Friday, August 22, 2014

St. Alphonsus Liguori on Signs of a Vocation to Priesthood

Let us now see what are the marks of a divine vocation to the sacerdotal state.

Nobility is not a mark of a divine vocation. [...] We must consider not nobility of blood, but sanctity of life (St. Jerome, In Tit., i). St. Gregory says the same: "By one's conduct, not by one's high birth, is one's vocation proved."

Nor is the will of the parents a mark of a divine vocation. [...] "How many mothers," says St. John Chrysostom, [...] "have eyes only for the bodies of their children and disdain their souls! To see them happy here below is all that they desire; as for the punishments that perhaps their children are to endure in the next life, they do not even think of them" (Hom. 35). [...] We have no enemies more dangerous than our own relatives. [...]

St. Thomas expressly teaches that in the choice of a state of life children are not obliged to obey their parents. And the saint says that when there is a question of a vocation to religion, a person is not bound even to consult his relatives. [cf. Contra retr. a rel., ch. 9]. [...]

Nor is talent or fitness for the offices of a priest a sign of vocation, for along with talent a holy life and a divine call are necessary. What, then, are the marks of a divine vocation to the ecclesiastical state? There are three principal marks:


The first is a good intention. It is necessary to enter the sanctuary by the door, but there is no other door than Jesus Christ: I am the door of the sheep.... If any man enter in, he shall be saved (Jn. 10:7). To enter, then, by the door is to become a priest not to please relatives, nor to advance the family, nor for the sake of self-interest or self-esteem, but to serve God, to propagate his glory, and to save souls. "If any one," says a wise theologian, the learned continuator of Tournely, "presents himself for holy Orders without any vicious affection, and with the sole desire to be employed in the service of God and in the salvation of his neighbor, he, we may believe, is called by God" (De Ord., q. 4, a. 4). Another author asserts that he who is impelled by ambition, interest, or a motive of his own glory, is called not by God, but by the devil. "But," adds St. Anselm, "he who enters the priesthood through so unworthy motives shall receive not a blessing but a malediction from God" (In Heb. 5).


The second mark is the talent and learning necessary for the fulfillment of the duties of a priest. Priests must be masters to teach the people the law of God. For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth (Mal. 2:7). Sidonius Apollinarius used to say: "Ignorant physicians are the cause of many deaths" (Lib. 2, ep. 12). An ignorant priest, particularly a confessor, who teaches false doctrines and gives bad counsels will be the ruin of many souls; because, in consequence of being a priest, his errors are easily believed. Hence Ivone Carnotensis has written: "No one should be admitted to holy Orders unless he has given sufficient proofs of good conduct and learning."


The third mark of an ecclesiastical vocation is positive virtue. Hence, in the first place, the person who is to be ordained should be a man of innocent life, and should not be contaminated by sins. The Apostle requires that they who are to be ordained priests should be free from every crime. In ancient times a person who had committed a single mortal sin could never be ordained, as we learn from the First Council of Nice (Canon 9: "Qui confessi sunt peccata, canon (ecclesiasticus ordo) non admittit). And St. Jerome says that it was not enough for a person to be free from sin at the time of his ordination, but that it was, moreover, necessary that he should not have fallen into mortal sin since the time of his baptism (In Tit. 1). It is true that this rigorous discipline has ceased in the Church, but it has always been at least required that he who had fallen into grievous sins should purify his conscience for a considerable time before his ordination. This we may infer from a letter to the Archbishop of Rheims, in which Alexander III commanded that a deacon who had wounded another deacon, if he sincerely repented of his sin, might, after being absolved, and after performing the penance enjoined, be permitted again to exercise his Order; and that if he afterwards led a perfect life, he might be promoted to priesthood (De diacono. Qui cler., ch. 1). He, then, who finds himself bound by a habit of any vice cannot take any holy Order without incurring the guilt of mortal sin. "I am horrified," says St. Bernard (Epist. 8), "when I think whence thou comest, whither thou goest, and what a short penance thou hast put between thy sins and thy ordination. However, it is indispensable that thou do not undertake to purify the conscience of others before thou purifiest thy own."

Of those daring sinners who, though full of bad habits, take priesthood, an ancient author, Gildas, says, "It is not to the priesthood that they should be admitted, but they should be dragged to the pillory." They, then, says St. Isidore, who are still subject to the habit of any sin should not be promoted to holy Orders (Sent. 1.3, ch. 34).

But he who intends to ascend the altar must not only be free from sin, but must have also begun to walk in the path of perfection, and have acquired a habit of virtue. In our Moral Theology (1.6, n. 63, etc.) we have shown in a distinct dissertation (and this is the common opinion) that if a person in the habit of any vice wish to be ordained, it is not enough for him to have the dispositions necessary for the sacrament of penance, but that he must also have the dispositions required for receiving the sacrament of order; otherwise he is unfit for both; and should he receive absolution with the intention of taking Orders without the necessary dispositions, he and the confessor who absolves him shall be guilty of a grievous sin. For it is not enough for those who wish to take holy Orders to have left the state of sin, they must also, according to the words of Alexander III, cited in the preceding paragraph, have the positive virtue necessary for the ecclesiastical state. From the words of the Pontiff we learn that a person who has done penance may exercise an order already received, but he who has only done penance cannot take a higher order.

The angelic Doctor teaches the same doctrine: "Sanctity is required for the reception of holy Orders, and we must place the sublime burden on the priesthood only upon walls already dried by sanctity; that is freed from the malignant humor of sin" (S.Th., This is conformable to what St. Denis wrote long before: "Let no one be so bold as to propose himself to others as their guide in the things of God, if he has not first, with all his power, transformed himself into God to the point of perfect resemblance to him" (De Eccl. Hier., ch. 3). For this St. Thomas adduces two reasons: the first is, that as he who takes orders is raised above seculars in dignity, so he should be superior to them in sanctity (Suppl., 35.1). The second reason is, that by his ordination a priest is appointed to exercise the most sublime ministry on the altar, for which greater sanctity is required than for the religious state (S.Th.,

Hence the Apostle forbade Timothy to ordain neophytes; that is, according to St. Thomas, neophytes in perfection as well as neophytes in age.

Hence the Council of Trent, in reference to the words of Scripture, And a spotless life in old age (Wis. 4:9), prescribes to the bishops to admit to ordination only those who show themselves worthy by a conduct full of wise maturity (Sess. 23, ch. 12). And of this positive virtue it is necessary, according to St. Thomas, to have not a doubtful but a certain knowledge (Suppl., 36.4). This, according to St. Gregory, is particularly necessary with regard to the virtue of chastity: "No one should be admitted to the ministry of the altar unless an assurance has been given of his perfect chastity" (Lib. 1, ep. 42). With regard to chastity, the holy Pontiff required a proof of many years (Lib. 3, ep. 26).

From this we may infer that God will demand a terrible account of the parish priest who gives to persons aspiring to the priesthood a testimony of their having frequented the sacraments and led exemplary lives, though they had neglected the frequentation of the sacraments, and had given scandal rather than good example. Such parish priests by the false attestations, given not through charity, as they pretend, but against the charity due to God and the Church, render themselves guilty of all the sins that shall afterwards be committed by the bad priests who were ordained in consequence of these testimonials. For in this matter bishops trust to the testimony of parish priests, and are deceived. Nor should a parish priest in giving such attestations trust the testimony of others; he cannot give them unless he is certain that what he attests is true, namely, that the ecclesiastic has really led an exemplary life, and has frequented the sacraments.

And as a bishop cannot ordain any person unless he be a man of approved chastity, so a confessor cannot permit an incontinent penitent to receive ordination without having a moral certainty that he is free from the bad habit which he had contracted, and that he had acquired a habit of the virtue of chastity.


Source: St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Dignity and Duties of the Priest, ed. by Eugene Grimm (New York, NY),, chapter 10.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Roger Scruton on the Theory of Evolution's Limits

"The theory of evolution is itself a scientific theory. We have reason to believe it only because we trust that the directedness of our thinking is not an accidental by-product of the evolutionary process but an independent guide to the way things are, whose credentials go beyond its adaptive benefits. The theory of evolution may seem to offer an outside view of science. But it is written in the language of science. If the theory really did offer an outside view, then it could conceivably have led to the conclusion that false beliefs have a better survival value than true ones, and therefore that all our beliefs are likely to be false. But what then of the theory that tells us so? If true, it is likely to be false. In other words , if we attempt to reach the high ground of naturalism by this route, we encounter a version of the liar paradox : an obstacle to which there is only one response— turn back!"


Source: Roger Scruton, The Soul of the World (Princeton University Press), Kindle Locations 163-169.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene on Unbounded Hope in God

[741] The story of Job is re-enacted in some way in the life of every soul dear to God [....] God permits the sufferings of the innocent, and even uses the consequences of sin—wars, disorders, social and personal injustices—for the greater good of His elected. It is often true, however, that when we are [742] undergoing a trial we neither see nor understand the reason for it. God does not account for His actions nor does He reveal His plans to us [....]

The least act of hope, of trust in God, made in the midst of trials, in a state of interior or exterior desolation, is worth far more than a thousand acts made in times of joy and prosperity. When we are suffering in mind or body, when we are experiencing the void of abandonment and helplessness, when we find ourselves a prey to the repugnances and rebellions of nature which would like to throw off the yoke of The Lord, we cannot pretend to have the comforting feeling of hope, of confidence; often we may even experience the opposite sentiment, and yet, even in this state we can make acts of hope and of confidence which are not felt but willed. The theological virtues are practiced essentially by the will. [...] When the acts must be made by the will alone, then this exercise is dry and cold, but is not for this reason of less merit; on the contrary, it is even more meritorious and therefore gives more glory to God. We should not, therefore, be disturbed if we do not feel confidence; we must will to have confidence, will to hope, to hope at any cost, in spite of all the blows God may inflict on us by means of trials. This is the moment to repeat with Job: "Although He should kill me, I will trust in Him" (Jb 13:15). [...] These feelings [of rebellion] do not offend God, provided we always try to react gently by making acts of confidence with our will. Every time a wave of discouragement tries to carry us away, we must react against it by anchoring ourselves in God by a simple movement of trust [....] It is precisely by going through these trials that we reach the [743] heroic practice of faith and hope; and the heroism of the virtues is necessary for the attainment of sanctity. [...]

[744] [God's] helpful power and His desire for our good, for our sanctification, infinitely exceed our most ardent hopes. This blind, unlimited hope is so pleasing to God that the more hope we have, the more He overwhelms us with favors: "The more the soul hopes, the more it attains" (St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, 7.2). [...]

The more wretched, weak, and powerless we find ourselves, the more we should hope in God. [...] The knowledge of our weakness ought to make us keenly aware of our need for God; indeed, our weakness itself ought to be an incessant cry, begging with complete confidence for His all-powerful aid. [...] God's mercy is waiting to come to us, to purify and sanctify us, [745] but it will not come until we open the doors of our heart by an act of complete confidence.

A soul that endeavors to apply itself with all the strength of its will to the practice of the virtues and the fulfillment of every duty, a soul that is determined to refuse nothing to Our Lord, should strive to maintain itself in an attitude of total trust in Him, in spite of inevitable falls. Yes, we should have complete confidence that God will come to sanctify us, regardless of our past faults, our present miseries, the aridity of our soul, the repugnances of nature, or the state of weariness and depression in which we may find ourselves. [...]

If we become discouraged, it is because we are seeking perfection not for God's glory alone, but for our own satisfaction as well, and also because we would prefer to find security in ourselves rather than to rely upon God alone. All this, in reality, is the result of a subtle pride. Instead of becoming disturbed and irritated by our imperfections, we must acknowledge them humbly, present them to God as a sick man shows his wounds to his doctor, ask pardon, and then immediately renew our efforts with great confidence. We must learn to make use of our miseries and failings to plead our cause, to show God how much we need His help, and to increase our confidence in Him. Hope in God is the great anchor of salvation for our poor soul, tossed by the billows of human frailty. [...]

[746] "O Jesus, how can a soul as imperfect as mine aspire to possess the plenitude of love? O Jesus, my first, my only Friend, You whom I love solely, tell me, then, what mystery is this? [...] I see myself as a feeble little bird with only a light down to cover me; I am not an eagle, yet I have an eagle's eyes and an eagle's heart; for, notwithstanding my extreme littleness, I dare to gaze on the divine Sun, the Sun of Love, and I burn to fly to You, resplendent Sun, who attract my gaze. I would imitate the eagles I see soaring [...] but alas, I can only flutter my little wings [....]

"What then, is to become of me? Must I die of sorrow because of my helplessness? Oh, no! I will not even grieve. With daring confidence, I shall remain here, gazing on my divine Sun. Nothing can frighten me, neither wind nor rain; and should impenetrable clouds come to conceal You from my eyes, O Jesus, I shall not change my place, knowing that beyond the dark clouds Your love shines always and that its splendor cannot be eclipsed for a single moment. Sometimes, it is true, my heart will be assailed by the tempest and I may feel as if I believe that beyond this life there is only the darkness which envelops me. This would be the hour of perfect joy... what happiness to remain here at all costs, to fix my gaze on the invisible Light which hides itself to my faith.

"Yet should You remain deaf to my plaintive cries, if You still veil Yourself... well then, I am content to remain benumbed with cold, and so I rejoice in such well-merited suffering.

"O Jesus, how sweet is the way of love. True, one may fall and be unfaithful to grace, but love knows how to draw profit from everything, and quickly consumes whatever may be displeasing to You, leaving in the heart only a deep and humble peace" (St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, 13-8).


Source: Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, Divine Intimacy, trans. by Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Boston (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 2005), 741–746.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Fr. Marie-Eugène on Humility of Soul

Respectful and loving before the divine Reality, [the humble soul] no longer dares to set up as an idol the brilliance of reason; it rejoices in knowing nothing, in being capable of nothing, in understanding nothing, in order that trusting in a faith that is now pure and strong, it may penetrate farther into the transluminous darkness of the mysteries that are proposed to it.


Source: Fr. Marie-Eugène, I Want to See God, trans. by M. Verda Clare (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1953), 397.

We Must Surrender Our Plans for Ourselves

[372] Handsome constructions whose irremediable vice is to have been made by the hand of man and outside the divine plan! To consecrate one's energies to such realizations is usually to depart from the will of God.

Meanwhile, God's real designs in our regard declare themselves, upsetting our own preconceived ones. The result, at least momentarily, is discouragement and disillusionment, unless we begin to reconstruct at once in our own fashion. And perhaps God will permit us to work things out as we foresaw, and to enjoy a success which might even appear brilliant, but which is always only mediocre because superficial and human under a supernatural veneer. Our generosity was spent for ourself and our own projects; it missed the plan of God because it did not make an undetermined gift.

It is truly in the dark that one must look for the design of God; for His thoughts are above human thoughts as heaven, earth. Our God dwells in darkness; the transcendent light of [373] His Wisdom blinds our poor eyes. What is our part, what is our place in His divine plan? He alone knows. The part that we must do, the place that we are to fill, in these is our perfection. The gift of self—which is meant to be made in view of the part and place reserved to us in the divine work and edifice—must seek them in mystery and surrender to that mystery which hides and guards them jealously, awaiting the hour for realization. Thus the gift of self must be indeterminate in order not to go astray in purely human projects, but to be at one with the divine reality and truth. [...]

The holy indifference which is its fruit frees the soul from those bitter disappointments that paralyze it for a moment and sometimes break one's spirit definitely.


Source: Fr. Marie-Eugène, I Want to See God, trans. by M. Verda Clare (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1953), 372–373.

Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis on Love of Enemies and Spiritual Perfection

"You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven [....] Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:43-45, 48).

[236] [Our Lord's] commands are couched in the future indicative: "You will love your neighbor...", "You will be perfect...." These wills are stronger than a more straightforward command in the usual imperative because they not only communicate the speaker's wish that something be done, they also prophesy that something in the future will in fact be the case. Hence, not only the desirability that something be so is expressed by Christ but also the possibility that it become a reality.

Now in the first instance, when the Lord is loosely quoting Leviticus (19:18), all seems to make sense. It is not difficult to prophesy that natural man will love his neighbor (that is, those who are like himself and with whom he must get along if he is to exist at all) and hate his enemy. This is the logic of the flesh, of survival, of the precarious community establishing its unique identity over against all other groups, which simply by being other are potential threats. Much of the force of the passage resides in the fact that the Lord goes on [237] to subvert this natural logic by continuing to use its own forms, as if the unheard-of things he is proposing, so naturally repulsive to man, came as naturally to himself as Word of God as loving one's neighbor and hating one's enemy come to natural man.

"You will be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect": the expediency and real possibility of man putting on the mind and habits of God are presented by the Son as if nothing else in the world were more natural, desirable, possible, or necessary. His use of the future indicative as an imperative command manifests not only his wish and his teaching that his followers ought to move in this direction; it contains the promise that, by the power of his word here and now spoken to them, this will in fact become a reality. 'You must be perfect like God, because such is the nature of the human vocation in God's mind, and therefore you will be perfect. The One manifesting your deepest identity to you at this moment is, by doing so, communicating to you the power to undergo such a transformation.'

The image of man in the mind of the Word imposes itself as more real than the condition in which natural man happens to find himself. The very revelation of this image is already a promise of its realization.

"Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you [...] for if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this?" (Mt. 5:44, 46-47).

Whereas human activity had previously been neatly and satisfyingly divided into loving and hating others, the Lord here keeps the first verb but adds another to that, instead of being its opposite, is rather an extension of the first. The Christian cannot allow himself the too easy satisfaction of loving and hating [238] according to personal whims or the superficial identity of his community or race. All the Christian is allowed to do is love, unconditionally. It is crucial, however, that the categorical imperative to love everyone at all times does not come from a blindness that refuses to see the existence of evil in the world. We are not to love others without exception on the grounds that everyone is so good and love-worthy, or especially because we are so good and loving in any spontaneous, natural sense. No: this would be illusory daydreaming of the first order! We are to love without qualification because the Son of the Father has, through the power of his word, made us children of this same Father [....] It is by the power of God in Christ that we are enabled to love without exception, because this is what the Father does, who is incapable of hatred.

Furthermore, the Lord here recognizes the existence of real enemies and persecutors. He passes no judgment, either, as to whether there is any justice in their animosity toward us and their persecution of us. We are hardly to assume automatically that anyone who is our enemy is a personification of evil! But the Christian's business is to love and to perform the work of love without having previously qualified or disqualified others according to criteria foreign to the mind of the Word. [...]

[239] The universal generosity of love to which Jesus is calling his disciples is like the unrestrained brilliance of the sun as it sheds its rays over all of creation. When we love someone, we are like a sun bestowing the benefit of life, or like rain drenching the parched land that it may give fruit. Behind both the Christian's deeds of goodness and the outpouring of light and water there is the same agent at work: God, the Creator and Bestower of life. Our love is the light and the rain of God upon the world, especially on those who need it the most—the bad and the unjust, who are the truly benighted and parched. [...]

The Lord is establishing a continuity and a harmony between the moral attitude in the heart of man and the objective laws that govern the laws of the cosmos. When we choose to love universally without private prejudice, we leave that illusory inner chamber where we create a puny world in keeping with our own mean ideas and begin discovering the real world created by God in his magnanimous wisdom. Learning how to love as God loves not only makes us his children in a purely interior sense; it is the gateway itself to our perception of the cosmos in all its glory and a participation in its mysterious life. Through universal love, we allow the full benefit of the sun and the rain to fall upon ourselves for the first time. [...]

"If you love [only] those who love you...." Can my attitude of soul be worhty of the name "love" if it is nothing more than a response in kind to someone else's [240] attitude of goodwill toward me? At a purely human level, yes: What sense does it make to pour affection into a dark hole? Is not a clinging to unreciprocated love—or, even worse, to the love of what hurts us—the privilege of the mad? Human love encloses itself in a neat system of "energy conservation", where nothing is ever lost because nothing is ever gained. To love in this way is to take a prudent, speculator's view of human relationships, in which success depends on the greatest possible avoidance of risks. [...] The alleged child of God belies his Origin if he loves only those who love him, out of self-interest, instead of acting like his Father, whose goodness falls upon all without expecting a return in kind. [...]

To love only those who love us is its own reward. The account is neatly balanced. We are established in self-satisfaction. We inhabit a purely horizontal realm with a ceiling so low that our existence smothers for lack of oxygen. Our vision, too, is projected only unidimensionally down the tunnel of our immediate concerns. Man is unlike the other primates in that his posture is upright: he can, if he so chooses, gaze upward continually. His field of vision, if free of artificial clutter, enables him to take in both the ground under his feet and the sky above his head. This is why "our Father" is said here to be "in the heavens": by nature he is the one above the choking [241] horizontality of hermetic systems; he is the one whose very nature makes him condescend, makes him bestow life and love where none yet exists. To be "in heaven", to have one's dwelling in the heavens, far from connoting a spiritualistic fleeing from the earth, means rather to reside in the fullness of love and to be always engaged in bestowing the benefits of love on others—to pour out one's being into the void in others as if one were sunlight and rain. [...]

"You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." How can a human being be perfect in the same manner that God in heaven is perfect? There is an insurmountable problem in our Lord's solemn injunction, which concludes this whole section as its summary, as long as we insist on an abstract, essentialist definition of the term "perfect". The being of man, in this sense, can never be perfect in the same way God's is, and the Lord seems to be enjoining the impossible. Persons have been known to wreck their psychic, physical, and spiritual lives trying to apply this command in an erroneous way. If we apply the literal Greek meaning of the word for "perfect" as noted ("goal" or "end"), we will see that what the command intends is, rather, 'Guide your actions and attitudes by the same intention, the same finality, as your heavenly Father's.' Far from implying a head-breaking striving for the unattainable, we should rise from our immersion in the business of self-survival and focus our outlook from the divine point of view.

From this vantage point in heaven, the Father has as the "goal" of his love the totality of the human family, not just individuals within it.


Source: Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, vol. 1 (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1996), 237–241.

The Importance of Humility in Relation to God

[384] Saint Angela of Foligno writes:
The more the soul is afflicted, stripped, and deeply humiliated, the more it acquires, with purity, an aptitude for the heights. The elevation of which it becomes capable is measured by the depth of the abyss in which it has its roots and foundations (Cf. Sainte Angèle de Foligno; French trans. by Hello, ch. xix).
[385] [...] Ruysbroeck remarks also that humility does not necessarily have its source in sin:
Our sins...have become for us sources of humility and of love. But it is important to be mindful of a source of humility much higher than this. The Virgin Mary, conceived without sin, has a humility more sublime than the Magdalen's. The latter was pardoned; the former was without spot. But that absolute immunity, more sublime than any pardon, causes a higher thanksgiving to mount from earth to heaven than does the conversion of Mary Magdalen (Cf. Ruysbroeck, French trans. by Hello, Bk. III, "L'Humilité").
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus counts on this attractiveness of humility and of poverty to make the divine mercy descend to her soul. The love of poverty becomes the fundamental quality of her way of spiritual childhood. In a letter to her sister Marie [she] writes:
O my dearest Sister, please understand your little sister, understand that to love Jesus, to be His victim of love, the weaker one is, without desires or virtues, the more apt one is for the operations of that consuming and transforming Love. (Letter to Marie, Sept. 17, 1896; Collected Letters, p. 289) [...]
[387] Everywhere that [humility] is found, there God is. And everywhere that God is here below, He clothes Himself, as it were, with a garment that conceals His Presence from the proud and reveals it to the simple and the little ones. When Jesus came to this world, it was as an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. That was the sign given to the shepherds [....] The sign of humility always marks the Divine here below. [...]

[388] "Height and depth bring forth one another," declares Saint Angela of Foligno.


Source: Fr. Marie-Eugène, I Want to See God, trans. by M. Verda Clare (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1953), 384–388.


Saint Angela of Foligno reveals that humility is fundamentally about relation. Height and depth are relative to where one stands. If one is at the bottom of a canyon, the canyon walls seem high, but from the top of the canyon, its depths are far below. Humility links the Infinite height of God with our finite miserableness. This is why the foundation of the spiritual life is humility: the depths of humility draw down the heights of Divine Mercy and to the precise proportion of one to the other. Further, when God wishes to raise us to the mystical heights, He no longer allows us to develop our humility based on our own efforts but fills us with transcendent light that so thoroughly reveals our littleness beyond any effort of our own, we cannot but simultaneously be filled with the mercy that this wretchedness calls out to.

Grace, like humility, establishes a relation and exists only in relation of the Creator to the creature. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis explains this unusual relationship when he comments on the verse from St. Matthew, "Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven" (5:44-45):
[238] "That you may become": the subjunctive mood here ought to instill fear and trembling. We will not become children of God until we put on his mind. It would be a plain evasion to qualify the verb here by translating 'we will not fully be' or something of the sort. One either is a child of someone or is not, just as a woman cannot be "partially pregnant". But the text contains rich seeds of hope. The Lord tells us to love our enemies "that we may become the children of our Father in heaven". A strange expression, since it implies that God can be our Father without our being his children. And so it is. This is a one-way parent-child relationship without analogy, since it refers to the absolute source of our existence on both the natural and the supernatural planes. 
Spiritually we cannot be God's children without the interior revolution the Lord is here inviting us to; but, in seeking such an identity, we are not venturing out on a reckless illusion. God already is our Father, so that we will in some sense lack in being if we do not undertake to become his children by putting on his mind. Not only is this venture not something optional, something added as a decoration to the rest [239] of our already existing reality. It is, in fact, the only adventure worth giving one's entire substance to, because what is involved is nothing less than what we shall be and do, in our heart and in our soul and mind, for all eternity. (Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, vol. 1 [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1996], 238–239)
Hence while all being children of the Father at least as Creator, through grace we become children of the Father through adoption. Grace establishes a reciprocal relationship of love that previously could not exist. Likewise, humility reveals to us the truth of our situation relative to God: without God we are incapable of even existing, and all that we have is misery and nothingness, according to St. Teresa of Avila:
I was wondering once why Our Lord so dearly loved this virtue of humility; and all of a sudden—without, I believe, my having previously thought of it—the following reason came into my mind: that it is because God is Sovereign Truth and to be humble is to walk in truth, for it is absolutely true to say that we have no good thing in ourselves, but only misery and nothingness; and anyone who fails to understand this is walking in falsehood. He who best understands this is most pleasing to Sovereign Truth because he is walking in truth. (Interior Castle, VI Mansions, 10: Peers, II, 323) 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

John Deely on "Creationism" vs. "Evolution"

[506] This is among the most enduring, baffling, and empty of the controversies of all of history, to say nothing merely of modern times, whence it continues to rage around us long past its time.

In 1945, Antonin Sertillanges, an excellent philosopher—not a great one, but a very, very good mind—wrote an entire book, The Idea of Creation, on just this question. This book should have shown everyone once and for all that this celebrated controversy is a nominalism, empty air delivered in withering blasts. For "there is nothing to prevent us from seeing in evolution, instead of a substitute for creation", which it could hardly be anyway, "simply another perspective on the manner in which the creative fact is bound up with the facts of nature" (Sertillanges 1945: 128). But not everyone read Sertillanges, and, anyway, he wrote in French, a language most proponents of "creationism" don't know.

But the doctrinal language that he spoke was pure Thomas Aquinas, from whom Sertillanges took the idea for his book. In the time of Aquinas, it was believed that the Bible taught that the world had a beginning. Aristotle taught, quite explicitly to the contrary, that the world was eternal. This, indeed, was one of the several reasons why the medieval church authorities tried to chop of Aristotle's head as soon as it appeared in Latin, by condemning his work and forbidding that it be read.

Thomas Aquinas, who clearly read Aristotle and thought for himself besides (you would have expected that, as a saint, he would have paid a little more attention to the church authorities), commented on this controversy by pointing out that the question of God's creation of the world has no least connection with the question of when the world exists but a question of how the world exists. And any system of interacting finite beings, statically or dynamically conceived, can be shown to be possible only on the assumption of an infinite being who imparts to them at each moment, and sustains them at each moment in, actual existence. The idea of creation reduced to its essential content is not the idea of a beginning in time but of a dependency in being, a dependentia in esse.

This is what Sertillanges repeated to his modern contemporaries in 1945. Creation is purely and simply a question of does God act presupposing something besides Himself, or presupposing nothing at all? That is a metaphysical question, not a scientific one. Evolution, by contrast, is a scientific, not a metaphysical, question; and still less one that can be decided by religion.

[507] There are some matters that can be decided by neither philosophy nor religion, and the question of whether the world as a matter of fact changes over time in its basic structures and specific features is one of them. If you want to know how the world changes in its physical being over time you have to go out, gather the evidence capable of revealing this, and not refuse to look at that evidence. Aristotle can tell you that if the environment on which the earth depends does not change, then neither will the earth. But Aristotle cannot tell you whether the environment on which the earth depends changes or not. For that you have to look at that environment. To babble philosophy or to quote scripture contrary to what you find in the physical evidence is inane. Said rightly Sertillanges (1945: 142):
Whoever does not see that has not grasped the essential import of the notion of creation. He has restricted and anthropomorphized the notion beyond what is permissible. Once that has been pointed out, moreover, we are free to return calmly to the biblical conception of an initial creation after or beyond which is a divine repose. 
We henceforth know well that one can conceptualize this repose in any of three forms: as sanctioning the fixity of beings in their genus and species; as giving them over to their progressive unfolding through time; or, finally, as imparting to the latent psychism with which it has endowed them the responsibility for temporal creations more and more exuberant. 
One is free to choose, awaiting further evidence. But it is to be fervently hoped that after so much vain quarreling, we Christians will cease bringing forward unjustified censures respecting this doctrine of evolution, to which, under one form or another [Deely comments: Under the second on of the three forms, as it turns out], the future seems certain to belong.
The legitimate argument of the "creationists", therefore, is not against the idea of evolution but against those particular versions of evolutionary theory propounded by persons who so misunderstand the nature of the case and so confusedly grasp the ideas they propound as to think that it is enough to show that there has been an evolution to show that there is no God. Such was the actual case of the Soviet cosmonaut who went outside his space capsule and looked around, then equated the failure of his eyes to detect God with a proof that God does not exist.


Source: John Deely, Four Ages of Understanding (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 506–507.

Jacques Maritain on the Kingdom of God vs. the Pagan Empire

In a small book published a few years ago I pointed out the fault which consists in thinking of the spiritual community of the Kingdom of God as if it were itself a temporal community or an earthly city. Let us go deeper. If one reflects upon the opposition which I have just pointed out between the Pagan Empire and the Holy Word, it is necessary to say that each time that a Christian thinks and acts as if hate could triumph over love, and as if the Christian community based itself upon hate of the enemy, of the enemy of the group, of the wicked, just so much does it give way to the spirit of the Empire of the pagan, to the spirit of the world. It would be naive to be astonished that we have followed often the spirit of the world more than the spirit of Christ; it would be a graver matter to hide the fact that, in so far as we betray thus the spirit of Christ, just so much do we wound in the heart Christianity and civilization. [...]

I say that if we believe that the real proof of faith in God and love of God is not only, as some have said it is, to be ready to die for Him but to kill for Him—by just so much are we following the worldly spirit instead of the spirit of Christ, and by just so much are we blaspheming faith in God. For to kill for the Empire is the supreme sign of faith in the Pagan Empire, but the supreme sign of faith in God is to give one’s life to God—not the life of another. “Greater love hath no man than this,” according to the words of Christ, “that a man lay down his life for his friends.”


Source: Jacques Maritain, "The Pagan Empire and the Power of God," VQR 15, no. 2 (Spring 1939), March 31, 2010, accessed August 3, 2014,

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Distinction: Incapacity of Action vs. Incapacity of Becoming

There is a difference between incapacity of action and incapacity of becoming. I have said that incapacity may be juxtaposed with unworthiness, where incapacity refers to action; unworthiness, to being. But incapacity itself may refer either to being or action.

Incapacity of action is more easily illustrated. For example, a plant is in its being incapable of flying like a bird or breathing through water like a fish. It would be absurd to press the point that a plant is at a disadvantage compared to the fish because of this incapacity in its very nature although the point is true. The disadvantage, of course, exists only when comparing the plant with something else that, in its being, may do something.

Incapacity of becoming is related to incapacity of action since both stem from the very nature of a particular being. A plant cannot become, for example, an internal combustion engine. Such a transformation transcends the nature of the plant, and in a certain sense would be a reversion of nature from something vital and organic to something non-living and mechanic. Because of this limitation of the nature of the plant, we shouldn't therefore expect a plant to do anything other than what a plant does, which can be any number of things. Likewise, we shouldn't look to an internal combustion engine to photosynthesize.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Distinction: Unworthy vs. Incapable

There is a difference between being unworthy of something and incapable of something. Unworthiness refers to being; incapacity refers to doing or activity. And although activity follows being (function follows form), one has to be careful in how this concept is applied.

For example, we are unworthy of salvation before God because we have sinned. Nevertheless, even if we hadn't sinned, as finite creatures we still could not save ourselves without God's grace because salvation transcends the capacity of finite power; it requires the infinite absolutely. Sin, on the other hand, makes us in a certain sense further incapable of salvation because it makes us unworthy by willfully rejecting the only thing which could save us, namely, God's grace.

Sometimes the Church makes this distinction. For example, She tells us that two persons of the same sex are incapable of marrying each other through the Sacrament of Matrimony. She tells us that women are incapable of ordination, and at one point, She decreed that women were incapable of singing in the choir because it is a liturgical function and hence reserved for men. In none of these instances does the Church decree that such people are unworthy so as to shame them. In a certain sense, all are unworthy of the grace of marriage, priesthood, and contributing to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But most people take the notion of unworthiness as a stimulus for shame rather than humility. 

This stimulus to shame rather than humility is fueled by a lack of healthy self-integration usually caused by childhood experiences in being raised poorly. Shame is fueled by falsehoods, pain, and hatred. Humility is fueled by truth, consolation, and love. Humility can feel painful, but it is a very different kind of pain than the pain that accompanies shame. The pain of humility is the pain of subduing one's pride, of resisting the allure of falsehood. The pain of shame is utterly destructive and usually leads to a form of overcompensation: either a person acts "nicely" and allows himself to be walked over without asserting healthy boundaries so as to avoid further pain; or the person acts like a jerk, stomping over others to give himself a false sense of power. Both reactions are extremes that try to hide from the simple presence of shame.

Hence when a person is told they "can't" do something, usually due to the above circumstances, this denial is used as a way to shame the person, confusing the notions of unworthiness and incapacity. In the past, others may have said, "You can't do that" so as to shame the person; e.g. "You can't watch TV/be with those people/eat this food/do that activity/etc." This "can't" took other forms as well: "Stop crying/don't be a cry baby/grow up/toughen up/don't talk about that/shut up/etc." These commands express one reality: you "can't" talk about your emotional state and what's really going on.

Rather than being a way to state a simple, humbling truth, "can't" becomes a powerful tool to place people into positions of shameful submission. Instead of something obvious, such as, "You can't fly because you don't have wings" or "You can't touch the stove or else you'll burn yourself real badly," can't takes on the form of unhealthy social dynamics that leads to shame. 

Hence when the Church declares something very simple and pure and profound, such as, "You can't deliberately miss Sunday Mass without committing mortal sin," She isn't trying to shame us to go to Mass but reminding us of a very basic reality: the primacy of God in our lives, and the most obvious expression of that primacy is weekly worship as handed down to us from Christ Himself.

All the commandments and dogmas of the Church are interpreted as shaming mechanisms by people who themselves feel ashamed for whatever reason. They cannot be properly seen as humble statements of divine truth when a person is caught up in such a psychological-spiritual state. But in reality, these commandments and dogmas are lampposts to our happiness and freedom because they guide us to humility, and as Scripture tells us, "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" (Jas. 4:6).