On Saints

Dear Hannah,

You're perfectly welcome to read books about the attributes of God.  I personally think they won't do you any harm, although on the other they're unlikely to do you any good.  The unfortunate truth about these kinds of books is that we're humans, and they ramble on about all kinds of things that are so far beyond our nature that we can't make any sense of them.  In a way, reading "attributes" books about how God is just and merciful and omnipotent and eternal is almost like reading fairy tales.  Virtues, after all, are the labels we give to the things that we see -- which is why the Gospels are essential to our religion, and why theology books are almost entirely nonsense.

To put this another way, the Gospels are a story about a Man representing all the things we heard that God actually was, and the attributes books talk about abstract ideas without giving us a reality.  You could argue that the theory of virtue eventually leads to the concrete incarnation and proves a reality, just like hearing about a charming and heroic prince named Jeremy might help you identify me when I suddenly arrive halfway through your life wearing a crown and a cape and slaying monsters and villains.  But if we spend all our time talking about the abstract, I think we've missed the point.  A book about heroism is nothing if we never meet the hero.  A theology book about a spirit is nothing if we never meet the substance.  Who could be wise, if He didn't have to make a choice in space and time?  Who could be virtuous, if He never had to prefer pain to dishonesty?  Omnipresence is beyond movement, and omniscience takes us beyond reason.  Omnipotence undoes the romance and excitement of virtue, because nothing can ever really be lost, and nobody can ever really resist.  Virtue is for men.  If God the Father is virtuous, He would have to prove it some way other than a hundred boring books.  A theology without human action as its center is all clouds and no rain. It promises everything, and delivers nothing.  For virtue we go to history -- and the story then gets us the theory.

Voltaire's deism fell flat because he was always talking about an perfect invisible being who nobody ever encountered, but was supposed to be good because He gave us a mind and a world.  He might as well say an absentee father was a good father for giving his child an enormous sandbox.  But Christianity still stands because it says many things about the God we can't see and confirms them with His church.  If Jesus had been Voltaire, he would have said that salt and light were the salt and light of the world -- or in other words, that they were the things that proved God was good.  But Jesus said that if God was good, we could thank Him for the trees and the rain and the salt and the light, but the greatest things about Him were to be found in the Saints.

This is the reason the Saints are important.  I've never prayed to a Saint, and I certainly don't intend to; but I know why they exist, and I know why Catholics love them.  Supposedly the character of God becomes us, in various ways and in various degrees, when we become Christians.  The Saint doesn't just talk about God: he becomes like Him -- acts like Him, speaks like Him.  And if the Catholic's gone too far in his adoration of the Saints, he's still done better than the rest of us who've mocked him for doing it, because to do things like God is to be like God, and to love the things that are like God is to love God.  Christ came 2,000 years ago; His Saints have never left us. If we want to see the things of God, we can't simply look at a book and call it a day.  We should look to His children; or better yet, we should act like them. 

So the Protestant can cry about Catholics all he likes.  He can cry because the Catholic reveres a tangible God.  The deist can yammer all day about how God's already acted, and an honest pagan like Plutarch (or even a prophet like Isaiah) will tell you he has no idea what God is doing; a stuffy theologian might babble all day about how God is perfectly just, and then complain like Solomon that the wicked are doing very well.  But a Saint will live and die for the Gospel; he'll war against injustice one day with a sword, and then go and adopt an orphan the next.  You tell me which is more worthy of worship: an idea of a spirit, or a spirit taking the form of a man.

The Saint is adored because God is adored, because the Saint is a tangible reflection of the otherwise inexpressible things of God.  The Catholic keeps records of Saints like he keeps the Canon of Scripture: because He believes God is alive, and that because God is alive, God is still working.  And he believes He is working and speaking and proving Himself good through us.

Your father,