Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Law Was Given That Grace Might Be Sought

Of all the events, institutions, and people that characterize the Old Testament – patriarchs, crossing the Red Sea, Passover, covenants, priests, prophets, kings, Jerusalem Temple, etc. - “law” is one that really stands out. By “law”, we refer to the Decalogue, the various law codes preserved in the Pentateuch, and the new laws and customs of the emerging Judaism in the later years of Israel’s history (see New Jerome Biblical Commentary 67:132). St. Paul simply generalized the Old Testament as a time when men were “under the law” (Rm 6:15).

The exhortation to observe the law, expounded so forcefully by Moses in Dt. 4:1-8, is a resounding theme in the OT books. The rule was straightforward: if Israel obeyed God and kept His commandments, statues and decrees, they would live and receive God’s blessing; if not, they would perish (cf. Dt. 30:15-17). But try as they might, the people of Israel just couldn’t muster up enough will to follow Moses’ exhortation sincerely and persistently. The result was as straightforward as the rule: God’s punishment in the form of exile and generations of repressive foreign domination.

To rub salt into the wound, the legal corpus itself was tainted over time by what Jesus called “human precepts” and “human tradition” (Mk. 7:7-8) that were often trivial and even unreasonable. By Jesus’ time the whole system smacked of hypocrisy and legalism that favored the elite and powerful. No wonder as far back as the exilic time, the prophet Ezekiel had referred to such laws as “statutes that were not good, and ordinances through which they could not live” (Eze. 20:25).

So what are we supposed to make of this puzzling biblical account that spanned more than a millennium of Israel’s history and formed the backbone of OT teaching? One that appeared to be just a futile divine exercise: God imposed on men His law, warning that failure to follow would bring punishments; men failed to follow God’s law and sure enough they got punished; and finally the law itself became trivialized, burdensome, incomprehensible, and unreasonable. (Sounds familiar? Yes, that's just the nature of all laws, the result of legalism.)

The lesson to be learned is that man cannot achieve goodness, least of all perfection and holiness, by relying on his own effort to follow the law. Since time immemorial, the ultimate human dream was to be self-sufficient, to be in control of his own destiny, to become like God or, to be more succinct, to become God. This story of human pride has been foretold and summed up in the Garden of Eden account, in which man desired to see and know like God (cf. Gen 3:6); as well as in the Babel tower account that portrayed man’s desire to reach the sky (cf. Gen 11:4). The reason for man’s misery was his heart, which was twisted, rebellious, and in need of healing. Man was in dire need of a “heart surgery”, the procedures and benefits of which had been listed in detail by Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you [hearts of flesh]. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees” (Eze. 36:25-27).

The Holy Spirit, in other words, is our surgeon in charge; the medicine that untwists or cleanses our hearts is not antibiotics and steroids but the purity of baptismal water! With hearts made of flesh and filled with the Holy Spirit, we will be able to observe God’s law as statutes and ordinances “written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh” (2 Cor 3:3).

Still, why did God go through all these troubles of putting Israel “under the law” (Rm. 6:15) to begin with? Why not give them the solution outlined in Ezekiel’s prophesy above from day one? As usual, it’s St. Augustine who came to our rescue by answering this difficult question in one simple statement: “The law was given that grace might be sought; and grace was given that the law might be fulfilled” (De Spiritu et Littera, 19, 34: CSEL 60, 187). Man’s attempt to fulfill the requirements of law on his own was a complete failure that convinced him what he really needed was grace. What grace? The grace of redemption! In the Lord Jesus Christ, by virtue of his redemptive grace and not our own human effort, we can fulfill, and have already fulfilled, the stern requirements of the law! Alleluia!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015




在霍教授帶领下,跟隨歷史發展,按步重温西方哲學,就像時光倒流,洪洪三千年的文化巨流,仿如三小時的紀錄片在眼前隨隨展開;蘇格拉底、柏拉圖、老莊孔孟也仿如昨天才出現過的人物!《當代文化批判》可說是一個開啓愚蒙、令人感觸的旅程。啓蒙者,是因為霍先生深入淺出的講述,讓我重新認識我曾經喜愛的哲學思想,因而得益不淺。感觸者,是因為自己多年不接觸哲學,現在偶爾再看,發覺心境與當年完全不同。因為在個人思維和信仰上,今日已介入了一個新的要素,即啟示真理(revealed truth)的要素,亦即天主傳留在聖經、聖傳、和教會中的真理。於是,同樣是思考生命意義,我今天的方法,已從純理性思考變成信德的光照(如聖奥斯定說,不是明白然後相信,是相信然後明白) ;我今天的著眼點已不是某某思想家的看法(不論他如何偉大;也不論我如何仰慕他) ,而是有情的天主基於無限愛情而啓示給人的,絕對和永恆不變的訓示和指引。



霍教授對當代文化批判可說一針見血,重視生命意義和價值的讀者,看後必定若有所思,對人類今日的處境,痛深惡絕和深感憂慮。套用聖經啓示,我不禁將人類尋求釋放的努力和當年以色列被埃及奴役相比。人類要獲得自由幸福,要脫離奴役(罪惡、痛苦、生老病死、「心魔」等),不是人自己的努力所能做到的,也不是源於人的智慧和努力的東方文化所能促成的,而是要超越人類的天主的幹預和介入才能完成。令人興奮的是,這幹預和介入已發生了,我們稱之為「福音」。這也是耶穌在苦架上呼出最後一口氣前,給全人類肯定了的。他肯定了甚麽?他說:「完成了。」然後低下頭,交付了靈魂 (若19:30) 。釋放人類的工程,終於由耶穌在苦架上完成了!

人類已獲釋放,他們的釋放者不是西方哲學和科學,也不是東方文化和老莊孔孟,是聖經中以色列的釋放者梅瑟所預告(prefigures) 的,全人類的釋放者耶穌基督。悠悠數千年歷史文化中的人類,就是聖經所說的以色列人,他們長期活在奴役中。奴役人類的各種苦楚,特別是罪惡和生老病死,就是聖經所說的埃及。正如以色列人不能靠自己努力逃離埃及的奴役,而需要天主介入,由梅瑟帶领,奇蹟地過紅海,最後終於進入福地;同樣地,人類也不能靠自己努力逃離罪惡和死亡的奴役,而需要天主介入,由祂的聖子耶穌基督帶领,奇蹟地從水中經過(领洗) ,最後終於會進入福地,即天國。

霍先生一如歷代哲學家般,具慧眼和真知灼見,能準確地看見人在枷鎖下苦痛呻吟的苦况。但是,他也一如歷代哲學家般,固執地用理性和靠人的努力,去嘗試完成人力所不能完成的,釋放人類的工程;總不願意承認和接受,人類釋放者耶穌基督已「完成了」的救贖工程,反建議和引入「新」的人類釋放者 -- 東方文化。這是不是驕傲呢?這不正是聖經一開始便給人的警告 -- 不要「吃禁果」,不要依靠人的智慧 -- 嗎?