The Law of Attraction and Catholic Christian Though [2/4]   Leave a comment

Introduction

Since coming back to Catholicism this issue has been something a nagging side issue that I have sought to resolve. On one hand I have heard it solves every problem, and on the other hand I have told it is mere pseudo-witchcraft, the truth I think lies somewhere in the middle. When I began to try and integrate my increasing Catholic faith with things I have learned before coming back into the largely Christian fold, I tried to integrate The Law of Attraction with Catholicism and what I knew about the deeper Christian Tradition through a Catholic Online Forum and the fruits of said discussion I would like share with you today. I knew that people from The Law of Attraction school of thought wanted to cite some Christian Material as justification for their philosophy, so I wanted to take the time and discuss that with the reader today as well. After the scriptural and patristic discussion I wanted to discuss where else I had seen this issue of a person’s desires being discussed in light of the Christian Tradition. Finally I am intended to offer my final educated position on the matter as well as the criteria and procedure as to when one should consider using The Law of Attraction as a Christian.

What Does Scripture/Patristics Have To Say About It

In light of the discussion in the previous part of this essay, I would now like to turn to Patristic Writers and Scripture in order to give another layer of understanding behind my thought process regarding how a Christian could relate to The Law of Attraction (LoA). First, by scriptural statements I see used by those who celebrate The Law of Attraction; next, by scriptural statements I see used by those who point away from The Law of Attraction; finally, I try to find a verse from scripture that I believe may indeed help to offer moderation between the two extremes of support and opposition. After doing that I will share some mentionable quotes from St. Augustine regarding issues over The Law of Attraction, then concluding this particular section.

I. Scriptural Discussion

To begin let us talk about one scriptural verse that I know The LoA takes from the most to justify its metaphysic, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus when presenting The Sermon on the Mount tells the people that if they, Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7) The LoA however seems to take this to justify its metaphysic by saying that anything you want you can have, however commentary to this particular scriptural statement might declare otherwise when this operates under the aegis of the Christian God.

Haydocks 1859 Catholic Bible Commentary takes from this verse the following understanding, “When we offer our petitions to the Almighty, we must imitate the example of Solomon, who immediately obtained what he asked of the Lord, because he asked what he ought. Two things, therefore, are necessary to every prayer, that it be offered up with perseverance and fervor, and that it contains a lawful prayer.”

I cannot stress the second thing enough and before this part concludes I will stress it again, the request ought to be Lawful for God would not break His own Eternally Established Law for my passions and desires. Despite this fact, there is a positive lesson to be taken from this, even as The LoA describes perseverance and constancy in request so also the Christian can do the same for even the Great Early Church Father St. John Chrysostom made it clear in his Homily on The Gospel of Matthew that,

“However, not simply to ask did He command us, but with much assiduity and earnestness. For this is the meaning of ‘seek.’ For so he that seeks, putting all things out of his mind, is taken up with that alone which is sought, and forms no idea of any of the persons present… And if you dost not receive straightway, do not even thus despair. For to this end He said, ‘knock,’ to signify that even if He should not straightway open the door, we are to continue there.”

The next scriptural verse that I have seen The LoA thinkers discuss to justify their metaphysic would be from the Gospel of Mark Chapter 11, wherein Jesus commands a fruitless fig tree to shrivel and die, the following day The Apostles see it had died, at this point Jesus points to another mystery of the Prayer Life namely that, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24) The LoA certainly finds a home in this statement, for part of the practice of a LoA user would be to actively visualize seeing and emotionally feeling oneself having what it is they desire, while doing this persistently and perseveringly, however again let us turn to Patristics to see what it is that they can tell us about this particular scriptural verse.

A commentary from Blessed Theophylact for this particular verse reads as follows,

For whosoever sincerely believes evidently lifts up his heart to God, and is joined to Him, and his burning heart feels sure that he has received what he asked for, which he who has experienced will understand; and those persons appear to me to experience this, who attend to the measure and the manner of their prayers. For this reason the Lord says, ‘Ye shall receive whatsoever ye ask in faith;’ for he who believes that he is altogether in the hands of God, and interceding with tears, feels that he as it were has hold of the feet of the Lord in prayer, he shall receive what he has rightly asked for. Again, would you in another way receive what you ask for? Forgive your brother, if he has in any way sinned against you; this is also what is added: ‘And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

The statement here is clear one ought to use the methods of the LoA as a Cataphatic form of Prayer casting our minds eye and our heart not on to material things but onto God in the fullness of Love. The words of strong emotion are present in this commentary words like “Tears” and “Burning Heart.” It should be clear however that these tears are not necessarily entirely caused by the person but in the mind by the Spiritual Light and Love of God, whereas in The LoA said emotions are caused and stirred up by the individual’s desire for said created thing. This could be one difference that we can see between a LoA User and a Christian in Prayer.

Now although The Law of Attraction (LoA) likes to pull things out from Scripture to justify its metaphysical outlook we must scan Scripture to see if there is any injunction in place that would challenge such external proposals. There are 2 such scriptural verses that may make such a challenge, the first challenge comes from The Apostolic Letter of James found in the New Testament, the scripture verse reads, “You ask and receive not: because you ask amiss, that you may consume it on your concupiscence’s.” (James 4:3) Before I go further we need to ask the question, what is concupiscence? Concupiscence is,

“In its widest acceptation, concupiscence is any yearning of the soul for good; in its strict and specific acceptation, a desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason. To understand how the sensuous and the rational appetite can be opposed, it should be borne in mind that their natural objects are altogether different. The object of the former is the gratification of the senses; the object of the latter is the good of the entire human nature and consists in the subordination of reason to God, its supreme good and ultimate end. But the lower appetite is of itself unrestrained, so as to pursue sensuous gratifications independently of the understanding and without regard to the good of the higher faculties.”

With that said The Letter of James is speaking obviously of the lower appetites contrary to reason. If your desire manifests using The LoA in such a way that it is for the Good of the Entire Human Nature then that is of God, but if a desire for sensuous and lower appetitive ends is manifested using The LoA then it is safe to say it is probably not of God. I will be speaking in a little bit what is of God’s Will from the Christian Theological standpoint and where human desires fit in, but for now let us return back to Patristic writings. First of all according to the same commentary with “Ask, Knock, Receive” found in (Matthew 7:7) we learn that sometimes God does NOT answer ALL of our requests and pleas for a few reasons,

“The reasons why so many do not obtain the effects of their prayers, are,—1st. Because they ask for what is evil; and he that makes such a request, offers the Almighty an intolerable injury by wishing to make him, as it were, the author of evil: 2nd. Although what they ask be not evil, they seek it for an evil end. (St. James iv.): 3rd. Because they who pray, are themselves wicked; (St. John ix.) for God doth not hear sinners: 4th. Because they ask with no faith, or with faith weak and wavering: (St. James i.) 5th. Because although what we ask be good in itself, yet the Almighty refuses it, in order to grant us a greater good: 6th. Because God wishes us to persevere, as he declares in the parable of the friend asking bread, Luke, ch. ii.; and that we may esteem his gifts the more: 7th. We do not always receive what we beg, because, according to St. Augustine, (lib. ii, de Serm. Dom. et epis. 34, ad Paulinum) God often does not grant us what we petition for, that he may grant us something more useful and profitable.”

St. Augustine also commenting on this Scriptural Verse re-affirms the above by saying in one of his own Homilies that,

“What one, therefore, wishes to receive, in order to turn to an improper use, God in His mercy rather refuses to bestow. Nay, more, if a man asks what would, if answered, only tend to his injury, there is surely greater cause to fear, lest what God could not withhold with kindness, He should give in His anger. Do we not see how the Israelites got to their own hurt what their guilty lusting craved? For while it was raining manna on them from heaven, they desired to have flesh to eat. They disdained what they had, and shamelessly sought what they had not: as if it were not better for them to have asked not to have their unbecoming desires gratified with the food that was wanting, but to have their own dislike removed, and be made themselves to receive aright the food that was provided. For when evil becomes our delight, and what is good the reverse, we ought to be entreating God rather to win us back to the love of the good, than to grant us the evil.”

St. Thomas in his Summa Theologica actually seeks to satisfy 2 burning questions that any LoA User might have considered. First he answers against Criticism that man ought not to ask for definite things, quite the contrary he says rather, there are certain goods which man cannot ill use, because they cannot have an evil result. Such are those which are the object of beatitude and whereby we merit it… Although man cannot by himself know what he ought to pray for, “the Spirit,” as stated in the same passage, “helpeth our infirmity,” since by inspiring us with holy desires, He makes us ask for what is right. Hence our Lord said (John 4:24) that true adorers “must adore . . . in spirit and in truth.”

St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica also answers against criticism that it’s wrong to ask for temporal things wherein he says, “Now it is lawful to desire temporal things, not indeed principally, by placing our end therein, but as helps whereby we are assisted in tending towards beatitude, in so far, to wit, as they are the means of supporting the life of the body, and are of service to us as instruments in performing acts of virtue, as also the Philosopher states (Ethic. i, 8)… Not all solicitude about temporal things is forbidden, but that which is superfluous and inordinate, as stated above (Question 55, Article 6).”

Again all of this confirms that the manifested desires of The LoA could be different from the manifested requests from the Christian Godhead. God gives us things that are uplifting to the whole person, not just the sensual side of man. The LoA however, could be said to the ability to dip into both realms of the exclusively sensuous and exclusively spiritual. Now this is not to say that the sensuous is bad but rather it is not an end in itself that is why God would not grant us a wish request for something that in the end would allow us to think in such a manner. Again, this only conveys the fact that The LoA is not God but perhaps at best a tool, no one worships a hammer therefore let us not worship The LoA.

The final and perhaps equally impressive counter-verse lies in what Jesus said when talking to a Jewish Rabbi about being born again of the Spirit and Water, comparing the Spirit to Wind, when he said, “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) My point is to repeat what I had said in the previous part of this paper that The LoA is just that it’s a LAW so they claim, and Law’s are predictable. This counter-verse is given however to address my concerns of making The LoA into God which I feel would be idolatrous to do so. God is more than the LoA, since The Spirit blows where it wills it does not just dumbly do things in a predictable manner since to do so would give account to attempt retaining it, which means that God as opposed to the LoA has an intentional intelligence behind it. It is true that God is Selfless and Self-giving Love but at the root of its Love is the desire to save all mankind from error, ontological death and to see it fully alive. Nonetheless, I digress let us see what Patristic and Medieval thinkers had to say about this particular verse.

St. John Chrysostom commenting on the phrase, “Blows where it lists (wills)” goes on to say in his own Homily on The Gospel of John the following: (1) He [Jesus] says it not as if the wind had any power of choice, but declaring that its natural motion cannot be hindered, and is with power. (2) One who would show that it cannot be restrained, that it is spread abroad everywhere, and that none can hinder its passing hither and there, but that it goes abroad with great might, and none is able to turn aside its violence [violence meaning, what it does by nature rather than choice]. (3) Used to establish the power of the Comforter; for if none can hold the wind, but it moves where it lists, much less will the laws of nature, or limits of bodily generation, or anything of the like kind, be able to restrain the operations of the Spirit.

It seems to me that St. John Chrysostom is in between what I was trying to argue and what the LoA user would try to argue as well, according to his interpretation of this verse, the Spirit of God seems to be one of Spontaneity, His action in the world is one of “The Path of Least Resistance” which is a Taoist concept. However I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog that Taoism and Christianity do have a lot of overlap, most of my inspiration came from the book, Christ The Eternal Tao written by an Eastern Orthodox Priest-Monk. Its not so much that God is shouting from On High deciding whether or not you deserve something or not, rather He dwells within you and knows you because He is in you as He does with everyone else and through persistence and purity of heart what we desire will be made manifest by the Spontaneous Coordinative Efforts between me and God in a cooperation of wills, which gives us Synchronistic events.

Now I am not a person who likes cliff hangers, leaving people stuck with 2 Supporting Verses and 2 Antagonistic Verses over this issue of The LoA. I contend that Wisdom proposes that there is a little bit of Truth founded in all man’s endeavors and that in Christ said Truth can be grafted on to Him, however Reason also contends that we ought to have an awareness of our limited and flawed nature as well. Therefore, I propose a scriptural verse that may help balance out this issue leaving the reader with a sense of Hope rather than frustration. That Scriptural verse is found also in Matthew’s Gospel with Jesus speaking The Sermon on the Mount wherein Jesus says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Why this verse to offer the middle ground? Well like all things anything we do and anything we have, as Christians ought to be for the Glorification and Magnification of God. More to the point, when we strive for the Kingdom of Heaven we are truly striving for Plato’s 5 Transcendental’s by doing this our personal being is uplifted and transformed, an Alchemical Process on the Whole of Our Being is seen overtime, affected by Loving Grace. When we allow our base desires to be uplifted and transformed into more lofty desires for the whole human person there we will see that Man’s Will does indeed Cooperate with God’s Will and then God Will’s that we realize our deeper desires, which move beyond the base although do not necessarily make the base sensuousness evil, but we no longer feel like making it an end in itself.

Blessed Theophylact only confirms this on his own Homily on The Gospel of Matthew when he says, “The kingdom of God is the enjoyment of all that is good. This comes through righteousness. To him who seeks after spiritual things God in His generosity adds that which is needed for physical life.” Righteousness, is Rightness, doing things in the Right Manner not through legalistic maneuvers to make it so, but rather doing something Spontaneously Right which can only be achieved by aiming for something higher than where we are now. Personally, Christianity gave me the Gift of Right Worship (or Orthodoxy) but Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path showed me what it means to do things rightly, Christianity fulfilled it with Divine Revelation as did Aristotle when it is written that he said in his Nichomachean Ethics, “Now we praise a man who feels anger on the right grounds and against the right persons, and also in the right manner and at the right moment and for the right length of time.”

II. Augustinian Quotes Found In LoA Supporters

Before I conclude this section I wanted to speak on a couple quotable’s from St. Augustine that I have seen in the writings of LoA practitioners, I wanted to give context to what was written to further expand what I saw quoted. There are 2 quotes, the first quote of St. Augustine that I have seen comes from an un-sourced and non-locatable “Sermones 4.1.1” in which he says, “Faith is to believe that which you do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” Although in trying find I have found that the closest Scriptural statement that could support this alleged Augustinian statement would be found in Hebrews speaking on Faith by saying,

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) Ironically enough St. Augustine did have a whole sermon devoted entirely On Faith in things Unseen but in this document he essentially uses the analogy of human society to describe the need for Faith in Human Society to function and then likewise says that Faith in God is necessary for the Human Person and in effect Human Society to be uplifted. Nonetheless, St. John Chrysostom whom I have quoted many times in this section has a Sermon Commentary on the verse mentioned above he goes on to talk about Faith by saying that,

“For since the objects of hope seem to be unsubstantial, Faith gives them substantiality, or rather, does not give it, but is itself their substance. For instance, the Resurrection has not come, nor does it exist substantially, but hope makes it substantial in our soul. This is [the meaning of] ‘the substance of things.’ If therefore it is an ‘evidence of things not seen,’ why forsooth do you wish to see them, so as to fall away from faith, and from being just? Since ‘the just shall live by faith,’ whereas ye, if you wish to see these things, are no longer faithful. You have labored (he says), you have struggled: I too allow this, nevertheless, wait; for this is Faith: do not seek the whole ‘here.’”

Now without doubt this Patristic writer is speaking of The Kingdom of Heaven which cannot be attained fully in this life but can be worked toward in this life, with God giving us moments in which it breaks through. Nonetheless if we saw this as a formula it would probably look like this, Faith is an intuitive trust in attaining what it is you desire, the desire is made manifest both in Hope for its future attainment and Love of what it is you desire, said loving hope is both an emotion but also a conscious action to make what it is you desire to manifest itself to you as you move through time and space. Again having similarities to LoA users, because one really needs to fall in love with what it is they want, humans are like that, knowing is not enough we need to fall in love with whatever is missing and external (or thought to be missing and external) of us.

The final Augustinian quotable that I have seen cited from LoA users would be from Homily 7 on The First Epistle of John wherein it people pluck out the phrase, “Love, and do what thou will.” However to give context to this Homily it would be good to say the whole phrase which says,

“For many things may be done that have a good appearance, and yet proceed not from the root of charity. For thorns also have flowers: some actions truly seem rough, seem savage; howbeit they are done for discipline at the bidding of charity. Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.”

This leads me to what I promised earlier would be a discussion on Love and God’s Will as it relates to Human Will. Love is at the Heart of Authentic Christianity, where you put your heart that is a sure sign of what you value. However, there is Godly Love and then there is Human Love both are meant to cooperate but sometimes it gets misunderstood. It would seem to me that the type of Love the LoA wants its practitioners to live by is not Agapic Love for only the LoA they claim can do that and certainly the Christian God is Agapic Love. I am left to believe that either they desire practitioners to hold either to a Philos or Eros kind of Love toward the desires that the individual has:

(1) Philos-Love being a kind of general type of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity, as well as between lovers and (2) Eros-Love being a kind of passionate love, with sensual desire and longing, it should be noted however, that the Modern Greek word “erotas” means “intimate love;” however, Eros does not have to be sexual in nature. Eros can be interpreted as a love for someone whom you love more than the Philia, love of friendship. I speculate the latter more than the former largely because, if you listen to the way they describe the Process of Attraction it is mental but the visualization practices are very physical and emotional, almost like Eros-Love what holds me back from going all the way in stating this is that Philos-Love encompasses a desire or enjoyment of an activity which is something that most LoA Users could use it for.

According to the late author Don S. Browning he writes in his book “Reviving Christian Humanism” that,

“Nygren (a Protestant Theologian) was particularly interested in arguing that Christian Love did not build on the love that the Greek philosophers called Eros [believing it was built on Agape-Love]. He claimed that the term Eros refers to the natural desires of Humans to have and unite with the goods of this world. This includes the goods of health, wealth, affiliation, and pleasure but it also includes the higher goods of Beauty and Truth.” (Page 40)

The problem with doing this the author says is that it not only alienates Christian Morality for Contemporary Neurological and Psychological research but it also tends to create a rift between man and God, know largely in contemporary society as the, “Guilt and Shame of Organized Religion.” For if anything that I want to experience out of life is bad because “I want it” then I am being selfish, this of course leads to any person to make a distinction between Self-Interest and Selfishness just so that way they can function under such a religious community. However the author goes on to say that Classical and Medieval understanding of Christian Love was rooted in the Latin word for Charity called, Caritas. The author contends that,

“Love as Caritas is built on, or at least includes, Eros. Caritas in the Catholic view of Christian Love included natural desires for health and affiliation but expanded these motives to a self-giving benevolence to others… Of course, Aquinas, and those who followed him, supplemented these naturalistic observations with additional epistemological presuppositions that may seem strange to scientists. These included the idea that God works through nature as well as Grace… Aquinas’s view differs strikingly from Nygren’s representation of Paul and Luther when he [Nygren] contends that Christian Love does not build on our own natural inclinations.” (Pages 41, 46, 47)

Again reading this seems to be the case that God wants us to have desires; we are creatures not the Creators, so it would seem as if we are empty vessels and seeking to be filled, this fulfillment however is not limited to Grace or Nature but rather both Grace and Nature working together. To deny one at the acceptance of the other would be a denial of the very nature God created to fulfill, which is to receive so that way He might complete His Will which is to Give Selflessly out of Agape-Love, we are to share the Selfless Love of God with others in Charity. It is in this manner that sharing what we have received that we practice our gratitude and bring us into a system of either getting more or keeping what we have, which is something that even the LoA User can agree with but is grounded in Classical Christian, or Catholic Faith. This is a pivotal point in my paper, and as such in the [next section] I intend to expand further on our natural inclinations and allowing God to work within the framework of our inclinations, to transfigure our Humanity.

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