Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Religious Philosophy

It is most interesting that during this class I’ve been able to gain an Old Insight into the Lord which was buried in my heart for over twenty years. This submersion of spirit had been caused by an event which shall remain nameless at this point but caused such a tragic response from my soul I shut down. I loved God still but did not function and would not due to my lost hope of the faith of Christ. About a year and a half ago I had a battle with God and it was a knock down drag out affair. God won. Now the second part of the puzzle has been placed on the board and the truth of my heart is taking shape.

As a Traditionalist Apologetic I am one who uses theology to justify the claims, demands, mission, and ultimate truth of Christianity or which is designed to help others do the same. Apologetics is generally a response to particular challenges, attacks, or questions, and is thus distinguished from evangelism and outreach, which by their nature try to seek out and persuade men to turn from erroneous beliefs and to accept Christianity.

Thus let us look at the “philosophia perennis” or Perennial Philosophy affirms that a direct insight into the nature of Reality is a universally human possibility -- whether it is gained after practice of spiritual disciplines and study of scriptures or through a wholly unanticipated illuminating experience of union with God or the Ultimate. A result of such awareness is the confidence that we have devolved from a single Source and the process of spiritual development is completed and perfected in our return to that One.

To call this perennial is to say that such an insight reappears in diverse times and places, not limited to any particular culture, class, or community. In more formal words, this philosophy has been described as the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality behind the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in [one] something identical with divine Reality and the ethic that places [one's] final end in the knowledge of the Immanent and Transcendent Ground of all things."

In other words, the term philosophia perennis is intended to describe a philosophy that has been formulated by those who have experienced direct communion with God or the Ultimate. However brief the experience; it transforms the thinking mind of “the acquaintancer”, so that they are never the same again. Such revelatory experience, captured however dimly in symbols supplied by human language or by whatever artistic expression, however often repeated through the ages by people of all races, genders, cultures and religious beliefs, open onto the Perennial Philosophy.

If we imagine ourselves living at the time of Jesus we can suppose that we would have had an easier time believing in Him. After all, He was visible, a warm, breathing person, and we could have walked with Him and talked with Him and shared a meal. We would have lost no time sorting through the various arguments about whether Jesus existed or what He said and did, and in addition to His words we would have seen His deeds when he healed the sick and gave other signs, like at the wedding feast at Cana. And thus, it would have been easy to believe, or so we suppose.

But if we read the Canonized Gospels it becomes evident that the people around Jesus had just as hard a time believing in Him as we do today. What they gained by the immediacy of His presence they tended to lose by their expectations for an earthly messiah, and their inability to get the whole picture of Jesus that comes to us through the Gospels. But the problem went beyond this. Even the words of Jesus and His deeds did not necessarily convince or compel them to believe. No matter how many reasons to believe they had, these reasons in themselves did not add up to faith.

But to talk in this language of theology and of the Trinity may seem highly abstract and speculative, but it really isn't. It's the very center of Christian life and should be at the very heart of the Christian life of prayer. Without emphasizing the transcendent nature of the act of faith we will never really understand it. We will be like the “manualists” at the turn of the century who wanted to cling to faith's reasonableness, but reasonableness is not the heart of faith. If faith is the greatest challenge that Christianity faces, the challenge can only be met head on by attempting to deal with what can be called the critical problem of faith. This is the primary problem of the act of faith. It is a problem that is prior to the question of how the interior experience of faith is related to the exterior preaching of the Gospels.

But in the case of Jesus there is a new depth to penetrate. There is a deeper entity of union. If we were to see Jesus in the flesh, or to see Him in the Gospels narratives, we would see a man, and like meeting any other man; we would piece together what he does and says and come to some perception of His personality. And this relationship could blossom into a relationship of human love. But there is much more involved here. As we try to discern Jesus' inner nature we are disconcerted, for the pieces simply do riot fit our normal expectations, and much of the drama of the Gospels lies here.

The humanity of Jesus, then, becomes the sacrament, or symbol of His divinity. We cannot encounter it without being drawn towards its inner challenge which is the question of whether we can affirm or must deny that this is really the Son of God. And what gives us the ability to make this affirmation? It cannot simply be flesh and blood. Like must be known by like. On the human level the mystery of spirit played upon the face of flesh and it was reserved to the person who loved to see into this mystery with the eyes of love. In the case of the Incarnation where it is not a question of spiritualized matter, but of divinized humanity, it is the mystery of the Trinity that plays upon the face of Christ, and to truly accept Christ is to allow ourselves to be drawn by His humanity to the Son, and through the Son, to the Father and to the Spirit.

Thus I have approached the inner nature of faith through different directions: personal experience, the debates of the theologians, the reading of the Scriptures and Fathers, and the works of Gospels. And finally, we have examined the inner nature of faith itself as knowledge through love. All this can leave us with the impression that faith is a complex matter best left to the deliberations of theologians. This is not true. In fact, faith resists our intricately woven nets of concepts because of its simplicity and depth. And in virtue of this simplicity it permeates our lives like the air we breathe, but too seldom take notice of. We think God is absent because we do not find him like one object among all the others, when all the time He is there within us as our deepest goal. We are continually being drawn by this mysterious, powerful, silent call to union with Him, and it is faith which is our response to this hidden presence. At any moment, in any place, we can go on the journey of faith, for it is that tiny, quiet reaching out with our heart to God.

May God bless you and keep you forever.

Rev. Louis Hook


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