Saturday, February 28, 2015

Meditations & Readings for Lent—First Saturday


God commendeth his charity towards us: because when
as yet we were sinners, according to the time, Christ
died for us. —Rom. v. 8, 9.

1. Christ died for the ungodly (ibid. 6) This is a great thing if we consider who it is that died, a great thing also if we consider on whose behalf he died. For scarce for a just man, will one die (ibid. 6), that is to say, that you will hardly find anyone who will die even to set free a man who is innocent, nay even it is said, The just perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart (Is. i. vii).

Rightly therefore does St. Paul say scarce will one die. There might perhaps be found one, some one rare person who out of superabundance of courage would be so bold as to die for a good man. But this is rare, for the simple reason that so to act is the greatest of all things. Greater love than this no man hath, says Our Lord himself, that a man lay down his life for his friends (Jn. xv. 13).

But the like of what Christ did himself, to die for evildoers and the wicked, has never been seen. Wherefore rightly do we ask in wonderment why Christ did it.

2. If in fact it be asked why Christ died for the wicked, the answer is that God in this way commendeth his charity towards us. He shows us in this way that He loves us with a love that knows no limits, for while we were as yet sinners Christ died for us.

The very death of Christ for us shows the love of God, for it was His son whom He gave to die that satisfaction might be made for us. God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son (Jn. iii. 16). And thus as the love of God the Father for us is shown in his giving us His Holy Spirit, so also is it shown in this way, by his gift of his only Son.

The Apostle says God commendeth signifying thereby that the love of God is a thing which cannot be measured. This is shown by the very fact of the matter, namely the fact that he gave His Son to die for us, and it is shown also by reason of the kind of people we are for whom He died. Christ was not stirred up to die for us by any merits of ours, when as yet we were sinners. God (who is rich in mercy) for his exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, even when ive were dead in sins, hath quickened us together in Christ (Eph. ii. 4).
(In Rom. v.)

3. All these things are almost too much to be believed. A work is done in jour days, which no man will believe when it shall be told (Hab. i. 5). This truth that Christ died for us is so hard a truth that scarcely can our intelligence take hold of it. Nay it is a truth that our intelligence could in no way discover, And St. Paul, preaching, makes echo to Habacuc, I work a work in your days, a work which you will not believe, if any man shall tell it to you (Acts xiii 14).

So great is God's love for us and his grace towards us, that he does more for us than we can believe or understand.
(In Symbolum.)
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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Passages selected by Fr. Mezard, O.P., trans. by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 66-68.

Crucifixion, by Bramantino.
Oil on canvas, c. 1515; Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

Meditations & Readings for Lent—First Friday


One of the soldiers with a spear opened his side, and
immediately there came out blood and water. —John xix. 34.

1. The gospel deliberately says opened and not wounded, because through Our Lords side there was opened to us the gate of eternal life. After these things I looked, and behold a gate was opened in heaven (Apoc. iv. i). This is the door opened in the ark, through which enter the animals who will not perish in the flood.

2. But this door is the cause of our salvation. Immediately there came forth blood and water a thing truly miraculous, that, from a dead body, in which the blood congeals, blood should come forth.

This was done to show that by the Passion of Christ we receive a full absolution, an absolution from every sin and every stain. We receive this absolution from sin through that blood which is the price of our redemption. You were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver from your vain conversation with the tradition of your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled (1 Pet. i. 18).

We were absolved from every stain by the water, which is the laver of our redemption. In the prophet Ezechiel it is said, I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleaned from all your filthiness (Ezech. xxxvi. 28), and in Zacharias, There shall be a fountain open to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for the washing of the sinner and the unclean woman (Zach. xiii. i).

And so these two things may be thought of in relation to two of the sacraments, the water to baptism and the blood to the Holy Eucharist. Or both may be referred to the Holy Eucharist since, in the Mass, water is mixed with the wine. Although the water is not of the substance of the sacrament.
Again, as from the side of Christ asleep in death on the cross there flowed that blood and water in which the Church is consecrated, so from the side of the sleeping Adam was formed the first woman, who herself foreshadowed the Church.
(In John xix.)
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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Passages selected by Fr. Mezard, O.P., & trans. by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 64-65.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Meditations & Readings for Lent—First Thursday


Christ was crucified between the thieves because such was the will of the Jews, and also because this was part of God's design. But the reasons why this was appointed were not the same in each of these cases.

1. As far as the Jews were concerned Our Lord was crucified with the thieves on either side to encourage the suspicion that he too was a criminal. But it fell out otherwise. The thieves themselves have left not a trace in the remembrance of man, while His cross is everywhere held in honour. Kings laying aside their crowns have broidered the cross on their royal robes. They have placed it on their crowns; on their arms. It has its place on the very altars. Everywhere, throughout the world, we behold the splendour of the cross.

In God s plan Christ was crucified with the thieves in order that, as for our sakes he became accursed of the cross, so, for our salvation, he is crucified like an evil thing among evil things.

2. The Pope, St. Leo the Great, says that the thieves were crucified, one on either side of him, so that in the very appearance of the scene of his suffering there might be set forth that distinction which should be made in the judgment of each one of us. St. Augustine has the same thought. "The cross itself," he says "was a tribunal. In the centre was the judge. To the one side a man who believed and was set free, to the other side a scoffer and he was condemned." Already there was made clear the final fate of the living and the dead, the one class placed at his right, the other on his left.

3. According to St. Hilary the two thieves, placed to right and to left, typify that the whole of mankind is called to the mystery of Our Lord's Passion. And since division of things according to right and left is made with reference to believers and those who will not believe, one of the two, placed on the right, is saved by justifying faith.

4. As St. Bede says, the thieves who were crucified with Our Lord, represent those who for the faith and to confess Christ undergo the agony of martyrdom or the severe discipline of a more perfect life. Those who do this for the sake of eternal glory are typified by the thief on the right hand. Those whose motive is the admiration of whoever beholds them imitate the spirit and the act of the thief on the left-hand side.

As Christ owed no debt in payment for which a man must die, but submitted to death of his own will, in order to overcome death, so also he had not done anything on account of which he deserved to be put with the thieves. But of his own will he chose to be reckoned among the wicked, that by his power he might destroy wickedness itself. Which is why St. John Chrysostom says that to convert the thief on the cross and to turn him to Paradise was as great a miracle as the earthquake.
(S.T. 3, 46, 11.)
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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Passages selected by Fr. Mezard, O.P., trans. by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 62-64.

Crucifixion, by Pedro de Campaña. 
Canvas backed by wood, c. 1550; Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Pieper: “the loving pursuit of wisdom”

“ONLY out of the soil of “loving pursuit of wisdom”, indeed of true philo-sophia, could this be said: “The smallest amount of knowledge about the most sublime realities is more desirable than the most perfect knowledge about the lowest things’; “though we may hardly touch the things supreme and divine, their knowledge is nonetheless more important to us than all the things of this our world together; just as it is so much sweeter to catch but a glimpse, however fleeting, of the beloved than to have exact knowledge of many other, even important things.” The first of these quotations is found in the Summa theologica of Thomas Aquinas [I, 1, 5, ad 1.]. The author of the second statement is Aristotle…”

~Josef Pieper: In Defense of Philosophy, p. 89.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Meditations & Readings for Lent—First Wednesay


Attend and see if there be any sorrow
like unto my 
sorrow. —Lam. i. 12.

Our Lord as He suffered felt really, and in his senses, that pain which is caused by some harmful bodily thing. He also felt that interior pain which is caused by the fear of something harmful and which we call sadness. In both these respects the pain suffered by Our Lord was the greatest pain possible in this present life. There are four reasons why this was so.

1. The causes of the pain. 

The cause of the pain in the senses was the breaking up of the body, a pain whose bitterness derived partly from the fact that the sufferings attacked every part of His body, and partly from the fact that of all species of torture death by crucifixion is undoubtedly the most bitter. The nails are driven through the most sensitive of all places, the hands and the feet, the weight of the body itself increases the pain every moment. Add to this the long drawn-out agony, for the crucified do not die immediately as do those who are beheaded.

The cause of the internal pain was:

(i) All the sins of all mankind for which, by suffering, he was making satisfaction, so that, in a sense, he took them to him as though they were his own. The words of my sins, it says in the Psalms (Ps. xxi. 2).

(ii) The special case of the Jews and the others who had had a share in the sin of his death, and especially the case of his disciples for whom his death had been a thing to be ashamed of.

(iii) The loss of his bodily life, which, by the nature of things, is something from which human nature turns away in horror.

2. We may consider the greatness of the pain according to the capacity, bodily and spiritual, for suffering of Him who suffered. In his body He was most admirably formed, for it was formed by the miraculous operation of the Holy Ghost, and therefore its sense of touch that sense through which we experience pain was of the keenest. His soul likewise, from its interior powers, had a knowledge as from experience of all the causes of sorrow.

3. The greatness of Our Lord's suffering can be considered in regard to this that the pain and sadness were without any alleviation. For in the case of no matter what other sufferer the sadness of mind, and even the bodily pain, is lessened through a certain kind of reasoning, by means of which there is brought about a distraction of the sorrow from the higher powers to the lower. But when Our Lord suffered this did not happen, for he allowed each of his powers to act and suffer to the fullness of its special capacity.

4. We may consider the greatness of the suffering of Christ in the Passion in relation to this fact that the Passion and the pain it brought with it were deliberately undertaken by Christ with the object of freeing man from sin. And therefore he undertook to suffer an amount of pain proportionately equal to the extent of the fruit that was to follow from the Passion. From all these causes, if we consider them together, it will be evident that the pain suffered by Christ was the greatest pain ever suffered.
(S.T. 3, 46, 6.)
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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Passages selected by Fr. Mezard, O.P., trans. by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 60-62.

Christ on the Cross, by Albrecht Altdorfer. 
Wood, c. 1520; Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Meditations & Readings for Lent—First Tuesday


"Every kind of suffering." The things men suffer may be understood in two ways. By "kind" we may mean a particular, individual suffering, and in this sense there was no reason why Christ should suffer every kind of suffering, for many kinds of suffering are contrary the one to the other, as for example, to be burnt and to be drowned. We are of course speaking of Our Lord as suffering from causes outside himself, for to suffer the suffering effected by internal causes, such as bodily sickness, would not have become him. But if by "kind" we mean the class, then Our Lord did suffer by every kind of suffering, as we can show in three ways:

1. By considering the men through whom he suffered. For he suffered something at the hands of Gentiles and of Jews, of men and even of women as the story of the servant girl who accused St. Peter goes to show. He suffered, again, at the hands of rulers, of their ministers, and of the people, as was prophesied, Why have the Gentiles raged; and the people devised vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together against the Lord and against his Christ (Ps. ii. i, 2). He suffered, too, from his friends, the men he knew best, for Peter denied him and Judas betrayed him.

2. If we consider the things through which suffering is possible. Christ suffered in the friends who deserted him, and in his good name through the blasphemies uttered against him. He suffered in the respect, in the glory, due to him through the derision and contempt bestowed upon him. He suffered in things, for he was stripped even of his clothing; in his soul, through sadness, through weariness and through fear; in his body through wounds and the scourging.

3. If we consider what he underwent in his various parts. His head suffered through the crown of piercing thorns, his hands and feet through the nails driven through them, his face from the blows and the defiling spittle, and his whole body through the scourging.

He suffered in every sense of his body. Touch was afflicted by the scourging and the nailing, taste by the vinegar and gall, smell by the stench of corpses as he hung on the cross in that place of the dead which is called Calvary. His hearing was torn with the voices of mockers and blasphemers, and he saw the tears of his mother and of the disciple whom he loved. If we only consider the amount of suffering required, it is true that one suffering alone, the least indeed of all, would have sufficed to redeem the human race from all its sins. But if we look at the fitness of the matter, it had to be that Christ should suffer in all the kinds of sufferings.
(S.T. 3, 46. 5.)
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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Passages selected by Fr. Mezard, O.P., trans. by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 57-58.

Crucifixion with Mourners and Sts Dominic and Thomas Aquinas (Cell 37),
by Fra Angelico. 
Fresco, 1441-42; Convento di San Marco, Florence.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Adler: "The reality of angels"

“THE MATERIALIST may be correct in his denial of the reality of angels, or of minds independent of bodies. Whether or not he is correct depends upon the truth of his basic premise that nothing really exists except corporeal substances or bodies.

“This premise, to the say the least, is philosophically questionable. It is certainly not self-evidently true; nor has any cogent demonstration of its truth ever been advanced. This is not to say that it must be rejected as false, but only to say that the conclusions of the materialist rest upon an assumption open to question.

“The materialist assumption that spiritual substances do not exist is as much an act of faith as the religious belief in the reality of angels. The latter is an act of religious faith; the former, it might be said, is an act of anti-religious faith. But, with one or two exceptions, the religious faith in the existence of spiritual beings is not ordinarily accompanied by the denial of material things or by the notion that bodies are impossible.”

~Mortimer j. Adler: The Angels and Us, Part III. Angels as Objects of Philosophic Thought.


Meditations & Readings for Lent—First Monday

He was in the desert forty days and forty nights:
and was tempted by Satan. Mark i. 13.

1. It was by Christ's own will that he was exposed to the temptation by the devil, as it was also by his own will that he was exposed to be slain by the limbs of the devil. Had He not so willed, the devil would never have dared to approach him.

The devil is always more disposed to attack those who are alone, because, as is said in Sacred Scripture, If a man shall prevail against one, two shall withstand him easily (Eccles. iv. 12). That is why Christ went out into the desert, as one going out to a battle-ground, that there he might be tempted by the devil. Whereupon St. Ambrose says that Christ went into the desert for the express purpose of provoking the devil. For unless the devil had fought, Christ would never have overcome him for me.

St. Ambrose gives other reasons too. He says that Christ chose the desert as the place to be tempted for a hidden reason, namely that he might free from his exile Adam who, from Paradise, was driven into the desert; and again that he did it for a reason in which there is no mystery, namely to show us that the devil envies those who are tending towards a better life.

2. We say with St. Chrysostom that Christ exposed himself to the temptation because the devil most of all tempts those whom he sees alone. So in the very beginning of things he tempted the woman, when he found her away from her husband. It does not however follow from this that a man ought to throw himself into any occasion of temptation that presents itself. 

Occasions of temptation are of two kinds. One kind arises from man's own action, when, for example, man himself goes near to sin, not avoiding the occasion of sin. That such occasions are to be avoided we know, and Holy Scripture reminds us of it. Stay not in any part of the country round about Sodom (Gen. xix. 17). The second kind of occasion arises from the devil's constant envy of those who are tending to better things, as St. Ambrose says, and this occasion of temptation is not one we must avoid. So, according to St. John Chrysostom, not only Christ was led into the desert by the Holy Ghost, but all the children of God who possess the Holy Ghost are led in like manner. For God's children are never content to sit down with idle hands, but the Holy Ghost ever urges them to undertake for God some great work. And this, as far as the devil is concerned, is to go into the desert, for in the desert there is none of that wickedness which is the devil's delight. Every good work is as it were a desert to the eye of the world and of our flesh, for good works are contrary to the desire of the world and of our flesh.

To give the devil such an opportunity of temptation as this is not dangerous, for it is much more the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, who is the promoter of every perfect work, that prompts us than the working of the devil who hates them all.
(S.T. 3, 41, 2.)
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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Passages selected by Fr. Mezard, O.P., trans. by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 55-57.

The Temptation of Christ, by Tintoretto.
Oil on canvas, 1579-81; Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Meditations & Readings: First Week in Lent—Sunday


Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.
—Matt. iv. i.
Christ willed to be tempted:

1. That he might assist us against our own temptations. St. Gregory says, "That our Redeemer, who had come on earth to be killed, should will to be tempted was not unworthy of him. It was indeed but just that he should overcome our temptations by his own, in the same way that he had come to overcome our death by his death."

2. To warn us that no man, however holy he be, should think himself safe and free from temptation. Whence again His choosing to be tempted after His baptism, about which St. Hilary says, "The devil's wiles are especially directed to trap us at times when we have recently been made holy, because the devil desires no victory so much as a victory over the world of grace." Whence too, the scripture warns us, Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation (Ecclus. ii. i).

3. To give us an example how we should over come the temptations of the devil, St. Augustine says, "Christ gave himself to the devil to be tempted, that in the matter of our overcoming those same temptations He might be of service not only by his help but by his example too."

4. To fill and saturate our minds with confidence in His mercy. For we have not a high-priest who cannot have compassion on our infirmities, but one tempted in all things, like as we are, without sin (Heb.iv. 15).
(S.T. 3, 41, 1.)
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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Passages selected by Fr. Mezard, O.P., and translated by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 54-55.

Three Temptations of Christ (detail), by Sandro Botticelli.
Fresco, 1481-82; Cappella Sistina, Vatican.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Meditations and Readings for Lent: Saturday


Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone.
—John xii. 24.

We use the grain of wheat in two ways, for bread and for seed. Here the word is to be taken in the second sense, grain of wheat meaning seed and not the matter out of which we make bread. For in this sense it never increases so as to bear fruit. When it is said that the grain must die, this does not mean that it loses its value as seed, but that it is changed into another kind of thing. So St. Paul (I Cor. xv. 36) says, That which then thou sowest is not quickened, except it die first.

The Word of God is a seed in the soul of man, in so far as it is a thing introduced into man's soul, by words spoken and heard, in order to produce the fruit of good works, The seed is the Word of God (Lk viii. n). So also the Word of God garbed in flesh is a seed placed in the world, a seed from which great crops should grow, whence it is compared in St. Matthew's Gospel (xiii. 31, 32) to a grain of mustard seed.

Our Lord therefore says to us, “I came as seed, something meant to bear fruit and therefore I say to you, Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone,” which is as much as to say, “Unless I die the fruit of the conversion of the Gentiles will not follow.” He compares himself to a grain of wheat, because he came to nourish and to sustain the minds of men, and to nourish and sustain are precisely what wheaten bread does for men. In the Psalms it is written, That bread may strengthen man's heart (Ps. ciii. 15), and in St. John, The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world (Jn vi. 52).

2. But if it die it bringeth forth much fruit (Jn xii. 25). What is here explained is the usefulness of the Passion. It is as though the gospel said, Unless the grain fall into the earth through the humiliations of the Passion, no useful result will follow, for the grain itself remaineth alone. But if it shall die, done to death and slain by the Jews, it bringeth forth much fruit, for example:

(i) The remission of sin. This is the whole fruit, that the sin thereby should be taken away (Is xxvii. 9). And this is the fruit of the Passion of Christ as is declared by St. Peter, Christ died once for our sins, the just for the unjust that he might offer us to God (I Pet. iii. 1 8).

(ii) The conversion of the Gentiles to God. I have appointed you that you shall go forth and bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain (Jn 53 xv. 1 6). This fruit the Passion of Christ bore, if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to myself (Jn xii. 32).

(iii) The fruit of Glory. The fruit of good labours is glorious (Wis. iii. 15). And this fruit also the Passion of Christ brought forth; We have therefore a confidence in the entering into the Holies by the blood of Christ : a new and living way which he hath dedicated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh (Hebr. x. 19).
(In Jn xii)
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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Passages selected by Fr. Mezard, O.P., and translated by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 52-54.

Gilson: "The history of philosophy"

“THE history of philosophy is much more a part of philosophy itself than the history of science is part of science, for it is not impossible to become a competent scientist without knowing much about the history of science, but no man can carry very far his own philosophical reflections unless he first studies the history of philosophy. In point of fact, the First Book of Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” is also the first known History of Greek Philosophy, and it remains a perfect example of how such a history should be written. For indeed it is a philosophical history of philosophy, whereas too many modern histories of philosophy are written in an unphilosophical way.”

~Etienne Gilson: The Unity of Philosophical Experience.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Meditations and Readings for Lent: Friday


Go forth, ye daughters of Sion, and see king Solomon in the diadem, wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the joy of his heart. — Cant. iii. n.

This is the voice of the Church inviting the souls of the faithful to behold the marvellous beauty of her spouse. For the daughters of Sion, who are they but the daughters of Jerusalem, holy souls, the citizens of that city which is above, who with the angels enjoy the peace that knows no end, and, in consequence, look upon the glory of the Lord?

1. Go forth, shake off the disturbing commerce of this world so that, with minds set free, you may be able to contemplate him whom you love. And see king Solomon, the true peacemaker, that is to say, Christ Our Lord.

In the diadem wherewith his mother crowned him, as though the Church said, "Look on Christ garbed with flesh for us, the flesh He took from the flesh of his mother." For it is his flesh that is here called a diadem, the flesh which Christ assumed for us, the flesh in which he died and destroyed the reign of death, the flesh in which, rising once again, he brought to us the hope of resurrection.

This is the diadem of which St. Paul speaks, We see Jesus for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour (Heb. ii. 9). His mother is spoken of as crowning him because Mary the Virgin it was who from her own flesh gave him flesh. 

In the day of his espousals, that is, in the hour of his Incarnation, when he took to himself the Church not having spot or wrinkle (Eph. v. 27), the hour again when God was joined with man. And in the day of the joy of his heart. For the joy and the gaiety of Christ is for the human race salvation and redemption. And coming home, he calls together his friends and neighbours saying to them, Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost (Lk xv. 6).

2. We can however refer the whole of this text simply and literally to the Passion of Christ. For Solomon, foreseeing through the centuries the Passion of Christ, was uttering a warning for the daughters of Sion, that is, for the Jewish people.

Go forth and see king Solomon, that is, Christ, in his diadem, that is to say, the crown of thorns with which his mother the Synagogue has crowned him; in the day of his espousals, the day when he joined to himself the Church; and in the day of the joy of his heart, the day in which he rejoiced that by his Passion he was delivering the world from the power of the devil. Go forth, therefore, and leave behind the darkness of unbelief, and see, understand with your minds that he who suffers as man is really God.

Go forth, beyond the gates of your city, that you may see him, on Mount Calvary, crucified. (In Cant. 3.)

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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Translated by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 50-52.

 Christ Crowned with Thorns, by Sandro Botticelli.
Tempera on panel, c. 1500; Accademia Carrara, Bergamo.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Meditations and Readings for Lent: Thursday


1. We fast for three reasons.

(i) To check the desires of the flesh. So St. Paul says in fastings, in chastity (2 Cor. vi. 5), meaning that fasting is a safeguard for chastity. As St. Jerome says, "Without Ceres, and Bacchus, Venus would freeze," as much as to say that lust loses its heat through spareness of food and drink.

(ii) That the mind may more freely raise itself to contemplation of the heights. We read in the book of Daniel that it was after a fast of three weeks that he received the revelation from God (Dan. x. 2-4).

(iii) To make satisfaction for sin. This is the reason given by the prophet Joel, Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning (Joel ii. 12). And here is what St. Augustine writes on the matter. "Fasting purifies the soul. It lifts up the mind, and it brings the body into subjection to the spirit. It makes the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of desire, puts out the flames of lust and the true light of chastity."

2. There is commandment laid on us to fast. For fasting helps to destroy sin, and to raise the mind to thoughts of the spiritual world. Each man is then bound, by the natural law of the matter, to fast just as much as is necessary to help him in these matters. Which is to say that fasting in general is a matter of natural law. To determine, however, when we shall fast and how, according to what suits and is of use to the Catholic body, is a matter of positive law. To state the positive law is the business of the bishops, and what is thus stated by them is called ecclesiastical fasting, in contradistinction with the natural fasting previously mentioned.

3. The times fixed for fasting by the Church are well chosen. Fasting has two objects in view:

(i) The destruction of sin, and

(ii) the lifting of the mind to higher things. The times self-indicated for fasting are then those in which men are especially bound to free themselves from sin and to raise their minds to God in devotion. Such a time especially is that which precedes that solemnity of Easter in which baptism is administered and sin thereby destroyed, and when the burial of Our Lord is recalled, for we are buried together with Christ by baptism into death (Rom. vi. 4). Then, too, at Easter most of all, men's minds should be lifted, through devotion to the glory of that eternity which Christ in his resurrection inaugurated. 

Wherefore the Church has decreed that immediately before the solemnity of Easter we must fast, and, for a similar reason, that we must fast on the eves of the principal feasts, setting apart those days as opportune to prepare ourselves for the devout celebration of the feasts themselves. (S.T. 2-2, q. 1, a. 3, ad 5.)

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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Translated by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 48-50. 

Maritain: "The mastery of man over himself"

“THERE are two ways of conceiving the mastery of man over himself. Man can become master of his nature by imposing on the world of his own inner energies the law of reason, of reason assisted by grace. This work, which is the formation of oneself on love, requires that our branches be cut in order in order that we may bear fruit: which is mortification. Such a practice follows the ethics of asceticism. The heirs of rationalism seek to impose on us today an entirely different system of ethics, an anti-ascetic system that is exclusively technological. . . . Technique is good, machinery is good. . . . But if machinery and technical processes are not controlled and firmly subjugated to the well-being of mankind, that is to say, fully and vigorously subordinated to the ethics of religion and made the instruments of moral asceticism, mankind is irretrievably and literally lost.”

~Jacques Maritain: Freedom in the Modern World.

Ash Wednesday: Death

Ash Wednesday

By one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death. — Rom. v. 12.

1. If for some wrongdoing a man is deprived of some benefit once given to him, that he should lack that benefit is the punishment of his sin. Now in man's first creation he was divinely endowed with this advantage that, so long as his mind remained subject to God, the lower powers of his soul were subjected to the reason and the body was subjected to the soul.

But because by sin man's mind moved away from its subjection to God, it followed that the lower parts of his mind ceased to be wholly subjected to the reason. From this there followed such a rebellion of the bodily inclination against the reason, that the body was no longer wholly subject to the soul.

Whence followed death and all the bodily defects. For life and wholeness of body are bound up with this, that the body is wholly subject to the soul, as a thing which can be made perfect is subject to that which makes it perfect. So it comes about that, conversely, there are such things as death, sickness and every other bodily defect, for such misfortunes are bound up with an incomplete subjection of body to soul.

2. The rational soul is of its nature immortal, and therefore death is not natural to man in so far as man has a soul. It is natural to his body, for the body, since it is formed of things contrary to each other in nature, is necessarily liable to corruption, and it is in this respect that death is natural to man.

But God who fashioned man is all powerful. And hence, by an advantage conferred on the first man, He took away that necessity of dying which was bound up with the matter of which man was made. This advantage was however withdrawn through the sin of our first parents.

Death is then natural, if we consider the matter of which man is made and it is a penalty, inasmuch as it happens through the loss of the privilege whereby man was preserved from dying. (S.T. 2-2, q. 164, a. 1.)

3. Sin—original sin and actual sinis taken away by Christ, that is to say, by Him who is also the remover of all bodily defects. He shall quicken also your mortal bodies, because of his Spirit that dwelleth in you (Rom. viii. n). 

But, according to the order appointed by a wisdom that is divine, it is at the time which best suits that Christ takes away both the one and the other, i.e., both sin and bodily defects.

Now it is only right that, before we arrive at that glory of impassibility and immortality which began in Christ, and which was acquired for us through Christ, we should be shaped after the pattern of Christ's sufferings. It is then only right that Christ's liability to suffer should remain in us too for a time, as a means of our coming to the impassibility of glory in the way He himself came to it. (S.T. 1-2, q. 85, a. 5, ad 2.)

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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Translated by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 46-47. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Flannery O'Connor: The Habit of Being

The following excerpts are from letters of Flannery O'Connor which mention Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas:

9 August 55
"I suppose I read Aristotle in college but not to know I was doing it; the same with Plato. I don’t have the kind of mind that can carry such beyond the actual reading, i.e., total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me. So I couldn’t make any judgment on the Summa, except to say this: I read it for about twenty minutes every night before I go to bed. If my mother were to come in during this process and say, “Turn off that light. It’s late,” I with lifted finger and broad bland beatific expression, would reply, “On the contrary, I answer that the light, being eternal and limitless, cannot be turned off. Shut your eyes,” or some such thing. In any case, I feel I can personally guarantee that St. Thomas loved God because for the life of me I cannot help loving St. Thomas. His brothers didn’t want him to waste himself being a Dominican and so locked him up in a tower and introduced a prostitute into his apartment; her he ran out with a red-hot poker. It would be fashionable today to be in sympathy with the woman, but I am in sympathy with St. Thomas."

To “A.”
28 August 55
"I wish St. Thomas were handy to consult about the fascist business. Of course this word doesn’t really exist uncapitalized, so in making it that way you have the advantage of using a word with a private meaning and a public odor; which you must not do. But if it does mean a doubt of the efficacy of love and if this is to be observed in my fiction, then it has to be  explained or partly explained by what happens to conviction (I believe love to be efficacious in the loooong run) when it is translated into fiction designed for a public with a predisposition to believe the opposite. This along with the limitations of the writer could account for the negative appearance. But find another word than fascist, for me and St. Thomas too. And totalitarian won’t do either. Both St. Thomas and St. John of the Cross, dissimilar as they were, were entirely united by the same belief. The more I read St. Thomas the more flexible he appears to me. Incidentally, St. John would have been able to sit down with the prostitute and said, “Daughter, let us consider this,” but St. Thomas doubtless knew his own nature and knew that he had to get rid of her with a poker or she would overcome him. I am not only for St. Thomas here but am in accord with his use of the poker. I call this being tolerantly realistic, not being a fascist."

To “A.”
24 September 55
"I am learning to walk on crutches and I feel like a large stiff anthropoid ape who has no cause to be thinking of St. Thomas or Aristotle; however, you are making me more of a Thomist than I ever was before and an Aristotelian where I never was before. I am one, of course, who believes that man is created in the image and likeness of God. I believe that all creation is good but that what has free choice is more completely God’s image than what does not have it; also I define humility differently from you. Msgr. Guardini can explain that. I think it is good to have these differences defined. I really don’t think folly is a wise word to use in connection with these orthodox beliefs or that you should call Aristotle “foolish and self-idolizing.” At least, not until you have coped with all the intricacies of his thought. These things may look tortuous to you because they take in more psychological and metaphysical realities than you are accounting for. Of course, I couldn’t say about that, but in any case I don’t think it’s good critical language."

30 September 55
"As to jellyfish, I read in a filler the other day that there were jellyfish so diaphanous that you could be next to them in the water and you wouldn’t know they were there. This does not seem to fit you and it is all I know about jellyfish. If you are going to read 1500 pages of St. Thomas and 650 pages of Aristotle, you will at least be an ossified jellyfish when you get through—if such is possible. I am currently reading Etienne Gilson’s History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages and I am surprised to come across various answers to Simone Weil’s questions to Fr. Perrin. St. Justin Martyr anticipated her in the 2nd century on the question of the Logos enlightening every man who comes into the world. This is really one of her central questions and St. Justin answered it in what I am sure would have been her own way. Gilson is a vigorous writer, more so than Maritain; the other thing I have read of his is The Unity of Philosophical Experience, which I am an admirer of."

The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor


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