The Human Flesh and Bones of Christ

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 30

In this chapter, St. Thomas confronts the heresy that Christ’s body came from heaven, rather than from the Blessed Mother.

(The preceding chapter had already addressed the false presupposition of this idea, namely that all earthly things are completely evil.)


Then St. Thomas deals with the even weirder idea that the eternal Word became flesh by changing into flesh.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 31

Holy Week Movies + Chris O’Leary

If Jesus Christ can do what He did, entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to a certain and known fate, then I can do this.

–Chris O’Leary, priest sex-abuse survivor and podcaster

Passion of the Christ Today you will be with me

Many of us Catholics have the annual ritual of watching The Passion of the Christ during Holy Week.

Mel Gibson said that he made his movie as a cinematic Stations of the Cross. Some Jews have taken offense at Gibson’s depiction of the high priests, especially the way the movie connects them with Satan. Also, Gibson included numerous allusions to Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of the Passion. I don’t think that aspect of the movie has aged well; it makes some scenes needlessly difficult to understand.

We can recognize the movie’s shortcomings, though, and still appreciate it as an aid to our devotion. After I saw the movie for the first time, in Lent 2004, I spent hours on my knees. During my teens and twenties, I meditated on the Passion over and over and over again–and still I had to reproach myself for how abysmally I had failed to do it justice. The movie left me overwhelmed with gratitude and love.

Some Christians find Gibson’s movie too violent to watch. Who can blame them? I nearly faint every time I watch it.

But The Passion is certainly not more violent than the reality. They really did practically beat and scourge Him to death, before they made Him carry the 165-pound cross and then nailed Him to it. Death by crucifixion involved physical sufferings we can hardly even begin to imagine.

The movie also captures the pivotal moment of the Passion as well as any work of art I have ever seen.

“Are you the Messiah?” (Jim Caviezel deserved an Oscar just for the way he used his one open eye in this one scene.)

Now, allow me humbly to suggest: our Holy Week routine also ought to include watching a second movie. Spotlight. The cinematic account of the Boston-Globe investigation into the sex-abuse cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Mel Gibson gave us a gift. So did the Boston Globe, and the movie-makers who depicted the journalists’ work. Seems to me like the honest Catholic, trying to keep Holy Week in AD 2021, should meditate carefully on all the reality depicted in both movies.

…Speaking of keeping reality firmly in mind: Mr. Chris O’Leary has also given us a great, great gift. His podcast series, Sacrificed. (He also kindly publishes the text, if you prefer to read, rather than listen.)

Call me grandiose to say this, but I know it to be true: Someday we will look back at this period in Church history in which we now live (hopefully, please God, from heaven), and Chris O’Leary’s Sacrificed will stand out as the most honest and insightful document that any of us have produced.

Listening to Chris tell his story–and I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him Chris–is like watching The Passion, only more painful and more real.

Sacrificed Chris O'Leary

As ‘cover art,’ Chris has a picture of himself outside the cathedral, taken by a photo-journalist. He is being shunned by a line of concelebrating priests. The occasion was the “Mass of Reparation,” after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report came out in 2018.

The priests were there to reckon with the reality of sexual abuse by clergy. And there was a survivor, holding photos of himself with the priest who had abused him. They all ignored him. The Archbishop ignored him.

I had Chris in mind when we went to our cathedral for the Chrism Mass last year. We received the same treatment.

There we were, at the annual Mass dedicated to the communion of priests and people with the bishop. I had been unjustly suspended from ministry for publishing this blog, and our parishes had been deeply wounded. We stood outside the cathedral.

The bishop and concelebrating priests ignored us. (Two priests came to shake my hand, for which I remain grateful. Otherwise: ignored.)

Richmond Cathedral WRIC screenshot2

At this time of year, many Catholics return to the Church. Holy Mother Church endures everything, and remains there for us to come back to.

That has always been the most deeply gratifying thing for me, as a priest: to be a part of that, to represent the Mother who is always there for everyone to come back to, including all us poor prodigals who have wandered far, far away. To represent the place where God opens His merciful door to His children.

Who preaches this Gospel these days, with the most eloquence? Not the higher clergy, to be sure. They seem only to know how to isolate the Church from the world, making our community look like some kind of indefensible cult.

No, the evangelical heroes of our day are the dogged alter Christuses who have suffered in the flesh with Jesus, and have lived to tell their tale.

Mr. Chris O’Leary and Co. The survivors.


Altogether Divine and Altogether Human

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 28

St. Thomas refutes the heresy of Adoptionism again–this time with respect to its mistake about the Incarnation.

The “above” to which St. Thomas refers here = Chapter 4, when he refuted Adoptionism’s mistake about the divinity of the Son of God.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 29

This chapter is just what the doctor ordered for Holy Week. The events we recall, recounted in the gospels, involved a real human being.

St. Thomas uses the word equivocal, to refer to a word being used in a secondary sense, rather than its primary meaning.  Like in the phrase, “the grass always grows greener…,” we use the word grass equivocally, as a metaphor.

Or when we say, “I’m going to watch some tv.” We don’t mean that we will literally watch the tv itself. We mean that we will watch something that the tv, as a medium of visual communication, presents to our eyes.

The opposite of equivocal is univocal, like when someone says, “I’m going to Walmart to buy a tv.” That’s using the word tv univocally.

Conclusion of Trinity Section


Tomorrow we keep Lady Day. The Incarnation of God occurred on March 25, in the womb of Our Lady, as soon as she gave her consent to the Archangel Gabriel.

We will keep the feast by starting the second part of Book IV of St. Thomas’ Summa Contra Gentiles. Chapters 27-49 of Book IV consider the mystery of the Incarnation.

Today we conclude St. Thomas’ treatment of the Holy Trinity in SCG.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 26

Two notes…

1. Early in this chapter, we encounter the word innascibility. Among the three divine Persons, the Father alone is innascible.

It’s the opposite of nascible. That is, innascible would be the opposite of nascible, if nascible were an English word. Nascible, however, does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary. Innascible and innascibility both do.

The words exist in English only in this context. Innascible means “not capable of being born.” All three divine Persons are eternal and infinite. Among them, the Father alone does not come from another.

2. We have seen how heavily St. Thomas relies on the psychological analogy for the Trinity. We can begin to grasp the mystery by studying the inner life of our own souls: We understand ourselves and love ourselves.

In this final chapter on the topic, St. Thomas acknowledges how inadequate an analogy it is.

When I studied post-graduate theology a decade ago, I had a profound aversion for the psychological analogy for the Trinity. I did not accept it as legitimate. In my research for yesterday’s podcast, I finally found a concise expression of my thoughts on the matter back in those days:

When Roman Catholic theology presents the relations of origin as notional acts and speaks of two processions per modum intellectus and per modum voluntatis, it commits–from the point of view of Orthodox triadology–an inadmissible error of confusion concerning the Trinity.

In effect, the external qualities of God-–intellect, will, or love–-are introduced into the interior of the Trinity to designate the relations between the three hypostases.

This line of thought gives us a divine individuality rather than a Trinity of persons–-an individuality which in thought is conscious of its own essential content (generation of the Word per modum intellectus) and which, in knowing himself, loves himself (the procession of the Holy Spirit ab utroque, per modum voluntatis or per modum amoris).

We are here confronted with a philosophical anthropomorphism having nothing in common with Biblical anthropomorphism; for the Biblical theophanies, while showing us in human guise the acts and manifestations of a personal God in the history of the world, also place us face to face with the mystery of His unknowable Being, which Christians nevertheless dare to venerate and to invoke as the unique Being in Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who live and reign in the inaccessible light of their essence.

For us the Trinity remains the Deus absconditus, the Holy of Holies of the divine existence, where no “strange fire” may be introduced. Theology will be faithful to tradition in so far as its technical terms–ousia, hypostasis, consubstantiality, relations of origin, causality, monarchy–serve to present more and more clearly the initial mystery of God the Trinity, without obscuring it with “Trinitarian deductions” derived from another starting-point…

The God of the philosophers and savants is introduced into the heart of the Living God, taking the place of the Deus absconditus, qui posuit tenebras latibulum suum. The unknowable essence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit receives positive qualifications. It becomes the object of natural theology: we get “God in general,” who could be the god of Descartes, or the god of Leibnitz, or even perhaps, to some extent, the god of Voltaire and of the dechristianized Deists of the eighteenth century.

(Vladimir Lossky)

Lossky refers here to “intellect, will, or love” as “external qualities” of God. This seems strange, and I am not sure that I understand what he means. I believe that he means this: Anything and everything that we attribute to God, we do so as not-God, as the infinite God’s limited creatures. We must never imagine that anything having to do with us has to do with God also, in Himself.

A decade ago, I thought of all this as rock-solid reasoning. The psychological analogy annoyed me enormously.

But my thinking has changed. I see a crucial weakness in Lossky’s position. In the name of defending the Creed of Nicaea from philosophical invasions foreign to its purity of faith, the anti-analogy position forgets that the Nicene Creed is itself the result of careful philosophical theology. The God Who revealed Himself to the Israelites and the God sought by philosophers are not two different gods, but in fact the same, one, real God.

St. Thomas hardly imagines that the psychological analogy allows us to “understand” the Trinity. He explains in the Summa Theologica that the use of analogies in theology must always recognize that any similarity between creature and Creator exists nonetheless in the context of an infinitely greater difference.

What St. Thomas does take for granted, however, is this: The words we use do mean something. So let’s use them correctly, when we use them.

St. Thomas himself preferred to keep quiet and listen, rather than speak. He spoke only when he believed it would benefit others.



Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 24
Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 25

Council of Florence

Chapters 24 and 25 of SCG Book IV launch unapologetically into disputed territory. Disputed, that is, between Catholic and Orthodox theologians.

On the one hand, St. Thomas offers us rock-solid, timeless theological argumentation that we can take to the bank, now as much as ever.

On the other hand, Thomas Aquinas, serene theologian that he was, did engage in polemics that may seem overstated now, from the point-of-view of 21st-century Catholic-Orthodox relations.

I believe in the Holy Spirit…Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

We say this at Sunday Mass. It is an article of the Nicene Creed.

Now, when we say “Nicene Creed,” we mean the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, as understood by the popes and explained at the Council of Florence.

At Nicaea, the Fathers confessed only that they believed “in the Holy Spirit,” without any additions whatsoever. At Constantinople, half a century later, they added: We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father. With the Father and the Son, He is adored and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. We Catholics say: He proceeds from the Father and the Son (“and the Son” = Filioque.) St. Thomas explains why we say this, in chapters 24 and 25 of Summa Contra Gentiles.

That phrase, “and the Son,” became a big sticking point in relations between the Greek-speaking Church in Constantinople/Byzantium and the Latin-speaking Church of the western Mediterranean world, where the pope lives.

These days, many Orthodox theologians hold that the use of “and the Son” in this article of the Creed does not involve any real doctrinal dispute. Rather, it’s an issue of Church authority. Who calls the shots? The pope or the ancient Councils of bishops?

Other Orthodox theologians hold that Latin theology has departed from the truth by adding filioque. A readable essay by Vladamir Lossky explains this point of view. As Lossky has it, Aquinas forsook the God of Israel in order to make his doctrine palatable to non-Christian philosophers.

At the beginning of this century, Catholic and Orthodox theologians agreed on some parameters for discussion of the filioque.

One of those parameters: Let’s remember that we are talking about something that we will not understand in this life. Another parameter: Let’s not say that the opposing point-of-view amounts to heresy.

In chapters 24 and 25, Aquinas does not call the filioque-denying Greeks heretics. On the other hand, he does not hesitate to declare them wrong, in the strongest terms. Only rarely does St. Thomas ever call an argument “frivolous” or “ridiculous.” He does so here, of those who deny the filioque.

Be advised 🙂


God the Holy Spirit Makes Friends of God

Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

(from our psalm at today’s Holy Mass)

In Chapter 22 of Book IV of SCG, St. Thomas explains how the Holy Spirit moves us to God.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 22

Holy Spirit dove sun

In Chapter 23, St. Thomas addresses the arguments outlined in Chapter 16, which tried to show that the Holy Spirit is not divine, but a creature.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 23

Nursing Home Resident Experience

My dear mom wrote this open letter to the management of Our Lady of the Valley, Roanoke, Virginia. I imagine that a lot of nursing home residents will relate.


We Need More than Rules

Dear administrators,

There’s a sadness at Our Lady of the Valley. I write for myself but I think I speak on behalf of others when I say that the past Covid year has caused us residents much pain and suffering.

We’re human beings who make our own decisions, yet for an entire year we’ve had almost no choices to make. We’re human beings with intelligence and emotions, not just followers of rules for avoiding coronavirus. We’re social human beings, forced into a year’s isolation: no visitors and repeated quarantines in our rooms—quarantines not unlike solitary confinement, which is proven to cause psychic and physical ills in as few as ten days.

You’ve done your best to protect us from coronavirus, and your best has been very good. Our Lady of the Valley has remained relatively free of sickness.

But running a nursing home involves more than “stopping the spread” and avoiding legal liability. Dealing with the pandemic has gotten in the way of human relationships—relationships among residents, relationships between residents and staff. We’ve spent a year of dreary days with little human interaction except for rules: what you can’t do this week; what you might be able to do next month; but no, being able to do that is postponed into the indefinite future. . .

Coronavirus has been a big challenge for you. It has been a bigger challenge for us. You get to go home every day, but this place that has been a prison for a year is our home. We’re suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The whole world is, but we nursing home residents are suffering from it worse.

Don’t make giving orders to isolate us from you and from each other your permanent disposition toward us. Please remember that we deserve tablecloths, kind words, and respect for the wise and experienced people that we are.

Ann White

Anniversaries and Things that Don’t Change

Last year on Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), we had our first ‘virtual’ Mass. We meditated on this:

By believing in Christ, we share in His experience. The eternal Father has made Jesus the heir of all things. Our Lord receives His inheritance as the gift that it is. He offers it back to the Father as a sacrifice of love.

By believing in Jesus, we share in this divine communion of the eternal Father with His incarnate Son. Through thick and thin, we have our share in that communion.

On St. Joseph’s feast day last year (March 19), our bishop here publicly accused me of harming the Church’s unity. He provided misleading evidence to support the charge. Shortly thereafter, he suspended me from ministry and locked me out of my house. I have had to celebrate Holy Mass in solitude ever since. It’s been a year now since I celebrated Mass “with the people.” Not easy.

…Now, imagine the Lord sent an angel to speak with me. “Mark, you’ve had a rough year. What’s one thing we can do up here in heaven, to ease the burden for you a little?”

If that happened, I would not even have had the presumption to ask: “Can you make the Georgetown Hoyas win the Big-East tournament in Madison Square Garden?”

Georgetown Hoyas Big East tournament champions

Our Father in heaven knows the good things we need, before we even ask Him. 🙂

On the other hand, I might have asked: “Could you have the bishop call me on Holy Thursday? And make him say, ‘Mark, it’s the day of the priesthood. I have thought things over. It’s been a year since the problems we had. I will give you your place back now.'”

Problem is, he might then say: “April fool!”

…A couple weeks ago, we kept the 1,985th anniversary of St. Peter’s arrival in Antioch, Syria, in the third year after the Lord Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. The word “Christian” originates from Antioch, which served then as the capital of the eastern Roman empire. Peter governed the Church from Antioch for a few years. Then he went to Rome and governed the Church from there. He suffered martyrdom under emperor Nero and thereby established Rome as the Apostolic See, the See of St. Peter, the city of the pope.

We keep an annual feast on the anniversary of Peter’s arrival in Antioch, February 22. To celebrate the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair, Dom Prosper Gueranger wrote:

Our Lord will not receive us as His children, unless we shall have lived in union with Him by the ministry of pastors lawfully constituted. Honor, then, and submission to Jesus and His vicar! Honor and submission to the vicar of Christ, in the pastors he sends.

Dom Prosper Gueranger
Dom Gueranger

…Yesterday the Vatican made an announcement, and a reporter at WFXR in Roanoke called me. The Vatican announcement hardly came as a surprise–namely, two people of the same sex cannot get married by a Catholic clergyman, and no bishop, priest, or deacon can “bless” the “union” of two men or two women.

The Vatican announcement did not engage the underlying question: Are physical relations between two people of the same sex always a sin? Church teaching has taken for granted from time immemorial that such relations cannot be right. But these days the question sits squarely on the table, with a lot of devout Catholics proposing that the answer might be more complicated. The magisterium of the Church has not addressed the matter since 1986.

One thing I said to the reporter that didn’t make it into the broadcast is this: I think a lot of people find it hard to credit the Vatican with honesty and good will on this subject. The prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, who issued the decree yesterday, himself ducked a subpoena to testify in a French court about his role in covering up sexual abuse by a Lyon priest.

Just in time for this little controversy, I finished reading Confessions of a Gay Priest by Tom Rastrelli. It is one of the most compelling and heartbreaking books I have ever read.

Rastrelli and I are contemporaries. He opens his book with the story of how a squirrel got electrocuted on a transformer outside the cathedral shortly before his ordination ceremony was to begin. They continued in candle light, without air conditioning. That was in June of 2002.

Tom Rastrelli photo credit Frank Miller
Tom Rastrelli (photo by Frank Miller)

I had heard the whole story before, because I was in the same cathedral exactly a year later, for the ordination of a good friend of mine. Everyone was talking about the hot, candle-lit ordination of the year before.

Rastrelli and I both studied for the priesthood under the Sulpician Fathers, he at their seminary in Baltimore, me at their seminary in Washington. We both went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, in August, during our seminary years, and stayed with the priests there. Rastrelli and I know dozens of people in common.

In his book, Rastrelli communicates his experience of sexual abuse at the hands of priest “mentors” with crushing humility and honesty. He thought he was in love; in fact, he was being abused.

Rastrelli is such a good writer that he conveys all the confusion, all the self-doubt. As he put it in an interview about his book, “Most victims don’t know they’re victims at the time. That’s how predators operate, by that kind of mental manipulation.”

When you finally reach the end of Confessions of a Gay Priest, and then consider the stunning way in which the Church has not dealt with the McCarrick scandal, or with the sex-abuse problem in general, you’re left with this: The Catholic clergy is one big closet of confused, compulsive, and dangerous self-hating gays.

A lot of people think that, and we have given them good reason to think it.

Rastrelli has given us a gift. A painful one to receive, to be sure. I cannot exactly recommend reading the book; it made me both cry and vomit. But I salute Mr. Tom Rastrelli as a mesmerizing writer, a brother seminarian I wish I had known in person, and a truth teller with a message we need to consider with the greatest care.

Meanwhile, your humble servant believes more than ever that: the Holy Mass celebrated at our altars–the altars of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church–is the religion that God Himself gave us, by sending His only begotten Son to be our brother.

Someday things will make more sense. In God’s good time.

Laetare pic 2021
Laetare Sunday, 2021