Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Senior Thesis (Continued)

In his article on Henri de Lubac’s Surnatural, Fr. Guy Mansini, O.S.B brings to the surface the Neo-Platonic axiom of emanation, which undergirds de Lubac’s thought, claiming that through this axiom, de Lubac continues to maintain significance because of the “perennial availability and attractiveness of the Neoplatonist picture of the world.”[1] In the end, this review looks to point to the contrary axiom of a proportionate end in Neo-Scholasticism that necessarily pits the two sides against each other. This will be accomplished by means of an evaluation of Mansini’s critique of what he sees as de Lubac’s third strategy to save the gratuity of grace. This strategy as Mansini thinks is contrary to Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Humani Generis, but, as will be shown, this is not the case.

The third strategy of de Lubac, as Mansini explains, “is to understand the gift of the natural desire by analogy with the gift of creation itself.”[2] This is to say that there is no prior being which receives “the ordination to the vision of God…there is no daylight between nature and finality.”[3] Thus, our finality, telos, cannot be superadded, since it defines our very nature. And this finality is gratuitous because our end is gifted to us simultaneously with our being, esse. De Lubac sums this up nicely, I think, describing our creation as a threefold gift: “the fact of the creation of a spiritual being [esse], the supernatural finality [telos] imprinted upon that being’s nature, and finally the offer [gratuitous grace] presented to his free choice to share in the divine life.”[4]

Mansini makes two basic objections to this strategy, which very much hinge on the same principle. The first is based on the idea that since finality defines a being’s nature, then that being would not be himself if he did not have that end. As Mansini represents de Lubac: “If I cannot be what I am without the innate desire to see God [man’s telos], if I cannot be placed in being without this, an innate desire, then it becomes unthinkable that God will frustrate it.”[5] The problem, as Mansini sees it, is the second ‘if’ clause, which excludes the possibility that ‘I’ or any man, can be created without being called to a supernatural end, thus pitting de Lubac against Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis, whom condemns those who exclude the possible creation of a rational creature not called to the beatific vision.[6] Yet, this critique seems to fall short, since although it is true that I cannot be what I am without this supernatural telos, it does not follow that I could not have been created otherwise. In other words, “I cannot be placed in being without this”[7] telos, because “in the world God actually created,”[8] I do have this desire. This is distinct from the possible or hypothetical way in which God could have created us. Yet as has been revealed to us through Christ and the sacramental life of the Church, we understand that God has called his creation to this vision. This distinction puts de Lubac in line with the Pope, for as de Lubac sees it, the Pope’s teaching helps us to see what would have been possible for God in His creation.[9]

In Mansini’s more “strict” second argument, he distinguishes between our ‘who’ and our ‘what’, our person and our nature. As he states: “Who we are is something dramatically constituted…But what we are—that is another question. What we are…is the same, whether we are called to grace and glory or not.”[10] Again, Mansini uses this to conclude that the dogmatic issue of Humani Generis is, therefore, solved, since the deification of our ‘what’, the becoming our ‘who’, “does not make us no longer men.”[11] Yet, again, this claim seems to be misguided. I do not see de Lubac disagreeing with Mansini’s distinction between our person and nature. It is as stated. Yet the actual created world admits of no priority in time with the distinction, since the ordination of man to his supernatural end would be not only simultaneous with, but in the very same act of man’s creation. “Deification [then] does not make us no longer men”[12] because man has a nature, as creature, made in the image and likeness of God, that is fitted for this participation in His divine wisdom. In fact, God continually actuates our nature through gratuitous grace, deifying our nature and making us true men. Thus God does not replace our nature by ordaining men to the vision of Himself, He fulfills it. This would be in a way Thomas’ grace building on and perfecting nature. De Lubac, as I see it, escapes Mansini’s accusation because our rational nature does not demand deification, but rather God in the act of creating each and every rational creature chooses to imprint upon their nature a call to the vision of Himself as a gift, when He could have done otherwise. In a way, therefore, we have a divine nature, although not a divinized nature. In addition, our nature is not merely “open to the supernatural possession of God”, but fitted to it, being structurally created for it.[13] Putting the distinction of person and nature in relation to de Lubac’s threefold gift, our person is that “offer [gratuitous grace] presented to his free choice to share in the divine life,” and our nature is that “supernatural finality imprinted upon that being’s nature.”[14]

Healy wonderfully pinpoints this difficulty when, representing the Neo-Scholastics, he says: “Although nature [telos] may be ‘open’ to receiving a higher end, this higher supernatural end is first given with the second gift of deifying grace [gratuitous grace].”[15] For de Lubac, the point is that the telos, which is that supernatural end, “comes with” the esse, the gift of our being. One might say, therefore, that the difference between Mansini and de Lubac is whether or not the telos comes with the first gift that of esse, or the third gift gratuitous grace. Healy says that this association of the second gift with the third, as in the Neo-Scholastics, is due to the premise that “the final end of nature must be proportionate to nature,” the Aristotelian axiom.[16] One might also conclude, and I do not think Mansini would disagree here, that this association of the second gift with the first gift is connected to the Platonic axiom of emanation.[17] Thus, the divide has been shown: Plato or Aristotle, emanation or a proportionate end—both axioms taken from non-Christian worldviews.



[1] Mansini O.S.B., Guy. “The Abiding Theological Significance of Henri de Lubac’s Surnatural (The Thomist 73.4, 2009), 609.

[2] Ibid 604.

[3] Ibid 604.

[4] De Lubac S.J., Henri. The Mystery of the Supernatural. Trans. Rosemary Sheed. (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998), 81.

[5] Mansini, Surnatural, 606.

[6]See Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis, 26: “Others destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order, since God, they say, cannot create intellectual beings without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision.”

[7] Mansini, Surnatural, 606.

[8] Healy, Nicholas J. “Henri de Lubac on Nature and Grace: a Note on Some Recent Contributions to the Debate” (Communio 35, Winter 2008), 552; In this passage, Healy implements, following de Lubac, the distinction between actual and hypothetical creation, which I employ throughout the article.

[9] See Ibid, 552; It is my prerogative here to extend this possibility—to create rational creature not called to the beatific vision—to not only a “would have been”, but to a continued possibility. It seems to me that in order to stay most true to the Pope’s statement, one must hold that this possibility is still an actual possibility, for if the possibility is merely from the creation of the first rational creatures, the angles, then this possibility does not actually exist as a possibility for God now, i.e. God now owes it to rational creatures to call them to the beatific vision. In fact, if God ordained through the creation of the first rational creature that all rational creatures be ordained to the vision of himself, then God did and does not actually have the possibility to create other rational creatures such as man in a different way. It is not clear in the Healy article whether or not this possibility actually exists for God or not, for his syntax does not exclude the possibility, but, I believe, it needs to be said outright.

[10] Mansini, Surnatural, 606-607.

[11] See Ibid 607; It seems that Mansini is pointing here to the perfection of nature, rather than its destruction, or its absence, as Mansini might see de Lubac, making our nature simply divine (see Ibid 609). Yet as will be shown, de Lubac is in no way making this move.

[12] Ibid 607.

[13] Ibid 613.

[14] Henri de Lubac, The Mystery of the Supernatural, 81;

[15] Healy, Henri de Lubac, 551.

[16] Ibid 551.

[17] See Mansini, Surnatural, 609.

Participated Theonomy

What is freedom? We clamor for its protection at the drop of a hat, but what is it for which we are fighting? Drawing a nice distinction between heteronomy and autonomy, Kant gives us a way to define freedom. Heteronomy is man “as he belongs to the world of sense, subject to the laws of nature” and autonomy is man “as he belongs to the intelligible world subject to laws which, independent of nature, are not empirical but are founded only on reason.”[1] Freedom, then, being ultimate autonomy and separation from determining causes of the world of sense, is man’s creation of a law for and from himself through the ultimate autonomy of the will. This is opposed to an “alien-law” (heteronomy), or a law from without, to which man is subjected, rendering him not free, but determined by outside forces. This dichotomy lends itself to a radical individualism, a trait that is very prevalent in the American mind. But is this trait good? Is this idea of freedom correct? Or even better said, is this dichotomy the only option before us?

Often described parochially in terms of positive and negative freedom, that is, freedom from and freedom too—freedom from this effect, and freedom to do this act—might I suggest another preposition to follow the word freedom: “in”—freedom in something. What is that something? Simply put, the truth, God and his infinite wisdom. Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor describes this idea in terms of participated theonomy: the participation of man in God’s divine wisdom to which he is fitted as a rational creature and the receiver of divine revelation.[2] In some ways, this idea subsumes into itself the dichotomy Kant draws, for theonomy is both a law from without, and a law from within, dwelling in and spring up from man as received and gifted.

It is not clear that this can be easily demonstrated, but some have claimed freedom to be a self-evident truth and man to be endowed with such truths by his creator. Could this be freedom as gift, as inherent in nature, as participation in truth?


[1] The Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Section III, p. 452

[2] See sec. 40 of Pope John Paul II. Veritatis Splendor. 1993

Friday, October 1, 2010

Senior Thesis: First Article

This being my senior year, I am embarking upon what will be my magnum opus, that is, my Senior Thesis. This yearlong project is supposed to test and manifest my ability to engage in academic discourse at a high level, i.e. can I run with the big guys. Although I do not begin to write my thesis until next semester, this semester entails much research and analysis. This is the first of many papers I will write this semester evaluating those resources that I might potentially use for my thesis.

For clarification, my thesis topic is over the classic discussion over the relationship between nature and grace as presented by Henry de Lubac, a French theologian. De Lubac’s theology was very influential in Vatican II and the 20th century. In some respects, this debate has long since been over, but has flared up again in the recent years. If you do not understand some aspects, particularly terms, do not feel bad, and please feel free to ask. I am still learning as well.

The Autonomy of nature is creaturely dependence on the Creator”[1]

In the article “Henri de Lubac on Nature and Grace: a note on some recent contributions to the debate”, Dr. Nicholas J. Healy addresses three essential questions: (1) has there been an “over extension of the principle that the ‘end of nature must be proportionate to nature’”; (2) “is there a supernatural finality imprinted on our nature, prior to grace”; and (3) has de Lubac interpreted St. Thomas Aquinas’ texts correctly?[2] Due to brevity and interest, this assessment will merely cover what are seen as two shortcomings in the explication of the first thesis, ending with a question on the nature of ontology in light of Healy’s arguments.

Looking to the first thesis, Healy upholds the gratuity of grace through the recognition of the “twofold gift”: “What we have received in order to be,” (esse) and “what we received in order to be holy,” (grace).[3] This means that man has a natural desire to see God (only attainable through “deifying grace”), to whom he is fitted to receive by his creation in the image and likeness of God.[4] Healy more openly describes this under the title of the “capax Dei” which “is not yet grace, but defines our nature itself as a non-anticipating readiness for God’s gracious and unmerited self-communication in Christ.”[5] Healy concludes this section with a discussion of man qua creature, saying that the existence of pura natura directly undermines creation ex-nihilo, since it appears to make irrelevant the creation or gift of our very being.[6] It is here that I believe Healy missed out on a key point: that on which this Aristotelian axiom is predicated, namely, an eternal world. It appears that Aristotle’s axiom as “a final end in its own order”[7] only holds up in this non-Christian worldview. This axiom can still hold ground in a world created ex-nihilo, yet only as “an imperfect ‘beatitude,’ terrestrial and temporal, immanent to the world itself.”[8] Much more could be said here in conjunction with Healy’s statement: “Christ reveals the original purpose and meaning of creation itself—reveals…the nature of nature.”[9] In this way, Christ gives an end to all ends, a telos to all teloi.

This recognition of esse as gift allows Healy to maintain our single and final end as the beatific vision, stating that “just as created essence has no prior claim to God’s bestowal of esse—since it does not exist prior to that bestowal—the natural desire to see God…does not constitute a ‘demand’ or an ‘anticipation’ of grace.”[10] Rather, our natural desire is “ a receptive readiness” hidden in the depths of our very being. Healy develops this further, but it seems that an opportunity was missed here to root the theory in the concrete through an analogy. Thus, I wish to supply one.

Take the case of a child and his relation to his parents, or better yet a child and his relation to his father—rhetorical overtones should be noted. The father, in a way, gives to his child the very gift of being through the act of creation. The child receives this gift and begins immediately to “demand” the charity of his father. In fact, he cannot survive without it. It could be said that the care of the father is necessary to the fulfillment of the child’s end, for in this case the child cannot even maintain its very lively hood, let alone some kind of natural happiness. In addition, society recognizes this “right” of the child, creating such things as Child Protective Services. Yet, this “right” in no way challenges the praiseworthiness or the gratuity of the father’s love for his son. Although an imperfect image as all images are, the truth and proper understanding of autonomy is expressed. As Healy states: “Our natural desire for God entails a renunciation both of self-sufficiency and of demand…happiness [is] only in the context of a friendship that is gratuitous.”[11] Relating back to the analogy, the child must give up absolute autonomy, for it is the very reality of his situation, and he must also stop demanding, since he must realize the very gift of his existence. Is this latter part not the very goal of parenting? This, then, is the plight of man that his end is beyond his capacity to fulfill and thus looked for in another.[12] “Self-sufficiency” and “demand” are replaced with “receptivity” and “gratitude” as exemplified by Mary, and sought after through the offering of Christ, our “friend” through whom we may reach fulfillment in the Father.[13] Although Healy shows the validity of aid from other sources such as friends in the attainment of an end, even using Aristotle to do so, he does not explicitly tie the concept to Christ. Christ is that friend on whose merit we attain the fulfillment of our nature by our cooperation in grace. “For what we do by means of our friends, is done, in a sense, by ourselves” (Nicomachean Ethics, vi, 13).[14] Much more could be said here.

Having said of all of this to bolster Healy, there seems to be one great oversight in the article, that is, the treatment of ontology. As Hütter is quoted, there is an “intrinsic ontological openness” of the first gift, esse, to its reordering by the second gift, grace, to man’s supernatural perfection.[15] In this, the neo-scholastic model, it is clear what is meant by an ontological change incurred in such sacraments as baptism, that is, a “higher supernatural end…given with the second gift of deifying grace.”[16] It remains to be seen, however, what these sacraments as ontological changes mean, if “human nature itself has only one final end” that is hidden in the depths of our natural desire to see God. Are these sacraments merely this revelation of light into the darkened places of our being or is it the reconstitution of our very being?


[1] Nicholas J. Healy, “Henri de Lubac on Nature and Grace: a note on some recent contribution to the debate,” Communio 35 (Winter 2008): 535-64; 563

[2] Ibid 537

[3] Ibid 540, citing Augustine, De Trinitate, V, 15.

[4] Cf. Ibid 541

[5] Ibid 542

[6] Ibid 546

[7] Ibid 551

[8] Ibid 554; citing de Lubac, “Duplex hominis beatitudo,” 603

[9] Ibid 545;

[10] Ibid 547

[11] Ibid 548

[12] Cf. Ibid 561; citing Aquinas ST I, q. 62, a. 4.

[13] Cf. Ibid 561-62

[14] Cf. Ibid 547-48.

[15] Cf. Ibid 549; citing “Desiderium Naturale,” 102-03

[16] Ibid 551

David Hume and Benjamin Franklin

Continuing my journal on the Philosophy of Ethics, I make a turn into the world of David Hume, a Scottish Philosopher from the 18th century, who died the same year that the American Colonies declared independence, 1776. In many ways, Mr. Hume expands the thoughts of John Locke, the famous political theorist to whom much of America’s founders attested. These small but all too significant connections to American history are somewhat the point of this short reflection. Please, enjoy

Having made an artful reflection on Mr. Mill’s Utilitarianism, I wish to take a different approach with Mr. Hume. For, I have happened upon a most interesting connection, which I wish to investigate thoroughly.

Through the first few sections of the Enquiry, Mr. Hume outlines two “social virtues”: benevolence and justice, which seem to derive their purpose from utility or “beneficial tendencies.” Mr. Hume uses the first to demonstrate that utility does play “a part of their merit.” And in the second, Mr. Hume reveals how certain states of society have no use for justice, and so justice is, therefore, “suspended, in such a pressing emergence[s].” It is apparent then that these virtues are void of any objective reality. Indeed, Mr. Hume has subjected them to something he sees as far greater, the free market. Mr. Hume’s love of property is no secret, yet the idea becomes apparent in his discussion on “Luxury” in which he claims that luxury does not corrupt man as thought of in the past, but rather “regulate[s] anew our morals as well as political sentiments.” In other words, it could be said that Mr. Hume finds the basis for these “social virtues” in the market and, in fact, are promulgated and regulated by it. This is Mr. Hume’s so called: “moralizing market.”[1]

Moving back to the connection I hinted at in the beginning, Benjamin Franklin is another such thinker that sees virtues as subject to and finding purpose in industry and utility, even including industry and frugality in his list as virtues in and of themselves. “Nothing so likely to make a Man’s Fortune as Virtue.”[2] Though this may seem apparent already, the connection is cemented through a letter exchanged after a visit by Mr. Franklin to England.[3] Although the exchange is merely a cordial one, its confirmation makes one see Mr. Franklin’s ethics, a very American ethics, as Humian—all too Humian.[4]


[1] The major point to gather here, since it is somewhat of a sweeping summary, is that Mr. Hume believes that a free market, laissez faire, will actual moralize, that is, enforce morals upon the people. Although there is some truth here, for markets only function if the participants do act morally, yet Mr. Hume has inverted the relationship. The market is a tool by which moral people can regulate and distribute goods. In other words, moral people make the market work, not the market makes moral people. Pope Leo XIII speaks of this and its relation to a rising economical theory known as Marxism (Communism) in his encyclical Rerum Novarum. The Pope will speak in this document how both systems are improper materialistic reductions of the human person. A very good read.

[2] Franklin, Benjamin. Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. Ed. J. A. Leo Lemay and P. M. Zall. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, inc., 1986. Cited in footnote on page 74.

[3] Ibid 231; appears in the “Criticism” section of the edition.

[4] This is a play on words Nietzsche’s words, “human…all too human.” The important thing to note here is how this materialistic reduction of human morality has entered the American mindset. We must realize in this instance our own origins and ask ourselves if the way of thinking we have inherited is correct. We exalt men such Benjamin Franklin, yet do we know their mentors and idols? And do we agree with them?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Philosophical Reflection on John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism

It has been quite sometime since I have last posted and I am quite sorry for that, yet recent school assignments have created an excellent opportunity to post some philosophical reflections. I am taking ethics, or better known as moral philosophy, this semester and I am required to write a one page philosophical reflection every week. I thought it would be more than fitting to post these reflections for you all with some footnotes for further explanation, for I generally write assuming the reader has read the material on which I am opining. Please enjoy and feel free to comment.

It would be all to exhausting and, frankly, boring to throw my meager understanding of Utilitarianism into a hyperbolic chamber, hoping that some hypothetical situation will find a chink in the armor. Let me, therefore, grant all due credit and more to Mr. Mill, and assume that the Utilitarianism he depicts can, in fact, accurately describes every possible situation a person could encounter. In such a case, the question needs to be asked: is this system a rule by which to live, or a claim on the human condition? In other words, is Mr. Mill describing a system, which one adopts and to which one attests, or is it a description of how humans by their very nature as rational beings make decisions—they can do no other?[1]

This is important, for one of the strongest claims of Utilitarianism is that with any attempt to be moral, man is utilitarian at least in a primitive way, misjudging the utility more often than he ought. If, then, the claim of Mr. Mill is the latter—a claim on the human condition—then one could object much as one would object to Ptolemy: indeed the system accurately depicts and predicts the movements of the stars, yet we know this not to be the case.[2] Likewise with Utilitarianism, it might be said that the system is accurate, yet not necessarily adhering to reality, merely a good model among many. Now, I would have to make some further investigations beyond the arguments to the stars themselves if you will in order to resolve this issue. Yet, this move takes the discussion away from ethics to its philosophical foundations, a place I will not go at this time. It does seem, however, to highlight the possibility of Mr. Mill’s unwillingness to make a true and honest philosophical inquiry. To ignore the foundation would be to ignore the ability to search the stars themselves.[3]



[1] This is somewhat of a false dichotomy, for Mr. Mill would at some rate claim a combination of the two aspects. In fact, any system of ethics would make such a claim. The dichotomy, however, works in that it provides an isolation of the reason why such a rule of morality would be required, i.e. the motivating principle of Utilitarianism: nature or nurture.

[2] Ptolemy came up with a mathematical way to predict the movements of the heavenly spheres (the stars) with a geocentric understanding of the universe. He did this using a very complex series of curves and looping movements. This was used and accepted as the standard theory of the cosmos until the “Copernican Revolution”. Copernicus came up with a much simpler mathematical way to predict the movements of the heavenly bodies, but with a heliocentric (sun-centered) universe. With no way to prove this other than the strict mathematics, astronomers of the day determined Copernicus’ theory to be correct based on its apparent simplicity and, therefore, intellectual beauty.

My point in using this analogy is that there can be two coherent accounts for reality, both accurately predicting and describing the situation at hand, yet ultimately one is wrong, particularly when they are diametrically opposed. In his instance, one can only find out what is wrong by actually searching the stars. In the case of the astronomers, man has now seen the stars. In the case of morality, one must look at and question the metaphysical assumptions or might I say ignorance of Mill’s arguments.

[3] Again, I am using the conceit of the stars to point to Mr. Mill’s refusal to delve in the deep metaphysical convictions he has.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

GIRM Day 1

I am back from Costa Rica and back in the blogosphere. I want to thank all of you who may have prayed for me while I was away. They helped immensely. I hope to post a reflection or two later.

But in the meantime I continue my march through liturgical documents, trying to educate myself such that I can be a more knowledgeable sacristan. My last post was on the Vatican II liturgical documents and this one will be over my findings in the GIRM—that is General Instruction for the Roman Missal. It is a bit of a doozy so I will be posting a little bit at a time. Thank you and I hope you enjoy.

Day I:

I began my reading of the GIRM today and found some real gems. Following the prompting of the Second Vatican Council, the Missal sets out to deepen the Church’s understanding of the liturgy in light of a more complete ecclesiology. I will post the passages and add my comments afterwards. Citations will be the paragraph number.

I) “[B]ut the Council [The Council of Trent], weighing the conditions of that age, considered it a duty to answer this request with a reaffirmation of the Church’s traditional teaching, according to which the Eucharistic Sacrifice is, first and foremost, the action of Christ himself, and therefore its proper efficacy is unaffected by the manner in which the faithful take part in it. The Council for this reason stated in firm but measured words, “Although the Mass contains much instruction for people of faith, nevertheless it did not seem expedient to the Fathers that it be celebrated everywhere in the vernacular.” (11)

In this passage, the GIRM is over viewing the ‘old’ or better said ‘less complete’ understanding of the relationship between minister and congregation in the liturgy. This passage, as can be seen, is taking place within a discussion on the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, something prohibited until Vatican II. Although the Council of Trent got it right in its understanding of the validity and the “proper efficacy” of the Mass, the GIRM explains that the Council Father’s did not deem it “expedient” to allow the use of the vernacular. This was, one could say, a decision based on the times, not wrong, but not pertaining to the Church at the time of the Second Vatican Council, several hundred years later. After the Second Vatican Council, importance was still to be placed on the “proper efficacy” of the Mass, but with a greater understanding of what the laity in the congregation added to this efficacy, and the instructive role the liturgy could and should play in the lives of the faithful. Something not totally lost in the hearts and minds of the Fathers of the Council of Trent, for they said, “Lest Christ’s flock go hungry . . . the Holy Synod commands pastors and all others having the care of souls to give frequent instructions during the celebration of Mass, either personally or through others…” (11). In many ways, this is an example of how the Second Vatican Council fulfilled many of the ideas brought fourth in the Council of Trent—a completion not an undoing. Cementing that continuity is this quote: “the Second Vatican Council also ordered that certain prescriptions of the Council of Trent that had not been followed everywhere be brought to fruition, such as the homily to be given on Sundays and holy days and the faculty to interject certain explanations during the sacred rites themselves” (11).

II) “This will best be accomplished if, with due regard for the nature and the particular circumstances of each liturgical assembly, the entire celebration is planned in such a way that it leads to a conscious, active, and full participation of the faithful both in body and in mind, a participation burning with faith, hope, and charity, of the sort which is desired by the Church and demanded by the very nature of the celebration, and to which the Christian people have a right and duty by reason of their Baptism.” (18)

This quote is particularly riveting. Demand good liturgy people. It is your right and duty by reason of you Baptism.

III) “[T]he priest must remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass.” (24)

Much like the post on the Vatican II documents, I though I would add this quote in for good measure. I think this quote captures the essence of the priest’s relation to the Sacred Liturgy. The priest is servant, meaning the Sacred Liturgy through which the Faithful are feed and nourished by the Eucharist is above him and more important than he is. For, it is by its nature an act of the Church herself through the sacrifice of Christ, of whom the priest is standing in place.

IV) “For in the celebration of Mass, in which the Sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated, Christ is really present in the very liturgical assembly gathered in his name, in the person of the minister, in his word, and indeed substantially and continuously under the Eucharistic species.” (27)

Going back to the first quote, here can be seen the new understanding of the laity set forth in Vatican II, especially in their role in the Liturgy. Note the order of the ways in which Christ is present in the Mass and their corresponding importance, Christ is most certainly present in each and every one of these ways, yet in increasing rank and importance, ending with His substantial presence in the Eucharist. See also paragraph 11, and 19.

V) “All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.” (41)

Okay, so I am a fan of Gregorian chant.

VI) “Since faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, set to the simpler melodies.” (41)

This passage is from the same paragraph as the proceeding passage and works to highlight the desire of the Second Vatican Council to maintain the Universality of the Church in her practical functions even amidst the introduction of the vernacular. In the same vain, such an idea actually requires more education and responsibility of the faithful, not less—a very popular accusation of Vatican II that it ‘dumbed things down’. This passage is dear to my heart because I have traveled so much and although the Mass is universal it sure is nice to be able to pray in the same language all together. In moments such as these, there is a more complete manifestation of our universal Catholic faith.

VII) “A common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the Sacred Liturgy: it both expresses and fosters the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants.” (42)

This passage struck me as one of the most surprising. And I think it works to highlight the extent to which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council tried to unify the faithful in their worship. Contrary to both extremes, it seems to me that the Church is balancing a middle rode, highlighting and incorporating differences in culture into the Liturgy, while maintaining the universality of the Church’s worship—a beautiful combination.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Reading Vatican II: the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy


The other day, following the sound advice of those ‘traditionalists’ who like Vatican II (yes, they do exist), I decided to read the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from Vatican II. Allow me to go over some highlights from the text and several of my thoughts on the matter.

1. “The liturgy, then, is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. It involves the presentation of man’s sanctification under the guise of signs perceptible by the senses and its accomplishment in ways appropriate to each of these signs. In it full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and his members.” [Chapter 1 number 7]

This paragraph is particularly interesting because it is a great summation of several Theological principles in relation to the sacred liturgy: the Mystical Body of Christ, the fittingness of the Incarnation and the proper understanding of sacraments. I will not delve into each of these now, but I will say that this paragraph perfectly reflects a dictum I have heard. The dictum is this: the Mass is a grace filled sensual experience. This dictum has helped me understand such things as why we use incense, why we ring the bells and why we must ‘eat’ God in order to receive His graces. As ‘signs,’ these sensual experiences confer (in some cases—the sacraments) and inform us of the workings of God’s graces. The incense reminds us of the sweetness of God’s love present to us through the Holy Spirit. The bells remind us of the glory and majesty of the coming of our King, the Incarnation. And the accidents of bread and wine—the taste, the feel, the smell, the sight, and sound—allow us to realize our earthly existence and our calling to something greater, something beyond beyond our senses and this natural realm. In this way, all the senses are contained in the sacrament of all sacraments, the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith—see next highlight.

2. “Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows. For the goal of apostolic endeavor is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the Sacrifice and to eat the Lord’s Supper.” [Chapter 1 number 10]

Just as the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, the liturgy where the Eucharist is present is the source and summit of the Church’s activities. In other words, we come together as the Mystical Body of Christ in the Liturgy in order to be nourished and renewed by the Eucharist. And the Church spreads the message of Christ, the Gospel, in order to bring others to Christ who is present in the Liturgy.

3. “In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy the full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else, for it is the primary and indispensable source fro which the faithful are to desire the true Christian spirit. Therefore, in all their apostolic activity, pastors of souls should energetically set about achieving it through the requisite pedagogy.” [Chapter 1 number 4]

I think the last clause of this paragraph is particularly important. There exists a sentiment that some of the liturgy was ‘dumbed down’ after Vatican II. I do not see this to be the case. In fact, here the Council sees it to be quite the opposite, saying that in order to include everyone in the liturgy, as is the goal of liturgy, everyone should be given “the requisite pedagogy” by the “pastor of souls”, i.e. a priest. The Church does not make things ‘easier’. No, she reforms and teaches her faithful zealously so that they can be better disciples of Christ.

4. “(3) Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” [Chapter 1 number 22]

I just thought I would add that one for good measure.

All quotations taken from the Vatican Council II: Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents translated by Austin Flannery, O.P. and published by Scholarly Resources Inc. in Wilmington, Delaware: 1975.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Some have asked...

I have been asked on several different occasions lately what I think (being a seminarian) of all the sex abuse scandal in the Church, and how I continue to hope in a better Church. In each case, I gave a different answer. In fact, there are an innumerable amount of answers one could give to such a question. I guess that is why I hesitate so often before I answer such a question.

One could cite numbers and statistics showing how although the Church has a problem it is not any worse (in fact much better) than many other organizations such as the public school system. One could also attack and refute such bias reporting and slander and libel from other organizations such as the New York Times. One could even argue that is it just a sign of the times and the continual degradation of the morals of our society. But ultimately all of these have to fall short of a sufficient explanation. Why? In short, they are all natural or secular explanations for the Mystical Body of Christ, a supernatural thing.

So how do I keep hope? What explanation do I hold onto? Frankly put, whether you like it or not, Judas was one of the first disciples chosen by God to follow Him. Judas failed and betrayed our Lord, of course, but he was part of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Most people do not like to talk about Judas, and frankly I do not either. His partial presence at the Lords table is confusing and difficult to swallow. How could someone so close to Christ commit such a horrible offense against Him? If this does not seem like much to hold onto for hope, let us not forget the rest of the story. For from Judas’ grave sin, handing over our Lord to His passion and death came His resurrection, our salvation. That is the mystery of grace and God’s will, working itself out in our lives. There is no resurrection without the passion.

In the end, the Church will suffer. She is the Body of Christ after all, continuing on His mission. And, as we are seeing vividly now, the Church will suffer by the sins of her own members. So let us continue to hope and trust in the Lord, that he will bring ultimate goodness from this evil. And let us remember humility, asking not how does one commit such sins, but how does one keep oneself from committing such sins.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Incarnation: Why God Became Man

This is the text version of the talk I did last night at my parish on the Incarnation. The text is much more rough than the first talk I did on God’s existence. Sorry. But I hope this will provide a general outline to help those who attended the talk last night. For those of you who read this for the first time, I hope it is more coherent than I think it is. Enjoy.

I. Intro-Transition from God’s existence to the Incarnation: Yesterday, we began our inquiry by reading the first part of our Creed. After making a quick investigation into the nature of Theology, we attempted to prove that this God in which we profess our faith actually exists. And we did so with some success, proving that there must be some prime mover—some first cause by which all things continue to be. Yet, we also found that we must hold by faith that this God is the Christian God, the Triune God. Today, we fittingly begin our discussion with the Incarnation as professed in the second part of the Creed. In this way, we are moving from the One God, the Father, to the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Now, the answer to the question up for discussion (Why God became man?) seems obvious: God became man in order to save man. Fortunately, most of these theological questions are quite obvious, since they are to be mastered by all of the faithful. But the beauty of Theology is that there is always another level. There is always a deeper understanding to be had, for the object of Theology is God, who is ultimately mysterious and unknowable.

So then let us re-ask the question. Why did God become man? Or rather, why did God have to become man? Or did He? There are several aspects of this question that are to be addressed, but before we delve in, let us set up some parameters, boundary lines if you will in which we can have our discussion.

II. Dictums on the Incarnation: The first and probably most important dictum to follow in a discussion on the Incarnation is this saying held and taught by the Church Fathers, that is God became man so that man might become God. Ironically, nearly every theological exposition supports this claim, even the heretical ones. The point of contention, as we will find out, is what it actually means for God to become man. What does it mean for the Incarnation to be both fully God and fully Man, yet one person? This is a sloppy and very metaphysically involved question, which we will get into at some length, but let us continue on before we get to the question.

The second dictum to follow is that God is equally just and merciful. Did God become man due to His mercy or due to His justice? We must keep in mind here that God’s justice is His mercy. Sorry, Shakespeare’s ‘justice seasoned by mercy’ is not correct when it comes to God, for perfect justice (not attainable in this world) is merciful. This is not to say, however, that God’s particular actions might seem merciless or unjust from our perspective. Indeed, most of the events in salvation history seem to be without mercy or justice. For examples, please see the Old Testament. Yet, these imperfections in our vision are just that, limited visions of God’s ultimate will for the salvation of souls. Again, this is only an introductory exposition and will be further explained later.

The last dictum is more like a method and will help guide us through the jungle of argumentation we are about to head into. That is the so-called ‘via media’ or middle way. Most often likened to a road splitting two extremes, this view seems a bit impoverished to me. The ‘via media’ is not a compromise or mixed version of two extremes, pleasing both sides. The ‘via media’ is, however, a process of emphasis and modality that allows one to argue for either side at a moments notice without sliding into either extreme. Think of it more like a pendulum on a grandfather clock, swinging back and forth, yet never hitting either side or getting stuck. In this way, the ‘via media’ is a dynamic ‘both/and’ solution to a problem and involves a nimbleness of the mind to step back and see the connections and the differences between opposing views. In this way, most arguments by the Church against heresies or false positions are corrections, bringing one’s understanding back to the ‘middle’. In doing this, the Church in her reasoning does the same that one would have to do in order to straighten out a warped piece of wood, bending it past straight over to the other extreme. This is what I meant earlier about the ‘via media’ being a dynamic back and forth, emphasizing whichever side needs to.

III. Objections to God becoming Man: Having laid out our guidelines, let us begin by outlining some objections to God’s becoming man. By stoking the fire so to speak, we can begin to get into the meat of the question.

There are four basic objections to God becoming man. The first is that it seems to be unfitting for God to become man, to stoop down to the lowliness of man who is hemmed in among the lowest creatures. For God is highly exalted above all things in Heaven. The spirit of this objection is good because it wishes to preserve the majesty of God. It is true that God in His Divine nature cannot become tangled up or marred by creation. He is above and infinitely different than His creation.

The second objection has to do with the universality of salvation and what the Bible means when it says that Jesus died for ‘all’. One version of the objection highlights the salvation of those before Christ. It states that if God had to become man in order to save men, then—men existing before the Incarnation—it appears that God ought to have been Incarnate from the beginning of the world. In this objection, it seems that all those men proceeding the incarnation were left out of salvation. Keep in mind that this objection does not address those outside of the ‘means’ of salvation, i.e. baptism. This problem (the necessity of Baptism for Salvation) will be addressed more in the next topic: On the Church.

The third objection looks at the oddity of death, a privation and evil, satisfying for sin and bringing about salvation and eternal happiness, a good. The objection is fourfold: (1) only God’s grace can cleans man of sin, not death or anything else; (2) God cannot satisfy for those who have sinned, for in His justice every one shall bear his own burden; (3) Sin is not expiated by Sin, that is the sin of those who crucified Jesus causing His ‘death’ can not satisfy for sin; and (4) if death was required for the satisfaction of sin, then the Incarnation must die for each man that is saved, dying over and over again. Now, some of these objections seem ridiculous and indeed they are, but they are useful for getting us thinking.

The fourth and final set of objections has to do specifically with satisfying for original sin, not just the particular sins committed by each man. The objections are threefold: (1) if man could not save himself, then how does Christ’s death as a man satisfy for sin; (2) if Jesus died for us, saving us from original sin, then why do we continue to suffer the punishments of sin after baptism; and (3) if Christ’s death remitted man of all sin, then why must further absolution of sin need to be sought, or why go to confession if Christ died for our sins on the cross? This set of objections gets very messy and will begin to draw some distinctions we will use in our talk on the Church, since in the response to these objections highlights the division between the different Christian faiths.

We will not refute these objections at this point, but we will come back to fight them after we have honed our skills and armed ourselves with a better understanding of the Incarnation.

IV. St. Anselm: Here we will be following St. Anselm, a Benedictine Monk writing in the 9th and 10th century. He is what we in the Church call a Church Doctor, a title given to writings, which are recognized by the Church to be authoritative in matters of faith and morals. Though such writings do not hold the same weight that scripture or a papal decree, there is a certain weight to them. St. Thomas Aquinas, who we followed yesterday in our discussion on the existence of God, is another such Church Doctor, and there are many more.

St. Anselm develops in a work called Cur Deus Homo a syllogism to prove the necessity of the Incarnation. Ultimately, the Incarnation is not necessary and we will get into this at some length later on, yet as will be shown, the Incarnation is the most fitting way for God to save man. Fitting in so far as it was not necessary, but that it was the best way for God to have done this. Any other means seems less noble than the way that salvation was accomplished.

V. The Syllogism: So what then is the syllogism?

1. The end of Man’s nature towards which God created Man is happiness

2. Every nature must be capable of reaching its end, for God does not create to frustration, that is God does not (cannot) create something that is deficient.

a. In the case of Man, God has created a being, which is dependent on His grace for Happiness. In other words, Man cannot reach his end alone. He needs God.

b. This understanding still follows our dictum (man must reach his end), since man was originally created in a state of grace by which he could achieve happiness. And indeed he was happy.

c. Therefore, we are dependent on some other thing (grace) to reach our end as appointed by our nature, however, God has promised that we shall always have in a sufficient amount that which we need to reach our end.

d. His grace is always sufficient before and after the fall.

3. Yet, man has sinned, thwarting man’s ability to reach his end.

a. Sin removes man from a state of Grace in which man is capable of reaching true happiness.

b. Sin renders man incapable of achieving his own end.

4. What is sin? Sin is not rendering to God what is due (justice). What is due to God?—every wish of man (rational creature), i.e. the subjugation of man’s will to God’s.

5. Thus by sinning, man incurs a debt, which he owes to God and must be repaid.

a. After the sin of Adam, the universe is thrown into a state of disarray, because justice was not served. Remember God is justice.

b. The universe being out of order (the debt being due), there must be some reparation or satisfaction by which the universe is restored to order (order being the fulfillment of justice).

c. It is not right for the universe to remain in disorder for the rest of eternity (God’s justice remains unfulfilled)

6. Who should pay the debt?—the one who incurred the debt, Man.

a. The debtor must make the payment, especially in this case when the will, not a monetary or material thing needs to be paid.

b. No one can make an act of the will on your behalf—is that right? (Baptism)

c. Can only make an act of the will which is efficacious for another if it has been preordained to be so. Sacraments, Contract or Covenantal Theory.

7. Can man pay the debt?—No, because to render what is due to God is to do what is required for the present time and can never make up for the offense.

a. The payment must be supererogatory, that is over and above the current justice being owed.

b. Example: debtor paying off a loan in payments, which max out his income, yet he has fallen behind.

8. Yet, as we said, the debt must be paid. So who pays?—God, and He must do so out of His justice as a man because man must pay the debt. Therefore, God becomes man, God-man.

And there we have the syllogism for why God had to become man in order to save man, or make it possible for man to achieve salvation again after the fall. A debt was incurred through sin, which must be paid off by man, the offender. Yet, man cannot pay the debt, therefore, only God can as a man, the God-man.

VI. Response to Objections in sec. I

1. Unfitting—man being connected to God and directed towards God Himself through the intellect, what was proper to each nature was preserved, so that nothing of the excellence of the divine nature was lost, nor was there an exaltation which drew the human nature beyond the bounds of its species; assumed nature not stooped divinity.

2. Universality of Salvation

a. One must receive the remedy against sin only after he first acknowledges his failure, so that man in his lowliness, not relying on himself, may put his hope in God by whom alone sin can be healed.

b. Likewise, God left man to himself to realize his inequality of knowledge (pre-law) and of virtue (under the law). Thus there are three steps of the human race: before the law; under the law; and under grace.

c. The condition of the human person requires that it be not led immediately to the perfect, but that it be led by the hand through the imperfect so as to arrive at perfection (childhood).

d. This [the incarnation] did take place when, because of the promises and testimonies that had gone before, the minds of men were disposed the more readily to believe Him who had had envoys before Him, and the more eagerly to receive Him because of the previous promises.

3. Death

a. Although the grace of God suffices…the remission of sin requires something on the part of him whose sins are remitted; namely, that he satisfy the one offended. And since other men were unable to do this for themselves, Christ did this for all by suffering a voluntary death out of charity.

b. In satisfaction, we consider the charity and benevolence of him who makes satisfaction and this is most especially appears when one assumes the penalty of another.

c. As much as the person is higher, by so much is the penalty he bears reckoned for more. Thus the death of Christ was sufficient for the expiation of all sins.

4. Original Sin

a. Dignity of the person of the Son of God (humanity); Christ is the new Adam. (Christ is the cause of salvation just as the first man was a kind of cause of damnation by introducing death and sin into the world)

b. Why effects of original sin remain?

i. It was fitting to His faithful first to undergo the sufferings and so to arrive at immortality, bearing in themselves, so to say, the marks of the passion of Christ, in order to achieve a likeness to His glory.

ii. The newly found life of immortality and impossibility would render the merit of faith diminished.

c. The effect of the death of Christ comes to each one in a spiritual regeneration in which the man is somehow conjoined with Christ and incorporated into Him. And for this reason each must seek to be regenerated through Christ, and must himself undertake to do those things in which the power of Christ’s death operates (Sacraments).