Friday, July 12, 2013

Numbers and Catholicism

The Vatican announced this week that Popes John Paul II and John XXIII were cleared to be canonized saints. The former was fast tracked for sainthood when crowds were chanting "Santo Subito (Sainthood Soon)" at his funeral in 2005.  The latter mentioned Pope's bid for sainthood was delayed as there was no second miracle as "objective proof" of his favor with God.  Pope Francis I waived the required second miracle for John XXIII  to be canonized because he is known as "the good Pope" who called for the Second Vatican Council which modernized the church by, for example, having the Mass in local languages.

Pope John Paul II (r: 1978-2005) had reduced the required number of miracles from three to two.  A miracle on that saint's behalf is if you pray to that person's soul in heaven to intercede with God for you for something and it is granted it is proof of that soul's favor with the almighty.  If this happens on two (the church used to require three) separate occasions then the church considers this "empirical proof" of divine favor. 

Not surprisingly many more canonizations (sainthood) were granted under John Paul II than any of his predecessors.  Most famously Mother Teresa, Padre Pio, and controversially to Father Maximillian Kolbe.  

All of this reliance on numbers and objective evidence to make decisions while accepting on faith other tenets such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ which others reject is what really interests me.  For example, the church has 7 sacraments, 7 commandments (in addition to the 10 commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai), and 7 corporal and 7 spiritual works of mercy to go with 7 deadly sins.  The rosary has it's own numerology with 5 joyful, 5 sorrowful and 5 glorious mysteries which accompany the long list of the Lord's Prayers, 10 Hail Mary's and one Glory Be that accompany each mystery.  Finally there are 40 days of fasting for Lent followed by 50 days of feasting after Easter (40 days until Ascension Thursday followed by 10 more until Pentecost Sunday).

All of this seems orderly and rational with in the cosmos (Greek for the natural order of things) until you get to the Trinity which is enunciated at every Catholic Mass (and every Orthodox plus many Protestant services) in the Nicene Creed set at the council of Nicea by the Emperor Constantine in 325 AD.  It states that there are three separate individuals, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit but only one God.  Skeptics may state that this was just a ploy by the early church to attract polytheistic pagans (especially number loving Greeks) to the faith in the early centuries AD and that saints also took the place of their many gods.  Believers counter that God exists beyond the laws of the universe and human abilities of comprehension.  Islam rejected this type of complex symbolism and has had no trouble spreading faith in the later centuries.  Which of these opinions about God is true among the many that exist?  It's all a leap of faith now isn't it?

It's hard to know where to draw the line between faith and reason. We all make leaps of faith on things we do not or cannot know.  Darwin took a leap of faith on evolution based on the information in front of him without knowing about genetics which would've strengthened his argument.  The issue is what do we do with those leaps.  Pope Francis I is taking a leap of faith on his two predecessors. 

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