Visiting St. Thomas II: Montecassino

The ancient* abbey where St. Thomas studied as a boy looms above the sweet little city of Cassino.

* That is, re-built…

…ater being destroyed completely by US bombs in February, 1944.

St. Thomas prayed at the tombs of Saints Benedict and Scholastica, which are now in a chapel below the high altar of the basilica.

The young student from nearby Aquino may have read this very biography of St. Benedict…

And this textbook of science…

He probably walked through this doorway (now preserved in the abbey museum).

And trod these floor tiles.

…In his treatise on justice in the Summa, St. Thomas considers some questions about criminal trials, including how many witnesses are required to establish a fact.

In the third objection in II-II q70 art2, St. Thomas quotes a medieval canon which decrees that, to establish a fact against a Cardinal, sixty-four witnesses are required.

This is of particular interest, considering:

St. Thomas approves of the (practically insuperable) requirement, with this argument:

The rule protects the Roman Church [that is, the College of Cardinals], on account of its dignity: and this for three reasons. First because in that Church those men ought to be promoted whose sanctity makes their evidence of more weight than that of many witnesses. Secondly, because those who have to judge other men, often have many opponents on account of their justice, wherefore those who give evidence against them should not be believed indiscriminately, unless they be very numerous. Thirdly, because the condemnation of any one of them would detract in public opinion from the dignity and authority of that Church, a result which would be more fraught with danger than if one were to tolerate a sinner in that same Church, unless he were very notorious and manifest, so that a grave scandal would arise if he were tolerated.

A lot to consider here; I promise to come back and discuss this thoroughly when I get back home.

In the meantime, though, we can say for sure that the judge in Massachusetts will not have such a high threshold, when it comes to allowing testimony. (Plus, McC is no longer a Cardinal anyway, as of summer 2018.)

In this case, I believe it will actually benefit the Holy See in the long run, that the word of one accuser–with plenty of circumstantial evidence to support what he has to say–will be allowed against this particular accused criminal.

There are a lot of facts that need to come out, and getting them out will, in the end, help the Church.

If you can hang tight until March, you will be able to read about many of those facts in Ordained by a Predator. Good Lord willing, the book will see print then.

Virtue of Study

Christ_in_the_House_of_Martha_and_Mary

Study wisdom, that you may give an answer to him that criticizes. (Proverbs 27:11)

God commands study. Lord Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better part. Because she chose to listen, to learn, to exercise her mind, to study. [Spanish]

Our Creator has equipped us with minds, made to know the truth. Our bodies need food and fluids, so we get hungry and thirsty. Likewise, our minds need the truth. So we want to know, we want to learn, we strive to inquire. Our natural desire to know the truth leads us, ultimately, to God. Everything comes from Him and leads toward Him.

But of course the Lord did not equip us all mentally in the same way. He does not command us all to study the same things by the same methods. To the contrary, He has arrayed His all-but-endlessly beautiful universe to attract our study in an all-but-endlessly vast array of ways.

He gave us each our own particular interests and takes on things. We all have different kinds of minds. Some people like reading more than others. Some people like tinkering with engines. Some people like cooking, gardening, sketching, architecture, psychology, politics, math, equestrian dressage, blue-grass harmonics. You name it.

aquinas
see Summa Theo. II-II q. 166

All truth, all beauty, all healthiness and fullness comes from God. So the study of anything good and true leads to God. We individually study different good and true things, in different ways. But for each of us to come into his or her own, we each must study. To fully realize our potential, we must exercise and apply our minds in a humble, dutiful, disciplined, and focused manner.

Why? In Dante’s Inferno, the first thing that the poet’s guide says about the damned is: “They have lost the good of the intellect.” Heaven involves knowing The Truth fully, and resting in His utterly clear light. Hell involves losing the truth altogether and falling into the darkness of utter confusion.

God commands us to study. We can disobey, and go wrong, in two ways.

1. Because study requires strenuous mental effort, our lazy bodies rebel. It’s easier to doze than to read. It’s easier to eat dessert than to do experiments. It’s easier just to conform my shallow thinking to the same lame ideas that everyone else has, rather than seek wise counsel, engage in debate, and carefully form solid opinions of my very own.

Which Christian heroes do we most admire? The martyrs, of course. The martyrs throughout the ages have made it their business to seek the truth about God and to adhere to that truth with a deep certainty. A martyr’s well-studied conviction makes him or her fearless of death.

That’s what Mary did at Jesus’ feet: She courageously sought the truth about God. The truth to which she could cling with unswerving courage, deepening her knowledge by prayer and meditation.

So the first way we can go wrong in the exercising of our minds: failing to exercise them. Intellectual indolence. Becoming conformist mental couch potatoes. Cowards in the face of the difficulties involved in acquiring solid knowledge.

2. But there’s a second, equally dangerous trap. Namely: undisciplined, fruitless, shallow study—also known as empty curiosity. Minds running after trifles, fake news, or presumptuous over-statements.

Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to learn sublime wisdom. Grasping Jesus’ words required humble concentration. Because she did not hear idle gossip. She did not hear silly vignettes or sweet little romances. The Sermon on the Mount contains the most important wisdom ever imparted to mankind. But reading it isn’t exactly ‘entertaining.’ The gospels are no comic books.

Nor does it fall to us human creatures to study and learn everything. Mary never imagined, as she sat at Jesus’ feet, that she could learn things beyond the scope of her limited mind. We human beings take the most-important things on faith. We have great minds–compared to squirrels. But compared to God and His angels, even the greatest human geniuses know practically nothing.

Now, school kids of course think of summertime as a welcome respite from the rigors of study. But we adults cherish these months as an opportunity to follow Mary to the feet of the Christ. To put aside some of our usual workaday cares, sit quietly, and apply our minds to the truths that are worth living and dying for.

Civilization of Love

Garofalo Ascension of Christ

Lord Jesus ascended into heaven.

We might well wish that He had not. We might prefer that He had remained on earth, with us, so that we could see Him. We might think that God being visible on earth would make the Christian faith considerably easier to sustain.

But St. Thomas Aquinas explains in the Summa Theologica why we should, in fact, rejoice that Christ ascended into heaven–even though, for now, it is beyond our sight. St. Thomas gives a number of reasons. One of them is this: We rejoice in Christ’s Ascension because it directs our fervor toward the invisible Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, which Christ gives us from heaven, is, to quote St. Thomas, “love drawing us up to heavenly things.” The Holy Spirit is nothing other than “love drawing us up to heavenly things.”

In other words: God is; our religion revolves around; the meaning of life is: love drawing us up to heavenly things. I would say that this may be the key concept for our spiritual lives in AD 2014, fifty years after Vatican II.

Continue reading “Civilization of Love”

“The Perfection of the Universe” Explanation

Why, on the sixth day, did God make scorpions and other nasty creatures that can kill us?

This question can be found in St. Thomas’ Summa (I q72 obj6):

Certain animals are poisonous, and injurious to man. But there ought to have been nothing injurious to man before man sinned. Therefore such animals ought not to have been made by God at all, since He is the Author of good; or at least not until man had sinned.

To defend the authority of Holy Scripture, St. Thomas does the wise thing and quotes St. Augustine:

In the words of Augustine: “If an unskilled person enters the workshop of an artificer, he sees in it many appliances of which he does not understand the use, and which, if he is a foolish fellow, he considers unnecessary. Moreover, should he carelessly fall into the fire, or wound himself with a sharp-edged tool, he is under the impression that many of the things there are hurtful; whereas the craftsman, knowing their use, laughs at his folly. And thus some people presume to find fault with many things in this world, through not seeing the reasons for their existence. For though not required for the furnishing of our house, these things are necessary for the perfection of the universe.” And, since man before he sinned would have used the things of this world conformably to the order designed, poisonous animals would not have injured him.

We could also say, I guess, that such creatures serve a necessary purpose in the food chain. An ecologist would probably offer evidence to support such a proposal. But the food-chain response would not satisfy the metaphysical and theological inquirer, who would respond to such an answer with: Well, then, why did He make the food chain work in such a way that it requires animals that can kill us?

So we must enter the realm of “the superior art of the divine craftsman” to explain some things. Why do some people die unjust and suffer eternal condemnation? Because for God to punish them contributes to the overall perfection of the universe.

A perfection that we cannot now understand.

Now, must a sober, inquiring, scientific mind dismiss such a response as facile and anti-intellectual?

Yes, if a better answer to the question at hand can be found. Why do people face the danger of death when they contract certain diseases? Because their deaths contribute to the perfection of the universe? No. They face the danger of death because particular germs and infections threaten their bodily systems. We serve the perfection of the universe by trying to figure out how to combat these germs and infections. Under such circumstances, we need anatomical and biological facts to serve the cause of effective medicine, not justifications for divine Providence.

But:

No, a reasonable person must have recourse to the mysterious-perfection-of-the-universe response, when the question truly does touch on the superior craftsmanship of the divine author of reality. If we do not have the humility to acknowledge that our minds cannot comprehend the absolute good–if we don’t accept the fact that God accomplishes good ends with events that seem terrible to us–then we risk the folly of the unskilled person who hurts himself and others with powerful tools that only the Master really knows how to use.

Thoughts?

Something Bigger Than You

blagojevichThe whole unhappy business of the allegations against the Governor of Illinois reminded me: I haven’t read St. Thomas on simony in a long time.

“Simony” is named after Simon the Magician who offered the Apostles money if they would lay hands on him and give him the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18). St. Peter rebuked Simon and said to him: “Thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast no part nor lot in this matter. For thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Do penance therefore for this thy wickedness: and pray to God, that perhaps this thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee.”

'The Fall of Simon Magus' fresco
'The Fall of Simon Magus' fresco
St. Thomas quotes Pope St. Gregory VII’s definition of simony: “Buying or selling spiritual things.”

Two notable aspects of Question 100 of the Second Part of the Second Part of the Summa Theologica:

1) St. Thomas distinguishes between the sin of simony and the support of the bodily needs of priests. It is wrong for a priest to sell something that does not belong to him, namely the grace of God. On the other hand, a priest is within his rights to accept offerings intended to keep him warm, fed, and healthy.

2) Question 100 is very long and full of references to particular Church rules against simony. We can gather that simony has always been a temptation.

May justice be done in Illinois. Let’s remember: “Innocent until proven guilty.” If the Governor is guilty, may he repent, and may the Lord be merciful to him.

In the meantime, reading Question 100 gives me the same feeling in the pit of my stomach that the allegations against Governor Blagojevich give to all of us:

It is a terrible thing to forget that some things are bigger than you.