Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fr. Jordan Aumann on Sanctification Through Action

A [...] source of confusion possible is the identification of 'life' with 'action'. The second in ordinary speech almost invariably means transitive action. The first, in turn, suggests vital operations, understood generally as external actions, even if the scholastic definition of life does insist that it is immanent activity. From such usage arise such expressions as 'formation through action' or the 'spirituality of action'. Should 'action' here be understood as exterior activity sufficient to itself as a form of 'life', without an interior source, then we have the 'heresy of action', referred to by Pope Pius XII (Letter to the Superior General of the Jesuits, June 16, 1944; cf. Documentation Catholique XIII, p. 7). Taken in this way, these expressions would even be inaccurate philosophically; external action receives a properly human value from interiority, from the immanent operations of life. On a truly human level the active life can never mean merely the execution of external activity, but necessarily involves the acts of mind and will, immanent activities. [...]

The phrase 'sanctification through action' is apt if certain qualifications are kept in mind. The first, that it be understood in the context of an accurate concept of the virtue of charity. In recent times there has been a tendency to exaggerate the love of neighbour [sic] to the point of an erroneous theology. This is a logical sequel to the identification of life with action, action with transitive action and charity with transitive action. Some have gone so far as to prefer to call charity by the name 'service'. This is to ignore the truth: charity's specifying objective is God himself, it is a theological virtue uniting us to God's lovable goodness in our love of him, self and neighbour.

As a result the 'disinterestedness' of charity is confused. Not all disinterested love of others is charity. Nor is the disinterestedness of charity itself such that it excludes love for God from love of neighbour. The contrary is, of course, true. It is love of God that makes love of neighbour charity at all. Any other concept of love of neighbour would reduce the apostolate to a level of mere philanthropy or social work, and have serious consequences upon the theology of the spiritual life.

The command of charity is that a man must love God with all his heart and soul and strength and his neighbour as himself (Luke 10, 27). Charity's objectives are, then, God, self, neighbour. This is why in repeated papal teaching there has been insistence upon apostolic works being performed with personal sanctification as preparation and source. It is not external activities themselves that sanctify a person, but the intensity of love for God with which they are done. The measure of holiness always remains the intensity of charity. And charity itself is intensified in the sense of being more deeply rooted in the person's will; this comes about through its own immanent activity. An intensification of charity's own immanent activity is not opposed to the work of the active life. Rather it is the indispensable prerequisite. In fact there can only be a true intensification of the love of neighbour, thus of a true apostolate, where there is an intensification of the love of God. The love of God is the motive for the love of neighbour.


Source: Fr. Jordan Aumann, "Appendix 6: Action and the Interior Life," in Summa Theologiæ: Volume 46: Action and Contemplation, trans. by Jordan Aumann (Cambridge: Blackfriars, 1966), 117-119.

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