Friday, February 29, 2008

Bible and the Sacraments

From fellow blogger Mike Aquilina of Way of the Fathers:

We're working with the diocese to offer a six-week class on the sacraments. So far, enrollment is very small, and we'd like to get a boost. Please spread the word. Those who've taken the course can tell you it's great. Thanks a million. Mike

Class description: Bible and the Sacraments

The newest of our Journey Through Scripture series, Bible and the Sacraments examines the sacraments of the Catholic faith. Not simply looking at the basic teaching of the Church as to their meaning and origin, it investigates the deeper mysteries they contain as illuminated by scripture. Bible and the Sacraments looks at each sacrament individually, seeking to understand where they come from and what they mean. Finding their institution in Christ and their origin in salvation history, they are God’s gift of life to His children

Registration memo from the diocese...

Once again we will be hosting the pilot program “Journey Through Scripture” for those who have taken the training as well as others who might be interested. This next phase is entitled “Journey Through Scripture: The Bible and the Sacraments.” The 6-week training sessions for the program will be held at St. Paul Seminary, Wednesday afternoons from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM on the following dates:

Wednesdays, 1:00 – 3:00 PM: March 5, 12, 19, 26, April 2, 9

In order to facilitate the program, we need to know how many will be attending the sessions. Please complete the form below and either mail the information to us as soon as possible to:

Department for Religious Education, 111 Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222; or FAX us at (412) 456-3113; or send via e-mail at

We are looking forward to once again hosting this pilot program in our diocese. It is our hope that the program in the coming years will be part of the adult faith formation program in our parishes. Thank you for your help and cooperation.


Diocese of Pittsburgh

Department for Religious Education

Journey Through Scriptures: The Bible and the Sacraments

6 –Week Training Session Schedule: Wednesdays – March 5, 12, 19, 26, April 2, 9

I will attend the pilot program (please check) _____ Wednesday afternoons 1:00 to 3:00 PM

Name_____________________________________________________ Phone_____________________________

Address____________________________________________________ Parish_________________________

For more information, see ...

Neurosis and the Gnomic Will

My thoughts have been very much taken up these past few weeks with the central role of detachment in the Christian life.

Part of what has informed my inner monologue has been my preparation for an upcoming psychology conference. The conference, which is scheduled for April in Phoenix AZ, is the annual meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies and looks at the implications for psychology of the human person being created in the image of God. Besides looking forward to hearing some interesting presentations and research, I am presenting a paper on the understanding of the will in Karen Horney and Maximos the Confessor.

A central theme of Horney's work is that human beings are not free. We are rather internally conflicted and driven by compulsions. This dovetails well with Maximos's notion of the gnomic will:

The term 'gnomic' derives from the Greek gnome, meaning 'inclination' or 'intention'. Within Orthodox theology, gnomic willing is contrasted with natural willing. Natural willing designates the free movement of a creature in accordance with the principle (logos) of its nature towards the fulfillment (telos, stasis) of its being. Gnomic willing, on the other hand, designates that form of willing in which a person engages in a process of deliberation culminating in a free choice.

The tragedy of the gnomic will is that we imagine our choices are both grounded in, and the realization of our freedom. Instead of freeing us, our gnomic will increasingly narrows even our ability to decide between options: If I make the decision to write this morning, I can only do so at the expense of sleeping late and vice versa.

It is from the self-limiting character of the gnomic will that there arises in us, or so I would suggest, the overwhelming sense of what Horney calls our life of "inner conflict." Try as I might, I cannot by an act of will or through my deliberations, bring myself to a place of wholeness. Ironically, I find that it is through the exercise of the deliberative process of the gnomic will that I move further and further away from a life that bears any resemblance to wholeness.

In Our Inner Conflicts: A Constructive Theory of Neurosis, Horney undermines any naïve view that we are free simply because we are able to make choices between options. With great clarity and charity, she points our attention to compulsion that is the heart of the neurotic strivings that afflict us all. She begins by asserting that "Compulsive drives are specifically neurotic" and continues by arguing that these compulsive behaviors "are born of feelings of isolation, helplessness, fear and hostility, and represent ways of coping with the world despite these feelings; they aim primarily not at satisfaction but at safety; their compulsive character is due to the anxiety lurking behind" (pp. 12-13).

There is therefore no joy, or even in the strict sense pleasure, in my neurotic strivings only a rather fragile sense of being safe. This sense of being safe however is brittle resting as it does upon my ultimately futile attempts to embrace "contradictory attitudes towards others" (which in time grow and become as well "contradictory attitudes toward the self") and my own inner word of "contradictory qualities and contradictory sets of values" (p. 15).

My "freedom," much less of "wholeness," are illusory. This illusory sense of wholeness, ground as it is in my attachment to the decisions of my own (gnomic) will requires from me that I invest an "amazing amount of energy and intelligence" in my "more or less desperate efforts to 'solve' the conflicts, or more precisely, to deny" the existence of my inner conflicting attitudes, qualities and values in order to "create an artificial harmony" (pp. 15-16). Horney sketches out for us a number of different concrete ways in which I can strive to create this artificial harmony; while all of them are interest (and familiar) they can be subsumed under the rubric of the "idealized image" of the self.

To "solve his conflicts or, more precisely, to dispose of them" I create "an image of what [I believe myself] to be, or what at the time [I feel I] can or ought to be." Not unsurprisingly, this image "is always flattering in character" (p. 96). With great insight, Horney observes that to "the extent that the image is unrealistic, it tends to make the person arrogant, in the virginal sense of the word; . . . to arrogate to [himself] qualities [he] he does not have, or that [he] has potentially but not factually." Tragically, "the more unrealistic the image, the more it makes the person vulnerable and avid for outside affirmation and recognition" (p. 97) even as his arrogance tends to isolate him all the more for his neighbor.

And here then is the heart of the matter: My suffering flows from my attachment not simply to things, but to a self-image which, no matter how dynamic, open, or realistic, is an attempt to contain within myself a life of increasingly contradictory attitudes, qualities and values. No matter how accurate, I am attached to a view of myself that is the creation of my own gnomic will and (for this reason) intrinsically self-limiting.

Something must break the cycle of the gnomic will and the view of self that flows from its decisions—if I understand the convergence of Horney and Maximos correctly, my decision create my self-image, even as the self-image comes in time to guide (however erratically) my decisions.

More later.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory