Category Archives: Theology

The Mind of God

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways My ways—says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways,
My thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
-Is 55:8-9

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– by Br Thomas Davenport, OP, (Br Thomas graduated with a PhD in Physics from Stanford University before joining the Order.)

“When most people think of Albert Einstein’s contribution to physics, the theory of relativity is what comes to mind, and rightly so. What most don’t realize is that his Nobel Prize was actually awarded for explaining the photoelectric effect, a result which contradicted the classical understanding of light and helped lead to the development of Quantum Mechanics. Despite his major contributions to its development, Einstein was famously uncomfortable with the way randomness and uncertainty became so integral to the understanding of that new theory, often summed up in his quote, “God does not throw dice.”

This objection, however offhand it may seem, resonated with many physicists of the time. The glory of classical physics was how neat and tidy everything was. It offered the promise of determinism: if we could know perfectly the state of the universe at one moment and the laws that govern it, we could extrapolate forwards and backwards perfectly as far as we like. Despite the recognition that this ideal was well nigh impossible, there was comfort in the promise, and each step we took at least brought us closer to that perfection. The claim was that perfect knowledge of the natural world, the sort that is attributed to God, would ultimately be expressed in a deterministic mathematical formula.

The difficulty that Quantum Mechanics presented for Einstein and many others, physicists and non-physicists alike, is that the best picture of the physical world that it allows seems partial and incomplete. It implied that it is not just practically difficult but theoretically impossible to completely describe the current state of the world, let alone extrapolate forwards or backwards as we please. As bad as the loss of “perfect” knowledge of the world was for physicists, it further called into question the nature of God’s knowledge of the world. If some aspect of the natural order was inherently uncertain and unknowable what does this imply for God? Is God’s knowledge subject to this randomness, is he simply reacting to the whims of nature?

The image of God awaiting the results of a chance outcome is rightly viewed as absurd, but the solution was not a recovery of classical determinism. Even independent of the results of Quantum Mechanics, that view was philosophically flawed, and the attempt to understand God’s knowledge using it was even more so.

If physics could actually give us a complete description of the now and from that extrapolate forwards and backwards, then the past, present and future are logically the same and all equally “present.” In a sense, nothing “new” ever happens because everything is subject to absolute necessity. Every effect is completely defined by its cause, a picture of the world that is arguably static rather than dynamic, detracting from the very notion of time. There are a host of subtle problems this raises about necessity and contingency and what it even means to be a cause, but the most obvious difficulty with this view is that it leaves no room at all for free human activity.

Additionally, thinking of God’s knowledge in this way cripples the idea of His providence. If everything in nature simply happened necessarily based on what came before, it would seem reasonable to say that God’s knowledge is just the perfect working out of the complicated physics problem of the universe. As creator He knows how all things will work together and His providence simply becomes this human kind of foresight and His governance simply becomes setting things up to run perfectly. The danger inherent in this is to see God as the external Architect who only works on and understands the world on a natural level, more powerfully and perfectly than we ever could perhaps, but still on a natural level.

It took many years and much experimentation and calculation before the reality of the quantum world sunk in. Physicists eventually became comfortable with the success of Quantum Mechanics and settled into a new status quo that accepted a randomness and indeterminism underlying physics. Even those who sought alternative interpretations of Quantum Mechanics that might save determinism recognized that they had to bring in other phenomena that destroyed the crisp, clean classical worldview. Unfortunately, the damage done to the understanding of causality and of God’s providence by classical determinism remains.

Even if the natural world “throws dice” in its most fundamental interaction, this may simply be a physical manifestation of the inherent contingency of all material things. This idea would not have been so foreign to Aristotle and St. Thomas, who saw both necessary and contingent causes in the world around them. More importantly, this loss of absolute necessity does not threaten God’s absolute knowledge of the created order, for his knowledge is not limited to the particular mathematical and formal descriptions that we are able to develop in the sciences. God’s providence, His wise ordering of everything to its proper end, is above every natural cause. The certainty of God’s knowledge does not limit his power to create natural objects that can act in a truly contingent way. Einstein was right that “God does not throw dice,” but He knows perfectly the natural order that He created to do just that.”

Love,
Matthew

Love & Suffering

Being pope has two basic components: agendo et loquendo — acting and teaching; and orando et patendo — praying and suffering.

God & the World

During his years as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, well-known Vatican prelate Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has given three in-depth interviews. The first two interviews have become best selling books: The Ratzinger Report and Salt of the Earth. Because of the tremendous reception those books received, the Cardinal agreed to do another interview with journalist Peter Seewald, who had done the very popular Salt of the Earth interview. This third in-depth interview addresses deep questions of faith and the living of that faith in the modern world.

The interview took place over three full days spent at the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino in a setting of the silence, prayer, and hospitality of the monks. For this meeting with the highly regarded Churchman, theologian, and author, the seasoned journalist, who had fallen away from the faith but eventually returned to the Church, once again provided a very stimulating, well-prepared series of wide-ranging questions on profound issues. The Cardinal responds with candor, frankness and deep insight, giving answers that are sometimes surprising and always thought provoking.

“Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.

When we know that the way of love — this exodus, this going out of oneself — is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.

Love itself is a passion, something we endure. In love I experience first a happiness, a general feeling of happiness. Yet, on the other hand, I am taken out of my comfortable tranquility and have to let myself be reshaped. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand why it is so important to learn how to suffer — and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness, which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection, and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity.” –Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Immanence

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-by Br Peter Martyr Joseph Yungwirth, OP

“Sometimes it can feel like God is so far away.  Why?  Sure there is the obvious, “Well, I’m a sinner.”  But, sometimes God feels far away even when we’re in a state of grace.  (Editor’s note:  my mother ALWAYS asked her children, “Are you in the state of grace?”  If you don’t know what that means, get thee to a confessional!  The same woman who oft remarked in front of all who cared to listen, “If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother.”  No pressure.  Growing up Irish Catholic.  It’s a “little” different.  🙂 Why does He do this to us?

After all, in a solemn moment of self-revelation, God manifested Himself in a burning bush and gave Moses his name, “I AM WHO AM.” Then, while the Israelites were stuck in the desert, God did the unthinkable and came to dwell among them. Not in an Athenian temple or a Roman basilica but in the tabernacle of a movable tent. There, God was close to His people, remaining with them and guiding them by night and by day.

And if this wasn’t enough, God desired an even greater proximity to His people. So “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (Jn 1:14). In the Incarnation, Jesus showed us just how close God was willing to come to be with His people. No longer was His presence in the tabernacle good enough. Now God desired to take on flesh, to be joined to humanity, and to make a virgin His new tabernacle. God became so close to His people that He literally walked among them.

That was all thousands of years ago, but what about now? Just as Moses relied on God’s support, just as the nation of Israel followed the cloud and the pillar of fire through the desert, and just as the apostles walked and talked with the Incarnate God, so too wouldn’t it be helpful if God were present with us to guide us on the way? After all, thanks to Jesus’ ascension to heaven, hasn’t God left us without His presence again?

Not at all. Jesus said to us, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20). This is especially true when we consider the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, God has done something even more marvelous than speak from a burning bush or descend into a tabernacle in the wilderness. Now, God enters into us. For a short time, we become His tabernacle where He transforms us through the power of His grace, communicated to us via His eucharistic Body and Blood. Each and every day, God comes down on our altar where He continues to manifest His great love for His people and to show us just how near He really is.

Sometimes God might feel far away, but God is not a God who is transcendent in such a way that He won’t come near us. Rather, because of His divine immanence, He is simultaneously present to us. He was immanently present in a special way to the Israelites in the wilderness and to His people in the desert tabernacle. Now, on our Catholic altars and on our tongues, He is immanently present to us again. As in the Old Testament period and now in the more profound way of the Eucharist, God comes to be with His people and to guide us on the path to Heaven.”

(Catechetical note:  Roman Catholicism does not restrict Divine Immanence to solely the Eucharist, although this is the most visible & celebrated manifestation.  The Catholic understanding of Divine Immance includes His Presence always available, universally, immediately to us.)

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Transcendence

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-by Br Joseph-Mary Hertzog, OP

“Have you ever noticed the way some companies try to sell their products by raising them to the level of a symbol for something beyond their intrinsic value? I recently saw a commercial for an electronic gadget in which the device was never referred to—not even once—during the entire commercial. Instead, through impressive images of nature, human culture and play and the gravitas of the narrator’s voice the viewer was reminded that he or she was a “member of the human race,” that we live for things like art, beauty, passion, and love. And then we hear the nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman asking about the meaning of life and man’s place in it, concluding that your life—even life itself—is a wonder, a kind of play to which each one may contribute a verse.

At first glance, it seems strange to sell your product by implying a higher meaning to the product (making it a mere means for satisfying some deeper desire). Then again, we human beings do this all the time. The world is built this way; we are built this way. We are always hunting for the touch of a more profound, more beautiful, and deeper meaning.

We are confronted with a world that alludes to something beyond itself, to a truth beyond experience and a meaning not of this world. This allusiveness conveys to us an awareness of a spiritual dimension of reality, our relatedness to transcendent meaning. We hunger for meaning, for truth, for goodness—this is how we know we are alive and we won’t be satisfied with anything less than a meaning, a truth that transcends all classification and division and is as extensive as reality itself.

But how does a man lift up his eyes to see a little higher than himself? The grand premise of religion is that man is able to surpass himself; that man who is part of this world may enter into a relationship with Him who is greater than this world; that man may lift up his mind and be attached to the absolute. How does one find a way in this world that would lead to an awareness of Him who is beyond this world? How does one find the way to an awareness of the transcendent God?

I believe the answer starts with a recovery of a Biblical view of the world and of life: an awareness of the sublime, of wonder, of mystery, awe, and the grandeur of reality. The world itself can give no answer to man’s ultimate wonder at the world. There is no answer in the self to man’s ultimate wonder at the self. Without this awareness, the world becomes flat and the soul a vacuum. The recovery of this awareness will give us eyes to see that everything in the world and in history bears the imprint of He-Who-Is-Beyond-Everything, calling us beyond everything so that He might give us everything.”

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Eternity

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-by Br Boniface Endorf, OP

“Often God is depicted as an old man—but is He really old? Over all these centuries, has God aged? Christian prayers do not mention God as old, but instead as eternal. But what does that mean? It means that God is not in time—God does not think back on what He did yesterday, nor ponder what He will do tomorrow, for such temporal concepts simply do not apply to Him. This does not mean that God is stuck in time, like a bug in amber or a caveman in a block of ice—God is not frozen in time, but beyond time itself.

God is beyond time because He is not a part of the created world. The world we see around us is subject to time—these things can have a past, present, and future, or they can simply not exist at a certain time. But God is not one of those things; instead He created those things. If God were just another thing in the created world, then the obvious question arises: ‘how did God create himself?’ But God is not one of those created things, rather He is above and beyond them—they depend upon Him but He doesn’t depend on them. That’s why it would sound strange to say, “I see a tree, and a squirrel, and a bench, and, oh, there’s God!” God just isn’t that type of “thing.” There is a great chasm between God and those things He created.

Think of Tolkien and his book The Hobbit: Tolkien created The Hobbit, but is not himself subject to the time within his novel. Thus as Bilbo ages within the book, Tolkien does not age accordingly. But Tolkien is still within time—he was once living and now has already grown old and died. He was not in the fictional time of The Hobbit, but was in the real time of this world. However, God is not in a different time than us, but in eternity instead.

Things in this world of time are spread out over time. I am not the same today as I was yesterday, nor as I will be tomorrow. The Hobbit is similar—it cannot be entirely present in a moment, but must be read over time. To read the first chapter is to not be reading the second or third, and so the book can only exist spread out over time. But God is not spread out like that, rather He is always fully present. It would be as if one could read all of The Hobbit in an instant rather than line by line over time. Because God is in eternity rather than time, He is always fully present and fully alive in a way that the things of this world are not.

As the Author of time itself, God rules time from eternity: God is the Lord of time. As Tolkien created and determined the plot in The Hobbit, so God does for the real world. While we often do not understand the meaning of what happens around us or know how things will turn out, God does. We do know that this world is not written as a tragedy—God is good and His love prevails. We know this because He has told us—He has given us the cliff notes for our world. He has given the Bible. Because God is the Author of this world and because He is good, we can trust Him to guide us even when difficulties seem insurmountable. We know that He can and will turn everything toward the good in the end. Unlike an old man, God will not forget about us.”

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Impassibility

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-by Br Leo Checkai, OP

“God never wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. God never has a bad day. God never suffers. A slightly fancier way to say this is that God is “impassible.”

But doesn’t that drive a huge chasm between us and God? How can God really know and love us if he does not stand shoulder to shoulder with us in suffering? Doesn’t “impassible” really mean unresponsive and uncaring?

To be certain, Jesus Christ, True God and true man, willingly, truly suffered the pangs of death on the Cross in His human nature to which divinity was united. And so it can never be rightly said that God lacks compassion or solidarity with His people. But in the Godhead—the divine essence—no suffering ever clouds the sunny sky of God’s perfect and eternal happiness.

The act of suffering can be very meaningful to us, because great love can be shown in willing to suffer for someone or something. Yet even then, suffering is not intrinsic to love. Love has its own reality that does not depend on suffering for its existence. Suffering, in itself, is an evil, a lack of a good. God is love, and there is no lack of good in Him, either of moral good or of any other kind.

This impassibility of God is the unshakeable ground of our great hope for true and lasting happiness. When we speak of Heaven, we speak of union with God and sharing in His happiness. Because of this, we can be sure that for those who belong to God, suffering will never have the last word. No matter how deep our sorrows run, from this vale of tears we can look with confident hope to the new life where God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Rev 21:4). God, Whose life is perfect blessedness that no suffering can invade, is able to make good on this promise, and desires to do so with the dynamic energy of His unfathomable love.”

“Sufferings gladly borne for others convert more people than sermons.”
St. Therese of Lisieux

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Simplicity

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With gratitude to the prayer for the feast day of St Lawrence, Aug 10:

“…The court of heaven rejoices
For his warfare-waging,
For he has prevailed this day
Against the lackeys of wickedness.”

An indie rock band named “The Lackeys of Wickedness” always appealed to me. No? 🙂  Great line!  I have also always thought a restaurant named “Nice Thai!” would also be appealing. 🙂 “The Divine Attributes” would also be a good candidate for a band name, no?  🙂  But, seriously folks, the Divine Attributes:  simplicity, impassibility, eternity, transcendence, immanence, are God’s character traits.  They describe what God is like.  Good to know, no? 🙂  Relationships require we know what the Other is about.  No?  🙂

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-by Br Philip Neeri Reese, OP

“It’s complicated . . .

The part that comes next doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it won’t be good. Complicated relationships? Bad. Complicated questions? Bad. Complicated answers? Bad.

To make the point a bit more pointedly, here’s a challenge: can you name even one time you’ve finished a job, turned to a friend, and said, “well, at least that was complicated”?

I didn’t think so.

Few things are as universally negative as complexity. Unfortunately for us, few things are as universally true as life’s complexity. Why is it so hard to pay the bills? To raise the kids? To be a good husband or a good wife? Why are friendships as easy to break as they are tough to build? Why (to use the words of Saint Paul) is it so hard to do what my will intends?

Because we’re complicated creatures, whose emotions, intentions, thoughts, and desires swirl chaotically around that mysterious center-point we call our soul. Arriving at self-knowledge is a little like trying to grab a tornado with one hand. Coming to know ourselves and others is like trying to double-fist them. It’s no wonder we mess things up: wherever we go, we trail behind us the twin tornadoes of “me” and “you,” like riotous toilet paper stuck to the back of both shoes.

And that’s before we add sin to the mix. Sin speeds up the whirlwinds, launching cow-, tractor-, and house & barn-sized problems at our already-rickety lives.  Sin divides.  Ubi divisio, ibi peccatum, as the saying goes.   It separates us from God, separates us from each other, and even separates us from ourselves. To shift metaphors slightly, sin sets us adrift without port or anchor in a storm of our own devising.

Who can save us from our sins? Who can calm the chaos of our lives? Who can simplify our complexities?

Only Someone entirely free from all complexity and chaos. Only Someone who is totally, perfectly, and radically simple. Only God.

Nothing disturbs God. Nothing rattles Him. He is not plagued by self-doubts or second-guesses. Simply put, God is pure simplicity (and that italics is crucial: there’s no division in God at all—not in His Love, not in His Thought, not even in His Being). And when God enters our lives He brings that simplicity with Him.

Jesus Christ took on all the complexities of our humanity so that we can take on the simplicity of His Divinity. Full of love and compassion, Jesus once said to a friend, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only One thing is necessary” (Lk. 10:41). He says the same to us today. And what is that One necessary thing? The God of Divine simplicity Himself.

When we focus on Him, everything else falls into the background. When we make Him our all, nothing else matters. When God becomes our simplicity, our peace, and our joy, He stills the whirling complexities of our lives, and we begin to hear His voice in a calming whisper: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all the rest shall be yours as well” (Mat. 6:33).”

How very true.

Love,
Matthew

Purgatory


-please click on the image for greater detail

(Editor’s note:  it is helpful to recall in the Old Testament, when trying to understand the doctrine of Purgatory, I have found, for mortals to look upon the Beatific Vision (God) was certain and instantaneous death.  Recall in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” Indy’s, scriptural student that he was, instructions to Marian, “Don’t look at it, Marian!  Don’t look at it!”  AVERT YOUR EYES!!!!  Wise and successful student.  Indy and Marian live.  The Nazis, whom, with effrontery, dare look upon even a glimmer of the Divine glory?…not so much.  We must prepare.  We must be prepared.  We must cooperate with His infinite grace and mercy, not because our efforts are necessary or even helpful, but out of sheer joy and the most profound gratitude.  What other response could we possibly have?  How horrific to ignore, be indifferent to such a Gift?)


– by Br Raphael Forbing, OP

“In John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the artist invites us into a utopian paradise where the elimination of religion and politics—the two things men seem to fight about most—has finally ended all competition and dissension on earth. Once government and religion are removed from the equation, Lennon seems to suggest, peace and love are all that will remain. Of course, this imagined utopia is an implicit denial that God is the true source of all peace and love. Lennon fails to see that, in a world without God, the life of man is meaningless; he is not lovable in himself, but only because he is created and loved by God.

Far from depicting a heavenly utopia, Lennon’s song is actually closer to a description of Purgatory, the place of purification after death. Purgatory is neither Hell nor Heaven, and as in Lennon’s utopia, there are no countries, no killing, and no dying there. The souls in Purgatory are even all living for the eternal “today” of everlasting life and peace in the presence of God. That may be the end of the similarity, yet much more can be said about Purgatory, which has fascinated the Christian imagination for centuries, even millennia.

Scripture tells us little about Purgatory aside from a few key references to its existence. Even the Catechism devotes only three paragraphs to the topic. The most imaginative description we have of Purgatory is probably that made by Dante Alighieri in his Purgatorio, the second “volume” of his trilogy, La Divina Commedia. While Dante’s depiction of Purgatory is not a doctrinal statement, it can help the doctrine of Purgatory come alive for us and spur us on to pray for our deceased loved ones. Before glancing at Dante’s text, it is worth noting the most substantial paragraph on Purgatory from the Catechism:

“The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent . . . As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire . . . we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. (CCC 1031)”

With the doctrine of the Church in mind, we can take a glance at Dante’s imaginative Purgatory. After escaping Hell, Dante and his companion Virgil arrive on the shore of “ante-Purgatory,” where souls who delayed repentance in life must wait for a period of time before they begin their purification. An angel then transports those ready for Purgatory’s penances to the shores of “Mount Purgatory,” which ascends to the lowest realm of Heaven. Mount Purgatory is made up of seven terraces. Each terrace represents one of the seven deadly sins, and each of these has its own unique form of penance. The souls there slowly labor under their penances and are purified of their sin. For instance, those who were envious and “lusted with their eyes” after the goods of others, have their eyelids sewn shut with an iron thread, as they weep profusely for their sins. Voices call out examples of envy, perhaps adding to the sorrow of the penitents, who weep all the more at such vile offenses committed against such a good and loving God.

While the true destiny of man is to live in the beatific vision of God without suffering, the guilt of our sin, though forgiven, still deserves punishment. If, in the course of our life here on earth, we do not make sufficient penance for our sins, we must endure the punishment that awaits us in Purgatory, whatever that may look like. Thanks to God’s good Providence, we can choose our penances while we are alive to lessen our own stay in Purgatory, and we can also offer prayers and penances for the souls in Purgatory to lessen the punishment they must endure. Upon their arrival in Heaven, they in turn offer prayers with the saints to God on our behalf.

John Lennon may not have esteemed the good of religion, but for Christians, true religion is the source of lasting peace.”

Blessed Advent.  Lower profile than Lent as a penitential season, Advent has many parallels.

Both Advent and Lent are penitential seasons, which does seem strange because Lent has a feeling of sorrow whereas Advent does not. Both are penitential in the sense that we are preparing ourselves. Advent is a season of preparation with a feeling of hope, the hope that comes from the birth of the Savior. Lent is a season of preparation with a feeling of sorrow, sorrow for our sins for which our Savior suffered and died.

“During Advent, the faithful are admonished to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord’s coming into the world as the incarnate God of love, thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.” – “On Christian Hope”, Pope Benedict XVI, Nov 30, 2007.

Let us “Prepare the way of the Lord, for He comes!”  For all souls in purgatory, we pray, eternal rest grant unto them, may the perpetual light shine upon them, may they rest in peace.  Make haste, O Lord, to welcome into your love and joy our departed loved ones.  Make haste, O Lord, to welcome us, too, when, at the hour of our own death, we shall see You as You are, in glory; where we shall spend eternity in praise and thanksgiving to You!

Love,
Matthew

Heresy, Truth, and the Order of Preachers

-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP  (Br. Bonaventure Chapman entered the Order of Preachers in 2010. He received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“If you ask a Dominican to compare the success of the Order of Preachers to that of the Society of Jesus, you may be treated to the following jocular comment: “Well, the Dominicans were founded to defeat the Albigensian heresy and the Jesuits were founded to defeat the Protestant Reformation. How many Albigensians do you see running around today?”

As a convert and student of the Reformation I have always found this comment a bit ironic. And not because of the obvious historical fact that, at least according to Luther, we Dominicans got the whole “late unpleasantness” started with the preaching of Johann Teztel, O.P., and his famous ditty: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / a soul from purgatory springs.” This fact alone should incline any Jesuit enthusiast to retort to the Dominican heckler, “You started it! Clean up your own mess!”

But, and I always fear giving Jesuits anti-Dominican ammunition, it is a lesser known although more crucial figure of the Reformation that proves the joke’s irony. For if there were a Time magazine of the Reformation, and if it were in the habit of recognizing a “Man of the Reformation,” it’s almost certain that this honor would go to an ex-Dominican friar named Martin Bucer.

Bucer was a Reformation force; he had his hand in almost every strand of Protestant development. Born in Schlettstadt, Germany, in 1491, he joined the Order of Preachers at age sixteen and was ordained to the priesthood in 1516. He taught at the Dominican studium until 1521, when he left the Order to begin his career as a reformer. He moved to Strasbourg, leading the reformation in that city. Bucer was a theological polymath. He was conditioned, according to Ian Hazlett, “by an extraordinary coalescence of humanist, Erasmian, Aristotelian, Thomist, Neoplatonist, Augustinian, Lutheran, and biblical influences.” This vast learning, owed to his Dominican education and formation, allowed him to be the “Elder Statesman” for the major branches of the Reformation: Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican.

Bucer was with Luther from the beginning, encountering him at the Disputation of Heidelberg in 1518 and undergoing a religious conversion based upon this encounter. He continued to play a key role in Lutheran theological development through his work with Philip Melanchthon and his various failed attempts at union between Luther and Zwingli. In Strasbourg, Bucer mentored the young John Calvin during a time when, as Bernard Cottret writes, “Calvin became ‘Calvin.’” This young French Reformer took what he learned from Bucer and went back to Geneva to found the center of Reformed Protestantism, one of the most famous—or infamous—cities in Western civilization.

Just in case the Continent wasn’t enough, Bucer moved to England during the trials and travails of the Reformation there in the 1550s. He was a key advisor to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and the English Reformer happily looked to the man of Strasbourg for theological and political counsel. While Strasbourg itself did not live up to its aspirations as the Rome of the Reformation, Bucer asserted a quasi-papal influence around the globe during the Reformation, and a significant reason for his power was, without a doubt, his training as a Friar Preacher.

So what can we learn from this less-edifying episode in the history of the Dominican Order? Two things, I think. First, while Dominican involvement in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation was by no means all negative (think of Cardinal Cajetan and Pope Pius V, as well as all those delightfully Thomistic decrees from Trent!), Martin Bucer is a reminder that the greater the climb, the greater the potential fall. St. Thomas argues that, because of his greater excellence and thus greater temptation to pride, it is understandable that it was the highest of the angels—not some pipsqueak angel!—who fell from grace (see ST Ia. q. 63, a. 7). The devil is no idiot, but expansive erudition is no infallible guard against sin, or even against heresy or schism.

Secondly, and more positively for poor Bucer, while his great learning allowed him to be so influential during those years, his campaign was always one of reunion with the Church, not absolute separation. Before Trent he was at the forefront of all dialogues and colloquies between the Catholic Church and the Protestant traditions; he urged troubled Catholics not to leave the Church but to attempt reform within, and he even accorded a primacy of honor to the pope. His was not the radical withdrawal of Zwingli, of the older Luther, or of Calvin, and, when members of these more separatist groups challenged his commitment to the Reformation, he chided them by saying: “It is all very well for those supping wine and beer in cozy bars to rubbish those who slave away at these controversies and struggles.” Perhaps his residual Romanism and drive for reunion was due to his solid scholastic theology in the Dominican studium.

There may not be any Albigensians running around these days, but there are still plenty of separated brethren of the various Protestant communities, and in large part due to this former Dominican. And if Bucer’s Dominican heritage allowed him to influence all the strands of Protestantism, so too can this same Dominican tradition allow us not just to engage with his ecclesial heirs, but to achieve the reunion of all Christians in Christ’s Church.”

(c) The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

-oil on panel, The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection, circa 1650-1689

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4)

Love,
Matthew

Nov 2 – All Souls, Prayer for the Attainment of Heaven

“Through sin, death entered the world.” (cf Rm 5:12)

“Sin directs the heart of the wicked man;
his eyes are closed to the fear of God.
For he lives with the delusion:
his guilt will not be known and hated.
Empty and false are the words of his mouth;
he has ceased to be wise and do good.
On his bed he hatches plots;
he sets out on a wicked way;
he does not reject evil.”

-Psalm 36: 1-5

raphael_forbing
-by Br Raphael Forbing, OP

“Sin directs the heart of a wicked man,” reads Psalm 36. We spend our lives struggling to master our passions and avoid temptations, yet we fall time and time again. Though every sin is an offense against God’s perfect goodness, some of our failures are more serious than others. The Catholic tradition generally divides actual sins (those committed by our own free will) into two categories: mortal (grave sin) and venial (less serious sin).

Mortal sins are offenses that concern grave matter, and are made with full knowledge and deliberate consent. Baptism removes both the guilt and the punishment due to original sin, as well as all personal sin in baptism received after infancy. The grave personal sins we commit after baptism, however, incur both guilt (responsibility for sin) and punishment (the exercise of Divine justice). These sins entirely remove God’s grace in the soul, and “mortally wound” the supernatural love that grace creates in our souls. Venial sins, though they do not kill the life of grace as mortal sin does, yet damage the life of grace and charity in our souls as though inflicting a flesh wound. God offers to forgive even the darkest of sins, and seeks not only to restore the life of grace in our souls, but also to make it richer than before. It is Christ alone who restores this life in us, though He does it through the ministry of the priesthood.”

Prayer for the Attainment of Heaven

O God of all consolation, You who see in us nothing but your own gifts, I entreat You to give me, at the close of this life, knowledge of the First Truth and enjoyment of Your divine majesty.

Most generous Rewarder, give to my body also the beauty of lightsomeness, responsiveness of flesh to spirit, a quick readiness and delicacy, and the gift of unconquerable strength.

And add to these an overflow of riches, a spate of delights, a confluence of all good things, so that I may rejoice in Your consolation above me, in a place of lowliness below me, in glorification of body and soul within me, in delight of friends and angels all around me.

Most merciful Father, being with You may my mind attain the enlightenment of wisdom, my desire, the fulfillment of its longing, my courage the praise of triumph.

For where you are is avoidance of all danger, plentitude of dwelling places, harmony of wills.

Where You are is the pleasantness of spring, the radiance of summer, the fecundity of autumn, and the repast of winter.

Give, Lord God, life without death, joy without sorrow, that place where reigns sovereign freedom, free security, secure tranquility, delightful happiness, happy eternity, eternal blessedness, the vision of truth and praise, O God.

Amen.

-St Thomas Aquinas, OP (1225-1274 AD)

Love,
Matthew

Blessed Feast of All Souls!!!  
Happy Celtic New Year!!!!