Monday, November 16, 2015

On Spiritual Retreat

For the next few weeks, I will be on spiritual retreat.

The recent events in Paris have reminded me of the brevity of life and the importance of taking time to reflect upon the four last things. Paris is literally a few hours from my front door, and the next attack could be much closer to home.

Besides that, witnessing the near-perfect ineptitude of our appointed leaders - both religious and secular - in effectively dealing with the crises of modernity is exhausting. While it is always a challenge, I'm finding it exceptionally hard to remain charitable these days. My patience is waning and bitterness is beginning to creep in - sure signs that it's time to take a break.

I apologize to my three regular readers - you know who you are - for the interruption in the continuation of the current series. Barring any unforeseen events, they will resume upon my return.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Proper Response to Paris Attacks


Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before Thine altar. We are Thine, and Thine we wish to be; but, to be more surely united with Thee, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to Thy Most Sacred Heart.

Many indeed have never known Thee; many too, despising Thy precepts, have rejected Thee. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to Thy Sacred Heart. Be Thou King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken Thee, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned Thee; grant that they may quickly return to Thy Father’s house lest they die of wretchedness and hunger.

Be Thou King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and unity of faith, so that there may be but one flock and one Shepherd.

Be Thou King of all those who are still involved in the darkness of idolatry or of Islamism, and refuse not to draw them into the light and kingdom of God. Turn Thine eyes of mercy towards the children of the race, once Thy chosen people: of old they called down upon themselves the Blood of the Savior; may it now descend upon them a laver of redemption and of life.

Grant, O Lord, to Thy Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give peace and order to all nations, and make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: "Praise be to the Divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honor for ever." Amen.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Prayer: The Voice of Grace

Second in a Series on the Life of Grace

 by
 Fr. Raphael M. Moss, O.P.

If we admit that man was created by Almighty God, and created for no other end than to know, love and serve his great Creator, we are also obliged to admit the duty of prayer. For it is faith, as we have seen, which enables man to know God as He wishes to be known by us; it is faith which draws aside the veil, and shows us something of His infinite perfections, and so awakens in our hearts the love which is ever waiting to be won by all that is good and beautiful and true, and as soon as faith has done this for us, the soul expresses itself in prayer. For the knowledge of God's greatness must reveal to us our own exceeding littleness, the thought of His power will remind us of our weakness and dependence on Him, the experience of His love will win from us a return of love, and the consequence of all this is prayer. It is the first-fruit of religion. For religion, according to St. Thomas, aims at binding us to God in closest union. It is a virtue which inclines us to worship our Creator, and give Him honour as the first Beginning of all things, their supreme Ruler and their Lord. To Him, as to the first unfailing principle of life, we all are bound to cling, at all times and in all places we must seek Him as our one and only end, and when in weakness and in blindness we have broken from Him by the act of sin, we are straightway bound to seek Him out again and once more pledge our faith to Him and to His service, and without prayer all this would be impossible. We may say that prayer of some sort is the first and natural duty of man:

For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

- Tennyson, The Passing of Arthur

Yet there are not wanting those who would endeavour to evade these just conclusions. Just as a firm belief in God and in His providence implies belief in prayer, so on the other hand the profession of unbelief, or that so foolishly miscalled "free thought," which really is, as we said in our last conference, the lowest form of intellectual slavery, naturally involves the denial of prayer. But there are some who loudly vaunt their faith in God and in His guiding providence, yet, with a pitiable want of logic and consistency, find fault with our belief in prayer, and hence it will be useful to do our best to see and understand the place of prayer in our religious system, and how it is the natural and legitimate consequence of faith.

In the first place, it is worth our while to notice how prayer is a duty put before us by our natural instincts, quite independently of all religious teaching. It would be hard to point out any power or agency more frequent and more universal in our dealings with each other than the power and agency of prayer.

Society is made up of different grades and different characters. We cannot even think of it in any other way. Some of its members are young, whilst others are advanced in years; some are rich, others but scantily endowed with this world s wealth, whilst others again are altogether destitute; some are strong and shrink from nothing, others are but weak and fearful; some achieve distinction by a sort of natural right, others tread a lower and more ordinary path.

Now what is the link between all these if it be not prayer? What are the words of children to their parents but words of prayer? What is the expression of filial love, or the petition for some favour, but a prayer? When a poor man stretches out his hand for alms, what is it but a prayer? When we look upon the picture of a great man's life and praise his work, our praise is prayer. Moreover, the power of prayer increases with the weakness of the suppliant; it is the feeblest whose cry is strongest. We all feel this, and act accordingly, and therefore we may justly ask, if man can pray to his fellow man or hear his prayers, why should it be otherwise with God?

As truly as our conscience tells us that there is a God, so also does it tell us that He hears our prayers, and no amount of foolish reasoning or shallow arguments can stifle that conviction. Even sin, that drags us down so low, can never chain us down too low for prayer, and the "limed soul, struggling to be free," can "bow the stubborn knees" and break the "strings of steel" that bind the heart, and by its prayer win back the freedom it has lost. It is this inward faith in prayer which explains its universal use, so that even heathen nations have their gods and pray to them, and there never yet was found a race of men so savage or so debased as to have lost all knowledge of the use of prayer.

But, putting thoughts like these aside - for, after all, we can afford to pass them by since we are Christians - let us try to understand what our religion teaches us on this important subject. We have already stated it in brief in the opening words of this conference, but now we may go into it more deeply.

The highest and the noblest gift bestowed upon us by our Maker is the power of understanding. In the beginning, God made man, and He made him to His own image and likeness - that is to say, He gave him a spiritual nature endowed with intelligence and free will - and even when the shining light of faith is absent, that same intelligence is strong enough to pierce the clouds of ignorance and error and see something of that dazzling Sun of glory from which it draws its life and being. With faith to help it, it can see much more. By faith the soul knows God, His being and His attributes and infinite perfections, His boundless wisdom, His almighty power, His unfailing love; and, knowing this and seeing this, it cries aloud in wonder and amazement: Te Deum laudamus - "We praise Thee, God, we confess Thee to be the Lord." For the soul to refuse this homage would be to deny its nature and oppose the impulse of its being, for God Himself has made it for no other end. Not that He has any need of it or of its praise and worship. God is God, and therefore self-sufficing. No mind that He has ever made or could make knows Him as He knows Himself, and His own self-knowledge is His own most perfect hymn of praise. But when His love broke in upon the silence of eternity, and creatures sprang from nothing at His word of power, it was and could be for no other end than His great glory.
Thus saith the Lord God, He that created the heavens and stretched them out, He that spread forth the earth and the things that spring out of it, He that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that tread thereon. [...] I am the Lord, that is My name, I will not give My glory to another. (Isaiah 42:5-8)
He could not do it, almighty though He is, or rather because He is almighty, and therefore the one and only God, the first Beginning and last End of all. Man, therefore, lives and breathes that He may glorify his Maker by his worship and his adoration, and this worship and this adoration is the first great act of prayer.

But God has given to man another power, as we have already said, and from this second power He likewise looks for tribute. Great and wonderful as is the gift of understanding, it is but the half of that most generous dowry given to man at his creation. There is the will, the affection of the heart, as it is called, and this is taken captive in its turn by God's exceeding goodness.

He is goodness itself, and we exist, with all we have and all we are, simply because God is so good. "Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights," in whose love "there is no change nor shadow of turning." (James 1:17) But here again, the same conclusion stares us in the face.
The Lord hath made all things for Himself. (Poverbs 16:4)
"God's goodness," says St. Thomas, "is the final cause of all things," and he goes on to explain how, though the benefit accruing to the creature from the enjoyment of God's gifts may be called the motive of creation (finem operis), yet the motive of the Creator (finem operantis) could be none other than Himself; and the Church herself proclaims this truth in her sacred liturgy when she calls upon us to adore "the King, for whom all things exist." Regem cui omnia vivunt, venite adoremus. It follows, therefore, that God's gifts are ours, not that we may rest in them and claim them as our own, but that, by means of them, we may be lifted up to Him who gave them in a loving act of gratitude, and in this gratitude or "thanksgiving" we find the second great act of prayer.

But to praise God for His great glory and His infinite perfections and to thank Him for His countless blessings, what else is this but loyal service, the loving worship of the mind and heart in prayer? And so, the Angelic Doctor tells us, it is man's peculiar work, his special office in the great scheme of creation, oratio est proprium rationalis creaturae. An old Eastern legend tells us that, when God had made the world and fashioned it so fair and beautiful that even He, the great Creator, saw that it was very good, He showed it to the ministering angels gathered round His throne and bade them say if aught was wanting to its full perfection, and one of them, in bold humility obeying God's behest, declared that there was one thing lacking and one only, and that one thing was an eternal living voice wherewith the world might glorify its Maker. This, then, is man's great work, a work that he alone can do; for though the holy Scriptures tell us that the "heavens show forth the glory of God," that "the earth adores Him and chants His praises," though His three faithful servants standing in the fiery furnace of the Babylonian King called upon all the works of the Lord to praise and exalt Him above all forever, though the ever-living Church re-echoes their hymn of praise until the end of time, and daily bids the sun and moon and stars of heaven, the earth and seas and rivers and all living things to bless and praise the Lord; yet in this universal hymn of worship, the best and highest and most perfect voice is wanting if man be silent, for man alone can seek the inspiration of his song in his abounding knowledge, he alone can let it sound from the depth of an understanding heart; in him alone it is the outcome of free will, and nothing less than this is real praise and real glory. Someone has compared the earth, as it swings on its appointed path through space, to a great thurible before the throne of God. Man's prayer is surely the sweet smelling incense in which God finds delight.

All this seems clear enough, and, were man still in his unfallen state, it would suffice to prove whatever we have ventured to assert. But sin has found a place upon the earth, and with sin, suffering of every kind; and, therefore, mingled with the homage of its praise and its thanksgiving there rises ever in God's sight the pleading cry of our poor suffering race: "Lord, save us, we perish." Not here or there, or once or twice in a long lifetime, but everywhere, from first to last, man feels the touch of sorrow; failure and disappointment dog his steps, and, lest he should despair and give up struggling, hope speaks to him of prayer, and bids him ever raise his eyes to the mountains, whence help will surely come to him in his dark hour if he but ask for it.


There is no other way. God will not treat us as He treats the lower world of nature, and force His gifts upon us by a law of blind necessity; much less can feeble man presume to claim what he requires and take it by main force! God's honour is as real as man's liberty. Hence there remains a third way, the way of persuasion, which we call prayer, a power which often wins the victory when other means have failed. So Homer tells us how King Priam knelt before Achilles and begged him to restore the body of Hector, and how the sight of that old man, kneeling before him and kissing the hand that had slain his dearest son, moved Achilles to forego his oath and show some pity and respect to his dead enemy. Is God less pitiful than man? St James assures us that "the prayer of a just man availeth much," and the great Bossuet would have us set no limits to its power, seeing that in prayer man clothes himself in God's omnipotence.

Manifestly, then, if prayer is a solemn duty imposed upon us by our position as creatures, it is also an undeniable need. Even if man could stifle all the nobler instincts of his nature, closing his eyes to God's perfections and shutting his heart against God's blessings, he still must feel the smart of suffering obliging him to go to God for help and comfort and relief.

Yet it is here that we part company with many who would shrink from calling themselves unbelievers, but who fail to see how prayer of this sort and God's providence can work together, so false and so distorted is their idea of God and the workings of His providence. This prayer of petition, they say, is useless and impossible, so we must try to explain how it is neither one nor the other.

First of all, we may point out that it is God who makes this law of prayer, a law most natural, most reasonable in every way, for the God we worship is the supremely intelligent Being, not a mere impersonal collection of the blind forces of nature, and therefore we believe that He ever treats His creatures in accordance with the nature He has given them. The little grain of wheat owes its being to Him, and depends on Him as absolutely as does the highest archangel. It has no knowledge of existence, and can ask for nothing as it lies buried in the cold earth, yet God, who "covereth the heavens with clouds and prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains, and herbs for the service of men," remembers it, and sends the rain and the life-giving sunshine; and the answer of the buried grain of wheat, unconscious though it be, is seen in the waving field of golden corn. So also the psalmist tells us that "the young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God," and that "He gives their food to the beasts of the field and to the young ravens that call upon Him." Not that the roaring of the wild beasts or the lowing of the cattle or the cries of the birds are a real prayer any more than the silence of the buried seed; but, according to St. Thomas, they are said to call upon God, because of those natural wants which move them to follow out the end for which they were made, and so partake of the divine Goodness, just as they are said to obey God when they follow the instinct by which God moves them to fulfill His purposes.

But man is surely on a higher level, and must be judged by other laws. He has the power of realizing all he needs and longs for, since his understanding, guided by the double light of reason and of faith, shows him his last end and all the means he must employ in order to attain it. It shows him his own weakness and the many possibilities of failure; it shows him God, almighty, merciful, full of love and pity; and then it tells him of the clear command which God has laid upon him: "Ask, and you shall receive." Obedience, therefore, to this law of prayer is a duty manifestly put before us by our faith and reason, here as elsewhere, working hand in hand, no less than by that daily experience and mutual intercourse of which we have already spoken.

Nor may our opponents hope to found a serious objection on the ground that prayer between man and man is necessary in order to make known our wants, whereas they are already known to the all-seeing mind of God, as He Himself assures us: "Your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things." We do not beg for help from God and manifest our wants to Him because He knows them not, but rather to remind ourselves of our necessities and consequent dependence. The rich man in the Gospel, counting up his gains, and full of confidence in their abundance, laying aside all care and preparing to eat, drink, and be merry, was but a type of what our fallen nature ever tends to do when cares and sorrows seem to pass us by. Animal instincts gain the upper hand, and the beast within us overcomes the man. To eat, drink, and be merry is right enough in season, but we were not made for that alone, and from time to time we need reminding that a day will come for us, as for that poor foolish glutton, when our soul will be required of us. Our many needs and wants do this for us. They force God's claims upon us when we would forget them. St. Thomas says:
It is not that Almighty God is wanting in generosity, for He showers upon us many gifts that we have never thought of asking for, because He is so generous and so liberal in our regard; but there are many things for which He wishes us to ask, since He will only give them in answer to our prayers. He does this for our sakes, for by these prayers our faith in Him as the author of all good becomes more real, and our hope and trust in Him are wonderfully strengthened. (Summa, 2a 2ae, 83, 2, ad 3)
Then the Angelic Doctor goes on to show how prayer is eminently calculated to increase the virtue of religion in our hearts, since it implies this spirit of submission and dependence upon God for all good things.

But, our opponents insist, granting all this to be as true as it is plausible, there is another difficulty in the way which seems to prove the utter uselessness of prayer. God, they say, is of His very nature quite unchangeable, for change of any sort implies potentiality and imperfection, and God, according to the teaching of the Catholic faith, is what we call a pure act, absolutely simple and infinitely perfect, incapable therefore of any sort of change. Moreover, this eternal fixity applies to all His attributes. His knowledge is unchangeable; the things that were are still before His mind, the things that are not yet are visible to Him. He cannot learn or be informed of anything. So also with His will. It is infinitely free, and yet eternally determined. "The counsel of the Lord," says the psalmist, "standeth for ever;" and by the mouth of His prophet God Himself declares: "I am God, and there is no God beside. [...] My counsel shall stand, and all My will shall be done."

But once we grant all this, and all who believe in God must grant it, it seems impossible to admit the utility of prayer. If God must listen to me and grant my prayer, He must in equal justice hearken to the prayers of countless millions, often contradicting one another in their petitions; and, in face of such a state of things, what would become of God's unchanging will and those most wonderful and equally unchanging laws by which the universe is governed? Surely, if we pray at all, our prayers should be confined to acts of worship and thanksgiving, and submission to the dread, unknown, inevitable future, already fixed and ruthlessly determined by God's will.

What a religion, what a rod this teaching puts before us, or rather what an ignorance of God and all religion in those who follow it! Yet these theories are not new. Six hundred years ago, St. Thomas calmly weighed them, and examined them, and rejected them as worthless, in words as brief as they are clear and convincing:
The use of prayer does not in any way interfere with the absolute freedom of the creature or the unchangeable will of the Creator. In order to see this clearly, we must remind ourselves that the eternal Providence of God not only determines beforehand the various things that are to take place, but it also predetermines and prearranges their various causes and mutual relations. Amongst these different sorts of causes we must naturally include human actions. It follows, therefore, that when men do certain things, their actions by no means interfere with the divine pre-arrangement, but on the contrary, by these very actions they bring to pass certain effects in the way that God desires. And this is the way in which we must look at prayer. We do not pray in order to change God s arrangement of our lives, but rather to bring to pass that arrangement which God has decreed to bring to pass by means of our prayers; or, as St Gregory says, "By their prayers men fit themselves to receive the gifts which the Almighty from all eternity has decreed to give them."
The fallacy of our opponents, therefore, consists in ignoring the great law of prayer, the law of cause and effect, whilst they so loudly vaunt their admiration for the laws of God in general - an intellectual position so illogical and foolish, that even Voltaire scoffs at it.

Look at the world of nature. Far from being a sort of register of hard and fast laws, each restricted in action and effect to one particular sphere, it is rather a marvelous union of forces working together on what we may call the principle of give and take. Forces which at one time seem to work together, at another show themselves in opposition; sometimes they combine to overcome a third, whilst at another they produce a state of equilibrium. There is a law by which a solid or a liquid suddenly converted into vapour must find room for its expansion, and this it sometimes does with such terrific energy as to destroy the strongest obstacle. But the intellect of man has made that law subservient to his wants, and uses it to drive the locomotive or the steamship, as well as for the more destructive purposes of modern artillery. So also in the sphere of medicine. How many thousands have been slain by epidemics of small-pox? Now vaccination well nigh puts an end to any danger, whatever Boards of Guardians may say. It looks as though the physical world were in revolt against the rule of man, but man possesses powers by which he may subdue it once again. Why may we not apply our argument to the moral world? The great French philosopher De Maistre remarks:
You cannot bring a solitary objection against prayer that does not also strike at medicine or science. This sick man, you say, will either die or not, and therefore prayer is useless. But, I retort, then medicine is also useless; why trouble about doctors? Where is the difference? It is simply a question of cause and effect. The man's death or his recovery depends upon the use of certain remedies, and this condition is included in God's eternal decree.
Why should not God also have decreed that the man would recover in answer to fervent prayer? Nor can we call this "interference" on the part of God, or relegate it to the sphere of miracles. It is in no sense a miracle. It is the ordinary working out of the divine plan. If man's intelligence can bring one cause to bear on another, and so neutralize its effect, God knows the workings of all causes in all orders, since He is the efficient cause of all and moves them all. All the laws and all the powers and all the forces of the universe are in His hands, and hence He can employ causes which our ignorant folly would condemn as impotent, to bring about results our weakness judged to be impossible. A vast building is wrapped in darkness, and a little ignorant child stands frightened and helpless before the very keyboard of the electric light. Its father comes in answer to its call, and unhesitatingly puts out his hand, and touches one of the many ivory keys, and the whole place is flooded with light. It was only necessary to know which key to turn and to be able to reach it.

There is one last objection which St. Thomas seems to hint at when he quotes the old pagan philosopher Seneca: "Nothing is so dearly bought as that which costs us prayers," and which modern infidelity claims as its very own. Prayer is an insult to the dignity of manhood, most lowering and degrading! "Stand up!" says Rousseau, addressing man with empty boastfulness, "You are small enough to begin with. Instead of praying, act. A beggar is always repulsive, whether he is calling upon God or man."

We should hardly choose Jean Jacques Rousseau as the champion of human dignity, but it often happens that the lowest and the worst are most in evidence; and so we may consider him as representing others. Is it true, then, that prayer is degrading in any sense of the word? We have no excuse for those presumptuous souls who look for miracles when common sense is needed; we are not endeavouring to defend the follies of "peculiar people;" most firmly we believe that God desires us to employ all natural means, and that heaven helps those who help themselves; but there are times when the struggle seems in vain, when heart and brain are wearied with brave effort, when the waves of suffering, sorrow, and failure, seem about to close above our head, and then from the tired soul there bursts the cry of faith: "Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, Lord!" Who can say that such a prayer dishonours or degrades? If I believe in God at all, I believe Him to be infinitely good, infinitely powerful, infinitely loving, always able, therefore, to assist, and always willing to do it, if - it be good for me; and to appeal to Him in trouble is to lift myself up and proclaim myself His child, His friend, His instrument, His fellow-worker; and what honour could equal that? Through us, in us and by us God rules the world, and brings to pass His great designs, and prayer puts us in His hands. By prayer we merit and become more pleasing in His sight and more efficient instruments for the accomplishment of His will. By prayer we break the chains that hold us down to earth, and soar aloft in purer light, more fitting to our spiritual nature, where our intelligence can feed on truths that never fail, and where our heart can open out to welcome all the world. Far then from lowering him, prayer is man's patent of nobility. Raised as we are by God to the high and supernatural state of grace, with corresponding duties and rewards, it is by prayer that we fulfill the one and win the other, and so attain our real greatness and perfection. Faith shows us God, our one last End, the place of our repose, and prayer unites us to Him, so that "in Him we live, and move, and have our being."

But if our prayer can do all this, and wields this mighty power, when it is but the feeble cry of one poor solitary heart, what must it be, and what must be its power when it ascends from many hearts, firmly bound together in the ties of kinship; the loving praise and worship of a united home? What must it be when it is the prayer of a great nation? Above all, what must it be when all nations and all peoples unite in the grand chorus of prayer that goes up from the universal Church? It is no longer the voice of "two or three gathered together" in the name of God. It is the voice of the whole human race, or rather, it is the Bride of Christ speaking for humanity, the Spirit of God Himself inspiring her prayer and speaking with her! What, then, is our conclusion? Possessed as we are of the light of faith, showing us our true dignity, our work, our abundant helps, we can but blame ourselves if our lives are spoiled by moral failure. We are only what we are because we do not pray!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Gnosticism

Reading N°41 in the History of the Catholic Church

 by
 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

A less ephemeral success than that enjoyed by the Ebionites and the Elcesaites crowned the attempts of those who sought to revive the Jewish spirit by its union with the Hellenic. This was the origin of Gnosticism, which is the evolution of Jewish thought, stimulated by Greek philosophic speculation.[1] This applies especially to the first phase of the Gnostic heresy.

St. Irenaeus (AD 139-202) was the first Christian author to use the term
Gnostic in reference to the proponents of the new heresy.

If we consider the whole history of Gnosticism, we shall see that it is an effort of Greek thought to absorb Judaism and Christianity, as well as an effort of Jewish thought to assimilate Christian and Greek thought without itself being transformed. May we not also discover therein an effort of the Christian spirit - an effort legitimate in principle, but less so in its actual development - to give philosophic expression to the doctrines and practices of Christianity, or, if you wish, to transpose into the language of ancient philosophy the doctrinal and moral teaching of the sacred Books? Tertullian remarks that, in the strangeness of its formulas and symbols, Gnosticism did in reality broach the greatest problems that stir the human mind, namely: What are the possible relations between God and the world? How can the Pure Spirit, the infinite Being, know, produce, and govern the material and the finite? What is the origin of evil, and how, once it has been committed, can it be repaired?[2]

The history of the Gnostic movement includes two distinct phases. During the second phase especially, toward the close of the second century and beyond, we meet that multiplication of systems, with strange names, mysterious and sometimes shameful ceremonies, and obscure theories, in which theurgy, so-called "illuminatism," and magic are more in evidence than philosophy. The first phase, appearing in Hadrian's time and continuing to the reign of Antoninus Pius, is, on the contrary, marked by the intellectual worth and relatively high moral attitude of the leaders of the movement.

The idea inspiring Gnosticism possesses a certain majesty. Jewish monotheism is plainly its starting point. There is primarily a desire to conceive a very pure and lofty idea of the Divinity. To make this idea as pure as possible, it is stripped of every notion applicable to human nature, until it is impossible to speak of it except by calling it the Great Silence (Sige). To make this idea as lofty as possible, they conceive God as an infinitely remote Being, infinitely separated from 'man and nature, and they call Him "Chaos" (Bythos). An eternal silence in the depths of an infinite chaos: this, they say, is the only concept worthy of the Divinity.

But matter is here, palpable and unrefined; evil is here, visible and distressing; the heart of man is here, aspiring to purification, to liberation from matter, to union with God. How is this appalling dualism to be solved? It is on this question that the schools divide.

In the time of Trajan, a certain Saturnilus of Antioch, spoken of by Hegesippus,[3] taught that, between the supreme God, whom no one can know or name, and the visible world, there were intermediate spirits, created by God. After a dazzling image, fleet as lightning, which came to them from God, they created, or rather they tried to create, man. They succeeded in producing only an incomplete, crawling creature. This was primitive man. But God, recognizing therein some image of Himself, took pity on it; He sent it a spark of life which made this creature a man, and which is destined some day to return to the divine principle.

This is merely a rough outline of the great systems that Basilides, Carpocrates, and Valentinus elaborated in Hadrian's reign.

Basilides was born in Syria. He taught at Alexandria[4] and he gave out his doctrine to be a traditional teaching going back to the Apostles, professing to derive his ideas from St. Peter through the intermediary of a certain Glaucias, and also appealing to the authority of St. Matthew.[5] His theory was not much more than an amplification and more systematic statement of Saturnilus' doctrine: the idea of an inaccessible divinity, of an evil world, of intermediate spirits whom God employed to act upon the world, forms the basis of his religious philosophy. He adds the notion of a division of the spirits into good and bad angels, and he gives an important place to magical operations.[6]

Carpocrates of Alexandria, a contemporary of Basilides, is openly a Platonist. According to him, the first principle of all things is the Monad, in which eventually every spirit will be absorbed in perfect bliss. All souls, before their earthly existence, have contemplated the eternal truths; but some keep a more vivid memory of them than do others. Great men are those in whom these memories are the more perfect. They possess the Knowledge (Gnosis), which is the supreme good. The line of great men includes Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and, most eminent of all, Jesus, in whom the eternal ideas, which he had perceived in the bosom of the Father, were so present and living. Virtue, says Carpocrates, is an ascent toward the Monad, or toward the Father, by a progressive liberation from human conventions and laws. It is evident to what excess such a doctrine might lead. Carpocrates' disciples made immorality a means of salvation.[7]

Valentinus of Rome was a mighty spirit. He was metaphysician, psychologist, and poet. Of God, man, nature, the various forces that move beings and their deepest antinomies, he purposed giving a complete explanation capable of satisfying the philosopher by its closely reasoned logic and of being grasped by the populace by its lifelike figures.[8] For him, Bythos and Sige (Chaos and Silence) are not two names of the Primal Being, but the divine Couple, the supreme Syzygie from whom everything emanates. Like his predecessors, Valentinus did not hide the fundamental antinomy between spirit and matter, God and the visible world. His whole effort consisted in showing how this infinite gap is filled with an infinite number of intermediary beings unequally perfect, how this radical opposition is corrected by a gradual yielding of the ascending and descending powers, and by the intervention of beings of pacification and harmony, placed in the world by the supreme couple who are at the summit of all things.

From Chaos and Silence are born Spirit and Truth. This is the primal Tetrad or Quaternion: Bythos, Sige, Nous, and Aletheia. Spirit, united to Truth, gave birth to the Word (Logos) and to Life (Zoe); and these communicated existence to man and to the Church. The blessed Ogdoad is thus constituted.

According to the distance to which beings go from the Primal Principle, they lose, by imperceptible diminution, something of the divine; yet they remain fecund and by generating form a series of superior beings or Aeons, which together constitute Fulness, or Pleroma. In this Pleroma, every Aeon aspires to complete comprehension of the Chaos; and this aspiration constitutes its life and joy.

It also produced the evil of the world. For the lower Aeons, those who descended as far as the limits of the Pleroma, have been jealous of the perfect Spirit, or Nous. In vain have the spirits of the Confines tried to restore harmony in the Pleroma; a lower Wisdom, a degraded Reason, was born in the midst of these conflicts. It is Achamoth. Being exiled from the Pleroma, Achamoth joined with Chaos; from these two was born the Demiurge, or Creator of the material world, and the whole of the material world has constituted the Kenoma (Void, Nothing). The decadence did not halt, but continued even to the supreme Evil, to Satan, Belzebuth, the Master of the lower world.

Man finds himself between these two worlds. The Demiurge made him material, but Wisdom infused a spirit into him. On the confines of the Kenoma, but aspiring to the Pleroma, man is divided between two worlds. Who will save him? A higher being, Jesus of Nazareth, whom the Spirit gradually purifies and who eventually will lead the elite of mankind with him into the Pleroma.

In consequence of these troubles, there was produced a division in mankind. It thenceforth includes the Materials (Hylists) , the Animals (Psychists), and the Spirituals (Pneumatists). These last no longer have need of good works or virtues; they have Knowledge (Gnosis). Whoever knows the mysteries, possesses salvation; whoever knows the enigma of the world, is freed from all rule; whoever has knowledge, no longer needs faith or law.[9]

Footnotes


[1] Cf. Duchesne, Early History of the Christian Church, I, 113.
[2] Tertullian, De praescr., VII; cf. Clement of Alexandria, Excerpta a Theodoto, 78.
[3] Eusebius, H. E., IV, xxii, 5.
[4] Basilides taught about the years 133-155. Cf. Harnack, Chronologie, p. 290.
[5] Or St. Matthias, according to the variant readings of the manuscripts.
[6] Such is the description given by St. Irenaeus (Haereses, I, xxiv, 3 ff.). The author of the Philosophumena (VII, xiv) gives a different interpretation; but all the evidence leads us to suppose that we have to do with an evolution of the doctrine of Basilides, such as it was in the third century. (See Dufourcq, Saint Irénée, pp. 62-64.)
[7] St. Irenaeus, Haereses, I, xxv; Dufourcq, op. cit., pp. 64-66.
[8] The spread of Valentinus' ideas at Rome began about AD 135. Cf. Harnack, Chronologie, 291.
[9] St. Irenaeus, Haereses, I, xi; Dufourcq, Saint Irénée, pp. 48-53.


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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Protesting Pope

In the 500 years since its inception, the Protestant revolt has evolved from the erroneous opinions of a single mad monk into a thousand-headed hydra of heresy, with each head snapping at the other almost as frequently as at the Catholic Church itself. Nonetheless, the many heads have remained joined at one common point - a point which Protestant theologians such as Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer desired to see writ large on the flag of modern Protestantism: Ecclesia semper reformanda est, i.e. "The Church is always to be reformed."

Today, speaking to bishops and faithful gathered in Florence, Pope Francis made this profoundly Protestant thesis his own, quoting it verbatim.

As disturbing as that may be, it was not the most unsettling part of Pope Francis' speech. That honor goes to his diatribe against what is becoming a major theme of his pontificate, i.e. the "Pelagianism" he sees as infecting the Church. National Catholic Register's Edward Pentin reports:
Pelagianism, the Pope told faithful gathered in Florence cathedral, "prompts the Church not to be humble, selfless and blessed. And it does so with the appearance of being a good." Such an approach, he added, "brings us confidence in structures, organizations, in perfect planning because it’s abstract." 
But often "it leads us also to take a controlling, hard, regulatory style," he said. "The law gives to the Pelagian security to feel superior, to have a precise orientation. This is its strength, not the light of the breath of the Spirit." 
"In facing evils or the problems of the Church," the Pope went on, "it is useless to look for solutions in conservatism and fundamentalism, in the restoration of practices and outdated forms that aren’t even able to be culturally meaningful."
Of course, we've heard Pope Francis speak on the subject of Pelagianism before. In fact, his barbed quip "self-absorbed promethean neopelagians" - aimed squarely at faithful Catholics of the traditional sort - has become something of a defiant self-appellation among the same. And that Pope Francis frowns upon any effort to restore the time-honored traditions of the Church - including her ancient liturgy - is not exactly news. So, what's so unsettling about this speech?

A combination of context and historical precedent. 

It was none other than Martin Luther himself who leveled the charge of "Pelagianism" against the Catholic Church on the eve of his own revolution. In his monograph entitled Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther on Original Sin and Justification of the Sinner, Jairzinho Lopes Pereira of the University of Helsinki explains (p. 312):
Complaints against the Pelagian trend of theology of his own time is recurrent in young Luther. One of the most striking is found in Operationes in Psalmos (1519-1521). What is worse, he stressed in this work, is the fact that there was a new form of Pelagianism; the one he was fighting. It was worse than any other because it was not declared. It was Pelagianism disguised as an orthodox doctrine. The Reformer regarded Pelagianism as the most dangerous and pernicious of heresies (Inter omnes autem gladios imiorum maximum et nocentissimum meo iuditio merito pelagianam impietatem censebimus) and the source of all sorts of idolatries (hic error fons est universae idolatriae). Not surprisingly, he identified it with the very human tendency to state human righteousness (iustitia hominis) to the detriment of that of faith (iusitia fidei). 
Augustine, Luther pointed out, fought Pelagians as declared heretics. He himself was fighting the very same heretical trend in men protected by the Church, under the skin of orthodox theologians. So Pelagianism, Luther stressed, is a timeless threat to Christian faith. [...] After Augustine's death the heresy rose; it not only did not find opposition, but also was openly allowed to rule within the Roman Church and universities. Nothing can be more dangerous, yet it remained in the Church, Luther claimed (pelagianos error vere omnium saeculorum error est, saepius opressus quidem, sed nunquam extinctus).
Sound familiar?

As one brave priest noted, the once-rhetorical question, "Is the Pope a Catholic?" no longer provokes laughter. Perhaps it is time to replace it with a more pointed question: "Is the Pope a Protestant?"

Monday, November 9, 2015

Homicide

Thirty-Seventh in a Series on Catholic Morality

 by
 Fr. John H. Stapleton

To kill is to take life, human or animal. It was once thought by a sect of crazy fanatics that the Fifth Commandment applied to the killing of animals as well as of men. When a man slays a man, he slays an equal; when he kills an animal, he kills a creature made to serve him and to be his food; and raw meat is not always palatable, and to cook is to kill. "Everything that moves and lives," says Holy Writ, "shall be unto you as food."

The killing, therefore, here in question is the taking of human life, or homicide. There can be no doubt but that life is man's best and most precious possession, and that he has an inborn right to live as long as nature's laws operate in his favor. But man is not master of that gift of life, either in himself or in others. God, who alone can give, alone may take it away. Sole master of life, He deals it out to His creatures as it pleases Him; and whoever tampers with human life intrudes upon the domain of the Divinity, violating at the same time the first right of his fellow man.

We have an instinctive horror of blood, especially human blood. For the ordinary individual, the Mosaic enactment that forbids murder is almost superfluous, so deeply has nature graven on our hearts the letter of that law. Murder is abominable, for the very reason that life is precious; and no reasonable being, civilized or savage, dealing death unjustly unto a fellow man, can have any other conviction in his soul than that he is committing a crime and incurring the almighty wrath of the Deity. If such killing is done by a responsible agent, and against the right of the victim, the crime committed is murder or unjustifiable homicide.

Which supposes that there is a kind of homicide that is justifiable, in seeming contradiction of the general law of God and nature, which specifies no exception. But there is a question here less of exception than of distinction. The law is a general one, of vast comprehension. Is all killing prohibited? Evidently not. It is limited to human beings, in the first place; to responsible agents, in the next; and thirdly, it involves a question of injustice. What is forbidden is the voluntary and unjust killing of a human being. Having thus specified according to the rules of right reasoning, we find we have a considerable margin left for the taking of life that is justifiable. And the records of Divine revelation will approve the findings of right reason.

We find God in the Old Law, while upholding His fifth precept, commanding capital punishment and sanctioning the slaughter of war; He not only approved the slaying of certain persons, but there are instances of His giving authority to kill. By so doing, He delegated His supreme right over life to His creatures. "Whoever sheds human blood, let his blood be shed." In the New Testament, the officer of the law is called the minister of God and is said - not without cause - to carry the sword; and the sword is the symbol of the power to inflict death.

The presence of such laws as that of capital punishment, of war and of self-defense, in all the written codes of civilized peoples, as well as in the unwritten codes of savage tribes, can be accounted for only by a direct or indirect commission from the Deity. A legal tradition so universal and so constant is a natural law, and consequently a divine law. In a matter of such importance, all mankind could not have erred; if it has, it is perfectly safe to be with it in its error.

These exceptions, if we may call them exceptions, suppose the victim to have forfeited his right to live, to have placed himself in a position of unjust aggression, which aggression gives to the party attacked the right to repel it, to protect his own life even at the cost of the life of the unjust aggressor. This is an individual privilege in only one instance, that of self-defense; in all others, it is invested in the body politic or society which alone can declare war and inflict death on a capital offender.

Of course, it may be said that in moral matters, like does not cure like, that to permit killing is a strange manner of discouraging the same. But this measure acts as a deterrent; it is not a cure for the offender, or rather it is, and a radical one; it is intended to instill a salutary dread into the hearts of those who may be inclined to play too freely with human life. This is the only argument assassins understand; it is therefore the only one we can use against them.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Faith: The Gate of Grace

First in a Series on the Life of Grace

 by
 Fr. Raphael M. Moss, O.P.















Of all the many beautiful sayings of our blessed Lord recorded by the evangelists, it would be hard to choose out one more beautiful and more significant than that recorded by St. John in the tenth chapter of his Gospel:
I am come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
These words contain the summary of all His teaching, they are the revelation of the divine designs, the explanation of the Incarnation. For our blessed Lord was not a mere reformer or philosopher, like so many who had gone before Him and were to follow Him, whose names are written large in the history of mankind. He came indeed to change the world and to reform it, and to teach the fullness of all truth, but the results towards which His reformation and His teaching tended were not bound by the limits of this world. The "life" He came to give in such abundance was a life beyond the powers of sense and understanding, seeing that its aim, its end, its means and principles, were altogether of another and higher world. Yet it was the life for which God made us, the only life that satisfies the strange mysterious longings of our human nature, and gives our complex being its full perfection.

Its beginnings are in time, its foundations and its early progress can be measured by the lapse of years and the span of mortal life, but its completion belongs to eternity, and hence we justly speak of it as supernatural.

We purpose in this series to contemplate the workings of this supernatural life, to understand the sources of its power and energy, the means to which it has recourse in time of weakness and failure and the consequences of final triumph or defeat. Vital questions, surely, and most practical, and therefore worthy of our best attention, for if the proper study of mankind is man, we have before our minds the noblest thought of that same study when we contemplate man's real life in all its varied stages and consider the greatness and the goodness of the infinite Creator in this, the most perfect work of His hands.

How many there are whose lives are failures, in the worst sense of the word, simply because they are so purely natural, for to live a natural life when we are made for something supernatural is to fail most pitiably! How many others, too, there are whose feet have trod these higher paths, and then strayed from them - unfinished monuments, exposed to wind and rain, and falling to decay in consequence - how often have we met with such and wondered at their folly! Like the whitened bones on the desert sand, or the buoy that floats above the sunken ship, they tell us of the dangers that beset our course, and warn us to be careful, but the clearest warnings are unheeded if we cannot understand them. We must know all we can therefore, and act upon our knowledge, and so we shall succeed, and in saying this we are only pointing to the familiar Catholic doctrine of faith and good works. Let us begin with faith.

Faith! The very word would seem to be repugnant to the apostles and disciples of that modern craze known as free-thought. It is quite true that they know very little about it, but, no doubt, they think they know enough, and in their opinion, faith is but another word for self-abasement and self-degradation, or as Pascal crudely puts it, "Pour avoir la foi, il faut s'abêtir." ["To have faith, one must become stupid."] Could anything be more untrue or more misleading? For what do we mean by "faith"? We are speaking, of course, of divine faith, and the definition given in our Catechism is familiar to all of us:
Faith is believing without doubting whatever God has revealed.
Yet this simple definition is clear enough and deep enough to furnish a reply to all their so-called difficulties and objections. It tells us that faith implies the assent of the mind to supernatural truths on the authority of God's word. If we accept the existence of God, we must also accept the existence of truths of the supernatural order; and whether we consider these truths objectively and in themselves, or subjectively with reference to our minds and the criteria on which we base our assent, we are bound to admit their absolute superiority to those which are within the natural reach of our understanding. For our assent to these truths is not based on the evidence they give of themselves, or on first principles, but rather on the infinite knowledge and truth of God, who reveals them - and, for this very reason, the assent which we give to them is firmer and surer in every way than any mere natural certitude, and, without a misuse of terms, cannot possibly be called "blind" and "unreasoning."

It is quite true that the object of our act of faith is something out of sight, something which is not evident to the understanding. But whilst we admit all this, and grant most willingly that a dogma of faith cannot be known by its own intrinsic proofs, yet it can put forward such a power of what we may call extrinsic evidence as to become at once eminently credible. Hence, as Cardinal Cajetan points out, although we cannot prove to demonstration the mysteries of faith, we can most clearly demonstrate their credibility; and as it would be simple folly to deny a fact which proves its truth by its own intrinsic evidence, so also is it foolish and most wicked to refuse assent to truths which are divine, and which, by reliable extrinsic evidence, proclaim themselves worthy of our credence.

Now let us try to see how necessary this faith is to everyone, and the wonderful part it has to play in our supernatural life. According to St. Paul, it is its first and most essential condition. 
Without faith, it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh to God must believe that He exists and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Faith in God, therefore, and in His generous love of us, is the beginning of the spiritual and supernatural life, the life of grace; it is the gate of that bright pathway of the just, "which as a shining light goeth forward and increaseth even unto the perfect day." (Proverbs 4:18)

We have defined faith as a firm assent of the mind to a truth revealed by God. It is, therefore, a species of knowledge or vision by which the mind apprehends certain truths of which it would be otherwise in ignorance. For, as an eloquent French writer has so beautifully pointed out, we may distinguish three separate and distinct worlds in which the great Creator manifests Himself and His exceeding glory. He made man for Himself and for the vision of Himself face to face, but, for a time at least, the full perfection of that vision is deferred, for "we see now as in a mirror and in a dark manner;" (1 Corinthians 13:12) and in these three worlds, and by means of them, as by three marvelous stairways, the soul of man mounts up to the throne of God.


First of all, there is the world of nature. To see the great hills towering aloft, half veiled in driving mist, or the fields and woods and gardens bathed in sunshine, to stand before the ocean and gaze out upon the mighty plain of tossing waters, to look up at night to that dark blue vault above our heads, which our great poet fitly calls "the floor of heaven, thick inlaid with patines of bright gold," to think of all these worlds separated from us and from each other by distances which can be counted only in heaven, and all following their appointed paths across the wildernesses of space - surely all this lifts up the mind and heart to God, and makes the trembling soul fall prostrate in fear and adoration at the thought of His unspeakable magnificence.

Now, all these wonders are revealed to us by that great power of sight which God has given to us. It is the eye of man which leads his soul abroad, and shows him all the beauty of his earthly home. Yet, of what use is the eye without the mind? What pleasure could it bring us, unless the mind were there to guide the eye and help the soul to learn its easy lesson? And so there is another world of no less beauty than the world of nature, yet utterly beyond the powers of sense, an immaterial world, of thoughts and laws and principles, to which the mind alone has access; and when the mind is wanting, when the understanding and intelligence of man forget their work, he passes by this world as ignorant of it and its lessons as the poor blind man is ignorant of the gorgeous rainbow that spans the sky above his head. But great minds, on the contrary, can find such real pleasure in these higher joys revealed to them by their keen powers of thought, that for their sake they patiently endure the loss of all beside. It is naught to them, as Milton wrote so grandly in his years of blindness, that earth should be in darkness, when "in a purer clime the being fills with rapture, and waves of thought roll in upon the spirit."


And then, once more, beyond the world of nature and the world of knowledge there is another world higher still, and far more wonderful, to which they are but as the stepping-stones across the river to the meadow lands beyond: the supernatural world of grace. It is a world which shows us God and His infinite being, His powers and His perfections, His dealings with His creatures and His revelations of Himself, not one world only, but rather many worlds of infinite beauty and attractiveness, far, far beyond all that the eye of man can see or the heart of man imagine. How, therefore, could man hope to know its wonders, unless the great Creator and efficient cause of all, who gave him eyes to see, and a mind to understand, had not once more been at his side to help him, and, by the gift of faith, completed His own handiwork and man's perfection? This, then, is the place of faith, this is its sphere of work most natural and most reasonable.

Of course, there is no absolute necessity obliging God to speak to us and tell us all these wonders of Himself; but once we grant that God created us and made us what we are, because of His exceeding goodness, once we grant that that same love and goodness prompted Him to raise us to a supernatural state, the end of which is nothing less than intimate union with Himself, then revelation follows as a natural consequence, and is itself the proof of love. This is the reasoning of St Thomas:
If the end of man be the vision of God face to face, then must man do his best to tend to God, and cling to Him by knowledge and by love, and not by any sort of love or knowledge, but only by that which we call supernatural, because the means must be proportioned to the end.
But "means" which in themselves are supernatural can only be bestowed by God, and hence we have revelation and the gift of grace. So, on the other hand, the act of faith by which the soul of man accepts God's revelation is man's return of love and highest pledge of loyalty. It is the worship of the understanding, the sacrifice of our best possession, the offering of the brightest jewel in our crown in tribute at God's feet. God might have acted very differently. He could have drawn aside the veil and made His revelation so complete that not a shred of mystery remained, but then our faith would cease to be a sacrifice, much less a means of merit, or rather, to speak truly, it would cease to exist. It is impossible to believe and see at the same time. We believe in the existence of Jerusalem, supposing we have never been there. We know there is a city called Oxford, and there is no sacrifice on our part or merit to be found in our admission of this geographical fact. The apostle St. Thomas refused to believe in the Resurrection; he craved that lower and more natural certainty which comes from knowledge, and so drew upon himself his Master's kind rebuke:

Because thou hast seen Me, Thomas, thou hast believed. Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed. (John 20:29)
Still, there was a blessedness of faith which the apostle could claim, for, seeing Jesus risen from the dead, he believed in His Divinity. Hominem vidit, says St. Gregory, et Deum confessus est. He saw a man before him, and confessed Him to be God. So must it be with us. Our faith is given to us to pierce the darkness of the supernatural world and manifest what otherwise would be hidden from us. It is the "evidence of things that appear not," (Hebrews 11:1) a mighty power which only God can give, enabling the soul to hear the voice of God above the tumult of the world, and to accept with humble submission all that He has revealed.

But, though the manifestation of supernatural truth is the first and greatest work of faith, it would be a mistake to limit it to this; and it will help us greatly to appreciate its powers and worth, as well as to reject the foolish sophisms of "free-thinkers" if we reflect upon the well-nigh universal work of faith in every plane of life. Divine faith is its highest evolution, but there is a human faith as well, and what would be our life without it? The shallow-minded men, who talk so glibly of their freedom from all mental shackles, and express so loudly their conviction that all faith is but a superstition, overlook the fact that not a day can pass for any one of them without an act of faith of some sort or another. When we study history, what is it but an act of faith? And, to descend to commoner things, so also is the reading of our daily papers. A cup of coffee in the morning is an act of faith; still more a dose of medicine. And who will call us credulous because we do not summon an experienced analyst to our breakfast table or to our bed of sickness before venturing to take one or the other? Yet, even then, we should have to make an act of faith in the skill and truthfulness of the analyst. So also in our social and domestic life. How strong the bond of love that binds together parents and their children, yet what is its foundation but an act of faith? An introduction at a dinner party is a triple act of faith; in fine, wherever we go, whatever we do, how ever we may live, an atmosphere of faith and blind dependence upon others must surround us, and we can no more escape it than we can escape the air we breathe, and nobody calls it humbling or degrading. Yet, whilst we are obliged to put faith in each other in this universal way, there are not wanting those who try to make us shrink from faith in God, although our faith in Him and in His word, unchangeable, eternal, can never know the doubt or shadow of a cloud which human faith must ever feel! Humanum est errare.

Returning, then, to our comparison of God's three great worlds and those distinct mysterious powers which show them and reveal them to us, it is well to note how, though distinct in every way, they yet are bound together in the closest union for mutual help and ready service. The straight oar dips into the water, and at once seems broken, but reason comes to our assistance, and reveals to us those laws of light and its refraction which explain the erring judgment of the senses. So is it with our reason and our faith. The one explains the other.

We have already shown the work of reason in the act of faith. It is the reason which examines and decides the value of the motives of credibility. It is the reason which unveils to us the why and wherefore of God's revelation, the work it has to do, the need we have of it and all the good it can bestow on us. And this has ever been the teaching of the Catholic Church and of those great minds whose intellectual greatness is the harvest of her blessing and her guidance. There have been some amongst her children who have sought to minimize or even to deny the work of reason in what pertains to morals or religion, but the Church rejects their wild suggestions, and, on the contrary, has ever asserted the doctrine so magnificently developed by St. Thomas in his explanation of the opening chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and confirmed by her with all the weight of her authority in the [First] Vatican Council. There, she first of all emphatically denies the possibility of opposition between faith and reason, and then explains their close relationship.
Although faith be altogether above reason, there can never be a conflict between the two, for the same God who reveals mysteries, and infuses faith, likewise gives the light of reason to the soul, and God can never contradict Himself, nor can one truth be at variance with another. If at times such opposition seem to exist, it is either because the dogmas of faith are imperfectly understood, or the assertions of mere opinions are put forward as the dictates of reason. [...] And not only can faith and reason never be in opposition, but they always give each other mutual assistance, for reason shows and proves the groundwork of faith, strengthening by its light the knowledge of divine things, and faith in its turn safeguards reason from many errors, and assists it in many different ways. (Vatican I, Session 3, Chapter 4)
Then she goes on to brand with her anathema all those who hold the opposite extreme and, claiming for themselves the name of "rationalists" and "free-thinkers," maintain that human reason or "free thought" is the one and only measure and criterion of all truth. "Free thought" and "free thinkers!" Were ever words so outraged? Faith and faith alone gives us free thought and makes us true free thinkers, for it is faith which shows us God, the one eternal and unchanging Truth, and this is perfect liberty, as defined by Christ Himself.
You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)
For there are golden chains which honour and adorn, as there are common fetters which humble and degrade. To know the truth and place its yoke upon our minds is liberty, but in the minds of these would-be philosophers we see the lowest form of intellectual slavery. We should not approve of liberty which allowed a man to pick our pockets or break into our house, we should call it license, and the ruin of all liberty; and justly so, for civil liberty supposes laws which safeguard all just rights. And has not intellectual liberty its laws also, and does not the defiance of these laws mean intellectual license? God made us free, because He made us to His own image and likeness; and when a man professes his belief in God and in God's teaching, he declares that he allows no barrier in the way of intellectual freedom, save the barrier of God's truth! "I believe in God," he says, and in those words sums up the Magna Charta of the mind. That is the free thought for which our nature craves, far different from the state of mental chaos and confusion which is the antithesis of faith, and everywhere involves a blind obedience to the changing dictates of our own strong passions, or the opinions of the latest fashionable writer.

From the mutual relations of faith and reason we pass on to a closer consideration of the virtue of faith in itself. When we quoted the definition of faith given in the Catechism, and tried to show that it implied and proved the eminent reasonableness of such an act, we were looking at it, if we may say so, from a purely objective point of view, or, in other words, with reference to the truths proposed for our belief. It will help us greatly if we likewise try to look at it subjectively, for since we showed the act of faith to be an act of knowledge, the subject in which this intellectual act takes place, or the power which gives it being, is necessarily implied, as well as the object known. So we may say at once that, to enable us to give an assent to any supernatural truth, we stand in need of what is called the light of faith - in other words, a supernatural virtue bestowed upon the understanding by Almighty God. This is a defined dogma of the Church, and follows from the very meaning of the definition.

An absolutely supernatural truth is one which is beyond the reach of any mind, actually existing or even possible, unless its natural powers be supplemented by an additional gift which we call the light of faith. It is a light because it manifests certain truths; a light of faith because, as we have shown above, these truths cannot be demonstrated by their own intrinsic evidence. The act of faith is, therefore, an act of knowledge, elicited by the understanding, strengthened by this supernatural power, and moved thereto by an act of the will. It is an act of the understanding because its object is a revealed truth, and truth is the natural object of the mind. But it is an act which is due to the influence of the will, because the object of faith is a hidden truth, and therefore is incapable of causing an assent of the mind, or that entire adhesion which is certitude. Hence the knowledge which there is in faith accompanies the assent, but is not its necessary cause, and this explains the rationale of temptations against faith. So, concludes the Angelic Doctor, the intellect concurs in the act of faith by the assent of adhesion, and the share of the will is its consent to the adhesion of the intellect.

Now note what follows: This influence of the will, having for its object a supernatural good, must be in itself a supernatural act, for the nature of an act depends upon the nature of its object, and as the will left to itself cannot be the principle of a supernatural act, it follows that it must owe its action to a gratuitous supernatural help, or in other words, an actual grace from God. Summing up the whole question, St. Thomas says:
To believe is an act of the understanding, assenting to a divine truth, being moved thereto by the will under the influence of grace. "With the heart we believe unto justice." (Romans 10:10)
Evidently, then, we cannot guard too zealously or too carefully this most precious gift of God, which, like so many of God's gifts, seems so dependent on our feeble care, and that we may better realize the dangers we must shun and the efforts we must make, we may take a parable from nature.

When the wintry days are over, and the warmer winds of spring begin to wake the life that sleeps within the cold, dark earth, the little plant slowly pushes its head above the ground, and gradually thrives and nourishes until the flower and fruit seem close at hand. Yet, even then, we know that it may be a failure. Perhaps day after day the hot sun beats down upon it until the earth around it is parched and broken, and the moisture which gives it life is all dried up, and one by one the green leaves droop and fade, and the stalk bends lower and lower, until at last the plant is withered and dead. Or, on the other hand, the sun may hardly ever shine at all, but hide himself for weeks together behind the cold grey clouds, and the sweeping rain may fall incessantly until the rich earth is turned to mud, and the roots rot away in the water.

Now the soul of man is like a plant in the garden of God's supernatural world, "a tree planted by the running waters," (Psalm 1:3) and we may liken faith to the beautiful flower that crowns it, and slowly ripens into the rich fruit of good works. But we have seen what faith implies - lowliness of mind and heart, submission of will - self-surrender, therefore, carried to its uttermost limit, and all this is very hard to flesh and blood. For there is ever whispering in the fallen heart of man the secret voice of self-love and self-worship, urging him to rise up against his Maker and tell Him to His face: Non serviam! I will not obey! (Jeremiah 2:20) If the soul listens and consents, the result is obvious. The soft falling rain of grace will cease, the heavens will become as brass and the earth as iron, and the heart becomes as hard as a rock, so that faith, which is the beginning of the spiritual life, seems quite impossible. We have an instance of this in the Egyptian Pharaoh, who saw the wonderful signs wrought by Moses, and "hardened his heart" (Exodus 11:10) and would not believe. Another, yet more striking instance is put before us by the Scribes and Pharisees who listened to the preaching of the Son of God Himself and saw His miracles and would not believe. They were the wise and prudent of this world from whom were hidden the things of God to be revealed to little ones, whose hearts were humble and submissive, whereas the hearts of these blind leaders were hardened and burnt up with deadly pride. For it is just this pride of heart and mind, this independent self-sufficiency that God will destroy at any cost, because it is so hateful in His sight. He demands of us the avowal of our own littleness and dependence on Him. He exacts the humble confession of our own utter inability to look on Him face to face, and it is only when the soul has done this, it is only when she has fallen with her face in the dust, and declared her nothingness apart from Him and her readiness to accept what she cannot see or understand, it is only then that God stoops to look down upon the lowliness of His servant, and pours into the mind the glorious light of faith. We humble ourselves therefore, but only that we may be exalted by God.

Then there is another obstacle to be avoided, another dangerous enemy to our faith of whom we must beware, and this obstacle, this enemy, is in many ways more evident and easy to discover, though perhaps no less difficult to overcome. Our blessed Lord Himself has pointed it out to us when He declared that, although He Himself, the Light of God, had come into this world to give light to them that sit in darkness, yet men fled from Him, and preferred the darkness because their deeds were evil.
For every one that doeth evil hateth the light and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. (John 3:20)
In other words, there are some hearts so corrupted, so buried in sin, that they positively shun the light of faith, and dread its brightness, because it shows them their own moral vileness in its true colours. In souls such as these, there is not even the wish to believe, and, as we have said, this readiness to accept the teaching of God is the essential condition of faith. Such souls may hear of those wonderful words spoken on the green hill-side of Galilee - "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8) - but there is no answering echo in their hearts. They have no wish to "see" God, because their hearts are so unclean, so soiled with the love of all that is degrading. How can the flower of faith flourish in such a muddy soil? Slowly but most surely it must wither away and die, and leave the unhappy, uncrowned soul to be cut down and cast into the fire in punishment of a loss to which it has actually become indifferent. It is of souls like these that St. Peter speaks so indignantly, comparing them to the irrational beasts, to fountains without water, to clouds tossed about by whirlwinds, and assuring us that for them is reserved an eternal mist of darkness, the darkness of willful ignorance and unbelief in this world, and, in the next, the darkness of the hopeless loss of God.

All this, then, shows us the inevitable conclusion. Faith implies self-sacrifice. It cannot come to souls that worship the self, and if it has been given to such souls, it generally fades away and dies. It only flourishes in souls that are ready to pay the price it necessarily entails. Even when God does not demand the sacrifice of the body, the laying down our lives in martyrdom, He always demands the sacrifice of the soul, the sacrifice of the understanding and the will, as we have shown. A heavy price, our human nature cries, yet even human nature can appreciate the reward, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. In life it gives us peace that no sorrow can destroy, like the peace that dwelt in the heart of Abraham when he led his son his only son towards the hill of sacrifice, and answered his inquiries with that magnificent act of faith: Deus providebit, God will provide a victim. (Genesis 22:8) And that same peace of mind does but increase as we near the dark valley of the shadow of death.

Look at the death-bed of the apostle of free-thought, Voltaire, an agony of misery and despair, and then turn to the passing away of that great saint and doctor, whose keen intellect had soared so high on the wings of faith, St Thomas Aquinas. "Full of calmness and peace," says his biographer, "patient as a child, gentle as charity itself," he waited for death to come. And when the Blessed Sacrament was brought to him, "I receive Thee," he exclaimed, "the price of my soul's redemption, for love of whom I have studied and watched and laboured. Thee have I preached, Thee have I taught, against Thee never have I breathed a word, nor am I wedded to my own opinion. In entire obedience to Holy Church, I now pass out of this world." And so he was taken from the twilight of faith to the glory of the everlasting vision. So was it with all the saints, so is it, and so must it ever be with all truly great souls, no matter what their work in life may be, for their faith is common to them all, and their faith is the secret of it all. So also will it be with us if we walk in their footsteps, and this same beautiful gift of faith, bestowed upon us at our baptism, shows us how to succeed by placing us at the entrance of that narrow way leading to the eternal home, where we shall see our Maker face to face. The journey may seem long and tedious, and full of strange and unexpected turnings, and our souls may grow weary and our hearts fail us in the darkness, but faith will ever guide us safely and surely, and enable us to cry out bravely when our poor human nature seems tried beyond its strength:
Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Welcome to the War

If you've been paying attention to coverage of the Catholic Church lately, you might have noticed a spike in the appearance of terminology borrowed from the bellicose arts, with words like "conflict," "battle" and even "war" being used to describe the goings-on in and around the Vatican these days. While such talk is pretty standard fare for faithful Catholic publications, it has recently spread beyond the narrow borders of Catholic blogdom and entered the mainstream of polite society: Tess Livingstone of The Australian, Tim Stanley of The Telegraph, Ross Douthat of The New York Times and now Damian Thompson of The Spectator have all come to the same conclusion: we are on the brink of civil war.

Just more media spin? A bit of hyperbole to increase revenue? Some would like you to think so. Cardinal Donald Wuerl recently appeared on World Over Live with Raymond Arroyo in part to assure viewers that there exists "no division on the core teachings of the faith" among the bishops. We are, I suppose, to ignore voices such as that of Polish Archbishop Henryk Hoser, who recently stated that "some bishops [...] do not even accept the official teachings of the Church." And if we don't ignore them - if we reject the "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows" narrative - and instead view events within the framework of a "politically partisan narrative," then we deserve to be silenced, as Ross Douthat found out after his commentary provoked the ire of a gaggle of progressive Catholic intellectuals and university professors.

That is, if it weren't for the fact that such talk of war is not limited to the authors of newspaper editorials. Just yesterday, Cardinal Maradiaga informed reporters that Pope Francis is "prepared to battle" his own Curia in order to push through his desired reforms. And in this morning's homily, the Pope himself trained his sights yet again upon the "Doctors of the Law" and fired off a characteristically veiled yet effective warning shot:
God has included us all in salvation! All! This is the beginning. We with our weaknesses, with our sins, with our envy, jealousies, we all have this attitude of excluding which - as I said - can end in wars.


While I congratulate Douthat, Thompson and the rest for refusing to go along with the official narrative and calling it like it is, I have to ask: Where the hell have you guys been for the last 50 years?

For the record: civil war is already upon us. Anyone paying attention knows that the walls have been scaled, the gates have been breached, and the enemy has set up camp in our own court. All that's left is the castle keep, surrounded on all sides by men brandishing torches. And now you think we are on the brink of civil war? Tell that to the three generations of Catholics who have been fighting tooth and nail to preserve every scrap of Sacred Tradition they can get their hands on from the corruption of the grand Aggiornamento. Tell that to those who were reduced to tears as sanctuaries were being desecrated, statues removed, altars broken, and communion rails torn out. Tell that to the scores of good men who were turned away from the priesthood because they objected to the rampant homosexualism of the seminaries. Tell that to the faithful who were cast out of the Church for having the gall to demand that she remain loyal to Christ's teachings 30 years ago.

The only thing new about the 2015 Synod was the brazenness with which the heretics and apostates pushed their revolutionary agenda. They're not even trying to prop up a 'Hermeneutic of Continuity' anymore. It's a rupture, a break - in other words, a schism - from Catholic Tradition. They know it, we know it, and it's time you guys start reporting on it.

Welcome to the war. It's about time you showed up.

(For my Spanish readers: Ahora en Español)