instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The difficulty of being in filth and not defiled

I should add that St. Catherine's prescription for the proper use of possessions does come with side-effects:
Which charity and love unspeakable, when it is in the soul, holds itself not content in the common state, but desires to advance further. Thus from mental poverty it desires to advance to actual, and from mental continence to actual; to observe the Counsels as well as the Commandments of Christ; for it begins to feel aversion for the dunghill of the world. And because it sees the difficulty of being in filth and not defiled, it longs with breathless desire and burning charity to free itself by one act from the world so far as possible. If it is not able to escape in deed, it studies to be perfect in its own place. At least, it does not lack desire.
If you want to hold your possessions as a true disciple of Christ, you run the risk of wanting to let go of your possessions as a true disciple of Christ. And that can make for awkward conversations with family.

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Never lost with sorrow

More from St. Catherine of Siena's letter to Lorenzo del Pino, in which she addresses the question of how a Christian might live in the world:
A man can hold to riches and worldly place if he likes, and he does not wrong God nor his own soul; but it would be greater perfection if he renounced them, because there is more perfection in renunciation than in possession. If he does not wish to renounce them in deed, he ought to renounce and abandon them with holy desire, and not to place his chief affections upon them, but upon God alone; and let him keep these things to serve his own needs and those of his family, like a thing that is lent and not like his own. So doing, he will never suffer pain from any created thing; for a thing that is not possessed with love is never lost with sorrow...

[All things] should be possessed with moderation in the light of reason, loved in such wise as they should be loved. And he who holds them thus will not hold them with the help of sin, but with grace; with generosity of heart, and not with avarice; in pity for the poor, and not in cruelty; in humility, not in pride; in gratitude, not in ingratitude: and will recognize that his possessions come from his Creator, and not himself.
So there you have it, Dr. Benincasa's prescription to avoid wronging God or your soul through your possessions.



No wonder it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

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The truth of the Eternal Father

From a letter of St. Catherine of Siena to Lorenzo del Pino:
Dearest brother and son in Christ sweet Jesus:

I Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His precious Blood: with desire to see you a lover and follower of truth and a despiser of falsehood. But this truth cannot be possessed or loved if it is not known. Who is Truth? God is the Highest and Eternal Truth. In whom shall we know Him? In Christ sweet Jesus, for He shows us with His Blood the truth of the Eternal Father.

His truth toward us is this, that He created us in His image and likeness to give us life eternal, that we might share and enjoy His Good. But through man's sin this truth was not fulfilled in him, and therefore God gave us the Word His Son, and imposed this obedience on Him, that He should restore man to grace through much endurance, purging the sin of man in His own Person, and manifesting His truth in His Blood.

So man knows, by the unsearchable love which he finds shown to him through the Blood of Christ crucified, that God nor seeks nor wills aught but our sanctification.
There is here, I think, a point not always appreciated.

It's common to react to the idea that Jesus' death was "necessary" with the objection that it seems monstrous for the Father to require His Son to die in agony. What's overlooked is that His Son's agonizing death is a reflection of the Father's own unsearchable love for us and desire for our sanctification.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

A harrowing thought

In comments on the post below, Gyan has suggested that a "modern conception" of the Harrowing of Hell recognizes that, since it "is a supernatural event, it is outside our space-time and can not be properly said to precede or succeed any event in our space-time"; and that the Pope's answer to the question, "What is Jesus doing in the time between His death and resurrection?," follows this modern conception.

As a rule, I take the broad, flexible outlook on suggestions that relationships between the various states of existence are more complex than we might think. But try as I might, I can't quite square Gyan's suggestion -- which sounds harmless enough in C.S. Lewis's formulation, "all the moments are in this moment" -- with Church teaching.

Specifically, the Church teaching that divides human history into three eras:
  1. From the creation of man to the Fall: Death had not yet entered the world.
  2. From the Fall to Jesus' death on the Cross: The souls of all who died went to Hell, where righteous and unrighteous alike were deprived of the vision of God.
  3. From Jesus' Resurrection until His return: The souls of the righteous are purified, if necessary, and then enter into the presence of God. The souls of the unrighteous go to Hell.
The dogma of Jesus' descent into Hell teaches us that Jesus' soul experienced the same fate as those who had died before Him, but that He then led the righteous souls, who through Adam's sin were bound to await their Redeemer without being able to see the Face of God, to Heaven. (And of course the dogma of the Second Coming finishes the story with the Final Judgment, confirming the eternal destiny of each of us.)

If the above is true, then it can't be true that Jesus' descent into Hell led the souls of all the righteous, from the creation of man through the Second Coming, from Hell into the presence of the Living God. Moreover, this notion that "all the moments are in this moment" is profoundly contrary to the Easter message that death has been defeated and that we -- as we live and walk about and eat chocolate -- are already redeemed.

Moreover, I don't think we can even say that the credal statement "He descended to the dead" can refer to both the traditional doctrine of Jesus meeting souls in Hell and the encounter Jesus has with the souls of the righteous who die after He rose. I say this because, as I mentioned above, the Creed refers to the fact that Jesus was dead when He descended to the dead, and now He is Risen. The difference between "dead" and "living" is simply too great to support that broad and flexible of a reading.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Past of the Patriarchs

Holy Saturday posts have notoriously short shelf lives, but let me quote Pope Benedict XVI answering a question on Jesus' descent into Hell:
First of all, this descent of Jesus' soul should not be imagined as a geographical or a spatial trip, from one continent to another. It is the soul's journey. We have to remember that Jesus' soul always touches the Father, it is always in contact with the Father but, at the same time, this human soul extends to the very borders of the human being. In this sense it goes into the depths, into the lost places, to where all who do not arrive at their life's goal go, thus transcending the continents of the past. This word about the Lord's descent into Hell mainly means that Jesus reaches even the past, that the effectiveness of the Redemption does not begin in the year 0 or 30, but also goes to the past, embraces the past, all men and women of all time. The Church Fathers say, with a very beautiful image, that Jesus takes Adam and Eve, that is, humanity, by the hand and guides them forward, guides them on high. He thus creates access to God because humanity, on its own cannot arrive at God's level. He himself, being man, can take humanity by the hand and open the access. To what? To the reality we call Heaven. So this descent into Hell, that is, into the depth of the human being, into humanity's past, is an essential part of Jesus' mission, of His mission as Redeemer, and does not apply to us. Our lives are different. We are already redeemed by the Lord and we arrive before the Judge, after our death, under Jesus' gaze. On one had, this gaze will be purifying: I think that all of us, in greater or lesser measure, are in need of purification. Jesus’ gaze purifies us, thus making us capable of living with God, of living with the Saints, and above all of living in communion with those dear to us who have preceded us.
It's an interesting perspective, to speak of meeting people who have been waiting as reaching back into the past. It's a way of expressing God's loving-kindness for those who died before Jesus, that their salvation wasn't an afterthought or something squeezed in during some down time on a very busy weekend.

(Link via Whispers in the Loggia.)

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Division: the Good

Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. -- Mt. 10:34


The sword that Jesus came to send is Himself, the image of the invisible God; "the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword."

The sword of Jesus divides the earth into those who belong to God and those who don't. Here is an image of the God to whom some belong and others don't:



Little wonder that the call, "Follow me," causes strife within households, and even within individuals.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dividing line

The other day, I quoted this statement from a 2008 papal homily:
I ask you, in the Lord Jesus, to set aside all division and to work with joy to prepare a way for him, in fidelity to his word and in constant conversion to his will.
This echos St. Paul's request to the Corinthians:
I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.
Jude too warns of divisions:
"In the last time there will be scoffers who will live according to their own godless desires." These are the ones who cause divisions; they live on the natural plane, devoid of the Spirit.
Yet not all who cause divisions are bad:
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
One thing all these kinds of division have in common is divisiveness. They don't merely define a partition among the people, they give rise to enmity and strife between the partitions.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Purely coincidental

"O Lord," I prayed, "silence the tongue of anyone who would teach false doctrine."

Then my Internet connection went down.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Who are you calling a pearl?

Speaking of speaking of Jesus ransoming us from death, here's 2 Peter 2:1:
There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will introduce destructive heresies and even deny the Master who ransomed them, bringing swift destruction on themselves.
The word the NAB translates as "ransomed" is "αγορασαντα," "bought." (Hence the Douay Rheims's "deny the Lord who bought them.") That same verb (αγοραζω) is used thirty times in the New Testament, including these two parables in Matthew:
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.
So there you are. Jesus, that mad lover, found a pearl of great price -- that'd be you, Spanky -- and sold all He had to buy it.

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Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects

Did you know that the Bible predicted RSS aggregators more than 1,950 years before they were invented?

Ha, no, those are some of the works of the flesh St. Paul warned the Galatians against. It just sounds like a description of Internet communications because Internet communicators as a class aren't guided by the Spirit. (Well, and those blogs full of charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, and chastity don't get aggregated as often.)

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Cardinal Wuerl: The crackdowns will continue until disputations resume

In 2007, Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, a theology professor at Fordham University, published a book called Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God.

Last month, the USCCB Committee on Doctrine issued a statement on the book, to the effect that "this book contains misrepresentations, ambiguities, and errors that bear upon the faith of the Catholic Church as found in Sacred Scripture, and as it is authentically taught by the Church's universal magisterium."

In short, the bishops concluded that Sr. Elizabeth just made a bunch of stuff up and tried to pass it off as legitimate Catholic theology.

Sr. Elizabeth is kind of a big deal in circles that like to make a bunch of stuff up and pass it off as legitimate Catholic theology. And on a completely unrelated note, Quest for the Living God won First Place in Theology at the 2008 Catholic Theological Society of America convention. So it's little surprise that many of the officers and directors of CTSA objected to the bishops' statement. Among their complaints is "that this criticism of Professor Johnson's work seems to reflect a very narrow understanding of the theological task."

Donald Cardinal Wuerl, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Doctrine, don't play that game.
Once ideas are written and published by a theologian, they must stand on their own; it is the bishops who are entrusted with the office of referee, who must call the play. To be sure, as in other disciplines the most effective check on fruitless investigation is the vigorous exercise of peer review, critique, and dialogue, as once was a strong tradition in the theological disciplines. When that peer review is absent or ineffective, however, it is the responsibility of the bishop to make the call and to declare, if necessary, certain notions out of bounds, the bounds of Christian revelation. [emphasis added]
If theologians don't care whether the books they celebrate lie within the bounds of Christian revelation, says his Eminence, then they can hardly complain when bishops do.

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3 years and 1 day ago

The Pope presided at Mass at Washington Nationals Stadium on April 17, 2008. In his homily, he invited, he asked, he urged:
"In hope we were saved!"(Rom 8:24). As the Church in the United States gives thanks for the blessings of the past two hundred years, I invite you, your families, and every parish and religious community, to trust in the power of grace to create a future of promise for God's people in this country. I ask you, in the Lord Jesus, to set aside all division and to work with joy to prepare a way for him, in fidelity to his word and in constant conversion to his will. Above all, I urge you to continue to be a leaven of evangelical hope in American society, striving to bring the light and truth of the Gospel to the task of building an ever more just and free world for generations yet to come.
The invitation, the request, the urgency remain.

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The Bluebird of Unhappiness


Well, how would you feel if it snowed a foot on April 18?

(Picture via Glacier National Park's Twitter feed.)

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No sale

In reply to a comment from A Random Friar on my "Payment without receipt" post, I wrote:
I think we do need to keep the connotation of "buyer" -- Jesus wasn't waving a divine hand and saying, "Fiat redemptio," on the cross.

I also think we need to get rid of the connotation of "seller," largely for the reasons CowPi indicated in his earlier comment. The devil didn't sell us to God, and the Father isn't a slaveholder.
A Random Friar replied:
Tom, I'm a little confused. You said, "I think we do need to keep..." and next para. "I also think we need to get rid of." Was the first sentence to say we do not need to keep?

Anyway, for my part I understand that a tit-for-tat commerce exchange does not work, but the writings seem to use that sort of vocabulary, and not entirely without some sort of justification, if we understand it right.

In a short week, we will be singing in the Exsultet "for Christ has ransomed us with His blood and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!" Now, this can't be 3(b). 3(d) works fine here. We were not "sold" to the Father, but we were rescued from our state of sin and death.

God could have done it most any way, but I think part of the reason here, besides leaving us a concrete example of what it means to be a Christian, is to remind us: love means sacrifice. Sometimes even to the point of laying down one's life.
On the last point, I agree completely.

On the first point: no, I wrote what I meant.

What I'm trying to get at is that we should understand Jesus' salvific act as a ransom in the sense that it cost Him greatly, but not in the sense that the price He paid was paid to someone -- the words of the Exsultet notwithstanding.

Obviously, the words of the Exsultet will withstand anything I say, but I'd suggest they must be understood in a sense that precludes any thought of the Father trading our blood for His Son's. Taking our ransom or redemption in too thoroughly commercial a sense makes the Father seem petty and bloodthirsty. "Adam has sinned? Well, somebody's going to pay!"

It's easy for people to see that "petty and bloodthirsty" and "all-loving" are mutually exclusive attributes; it's all too common for people to exclude "all-loving," rather than "petty and bloodthirsty," from God as preached by the Church.* So while language along the lines of "Jesus paid our debt to the Father" is orthodox, it is also pastorally problematic to use it with people whose faith in God's loving-kindness is not already firm.

I'll go further: An act of commerce between the Father and the Son is impossible. What we experience as an exchange or trade is experienced within the Godhead as a gift of love (what else, after all, is there within the Godhead?).



* The preference for "petty" over "all-loving" might be explained according to St. Catherine's doctrine that, in approaching God, we pass through servile fear before filial love. If we fear God without loving Him, then of course we'd resolve the contradiction with "petty" rather than "all-loving."

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

A perspective to be set aside

Several years ago, I came across an article by Michael Sherwin, OP, that included this simile:
Just as a compress stops the bleeding, but does not heal the wound, so too the theology of the Baroque period kept the faithful from spilling into the errors of the day, but it did not heal the wounds caused by nominalism, voluntarism, and the rationalism of the early Enlightenment. For this reason, just as a bandage must be removed before the wound can fully heal, so too the perspective of the manuals had to be set aside before the wounds in moral theology could be healed.
A wounded man may need a bandage, but we should never mistake the bandage for something essential to the man.

We don't worry much these days about the theology of the Baroque period, or how manualism opposes nominalism and voluntarism without itself being a full expression of moral theology. But maybe we should worry a little bit more.

I say that because I think some Catholics are opposing the errors of the day by asserting the manualism of the day as the One True Faith. The manualism of the day, which for the most part rests on little or no ecclesial authority, is a rule-based morality of a notably rigorist bent, with a whole set of ad hoc rules of orthodoxy and orthopraxis tacked on.

You might guess that I don't think much of the manualism of the day. I'd think a little more of it if its proponents made the proper distinction between it and the Catholic Faith, but I'm not sure they realize they aren't the same thing.

And that's where the theology of the Baroque period comes in. The manualism that arose in response to the needs of the Counter-Reformation lingered on in various ways until the Second Vatican Council, to an extent (I would suggest) that a lot of people today think that manualism constitutes Catholicism.

If you understand Catholicism in terms of adherence to rules, though, you need a rule for everything you understand. And it's hard to tell when you don't understand something, because the rules will always tell you whether something is part of Catholicism. And if the rules give you an answer you think is wrong, you can add a rule to correct it (the correct answer being the evidence of authority for the rule).

But Baroque manualism was never intended to be the whole of moral theology, any more than question-and-answer catechisms were intended to be the whole of Church teaching on divine revelation.

To the extent today's manualists fail to understand the function and limits of a manual, they misrepresent the very Faith they are trying to preserve and restore. They wind up denouncing positions that are perfectly legitimate within the Catholic tradition because they are personally unfamiliar with the whole of that tradition.

Moreover, manualism is inherently non-evangelical. It is inward-looking, with nothing to say to those who are not already in the Church. To the extent non-Catholics are told that the Faith is a set of rules, it will be an ugly and unappealing proposition for human happiness. And, frankly, non-Catholics would be right to judge it a false proposition as well, since (as we can know both by faith and reason) following rules does not constitute human happiness.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

From the On-Line Catholic Glossary

Catacombs Porn: morosely delectable descriptions of how really awfully terrible the persecution of Catholics in the United States will be, when the secular atheists take control Real Soon Now. (Usage note: does not apply to descriptions of actual persecution of actual Catholics today, because they're not American so it doesn't really count.)

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Payment without receipt

On the post below, CowPi comments:
I have a question about the use of the word "ransom". Ransom implies an exchange, someone makes a payment and another receives the payment.

If Jesus paid the ransom for us, who did He pay?
Good question. I don't think it's a complete cop-out to answer by quoting the NAB note on Mt 20:28 ("Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."):
Ransom: this noun, which occurs in the New Testament only here and in the Marcan parallel (Mark 10:45), does not necessarily express the idea of liberation by payment of some price. The cognate verb is used frequently in the LXX of God's liberating Israel from Egypt or from Babylonia after the Exile; see Exodus 6:6; 15:13; Psalm 77:16 (76 LXX); Isaiah 43:1; 44:22.
In other words, "ransom" doesn't necessarily imply an exchange. Who received the payment when the LORD ransomed captive Israel?

Let me propose an invented-for-this-post taxonomy: We can speak of the general act of freeing a captive, and call this liberation. We can go on to distinguish (at least) three specific types of liberation:
  1. When the captor frees the captive himself; I'll call this manumission.
  2. When someone in authority orders the captor to free the captive; I'll call this emancipation.
  3. When a third party acts to secure the captive's freedom without invoking authority over the one holding him captive; I'll call this ransom or redemption. There are different means to securing a captive's freedom; e.g.:
    • forcibly removing the captive from captivity
    • effecting circumstances that cause manumission or emancipation
    • payment to the captor
    • exchanging places with the captive
According to the Scriptural accounts, the LORD's ransom of Israel from Egypt would be an example of forcibly removing the captives from captivity (once Pharaoh reneged on his promise of emancipation); the ransom from Babylonia would be more of an example of effecting the circumstances of emancipation, though the difference between effecting circumstances and direct removal didn't much concern the sacred writers.

And the ransom of the elect from the slavery of sin and death? Well, a price was paid, certainly, but not the kind of price that is paid to someone. It's the kind of price, or maybe "cost" is the better term from economics, that is an evil endured in order to attain some good.*

Generally, though, I think Christians speak of Jesus taking our place. (This may not sound to us like a plausible form of ransom, but the Mercedarians, for example, were founded with exactly this as their apostolate.)

How, and in what sense, was Jesus able to "take our place"? How did this effect our salvation? Good thing Holy Week's coming up.




* We often speak of people "paying the price" for some achievement -- you win the game at the cost of physical injuries, you meet deadline at the cost of a night's sleep. In ordinary matters, it's generally obvious how the achievement relates to the price; the other team isn't going to step aside while you score, the project will take nine hours to complete and it's due in ten hours. With the Atonement, it's more of a mystery (to say the least).

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Et copiosa apud Eum redemptio

For the most part, two things get redeemed these days: coupons and yourself. You redeem a coupon when you buy 2 low-sodium single-serving ManChow prepared dinners, any flavor. You redeem yourself when you win the championship you didn't win last year.

Given that, yesterday's Psalm refrain --
With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
-- might not sound like much more than the formulaic cheering for God freethinkers dismiss Christian worship as. (Though there's more of the formulaic than of the cheering during the Responsorial Psalm at most of the Masses I've attended.)

But the redemption the fullness of which is with God is worth more than $2, or even a trophy. It's a redemption in the old sense of a ransom. God ransoms His people from their slavery.

The statement, "God redeems His people from slavery," neatly summarizes the plot of Scripture; TV listings could use it to describe "Bible: The Movie." But the statement also contains a highway's worth of stumbling blocks.

If you don't think you're enslaved, then you won't care much whether someone redeems you. The slavery from which God redeems His people is slavery to sin and death, but plenty of people are more than willing to accept death as long as they're free to sin. The fleshpots of Egypt have always been an easy sell.

Moreover, if you're redeemed from something, you must be redeemed to something else. If you're blinded by sin, the freedom of the children of God may look just like another form of slavery. Better the devil you know than the God you don't know.

On top of that, the transition from slavery to freedom doesn't happen through Divine fiat. Its cause is an act of redemption, an act of ransom, about as ugly and bloody an act as you can have. If that's not bad enough, God expects His children to act just like Him, to fill up in their flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ. God even thinks it redounds to His glory if He cools His heels while those He loves suffer and die, then uses that suffering and death of others as the means to His own end. Who wants to get mixed up in all that?

The Christian evangelist, which is to say the Christian, must be prepared to guide others past these scandalous parts of the Gospel. He must be able to show how slavery leads to sorrow even when it seems pleasant, how freedom leads to joy even when it seems noxious, how redemption done for the sake of love must be done completely and without reservation or it's not true redemption. And of course, to be able to show that these things are true, he must know them to be true in his own heart.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

Light dawns

How did I miss this? "While I am in the world," Jesus says, "I am the light of the world."

And what's the first thing God does with the world He creates? He says, "Let there be light."

So God the Son is in the world from the beginning as light. As God, He is perfect Act; as act, "light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth," by making what was in darkness visible.

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