instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

One act

BARBARA NICOLOSI: The L.A. Times ran a story recently about a new book detailing the "spirituality" of many Hollywood celebrities.

LARRY (the wisecracking neighbor): Yeah, celebrities. Those are people who are famous for being famous.

BRUCE WILLIS: Organized religions in general, in my opinion, are dying forms.

BARBARA: Kind of like marriages, eh Bruce?

JOHN DA FIESOLE: What Bruce Willis says is the sort of thing that can raise the hackles of someone who belongs to an organized religion --

LARRY: I don't belong to an organized religion. I'm a Franciscan.

JOHN: -- Especially if you belong to a religion that teaches the gates of hell will not prevail against it. But an organized religion must be organized according to some principle, and the religion can be no more enduring than the principle.

LARRY: I thought I could no longer endure my high school principal. Longest eight years of my life.

JOHN: Catholics believe the principle organizing our Church is the Holy Spirit, and you can't get more enduring than that. Other Christians believe Catholicism mixes in impure principles such as man-made doctrine, hyperrationality, worldliness, and even (at the far end of the ecumenical spectrum) the demonic.

LARRY: The demonic? Sounds like my high school principal.

JOHN: If you're not Christian, though, you pretty much have to deny that the Catholic Church has any privileged claim on being guided by a personal Creator. That leaves you with anthropological and sociological explanations for the survival of the Church. People have a natural desire for some sort of spiritual life, and people like to join groups of the like-minded. But people also don't like to be told what to think or what to do. If the social pressure to belong to a particular religion eases, the desire for autonomy will cause many people to leave, or to never join, such a religion. If God isn't acting to draw people to this faith or that, then once people can meet their social needs apart from a specific religious stance, the result is likely to be individualistic syncretism based on unfocussed "spirituality."

LARRY: That's pretty dull. Does it have a point?

JOHN: Er... yeah. My point is that we would expect what Bruce Willis says of organized religions in general to be true in particular of all organized religions that are not directed by the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Catholics might expect it to be true of Catholicism to the extent we fail to be directed by the Holy Spirit. And though the Church can never fail entirely, She certainly can fail in particulars. It's analagous to someone with sanctifying grace who commits venial sins without committing mortal sins.

KEVIN MILLER: For more on why we should, with the help of God's grace, refrain from lying, see Lawrence Dewan, "St. Thomas, Lying, and Venial Sin," Thomist 61 (1997): 279-300.

LAWRENCE DEWAN: This helps us to get the picture of ourselves as caught in venial sin, and yet as habitually ordered towards God as source of beatitude (even though what we are actually doing does not have such a character as to advance us actually towards beatitude)... We are loving God as ultimate end, not actually, but habitually.

ST. THOMAS AQUINAS: He that sins venially, cleaves to temporal good, not as enjoying it, because he does not fix his end in it, but as using it, by referring it to God, not actually but habitually.

LARRY: Looks like somebody's been cleaving habitually to the breakfast buffet.

JOHN: So a person is not actually loving God when he sins venially, but he is still habitually fixed on loving God. Analagously, the Church as a human institution does not always and in every way follow the Holy Spirit, yet as the Mystical Body of Christ Her Soul always remains the Holy Spirit. And just as our attachment to venial sins will come to an end, that in the Church which does not follow the Holy Spirit will die out. So even within the Church, there are always dying forms.


JOHN: So everything we do is either done by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, or it's dying even as it's done. Also, in that article, Bruce Willis comes off much better than Nick Nolte.

NICK NOLTE: I have difficulty with God and with beliefs. You have to ask the question, "If God created man in his own image, what kind of an image is God?"

ST. THOMAS AQUINAS: [Clears throat.] It would seem that --

ALL throw up their hands and laugh, except ST. THOMAS AQUINAS and NICK NOLTE.