Sunday 24 December 2023

Praying the Nicene Creed - James Matthew Wilson - CTS Prayers and Devotions

Praying the Nicene Creed
ISBN 9781784697358
eISBN 9781784697013
CTS Booklet D842

Praying the Nicene Creed - James Matthew Wilson - CTS Prayers and Devotions

I have read over 75 books and booklets that are part of the CTS Prayers & Devotions Series. Some of the earlier ones are just mark CTS Devotions, but more recent ones have both Prayers and Devotions listed as the series name. This series has spanned decades. It has had books come in and out of print. This volume was published in the spring of 2022 and thought I picked up the eBook as soon as it released, I lost track of it and did not get around to reading it until the ends of 2023. It is a wonderful little volume.

The description of this volume is:

“In this book, poet, critic and scholar James Matthew Wilson considers each line of the Nicene Creed in turn, showing through stories, images and recollections that this prayer describes the living theological reality that is at the heart of personal devotion.

The Nicene Creed is a succinct recitation of the core tenets of the Catholic Faith, opening with a declaration of belief in one God who made the heavens and the earth and concluding with sure hope for the resurrection of the body and eternal life with God. In between, the Creed articulates Catholic doctrine about the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Pascal Mystery, and the apostolic nature and sacramental life of the Church. Despite this richness, the Nicene Creed is a prayer many struggle to recite with the same depth of devotion as the other ancient prayers of the Church.

In this book, poet, critic and scholar James Matthew Wilson considers each line of the Nicene Creed in turn, showing through stories, images and recollections that, far from being a dry, clinical formulation of the Faith, this prayer describes the living theological reality that is at the heart of personal devotion.”

The chapters and sections in this volume are:

Our Common Search for the True Philosophy of Life
Everybody Knows There Is One God
Love Is the Deep Heart of Reality
What Holds All Things Together?
The Truth Is Incarnation
Even Death on a Cross
Redemption from Vanity
The Eternal Priesthood of Christ
A Twitch upon the Thread
The One and Undivided Spirit of God, Who Dwells in All
The Heart’s Longing for Communion
Through the Water
Nothing Shall Be Lost
Wandering into Prayer

About the author we are informed:

“James Matthew Wilson is a poet, critic, and scholar who has published ten books of poetry in addition to numerous articles and essays on philosophical-theology and literature. He is the Professor of Humanities at the University of St Thomas, Houston, where he is also the Founding Director of the Masters of Fine Arts program for Creative Writing in the Catholic Literary Tradition.”

I highlighted a number of passages while working through this volume, some of them are:

“From the first years of youth, I have felt a bit like a stranger in a strange land, wondering for what purpose I came into the world and what principles, if any, govern this place through which we are all journeying. What are we to do with this life we have been given? What lies ahead of us, on the horizon? What, finally, do we need to know if our lives are not to be squandered, to be lived in vain and ended in futility? Such questions haunted me all the more because it seemed clear that everyone else must also be trying to answer them, and yet there seemed to be so few who were willing to address such matters except in superficial ways.”

“I must also mention another almost chance encounter with a book. Once, in a library, I came across a giant manual of scholastic philosophy. The contents, at first glance, looked as dry as the flaking pages and cracking spine of the volume itself. But, posted at the beginning were the words of Cardinal Mercier, the great Catholic philosopher and Belgian churchman of Louvain. Writing just after the German army’s sacking of Louvain, early in the First World War, Mercier proposed that the world would not have descended into war if only it had taken more to heart the Christian philosophy of life to be found in this hefty tome.”

“The faith of that gospel is summed up most succinctly in the Nicene Creed, the Church’s long-discerned, fundamental statement of belief about God and what he has done.”

“My aims in this book are to welcome all who read it as fellow pilgrims in search of the Way, to begin with the fundamental, existential conditions in which we all share, and to meditate upon the distinct parts of the Nicene Creed.”

“When the Christian professes to “believe in one God”, he gives expression not only to the revealed faith of a people but to the long historical reflection of humankind. In ancient literature, we find traces of the first picture human beings formed of the world about them, and it is a fragmented, arbitrary and conflicted one.”

“For such a life to be possible, we must first perceive that the truth is one – and that this is because the gods are not many, but one.”

“God is our father not only in his having created the stable order of all that is, but as the one who initiates, directs and accompanies us through the twists and often painful turns of history. To accept his fatherhood is, therefore, to take a first step towards being a serious person – in two ways. It is to say, “I accept my obligation to understand reality as a whole and, also, to take responsibility for my life, not as a series of disconnected and trivial episodes, but as a pilgrimage towards one, true end.” No one else can force us to do such a thing, of course. We do so of our own volition, knowing as we do that, in the words of the poet Dana Gioia, “this is the life I didn’t want to waste”.”

“A common experience in our day, but one hard to put a name to exactly, is what you might call being “haunted by wilfulness”.”

“Jesus Christ, with his coming into the world, first revealed to us something of the interior life of this Being Itself. God is one, and yet he begets eternally the Son. Father and Son are one God, but two persons. They are eternally equal to one another, and yet stand in relation to one another.”

“Rather than avoiding reality and papering over it with evasive sentiments so as to avoid disappointment and disillusion, one would need to love reality, to dive deep into it with reason and will, that is to say, with the fullness of one’s own being.”

“The Pope wrote that, throughout the world, going back to the most ancient of times, human beings have posed – anxious and hungry – those fundamental questions about the meaning of their lives: “Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life?” According to John Paul II, we are all “implicit philosophers”, seeking to understand the nature of reality and our place within it.”

“To know the truth is to meet the Truth in the person of Jesus Christ. The absolute and eternal has a face that we encounter. And this teaches us that reflection, philosophy and, above all, our faith are no mere abstract propositions. Each is faith in a person, an encounter and relationship with God made possible through the flesh of Jesus Christ. We are called not only to know the truth, but to live it, to see it face-to-face and to incarnate it in our own flesh, so that we become indeed incarnate images of the absolute.”

“The intellect is the distinctive dimension of our soul. If the soul can know truth, that means it knows what is eternal and not merely those fluctuations we sense through the passing life of our bodies. To know is to participate in – to somehow become part of – permanent truth.”

“Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father reveals to us that Christ is at once God himself, the eternal wisdom the Gentiles sought beyond time, and the one who enters into history and fulfils it as God promised to his betrothed, chosen people.”

“History is not an easy guide to the coming of God’s kingdom, precisely because our Father is not concerned with what we happen to know now. His wisdom is not a mathematical following of trends or tendencies. His concern is rather for what we shall know and become when we are saved. He leads us by ways we will only recognise in retrospect. We often think we are careening towards the abyss, when, by what J.R.R. Tolkien called a “eucatastrophe”, we are suddenly showered in great light.”

“G.K. Chesterton made this point nicely when he wrote: “But… this separation between man and God is sacred, because this is eternal. That a man may love God it is necessary that there should be not only a God to be loved, but a man to love him.” The eternal communion of that love is the Church herself, where we, the members of the body, are united to Christ, the head.”

“Thinking along these lines can help us understand the Sacrament of Baptism as at once natural to us and entirely supernatural, as a perfectly intuitive necessity for us, even as it turns us on our head.”

“If the death and rebirth of Baptism may make sense to our natural reason, what they accomplish is wholly supernatural. Baptism is the initiative of the Holy Spirit to bring about our second birth.”

“We already, here in the world, participate in the eternal life of the God who made us. But, we also will literally die. Life in the Church now is our journey towards our final and lasting union with Christ “in glory” (Col 3: 4).”

“Pilgrims looking for their way are bound to ask for directions, and this leads to many words. The words of this book are intended to be some of those words. Such words should culminate not in mere silence, but in the relative silence of prayer; not in the silence of uninterest, but in the silence of wonder. The Nicene Creed speaks to us of the deep mystery of reality and leads us toward its presence. It asks of us, not exclusively, but primarily, that we stand in that presence in the condition of wonder, awe, fear and, finally, joy.”

I hope those quotes give you a feel for this volume, the easy prose. The context the creed is framed in. And how valuable a resource it can be for us readers. At the beginning of the volume Wilson states:

“My aims in this book are to welcome all who read it as fellow pilgrims in search of the Way, to begin with the fundamental, existential conditions in which we all share, and to meditate upon the distinct parts of the Nicene Creed. I hope to show how the Creed responds to those questions to which all persons naturally seek answers, namely that it does so in a way that opens onto great mystery. By this I mean that the answers to the fundamental questions we ask in keeping with our human nature are always supernatural ones, revealed ones, that lead the reason beyond itself, not to violate its principles but, rather, to deepen and super-elevate them. Questions with simple answers are dead questions. Questions that open onto mystery are the only ones worthy of our life and attention. What the Nicene Creed teaches speaks directly to the questions we are already asking, but it calls us out of ourselves to the life of faith, the life of grace, the life of supernatural mystery. Faith itself is the means by which the reason at once fulfils and transcends itself as it comes to know truth while entrusting itself to mystery.”

This booklet was a great read. I know it is one I will return to again in the near future. I worked through this booklet over a few sessions. It was engaging, informative and to be honest it challenged me. I can easily recommend this booklet for any Catholic. It is another great read from the CTS.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

For reviews of other books in the CTS Prayers & Devotions series click here.

Books by James Matthew Wilson:
The Vision of the Soul
The Hanging God
Some Permanent Things
The Fortunes of Poetry in an Age of Unmaking
The Strangeness of the Good
The River of the Immaculate Conception
Catholic Modernism and the Irish "Avant-Garde
Four Verse Letters

Contributed to:
The Slumbering Host
An Outcast Age
T. S. Eliot and Christian Tradition

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