to improve.

First, we must consider the triggers. Neurologists tell us that two parts of the brain are involved here: the hippocampus which stores memories and the amygdala which triggers emotional reaction. Thus we interpret new circumstances through associations with the experiences held in the memory. Experiments with mice brains have shown that manipulating memories (say, changing a painful memory to a pleasurable one) correspondingly changes the reaction of the amygdala, and so the emotional response.

If emotions are rooted in the brain, we would expect to see the strength of emotional response in the human brain as well. While it was known that those with severe lack of emotional control had recognisable brain patterns, it was more recently found that this was a continuum which depended on the degree of emotional control, even in so-called normal people. That is, us. But it does not follow that these essentially biological characteristics leave us unable to improve the regulation of our emotions or even the nature of our emotional responses.

Typically, we cope with negative reactions in two ways. In low level situations we use re-appraisal – attempting to rationalise the threat; in higher levels we use distraction. These strategies may not always work. And this can be a problem when depression and anxiety disorders inhibit flexible approaches to different situations. So if we really wish to regulate our responses more habitually we should consider other longer term approaches.

A cognitive behavioural approach might be a first choice. While not essential, it can be helpful here to use a trusted friend who will monitor and give feedback. The cognitive stage requires identifying unruly emotional reactions, and identifying their inappropriateness in some detail. The causes, which may lie in some memory or in an aspect of character, should be explored and understood. The triggers for recent occurrences should be identified. All this is noted down in concrete terms. A chart of future occurrences and their effects should be kept punctiliously. It is this focused attention which enables us to anticipate the reaction in time to avoid it. Eventually, when a new habit has been formed, the inappropriate reaction should become history.

Another skill, which supports the first, but has a wider application, is deep relaxation. Anyone – and perhaps that is all of us – who is sometimes subject to tension and anxiety can use it with advantage. It has so many benefits to mood and happiness (not excluding lowering blood pressure) that it can be a life changer and a life saver. A simple routine for developing this skill is described on Secondsightblog. Search above for “The Science of Meditation”.

Mindfulness meditation is a more holistic approach. You may be aware that many recent studies (not all of them watertight) demonstrate its usefulness for a range of conditions. I can witness to its value in assistance with insomnia. Its relevance here lies in its ability to filter helpful and unhelpful emotions. An interesting recent study discovered that smokers incidentally reduced their intake by 60 percent, following mindfulness sessions. Their increase in self-control appears to have brought this about without any conscious intention to abstain. Search above for “All in the Mind” for more information.

If our emotional reactions are expressed though the brain (and also through the body) we may wonder how our spiritual search for perfection is involved. Our difficulty here may lie in overlooking the complementary elements of soul and body. Both of course work together. Secular psychology and spiritual growth assist each other in the complete person. Our motive for regulating our emotions so that we react appropriately as rational beings and in a way which is charitable, rather than harmful, to others, is spiritual — but the immediate methodology we may use to achieve this is secular. We cannot expect the Holy Spirit to solve our problems if we do not play our part.

Every spiritual thought and inclination we have – whether we are Joe Bloggs or Teresa of Avila – is mediated through the brain. And our habits, bad or good, are written into our neural connections. Our deeper understanding of the brain teaches us how to train the good habits so that our ambition for holiness can be more closely achieved.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Catholic Herald columns and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

59 Responses to How do you feel today?

  1. Galerimo says:

    I have come across theories concerning the location of our intelligence and conscious awareness being throughout the body and not just in the brain. The idea of “gut feeling” actually being a trustworthy act of cognition. “the heart has got reasons that the mind knows not of” was a statement in my opinion, about the intelligence and worthiness of feelings. I would suggest that this “intelligence” advances too with cultivation and is equally fascinating with its plasticity. As I have gotten older I notice stronger feelings against cruelty to animals and a deeper sense of pain and shame when confronted with this behaviour. I feel what has has graced my life is a more universal dimension to my heart and my feelings. A development of feeling.Those pictures of far away things pull the strings of my heart in a way that I was not aware of before. Thanks for the material for reflection.

    • Vincent says:

      Galerimo, I think, at the risk of oversimplification, that there may be two kinds of temperament. One kind holds on very hard to their assumptions, and the other is open to alteration with experience. I have heard it said that a young person who is not a socialist has no heart, and an old person who remains a socialist has no head. (reference to Corbyn?).
      I am very glad that our attention has been directed to our feelings since they motivate so many of our actions. I sometimes get the impression that many Catholics have become so ‘spiritualised’ that they have denied their bodies, and so their brains. Surely this is to deny how God chose to create them.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Vincent.
        I believe you are right witht your comment regarding ‘One kind holds on very hard to their assumption, and the other is open to alteration with experience’,in a similar way Pope Francis is moving rhe Church, by not ‘changing’ any truths but by understanding,and ,compassion,
        .

  2. Brendan says:

    I’m having some difficulty in sorting out my thoughts about the substance of this blog and how to proceed. There is a large string of uncertain/doubtful stages of emotional/psychological performance between the well-balanced mind and the person with ” borderline personality disorder. ” I know , because in that range on a scale of one to ten , I may have experienced the same at some stage in my past life – about eight/nine. ! Consequently my subjective faith journey suffered for a long time or remained dormant.
    I believe that apart from the fact that we are prone to sin ( through our fallen nature ) these psychological barriers which inhibit the Christian ( for the purpose my discussion ) can seriously inhibit ones progress to ” maturity ” in the worldly and spiritual sense … and may never be resolved. In which case – where our worldly efforts have failed – one is left to the infinite mercies of The Almighty’s ineffable healing action.
    While we are not born naturally good , we are not born naturally evil either. Christ came, if you like to redeem mankind from this ‘ impasse ‘ and lead it to a well-balanced situation of whole-ness ( holiness ). For unfettered ( emotionally balanced ) minds who discern and acknowledge the path to holiness ; it is only then that their understanding and correction of faults of the mind come into play and have a real chance of ‘ partnering ‘ the Holy Spirit in their once and for all journey of faith. By analogy – one can’t expect someone to take in The Gospel on an empty belly. While the use of psychology on a therapeutic level is undoubtedly useful as I have myself experienced . It is something beyond oneself that ultimately is seen to be more efficacious and immeasurably infinite in its positive effects in progress to holiness with The Spirit.
    St. Paul’s ..” thorn in the side …[ ? emotional ] ” comes to mind and yet though this trial he could ultimately say with conviction …” it is no longer I who live , but Christ that live in me .”
    I’ll leave it there as my thoughts beginning to dry up !

  3. Vincent says:

    Watching Ian Hislop recently on Victorian ‘do-gooders’, I was reminded that they seemed little concerned about spirituality, or divine inspiration. People like Wilberforce or Octavia Hill etc simply saw injustices in society and decided to change them. And to do that they had to be pretty tough, and ready to ride rough-shod over the opposition. The good cannot be achieved by good inspiration, it is achieved through good action. And that happens out in the world with all its human factors — from psychology to economics. Mother Teresa didn’t just pray for the dying poor — she got on with the job. I may have said my morning prayers to day, but what good have I actually achieved?

  4. ignatius says:

    “I may have said my morning prayers to day, but what good have I actually achieved?..”

    Depends rather on what you think prayer is! I notice that the more I pray the more I am stirred to do. Conversely the more I do ..the more I have to pray in order to generate the will and emotional conviction for action. I’m not by temperament at all brave, strong or self confident but prayer reminds me of who I truly am and empowers me for action. Morning prayer is a good example of this mechanism at work; I may feel like death warmed up first thing but at the end of a period of prayer I can go out singing.

  5. ignatius says:

    Quentin:
    “Every spiritual thought and inclination we have – whether we are Joe Bloggs or Teresa of Avila – is mediated through the brain…”

    How do you know?
    Certainly we may say that there is no clear mind/body dualism and that dissection has discovered a hippocampus an amygdala not to mention a cerebellum, but has not yet discovered a mind. But we simply do not know how things are spiritually mediated, no one knows that for certain. What experiment have been done to discover the way a spirit animates a body?

    • Quentin says:

      That, Ignatius, is a very interesting subject to debate. So let’s just clarify our ground. I would emphasise the word ‘mediated’ because it says nothing about the origin of the spirit, but is confined to the channels through which it travels. Similarly, human reason is mediated through the brain, even if we hold that it transcends biology.

      If you are with me there, then my first thought would be why God should reject the medium of the brain which he has given us as the organ for thought and response?

    • RAHNER says:

      ……..but has not yet discovered a mind.”
      What kind of evidence would support such a discovery?

  6. St.Joseph says:

    I believe faith has a great deal that controls our emotions combined with grace in our soul /spirit, maybe through the work of hormone secretins from the brain.
    This is not written in stone just thoughts.. M experience comes to mind when results of my scan showed last Thursday that my pancreatic and liver cancer had not grown (but did not shrink)’
    Then the blow came when the consultand told me I needed an MRI scan as it was thought that the scan showed that there was thinning of the bones and could be cancer.
    Devasting news, however i called into Vespers and practically shattered,sat for an hour with Our Lord present in the Tabernacle.When I left- from going in depressed-came out as ‘Ignatius said ‘singing’ my spirit uplifted and hopeful!

  7. ignatius says:

    Quentin and Rahner:

    “Similarly, human reason is mediated through the brain, even if we hold that it transcends biology..”

    When you find me one train of thought that is not accompanied by a cascade of neuro chemistry or does not light up a flicker of electrical brain activity then I will fully concur that reason transcends biology. Would you say Quentin that the reason of a tiger or a dolphin or an eagle transcends its biology?
    I would propose that we have advanced in neurology and genetics to the degree where old ideas of dualism have almost completely given way. Similarly in psychoanalysis the old Freudian categories have been quietly shelved, less and less do we find ourselves split into compartments.
    The simple analogy of a piano might help, the symphony played on it is completely mediated by the instrument which responds marvellously till impaired by falling out of tune.
    In my own thoughts and experiences I move more towards the possibility that we are animated spiritually, that is to say even the subtlest thought or feeling that this body is capable of remains within the realm of biology, the spirit however is not fundamentally a biological entity as we understand the term. We have forgotten that we are spiritual in nature.

    • Quentin says:

      A couple of thoughts to put in at this stage: reasoning would appear to have two elements. One of these is concerned with manipulating concepts. The classic syllogism illustrates this, and indeed can be expressed by mathematical algorithms. The other is the formation of the concepts which are to be manipulated. It would seem that forming a concept requires an abstraction. That is, I need to convert the experienced entity into a concept before I can reason with it. (see Platonic ideals as an approach to this.)

      The second concerns consciousness. It is not called the ‘hard problem’ for nothing. It is not that science has simply failed to find an explanation. Science has been unable to suggest what a satisfactory explanation would look like.

      So I would want to argue that our consciousness of concepts is not open to empirical proofs, but is an outcome of a perception which no one is able to deny. But our agnosticism here does not exclude the use of the brain as the ‘mechanical’ medium which we use for this process.

      What do you and Rahner, or indeed others, think?

    • RAHNER says:

      “the subtlest thought or feeling that this body is capable of remains within the realm of biology, the spirit however is not fundamentally a biological entity as we understand the term.” – I’m not sure I understand this.

      Any position in the philosophy of mind is bound to be fairly speculative and leave many questions unanswered. But the evidence for a position will most likely draw upon phenomenological and conceptual analysis. My own view would be to incline towards a position that asserts that mental/conscious phenomena are emergent non-reducible properties that are instantiated once a material object reaches a certain degree of structural complexity.
      A useful book is “The Emergent Self”, William Hasker, Cornell, 2001.

    • Alan says:

      Plenty of people would fail to suggest a satisfactory explanation for all manner of “hard problems” and even fail to define what a satisfactory explanation would look like in many cases. If this same failure extends to everyone for some given question or questions then perhaps that is merely an extension of this common limitation rather than an indication that the question is special. How could we tell the difference?

      • Quentin says:

        Here’s a possible distinction. Many aspects of quantum physics have been established, yet we are told that the fundamental basis cannot be understood. Perhaps, if we could conceive the sort of answer which would suffice, we might get closer. We can suppose that the answer lies in the material world and we can be optimistic.

        Understanding consciousness presents a different kind of problem because we have to assume consciousness in order to investigate it. This is why the articles in, say, New Scientist, whatever their titles promise, only describe the mechanisms which might be needed to present data, and not the means through which that data is consciously realized.

      • RAHNER says:

        I think you can plausibly argue that our cognitive faculties were formed in the context of the evolutionary struggle for survival and so that these faculties are of limited scope when they are used to tackle metaphysical problems…

      • Alan says:

        Quentin

        First chance I’ve had to reply as I’ve been away but perhaps this suits the new topic anyway. I don’t know what you mean by consciousness having to be assumed in order to investigate it.

        “This is why the articles in, say, New Scientist, whatever their titles promise, only describe the mechanisms which might be needed to present data, and not the means through which that data is consciously realized.”

        Suppose this isn’t why the descriptions are limited. Suppose that the descriptions are instead limited because we aren’t able to conceive of the answer – even hypothetically or as an abstract. Most people agree that 1+1=2 but couldn’t even begin to offer a proof. This might be a similar problem but one that stumps everyone rather than just many. Answers in New Scientist would similarly fail to satisfy.

      • Quentin says:

        Thank you for this, Alan, Your arithmetical example reminds me of Russel and Whitehead (and Godel). But I think consciousness to be unprovable in a different way. But this is just a holding note, so I can think about the best explanation! (I think I can already see Hume and Kant on my mental horizon. Oh I only hope not.

      • Quentin says:

        Yes, Hume encountered this sort of problem when he maintained that, though he could see instances of causality in the real world, it was impossible to demonstrate the principle of causality simply from experience. This stirred Kant into action. He argued that the principle could be known directly through the mind, and verified by experience. Thus was born the synthetic a priori proposition.

        This is analogous to your 1+1=2 example insofar as we can see the truth of it, but we have no means of proof. This is where Gödel comes in with his ‘incompleteness’ theorem.

        Perhaps a nearer example to the case in question is how we validate reason. We can see this validity through our minds, but we cannot prove it without using the very reason we are trying to prove. That is, we cannot get outside reason in order to validate it.

        We can define consciousness as the ability to see into our own minds. Or, if we want to niggle, we can see what we take to be our minds. We can be certain of that because it is direct experience. Just as certain as we are of the principle of causality or the outcome of arithmetic. But this is personal – I can be certain of my own consciousness, but I can only infer yours. And vice versa. But that subjective certainty requires the presence of consciousness. We cannot, so to speak, get outside it in order to prove it empirically because we would need already to have validated it in order to come to that conclusion.

        Does that work?

      • Nektarios says:

        Quentin, Alan & Rahner
        Assuming, in the realm of consciousness we land in the realms of the descriptive, but like I have said so many times on this blog, the descriptive is never, and can never be the actual.

  8. Geordie says:

    When we are stuck with a serious problem and cannot work out the answer, we are advised to sleep on it. This often results in an answer which seems obvious but we couldn’t perceive it when the brain was tired. Thus the brain is the medium and God uses it, especially when it has been refreshed with sleep. However the devil can use the brain as well. This is where prayer comes in. We shouldn’t say, ‘all we can do is pray’. Prayer is the first and most important thing to do then the rest will fall into place, even if it takes years.

  9. Nektarios says:

    The simple analogy of a piano might help, the symphony played on it is completely mediated by the instrument which responds marvellously till impaired by falling out of tune.

    The above illustration, provided by Ignatius, really gets to the heart of these knotty little psychological problems. Man is not only out of tune with God in his fallen state, he really does not know himself, and worse of misreads his experiences.

    We are tri-partied beings, body, soul and spirit. The meeting point of these is not clear and thus, clever man has sought to rationalize his understanding of him/herself in human terms and mixes thing up in the process.
    Let me tell you a little story to illustrate: A young man who was a devout Christian, was a baker.
    He attended an evangelical conference, where being a good singer, duly played his part at the conference. Afterwards, he Pastor spoke with him and said, `you have a really good voice you know, you should train to be an Evangelist or a Pastor.
    He replied, he couldn’t, as he felt he could not speak in public.
    Well said the Pastor, all you need is a bit of training.
    Now this man was being devout, thought maybe I do have a calling and duly started at the Bible College. After the first week, the poor man realized there was no way he could keep up with the lectures let alone understand what was being taught him. He was beiging to get depressed.
    He went to see the Principal to tell him he thought of leaving as he was getting depressed because he did not think he had it in him to speak in public.
    The Principal said, Well perhaps you need to go to a psychologist?
    He entered into his second week, and things were getting worse, and even more depressed.
    At the end of the week he left.
    Returning home, he went to see a godly Pastor and told his story to him.
    The godly Pastor said to him, `Well, you don’t need a psychologist now, you might have needed one when you entered that College, but now you are in your right mind. Go back to being a baker,
    and carry on your Christian life and work as you did before.’
    This the devout Christian did. His depression lifted and he lived out his Christian life in faith, peace and joy.

    • Vincent says:

      It seems to me that, if we want to get deep in here, we need to look at a basic question. We speak of the soul as the life of the body (that is, animating) and the principle which holds us together as a unit (form). Does this make it spiritual? If so do the lower animals have spiritual souls? Or is life merely an outcome of natural elements triggered through evolution?

  10. ignatius says:

    Yes, lets do it, lets get in deep here…lets do a bit of theology together.
    But doing so, let us remember the witness of our faith and remember the world that surrounds us.
    For example we would need to remember that much of the scriptural witness does concern itself with Gods declaring an intent to put life into our dead bones and give us hearts of flash instead of hearts of stone; let us remember that deep calls to deep. I say this not in order to major on scriptural exegesis of the meaning of “flesh” in the writings of Paul or what is meant by a ‘wretched body of death’, rather to indicate that there are parameters for the discussion. The subject of the spririt animating the flesh is by no means a new one.
    So its probably a given that ‘life’ in the religious sense is not just biological life in the simple physiological sense but something other.

    Rahner puts it well I think as a jumping off point:
    “mental/conscious phenomena are emergent non-reducible properties that are instantiated once a material object reaches a certain degree of structural complexity…”
    So, when we get to a certain stage of complexity other things happen. The question in my mind would be how does God achieve intimacy with us by His presence? Quentin I think began by assuming that God somehow accesses the human brain which then performs pretty much as an autonomous actor, as if the presence of God comes to us written on a scroll of instructions to carry out and we then act accordingly or not.
    I do not agree with this analogy holding instead the view that God is literally ‘within us’ somehow by the presence of Gods spirit. We are spiritual beings in this life as well as in the next but the interface between spirit and flesh is obscure. This means that we may be ‘moved’ to act spiritually as well as by our emotional flesh. Yet because we are as yet quite ignorant of our true nature we are, as Nektarios says, prone to get mixed up about the way we operate and to rationalise stuff to the degree that we forget the conditions of our being. This forgetting would probably have once been called The Fall.

  11. ignatius says:

    Rahner:
    “the subtlest thought or feeling that this body is capable of remains within the realm of biology, the spirit however is not fundamentally a biological entity as we understand the term.” – I’m not sure I understand this.
    I’m not sure I understand it either! I’m trying to articulate the point that since God is ‘Spirit’ then so are we somehow. We are not merely complex biological entities but spiritual beings eternal in nature yet present in the here and now mystically woven into our marvellous ‘flesh’ which is nonetheless flesh.
    Put in simple terms there was a chap I studied once who said this:
    “Vitality is the nexus of spirit and matter”
    It is the nature of the nexus I’m trying to discuss.

  12. Nektarios says:

    Ignatius
    It is very difficult to go into the nexus of the physical, psychological and the spiritual aspects that is Man. Within the confines of 600 words it is nigh impossible. Worse perhaps, is it is nigh on impossible to get to the nexus of Man in the present climate, because it is contradictory, and I would say entirely wrong.

    But let us make a start at least.First read Ephesian 6:1-4
    Practically all our modern day understanding of the modern man is seen as a reaction to Victorian discipline. The text is speaking about discipline of children in the home. It has to be said, if there is no discipline there, don’t expect to find it elsewhere.

    Victorian discipline of children was, it has to be said, often severe, cruel, sometimes inhumane.
    It was so in the home, in education, regarding crime, immorality, and even the religious life.
    It was extreme. But along came the Psychological approach. Unfortunately this was built upon a philosophy that Man by nature was essentially good.

    The child no longer had to be punished when they did wrong, lest they damage him/her. It was not the loving thing to do. This view that Man was by nature basically good, and should not be severly punished when necessary, got extended outward, into education where disipline of the Victorian style had to go and it was replaced by the psychiatric and psychological approach.

    The same psychological approach was expanded and introduced regarding Law and crime.
    So they did not go to prison as a punishment, but to be reformed.
    The same applies to the realm of business, and politics and the philosophical view that Man is basically good and only needs to be drawn out to do good. Where they stole, cheated, and all
    sorts of business crimes just get sent to be reformed in prison or to see a psychiatrist.

    I have to finish this posting, by ending on this note. The Victorians obviously went to the extremes in many cases regarding punishment, that is why the text I gave at the beginning is so important to be understood. Their position was wrong.
    The reaction to all that was the Psychological position, Man by nature is good, is also wrong.
    Man in his fallen state is evil, a rebel and law-breaker. Give such the psychological approach, especially criminals, they will accept and laugh at your thinking.
    So as disorder in Man increases, what of the nexus that is man? How is he to reach the point of nexus when all the connections to it are false and being broken down?

  13. St.Joseph says:

    Nektarios.
    Judas denied Jesus, he then went out and hanged himself.
    Peter denied Jesus 3 times,he did not hang himself,but repented . Then carried out the Mission that Jesus called him to do! He did not wait untill he reached the gates of Heaven..He carried out the ministry that Jesus asked him to do, to save others and repent as St John the Baptist came along shouting.
    I see a deep meaning in what you say about punishment and charity and repentence.(tell me if I have got it wrong)
    I can see your point I think about extreme punishment.One too much, then one too little,however there has to be recononcillation.between man and God. (He can not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven etc).
    We don’t know what happened to Judas,but do know what happened to St Peter.
    Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.St Peter being a sinner,knowing how he was forgiven and his love for Jesus he is there at the Gates of Paradise with the understanding that we are all human prone to sin, God will forgive us if we ask Him.
    Hence the mercy shown by Pope Francis.He being the only one to do that within Holy Mother Church carrying out the mission of the Papacy!

    • Nektarios says:

      St Joseph,
      So sorry, I cannot see exactly what you are saying to say whether or not you are on the right track?

      • St.Joseph says:

        Nektarios.
        I am about to go out now,but can you point me to the right track.
        I will just explain first the comparison between Judas and Peter. One of despair, the other turning their life around.One trusting in the Lord’s forgivness.
        I will explain more if you need me to,later.

      • Nektarios says:

        St Joseph
        Please, explain a little further if you will.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Nektarios..
        As I said in my first reply to you.I agree with your comment on discipline.and the lack of it,one extreme to the other! The fact is now ‘there seems to be no punishment no evil only mental illness.’…
        ,
        We must understand that I am a RC and you are Orthodox, – agreeing to disagree with the teaching of the Chair of Peter!
        Hence my belief is that Our Holy Father Pope Francis is protecting the Church and Her teaching on the Sanctity of life, the unborn and the elderly. also protecting the Sacrament of marriage etc.(I am not saying the Orthodox dont)
        I also believe that he is showing mercy to all those who have lapsed through the lack of proper guidance and the lack of faith through ‘modernism’ and socety as a whole-plus liberal thinking regarding the authority of the RC teachings.Also bringing the lapsed home.
        He is feeding his lambs and his sheep as Jesus asked him to do.! However ‘not by changing the teaching of the Church’ ,where the flock have left the fold
        .So my comment regarding ‘not knowing where Judas is (we hope he is in Heaven but he will not be in the Chair of Peter denying Jesus when he did as an Apostle.. even though Peter did 3 times (the number 3 seems to come up a lot in the Bible.Jesus asking him three time,’Do you love me’Jesus knew that Judas would betray him and Peter would deny him before the cock crowed thrice!
        Peters name in Scripture appears over a 130 times before St John next then down the line of reference.
        I do hope that explains my earlier comment, do feel free to ask me any further questions, however if it refers to the RC teaching, you will understand if I disagree with you, as friends in Christ of course.

  14. ignatius says:

    Alan:

    “..If this same failure extends to everyone for some given question or questions then perhaps that is merely an extension of this common limitation rather than an indication that the question is special. How could we tell the difference?..”

    You may be right but the question has relevance for the conduct of faith. If we assume that God simply works as an external force to which we respond according to our reason logic and moral action then we have a certain view of how faith operates. The whole thrust of Christian history though is supposed to be of an encounter. This brings the internal state into greater play and probably emphasises the inner life and mystery. When you think about it the question of how we relate to God is not that dissimilar to the question of how can Jesus be fully man and fully God. These questions do affect the shift of religious practice over time and through culture merely by the way we approach them. However, the issue may be quite insignificant to the pragmatic man.

  15. ignatius says:

    Nektarios,

    “…The reaction to all that was the Psychological position, Man by nature is good, is also wrong.
    Man in his fallen state is evil, a rebel and law-breaker. Give such the psychological approach, especially criminals, they will accept and laugh at your thinking….”

    I can’t help but find your approach to these subjects a little simplistic Nektarios. If you get chance dig out the Radio 4 programme on Whatton prison in which the governor and several prisoners give their view on these subjects. For what its worth my involvement in prison chaplaincy tends to convince me that what is needed inside prison is grace, you are right that telling people they are ok isn’t the right approach but rehabilitation is very important and grace , according to Quentins proposal is mediated through normal channels. So there is a sense in which this topic has relevance for the current discussion, one which I’m keen to keep on with,…can God repair a maimed conscience through other means than the normal working of that ‘twisted ‘mind or is God limited to working through those already bent strings as best God can?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Ignatius.
      St Pope Paul 2nd when he was shot,visited his enemy in prison and forgave him his sin,
      Does this mean that he was saved..,obviously we do not know the mind of God!
      You are right by saying how important grace is- that which we receive in the Sacrament of confession.
      Where does ‘atonement’ come into it? can we as catholics call that Purgatory if we have not made atonement for our sins by the time we die considering Jesus said to the good thief ‘This day you will be with me in Paradise! Perhaps his sins were not mortal.
      You are in the right place in the prison whereby you can be a mediator between the prisioner and the church!

      • ignatius says:

        St Joseph,
        I don’t really know much about atonement I’m afraid. Looked into temporal punishment once but couldn’t make head nor tail of it.

      • Quentin says:

        I recall being told many years ago that ‘atonement’ was the only English word in theology. It reads: at-one-ment. Thus it would refer to the returning of the sinner to his full relationship with God.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Ignatius
        PS. Another I thought of was teaching false Gods to ones children or others to make them not to believe in God or the Truth of Holy Mother Churches Doctrine.

      • St.Joseph says:

        PS.
        Blasphemy or taking the Lord’s name in vain!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Ignatius
      For the sake of His sorrowful Passion,have mercy on us and on the whole world!
      Eternal Father I offer you the Body and the Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and for the whole world.
      We say that when we recite the Divine Mercy prayer!
      Did you not say a while back that you sometimes say the Divine Mercy Chaplet?
      Quentin yesI was told that after Confession we were forgiven our sins but needed to atone for serious sins.

      • St.Joseph says:

        PS I left out ‘Your dearly Beloved Son .

      • ignatius says:

        St Joseph,
        Yes I do venerate the image and use the chaplet. What I meant was I don’t know what atonement means in terms of practical faith..what must one DO? Is this the same as penance or what…simple answers please…an example of atonement in practice might be helpful.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Ignatius Thank you.
        Maybe one example, would be restoring ones goods or finances or rebuilding things that were broken etc.
        Or ones good name ,

    • Nektarios says:

      Ignatius
      I am sorry to be too simplistic, but I am not trying to impress with my erudition and cleverness, though I could, but to communicate.
      I agree this topic is not simple, but at the same time, it cannot get us anywhere without
      power.
      I also see the centrality of this topic is Man. But, man is not the centre God is.

      On your last point: Man cannot change his fallen nature. It is not a decision he can make, it is not something he is capable of. A concience with all this liberal nonsense can be temporally salved, but not changed, this is obvious.
      God is not limited in is actions. The Holy Spirit can change a twisted individual instantly.
      Further, it is not a correcting or patching up of this old nature, twisted conscience etc, but a new nature, a new creature in Christ. It is the action of God the Holy Spirit. He is wonderfuIt and His works are awesome.

  16. Geordie says:

    Man in his fallen state is not evil. He is prone to evil. There’s a big difference.

    • Vincent says:

      Yes, evil is not an entity in its own right — it is negative, or an absence of good. Man’s nature is ordered towards good. But in his ‘fallen’ nature he mistakes his temptations for his true good.

      • Nektarios says:

        Vincent
        Pre-Fall man’s nature may have been orientated to good, but the Fall was far more cataclysmic that we can imagine. If God does not tempt anyone, then the source of the temptations lies with the devil and our inclinations to them.

    • Nektarios says:

      Geordie
      Then, Geordie, I ask, what in man is prone to evil? What is evil actually?
      If he was just prone to evil, then why did Christ come? What would have been the necessity to be regernerated, born again, saved call it what you will, if we were in control,
      just being prone to evil from time to time?

      Salvation is not all about you or I or others, it is about God carrying out his plan regarding man, the universe and everything, to restore all of it in a right relationship with Him.
      God is holy and righteous first and foremost.

  17. ignatius says:

    Geordie..yes thats precisely right. I really like it when Pope Francis, when asked as to his identity replied:
    “I’m a sinner”

  18. St.Joseph says:

    Apparently Pope John Paul 2nd went to the Sacrament of Confession daily.
    That would put us to shame!

  19. Martha says:

    Spirit, life, vitality, is this the soul, which we mould through our actions, and which will continue after the death of the physical body and brain, and be further purified, and eventually will animate it once more?

    • ignatius says:

      Hi Martha,
      As you probably know there isn’t a clear answer on this. Certainly we are resurrected to life and certainly to a body, but we don’t know what this body will consist of. Scripture tells us there will be a new heaven and a new earth but it also says there will be no need for a sun because we will all live in the light of God.

      • Martha says:

        Thank you, Ignatius.
        Do you mind if I go back to how this works in practice, and to the question you posed on Sunday, 20th at 6.11 pm, “How does God achieve intimacy with us by His presence?”
        I think some of us do not know or recognise this intimacy, and this seems to be borne out by Our Lord’s words about some who will enter the kingdom of heaven. They will reply to His words of welcome, by asking, “When did we see you hungry, and give you to eat, or thirsty and give you to drink?” Even though they do not consciously know Him, or realise that they do, He has been with them all the time, and is intimate with them, in the same way that it seems to be with people who do know about Him, and follow Him, but do not experience His presence emotionally.

  20. ignatius says:

    Thats well put, Martha.

  21. St.Joseph says:

    Martha.
    Yes that is right, however I often think when we come back in our earthly ‘body’ how do we compare it with this life
    We believe that Jesus rose from the dead in his earthly body, showing the wounds of His crucifixon
    Will earth be our Heavenly home. Jesus did eat fish with His apostles after he rose from the dead,
    .
    Nektarios.
    Is that what you meant ‘ within the confines of 600 words it woud be nigh impossible’?.

    • Nektarios says:

      St. Joseph
      Not exactly, what I meant by the constraint of 600 words was to fully explain where the
      nexus or where the physical, pyschological and spiritual are joined and interrelate together. It would take many 600 word postings to explain it on the SSblog. Don’t worry about it.

    • Martha says:

      St. Joseph, wherever it is, I hope and pray that we will all be there.

  22. St.Joseph says:

    Martha.
    Thank you I hope so too.
    What you said was very well put, as Ignatius said, however I am disappointed that there were no thoughts in answer to your question!
    Nextarios was the nearest!!

  23. ignatius says:

    Martha,
    “..They will reply to His words of welcome, by asking, “When did we see you hungry, and give you to eat, or thirsty and give you to drink?” Even though they do not consciously know Him, or realise that they do, He has been with them all the time, and is intimate with them, in the same way that it seems to be with people who do know about Him, and follow Him, but do not experience His presence emotionally…”

    Yes, very much so. As one goes on in life it becomes plainer that much of our response to God is governed by our own personal make up. There are those who find their way into a sensed intimate relationship and those who do not yet apply their intellect and will unsparingly. I think Mother Teresa was of the latter camp. I find myself to be in the former grouping and put this down to my anyway possessing an artistic temperament – which is a mixed blessing but does have a tendency towards the vivid in terms of encounter. It is a great but common mistake to think that others apprehend Our Lord the way we ourselves do or indeed that it means anything much.:-)

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