Saturday, February 10, 2018

What did St. Thomas say about the Immaculate Conception?

The following is an excerpt from REALITY, A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought
Chap. 37, Mariology, Article Three.
By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

Article Three: Mary's Sanctity

Mary's sanctity, considered negatively, includes the privileges of the Immaculate Conception, and exemption from even the least personal sin. Considered positively, it means the fullness of grace.

1. St. Thomas and the Immaculate Conception

Was St. Thomas in favor of granting to Mary the privilege of the Immaculate Conception? Many theologians, including Dominicans [852] and Jesuits, [853] say Yes. Many others say No. [854] We hold, as solidly probable, the position that St. Thomas hesitated on this question. This view, already proposed by many Thomists, is defended by Mandonnet, [855] and by N. del Prado, E. Hugon, G. Frietoff, and J. M. Voste. [856] This view we here briefly expound.

At the beginning of his theological career [857] St. Thomas [858] explicitly affirms this privilege: The Blessed Virgin, he says, was immune, both from original sin and from actual sin. But then he saw that many theologians understood this privilege in a sense that withdrew the Virgin from redemption by Christ, contrary to St. Paul's [859] principle that, just as all men are condemned by the crime of one man (Adam): so all men are justified by the just deed of one man (Christ, the second Adam): and that therefore, just as there is but one God, so there is also only one mediator, Christ, between God and men. Hence St. Thomas showed that Mary, too, was redeemed by the merits of her Son, and this doctrine is now part and parcel of the definition of the Immaculate Conception. But that Mary might be redeemed, St. Thomas thought that she must have the debt of guilt, [860] incurred by her carnal descent from Adam. Hence, from this time on, he said that Mary was not sanctified before her animation, leaving her body, conceived in the ordinary way, to be the instrumental cause in transmitting the debitum culpae. We must note that, in his view, [861] conception, fecundation, precedes, by an interval of time, the moment of animation, by which the person is constituted. The only exception he allowed was for Christ, whose conception, virginal and miraculous, was simultaneous with the moment of animation.

Hence, when we find St. Thomas repeating that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in original sin, we know that he is thinking of the conception of her body, which precedes in time her animation.

At what exact moment, then, was Mary sanctified in her mother's womb? To this question he gives no precise answer, except perhaps at the end of his life, when he seems to return to his original view, to a positive affirmation of Mary's Immaculate Conception. Before this last period, he declares [862] that we do not know the precise moment, but that it was soon after animation. Hence he does not pronounce on the question whether the Virgin Mary was sanctified at the very moment of her animation. St. Bonaventure had posed that question and like many others had answered in the negative. St. Thomas preferred to leave the question open and did not answer it.

To maintain his original position in favor of the privilege, he might have introduced the distinction, familiar in his works, between priority of nature and priority of time. He might thus have explained his phrase "soon after" (cito post) to mean that the creation of Mary's soul preceded her sanctification only by a priority of nature. But, as John of St. Thomas [863] remarks, he was impressed by the reserved attitude of the Roman Church, which did not celebrate the feast of Mary's Conception, by the silence of Scripture, and by the negative position of a great number of theologians. Hence he would not pronounce on this precise point. Such, in substance, is the interpretation given by N. del Prado and P. Hugon. [864] The latter notes further the insistence of St. Thomas on the principle, recognized in the bull Ineffabilis Deus, that Mary's sanctification is due to the future merits of her Son as Redeemer of the human race. But did this redemption preserve her from original sin, or did it remit that sin? On this question St. Thomas did not pronounce.

In opposition to this interpretation two texts of the saint are often cited. In the Summa [865] he says: The Blessed Virgin did indeed incur original sin, but was cleansed therefrom before she was born. Writing on the Sentences, [866] he says: The Virgin's sanctification cannot properly be conceived either as preceding the infusion of her soul, since she was not thus capable of receiving grace, or as taking place at the very moment of the soul's infusion, by a grace simultaneously infused to preserve her from incurring original sin.

How do the theologians cited above explain these texts? They [867] answer thus: If we recall the saint's original position, and the peremptoriness of the principle that Mary was redeemed by Christ, these two texts are to be understood rather as a debitum culpae originalis than the actual incurring of the sin itself. Thus animation would precede sanctification by a priority of nature only, not of time.
Here we must remark, with Merkelbach, [868] that these opportune distinctions were not yet formulated by St. Thomas. The saint wrote "she incurred original sin," and not "she should have incurred it," or "she would have incurred it, had she not been preserved." Further, the saint wrote: "We believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary was sanctified soon after her conception and the infusion of her soul." [869] And he does not here distinguish priority of nature from priority of time.

But we must add, with Voste, [870] that St. Thomas, at the end of his life, seems to return to the original view, which he had expressed as follows: [871] Mary was immune from all sin, original and actual. Thus, in December 1272, he writes: [872] Neither in Christ nor in Mary was there any stain. Again, on the verse [873] which calls the sun God's tent, he writes: Christ put His tent, i. e.: His body, in the sun, i. e.: in the Blessed Virgin who was obscured by no sin and to whom it is said: [874] "Thou art all beautiful, my friend, and in thee there is no stain." In a third text [875] he writes: Not only from actual sin was Mary free, but she was by a special privilege cleansed from original sin. This special privilege distinguishes her from Jeremias and John the Baptist. A fourth text, [876] written in his last year of life, [877] has the following words: Mary excels the angels in purity, because she is not only in herself pure, but begets purity in others. She was herself most pure, because she incurred no sin, either original or actual, not even any venial sin. And he adds that she incurred no penalty, and in particular, was immune from corruption in the grave.

Now it is true that in that same context, some lines earlier, the saint writes this sentence: The Blessed Virgin though conceived in original sin, was not born in original sin. But, unless we are willing to find in his supreme mind an open contradiction in one and the same context, we must see in the word, "She was conceived in original sin," not original sin itself, which is in the soul, but the debt of original sin which antecedently to animation was in her body conceived by the ordinary road of generation. [878].

We conclude with Father Voste: [879] "Approaching the end of his life here below, the Angelic Doctor gradually returned to his first [880] affirmation: the Blessed Virgin was immune from all sin, original and actual."

2. Mary's Fullness of Grace

The Blessed Virgin's fullness of grace made her of all creatures the nearest to the Author of grace. Thus St. Thomas. [881] He adds [882] that her initial fullness was such that it made her worthy to be mother of Christ. As the divine maternity belongs, by its terminus, to the hypostatic order, so Mary's initial grace surpassed even the final grace of the angels and of all other saints. In other words, God's love for the future Mother of God was greater than His love for any other creature. Now, grace, being an effect of God's love for us, is proportioned to the greatness of that love. Hence it is probable, as weighty Thomists [883] say, that Mary's initial fullness surpassed the final grace of all saints and angels taken together, because she was already then more loved by God than all the saints taken as one. Hence, according to tradition, Mary's merits and prayer, could, even without any angel or saint, obtain even here on earth more than could all saints and angels without her. Further, this initial plentitude of sanctifying grace was accompanied by a proportional plentitude of infused virtues and of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.

With such initial fullness, could Mary still grow in grace? Most assuredly. In her we have the perfect exemplification of the principle which St. Thomas thus formulates: "Natural motion (in a falling stone) is intensified by approaching its goal. In violent motion (in a stone thrown upwards) we have the inverse. But grace grows like nature. Hence those who are in grace grow in proportion to their approach to their goal." [884] Hence Mary's progress in grace, ever more prompt toward God, grew ever more rapid in answer to God's greater attraction.

But while Mary's grace thus grew greater until her death, there were two moments when her grace was augmented sacramentally: [885] the moment of the Incarnation, and that on Calvary when she was declared the Mother of all men.


852. S, Capponi a Porrecta (died 1614): John of St. Thomas (died 1644): Curs. theol.: Spada, Rouart de Card, Berthier; in our days N. del Prado, Divus Thomas et bulla init. ; De approbatione doctrinae S. Thomae, d. II, a. 2; Noel Alexander; more recently, Ineffabilis Deus, 1919; Th. Pegues, Rev. thom.: 1909, pp. 83-87; E. Hugon, op. cit.: p. 748, p. Lumbreras, Saint Thomas and the Immaculate Conception, 1923; C. Frietoff, "Quomodo caro B. M. V. in peccato originali concepta fuerit" in Angelicum, 1933, pp. 32144; J. M. Voste, Comment. in III p. Summae theol. s. Thomae; De mysteriis vitae Christi, 2nd ed.: 1940, pp. 13-20.
853. Perrone, Palmieri, Hurter, Cornoldi
854. Among them we note: Suarez, Chr. Pesch.: I. BIIIot, I. Jannsens, Al. Lepicier, B. H. Merkelbach, op. cit.: pp. 127-30
855. Dict.. de theol. cath.: s. v. Freres Precheurs
856. See note 23.  *[note 23. In the second book of the Physica]
857. 1253-54858 In Iam Sens.: dist. XLIV, q. 1, a. 3, ad 3.
858. In Iam Sens.: dist. XLIV, q. 1, a. 3, ad 3.
859. Rom. 5: 18.
860. Debitum culpae
861. IIIa, q. 33, a. 2.: ad 3.
862. cito post: Quodl. VI, q. 5, a. 1
863. See note 23.
864. See note 23.
865. IIIa, q. 27, a. 2, ad 2.
866. In IIIum, dist. III, q. 1, a. 1, ad 2.
867. In particular, Del Prado and Hugon.
868. Op. Cit.: pp. 129 ff869 Quodl. VI q. 5, a. 1.
869. Quodl. VI q. 5, a.1.
870. Op. cit.: 2nd ed.: 1940, p. 18.
871. See note 29.  *[note 29. Bk. 1, chap. 8 (lect. 17, in St. Thomas]
872. On Ps. 14: 2.
873. Ps 18: 6.
874. Cant 4: 7.
875. Comp. theol.: chap. 224876 Exposition Salutationis Angelicae, Piacenza, 1931 (a critical edition, by F. Rossi, C. M.)
877. April, 1273878 
878. Cf. C. Frietoff, loc. Cit.: p. 329; Mandonnet in Bulletin thomiste, January-March, Notes and communications, pp. 164-67
879. op. cit.: 2nd ed.: 1940, p. 19.
880. In 1254, twenty years before his death. See note 29.
881. IIIa, q. 27, a. 5.
882. Ibid.: ad 2.
883. Cf. Contenson, Monsabre, Hugon, Merkelbach
884. Heb. 10: 25 See the saint's commentary
885. Ex opere operato

The complete e-text of REALITY is on-line at EWTN.
REALITY is also available in various formats and editions at Amazon.

*                            *                            *   

"Immaculate Conception" by Giuseppe Bonito (Italian, 1707–1789.
Oil on canvas; private collection

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

"One word in Holy Writ should have several senses"

"THE AUTHOR of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Heb. 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i) "the New Law itself is a figure of future glory." Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense. Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Writ is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confess. xii), if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Writ should have several senses."

~St. Thomas Aquinas: S.T., q.1 a.10.


Latin Bible, by Flemish MINIATURIST.
Manuscript (Additional Ms. 15254), c. 1430; British Library, London.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Jacques Maritain: WHAT IS MAN


EVERY GREAT PERIOD OF CIVILIZATION is dominated by a certain peculiar idea that man fashions of man. Our behaviour depends on this image as such as on our very nature, — an image which appears with striking brilliance in the minds of some particularly representative thinkers, and which, more or less unconscious in the human mass, is none the less strong enough to mold after its own pattern the social and political formations that are characteristic of a given epoch.

2) In broad outline, the image of man which reigned over Medieval Christendom depended upon St. Paul and St. Augustine. This image was to disintegrate from the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation, — torn between an utter Christian pessimism which despaired of human nature and an utter Christian optimism which counted on human endeavour more than on divine grace. The image of man which reigned over modern times (I am thinking especially of the time which passed from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth) depended upon Descartes, John Locke, the Enlightenment and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

3) Here we are confronted with the process of secularization of the Christian man which took place from the XVIth Century on. Let's not be deceived by the merely philosophical appearance of such a process! In reality the man of Cartesian Rationalism was a pure mind conceived after an angelistic pattern; the man of Natural Religion was a Christian gentleman who did not need grace, miracle or revelation, and was made virtuous and just by his own good nature; the man of Jean-Jacques Rousseau was, in a much more profound and significant manner, the very man of St. Paul transferred to the plane of pure nature, — innocent as Adam before the fall, longing for a state of divine freedom and bliss, corrupted by social life and civilization as the sons of Adam by the original sin, and who was to be redeemed and set free, not by Christ, but by the essential goodness of human nature, which must be restituted by means of an Education without constraint and reveal itself in the human city of coming centuries, in that form of State in which "everyone obeying all, will nevertheless continue to obey only himself."

4) This process was not at all a merely rational process. It was a process of secularization of something consecrated, elevated above nature by God, called to a divine perfection and living a divine life in a fragile and wounded body, — the man of Christianity, the man of the Incarnation. All that boiled down to bringing back this man into the realm of man himself ("anthropocentric humanism"), to keeping a Christian make-up, all the while replacing the Gospel by human Reason or human Goodness, and expecting from Human Nature what had been expected from the virtue of God giving Himself to his creature. Enormous promises, divine promises were made to man at the dawn of modern times. Science will liberate man and make him master and possessor of all nature. An automatic and necessary progress will lead him to the earthly realm of peace, to that blessed Jerusalem which our hands will build up by transforming social and political life, and which will be the Kingdom of Man, and in which we will become the supreme rulers of our own history, and whose radiance has awakened the hope and energy of the great modern revolutionaries.

5) If I were to try now to disentangle the ultimate results of this vast process of secularization, and to summarize the features of the idea of man and of human life thus evolved, I should describe the progressive loss, in modern ideology, of all the certitudes, coming either from metaphysical insight or from religious faith, which had given foundation and granted reality to the Image of Man in the Christian system henceforth secularized, that is to say, preserved in one way and internally ruined in another. For the historical misfortune has been the failure of philosophic Reason which, while taking charge of the old theological heritage in order to appropriate it, found itself unable even to maintain its own metaphysical pretense, its own justification of its secularized Christian man, and was obliged to decline toward a positivist denial of this very justification. Human Reason lost its grasp on Being, and became available only for the mathematical reading of sensory phenomena and for the building up of corresponding material techniques, — a field in which any absolute reality, any absolute truth and any absolute value is of course forbidden.

6) Let us therefore indicate, as briefly as possible what was the modern man, the bourgeois man, the man of the XIXth Century, at least according to the image of himself most significantly fashioned by his spiritual leaders. As regards man himself, the modern man knew truths — without the Truth; he was capable of the relative and changing truths of science, incapable and afraid of any supra-temporal truth reached by reason's metaphysical effort or of the divine Truth given by the word of God. The modern man claimed human rights and dignity — without God, for his ideology grounded human rights and human dignity in a godlike, infinite autonomy of human will, which any rule or measurement received from another would offend and destroy. The modern man trusted in peace and fraternity — without Christ, for he did not need a Redeemer, he was to save himself by himself alone, and his love for mankind did not need to be founded in divine charity. The modern man constantly progressed toward good and toward the possession of the earth — without evil on earth, for he did not believe in the existence of evil, evil was only an imperfect stage in evolution, which a further stage was naturally to transcend. The modern man enjoyed human life and worshipped human life as having an infinite value, — without a soul nor the gift of oneself, for the soul was an unscientific concept, inherited from the dreams of primitive men; and if a man does not give his soul to the one he loves, what can he give? He can give money, not himself.

7) As concerns civilization, the modern man had in the bourgeois state a social and political life, a common life without common good nor common works, for the aim of common life consisted only of preserving everyone's freedom to enjoy private ownership, acquire wealth and seek his own pleasure. The modern man believed in liberty — without the mastery of self nor moral responsibility, for free will was incompatible with scientific determinism; and he believed in equality — without justice, for justice too was a metaphysical idea, that lost any rational foundation and lacked any criterion in our modern biological and sociological outlook. The modern man placed his hope in machinism, in technique and in mechanical or industrial civilization — without wisdom to dominate them and put them at the service of human good and freedom; for he expected freedom from the development of external techniques themselves, not from any ascetic effort toward the internal possession of self, and how can the one who does not possess the standards of human life, which are metaphysical, apply them to our use of the machine? The law of the machine, which is the law of matter, will apply itself to him.

8) As regards, lastly, the internal dynamism of human life, the modern man looked for happiness — without any final end to be aimed at, nor any rational pattern to which to adhere; the most natural concept and motive-power, that of happiness, was thus warped by the loss of the concept and the sense of finality, (for finality is but one with desirability, and desirability but one with happiness); happiness became the movement itself toward happiness, a movement at once limitless and increasingly lower, more and more stagnant. And the modern man looked for democracy — without any heroical task of justice to be performed and without brotherly love from which to get inspiration; the most significant political improvement of modern times, the concept of and the devotion to the rights of the human person and the rights of the people, was thus warped by the same loss of the concept and the sense of finality, and by the repudiation of the evangelical ferment acting in human history; democracy became an embodiment of the sovereign will of the people in the machinery of a bureaucratic state more and more irresponsible more and more asleep.

9) I spoke a moment ago of the immense promises which were made to man at the dawn of modern times. The great, undertaking of the secularized Christian man attained splendid results for everything save man himself; as regards man himself, it went wrong, and this is not surprising.

10) The process of secularization of the Christian man concerns above all the idea of man and the philosophy of life which developed in the modern age. In the reality of human history, a process of growth occurred at the same time, great human conquests were achieved, due to the natural movement of civilization, and to the primitive impulse, the evangelical one, toward the democratic ideal. At least the civilization of the XIXth century remained Christian in its real though forgotten or disregarded principles, in the secularized remnants involved in its very idea of men and civilization, in the religious freedom, — as thwarted as this may have been at certain moments and in certain countries, — that it willingly or unwillingly preserved, even in the very emphasis on reason and human grandeur which its thinkers used as a weapon against Christianity, and finally in the secularized feeling which inspired, despite a wrong ideology, its great social and political improvements.

11) But the split had progressively increased between the real behaviour of this secularized Christian world and the moral and spiritual principles which had given it its meaning and its internal consistency, and which it came to ignore; thus this world seemed emptied of its own principles, it tended to become a universe of words, a nominalistic universe, a paste without leaven. It lived and endured by habit and by force acquired from the past, not by its own power; it was pushed forward by a vis a tergo, not by an internal dynamism. It was utilitarian, its supreme rule was utility, yet utility which is not a means toward a goal is of no use at all. It was capitalistic, and the capitalistic civilization enabled the initiatives of the individual to achieve tremendous conquests over material nature, yet, according to an observation of Warner Sombart, the man of capitalism was neither "ontologic" nor "erotic", that is to say, he had lost the sense of Being because he lived in signs and by signs, and he had lost the sense of love because he did not enjoy the life of a person dealing with other persons, all of which implies a mutual giving of oneself, but he underwent the hard labour of enrichment for the sake of enrichment.

12) Despite the wrong ideology I just described, and the disfigured image of man which is linked to it, our civilization bears in its very substance the sacred heritage of human and divine values which depends on the struggle of our forefathers for freedom, on judaeo-christian tradition and on classical antiquity, and which has been weakened in its efficiency, but not destroyed in its potential reserves by the ideology in question. The most alarming symptom in the present crisis is that while defending these values in a struggle to the death, we have too often lost faith and confidence in the very principles of that for which we stand, because we have too often forgotten the real and genuine principles, and at the same time feel more or less consciously the weakness of the insubstantial ideology which has preyed upon them as a parasite.


The great revolutionary movements which reacted against our secularized Christian world were to aggravate the evil, and to bring it to a peak. For they developed toward a definitive break with Christian values. Here it is less a question of doctrinal opposition to Christianity than of an existential opposition to the presence and action of Christ at the core of human history.

2) A first development continued and climaxed the trend of securalized reason, the "anthropocentric humanism" in the direction which it followed from its origin, in the direction of rationalistic hopes, now no longer constituted solely as philosophical ideology, but as a lived religion. This development arises from the unfolding of all the consequences of the principle that man alone, and through himself alone, works out his salvation.

3) The purest case of this tendency is that of Marxism. No matter how strong some of the pessimistic aspects of Marxism may be, it remains attached to this postulate. Marxist materialism remained rationalistic, so much so that for it the movement proper to matter is a dialectical movement.

4) If man alone and through himself alone works out his salvation, then this salvation is purely and exclusively temporal, and must be accomplished without God, and even against God, I mean against whatever in man and the human world bears the likeness of God, that is to say, from this point of view, the likeness of enslavement. This salvation demands the giving up of personality, and the organization of the collective man into me single body whose destiny is to gain supreme dominion over matter and human history. What becomes then of the image of man? Man is no longer the creature and image of God, a personality which implies free will and is responsible for an eternal destiny, a being which possesses rights and is called to the conquest of freedom and to a self achievement consisting of love and charity. He is a particle of the social whole and lives by the collective conscience of the whole, and his happiness and liberty lies in serving the work of the whole. This whole itself is an economic and industrial whole, its essential and primordial work consists of the industrial domination of nature. There is here a thirst for communion, but communion is sought in economic activity, in pure productivity, which, considered as the locus proprius and homeland of human activity, is only a world of a beheaded reason, no longer made for truth, engulfed in a demiurgic task of fabrication and domination over things. The human person is sacrificed to industry's titanism, which is the god of the industrial community.

5) Another development, depending upon a quite opposite trend of mind, may be described as an utter reaction against any kind of rationalism and humanism. Its roots are pessimistic, it corresponds to a process of animalisation of the image of man, in which a larvated metaphysics avails itself of every misconception of scientific or sociological data to satisfy a hidden resentment against reason and human dignity: the human species is only a branch which sprouted by chance on the genealogical tree of the monkey; all our systems of ideas and values are only an epiphenomenon of the social evolution of the primitive clan; or an ideological superstructure determined by and masking the struggle for life of class interests and imperialistic ambitions; all our seemingly rational and free behaviour is only an illusory appearance, emerging from the inferno of our subconsciousness and of instinct, all our seemingly spiritual feelings and activities, poetic creation, human pity and devotion, religious creed, contemplative love, are only the sublimation of sensuality or sexual libido. Man is unmasked, the countenance of the beast appears. The human specificity, which rationalism had caused to vanish into pure spirit, now vanished in animality.

6) Yet the development of which I am speaking has its real sources in something much more profound, which began to reveal itself from the second half of the last century on: anguish and despair, as exemplified in Dostoievsky's Possessed. A deeper abyss than animality appears in the unmasking of man. Having given up God so as to be self-sufficient, man has lost track of his soul. He looks in vain for himself; he turns the universe upside-down trying to find himself; he finds masks and, behind the masks, death.

7) Then was to be witnessed the spectacle of a tidal wave of irrationality, of hatred of intelligence, the awakening of a tragic opposition between life and spirit. To overcome despair, Nietzsche proclaimed the advent of the superman of the will to power, the death of truth, the death of God. More terrific voices, the voices of a base multitude whose baseness itself appears as an apocalyptic sign, cry out: we have had enough of lying optimism and illusory morality, enough of freedom and personal dignity and justice and peace and faithfulness and goodness which made us mad with unhappiness, let us give ground to the infinite promises of evil, and of swarming death, and of blessed enslavement, and of triumphant despair! They scatter to the four winds of the horizon the gospel of the hatred of reason, in the form of the cult of the fecundity of war or in that of the cult of race and blood.

8) The purest case of this tendency is Nazi Racism. It is grounded not in a fanaticism of reason hating every transcendent value, but in a mysticism of instinct and life hating reason. Intelligence for it is of use only to develop techniques of destruction and to pervert the function of language. Its demonic religiosity is more irremediable than atheism itself, for it tries to pervert the very nature of God, to make of God himself an idol; it invokes God, but as a spirit-protector attached to the glory of a people or a State, or as a demon of the race. A God who will end by being identified with an invincible force at work in the blood, is set up against the God of Sinai and against the God of Calvary, against the One whose love rules nature and human experience, against the Word who was at the beginning, against the God of whom it is said that He is Love.

9) Here too, man is no longer the creature and image of God, a person animated by a spiritual soul and endowed with free will, and responsible for an eternal destiny, who possesses rights and is called to the conquest of freedom and to a self achievement consisting of love and charity. And now this image of man is rooted in a warring pessimism. Man is a particle of the political whole, and lives by the Volksgeist, yet even for this collective whole there is no longer any decoy of happiness and liberty and of universal emancipation, but only power and self-realization through violence. This whole itself is a biological and political whole, its essential and primordial task consists of the political domination over other men. Communion is sought in the glorification of the race and in a common hate of some enemy, in animal blood, which, separated from the spirit, is no more than a biological inferno. The human person is sacrificed to the demon of the blood, which is the God of the community of blood.

10) If it is true that in the dialectic of culture, communism is the final state of anthropocentric rationalism, we understand that by virtue of the universality inherent in reason, — even in reason gone mad — communism dreams of an all-embracing emancipation, and pretends to substitute for the universalism of Christianity its own earthly universalism; whereas racism, on its irrational and biological basis, rejects all universalism, and breaks even the natural unity of the human family, so as to impose the hegemony of a so-called higher racial essence. There is no human regeneration to be expected either from communism or from Nazi racism, yet Nazi racism is more immediately destructive. A Nazi people may be led away from Nazi paganism only by a crushing defeat of Nazism in its undertakings of world conquest; it is not inconceivable that a communist people may be led away from communist atheism by internal changes, however hard this evolution may be. If we have any hope of a spiritual transformation in the Russian people, this is due not to communism, but, on the contrary, to the deep religious and human resources inherent in them, and to the circumstance that a war in which they are displaying such splendid courage is joining their fate to the fate of the free peoples.


If the description which I outlined above is accurate, it appears that the only way of regeneration for the human community in a rediscovery of the true image of man, and a definite attempt toward a new Christian civilization, a new Christendom. Modern tines sought many good things along wrong tracks. The question now is to seek these good things along right tracks, and to save the human values and achievements aimed at by our forefathers and endangered by the false philosophy of life of the last century, and to have for that purpose the courage and audacity of proposing to ourselves the biggest task of renewal, of internal and external transformation. A coward flees backward, away from new things, The man of courage flees forward, in the midst of new things.

2) Christians find themselves today, in the order of temporal civilization, facing problems similar to those which their fathers had met, in the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries, in the order of natural philosophy. At that time, modern physics and astronomy in the making were but one with philosophical systems set up against Christian tradition. The defenders of the latter did not know how to make the necessary distinctions, they took a stand both against that which was to become modern science and against the philosophical errors which at the outset preyed upon this science as parasites. Three centuries were needed to get away from this misunderstanding, if it be that the world has gotten away from it. It would be disastrous to fall once again into similar errors today, in the field of the philosophy of civilization. The true substance of the nineteenth century's aspirations, as well as the human gains it achieved, must be saved, both from its own errors and from the aggression of, totalitarian barbarism, a new world of genuine humanism and genuine Christian inspiration must be built.

3) In the eyes of the observer of historical evolution, a new Christian civilization in going to be quite different from medieval civilization, though in both cases Christianity is at the root. For the historical climate of the Middle Ages and that of modern times are utterly diverse. I tried elsewhere to analyze this diversity and to picture an eventual new Christendom. Here let me say briefly that medieval civilization, whose historical ideal was the holy empires constituted a "sacral" Christian civilization, in which temporal things, philosophical and scientific reason, and the state, were subservient organs or instruments of spiritual things, of religious faiths and of the Church. In the course of the following centuries, temporal things, philosophical and scientific reason, and the state, gained a position of autonomy, all of which was in itself a normal process, the misfortune has been that this normal process, instead of being a process of distinction for a better form of union, was a process of separation and secularization and progressively severed earthly civilization from evangelical inspiration. A new age of Christendom, if it is to come, will be an age of reconciliation of that which was disjoined, the age of a "profane" Christian civilization, in which temporal things, philosophical and scientific reason, and the state, will enjoy their autonomy and at the same time recognize the quickening and inspiring role that spiritual things, religious faith, and the Church, play from their higher plane. Then a Christian philosophy of life would guide a vitally, not decoratively Christian city, a city of human rights and of the dignity of the human person, in which men belonging to diverse racial stocks and to diverse religious creeds would commune in a temporal common good and common work truly human and progressive.

4) In the last analysis, I would say that from the end of the Middle Ages — a moment at which the human creature, while awakening to itself, felt itself oppressed and crushed in its loneliness — modern times have longed for a rehabilitation of the human creature. They sought the rehabilitation in a separation from God. It was to be sought in God. The human creature claims the right to be loved. It can be really efficaciously loved only in God. It must be respected in its very connection with God and because it receives everything — and its very dignity — from Him. After the great disillusionment of "anthropocentric" humanism, and the atrocious experience of the anti-humanism of our day, what the world needs is a new humanism, a "theocentric" or integral humanism, which would consider man in all his natural grandeur and weakness in the entirety of his wounded being inhabited by God, in the full reality of nature, sin and sanctity. Such a humanism would recognize all that is irrational in man, in order to tame it to reason, and all that is supra-rational, in order to have reason vivified by it, and to open man to the descent of the divine into him. Its main work would be to cause the gospel leaven and inspiration to penetrate the secular structures of life, — a work of sanctification of the profane and temporal.

5) This "humanism of the Incarnation" would care for the masses, for their right to a temporal condition worthy of man and to a spiritual life, and for the movement which carries labour toward the social responsibility of its coming of age. It would tend to substitute for bourgeois civilization, and for an economic system based on the fecundity of money, not a collectivistic economy, but a "personalistic" democracy. This task in joined to today's tremendous effort for victory over the armies of the Pagan Empire, and to a future work of reconstruction which will require no less vigor. It is also joined to a thorough awakening of the religious conscience. One of the worst diseases of the modern world, as I pointed out in an earlier essay [Scholasticism and Politics, (Chapter I, p. 22), New York, Macmillan, 1940], is its dualism, the dissociation between the things of God and the things of the world. The latter, the things of the social, economic and political life, have been abandoned to their own carnal law, removed from the exigencies of the Gospel. The result is that they have become more and more unlivable; at the same time, Christian ethics, not really carried out in the social life of people, became in this connection, I do not mean in itself or in the Church, I mean in the world, in the general cultural behaviour, a universe of formulas and words; and this universe of formulas and words was in effect vassalized, in practical cultural behaviour, by the real energies of this same temporal world existentially detached from Christ. Such a disorder can be cured only by a renewal of the profoundest energies of the religious conscience, arising out of temporal existence.

6) In addition, modern civilization, which pays dearly to-day for the past, seems as if it were pushed, by the self-contradictions and fatalities suffered by it, toward contrasting forms of misery and intensified materialism. To rise above these fatalities we need an awakening of liberty and of its creative forces, of which man does not became capable by the grace of the State or any Party pedagogy, but by a love which fixes the centre of his life infinitely above the world and temporal history. In particular, the general paganization of our civilization has resulted in man's placing his hope in force alone and in the efficacy of hate, whereas in the eyes of an integral humanism, a political ideal of justice and civic friendship, requiring political strength and technical equipment, but inspired by love, is alone able to direct the work of authentic social regeneration. And this also shows how everything here depends on a profound renewal of the interior energies of conscience.

7) The image of man involved in integral humanism is that of a being made of matter and spirit, whose body may have emerged from the historical evolution of animal forms, but whose immortal soul directly proceeds from divine creation. He is made for truth, capable of knowing God as the Cause of Being, by his reason, and of knowing Him in His intimate life, by the gift of faith. Man's dignity is that of an image of God, his rights derive as well as his duties from natural law, whose requirements express in the creature the eternal plan of creative Wisdom. Wounded by sin and death from the first sin of his race, whose burden weighs upon all of us, he is caused by Christ to become of the race and lineage of God, living by divine life, and called upon to enter by suffering and love into Christ's very work of redemption. Called upon by his nature, on the other hand, to unfold historically his internal potentialities by achieving little by little reason's domination over his own animality and the material universe, his progress on earth is not automatic nor merely natural, but accomplished in step with freedom and together with the inner help of God, and constantly thwarted by the power of evil, which is the very power of created spirits to inject nothingness into being, and which unceasingly degrades human history, while unceasingly, and with greater force, the creative energies of reason and love revitalize and raise up this same history. Our natural love for God and for the human being is fragile; charity alone, received from God as a participation in His own life, makes man efficaciously love God above everything, and each human person in God; thus brotherly love brings to earth, through the art of man, the fire of eternal life, which in the true peace-maker, and it must vitalize from within that natural virtue of friendship, disregarded by so many fools, which is the very soul of social communities. Man's blood is at once of infinite value and must be shed all along mankind's roads "to redeem the blood of man". On the one hand nothing in the world is more precious than one single human person, on the other hand nothing in the world is more squandered, more exposed to all kinds of dangers than the human being — and this condition is normal. The meaning of that paradox is that man knows very well that death is not an end, but a beginning. If I think of the perishable life of man, it is something naturally sacred, yet man can be required to sacrifice it by devotion to his neighbour or by his duty to his country; moreover a single word is more precious than human life if in uttering this word a man braves a tyrant for the sake of truth or liberty. If I think of the imperishable life of man, of that life which makes him "a god by participation" and, beginning here below, will consist in seeing God face to face, nothing in the world is more precious than human life. Every self-sacrifice, every gift of oneself involves, be it in the smallest way, a dying for the one we love. The man who knows that "after all, death is only an episode", is ready to give himself with humility, and nothing is more human and more divine than the gift of oneself, for "it is more blissful to give than to receive."

8) As concerns civilization, the man of Christian humanism knows that political life aims at a common good which is superior to a mere collection of the individual goods and yet must flow back upon human persons; he knows that the common work must tend above all toward the improvement of human life itself, enabling everyone to exist on earth as a free man and to enjoy the fruits of culture and spirit; he knows that the authority of those who are in charge of the common good, and who are in a community of free men, designated by the people, originates in the Author of Nature and is therefore binding, in conscience, and is binding in conscience on condition that it be just. The man of Christian humanism cherishes freedom as something he must be worthy of, he realizes his essential equality with other men in terms of respect and fellowship, and sees in justice the force of preservation of the political community, and the prerequisite which, "bringing unequals to equality", enables civic friendship to spring forth. He is aware, both of the tremendous ordeal which the advent of machinism imposes on human history, and of the marvelous power of liberation it offers to man, if the brute instinct of domination does not avail itself of the techniques of machinism, and of science itself, in order to enslave mankind, and if reason and wisdom are strong enough to turn them to the service of truly human aims and apply to then the standards of human life. The man of Christian humanism does not look for an industrial civilization, but for a civilization integrally human, and of evangelical inspiration.

9) As regards, finally, the internal dynamism of human life, the man of Christian humanism has an ultimate end, God to be seen and possessed, — and he tends toward self-perfection, which is the chief element of that imperfect happiness which is accessible to him in earthly existence. Thus life has meaning and a direction for him, and he to able to grow up on the way, without turning and wavering and without remaining spiritually a child. This perfection toward which he tends is not perfection of some stoicist athleticism wherein a man would make himself impeccable, but rather the perfection of love, of love toward Another whom he loves more than himself, and whom he craves above all ever more to join and love, even though in the process he carries with him imperfections and weaknesses. In such an evangelical perfection lies perfect freedom, which is to be conquered by ascetic effort but which is finally given by the very one who is loved, and who was the first to love us.

10) But this vertical movement toward divine union and self-perfection is not the only movement involved in human life's internal dynamism. The second one, the horizontal movement, concerns the evolution of mankind and progressively reveals the substance and creative forces of man in history. The man of Christian humanism is aware that these two movements must be pursued together: the horizontal movement of civilization, when directed toward its authentic temporal aims, helps the vertical movement of souls; and without the movement of souls toward their eternal aim, the movement of civilization would lose the charge of spiritual energy, human pressure and creative radiance which animates it toward its temporal accomplishment. And in the final end the two movements in question will end up indeed in the supra-temporal reality and the same transfiguration, for the supreme accomplishment of human history will be given it when history will have passed away, and man will have entered eternity. For the man of Christian humanism history has a meaning and a direction. The progressive integration of humanity is also a progressive emancipation from human servitude and misery as well as from the constraints of material nature. The supreme ideal which the political and social work in mankind has to aim at is thus the instauration of a brotherly city — which does not imply the hope that all men will some day be perfect on earth and love each other fraternally, but the hope that the existential state of human life and the structures of civilization will draw nearer to their perfection, the standard of which is justice and friendship, — and what aim, if not perfection, is to be aimed at? This supreme ideal is the very one of a genuine democracy, of the new democracy we are expecting. It required not only the development of powerful technical equipment and of a firm and rational politico-social organization in human communities, but also a heroical philosophy of life, and the quickening inner ferment of evangelical inspiration. It is in order to advance toward such an ideal that this city must be strong. The instauration of a common life which responds to the truth of our nature, freedom to be conquered and friendship to be set up at the core of civilization vitalized by virtues higher than civil virtues, all these define the historical ideal for which man can be asked to work, fight and die. Against the "myth of the XXth Century" such as the Nazis conceive it, against the millennium of brutal domination that the prophets of Germanic racism promise their people, it is a vaster and greater hope which must rise up, a bolder promise which must be made to the human race. The truth of God's image, as it is naturally impressed upon us, freedom, and fraternity are not dead. If our civilization struggles with death, the reason is not that it dares too much, and that it proposes to men. It is because it does not dare enough, nor propose enough to them. It will revive, a new civilization will come to life, on condition that it hope, and will, and love truly and heroically truth, freedom and fraternity.

Monday, January 1, 2018

"God's universal providence"

“GOD’S universal providence works through secondary causes. . . . The world of pure spirits stretches between the Divine Nature and the world of human beings; because Divine Wisdom has ordained that the higher should look after the lower, angels execute the divine plan for human salvation: they are our guardians, who free us when hindered and help to bring us home.”

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on the Sentences, 2, 11, 1, 1.


"The Mystical Nativity" by Sandro Botticelli.
Tempera on canvas, c. 1500; National Gallery, London.

Copleston: The existence of angels

"THAT ANGELS EXIST, St. Thomas considered to be rationally provable, quite apart from revelation, for their existence is demanded by the hierarchic character of the scale of being. We can discern the ascending orders or ranks of forms from the forms of inorganic substances, through vegetative forms, the irrational sensitive forms of animals, the rational soul of man, to the infinite and pure Act, God; but there is a gap in the hierarchy. The rational soul of man is created, finite and embodied, while God is uncreated, infinite and pure spirit: it is only reasonable, then, to suppose that between the human soul and God there are finite and created spiritual forms which are without body. At the summit of the scale is the absolute simplicity of God: at the summit of the corporeal world is the human being, partly spiritual and partly corporeal: there must, therefore, exist between God and man beings which are wholly spiritual and yet which do not possess the absolute simplicity of the Godhead.”

~Frederick Copleston: A History of Philosophy, Vol. II, Chap. XXXIII.

Also see St. Thomas's Disputed Questions on Spiritual Creatures (especially A. 5.).

Recommended reading: The Angels and Us, by Mortimer J. Adler.


"Angel" by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Marble, 1667-69; Ponte Sant'Angelo, Rome.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas and Protestants

h/t: Catholic Memes

A Companion to the Summa

A superlative resource! Fr. Walter Farrell's A Companion to the Summa, now on-line, is a reliable commentary on the Summa Theologica. You may find the latter volumes easier to begin with due to the subject matter being treated.

Share This