8

Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Devil, Temptation and Sin

 

 

I answer that, The temptation which comes from the enemy takes the form of a suggestion, as Gregory says (Hom. xvi in Evang.). Now a suggestion cannot be made to everybody in the same way; it must arise from those things towards which each one has an inclination. Consequently the devil does not straight away tempt the spiritual man to grave sins, but he begins with lighter sins, so as gradually to lead him to those of greater magnitude. Wherefore Gregory (Moral. xxxi), expounding Job 39:25, “He smelleth the battle afar off, the encouraging of the captains and the shouting of the army,” says: “The captains are fittingly described as encouraging, and the army as shouting. Because vices begin by insinuating themselves into the mind under some specious pretext: then they come on the mind in such numbers as to drag it into all sorts of folly, deafening it with their bestial clamor.”

Thus, too, did the devil set about the temptation of the first man. For at first he enticed his mind to consent to the eating of the forbidden fruit, saying (Genesis 3:1): “Why hath God commanded you that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?” Secondly [he tempted him] to vainglory by saying: “Your eyes shall be opened.” Thirdly, he led the temptation to the extreme height of pride, saying: “You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” This same order did he observe in tempting Christ. For at first he tempted Him to that which men desire, however spiritual they may be–namely, the support of the corporeal nature by food. Secondly, he advanced to that matter in which spiritual men are sometimes found wanting, inasmuch as they do certain things for show, which pertains to vainglory. Thirdly, he led the temptation on to that in which no spiritual men, but only carnal men, have a part–namely, to desire worldly riches and fame, to the extent of holding God in contempt. And so in the first two temptations he said: “If Thou be the Son of God”; but not in the third, which is inapplicable to spiritual men, who are sons of God by adoption, whereas it does apply to the two preceding temptations.

And Christ resisted these temptations by quoting the authority of the Law, not by enforcing His power, “so as to give more honor to His human nature and a greater punishment to His adversary, since the foe of the human race was vanquished, not as by God, but as by man”; as Pope Leo says (Serm. 1, De Quadrag. 3).

4

David, Nathan the Prophet and the Consequences of Sin

 

[1] And the Lord sent Nathan to David: and when he was come to him, he said to him: There were two men in one city, the one rich, and the other poor. [2] The rich man had exceeding many sheep and oxen. [3] But the poor man had nothing at all but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up, and which had grown up in his house together with his children, eating of his bread, and drinking of his cup, and sleeping in his bosom: and it was unto him as a daughter. [4] And when a certain stranger was come to the rich man, he spared to take of his own sheep and oxen, to make a feast for that stranger, who was come to him, but took the poor man’ s ewe, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. [5] And David’ s anger being exceedingly kindled against that man, he said to Nathan: As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this is a child of death.
[6] He shall restore the ewe fourfold, because he did this thing, and had no pity. [7] And Nathan said to David: Thou art the man. Thus saith the Lord the God of Israel: I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee from the hand of Saul, [8] And gave thee thy master’ s house and thy master’ s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and Juda: and if these things be little, I shall add far greater things unto thee. [9] Why therefore hast thou despised the word of the Lord, to do evil in my sight? Thou hast killed Urias the Hethite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. [10] Therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Urias the Hethite to be thy wife.
[11] Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thy own house, and I will take thy wives before thy eyes I and give them to thy neighhour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. [12] For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing in the sight of all Israel, and in the sight of the sun. [13] And David said to Nathan: I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said to David: The Lord also hath taken away thy sin: thou shalt not die. [14] Nevertheless, because thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, for this thing, the child that is born to thee, shall surely die. [15] And Nathan returned to his house. The Lord also struck the child which the wife of Urias had borne to David, and his life was despaired of.

2 Kings 12:  1-15

We have a truncated version of the above reading at Mass today.  It conveys the comforting message that King David admits his deeply cynical and evil sin in having Uriah the Hittite murdered in order to protect his partner in adultery Bathsheba and is forgiven by God.  It stops right before Nathan goes on to state  that the newborn son of David and Bathsheba would die.  This is a deeply uncongenial message to we moderns, particularly in this Year of Mercy.  An innocent dying because of the sin of someone else?  How can this be just, let alone merciful?  The passage reminds us, a reminder that, sadly, is always needed, that sins are not merely deadly for the person committing them, but often have dire consequences for purely innocent parties.

Note also the statement of Nathan that the sword would never depart from the House of David.  We see this in the reign of the second son of Bathsheba and David, Solomon.  It was he who married various foreign wives, who brought with them the cults of their gods, that set off endless strife for generations thereafter, and he who reared an idiot son, Rehoboam, whose intransigence upon him becoming King would cause the ten tribes of Israel to rebel, sparking frequent wars between the two nations, and transforming the strong state created by David into two squabbling petty kingdoms, always teetering on extinction from the strong states of Egypt and Assyria and Babylon.  This passage is a strong statement of the Justice of God. Continue Reading

7

Sin and Boredom

imagesELUEN1LJ

 

 

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As, to be hated, needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

Alexander Pope

Then get bored by.  That is what I take away from this interesting piece of news:

Opening a copy of Playboy magazine on an airplane or at a hair salon may no longer have people raising their eyebrows.

Playboy will no longer publish images of fully nude women in its magazine beginning this spring. The move comes as part of a redesign that will be unveiled next March, Playboy Enterprises, Inc., announced Tuesday. The magazine will still feature women in provocative poses, but they will no longer bare all when the March issue is released in February, according to a statement from Playboy.

The onslaught of Internet pornography has made the nude images in Playboy “passé,” Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive, told the New York Times. Continue Reading

19

Angels With Dirty Faces: Fake Cowardice, Real Courage and Redemption

 

A profoundly Catholic movie, Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) is usually not perceived as such.  The tale of two slum kids, Jerry Connolly, Pat O’Brien, and Rocky Sullivan, James Cagney, who attempt to steal fountain pens from a train.  Sullivan, who can’t run as fast as his friend, is caught after the robbery.  Connolly wants to share in the blame for the theft, but Sullivan tells him not to be a sucker and takes all the blame.  Sentenced to a brutal reform school he embarks on a life of crime while his friend becomes a priest, assigned to the same slum parish which he and Sullivan attended as boys.

 

The priest and the gangster renew their friendship with Sullivan quickly becoming the idol of the slum boys that Connolly is trying to keep from a life of crime.  Connolly embarks on a crusade against the local gangsters, including Sullivan.  Sullivan murders his partner Jim Frazier, Humphrey Bogart, and Mac Keefer, George Bancroft, to save Connelly who they were planning to have killed to stop his anti-crime crusade.

 

Sullivan, who tells the authorities all he knows about the local criminal operations, is tried for these murders and sentenced to death.

The ending of the film is a powerful look at courage and redemption:

 

Father Jerry:  We haven’t got a lot of time.
I want to ask one last favor.
Rocky:   There’s not much left that I can do, kid.
Father Jerry:  Yes, there is, Rocky.
Perhaps more than you could do
under any other circumstances.
If you have the courage for it,
and I know you have.
Rocky:  Walking in there?
That’s not gonna take much.
Father Jerry:  I know that, Rocky.
Rocky:  It’s like a barber chair.
They’re gonna ask, “Anything to say?”
I’ll say, “Sure, give me a haircut, a shave
and one of those new electric massages.”
Father Jerry:  But you’re not afraid, Rocky?
Rocky:   No. They’d like me to be.
But I’m afraid I can’t oblige them, kid.
You know, Jerry, I think to be afraid,
you gotta have a heart.
I don’t think I got one.
I had that cut out of me a long time ago.
Rocky:  Suppose I asked you to have the heart, huh?
To be scared.
Rocky:  What do you mean?
Father Jerry:  Suppose the guards dragged you out of here
screaming for mercy.  Suppose you went to the chair yellow.

 

Continue Reading

1

Sin and Eternity

imagesMRW5P3DF

Father Peter Stravinkas at One Peter Five has some invaluable insights into the Synod:

There was apparently significant concern raised that we should not employ “offensive” or harsh-sounding language to describe certain life-styles. While there is no need to go out of one’s way to be hurtful in discussing morally problematic matters – and it can even be counter-productive to do so – one cannot resort to sugar-coating behaviors which have eternal consequences (presuming we believe that). There is no easy, palatable way for an oncologist to inform a patient that he has a malignant tumor and what the remediation process involves. Similarly, people who engage in sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage – and especially those who do so habitually (whether heterosexual or homosexual) – face the prospect of eternal punishment, so say Jesus and Saint Paul and the entire Christian Tradition. The fact that there is no “nice” way to issue the wake-up call is proof positive of the seriousness of it all. The stark language is, as a matter of fact, an act of charity, saying, “I love you so much that I don’t want you to spend eternity in Hell.” The physician who would refrain from offering an honest and forthright diagnosis would be deemed a bad physician, derelict in his duty. No faithful believer – and surely no loving one – can stand by and watch those he loves head toward damnation. Continue Reading

20

Evil as Bad Performance Art

To Nero, Emperor of Rome, Master of the World, Divine Pontiff.

I know that my death will be a disappointment to you, since you wished to render me this service yourself. To be born in your reign is a miscalculation; but to die in it is a joy. I can forgive you for murdering your wife and your mother, for burning our beloved Rome, for befouling our fair country with the stench of your crimes. But one thing I cannot forgive – the boredom of having to listen to your verses, your second-rate songs, your mediocre performances. Adhere to your special gifts, Nero – murder and arson, betrayal and terror. Mutilate your subjects if you must; but with my last breath I beg you – do not mutilate the arts. Fare well, but compose no more music. Brutalize the people, but do not bore them, as you have bored to death your friend,

the late Gaius Petronius

Fictional letter from Gaius Petronius to Nero in the novel Quo Vadis

 

 

Bad enough that someone has slain an innocent, but making a bad poem out of it?  At least the Nazis did not attempt to make swing tunes celebrating the glories of their extermination camps.  Ben Johnson of Lifesite News gives us the details behind the above video:

 

 

To take the second question first, The Huffington Post is promoting a video featuring Scottish “poet” Leyla Josephine, celebrating her decision to abort her daughter. The video, “I Think She Was a She,” was uploaded to YouTube a month ago.

In the video Josephine, decked out in military camouflage, justifies herself in part by saying that she would have been willing to serve as a sacrifice to abortion just as she offered her daughter to the idol of “choice.”

“I would’ve supported her right to choose – to choose a life for herself, a path for herself. I would’ve died for that right like she died for mine,” she said.

In the next rhyming line, she addresses her unborn daughter: “I’m sorry, but you came at the wrong time.”

“I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed,” she continues – a phrase she repeats a total of six times. She repeats the phrase “This is my body” three times. (She also takes the Lord’s name in vain once.) Continue Reading

11

Saint Augustine on Sin, Fear and Love

Saint_Augustine_Portrait

 

Continuing on with our Lenten series in which Saint Augustine is our guide, go here  , here  and here to read the first three posts in the series, we come to Augustine’s discussion of why we should avoid sin.  Augustine thought that refraining from sin due to fear of Hell did not involve the rejection of sin but rather fear of burning.  The true reason for avoiding sin is love of God and therefore rejection of sin as a result of that love.  Our Act of Contrition mentions both motivations but is clear what should be the most important:

O my God,
I am heartily sorry for
having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins,
because I dread the loss of heaven,
and the pains of hell;
but most of all because
they offend Thee, my God,
Who are all good and
deserving of all my love.

As the saying goes, fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and no doubt the fear of Hell for many a sinner is the beginning of repentance, but that is only the beginning, and not the end, of our struggle against sin.  Christ taught us to call God Father and that He is a loving Father.  Anything that turns us from the God who loves us with such an eternal love, we reject, not out of fear but out of love: Continue Reading

15

Saint Augustine and the Pear Tree

Saint Augustine and the Pear Tree

Continuing on with our Lenten series in which Saint Augustine is our guide, go here  and here to read the first and the second in the series, we come to Saint Augustine’s description of what he viewed as one of his worst sins, the theft of pears from a pear tree.  More than a few people have been mystified as to why this incident caused Saint Augustine such pain.  Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, for example, wrote  “Rum thing to see a man making a mountain out of robbing a pear tree in his teens”.  Such critics of course completely miss the point.  The incident of the pear tree is the classic example of pure sin.  Augustine and the other rowdies did not steal the pears to feed themselves, they threw the pears to hogs.  They did this evil not to satisfy some hunger or desire, but for the sake of the sin itself, and that is what makes the act so monstrous in retrospect in the eyes of Saint Augustine.  The worst sort of sin we can do is a sin that has no purpose other than to engage in sin, in disobedience to God.  Most sins men do are a bad road to reach a worldly good.  A thief who robs a bank to gain money.  A couple who fornicate with each other to show their love for one another.  A glutton who gorges himself because he loves fine food.   The pear tree sin lacks any good as a goal that led to the commission of the sin, and leaves only the desire to do an evil act.  Saint Augustine was right to weep over this, as should we all whenever we do evil solely for the sake of doing evil.  Saint Augustine on the pear tree: Continue Reading

3

Saint Augustine: Sins of the Flesh

 

 

Continuing on with our Lenten series in which Saint Augustine is our guide, go here to read the first in the series, we come to Saint Augustine’s comments on sins of the flesh.  It is interesting that Saint Augustine begins the passage noting that some argue that the sins of the flesh are not sins, precisely the same argument that is made in our time.  Saint Paul  mentioned, and refuted, this argument in his epistles, so it is as old as Christianity.  The sins of the flesh are not the most dire of sins, rather the reverse, that pride of place going to the sin of pride, a sin I have ever struggled with, and that caused Lucifer to fall from Heaven to Hell.  However, sins of the flesh are sins, being a perversion of the love that is at the heart of Christianity.  Lust is ever an inadequate substitute for love, and attempting to make it a substitute is at the core of many of our social problems today, treating people as things, means to our own gratification, rather than children of a loving God that we love with fidelity and self-sacrifice, to mirror in our lives some minute fragment of the love that God lavishes on us.  Here is Saint Augustine on sins of the flesh: Continue Reading

12

Saint Thomas Becket, Sin and Contrition

(I originally posted this on December 29th last year.  I think it is worth a repost on December 29th this year.)

Today is the feast day of my confirmation saint, Saint Thomas Becket, the holy, blessed martyr.  His story tells us how foreign to our time the Middle Ages are.  Becket was a worldly cleric who had risen to be chancellor of England for Henry II.  Henry seized the opportunity to place his man, Becket, on the throne of Canterbury as Primate of England.  Becket had a sudden and complete religious conversion and fought Henry for the liberty of the Church for which Becket suffered exile and, ultimately, murder.  In penance for Becket’s murder Henry had himself beaten by the monks at Canterbury before the tomb of his former friend who, two years after his death, was canonized by the Pope.  For over three centuries his tomb became one of the major pilgrimage sites in Europe and inspired the immortal Canterbury Tales.

The Middle Ages were fully as immersed in sin as our own time, although with different mixtures of evil, but the sins of the Middle Ages were often followed by great penances and acts of contrition that brightened and inspired countless lives down through the centuries.  This we have lost and this we must regain.  G.K. Chesterton put what we lack in high relief when he wrote about Saint Thomas: Continue Reading

8

Does Anyone Really Reject God?

Kyle has written another post on hell, this one dealing with what he says, with at least some degree of accuracy, is the historically common belief among Catholics that many people will go to hell while few will be saved. (Personally, I have no opinion on the question of what ratio of people will go to heaven and hell, and other than warning people away from the one and towards the other, I can’t really think why one would have much of a position on the matter.)

It seems to me that there are two main points which Kyle martials to his cause. His first is that if many are damned, then God’s will has been frustrated, and unless we are prepared to think God a failure, we can’t think that many are damned:

If you say, as much of Christianity does, that God created the universe and specifically human beings–creatures made in his image and likeness–for the purpose of participation in the love life that is God, and you also say that most people will refuse this destiny, then logically you’re led to say that, overall, creation won’t achieve its purpose. Overall, it is a failure. Overall, the purpose for which God created goes unrealized. Overall, God’s desire and will are not done. This would seem to make God, as Creator, something of a failure, even if you can, through some dexterous theodicy, get God off the hook for the damning decisions of his hellbound creatures.

This is, as I recall, a complaint that many of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation (or Revolt, if you prefer) were big on. Continue Reading

10

Sinners in the Hands of a Non-Judgmental God

Pal Jesus

 

 

We live in a time of cheap grace where forgiveness is not requested but demanded by miscreants.  Exhibit A is Mark Sanford who disgraced himself as governor of South Carolina and destroyed his family by his lust for his Argentinian mistress.  Now Sanford is the Republican candidate for Tim Scott’s, newly appointed Senator from South Carolina, old House seat for South Carolina 1.  He is opposed by Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, Stephen Colbert’s sister.  (No fiction writer could make this up.)  Sanford is touting that he has been forgiven by God and the people of South Carolina should also forgive him.  In a very good column in the New York Post NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY looks at the American impulse to embrace an endlessly forgiving God.

Only 31 percent of Americans believe in what the two call “an authoritative God,” a deity who is both engaged in the world (caring about human affairs, no pun intended) and judgmental. The rest believe that God is either disengaged or simply benevolent. Or they’re atheists.

Listening to these politicians rattle on as if they’ve had a sit-down with God and come to some kind of mutual understanding makes one long for some old-fashioned God-fearing.

Our European brethren think of us as puritanical; if only. These men — whose sin begins with infidelity and then travels through public humiliation of their wives and children and then ends with an inability to remove themselves from public life — might benefit from the recitation of that great sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”:

“The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.”

Maybe Mark Sanford should try thinking about that next time he’s on the “Appalachian Trail.”

And not just him. A recent study in the academic journal Theoretical Criminology found that criminals often use religion — and even God’s forgiveness — as a way of rationalizing their behavior. “God has to forgive everyone, even if they don’t believe in him,” one 33-year-old enforcer for a drug gang told the interviewers.

In the first few centuries of the Church, penances would go on for many years in regard to serious sins before absolution was granted.  The penances would be public in nature, and would make clear that the penitent had committed grave sins.  Now, most people assume that God forgives any sin automatically, that penance is unnecessary and that the forgiveness of God absolves them from the consequences of their sins.  I recall one child molester stating at a conference that God had forgiven him, so why couldn’t everyone else? Continue Reading

14

Lent in a Sinless Age

I have never much enjoyed Lent, of course the purpose of Lent is not enjoyment.  Repentance, mortification, fasting casts for me a gray pallor over this time of year.  Like many things in life I do not like, foul tasting medicine, judges who insist on strict adherence to the law, honest traffic cops, I benefit from Lent.  It reminds me of my sins and the necessity to amend my life.  This is especially good for me because we live in a sinless age.

Prior to say 1965, people enjoyed sinning just as much as we do, but most did not delude themselves about what they were doing.  Promiscuous sex was just as fun then as now, but few were able to convince themselves that what they were doing was not, deep down, wrong.  A trip to an abortionist might “solve” a small “problem”, but the destruction of human life that went on in an abortion was acknowledged by almost all.  Standards of morality, as even a cursory study of human history reveals, have often been ignored by men, but the standards remained.

Now we live in a new and glorious day!  If something is physically pleasant then there can be no sin about it.  Good and evil have been banished from our lexicons, to be replaced, at most, with “appropriate” or “inappropriate” behavior.  If over a million innocents have to die for one of our pleasures each year it is a “small” price to pay, and in any case we aren’t the ones paying the price.  Some of our friends find gratification in sexual behaviors that were near universally condemned a few decades ago?  Not a problem!   We will rewrite the laws to make their behaviors “appropriate” and give a hard time to those retrogrades who do not adjust their concepts of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” to match ours.  We will celebrate those with great wealth and seek to emulate their lives, no matter how squalid, unless they hold political opinions that are “inappropriate”.  We will create wealth out of thin air to care for the poor through that magical device known as “government”, the same poor that we would never personally lift a finger to aid.  Lies will cease to be lies if we wish to believe them, and the term lie will soon be banished in any case.  Too “judgmental”, the closest thing we have remaining to sin.

Continue Reading

11

Wait! Sin Has Consequences?

 

 

One of the more popular illusions of the past half century is that sin can be redefined and that we can engage in conduct formerly regarded as sinful free of consequence.  Alas, inconvenient reality keeps creeping back into the picture:

 

 

Workers at a Canadian clinic have discovered that almost 7 percent of their patients with gonorrhea had a strain of the bacteria against which all oral antibiotics are useless. This alarming report suggests gonorrhea may become an untreatable disease, warn public health experts.

Antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea have been reported in outbreaks throughout Europe and Japan, according to US News, but the Canadian study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, marks the first time the strain has been seen in a large North American population.

“We’ve been very concerned about the threat of potentially untreatable gonorrhea,” Dr. Gail Bolan of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Fox News. “We feel it’s only a matter of time until resistance will occur in the United States. Continue Reading

4

Saint Thomas Becket, Sin and Contrition

Today is the feast day of my confirmation saint, Saint Thomas Becket, the holy, blessed martyr.  His story tells us how foreign to our time the Middle Ages are.  Becket was a worldly cleric who had risen to be chancellor of England for Henry II.  Henry seized the opportunity to place his man, Becket, on the throne of Canterbury as Primate of England.  Becket had a sudden and complete religious conversion and fought Henry for the liberty of the Church for which Becket suffered exile and, ultimately, murder.  In penance for Becket’s murder Henry had himself beaten by the monks at Canterbury before the tomb of his former friend who, two years after his death, was canonized by the Pope.  For over three centuries his tomb became one of the major pilgrimage sites in Europe and inspired the immortal Canterbury Tales.

The Middle Ages were fully as immersed in sin as our own time, although with different mixtures of evil, but the sins of the Middle Ages were often followed by great penances and acts of contrition that brightened and inspired countless lives down through the centuries.  This we have lost and this we must regain.  G.K. Chesterton put what we lack in high relief when he wrote about Saint Thomas: Continue Reading

7

Universal Salvation and Probability

Every so often, another Catholic encourages me to “dare to hope that all are saved”. After all, it is not a matter of doctrine that any specific person is damned. We know that God’s mercy is great, and given God’s mercy and our beliefs about the bliss of heaven and the torment which is hell, it seems reasonable that any soul would choose to embrace God over separating himself permanently from Him.

For me, this idea seems to fall down, however, when applied to the whole of humanity. In a sense, it’s a lot like the issue of the probability of sinlessness which I wrote about briefly a while ago: Given that we have free will, it would seem that in any given situation we could choose to do the right thing — though obviously we in many cases feel a strong urge not to or don’t even have a clear understanding of what the right thing is. However paradoxically, while in every individual choice it would seem that we could choose not to sin, it seems like an impossibility that any one person would in fact make the right choice in every single circumstance, thus living a life entirely without sin (except for original sin.)

Similarly, it seems to me that while there’s clearly a chance that any given person, no matter how sinful, will repent before death, embrace God’s forgiveness, and be saved, I simply can’t imagine it as possible that every single person in the history of humanity would do so. We see people so very frequently, in ordinary life, actively choose to do thing which they know will make them unhappy out of anger, pride or even just habit — I just don’t find it persuasive that no one would ever have chosen to utterly refuse union with God and insist that he would “rather rule in hell and serve in heaven.”

So I do not hope that all will be saved — I stick to hoping that each person will be saved.

24

Choosing Hell

This post originally ran (I’ve cleaned up a few typos, but otherwise left it unchanged) back in 2006, but the topic has been on my mind, and having found it via Google while researching the topic of the Fundamental Option I decided to rerun this one rather than writing a new one.

Quite some time back, Pontifications ran a post about the theory of “fundamental option”, which it seems is the theological term for the idea that one’s salvation is based upon a fundamental choice that one makes either for or against God.

This image for the determination of one’s salvation has a certain utility in that it is simple and evocative. C. S. Lewis uses it in The Last Battle, where all of Narnia’s creatures face Aslan and swerve either to his right (with loving expressions) or to his left (with hate in their eyes). And yet, like any image or illustration, applying it absolutely leads to distortion. The ‘encounter God and choose’ image helps to emphasize that God’s judgment is not some arbitrary judgment imposed upon us. It also helps to explain how someone externally appearing to have sinned many times might be saved, while someone who to all appearances led a virtuous life, yet held pride in his heart, might reject God and be condemned. And yet, taken as an absolute of ‘salvation by choice alone’ the theory of ‘fundamental option’ becomes just as much a heresy as ‘salvation by faith alone’.
Continue Reading

1

Hating the Near and Loving the Far

At the risk of being all-books-all-the-time around here, (and really, if one is going to run risks, that’s not a bad one to run, is it?) I can’t this. I’ve been working through a lot of analysis at work lately, which involves long periods of sitting at my desk alone wrestling with Excel and Access, and to help stay on task I’ve been listening to John Cleese reading C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. It’s probably been ten years since I read Screwtape, and I’d forgotten how quotable it is.

These two sections particularly struck me. The first about the tactic of getting the temptee to focus on loving those he doesn’t actually know, while disliking those he actually interacts with on a daily basis.

[from Screwtape Letter #6]

As regards his more general attitude to the war, you must not rely too much on those feelings of hatred which the humans are so fond of discussing in Christian or anti-Christian periodicals. In his anguish, the patient can of course be encourage to revenge himself by some vindictive feelings directed towards the German leaders, and that is good so far as it goes, but it is usually a sort of melodramatic or mythical hatred directed against imaginary scapegoats. He’s never met in real life. They are lay figures modeled on what he gets from the newspapers. The results of such fanciful hatred are often most disappointing. And of all humans, the English are, in this respect, the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door. Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence as well as some malice in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remove circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real, and the benevolence large imaginary.
Continue Reading

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Ash Wednesday: God Wills It!

Lent is a time for confronting evil, especially the evil within us.  Today is Ash Wednesday.  The origins of the use of ashes on Ash Wednesday is lost in the mists of Church history.  The first pope to mention Ash Wednesday, although the custom was very old by his time, was Pope Urban II.  At the Council of Clermont in 1095, the same Council at which the Pope issued his world altering call for the First Crusade, the Council handed down this decree (among others):  10-11. No layman shall eat meat after the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday until Easter. No cleric shall eat meat from Quinquagesima Sunday until Easter.

That the first pope to mention Ash Wednesday was the same pope who launched the First Crusade is very appropriate.  Although even many Catholics may not realize this today, from first to last the Crusades were a penitential rite for the remission of sins.  One of the foremost modern historian of the Crusades, Thomas Madden, notes this:

During the past two decades, computer-assisted charter studies have demolished that contrivance. Scholars have discovered that crusading knights were generally wealthy men with plenty of their own land in Europe. Nevertheless, they willingly gave up everything to undertake the holy mission. Crusading was not cheap. Even wealthy lords could easily impoverish themselves and their families by joining a Crusade. They did so not because they expected material wealth (which many of them had already) but because they hoped to store up treasure where rust and moth could not corrupt. They were keenly aware of their sinfulness and eager to undertake the hardships of the Crusade as a penitential act of charity and love. Europe is littered with thousands of medieval charters attesting to these sentiments, charters in which these men still speak to us today if we will listen. Of course, they were not opposed to capturing booty if it could be had. But the truth is that the Crusades were notoriously bad for plunder. A few people got rich, but the vast majority returned with nothing.

Pope Urban II was clear on this point in calling for the first Crusades when he reminded the chivalry of Europe of their manifold sins and called them to repentance through the Crusade: Continue Reading

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Personal Sin, Shared Reparation

Mark Shea has an interesting post at National Catholic Register in which he answers a reader question which goes in part:

One of the priests at our parish spoke about the pedophile scandals and how we should confess our sins (and he said it like that – sounding like it implied we should as a group ask for forgiveness as Catholics for these terrible crimes) and seek forgiveness for allowing this to happen. Even though I think that these are horrible, awful, abominable events, and pray for both those who have been damaged by these sins, and as difficult as it is, those people who committed these sins, don’t exactly feel responsible for doing this myself so am having a hard time wrapping my head around repentance for the sins of others. I have sinned in a multitude of other ways but do I need to carry the burden of other people’s sins as well? Do I need to ask forgiveness for this myself? Are we supposed to ask forgiveness as Catholics even though we individually didn’t have anything to do with it?

Mark’s reply is worth reading in its entirety, but I think the key passage is: Continue Reading

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Moral Choice and Probability

As part of the ongoing discussion about sin, free will and structures of sin, I’d like to take the risk of tossing out a question which has fascinated me for some years. After all, I don’t think I’ve been called a heretic in a good thirty minutes, so I might as well be adventurous.

Question: Does free will mean that it is possible for someone to be sinless throughout his life?

It seems to me that the answer is that in a certain theoretical sense: Yes. But in any practical or probable sense: Absolutely no.

Free will means that in any given moral situation, we are capable of doing the right thing. We could choose rightly, or wrongly. However, in practical reality, we are often far more disposed to do wrong than to do right. We are also often unclear or deceived as to what the right thing to do is. And we are faced with moral choices constantly, many of which we react to instinctually, without really thinking. (And in this regard, our fallen instincts are often selfish and otherwise sinful.)

So it seems to me that while theoretically in every single moral choice situation it is possible for a person to do the right thing — from a point of view of probability it is so improbably as to be virtually indistinguishable from impossible for someone to actually remain sinless through his own will.

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Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 16

In light of the fascinating discussion of personal and social sin kicked off most recently by Darwin here (make sure and read the comments) and followed up by Joe here, I thought it would be worth posting article 16 of John Paul the Great’s post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, entitled “Personal and Social Sin”. It’s obviously very pertinent, yet unless I missed it, no one has referenced it yet. The actual text is below the break. As the reader will note, one point relevant to the discussion here is that sin properly speaking is an act on the part of an individual person. Yet while social sin is such only in an analogous sense, JPII makes clear that it does describe something real. Now, on to the text.

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All Morality is Personal

One hears, at times, frustration expressed that too many Catholics think only in terms of “personal morality” or “personal piety” and that insufficient attention is paid to social or political sin. Certainly, the results of an average Catholic’s examination of conscience might seem paltry on the stage of political activism. How can people worry about paltry wrongs such as, “I lied,” “I took the Lord’s name in vain,” or “I indulged in lustful thoughts,” when there are third world workers being cheated out of their just wages, the environment being destroyed, racism being perpetuated, nuclear weapons being built and imperialist wars being fought? Isn’t it time that we stopped obsessing over these small issues of lying and swearing and sex in order to concentrate on the massive, societal evils that afflict our country and our planet?

This line of thinking strikes me as, in the end, an approach no less dangerous than that of the Pharisee who was so notoriously contrasted with the publican. Why? Because while there are unquestionably social evils that afflict us at a wider level (though there is certainly room for debate as to the precise nature and cause of social evils, I don’t think there’s any question that such things do exist) morality must, in the end, be examined at the level of individual actions. And for us, that means our actions. Societies do not perform sins, people do. While it may make sense to talk about some pervasive evil such as racism as being a “social sin”, racism does not in fact consists of “society” being racist but rather of a number of individual people within a society behaving in a racist fashion. If workers are being treated badly or paid unjust wages, it is not because society does this, but because a certain number of individual people choose to commit those acts.

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Now Showing: The Tudors

The following is a column posted by Brad Miner of The Catholic Thing on Monday, March 1, 2010 A.D.:

John Timothy McNicholas, Cincinnati’s archbishop from 1925 until 1950, went to a New York convention in 1933 and heard the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Amleto Cicognani (future Vatican Secretary of State), rail against Hollywood’s “massacre” of American moral innocence and call for the “purification of cinema.” McNicholas took the message to heart and founded the Catholic Legion of Decency (CLOD). As TIME magazine reported in 1934, the organization’s mission was simple: the faithful should stay “away from all motion pictures except those which do not offend decency and Christian morality.” So popular did the Legion’s campaign become that Jews and Protestants joined the crusade, and the organization was quickly rechristened the National Legion of Decency.

The Legion’s descriptions of films were exclusively condemnatory; calling only for protests about and boycotts of films deemed impure. And some of the films CLOD listed have been subsequently delisted by its successor, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Office for Film and Broadcasting. For instance, “Finishing School,” a Thirties production starring Billie Burke, Ginger Rogers, and the too-often ignored Frances Dee, was condemned by CLOD as portraying an “attempted seduction and an accomplished seduction. . . . Protest. . . . Protest. . .” Today, the USCCB rating of the film is A-III, in essence: It’s a quality movie. Go ahead and watch it – you’re grown-ups.

Archbishop McNicholas

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Coakley: Faithful Catholics Shouldn't Work In Emergency Rooms

“Ken Pittman: Right, if you are a Catholic, and believe what the Pope teaches that any form of birth control is a sin. ah you don’t want to do that.

Martha Coakley: No we have a separation of church and state Ken, lets be clear.

Ken Pittman: In the emergency room you still have your religious freedom.

Martha Coakley: (…stammering) The law says that people are allowed to have that. You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”

A charming sentiment from Martha Coakley running for the Senate seat in Massachusetts.  For this gem, I award Ms. Coakley the second American Catholic Know-Nothing Award.  If I were living in Massachusetts, I would be out next Tuesday to cast my vote against this bigot.

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Pope Benedict Warns Against Marxist Liberation Theology

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Just An Observation

Wyoming recently has passed legislation that “bans” smoking in public places (except for a list of particular establishments where smoking is still permitted, and except for any county or municipality that doesn’t want to participate in the ban).  There once was hope of increasing the “sin tax” on chewing tobacco.  Elsewhere in the nation, we have had strong campaigns to reduce smoking for sake of health and public expenditure.  Now the campaigns are shifting gears and targeting refined sugars, transfats, and calorie-laden meals.

I understand, to an extent, why people are so concerned about how many times we vist McDonald’s, or much fat is in that bag of potato chips, or whether or not we buy “Biggie”-sized soft drinks.  As we continue to pay for insurance, either private or governmental, the effects are clear.  Bad health practices lead to increase in expenses.  Yet what I find odd is how the whole matter is couched almost as a moral dilemma, a moral crusade.  Isn’t just unhealthy to partake of deep-fat-fried potatoes–it is an abomination that should be punished.

Now, I seem to remember a certain gentlemen who came around saying something like: “Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?”

Is it just me, or is our society unwittingly attempting a reversion back to the Old Covenant (though we’ll pick different foods to declare “unclean”)?