Aquinas & “the old woman”


-by Br Isidore Rice, OP

“A little old woman now knows more about what belongs to faith than all the philosophers once knew.” (See here for the full text)

“No one of the philosophers before the coming of Christ could, through his own powers, know God and the means necessary for salvation as well as any old woman since Christ’s coming knows Him through faith.” (Full text)

“Is it not correct that a charity with knowledge is more eminent than a charity without knowledge? It seems that it is not, for then a wicked theologian would have a charity of greater dignity than a holy old woman.” (Full text)

“Unlike the many philosophers through history who tended to absolutize philosophic knowledge and denigrate the simple faith of their less scientifically enlightened neighbors, St. Thomas clearly has a deep respect for the “holy old woman”. However, he also firmly values knowledge. Responding to that last quote, St. Thomas shows that knowledge, of a certain sort, can and does enrich charity: “what is discussed here is a knowledge which exerts its influence. For the force of the knowledge stimulates one to love more since the more God is known, so much the more is He loved.”

The knowledge which makes charity more splendid is not the breadth of knowledge of facts that leads to … victory. Knowing what a certain theologian said about God, the chapter and verse of various Bible passages, or the years of the eccumenical councils can be quite helpful, but the aim of theology, as well as the little old lady’s meditations, is not to know a wide breadth of opinions and facts related to God, but to know God Himself, with depth.

‘The most elementary truths of Christian faith, such as those expressed in the Our Father, are, we find, the most profound truths when we have meditated upon them long and lovingly; when, through the years, we have lived with them, while carrying our cross, and they have become the object of almost continuous contemplation. To be led to the heights of sanctity, it would be enough for a soul to live intensely but one of these truths of our Faith.’ – Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

Love,
Matthew

Mercy & laughter?

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” -Is 55:8-9


-by Br Hyacinth Grubb, OP

“How does the world react to true mercy? Sometimes it laughs.

I recently saw the film Silence, (spoiler alert) about two Jesuit missionaries in Japan during a time of terrible persecution, and it features one particularly striking character named Kichijiro. He was a Japanese Christian who, when the persecutions came, abandoned his faith and watched his wife and daughters be martyred. Years later, under the guidance of the missionaries, he begs forgiveness in an emotional scene. He seeks the sacrament of confession, he is absolved and forgiven, and he promises to reform his life.

Yet Kichijiro’s story isn’t over. When the persecution returns he apostatizes again, abandoning God and his fellow Christians. What’s worse, he turns around and betrays the missionaries for 300 silver pieces, 10 times what Judas received. With time he is consumed with sorrow for his sin, and again seeks confession from the now imprisoned priest, Fr. Rodrigues. Being a priest, Fr. Rodrigues shows him the mercy of Christ which holds no grudges. Yet at the first threat Kichijiro apostatizes again. And again he repents, again he seeks mercy, again he apostatizes.

Four times he abandons God, four times he sorrows for his sin, and four times he receives mercy in confession. Four times! This drama only ends when the Jesuit missionary himself apostasizes. The priest, in a further act of betrayal to God and to Kichijiro, refuses to hear his confession and denies Kichijiro’s plea for mercy.

Kichijiro is a pitiful character. He is cowardly, unreliable, and unfaithful; a failure as a man, and a failure as a Christian. Above all else, he is one who needs mercy.

Mercy is a response to misery and that misery is very real and very wretched. Mercy is not for the righteous, but for sinners (Lk 5:32). It is given not only once, or only four times, but “seventy times seven times” (Matt. 18:22). Mercy has no conditions, and it never changes; it is recklessly generous. It is not an exchange for reformed behavior, and it is not withdrawn when the promise of reform is broken. Mercy is messy; after all we are washed in the blood of the Lamb, not in spring water! We see all of this each time Kichijiro is absolved, and it is beautiful.

As I sat in the movie theater and watched Kichijiro fall and be raised and fall again, do you know what I heard? I heard the audience around me laugh. Each time Kichijiro came with contrition to receive mercy they laughed louder. Did they find it funny, or absurd? Were they unable to see the difference between weakness and hypocrisy? Or was it nervous laughter to relieve the intensity of a film they didn’t understand? I’m not sure exactly what motivated their amusement, but what is certain is that when faced with a depiction of mercy given freely again and again, there was mockery.

Worldly men and women do not understand mercy. They do not recognize what they thirst for, and so they laugh, because to them it seems senseless and incoherent. Pope Benedict XVI once gave a homily in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in which he compared the Catholic Church to the building’s stained glass windows. You can only see their radiant beauty and the rich colors from the inside with the light shining upon you. From the outside they appear to be cold and dreary, lifeless. Mercy is the same way. Its beauty and appeal are only apparent to those open to it. You can only understand the mercy of God if you’ve experienced it, either from Him directly or in the actions of faithful Christians. (This is why the works of mercy are so important for evangelization).

Without a knowledge of Christ, without at least an indirect knowledge seen reflected in the lives of Christians, worldly men and women will be mistaken about mercy. They will call profoundly un-merciful acts merciful: acts such as ending a suffering life, refusing the life of a child with a disability, encouraging men and women in their harmful fantasies, and even hating Love Himself in apostasy. And at the same time they will call merciful acts irrational: such as forgiving with reckless generosity, loving the worst of enemies, and bearing great wrongs silently and patiently. Worse, they will even call merciful acts harsh and rigorous: such as refusing to aid in sin, admonishing the sinner, cherishing and protecting the marriage bond, and preaching the hard but beautifully necessary truths.

Our role within this drama and this conflict between the world’s false idea of mercy and God’s true mercy is simple: cling to God. It is easy to accept the world’s ideas. It is easy to listen to the lies shouted at us day in and day out. Cling to God. Withdraw from the world and stay with Jesus. Stand alone with mercy incarnate, and mercy will reveal Himself to you, for He has said, “as the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you; abide in My love” (John 15:9).”

Love, & always in desperate need of His mercy,
Matthew

Only 3 Goods


-by Peter Kreeft

BOLD = Aquinas, Summa Theologiae = ST

“How can I simplify my life? It’s not lacking in good things, it’s too full of them. How can I find space, and time, and simplicity?

The answer is: By realizing that the only things you need are good things, and that there are not as many good things as you think, because there are only three kinds of goods: Goodness is rightly divided into (1) the virtuous, (2) the useful, and (3) the pleasant. . . .

‘Goodness is not divided into these three as something univocal to be predicated equally of them all, but as something analogical to be predicated of them according to priority and posteriority. Hence it is predicated chiefly of the virtuous, then of the pleasant, and lastly of the useful’ (I,5,6).

What is “virtuous” is good in itself. The reason to be virtuous, to do right and not wrong, is simply because it’s right and not wrong. What is “pleasant” is simply what makes you happy. And what is “useful” is whatever is a means to either what is virtuous or what is pleasant.

These are three different kinds of goods. They are good analogically, good in different ways, different senses. They are not the same in rank. They are in a hierarchy. (1) The virtuous good is the “goodest” because it is good absolutely, in itself. (2) The pleasant is next because it is also an end in itself (we seek pleasure for no other reason than pleasure), but it is not absolute but relative (“different strokes for different folks”). Also, not all pleasures are virtuous, though all virtues are pleasant. And the deepest pleasure is an effect of virtue, not vice versa. (3) Finally, the useful is good only as a means to either virtue or pleasure.

Hedonists are fools who seek only pleasure. But these people are never really deeply happy, deeply pleased. Pleasure comes only as a by-product. Pleasure-addicts are like hypochondriacs. They destroy the very thing they seek by idolizing it.

Pragmatists and utilitarians are fools who seek only utility. But as Chesterton says, “man’s most pragmatic need is to be more than a pragmatist”, to have some end to justify all these means, some absolute that all these things are relative to, something all these useful things are useful for.

Most of us are semi-hedonists and semi-utilitarians because we fill up our lives and our thoughts with useful goods first of all, then pleasant goods, then virtue last of all, as a kind of last-minute check. We invert the hierarchy. Especially in modern America, where we idolize our feelings (pleasures) and treat everything else (even unborn babies) as utilitarian, disposable consumer goods.

How can we find more room and time in our lives and our thoughts for the higher goods? By simplifying and minimizing the lower goods, and above all by eliminating everything else that is not really good at all. St. Thomas’ classification gives us a road map for a wonderful simplification of our lives. Everyone needs that today. Everyone complains that their lives are too complex, that there is not enough time, not enough leisure—even though (or perhaps because) we have all these technological time-saving devices, our hundreds of mechanical slaves. We are slaves to our slaves. St. Thomas’ simple common sense can free us from this slavery.

For there are only three kinds of good. So if a thing is not virtuous, useful, or pleasant, it’s not really good. So fugghetaboutit! Simplify your life by throwing out all the things you have that you don’t need, all that’s not virtuous, useful, or pleasant. Don’t do anything for any other reason, e.g., because “everybody’s doing it” or “everybody has one” or just because it’s “expected”, or because you feel a spontaneous desire for it once you see a commercial for it. Do you really need to buy that expensive sneaker or super cell phone, or to read that book that’s on the best-seller list, or go to that dull meeting? Is it your moral duty? Does it give you happiness, or even pleasure? If the answer to all three questions is no, then dump it! A house without a garbage can becomes cluttered and smelly. The same is true of a life.”(1)

Love & truth,
Matthew

(1)Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 698-730). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Jn 18:38 & the Dictatorship of Relativism

“I have known many men who wished to deceive, but none who wished to be deceived.”St. Augustine, Confessions


Br Jordan Zajac, OP

“Fake news” has become big news in recent months. How could the proliferation of deliberately fabricated articles be a good thing?

It’s in the outcry against fake news, coming from both liberal and conservative corners. The clamoring is good the way a person’s recognizing the symptoms of a serious illness is good. Those symptoms alert him that things are not the way they ought to be. Similarly, the concern over fake news affirms that what gets reported as factual should indeed, uh, you know, conform to reality.

This assertion shouldn’t require a robust defense. And yet…

Ours is a world where various ideologies seek to distort—and the dictatorship of relativism strives to corrupt—the truth and its integrity. Contrary to St. Augustine’s observation above, some of our contemporaries do indeed “seem to want to be lied to.” And therefore, any defense of the existence of some objective truth—the truth that we all have the natural capacity, desire, and right to know—is a great thing. Remember, “post-truth” was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2016. But even in this post-truth era, when veritas seems to have been taken off the menu, we do not stop hungering for it. “[T]he absence of truth,” Robert Cardinal Sarah asserts, “is man’s real poverty.” We would starve without it.

Another reason why fake news has proven so unsettling is because it draws attention to a simple but seldom-considered reality: we rely heavily on the testimony and authority of others to arrive at the truth.

We certainly prefer to find truth by means of personal verification: Let me see it with my own eyes. Or better yet, I’ll run some experiments. Then I’ll have certitude.

Nevertheless, there are limits to how much can be found out by personal verification. I cannot, for example, verify the precise month, day, and year I was born. I was there, of course, but I have to accept the testimony of others that it happened when and where it happened. I can’t be certain, strictly speaking. All I can do is rely on the strength of others’ testimony. I have to trust.

We accept many more truths on the basis of witnesses and testimony than we do on personal verification. “Nothing would remain stable in human society,” St. Augustine observes, “if we determined to believe only what can be held with absolute certainty.” Indeed, it would be impossible to live a functional human life without accepting anything on the basis of another’s word.

Another word for this assent to others’ testimony is faith.

We all live by faith.

Faith is often misconstrued as believing in something in the face of evidence to the contrary, or in something for which evidence cannot be provided. But essentially faith involves giving assent based on some intellectual process. When we defer to another with expertise or believe a person’s testimony, do we do so unthinkingly? On the contrary, we do so critically. Reason helps us weigh, evaluate, interpret, and explain what we believe and why. Faith and reason are not only compatible, but they work together all the time. By them we are properly conformed to reality. By them we form our convictions.

As Christians, our conviction is that the fullness of truth is a Person: Jesus Christ. Faith in Him is a gift (CCC §153), but at the same time God has supplied various signs and aids to faith: Scriptural testimony, Tradition, the Church’s apostolic foundations, her survival and spreading, the holiness of the saints, the witness of the martyrs, the intelligibility of doctrine, miracles, answered prayers, beautiful liturgy, the sacraments. All of these testify, in different ways, to the truth of the Faith. God has spoken the truth to us, and therefore we can have faith in supernatural realities.

The early Church saw her fair share of fake news. The chief priests, for example, put their own spin on the truth of the Resurrection. St. Matthew exposed this false narrative (the chief priests “can’t even lie plausibly!”, remarked St. John Chrysostom), subsuming it into his proclamation of the good news.

Increased sensitivity to falsehood is a good thing. If truth-seeking leads to Truth-seeking, as far as today’s fake news is concerned, it will have actually been great news indeed.”

Love & His Truth, He is Truth,
Matthew

Lacordaire, OP, (1802-1861) – a model for the New Evangelization (terminer)

“So what happened to Lacordaire? His conferences at Notre Dame were well received despite thinly veiled threats against his life by the King, and his fame steadily grew throughout France. After the revolution of 1848, without his campaigning, he was even elected to the French parliament. However, in his attempt to rise above political parties, and, in his words, “preach the great truths of the Gospel to all factions,” he was rather unsuccessful. He resigned two weeks after taking office. Furthermore, his efforts in the Dominican Order encountered numerous setbacks, both from within and without. Yet, by the time of his death the Catholic Church and the Dominican Order in France were flourishing again.

I think Lacordaire’s example here is of great value in two ways. First, no matter how bad we think things may be, Christ still comes to redeem us. Lacordaire was given the grace to help bring the Faith back to a country that had been massacring nuns in the streets. It can be tempting to view one’s own era as being unique, but just look to history. The Church has always been persecuted, (Ed. and Christians have always frustrated, annoyed, and betrayed other Christians and Jesus, just like Judas. ‘Put no trust in princes, [or princesses, for that matter.]’ cf Ps 146:3) but rather the faithful Christian is called to proclaim that the world has an authority greater than any human government (Ed. or human leaders, even Church leaders). And that authority became man 2,000 years ago in order that we might have true life and freedom in His saving power. (Kyrie Eleison)

Second, Lacordaire gives us an example of what the New Evangelization should look like. His talks are not heavily theological, but more inviting and apologetic. With regard to his conferences at Notre Dame he stated: “It seemed to me that we should not go to metaphysics, nor history, but set foot on the soil of the living reality and seek traces of God.” He re-presented a good that had been rejected. People could see all around them how efforts to organize society without God always end with dissatisfaction and craziness. Lacordaire was able to show them, on their own terms, how to find what they were truly after.

On a personal note, I first became interested in Lacordaire when I was in France several years ago. In the Louvre, in the wing containing many of the most famous pieces from the time of the Revolution, is a portrait of Lacordaire. He was placed at the end, at the far side of the hall. He is portrayed standing upright, arms folded, wearing his outlawed Dominican habit, and looking out confidently. It is almost as if he is placed to watch over the rest of the excesses of the revolutionary age. He came calling his people back to the truth of the Gospel and faith in Christ Jesus. It seems fitting to give him the last word:

‘Let us all stand together, whoever we may be, believers and unbelievers. Let us stand up, believers, with feelings of respect, admiration, faith, love, for a God who has revealed Himself to us with so much evidence, and Who has chosen us among men to be the depositaries of that splendid manifestation of His truth! And you who do not believe, stand up also, but with fear and trembling, as men who are but as nothing with their power and their reasoning, before facts which fill all ages, and which are in themselves so full of the power and majesty of God!’“(1)


-postal commemoratives of Pere Lacordaire’s centenary of his death

Faith, Hope, Love,
Matthew

(1) Br Constantius Sanders, OP

Lacordaire, OP, (1802-1861) – revert & apologist (partie trois)

“In Book 1 of the Summa contra Gentiles, St. Thomas Aquinas discusses the mode of inquiry taken up in theological study. He distinguishes two types of truth which the theologian seeks to understand. The first is that which unaided reason can know on its own. These arguments have demonstrable proof, and demand assent from all who understand them. Arguments like these, such as the (Ed. cosmological, if you subscribe to that type) proofs for the existence of God, or that 2+2=4, can be carried out without the light of faith. The second type of truth is that which surpasses reason and is only known by faith. These truths are above our natural capacities of understanding and we rely upon God’s revelation to know them.

There can be a temptation then to believe that truth is somehow divided and separate: that there is a truth of reason and a truth of faith. These two truths propose different ideas and are accepted variously. Faith becomes opposed to reason, and thus becomes the enemy of a supposedly rational people. Only a generation before Lacordaire, the Cathedral of Notre Dame had been desecrated by the revolutionaries and turned into the “Temple of Reason.” The scene must have been striking. It represented the supposed fall of religion, having been overcome by pure and unfettered reason.

Yet, for St. Thomas, this presents us with a false dichotomy. Faith and reason are not fundamentally opposed, but rather two sources to gain true knowledge. Both come from one source, God. Truth is twofold only for us, by our manner of coming to know it. Yet truth is fundamentally one, for it has one source, God. God is the source for all truth, whether we come to know it by natural abilities or as inspired by Faith. As truth has one source, no two truths can ever contradict each other. A truth of faith can never be contradicted by a truth gained through reason, nor vice versa.

Thus, Voltaire’s critique of the unreasonableness of Christians is itself against truth. Faith elevates what we can know. St. Thomas argues further in the Summa contra Gentiles that it is most unreasonable to assert that we cannot assent to truths which are above reason. We are not the arbiters of Faith, but trust in the inner coherence of the unity of the created world. While some Christians have certainly been guilty of denying rational truths, the real task remains to show the compatibility between Faith and reason. Lacordaire presents us with an example of how this should be done.

In an age not unlike ours, where men seek first to be free, Lacordaire came proclaiming that it was only in God that one could achieve real freedom. This is attained in being released from real bondage. The world was, and remains, captive to sin. What the Incarnation brought was redemption, merited by the blood of Christ. In order to have true freedom, the dream of the Enlightened world, one first needs salvation. Lacordaire showed that only in Christ would the modern ideals, correctly understood and moderated, ever be achieved.

While apologetics as a subject might not be particularly popular today, it still has a place in Catholic theology. Lacordaire provides us an example of how this can be carried out. There are some foundational principles which we can learn from him.

First, good apologetics address the questions that people are really asking in a mode that they understand. In an age like ours, where men seek first to be free, Lacordaire came proclaiming that it was only in God that one found true freedom. It was not “a law of bondage” that some had claimed. He also used numerous external references to history, psychology, philosophy, poetry, and literature to illustrate his points to his own particular audience. A good apologist has to meet people where they are, speaking in a way they can understand, answering the questions people are asking. Dominicans seem uniquely qualified to respond to such questions. A life lived both in prayer and study, as well as in an apostolate, allowed Lacordaire to best confront the issues of his time.

Next, apologetics done rightly show that answers to life’s deepest questions can only be found in the Catholic Church. This is what we preach to a world looking for redemption. Lacordaire gave his orations with expressiveness and enthusiasm, emphasizing that values familiar to his own day and age: liberty, equality, fraternity, patriotism, self-giving, and a sense of sacrifice, could only be truly achieved within the Catholic Church. As he argued, “The Church had the words reason and liberty on her lips when the inalienable rights of the human race were threatened with shipwreck.” Finally, perform apologetics from a position of charity and humility. Nothing is more off-putting to modern man than a position of assumed authority. Again, Lacordaire: “Real excellence and humility are not incompatible one with the other, on the contrary they are twin sisters.” We have to show that we too are pursuing truth, like all people, and that we want to find it with them. The Catholic Church has provided us with answers, and we merely want to share them.”(1)

Faith, Hope, Love,
Matthew

(1) Br Constantius Sanders, OP

Lacordaire, OP, (1802-1861): a great idea extinct? (deuxième partie)


-Lacordaire preaching his Lenten Conferences from the elevated pulpit at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, 1845.

“In Advent of 1843, Lacordaire ascended the winding steps of the pulpit at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. About eight years earlier, he had given a series of conferences there which, by all accounts, were a roaring success—reports state that they averaged over 6,000 attendees per conference. The conferences were aimed at teaching the Faith again to a country that had lost it in the Revolution. But this time was different. In 1836 Lacordaire had left France in order to further his education in Rome. While there, he had met the Dominican Order and joined their number. After formation, he returned to France with the expressed aim of restoring the Order in his home country. And did the Dominicans ever need restoring—they had gone from over 20,000 friars in 1789 to less than 5,000 a generation later. Around this time, one John Henry Newman became interested in religious life. Finding the Order much diminished in Europe, he wondered if it was not “a great idea extinct.”


-“Henri Lacordaire At Sorreze” by Anne-Francois-Louis Janmot, oil on canvas, 1847, Chateau de Versailles, Paris, France.

Yet, Lacordaire did not seek to resurrect a nearly extinct religious order simply for the novelty of it. Nor was he against the liberal egalitarian ideals of the revolutionaries. He too was a self-avowed proponent of liberté, égalité, et fraternité. It is reported that shortly before his death he told a confrere: “I die a repentant religious, but an unrepentant liberal.” Lacordaire believed that the desires for true freedom were fundamentally good, but that they could only be fulfilled in Christ. Figures like Voltaire were not the enemy, but misguided and a source for confusion. Faith did not destroy the rational capacities of the believer, but could be a source for greater insight into reality. He sought to show the modern world that Christianity was both true and in accord with what they sought.”(1)

In January 1834, at the encouragement of the young Frédéric Ozanam, the founder the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (a charitable organization,) Father Lacordaire started a series of lectures at the Collège Stanislas. This met with great success, even beyond his students. His thematic emphasis on freedom provoked his critics, who charged him with perverting the youth. Lacordaire was reputed to be the greatest pulpit orator of the nineteenth century. Lacordaire’s preaching was not so much penitential as an exercise in apologetics. He demonstrated that one could be a French citizen and a Catholic. The lectures were a great success.

Monseigneur de Quélen, the Archbishop of Paris, asked Lacordaire to preach a Lenten series in 1835 at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, as part of the Notre-Dame Lectures specially aimed at the catechesis of Christian youth, which had been inaugurated at the behest of his friend Ozanam. Lacordaire’s first lecture took place on 8 March 1835, and was met with wide acclaim. The social event of its day, 6,000 attended. Because of this immediate success, he was asked to preach again the following year. According to Thomas Bokenkotter, Lacordaire’s Notre Dame Conferences, “…proved to be one of the most dramatic events of nineteenth century church history.” Today the Lacordaire Notre-Dame Lectures, which mixed theology, philosophy and poetry, are still acclaimed as a sublime modern re-invigoration of traditional homiletics.

Among those who attended his Lenten sermons in 1836 was Marie-Eugénie de Jésus de Milleret. The encounter with Lacordaire marked a turning point in her life and the beginning of a spiritual journey that would eventually lead her to found the Religious of the Assumption. In a letter written to Lacordaire years later, she recalled, “Your words gave me a faith which henceforth nothing could shake.”

But in 1836 after such considerable success, he was still the object of mounting attacks on his theological stance. Suddenly his mother died. Lacordaire, aware of the need to continue his theological studies, retreated to Rome to study with the Jesuits. There, he published his “Letter on the Holy See” in which he reaffirmed with vigor his ultramontane positions, insisting on the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, “the one and permanent trustee, supreme organ of the Gospel, and the sacred source of the universal communion.” This text ran afoul of the Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur Quélen, who was a sincere Gallican.

Faith, Hope, Love,
Matthew

(1)  Br Constantius Sanders, OP

Lacordaire, OP (1802-1861) – losing the faith (partie un)


-Henri-Dominique Lacordaire at the convent of Sainte-Sabine in Rome, by Théodore Chassériau (1840), Musée du Louvre

“If the Catholic Church, and the Dominican Order, ever looked dead, it was at the turn of the 19th Century. In the wake of the French Revolution, the Church had been banned in many parts of Western Europe, thousands of Catholics had been martyred for their faith, religious orders had been outlawed, and the Pope had recently died in captivity under Napoleon. Swept up with the ideals of the Enlightenment, the Western world had declared herself to have progressed beyond the supposed naïveté and superstition of Christianity. Nowhere was this more dominantly witnessed than in France, where only a generation before Voltaire had stated, “The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning.”(1)

The son of a doctor in the French navy, Henri Lacordaire was born on 12 May 1802 at Recey-sur-Ource (Côte-d’Or) and raised in Dijon by his mother, Anne Dugied, the daughter of a lawyer at the Parliament of Bourgogne who was widowed at an early age, when her husband died in 1806. Henri had three brothers, one of whom was the entomologist Jean Théodore Lacordaire. Although raised a Catholic, his faith lapsed during his studies at the Dijon Lycée.

He went on to study law. He distinguished himself in oratory at the Society of Studies in Dijon, a political and literary circle of the town’s royalist youth. There he discovered the ultramontane theories of Bonald, de Maistre, and Félicité de Lamennais. Under their influence he slowly lost his enthusiasm for the encyclopedists and Rousseau, though he maintained an attachment to Classical Liberalism and the revolutionary ideals of 1789.

In 1822 he left for Paris to complete his legal training. Although legally too young to plead cases, he was allowed to do so and he successfully argued several in the Court of Assizes, attracting the interest of the great liberal lawyer Berryer. However, he became bored and felt isolated in Paris and in 1824 he re-embraced Catholicism and soon decided to become a priest.

Thanks to the support of Monseigneur de Quélen, the Archbishop of Paris, who granted him a scholarship, he began studying at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Issy in 1824 over the objections of his mother and friends. In 1826, he continued this education in Paris, which was generally mediocre. He wrote later that: “Those who remember having observed me at the seminary know that they have several times had the temptation of calling me mad.” His seminary experience inspired Sainte-Beuve’s novel Volupté.

At Saint-Sulpice, he met with Cardinal Rohan-Chabot, later archbishop of Besançon, who advised him to join the Society of Jesus. Nevertheless, after long hesitations by his superiors, he succeeded in being ordained a priest of the archdiocese of Paris on 22 September 1827. He was appointed to a modest position as chaplain of a convent of nuns of the Order of the Visitation. In the following year, he was named second chaplain of the Lycée Henri-IV. This experience convinced him of the inevitable de-Christianization of French youth educated in public institutions.

“Yet, within another generation, the French people had begun to return en masse to the Catholic Faith. So what changed? While the short answer would be “grace,” the details are varied and complex. Yet one figure who possibly best represents the reconversion of France is the Dominican preacher, Père Henri-Dominique Lacordaire. Lacordaire sought to reintroduce to France the Faith that had been dismissed in revolutionary fervor. In a society that claimed it wanted to be based on reason and freedom, Lacordaire preached that not only was the Christian Faith eminently reasonable, it was the only way to find the true freedom that man longs for in every age.

He was born Jean-Baptiste Lacordaire in 1802, two years before Napoleon became “Emperor of the French” and was formed in the liberal ideals of his age. As a child he was noted for his aptitude in studies and eventually became a lawyer. Disillusioned with some aspects of his contemporary society, however, he reconverted to the Catholic Faith in 1824 which he had abandoned as a youth. Shortly thereafter he entered seminary and was ordained a priest in 1827. While he longed to go to America to serve the rapidly expanding immigrant Catholic population, Providence had other plans for him. Introduced to different Catholic intellectual movements which had sprung up in the wake of the Revolution, he began to associate himself with some of the brightest Catholic luminaries of his time. Eventually, Lacordaire became a famed preacher and writer in his own right, destined to become the most widely regarded orator of his generation.

In 1830, he became a writer for the French Catholic periodical, L’Avenir, which advocated for a place for Catholicism within the post-Revolutionary world. They argued for universal freedom of religion and the freedom of Catholic presses to distribute their material. Yet these ideals did not have the grand success many hoped they would. French bishops eventually became suspicious of some aspects of their work–including asserting the strong primacy of the Roman Pontiff over the French Church—and recommended their condemnation. Pope Gregory XVI himself eventually condemned some of their more innovative positions. While some of Lacordaire’s associates refused to submit and eventually left the Church, he was quick to acknowledge his error. After this, his stature continued to grow throughout France as an example of the possible return of Catholic vibrancy after a generation of oppression.”(2)

Faith, Hope, Love,
Matthew

(1) Br. Constantius Sanders, OP
(2) Br. Constantius Sanders, OP

“One necessary thing”, Lk 10:42 & Aquinas

Why do we sin?

“Seek what you seek, but it is not where you seek it. You seek Life in the place of death.” –St Augustine, Confessions


-by Peter Kreeft

BOLD = Aquinas, Summa Theologiae = ST

“All created perfections are in God. Hence He is spoken of as universally perfect (“all-perfect”), because He lacks not any excellence which may be found in creatures.

This may be seen from two considerations.

First, because whatever perfection exists in an effect must also be found in the effective cause . . . Since therefore God is the first effective cause of things, the perfection of all things must pre-exist in God in a more eminent way . . .

Second, from what has already been proved, God is existence (being) itself. Consequently, He must contain within Himself the whole perfection of being . . . Since therefore God is subsisting being itself, nothing of the perfection of being can be wanting to Him. Now all created perfections are included in the perfection of being, for things are perfect only insofar as they have being after some fashion. It follows therefore that the perfection of no being is wanting to God (ST,I,4,2).

Whatever is desirable, in whatsoever beatitude (happiness, joy), whether true (beatitude) or (even) false (i.e., merely apparent beatitude), pre-exists wholly and in a more eminent degree in the divine beatitude.

As to contemplative happiness, God possesses a continual and most certain contemplation of Himself and of all things else.

And as to that which is active, He has the governance of the whole universe. As to earthly happiness, which consists in delight, riches, power, dignity, and fame, according to Boethius (The Consolation of Philosophy III,10), He possesses joy in Himself and all things else for His delight: Instead of riches, He has that complete self-sufficiency which is promised by riches; In place of power, He has omnipotence; For dignities, the government of all things; And in place of fame, He possesses the admiration of all creatures (I,26,4, “Whether All Beatitude is Included in the Beatitude of God?”).(1)

“All sin, therefore, comes from a lack of faith—faith in this very fact, that God contains all perfections, not just some. God is not an option for “religious people”, whomever they are. God is the only game in town(2).”

“Here, in St. Thomas, is a powerful aid to obeying the first and greatest commandment. (“I AM the Lord thy God. You shall have no other gods before Me” -Ex 20:2-3. And, “You shall love the Lord, thy God, with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and ALL your mind.” -Mt 22:37) It is the realization that every finite perfection we love and seek in the creation is to be found in an infinitely perfect form in God. What are we seeking in human love, in nature, in creativity, in thought? It’s desirable only because it’s a little like God. All that we love in creatures is a reflection of the Creator. There, and there alone, in Him, can we find everything we are seeking in them. The reflections of His perfections in the mirror of creation should send us away from the mirror, not into it. And when we run into the mirror, seeking our happiness there, the mirror breaks and our happiness shatters. For every truth is a reflection of His truth, every good is a reflection of His good, every beauty is a reflection of His beauty. The reflections are real, but they are only real reflections. They point back to the Reality they reflect. All truth is God’s truth. All goodness is God’s goodness. All beauty is God’s beauty. He must contain in Himself the whole perfection of being.

And therefore He is what we need, He is all of what we need, and He is the only One we need. For if we need something else besides God, something in addition to God, then God is not God.

There is a mystery about our desires: they have no limit! We are never totally and absolutely satisfied. Why? Because they are about God.

“The form (nature) of the Desired is in the desire.” St. Thomas means by that saying that there is no such thing as desire simply, desire with no specific object, desire for nothing, or for everything in general, for an abstraction. There is only desire for food, drink, sleep, truth, goodness, beauty, sex, love, friendship, etc. The form of the object of each desire is in the desire itself, and gives it its nature: desire for sex is sexual desire, desire for knowledge is curiosity, desire for friendship is loneliness.

And thus since the form of its object is in the desire itself, and since what we most deeply desire is God, the infinite source of all finite perfections, therefore the infinite nature of God is “in” this infinite desire for God, like a negative photograph, or like a silhouette. When your mother dies, your grief is a mother-shaped grief; when you lack God it is a God-shaped lack, a God-shaped (and God-sized) vacuum. The desire for God has no limit because its object (God) has no limit.

St. Thomas here simply explains, in philosophical language, St. Augustine’s beloved and famous saying that summarizes the whole meaning of life: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and [that is why] our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Confessions I,1).

How this frees us from worry! Jesus tells foolish, fussing Martha the startling good news that “There is only one thing needful!” (Lk 10:38-42). It’s Him. Mary knew that, and Martha didn’t, even though both loved Him. No thought more liberating, more simplifying, more unifying than that thought has ever entered into a human mind. Your life can be one. You can be one. You do not need to be torn apart, harried and hassled, bothered and bewildered. You can become one great person by having one great love.

For you are what you love. Your love is your destiny. Augustine says your love is your gravity (amor meus, pondus meum).

In speaking to Martha, Christ speaks to all of us. He sees us in her, and he wants to liberate us out of her confusions, her illusions, and her worries, and into Mary’s “one thing needful”. He is the One we need to seek, and find, and meet, and love, and serve in all things. Because everything we seek, every good, every happiness, every joy, every perfection, is There.”(3)

Love,
Matthew

(1) Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 605-622). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
(2) Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 627-629). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
(3) Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 634-663). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Sep 14 – Triumph of the Cross

People suffer horrific things in this life. And, as Jim Morris sang, “Nobody gets out of here alive.” I have long held, if you can explain the contradiction of the Cross, not easy, but then you do understand Christianity; counter-intuitive. It takes the worst, and represents the worst-also, this life can offer…and DESTROYS it, forever. Praise Him. Praise Him. Praise Him, Church. Praise Him. There is no Resurrection without the Cross. Horrific and horrifying, yes. Absolutely required? Without question or hesitation. Praise Him. Praise Him.


The Triumph of the Cross, ~1380, Agnolo Gaddi (1350–1396), fresco, Santa Croce, Florence (please click on the image for greater detail)


-by Br Ambrose Arralde, OP

“For many Christians, making the sign of the cross can be as mechanical as brushing one’s teeth or clearing one’s throat. On the one hand, it’s beautiful that such a simple sign can contain such profound meaning. It’s very simplicity, however, makes it easy for us to perform without giving its meaning a second thought. A good meditation on this phenomenon can be found in Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter.

“But whenever we make the sign of the cross over ourselves or over anything that we want to protect with the cross, then we must remember how the cross was made sacred and what it means, and remember that with the suffering and death of the Lord, this symbol was given honor and power.”

The cross is not a symbol invented by Christians. At the time of the early Church, the cross was already a well known symbol imbued with meaning. The cross was the symbol of death and humiliation, intended to strike fear into the hearts of would-be malefactors. Every body hanging on a cross carried with it an implicit message for the passerby, “Do not cross the state, or this will be you.” The cross, however, lost its former power when it was used to kill Jesus Christ. His followers were not deterred by the threat of the cross, nor would they deny their Lord as they were being led to die his same death. One can only imagine that this must have been quite frustrating for Roman officials. But the cross no longer meant to the Christians what it still meant to the Romans. The cross had become a symbol of life because it had been defeated and shown to be powerless, similar to how the sign of surrender would later become the handing over of one’s sword.

The impotence of the cross, however, could only be revealed after it had been given free rein to do its worst, and its worst had been found wanting. Christ felt the full weight of suffering and humiliation. But the suffering, instead of breaking his mettle, became an occasion for heroic courage, and the humiliation, instead of causing him shame, became an occasion for him to despise shame itself (cf. Hebrews 12:2). It was only by dying that Christ could rise, and in losing all human glory he was exalted above every mere creature (cf. Philippians 2:8-9). It was only after Christ had emptied the cross of all the power it had once enjoyed that he could fill it with a new and greater power. “We must remember how the cross was made sacred and what it means, and remember that with the suffering and death of the Lord, this symbol was given honor and power.”

The sign of the cross has the power to strengthen us (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2157), and it is good for us to avail ourselves of it often, but it strengthens us precisely to meet the trials of life head on, rather than to keep them at bay. We are called to share in the life and glory of Christ, but only through sharing in his cross. There are still many Christians who suffer death for their faith in Christ, but we who are not so sorely tried can also show our Christian mettle by carrying our daily crosses, strengthened by the knowledge that the cross is the sign that points to the empty tomb.”

Love & glorious, inexpressibly joyful TRIUMPH in Him,
Matthew

Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP