Thursday, December 25, 2008

I'm thinking this isn't bad news

According to this report, Disney's skipping out on The Voyage of The Dawn Treader. This is probably not bad news, since Prince Caspian could hardly be said to be a faithful rendering of the book. It was more like "Featuring names and a dimly similar story sort of inspired by the book." So I'm thinking we couldn't do much worse with a new studio involved, assuming Walden Media wasn't to blame for the license taken in Prince Caspian (this is not to say that I disliked the movie entirely, but it was disappointing).

I'm willing to give them another shot at it. If they botch up Dawn Treader, though, I might not be able to get over it. It's one of my favorite books in the series, right from the very first line ("There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." LOL!), past Dragon Island, the Dufflepuds, and the Last Sea, to Aslan the Lamb. I just won't be able to bear any abuse to this story.

Who "owns" the Bible?

That's a misleading question, in one sense, because properly speaking the owner is of course God. It is, after all, his written revelation. But inasmuch as he does not exercise a direct supervision of it in history, it does seem proper to ask: to whom has God granted stewardship of Scripture?

Now on the one hand some folks might object to that question, supposing that God hasn't granted that responsibility to anyone: on this view, to ask the question is to beg the question. But denying the validity of the question doesn't really settle things. It's not a question of whether there will be a steward of Scripture. There is going to be some steward(s) or other, whether we like it or not.

Now there are at least three ways in which someone might act as steward of Scripture: as to the books that comprise it (that is, with respect to the canon), as to the meaning of it (that is, with respect to hermeneutics), and as to the words of which it consists (that is, with respect to textual criticism). I've seen more than one argument between Protestants and Catholics about the question of the canon, and I've seen more than quarrel about hermeneutics. But I can't recall seeing one that addresses the question of textual criticism.

Let's set aside the canon and hermeneutics questions for a moment. We live thousands of years after the Scripture was first written. We have a huge number of manuscripts, and many variations among them. who decides which version of the text is correct?

Well, for the Catholic there can be only one answer to this question. Scripture has been entrusted to the Church. Consequently only the Church has any valid standing for establishing the exact text of Scripture. Hence Vatican II says:
Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church [Dei Verbum §10; emphasis added].
But the Protestant has an issue here. Who decides what the text is, and what is the basis of the authority to make that decision? I don't know of any answer that they can make to this that doesn't boil down eventually to subjectivism. Hopefully they would say that "the church" must do this, but that demands that we know what is meant by "the church". If by this they mean "my denomination," that's certainly a better answer than others that might be given. But it's hardly one that can stand historical scrutiny, since (obviously) no Protestant denomination existed before the sixteenth century.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Cheer

"I was in prison, and you came to me."

Here's a great story. It is made better by being true.

Merry Christmas.

The Rosary, Mary, Christ, and TF

TF has a couple posts up concerning the Rosary. I'm not posting here because I think that they haven't been adequately addressed already; Mike Burgess has done the heavy lifting on that score. However, in view of a recent suggestion, I thought I might pile on a little bit.
Certain of those who engage in Marian devotion, insist that Mary leads them to Christ.
Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but it's not just "certain of those" who do so that say it; it's the Church in (among other places) Lumen Gentium. Here's a tiny portion of what LG has to say that is relevant.
For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by the ministers and by the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is really communicated in different ways to His creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.

The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary. It knows it through unfailing experience of it and commends it to the hearts of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more intimately adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer [62; emphasis added].
(As an aside, this little snippet also does away with the ridiculous canard suggested by some silly folks - though not, to my knowledge, TF - that Mary is someday, somehow going to be "added" to the Trinity. But I digress).

The point here is that - contrary to TF's insinuation - it is not just some mere sliver of Catholics who say that the Blessed Virgin leads them to Christ, as though they were in the minority or something. No. This is the formal teaching of the Church.
On the other hand, do you suppose she prayed the Lord's prayer? If so, she admitted her lack of sinlessness.
Mike answers this assertion well:
That she was personally preserved from sin by her prevenient salvation comports with her words in the Magnificat you cited. Of course she had (and needed to have) a Saviour, the one and only Lord. He saved her by keeping her from sinning. He preserved her graciously. Hers is a gracious sinlessness, showing the fulness of the gratuitous theosis given to us by the Lord, who calls us and prepares our works for us to walk in, and is at work in us both to will and to do, according to His good pleasure.

Your speculation about Mary praying a complete version of the Lord’s prayer is no more problematic than our Lord praying and reciting the Psalms in the liturgy of the intertestamental synagogue and Temple.
Exactly. For Mary to pray the Our Father is consistent with the fact that she too has a Savior. Even if TF were correct in supposing that Catholics say she didn't need a Savior (and we simply do not say this), though - Mike is exactly right: there wouldn't be any substantive difference between her saying the Our Father and the Lord Jesus participating in the ceremonial rites of the OT. Of course, I could be mistaken in one thing here. Perhaps TF doesn't say that Catholics believe Mary needs no Savior. If that, however, were the case, then he would know that his criticism here has no force. I am inclined to think better of him than this. But this means that he doesn't understand what we say about Mary's standing before her Lord and ours.

In a followup post responding to someone else, TF writes:
Assuming that Mr. Greco's dating for the Rosary is correct (and it is always dangerous trying to pin dates on innovations in church history), this only reinforces one of the points that my original post was making, namely that the Rosary is foreign to the Bible. It was unknown to Mary - it was unknown to the Apostles - and (per Greco) it was unknown to a thousand years of the universal church.
Yes. And the ex tempore prayers used in TF's congregation on Sunday are unknown to two thousand years of the universal church, and are foreign to the Bible. This is true of the extemporaneous prayers that are said in the Mass, too. The salient question is: so what? Perhaps he wishes to allege that the Rosary is not just "foreign" to the Bible but that it is contrary to the Bible. I don't think so. TF continues:
Casting the Rosary as, "the Rosary is a meditation on the Gospel...and I do think that Mary meditated on her son's life and the wondrous things God had done for her," (ellipsis in original) misses the issues and objections to the Rosary.
Except that this is precisely the purpose of the Rosary. For TF to say that this "misses the objections to the Rosary" is as much as to say that he has missed the purpose of the thing. Now it stretches no one's credulity to suppose that TF's real objection is to the fact that prayers that are a part of the Rosary are directed to the Blessed Virgin; but they nevertheless constitute nothing more than that: a part of a meditation on the Gospel. What does he think the point of the various mysteries of the Rosary are, anyway?
But the Rosary is not in the form of meditation, but prayer;
I'm not sure how to respond to this. I guess we all missed Turretin's Style Guide, where we are authoritatively informed as to the legitimate forms that meditation may take.

But seriously. This quarrel does not bear up to scrutiny. Who is to say what form meditation must take? I'm not sure what the answer to that is, but I'm reasonably sure it's not TF, and it's not Protestants. I would like to think better of TF than this. This is so obviously a specious complaint that I think he would have done better to just repeat what is surely his real complaint: that prayers to the Blessed Virgin are a part of the Rosary.
And the prayers of the Rosary are objectionable both as to the fact that at least one prayer (the "Hail Mary") is not directed to God, and because the method of successive repetition is a heathen practice specifically condemned by Jesus (Matthew 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.)
But repetition per se is not unbiblical. To the contrary, it is entirely scriptural. The major example is Psalm 136, where every single verse - all twenty-seven of them - end with "for his mercy endureth for ever." Rev. 4:8 is maybe an even better one:
And the four living creatures had each of them six wings: and round about and within they are full of eyes. And they rested not day and night, saying: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come [emphasis added].
It seems clear: the prayerbook that God gave us (the Psalms) include an example of repetition, and the angels ceaselessly sing a form of the Sanctus. Hence repetition in prayer is not in and of itself an evil. But there are other difficulties with this, too. What and who is going to say what sort of repetition would be wrong? Even the cherubim seen by Isaiah say (6:3) "Holy, Holy, Holy." But that's repetition, right? Now perhaps TF will argue that this is far too small a repetition to qualify for the criticism that he makes, but to this I would reply: fine. But who then is to judge what degree of repetition is illegitimate, and why should we listen to him?

Anyway, the point is: repetition is not a problem. Consequently TF's complaint about it is irrelevant.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yet Another Blog Update

My last post effectively wraps up the posts that I am able to draw from notes taken during my reading of the last two years (and if you think that means that my notes were pretty paltry, I'm not going to argue with you).

Unfortunately this may mean that my posting is going to be a bit sparse for a while. I draw inspiration for many of my posts from stuff I'm reading, but at present I'm in the thick of fixing some deficits in my history education. At least seven (depending on how you want to count them) of the next ten books in my reading list are primarily history, and for the most part history does not really inspire me with fodder for blog posts.

This doesn't mean that I won't be posting at all, but unless something otherwise provokes me, I don't really have anything to fall back on for subject matter. I apologize to my few regular readers for this. Unfortunately this is a consequence of not being an actual academic: I have to do this stuff in my free time, and there just isn't enough of it to offer me opportunity for doing all the reading and writing that I'd like.

But to give maybe a glimmer of hope, here are a few things I'm tossing around for the hopefully-not-too-distant future that will hopefully prove interesting.
  • Working through the Church Fathers
  • Working through the Summa Contra Gentiles more thoroughly
  • Working through the Summa Theologica more thoroughly, with an assist from Farrell's Companion
  • Working through Maritain's Degrees of Knowledge
  • Working through McInerny's Praeambula Fidei
  • Working through some of Anselm
Anyway, I hope you'll stay tuned.

As an aside, and apropos my previous post, I spent some time this evening reading over at the Crimson Catholic (and if you want really serious Catholic philosophical discussion, you can hardly do better than what Jonathan Prejean has done there). He had an extended discussion relating to Nestorianism a couple years ago, and it's fascinating. You can find links to the various posts here; scroll down maybe halfway to the section headed "Eric Svendsen" for the series. There is some excellent material here. One thing that came to mind while reading was a result of the Protestant in question insisting that human nature included being a person (while Prejean argued, of course, that a "person" is that which instantiates a rational nature). The implicit - or maybe explicit - denial by his adversary of human nature existing in any sense apart from a human person reeks of nominalism to me. Once again, although this man seemed to have been oblivious to it, we can see that one's philosophic outlook can't really be divorced from how he thinks about theology.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Theology of St. Thomas - Are Protestants Nestorian?

Of course St. Thomas never wrote anything about Protestants per se, at least in part because he did not have access to a starship by means of which he could tamper with the space-time continuum. So to ask whether St. Thomas considered Protestants to be Nestorian make as much sense as asking what his favorite NFL team was. The real question for this post, though, is whether there is any sense in which what St. Thomas says in criticism of Nestorius may also be said of Protestants. Right away, though, we have to begin by qualifying things: I can imagine at least some Protestants to whom these criticisms do not apply at all. So this post is not to say that all Protestants are Nestorian, even if we conclude by saying that at least some might be. In particular I don't have any particular Protestant in mind at all, nor even any specific Protestant theological tradition. The most that might be said about specific persons would be about my specific Protestant self, prior to my conversion.

St. Thomas addresses the heresy of Nestorius in SCG, IV, 34. It is a fairly lengthy chapter, and we won't be looking at every single remark that Aquinas makes in it. He starts off by introducing the error:
They said that the human soul and the true human body came together in Christ by a natural union to constitute one man of the same species and nature with other men, and that in this man God dwelt as in His temple, namely, by grace, just as in other holy men. ... So, then, consequently on the things just said there must be one Person of the Word of God, and another person of that man who is co-adored with the Word of God. And if one Person of each of the two be mentioned, this will be by reason of the affective union aforesaid; so that man and the Word of God may be called one Person, as is said of man and woman that “now they are not two, but one flesh” (Mat. 19:6).

Now, such a union does not bring it about that what is said of the first can be said of the second (for not everything which becomes the man is true of the woman, or conversely); therefore in the union of the Word and that man they think this must be observed: The things proper to that man and pertinent to the human nature cannot be said becomingly of God’s Word, or of God. just so it becomes that man that he was born of a virgin, that he suffered, died, was buried, and this kind of thing; and all of these, they assert, ought not be said of God, or of the Word of God. But, since there are certain names which, although they are chiefly befitting to God, are nonetheless communicated to men in a fashion—“christ,” for instance, “lord,” “holy,” and even “son of God”—nothing according to them keeps one from the use of such names in predication of the things just mentioned. For, according to them, we say fittingly that Christ, or the “Lord of glory,” or the “Saint of saints,” or “God’s son” was born of a virgin, suffered, died and was buried. Hence, too, the Blessed Virgin must not be named the mother of God, or of the Word of God, but the mother of Christ, they say [SCG IV, 34, 2 passim; emphasis added].

And here we get to the heart of why it is that sometimes Catholics say that Protestants are Nestorian: they do not think it fitting to use certain sorts of language when speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ. This will be somewhat lengthy, but I think it's worth examining a bit more. The point isn't, as I already said, that Protestants are necessarily Nestorian; rather, it is that it seems (for some of them at least) their use of language, and their scruples about it, undermine the Incarnation after a Nestorian fashion, and that it would be better for them to modify that usage to be more orthodox.
if “the Word was made flesh,” that is, “man,” as the Evangelist witnesses (John 1:14). it is impossible that there be two persons, or hypostases, or supposits of the Word of God and of that man [ibid., 5; hereafter references to this same chapter will be by paragraph number only].
Now that may seem pretty obvious to us today. But St. Thomas draws the conclusion, "Whatever was made is what it was made; thus, what was made man is man, and what was made white is white. But God’s Word was made man, as is gathered from the foregoing. So God’s Word is man" [ibid.; emphasis added]. And:
Demonstrative pronouns, moreover, refer to the person, or hypostasis, or supposit. For no one says “I run” when another is running, except figuratively, perhaps, when another is running in his place. But the man called Jesus says about Himself: “Before Abraham was made, I am”,and “I and the Father are one” (John 8:59; 10:30), and several other things which clearly pertain to the divinity of the Word. Therefore, the person and hypostasis of the man speaking is plainly the very person of the Word of God [6].
The point here is that the second person of the Trinity is identified with the man Jesus - they are the same person. And of course the average orthodox Protestant (by which I mean one who accepts orthodox Christology) is not going to argue with that.

This usage appears frequently in Scripture.
  • Jesus says he is the bread which came down from heaven, which could only be said of the Word (John 6:51) [7]
  • The disciples watched him ascend to heaven (Acts 1:9), but St. Paul says "He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens" (Eph. 4:10); the disciples could not see Christ's divinity ascend into heaven, but it is only his divinity that could have descended from heaven [8]
  • Jesus says that he came into the world (John 16:28), but that which has its origin in the world (namely, his body) cannot properly be said to "come into" it; so it must be the Word of God who speaks [9]
  • The suffering of one's body can be ascribed to the one whose body it is, and consequently we may say that the Word of God suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried because these things happened to his body [11]
  • The psalmist says that God is the King of glory (23:8-10), and Paul says that Christ is the Lord of glory (1Co 2:8); hence we may say that God was crucified [13]
  • God delivered his own Son up for us (Rom. 8:32), so that it is right to say that the Word of God suffered and died for us [14]
  • "[O]ne is said to be the son of a mother because his body is taken from her, although his soul is not taken from her, but has an exterior source. ... Now, it was proved that the body of that man is the body of the natural Son of God, that is, of the Word of God. So it becomes us to say that the Blessed Virgin is “the Mother of the Word of God,” and even “of God”. Of course, the divinity of the Word is not taken from His Mother, for a son need not take the whole of his substance from his mother, but his body only" [15]
  • "And, again, John says: “The Word was made flesh.” But He has no flesh, except from a woman. The Word, then, is made of a woman; that is, of the Virgin Mother. Therefore, the Virgin is the Mother of God the Word" [20]
  • Paul says that Christ is "of the Fathers" (Rom. 9:5), but this is only through his Virgin Mother; therefore he who is "over all things, God blessed forever" (Rom. 9:5 again) is of the Fathers through the Virgin Mother; therefore she is the mother of God in the flesh [21]
  • St. Peter says that the man Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God (Acts 2:33), and St. Paul says that God "emptied himself" (Php. 2:7); hence, if we may say that the man Christ Jesus has been exalted, we may also say that "lowly thing" may be said of God - that he suffered and died, or that a Virgin was his Mother [28]
  • St. Paul says of this one person that in and by him all things were created (which could only be said of him in his divine nature), and that he is the firstborn from the dead (which could only be said of him in his human nature); hence "whatever is said of that man must be said of the Word of God, and conversely" (cf. Col. 1:16-18) [29]
For all these reasons we see that it is perfectly legitimate to speak of Mary as the Mother of God.

Now this is something to which at least some Protestants object. While it is undoubtedly true that at least some of these objectors hold an orthodox Christology, nevertheless their unwillingness to accept perfectly appropriate language concerning Christ and his Mother sounds as if they deny the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation, by denying the unity of the Person of Christ. He is one Person, of whom we may say that he is God, and that Mary is his Mother, and that he suffered and died for us, and that in him all things were made.

[Update - to add some additional considerations here...]

Why does it seem at face value as though they deny the orthodox doctrine? Because to be unwilling to say that Mary is the Mother of God - to be only willing to say that she is the Mother of Christ - is to suggest that the child - the person in her womb was not the Word of God. Now that may not be what they intend, but it is nevertheless the implication that is hard to avoid. But if he was not the Word, then he was merely human. And that, of course, would be heretical.

This is why it is so important to be willing to say that Mary is the Mother of God - the theotokos, the God-bearer. And as we have seen above from what St. Thomas has argued, we have excellent precedent for saying this, inasmuch as the Scripture often says of the human nature what rightly applies only to the divine, and vice versa. One who gives birth to a child is that child's mother; but Mary's child was God. Hence Mary is the Mother of God. Protestants who are distressed by this should carefully reconsider the implications of a denial of it.

Council Counsel

It seems that because there were discussions about justification at Trent, that there was no certainty about the question prior to the Council.
Since there were no offical statements from the RCC on justification, you can wiggle all around to deny the obvious that Rome's theologians had very different opinions on justification.
On the contrary, an "official statement" (by which presumably the author means a dogmatic declaration) is not required in order for clarity about a matter to exist.

A trivial example: there is no dogmatic declaration (on the order of a Pastor aeternus or Munificentissimus Deus) that murder is a grave sin. Nor is one needed.

A more relevant example would be the circumstances prior to Nicaea. The fact that there was no Nicene Creed, and the fact that no "official statement" about the Holy Trinity had been promulgated, do not mean that there was no certainty about the Trinity prior to Nicaea. The purpose of Councils isn't merely to define what must be believed (although that would be sufficient in my book), but rather to address issues related to faith and morals that have become sufficiently controverted due to errors being taught by some in the Church as to warrant an "official statement". So if no "official statement" concerning justification existed prior to Trent, it is no measure of whether there was any uncertainty or ambiguity about what the orthodox doctrine was, just as there was no serious uncertainty concerning the Trinity prior to Nicaea and the rise of Arius.

It's a straw man to suggest that we Catholics must have a dogmatic declaration of literally everything we believe - a straw man that is propped up in order to suggest that we suffer from the same formal doctrinal confusion as Protestants. It is a crude sort of tu quoque, by which the Protestant hopes to blunt the perfectly valid criticism of Protestantism that there is no reliable means among them by which they may objectively know the truth.

Friday, December 19, 2008

From the Reading List - How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization

I just finished reading Woods' fine book How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. At fewer than 250 pages it's obviously no more than an overview of this very broad subject, but I think it's a superb one. I commend it to you wholeheartedly.

Indeed, this book is a breath of fresh air after reading Southern's book The Church and Western Society in the Middle Ages. I'm not entirely certain that Southern was deliberately and self-consciously hostile to the Church, but his portait of her is not exactly one that encourages affection for her either. For example, I don't remember any significant discussion of the role played by the Church's charitable works during the Middle Ages, nor of the consequences of (for example) Henry VIII's confiscation of monastic property in Britain. Woods' work is a fine remedy for Southern and a host of other historiographic ailments.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Faith and the Knowledge of God

We're not free to believe just anything about God that suits our fancy, as though one thing were as good as another.
[T]he divine law orders man for this purpose, that he may be entirely subject to God. But, just as man is subject to God as far as will is concerned, through loving, so is he subject to God as far as intellect is concerned, through believing; not, of course, by believing anything that is false, for no falsity can be proposed to man by God Who is truth. Consequently, he who believes something false does not believe in God [SCG III, 118, 3].
And more:
[4] Besides, whoever is in error regarding something that is of the essence of a thing does not know that thing. Thus, if someone understood irrational animal with the notion that it is a man, he would not know man. Now, it would be a different matter if he erred concerning one of man’s accidents. However, in the case of composite beings, the person who is in error concerning one of their essential principles does know the thing, in a relative way, though he does not know it in an unqualified sense. For instance, he who thinks that man is an irrational animal knows him according to his genus. But this cannot happen in reference to simple beings; instead, any error at all completely excludes knowledge of the being. Now, God is most simple. So, whoever is in error concerning God does not know God, just as the man who thinks that God is a body does not know God at all, but grasps something else in place of God. However, the way in which a thing is known determines the way in which it is loved and desired. Therefore, he who is in error about God can neither love God nor desire Him as an end. So, since the divine law intends this result, that man love and desire God, man must be bound by divine law to bold a right faith concerning God.
[5] Moreover, false opinion holds the same place in regard to objects of the intellect that vice opposed to virtue has in regard to moral matters, “for truth is the good of the intellect.” But it is the function of divine law to prohibit vices. Therefore, it also pertains to it to exclude false opinions about God and matters concerned with God.
Now this is not to say that one's knowledge of God must be perfect in the sense of lacking nothing. Abraham and Moses and David knew God, but they did not know him as fully as Christians may do so today. We are finite, after all.

It's pretty likely that part of what St. Thomas means here depends a lot upon technical definitions of knowledge and opinion. That which is known is that which is certain and could not be otherwise, while opinion has to do with that which could be otherwise. So I might suppose, for example, that I "know" my birthday falls on a given date, but in fact I don't know it (in the sense that Aquinas probably means in SCG above) at all. It's not possible for an infant to know his birthday, so he must be told. But those who tell him may be mistaken, or they may forget, or they may even lie. So really I have an opinion about my birthday, not knowledge.

Now there are things that we may know about God by way of reason - as St. Thomas attempts to demonstrate in SCG especially. And we may know still more by way of faith, which is even more certain. But it's not so that every Tom, Dick, and Harry Average must be a theologian on the order of an Aquinas or St. Augustine in order it to be said of him that he knows God. It seems to me that this means that we must acknowledge a distinction between what the Catholic knows formally, by virtue of being Catholic, and what he knows materially. He intends to know and believe those things that the Church teaches, so that formally it may be said that he knows God; but he then has the obligation, as he has ability and opportunity, to know God materially - to make this knowledge something subjectively true.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Argument for the Papacy

The Summa Contra Gentiles is a defense of the Faith intended for unbelievers. As such, St. Thomas doesn't make appeals to what can only be known by the virtue of faith; instead, he proceeds by way of argument.

There is an important sense in which SCG can only be understood as a single extended argument: that is, St. Thomas builds from what he has already said in drawing new conclusions, and he continues this course throughout the length of the book. Ultimately, you don't get to his final conclusions in book IV apart from what he said at the outset in book I. The upshot of this is that in some respects it can be difficult to extract a portion of his argument for separate consideration: what he is about to demonstrate is dependent upon what has already been said.

So it is, to a fair extent, with what St. Thomas has to say about the episcopacy and the papacy. It depends on what he has already shown in previous sections on the sacrament of Orders. It's somewhat difficult to just jump in. But I think what he has to say about the papacy in IV, 76 is sufficiently interesting that it's worth making the effort. By way of laying the groundwork, then, one can look more closely at what Aquinas says beginning with chapter 55 (on the suitability of the Incarnation) and chapters 56-73 (on the sacraments other than Orders), and arrive at 74, where he says:
It is, of course, clear from what has been said that in all the sacraments dealt with a spiritual grace is conferred in a mystery of visible things. But every action ought to be proportioned to its agent. Therefore, the sacraments mentioned must be dispensed by visible men who have spiritual power. For angels are not competent to dispense the sacraments; this belongs to men clothed in visible flesh [section 1].
In other words, just as the other sacraments confer grace through visible things, they must be dispensed by visible men (rather than invisibly, as by an angel or something). But this requires that these men be equipped and ordered to do so. And since Christ himself would not be on earth to fulfill this task,
it was necessary that Christ should establish other ministers in His place who would dispense the sacraments to the faithful; in the Apostle’s words: “Let a man so account of us as ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). And so He committed the consecration of His body and blood to the disciples, saying: “Do this in commemoration of Me” (Luke 2:19); the same received the power of forgiving sins, in the words of John (20:2.3): “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them”; the same also were given the duty of teaching and baptizing, when He said: “Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them” (Mat. 28:19). But a minister is compared to his lord as an instrument to its principal agent, for, as an instrument is moved by the agent for making something, so the minister is moved by his lord’s command to accomplish something. Of course, the instrument must be proportionate to the agent. Hence, the ministers of Christ must be in conformity with Him. But Christ, as the Lord, by His very own authority and power wrought our salvation, in that He was God and man: so far as He was man, in order to suffer for our redemption; and, so far as He was God, to make His suffering salutary for us. Therefore, the ministers of Christ must not only be men, but must participate somehow in His divinity through some spiritual power, for an instrument shares in the power of its principal agent. Now, it is this power that the Apostle calls “the power which the Lord bath given me unto edification and not unto destruction” (2 Cor. 13:10) [chapter 74, section 2].
And it was not enough for the apostles to be granted this authority:
One must not say, of course, that power of this sort was given by Christ to His disciples in such a way as not to flow on through them to others; it was given “for building up the Church,” in the Apostle’s phrase. So long, then, must this power be perpetuated as it is necessary to build up the Church. But this is necessary from the death of the disciples of Christ to the very end of the world. Therefore, the spiritual power was given to the disciples of Christ so as to pass on from them to others [ibid., section 3].
Hopefully this is enough groundwork for us to move on to chapter 76 of book IV, where St. Thomas begins:
Now, the bestowal of all of these orders accompanies some sacrament, as was said, and the sacraments of the Church require some ministers for their dispensing; there must, therefore, be a superior power in the Church with a higher ministry which dispenses the sacrament of orders. And this is the episcopal power, which, although it does not exceed the power of the priest in the consecration of the body of Christ, does exceed the priestly power in what touches the faithful. For the priestly power itself flows from the episcopal power, and anything particularly difficult to be performed for the faithful is reserved to the bishops; by their authority, even priests are empowered to do that which is committed to them to be done. Hence, even in the tasks which priests perform they employ things consecrated by bishops; thus, in the Eucharistic consecration they use a chalice, an altar, and a pall consecrated by the bishop. Clearly, then, the chief direction of the faithful belongs to the dignity of the bishops [section 1].
But it is not enough for us to have bishops. Bishops are the pastors of specific churches in specific places. But if this is our situation, then we necessarily have an obstacle to unity: because bishop may disagree with bishop.

Aquinas says that this is not our situation.
[2] But this, too, is clear: Although people are set apart according to differing dioceses and states, yet, as the Church is one, so must the Christian people be one. Therefore, as for the specific congregation of one Church one bishop is called for who is the head of that Church; so for the entire Christian people there must be one who is head of the entire Church.

[3] Then, too, the unity of the Church requires that all the faithful agree as to the faith. But about matters of faith it happens that questions arise. A diversity of pronouncements, of course, would divide the Church, if it were not preserved in unity by the pronouncement of one. Therefore, the unity of the Church demands that there be one who is at the head of the entire Church. But, manifestly, in its necessities Christ has not failed the Church which He loved and for which He shed His blood, since even of the synagogue the Lord says: ‘What is there that I ought to do more to My vineyard that I have not done to it?” (Isa. 5:4). Therefore, one must not doubt that by Christ’s ordering there is one who is at the head of the entire Church.

[4] No one should doubt, furthermore, that the government of the Church has been established in the best way, since He has disposed it by whom “kings reign, and lawmakers decree just things” (Prov. 8:15). But the best government of a multitude is rule by one, and this is clear from the purpose of government, which is peace; for peace and the unity of his subjects are the purpose of the one who rules, and one is a better constituted cause of unity than many. Clearly, then, the government of the Church has been so disposed that one is at the head of the entire Church.
Well, what if someone suggests that Christ is the head of the entire Church? Yes, he is, but more must be said.
[7] But let one say that the one head and one shepherd is Christ, who is one spouse of one Church; his answer does not suffice. For, clearly, Christ Himself perfects all the sacraments of th Church: it is He who baptizes; it is He who forgives sins; it is He, the true priest, who offered Himself on the altar of the cross, and by whose power His body is daily consecrated on the altar—nevertheless, because He was not going to be with all the faithful in bodily presence, He chose ministers to dispense the things just mentioned to the faithful, as was said above. By the same reasoning, then, when He was going to withdraw His bodily presence from the Church, He had to commit it to one who would in His place have the care of the universal Church. Hence it is that He said to Peter before His ascension: “Feed My sheep” (John 21:17); and before His passion: “You being once converted confirm your brethren” (Luke 22:32); and to him alone did He promise: “I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 16:19), in order to show that the power of the keys was to flow through him to others to preserve the unity of the Church.
[8] But it cannot be said that, although He gave Peter this dignity, it does not flow on to others. For, clearly, Christ established the Church so that it was to endure to the end of the world; in the words of Isaiah (9:7): “He shall sit upon the throne of David and upon His kingdom to establish and strengthen it with judgment and with justice from henceforth and forever.” It is clear that He so established therein those who were then in the ministry that their power was to be passed on to others even to the end of time; especially so, since He Himself says: “Behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world” (Mat. 28:20).
[9] By this, of course, we exclude the presumptuous error of some who attempt to withdraw themselves from the obedience and the rule of Peter by not recognizing in his successor, the Roman Pontiff, the pastor of the universal Church.
The answer does not suffice precisely because the sacraments must be administered visibly, and we must have a visible Church with visible Orders and a visible head. It is not that Christ is not the Head of the Church; of course he is. But the Pope remains the visible head, and serves as Christ's vicar.

Theology of St. Thomas - Merit

In light of recent posts touching on the subject, here are some portions from St. Thomas relating to merits.

On whether there is a sense, with regard to providence, in which it may be said that merits are the cause of predestination:
The Apostle says (Titus 3:5): "Not by works of justice which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us." But as He saved us, so He predestined that we should be saved. Therefore, foreknowledge of merits is not the cause or reason of predestination.


Others said that pre-existing merits in this life are the reason and cause of the effect of predestination. For the Pelagians taught that the beginning of doing well came from us; and the consummaion from God: so that it came about that the effect of predestination was granted to one, and not to another, because the one made a beginning by preparing, whereas the other did not. But against this we have the saying of the Apostle (2 Corinthians 3:5), that "we are not sufficient to think anything of ourselves as of ourselves." Now no principle of action can be imagined previous to the act of thinking. Wherefore it cannot be said that anything begun in us can be the reason of the effect of predestination.

And so others said that merits following the effect of predestination are the reason of predestination; giving us to understand that God gives grace to a person, and pre-ordains that He will give it, because He knows beforehand that He will make good use of that grace, as if a king were to give a horse to a soldier because he knows he will make good use of it. But these seem to have drawn a distinction between that which flows from grace, and that which flows from free will, as if the same thing cannot come from both. It is, however, manifest that what is of grace is the effect of predestination; and this cannot be considered as the reason of predestination, since it is contained in the notion of predestination. Therefore, if anything else in us be the reason of predestination, it will outside the effect of predestination. Now there is no distinction between what flows from free will, and what is of predestination; as there is not distinction between what flows from a secondary cause and from a first cause. For the providence of God produces effects through the operation of secondary causes, as was above shown (22, 3). Wherefore, that which flows from free-will is also of predestination. We must say, therefore, that the effect of predestination may be considered in a twofold light--in one way, in particular; and thus there is no reason why one effect of predestination should not be the reason or cause of another; a subsequent effect being the reason of a previous effect, as its final cause; and the previous effect being the reason of the subsequent as its meritorious cause, which is reduced to the disposition of the matter. Thus we might say that God pre-ordained to give glory on account of merit, and that He pre-ordained to give grace to merit glory. In another way, the effect of predestination may be considered in general. Thus, it is impossible that the whole of the effect of predestination in general should have any cause as coming from us; because whatsoever is in man disposing him towards salvation, is all included under the effect of predestination; even the preparation for grace. For neither does this happen otherwise than by divine help, according to the prophet Jeremias (Lamentations 5:21): "convert us, O Lord, to Thee, and we shall be converted." Yet predestination has in this way, in regard to its effect, the goodness of God for its reason; towards which the whole effect of predestination is directed as to an end; and from which it proceeds, as from its first moving principle [ST I, Q23, A5; emphasis added].
Whether man can wish or do any good without grace:
The Apostle says (Romans 9:16): "It is not of him that willeth," namely, to will, "nor of him that runneth," namely to run, "but of God that showeth mercy." And Augustine says (De Corrept. et Gratia ii) that "without grace men do nothing good when they either think or wish or love or act."


Man's nature may be looked at in two ways: first, in its integrity, as it was in our first parent before sin; secondly, as it is corrupted in us after the sin of our first parent. Now in both states human nature needs the help of God as First Mover, to do or wish any good whatsoever, as stated above (1). But in the state of integrity, as regards the sufficiency of the operative power, man by his natural endowments could wish and do the good proportionate to his nature, such as the good of acquired virtue; but not surpassing good, as the good of infused virtue. But in the state of corrupt nature, man falls short of what he could do by his nature, so that he is unable to fulfil it by his own natural powers. Yet because human nature is not altogether corrupted by sin, so as to be shorn of every natural good, even in the state of corrupted nature it can, by virtue of its natural endowments, work some particular good, as to build dwellings, plant vineyards, and the like; yet it cannot do all the good natural to it, so as to fall short in nothing; just as a sick man can of himself make some movements, yet he cannot be perfectly moved with the movements of one in health, unless by the help of medicine he be cured.

And thus in the state of perfect nature man needs a gratuitous strength superadded to natural strength for one reason, viz. in order to do and wish supernatural good; but for two reasons, in the state of corrupt nature, viz. in order to be healed, and furthermore in order to carry out works of supernatural virtue, which are meritorious. Beyond this, in both states man needs the Divine help, that he may be moved to act well [ST I-II, Q109, A2].
Whether man without grace and by his own natural powers can fulfil the commandments of the Law:
Augustine says (De Haeres. lxxxviii) that it is part of the Pelagian heresy that "they believe that without grace man can fulfil all the Divine commandments."


There are two ways of fulfilling the commandments of the Law. The first regards the substance of the works, as when a man does works of justice, fortitude, and of other virtues. And in this way man in the state of perfect nature could fulfil all the commandments of the Law; otherwise he would have been unable to sin in that state, since to sin is nothing else than to transgress the Divine commandments. But in the state of corrupted nature man cannot fulfil all the Divine commandments without healing grace. Secondly, the commandments of the law can be fulfilled, not merely as regards the substance of the act, but also as regards the mode of acting, i.e. their being done out of charity. And in this way, neither in the state of perfect nature, nor in the state of corrupt nature can man fulfil the commandments of the law without grace. Hence, Augustine (De Corrupt. et Grat. ii) having stated that "without grace men can do no good whatever," adds: "Not only do they know by its light what to do, but by its help they do lovingly what they know." Beyond this, in both states they need the help of God's motion in order to fulfil the commandments, as stated above (2,3) [ST I-II, Q109, A4; emphasis added].
Whether man can merit everlasting life without grace:
Acts conducing to an end must be proportioned to the end. But no act exceeds the proportion of its active principle; and hence we see in natural things, that nothing can by its operation bring about an effect which exceeds its active force, but only such as is proportionate to its power. Now everlasting life is an end exceeding the proportion of human nature, as is clear from what we have said above (5, 5). Hence man, by his natural endowments, cannot produce meritorious works proportionate to everlasting life; and for this a higher force is needed, viz. the force of grace. And thus without grace man cannot merit everlasting life; yet he can perform works conducing to a good which is natural to man, as "to toil in the fields, to drink, to eat, or to have friends," and the like [ST I-II, Q109, A5; see also the same subject at I-II, Q114, A2].
And so forth. But there is more, and rather than turn this blog post into a dissertation, I'll summarize.
  • Can we prepare ourselves for grace? No.
  • Can we rise from sin without grace? No.
  • Can we avoid sin without grace? No.
  • Once we've received grace, can we do good and avoid sin without more grace? No.
  • Once we've received grace, can we persevere in it without more grace? No.
  • Can we merit the first grace? No.
And that really ought to be sufficient. In short: the Catholic view of salvation begins, continues, and ends with the grace of God. Merit - to the extent that we have it - is an effect of grace. That doesn't make it less real, but it certainly removes from it any sense by which it could be said that we "merit" salvation apart from grace. We don't and can't.

Monergistic Incoherence

I'm at a loss exactly how to reconcile these two statements.
The Reformed position is that sanctification is monergistic
(followed by quotations from the Westminster Standards to support the claim)

And this, from the same individual, eighteen hours later, reacting to a quotation from a Reformed theologian who calls sanctification "synergistic":
I would expect that [the theologian]'s comments were aimed at countering "easy believism" in which people "get saved" and then sit on their laurels, waiting to be sanctified. Such an attitude is improper for a Christian, although the entire progress in sanctification is the work of God in our life.
But if sanctification is monergistic, then it is something that is done to you. So why on earth would you then say that waiting for God to do it is "easy believism"? How is that "improper" if monergism is presumed?

Now I happen to agree that the "easy believism" attitude is indeed "improper" to say the least. But how is the Catholic's synergism (which the individual in question rejects as some flavor of "Pelagianism") sufficiently different in kind as to warrant condemnation? He doesn't want Christians sitting on their rears waiting for God to make them holy - well and good. This implies that he expects them to strive to live holy lives - well and good. He insists that actually managing to live a holy life "is the work of God in our life" - well and good. There is not a thing in this that Catholics would reject, as far as I can tell.

I suppose the "scandal" to the author in question is that Catholics say that the good things we do are meritorious. But this is a merit that must be understood in context. It is not the case that we believe we can do things that in and of themselves merit salvation. No. Rather we believe that the very power to do meritorious things comes from God, by his grace. This is why we say with St. Augustine, as I have often repeated (and as is perfectly consistent with Trent and the Catechism (§2006-2011)), "what else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits?"

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Justification and Supererogation

In a previous post I said that sola fide was erroneous because it does not do justice to the biblical data.

Among other things, I pointed out that in the parable of the sheep and the goats, the distinction between them was based upon their deeds - not upon faith.

Interlocutor has raised the issue of the relation of works of supererogation with regards to the matter:
I guess it would boil down to why are the 2 Great Commandments not binding commandments, or how could one possibly meet them in a "minimally required" sense so as to exceed their demand?
Aside from other remarks in that same thread, I would add the following:

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus calls the sheep into glory based upon their deeds. He doesn't say that they failed to fulfill the second great commandment; he basically says that in fact they did fulfill it. This seems to me to contradict what Interlocutor suggests above ("how could one possibly meet them in a 'minimally required' sense"), as well as what he says later:
Why would it be crazy [to require more of us than we could do, even with God's help] if it was intended to show how much higher and holy His perfect ways and standards are, to drive us to continual repentance?
But Jesus effectively says that the sheep did fulfill the second great command, like I just pointed out. So it's plain to me that what Interlocutor suggests here is mistaken, and what the Church teaches is correct:
But no one, how much soever justified, ought to think himself exempt from the observance of the commandments; no one ought to make use of that rash saying, one prohibited by the Fathers under an anathema,-that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified. For God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou are able, and to pray for what thou art not able (to do), and aids thee that thou mayest be able; whose commandments are not heavy; whose yoke is sweet and whose burthen light.
[Council of Trent, Sixth Session (Decree on Justification), Chapter XI]

With respect to works of supererogation, I referred Interlocutor to (among other things) the story of the Widow's Mite (Mark 12:41-44):
And Jesus sitting over against the treasury, beheld how the people cast money into the treasury. And many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow: and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. And calling his disciples together, he saith to them: Amen I say to you, this poor widow hath cast in more than all they who have cast into the treasury. For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want cast in all she had, even her whole living.
No one would say that this widow was in any way obliged to give "all she had, even her whole living" - but she did, and Jesus praised her for it. This is a work of supererogation. So we see that it is in fact possible to do more than God requires of us.

This of course does not mean that we have done something exclusive of God's grace by which we could hope to be saved. As Trent (see the entire page previously linked) makes clear, we are saved by grace. St. Augustine sums it up well:
what else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits?
Nothing whatsoever.