Category Archives: Theology

Being made righteous by God is more than a legal standing, it’s a reality


-by Karlo Broussard

“Some Protestants believe, contrary to Catholic teaching, that our justification doesn’t consist in us being intrinsically righteous. Rather, God merely declares us righteous, whereby we receive Christ’s personal righteousness, and God treats us just as he treats Christ. In other words, God sees Christ when he sees us.

To make their case, these Protestants will often appeal to 2 Corinthians 5:21, where Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Just as Christ is said to be sin when he wasn’t, so the argument goes, so too sinners are reckoned to be righteous (“become the righteousness of God”) when they aren’t. And if we’re reckoned righteous without being intrinsically righteous, then it must be Christ’s righteousness that we receive.

Let’s see how we might respond to this argument.

Key to the argument is its interpretation of the term sin. It interprets sin as literally referring to actions that contravene God’s law. But we have good reason to think Paul is referring to something else here—namely, a sin offering.

In the Old Testament, the term “sin” (Greek, hamartia) is often used to refer to a “sin offering.” Consider, for example, Leviticus 4:33:

If he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering [Greek, hamartia], he shall bring a female without blemish, and lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering [Greek, hamartia], and kill it for a sin offering in the place where they kill the burnt offering.

(The English translator inserted the third “sin offering” above for clarity. There’s no corresponding hamartia in the original text, so the third “sin offering” above does not translate hamartia only in a technical sense.)

Other passages include Leviticus 5:12 and 6:25. Isaiah 53:10 directly applies hamartia to the suffering Messiah, who is expected to make himself a sin offering: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin [Greek, hamartia].”

It’s against this Old Testament backdrop that Paul speaks of Jesus as being “made sin.” And he does so within a context where he speaks of Christ reconciling the world back to God:

  • 18: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
  • 19: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”
  • 20: “We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Given this context of Christ’s reconciliation and the Old Testament usage of hamartia to refer to a sin offering, it’s reasonable to interpret Paul’s use of hamartia in 2 Corinthians 5:21 as referring to Jesus, the suffering Messiah, becoming the atoning sacrifice for the redemption of the world rather than being considered something he’s not: sin itself.

Since the fundamental assumption of the argument that we’re considering here is false, it fails to justify (yes, the pun is intended) the idea that we can be reckoned righteous when we’re not actually (intrinsically) righteous.

This leads to a second response. Given our above interpretation that “sin” refers to “sin offering,” notice that Paul doesn’t think Christ is “considered” a sin offering; rather, Christ actually is the sin offering. Jesus bore our sins as the sacrificial victim so we could be reconciled back to God, as Paul teaches in the preceding verses (vv. 18-20). If Christ actually is the atoning sacrifice and is not merely “considered” to be so, and our “becoming the righteousness of God” is parallel to that, which many Protestants affirm, then we should interpret our becoming righteous as actually becoming righteous rather than being merely considered or reckoned righteous.

Protestant New Testament scholar N.T. Wright concurs:

The little word genōmetha in 2 Corinthians 5:21b—“that we might become God’s righteousness in him”—does not sit comfortably with the normal interpretation, according to which God’s righteousness is “imputed” or “reckoned” to believers. If that was what Paul meant, with the overtones of “extraneous righteousness” that normally come with that theory, the one thing he ought not to have said is that we “become” that righteousness. Surely that leans far too much toward a Roman Catholic notion of infused righteousness?

It’s important to note here that Catholics do not believe that the phrase “becoming the righteousness of God” means we become the righteousness that is God’s own righteousness in virtue, being pure existence. Rather, the idea is that the righteousness that we receive when we’re justified is a righteousness that comes from God, since it is he who makes us just. This is the sense that Paul has in mind in Philippians 3:9, where he writes, “That I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

Now, it’s possible that the phrase “becoming the righteousness of God” refers not to something about us, but rather to God’s own righteousness, or faithfulness to the covenant, being manifest in the world through us. This is how Paul uses the phrase “the righteousness of God” in Romans 3:25-26: “This [Jesus’s expiatory death] was to show God’s righteousness . . . it was to prove at the present time that he is righteous.” So Paul could be saying in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that God has manifested his righteousness (fidelity to the covenant) by saving us through Christ, who is the promised sin offering (“sin”) that reconciles the human race back to God.

Although this interpretation of the phrase “becoming the righteousness of God” excludes 2 Corinthians 5:21 as positive evidence for God making us actually righteous, it remains the case that 2 Corinthians 5:21 does not support the teaching that we, as justified Christians, have only our legal standing changed before God.

So, as Catholics, we need not change our view of justification based on 2 Corinthians 5:21. We can still believe that when God justifies us, he makes us intrinsically righteous by his grace. In the words of Paul, he makes us a “new creation,” with the old passing away and the new having come (2 Cor. 5:17).

Love & truth,
Matthew

Offer it up


-please click on the image for greater detail

Morning Offering

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day
for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world,
for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians,
and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month.

Amen.


-by Br Finbar Kantor, OP

“Offer it up” is a phrase well-known to Catholics both young and old. It is a phrase that we often use to satirize stern teaching-sisters and good Catholic mothers alike. But, despite its worn familiarity, it is a phrase that has not yet lost its use! In Spe salvi Pope Benedict XVI said that “offering it up” is a way that “even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love” (Spe salvi, 40). Furthermore, he suggested that “maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice.” Especially during this month dedicated to the remembrance of the deceased, we can make an effort to offer up our suffering on behalf of those souls in Purgatory.

The reality of human suffering in a world ruled by “a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity” (Exod 34:6) is a profound mystery. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that God’s allowance of suffering is part of God’s infinite goodness so that out of that suffering he can produce immense good (ST I, q. 2, a. 3). From blind beggars and sick servants to the crucifixion of Christ, the Gospel is filled with examples of Jesus transforming sickness and suffering into prosperity and joy. This transformation is also possible in our lives. When we realize that God permitting our suffering is a part of his goodness, we are able to sanctify it by “offering it up” to God.

When faced with suffering, we can do one of two things. We can reject that our pain has any meaning or purpose, or we can offer up our daily struggles. By offering it up, we accept our suffering and acknowledge that God can bring good out of it. Our suffering can open the door to our sanctification. When we offer up these moments, we hand them over to God, and he transforms them into acts of love. “Offering it up” can be as simple as praying:

Dear Lord, I offer you my suffering today

For the conversion of sinners,

For the forgiveness of sins, and

For the salvation of souls. Amen.

All suffering, from mild discomfort to profound miseries, can be offered to God. By accepting our suffering, we take up our crosses, where “Christ’s sufferings overflow to us” (2 Cor 1:5). By handing over our suffering to Christ, we join ourselves to the suffering he endured for us, “sharing of His sufferings by being conformed to His death” (Phil 3:10). It is by joining ourselves to Christ’s suffering that we can make expiation for our own sins and more perfectly conform ourselves to God’s will.

In addition to being sanctified ourselves, we can offer our suffering for the sanctification of others—especially for those in Purgatory. The souls in Purgatory cannot help themselves; they rely on our prayers for relief. (ST II-II, q. 83, a. 11) We can and should always pray for them. By turning to prayer during moments of suffering, joining ourselves to Christ’s cross, and offering our sufferings for the souls in Purgatory, we can say with St. Paul, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24).”

Love,
Matthew

What is the soul? 2



-“Soul Carried to Heaven”, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, c.1878, oil on canvas, 275 x 180 cm, please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Karlo Broussard

“If you bring up the topic of the soul, it’s not uncommon for folks to give you a blank stare. And even if folks do have something to say about it, they often think of it as some separate thing in us that’s interacting with our body—like how a puppeteer might manipulate a puppet or a poltergeist might maneuver a body as its own. But this is far from what the soul is.

To get a proper understanding of what we’re talking about, let’s start with two simple things: a rock and a plant. Is there a difference between the two? Any kid will tell you there is. The plant is alive; the rock is not.

So there’s something to the plant that makes it a living thing rather than a non-living thing. St. Thomas Aquinas, and Aristotle before him, identifies that something as the soul, “the first principle of life of those things which live” (Summa Theologiae I:75:1).

Therefore, everything that is living—plants, animals, humans, and all the rest (e.g., fungi, monerans)—has a soul and lives because of a soul. The soul is what makes a thing a living being.

But not all souls are created equal. In fact, plant souls, animal souls, and human souls all belong to different orders. These are called the vegetative, sensitive, and rational orders.

In 1914 and 1916, the Church’s ordinary Magisterium confirmed this truth when it published in the Acta Apostolica Sedis (the official journal of the Holy See) a list of twenty-four theses derived from the theological and philosophical tradition of Aquinas. Thesis 14 reads as follows:

Souls in the vegetative and sensitive orders cannot subsist of themselves, nor are they produced of themselves. Rather, they are no more than principles whereby the living thing exists and lives; and since they are wholly dependent upon matter, they are incidentally corrupted through the corruption of the composite.

Regardless of what order of soul we’re talking about, the next thing we need to know about a soul is that it is the form of a body. Aquinas follows Aristotle on this (ST I:76:1). The Catechism even adopts this explanation, enshrining it in official Catholic teaching:

The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body (CCC 365).

Form is just a word we use to signify that which makes a thing the kind of thing it is. For example, when we look at a table, it may happen to be made of wood or iron, but regardless of the material used to construct it, it nonetheless has the form of a table. In other words, it’s not a chair, a plate, a fork, a spoon, etc.—it’s a table. Form is the organizational pattern that makes the matter of a thing what it is—in this case, a table.

A soul is a form that makes a living thing the kind of living thing it is—a plant, an animal, a human person. It’s “the organizational pattern or form of all the parts and all the parts of all the parts,” coordinating the matter to be the kind of living thing it is. The soul of a plant informs and makes the plant’s matter that of a plant. The soul of a lion informs and makes the lion’s matter that of a lion. The soul of a human being informs and makes the human’s matter that of a human being.

By contrast, the matter of a plant that has died is no longer that of a plant. Immediately after death, the matter takes on new distinct forms. What these new forms are exactly may be hard to discern. But we do know they are now actually individual material substances that accidentally constitute what we see to be a single thing. These individual material substances would have been present virtually (not present as an actual substance) in the plant only before the loss of its soul. We may still call it a plant—but given that it no longer has its life principle to unify the matter and allow it to operate as plants do, the matter is no longer that of a plant. Likewise with a dead lion or human being. It’s the soul, then, that makes the body not only a living body, but the kind of living body it is.

Now, there are a couple of important points about the soul that follow from it being the form of the body. One is that the soul is not a separate substance from the body, like a ghost trapped in the machine of the body. Rather, the soul and body together (whether for a plant, an animal, or a human being) make up one thing—one substance.

We see that this is true by considering how the soul is the first principle of life not only in a thing, but also in all a thing’s activities. As the form of a living thing, the soul makes a thing what it is. Being a particular kind of thing involves having certain powers and activities that go with being the kind of thing it is. So a plant does what a plant does—takes in nutrients and grows. An animal does what’s proper to animals—like plants, it takes in nutrients and grows, but unlike plants, it senses and has the power to move. Human beings do what’s proper being a human—take in nutrients, grow, sense, move, and rationally know and love.

Since the soul makes a thing what it is, and since being a particular kind of thing involves having certain powers and activities, it follows that the soul is the seat of all of a living thing’s powers and activities.

Now, as Aquinas argues, vegetative and sensory powers and activities (which plants, animals, and humans have) belong to the bodies of corporeal beings (ST I:75:3). Since the soul is the seat of those bodily powers and activities, it follows that vegetative and sensory powers and activities proceed by way of both body and soul. And since these activities are of one thing—an action being performed by a single thing (the plant growing, the lion running, the human seeing)—it follows that body and soul together form one thing.

Another point is that the soul is entire in the whole body and in each of its united parts. A branch that’s cut from the tree, for example, no longer has the form of the tree. The matter takes on new distinct forms and thus becomes a conglomeration of individual material substances, just as the matter of the whole tree would if it were to die. The same goes for a limb that’s cut off from a human body: the cut off hand is no longer a human hand because it no longer has the person’s soul as its form. So there’s no dividing up the soul.

Given the different powers and activities that each order of souls allows for, we can see a certain hierarchy. As we move from plants to humans, we see the powers climb the ladder of perfection: nutrition and growth to sensation and self-local motion to rational knowledge and love.

There are many more questions that arise concerning the nature of souls. Can they exist without the body? Even if some can exist without the body, can they be destroyed? These we’ll have to save for some other time. But suffice it to say for now that as the form of a body, the soul is not all that mysterious after all.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

How to destroy a soul


-“The Damned Soul”, drawing by Michelangelo Buonarroti c. 1525, black ink, 35,7 x 25,1 cm Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence


-by Karlo Broussard

“In a previous article, we looked at the nature of the soul and left off with some important questions. Can the soul continue to exist after the death of the body? If so, can it be destroyed? Let’s consider these questions here.

The key to answering the question of whether a soul can continue to exist after death is figuring out whether a soul has any activities that transcend the boundaries of matter. Imagine a workaholic who never cultivated a life outside his work. All of a sudden, he’s retired, and he doesn’t know what to do with himself, because all of his activity was bound up with and dependent on his career. This is a way to illustrate the principle that action follows being—that something acts according to its mode of existence. If we can figure out the nature of the activity, then we can know the nature of the thing’s mode of being.

So, if a soul is like the workaholic, and its activities are entirely bound up with and dependent on matter, then its existence will be bound up with and dependent on matter. Such a soul would not be able to continue to exist after “retirement”—or, in this case, death.

If, however, a soul has activities that are not entirely bound up with and dependent on matter, then such a soul would have an aspect of its life that is independent of matter and thus would be able to continue to exist without its body—like the person who has a spouse and a family and hobbies outside his work to fully devote himself to once retirement comes.

For St. Thomas Aquinas, plants and animals do have souls, but those souls cannot exist without the body. His reason is that all the activities of plants and non-rational animals are bound up with and dependent on matter.

Nutrition and growth are obviously bound up with matter. Sensation, even though its powers are rooted in the soul, is necessarily tied up with matter. When we see something, for example, we see this man. We perceive this man being here and not there. We perceive this man being taller than the plant near his foot. We perceive the color black located here, in this man’s hair. Since our power of sight is exercised through the material medium of the eye, our power of sight necessarily always attains its objects under material conditions: particularity, spatial relations, and quantitative dimensions.

But our human power to know by virtue of the intellect is unlike the power of sight through the eye. We’re able to know the form or essence of something in a universal way, stripped of all material conditions. We’re able to know the essence, the nature, or the form of triangularity independent of the material conditions that make up each triangle—their size, color, location, and the stuff each one is made of. Even a triangle’s particularity is excluded from our knowledge of the form of triangularity.

Since our intellects act on universal ideas in a way that’s not under the conditions of matter, and since our intellects are powers of our souls, it follows that the soul has an activity that is, of itself, exercised apart from the body. And given that operation (or activity) follows the mode of being, we can conclude that the soul can exist without the body.

The next question is whether the soul is indestructible. Proving that a human soul can exist without the body doesn’t prove that the soul is indestructible. Sure, the destruction of the body doesn’t destroy the soul, but perhaps there is some other way that the soul could go out of existence.

For example, whatever is made up of parts can break apart. Can the soul break apart? Or perhaps the soul can go out of existence like how a tree goes out of existence when the tree’s matter loses its form as it’s being put through the woodchipper.

Let’s take a look at these options and see if the soul fits the bill.

We know that the soul can’t be destroyed via breaking apart because the soul is not made up of parts in the first place, being that it’s immaterial. We know that this is true given its immaterial activity of intellectual understanding, as demonstrated above.

The soul also cannot be destroyed via being separated from its form. Every material thing is composed of what philosophers refer to as form and matter. For example, a tree is composed of a certain kind of matter—mostly wood— and a certain kind of form—the form of a woody vegetative organism that grows upward with a trunk that produces branches above the ground.

Now, destruction comes when a thing loses its form and is replaced by another. A tree loses its form, for instance, and thus ceases to exist, when I cut it down and throw it into the woodchipper. The matter loses the form that was making it the kind of thing it was—namely, a tree—and takes on the form of wood chips. Therefore, if something can lose its form, and be replaced by another form, then it can be destroyed.

But unlike the tree, which can lose its form due to its nature as a matter-form composite, the human soul can’t lose its form and be replaced by another because it is only a form. For a human being, the soul is the form of the body—that which makes the body a human body. Therefore, when the soul separates from the body, it can’t be destroyed by losing its form and being replaced by another.

Since the soul is a form and therefore cannot be taken away from itself, nor can it be replaced with another form, and we know that the human soul can exist without the body, then it follows that the human soul by nature is indestructible.

There is one last way the soul could go out of existence, and that is by way of annihilation. Annihilation is the reduction of something from existence to non-existence, which is an action that can be performed in principle only by God. Annihilation would not be due to anything in the nature of the soul itself, but simply due to God ceasing to will the soul’s existence.

But we know that God won’t do this, since it would violate his wisdom. It would be contrary to God’s wisdom to create a thing with an immortal nature only to thwart that nature. We can even go so far as to say that given that God has created an immortal nature, and given his immutable nature, he cannot annihilate the soul. He is committed to the nature of the thing he creates.

So the human soul is of such a nature that if it exists, it will exist forever. In other words, it’s immortal. And since we have good reason to think that God will not annihilate it, we can conclude that there is existence beyond the grave.

So the soul is not some sort of metaphysical rug under to cover our embarrassment as we flail around to explain Catholic doctrines on life after death. Rather, the immaterial and immortal soul is a metaphysical rock on which we can build an edifice of faith in Jesus’ promise of eternal life in heaven.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Explaining Purgatory



Saint Lawrence Liberates Souls from Purgatory, Lorenzo di Niccolò, ca. 1412, Tempera and tooled gold on poplar panel, 13 5/16 x 26 5/8 in. (33.8 x 67.6 cm)Frame: 16 x 26 5/8 in. (40.6 x 67.6 cm), Brooklyn Museum, please click on the image for greater detail

-lighter tone


-by Karlo Broussard

“When it comes to the most misunderstood doctrines of the Catholic Church, purgatory probably ranks at the top. Often, these misunderstandings are manifested in what everyday folks say about purgatory.

Let’s consider some of these catchphrases here.

“If I don’t get a chance to turn my life around for the Lord here on earth, I’ll just do it when I’m in purgatory.”

This saying exposes perhaps the greatest myth about purgatory: that it’s a second chance for salvation. At least for the Catholic Church, purgatory is only for those who, in the words of the Catechism (CCC), “die in God’s grace and friendship” (1030). The Catechism goes on to affirm that such people are “assured of their eternal salvation.”

The Bible supports this view of purgatory. Consider, for example, Hebrews 9:27: “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 confirms the idea that the judgment immediately following death (the particular judgment—CCC 1022) secures one’s eternal destiny.

We’re told that Lazarus died and then “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (v.22). After the rich man’s death, he found himself “in Hades, being in torment” (v.23). That their destinies were secure is indicated what Abraham tells the rich man, “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us’” (v.26).

Since the Bible reveals that a soul’s ultimate destiny is secure immediately after death, whether heaven or hell, it follows that the ultimate destiny of every soul in purgatory is secure. And since the Catholic Church teaches that the destiny of every soul in purgatory is heaven (they died in God’s grace and friendship), it follows that every soul in purgatory is secure with respect to his salvation. Purgatory, therefore, is not a place for second chances.

“There’s no point praying for souls in purgatory because they’re all going to heaven anyway.”

Although it’s true that the souls in purgatory will eventually enter heaven, that doesn’t mean there’s no point in praying for them. There are several reasons why we should pray for the faithful departed.

First, it expresses love for them. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that love is “to wish good to someone” (Summa Theologiae I-II:26:4). The possession of God in the beatific vision, which is temporally delayed for the holy souls, is the greatest good for the souls in purgatory (it’s the greatest good for us all). As such, anything we do to help them achieve that good, like praying for them, is an expression of our love.

This expression of love for the holy souls in turn brings us consolation, which makes for a second reason to pray for them.

Aquinas teaches that love is not only “to wish good to someone,” but also to wish it “just as he wills good to himself” (ST I-II:28:1). It follows from this definition of love that the good the souls in purgatory experience by having their impediments to heaven removed is experienced as our own good. That means that their consolation is our consolation; their source of joy is our source of joy. As the late Frank Sheed writes, “there is a special joy for the Catholic in praying for his dead, if only the feeling that there is still something he can do for people he loved upon earth.”

A third reason to pray for the holy souls is that our prayer for them makes their prayer for us more effective. The Catechism teaches, “Our prayer for them [souls in purgatory] is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (958).

The rationale here is that the holier a person is (the less sin or remnants of sin a person has), the more effective his prayers are. St. James writes, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16). Since the souls in purgatory are made holier (more righteous) as we pray for them, it follows that as we pray for them, their prayers for us become more effective.

“We’re not good enough for heaven, so we should content ourselves to hope for purgatory.”

This statement assumes that no one can bypass purgatory. But that’s not true, according to Catholic teaching. In paragraph 1472, the Catechism teaches, “A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.”

The rationale behind this is that when a soul turns to God in conversion, the detestation of sin and love of God can create a sorrow for sin so intense that it suffices as the pain due the soul for the pleasure taken in the sin, thus discharging any remaining debt of temporal punishment. Also, love for God could be so intense that it suffices to purify the soul of any unhealthy attachments to created goods and remit any guilt of venial sin.

Being content to hope for purgatory is not a proper Catholic perspective. Purgatory is not our final destination; heaven is. As such, Christians should strive to attain that degree of holiness such that upon death, we can immediately enter heaven. Like St. Paul, we should desire to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

True Christian hope doesn’t entail a desire to be delayed in attaining our ultimate goal. It entails the desire to attain it without delay. So every Christian should desire to bypass purgatory. It’s that desire that inspires us to order our lives more and more toward union with God in heaven. This is the way of holiness. Sirach 7:36 says, “In all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin.”

“Purgatory’s not that bad.”

It’s true that it might not be that bad for all. It’s also true that purgatory consists of great joys—joys that far exceed what we can experience in this life. The Italian mystic St. Catherine of Genoa writes, “I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in purgatory except that of the saints in paradise.”

However, the purgatorial visions of a fourteenth-century saint, St. Bridget of Sweden (as well as others), suggest that purgatory can be an intense experience of suffering, at least for some. These visions are recorded in Book 6 of her revelations.

Bridget records how she was transported to purgatory. There she saw a highborn woman who had lived a life of luxury and vanities of the world.

“Happily,” she told Bridget, “before death I confessed my sins in such dispositions as to escape hell, but now I suffer here to expiate the worldly life that my mother did not prevent me from leading.”

The soul continued with a sigh, “Alas! This head, which loved to be adorned, and which sought to draw the attention of others, is now devoured with flames within and without, and these flames are so violent that every moment it seems to me that I must die.”

The soul went on:

These shoulders, these arms, which I loved to see admired, are cruelly bound in chains of red-hot iron. These feet, formerly trained for the dance, are now surrounded with vipers that tear them with their fangs and soil them with their filthy slime; all these members which I have adorned with jewels, flowers, and divers other ornaments, are now a prey to the most horrible torture.

All the same, the soul rejoiced in God’s mercy for not damning her.

Such torments for worldly vanities ought to give us reason to re-think our attachments to worldly goods, especially physical beauty.

It also gives us reason to take purgatory seriously—not as a place to give seeking salvation another go, or the only place we can expect to get to, or a place where our departed loved ones don’t need us anymore . . . but a realm of purification, given to us by a merciful God who exhausts every avenue to see us happy with him in heaven.”

Love, pray for the holy souls in Purgatory,
Matthew

Praying for holy souls in Purgatory


-Mary, Mother of Poor Souls in Purgatory

“Why should we pray for the souls in purgatory if we know they’ll go to heaven?

This question was posed at a recent Theology on Tap event. We know that God holds His children dear to Him, and that if people choose Him, they will eventually enter into heaven. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030).

Purgatory is not a punishment but a response to what we need after death. In heaven, we will experience the fullness of God’s glory and majesty, but if we remain imperfect when we die, we cannot yet experience that glory. Purgatory is the process by which souls are prepared to receive the full gift of life with God in heaven. However, as I heard pointed out at Theology on Tap, if these souls are being prepared for heaven, why bother praying for them?

It is important to instead ask ourselves another question: “If we don’t pray for them, who will?” The souls in purgatory cannot pray for themselves. They rely completely on the sacrifices and prayers of others. Yet, even though they desperately need us, we tend to forget about them. Occasionally, when praying the Rosary, we may toss in the intention, “For the souls in purgatory,” but other than that rare occasion, when do offer prayers for them? God uses our prayers and sacrifices to purify these souls, so we need to step up and remember them daily.

We need to remember that the souls in purgatory are not some distant group, unrelated to ourselves. Instead, the souls being purified in purgatory are connected to us. We are all part of the Body of Christ, and we are all members of the Communion of Saints. The souls in purgatory are our brothers and sisters in Christ; they are our deceased relatives, friends, classmates, and neighbors, as well as those we have never met. Since they can no longer act on earth and have not yet entered the Beatific Vision, they are dependent on us to pray for them. They are helpless without our prayers. Baptized in Christ, we are a family of love—so we should pray for the souls of the deceased often.

On All Souls’ Day in 2014, Pope Francis said the following in his Angelus address: “Church tradition has always urged prayer for the dead, in particular by offering the celebration of the Eucharist for them: it is the best spiritual help we can give to their souls, particularly to the most abandoned ones. The foundation of prayers in suffrage of souls is in the communion of the Mystical Body.”

There are so many ways to pray for the souls in purgatory. We can add them to our list of prayer intentions for our daily prayers, we can have Masses said, and we can offer sacrifices for them. We can pray the Prayer of St. Gertrude or the Requiem Aeternam. We can visit cemeteries from November 1–8 and gain partial or plenary indulgences for the souls in purgatory. These souls need our prayers; will we help them?

As St. John Chrysostom once said in a homily, “Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”

Love, all you holy souls in Purgatory,
Matthew

Evil is the absence of Good

“As a corruption of the will, sin is, strictly speaking, a type of nonbeing…liberty is the capacity to choose among a variety of options without any extrinsic compulsion. It is sovereign choice and self-determination. But on a more classical and biblical reading, liberty is not so much free choice—though it involves this—as it is the disciplining of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and then effortless. Thus, we speak of a person coming to play the piano freely or to speak a language freely. Such liberty has not a thing to do with radical self-determination, but rather is a function of internalizing the rules of the relevant discipline to such a degree that they become second nature. As John Paul II said, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” So God, the Supreme Good, nonviolently draws His rational creatures to His own purposes by proposing modes of the good to them, and prompting those creatures to internalize them. In this process, He makes them more—not less—free. To grasp this principle of God’s non-coercive providence is to understand the heart of Christian moral theology and spirituality.

Perhaps the most vexing theological issue of all—indeed what some consider the neuralgic point from which all of theology develops—is the question of evil, of why wickedness and suffering exist in a universe that the infinitely good God has made and that he continually directs. In one of the objections to the claim that God exists, articulated in the famous second question of the Summa theologiae, Aquinas writes, “If one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word ‘God’ means that he is infinite goodness. If therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.” In its very laconicism and concision, it is a very powerful argument indeed, and it gives precise expression to what many, many people today feel but cannot quite articulate.

In providing a response to this objection, the great tradition has made a few indispensable moves. The first—which constituted a major discovery for the young Augustine—is that evil is not a positive force opposing the good, but rather a sheer negativity, a privation of being, the lack of a good that ought to be present. It is crucial to grasp that one can think of good apart from evil, but not vice versa, for to consider evil is, necessarily, to consider the good which it corrupts or compromises…And this implies that God never “creates” or “produces” evil; it cannot be ascribed to Him as to a cause and it, in no sense, stands against God as an ontological rival. Since evil is always parasitic upon the good, all forms of Manichaeism and other metaphysical dualisms that posit coequal forces of good and evil are ruled out. We therefore should speak not of God causing evil but of God’s permission of evil within the confines of His creation.

But still the question remains, why would God do such a thing? Why would God permit the evil that assuredly plagues the world on a massive scale? The standard answer is that God does so in order to bring about some greater good, which could not have been accomplished otherwise. Even a superficial examination of our own experience reveals that there is something to this way of thinking. Without the painful and invasive surgery, the health of a person’s body would never have been restored; without failing in one area of life, [the motivation towards] success in another might never have occurred; without the excoriating speech from another one cares about, one might never have realized his/her full potential; etc.

Still, many people, though they might accept this explanation in principle, have a difficult time seeing its application in every case on the ground. How could we ever “justify” the horrific suffering of the innocent through appeal to some ultimate end? Anyone with a modicum of human feeling senses the brutal power of this great counter-argument to the existence of God. David Hume offered a somewhat more elaborated version of the pithy syllogism of Aquinas. The eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher said that, if evil exists, God cannot be, simultaneously, all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good. For if he knew about evil, could do something to stop it, and would want to stop it, it would not exist. Anyone who, in the face of terrible suffering, has looked imploringly to God and wondered why He is not acting is feeling the press of this demonstration.

For this line of thought to be successful, one would have to assume a godlike grasp of practically all of space and all of time. The major premise of the proof is that there are types of evil and suffering that can never in principle be justified through appeal to a good that might come as a result. But in order definitively to say that a given state of affairs has no possible justification, one would have to see every conceivable implication and consequence and circumstance, stretching out indefinitely into the future. But no finite subject could ever claim such all-embracing consciousness. Demonstrating this was, of course, the principal burden of the book of Job. That God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind signals that the divine purposes are always, for the most part, obscure to us. How could it be otherwise? When speaking of the divine cause, we are referencing the unconditioned reality, Whose mind is without limit and whose providential scope is unrestricted. Claiming that we can prove a negative in regard to the ultimate meaningfulness of a conditioned state of affairs is as ludicrous as a child of four confidently asserting that his parents’ decisions are baseless or a neophyte in mathematics declaring that a page of trigonometric calculations is nothing but gibberish. Hence, God reduces Job to silence by reminding him of how much he cannot even in principle understand of the world that God has made and over which God presides.

Job Chapter 38

1 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.
He said:
2 “Who is this that obscures My plans
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer Me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell Me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?

8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.

16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.

19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
20 Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
for days of war and battle?
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no one lives,
an uninhabited desert,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?
28 Does the rain have a father?
Who fathers the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
30 when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen?

31 “Can you bind the chains[b] of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who gives the ibis wisdom[f]
or gives the rooster understanding?[g]
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38 when the dust becomes hard
and the clods of earth stick together?

39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40 when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in a thicket?
41 Who provides food for the raven
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?

Job Chapter 39

1 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
2 Do you count the months till they bear?
Do you know the time they give birth?
3 They crouch down and bring forth their young;
their labor pains are ended.
4 Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
they leave and do not return.

5 “Who let the wild donkey go free?
Who untied its ropes?
6 I gave it the wasteland as its home,
the salt flats as its habitat.
7 It laughs at the commotion in the town;
it does not hear a driver’s shout.
8 It ranges the hills for its pasture
and searches for any green thing.

9 “Will the wild ox consent to serve you?
Will it stay by your manger at night?
10 Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness?
Will it till the valleys behind you?
11 Will you rely on it for its great strength?
Will you leave your heavy work to it?
12 Can you trust it to haul in your grain
and bring it to your threshing floor?

13 “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
though they cannot compare
with the wings and feathers of the stork.
14 She lays her eggs on the ground
and lets them warm in the sand,
15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,
that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
she cares not that her labor was in vain,
17 for God did not endow her with wisdom
or give her a share of good sense.
18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
she laughs at horse and rider.

19 “Do you give the horse its strength
or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?
20 Do you make it leap like a locust,
striking terror with its proud snorting?
21 It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength,
and charges into the fray.
22 It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing;
it does not shy away from the sword.
23 The quiver rattles against its side,
along with the flashing spear and lance.
24 In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground;
it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.
25 At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, ‘Aha!’
It catches the scent of battle from afar,
the shout of commanders and the battle cry.

26 “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
and spread its wings toward the south?
27 Does the eagle soar at your command
and build its nest on high?
28 It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
a rocky crag is its stronghold.
29 From there it looks for food;
its eyes detect it from afar.
30 Its young ones feast on blood,
and where the slain are, there it is.”

Job Chapter 40

1 The Lord said to Job:

2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?
Let him who accuses God answer Him!”

3 Then Job answered the Lord:

4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to You?
I put my hand over my mouth.
5 I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more.”

6 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm:

7 “Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer Me.

8 “Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
9 Do you have an arm like God’s,
and can your voice thunder like His?
10 Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
11 Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at all who are proud and bring them low,
12 look at all who are proud and humble them,
crush the wicked where they stand.
13 Bury them all in the dust together;
shroud their faces in the grave.
14 Then I myself will admit to you
that your own right hand can save you.

15 “Look at Behemoth,
which I made along with you
and which feeds on grass like an ox.
16 What strength it has in its loins,
what power in the muscles of its belly!
17 Its tail sways like a cedar;
the sinews of its thighs are close-knit.
18 Its bones are tubes of bronze,
its limbs like rods of iron.
19 It ranks first among the works of God,
yet its Maker can approach it with his sword.
20 The hills bring it their produce,
and all the wild animals play nearby.
21 Under the lotus plants it lies,
hidden among the reeds in the marsh.
22 The lotuses conceal it in their shadow;
the poplars by the stream surround it.
23 A raging river does not alarm it;
it is secure, though the Jordan should surge against its mouth.
24 Can anyone capture it by the eyes,
or trap it and pierce its nose?

Job Chapter 41

1 “Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
or tie down its tongue with a rope?
2 Can you put a cord through its nose
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
3 Will it keep begging you for mercy?
Will it speak to you with gentle words?
4 Will it make an agreement with you
for you to take it as your slave for life?
5 Can you make a pet of it like a bird
or put it on a leash for the young women in your house?
6 Will traders barter for it?
Will they divide it up among the merchants?
7 Can you fill its hide with harpoons
or its head with fishing spears?
8 If you lay a hand on it,
you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
9 Any hope of subduing it is false;
the mere sight of it is overpowering.
10 No one is fierce enough to rouse it.
Who then is able to stand against me?
11 Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me.

12 “I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs,
its strength and its graceful form.
13 Who can strip off its outer coat?
Who can penetrate its double coat of armor[b]?
14 Who dares open the doors of its mouth,
ringed about with fearsome teeth?
15 Its back has[c] rows of shields
tightly sealed together;
16 each is so close to the next
that no air can pass between.
17 They are joined fast to one another;
they cling together and cannot be parted.
18 Its snorting throws out flashes of light;
its eyes are like the rays of dawn.
19 Flames stream from its mouth;
sparks of fire shoot out.
20 Smoke pours from its nostrils
as from a boiling pot over burning reeds.
21 Its breath sets coals ablaze,
and flames dart from its mouth.
22 Strength resides in its neck;
dismay goes before it.
23 The folds of its flesh are tightly joined;
they are firm and immovable.
24 Its chest is hard as rock,
hard as a lower millstone.
25 When it rises up, the mighty are terrified;
they retreat before its thrashing.
26 The sword that reaches it has no effect,
nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.
27 Iron it treats like straw
and bronze like rotten wood.
28 Arrows do not make it flee;
slingstones are like chaff to it.
29 A club seems to it but a piece of straw;
it laughs at the rattling of the lance.
30 Its undersides are jagged potsherds,
leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.
31 It makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron
and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.
32 It leaves a glistening wake behind it;
one would think the deep had white hair.
33 Nothing on earth is its equal—
a creature without fear.
34 It looks down on all that are haughty;
it is king over all that are proud.”

At the close of God’s speech in the book of Job, by far the longest oration of God in the Bible, the Lord invokes two of His greatest and most hidden of creatures: Behemoth and Leviathan. Hebrew experts tell us that the meaning of the underlying terms are ambiguous, but they probably refer to a hippopotamus or rhinoceros in the first case and a whale in the second, or perhaps some mythic combination of these. But despite their wonderful ferocity, they are utterly under God’s control, for one is on a leash and the other has a ring through its nose. The point is this: everything in God’s creation, even those powerful creatures that are largely hidden to us, operate according to God’s providence; and furthermore, the Lord loves these bizarre and frightening creatures just as He loves us human beings: “Look at Behemoth, which I made just as I made you.”

So why does God permit evil? We can answer the question correctly and adequately only at the most abstract level. “To bring about a greater good” is a legitimate response, but as to the details of that relationship, how precisely this particular evil conduces to a particular good or set of goods, we cannot possibly say. However, our incapacity to respond to that more exacting question should not tell against the divine providence; it should awaken in us a certain humility before the purposes of God.”

-Barron, Robert . Light from Light (p. 34-38). Word on Fire. Kindle Edition.

Love & blessings,
Matthew

Evil proves God’s existence



-by Pat Flynn

“Maybe you’ve heard about the problem of evil (theodicy). It’s an argument atheists like to use to refute the existence of God. Why, they ask, would a good God allow such horrible things to happen so often to innocent people? And there’s no shortage of tragedy they can cite to back up their claim.

But what if evil is evidence for rather than against the existence of God?

This is not to say evil is untroublesome. Evil impacts all of us, likely far more than we can even imagine. But philosophy is about getting to the truth of things, and the truth—at least as I have come to see it—is that evil raises the likelihood of God.

To start, imagine the following scenario, which I borrow from philosopher Tim McGrew. (I am also borrowing ideas from other philosophers in this article, including Joshua Rasmussen and Edward Feser.) You are walking in the woods and stumble upon what appears to be an abandoned cabin. The outside looks decrepit: there is moss, the front door is barely hanging on, and whatever else. But then you peer inside and notice that there’s is a cup of tea steeping. Immediately, you revise your hypothesis from the cabin being abandoned to the cabin being occupied. Why? Because a steeping cup of tea is better predicted and explained by—that is, far more probable on—the hypothesis that the cabin is occupied, notwithstanding the cabin’s condition.

Here is an important feature of this line of reasoning. It does not matter if you cannot assign a specific probability to the likelihood that any given occupied cabin will have a cup of tea steeping in it. It also does not matter if you think the probability of such an occurrence is low or even exceptionally low. What matters is what you believe the probability to be of finding a cup of steeping tea in an occupied cabin versus an abandoned one—for even if you believe that the probability of finding steeping tea is low in any given occupied cabin, surely the probability is far lower in any given abandoned cabin, whatever those specific probabilities are.

So the discovery of steeping tea in any cabin gives great evidence for that cabin being occupied rather than abandoned—in fact, such great evidence that it causes you to be virtually certain that the cabin is occupied. The steeping tea didn’t come about from a fortuitous set of non-intelligent circumstances, like wind blowing plus an earthquake and a lightning strike.

What is the probability that God, if God exists, would create a world like ours with the amount of evil we encounter, like the threat of nuclear war and babies dying and fawns burning in forest fires? Perhaps we think the probability is low—that, given that God is all good, he would not create a world with as much evil as ours. Let’s grant the assumption for now that the probability is low—maybe even exceptionally low, like one or two percent. If so, then do evil and suffering count against the existence of God?

Well, no. Not necessarily, anyway—that is, not unless we see how much we would expect evil on some alternative hypothesis, like atheism (naturalism).

Here is where the story takes an interesting turn: however low we think the occurrence of evil would be given the existence of God, it is, in fact, far lower (if not impossibly low) given the non-existence of God—so much lower that the occurrence of evil provides evidence for, rather than against, God’s existence, like how the cup of steeping tea gives evidence for the occupied cabin.

First is this. To call something evil—that is, really and truly bad (not just a matter of opinion)—we require a moral standard. With no moral standard, nothing can fail to be or do what it should or could have done, and there’s no basis for calling anything evil. Further, to make moral judgments about whether things can objectively fall short, we need conscious agents living in communities and engaged in reasoning about moral realities. What’s more, for there to be any of what we just described, we need some explanation of why there is anything at all and not nothing instead. So evil itself is contingent—it depends upon there being a moral standard, rational agents, moral communities, a contingent universe, etc. We can now ask: would I be more likely to expect these data points and experiences on theism or atheism (naturalism)?

To the first point, theism locks in a moral standard, since God is the subsistent good itself. And if theism is true, then a moral standard is true—God himself. Atheism seems to lack any such standard, because atheism holds that fundamental reality is just amoral physical stuff. How could such stuff as that ever produce a moral standard? It seems impossible that dust, particles, etc. could configure into an objective moral standard, regardless of time or complexity, but even if it is not impossible, surely, it is fantastically improbable.

Perhaps this is why many atheists—the consistent ones, anyway—are nihilists. Atheistic philosopher Alex Rosenberg, for example, calls out his more “teary-eyed” naturalist colleagues for not following their position through to the nihilistic outcome concomitant with it: “Most of those who fear Darwin’s dangerous idea reject it owing to their recognition that it is a universal acid, eating through every available argument for the values people cherish. We differ from those who fear Darwinism because we believe it is true. But we do not think we can or need hide our countenances from the nihilism it underwrites.”

(As a brief aside, Rosenberg is too quick to assume that Darwinism implies nihilism; rather, it is Darwinism atop an assumed—and I would argue demonstrably false—naturalistic metaphysics that implies nihilism. Darwinism itself is something one can be neutral about, ethically speaking.)

What’s more, God could have reason to create rational conscious agents and put them together in moral communities, just like what we see. Atheism lacks explanatory resources here as well, particularly for how rational conscious agents came about from stuff that is once again fundamentally non-rational, non-conscious, unintentional, disparate, etc. If there’s no God to form Adam out of dust, then dust seems to be the wrong sort of material from which minds, and especially rationality, would coincidentally arise. Perhaps it is possible—just as finding a cup of tea in an abandoned cabin is possible (broadly logically speaking) without positing the involvement of people—but it seems far less probable that rational agents living in moral communities would emerge on atheism than theism.

Here is the short of it. The problem of evil points toward the existence of God—the God hypothesis, as it were—because if atheism were true, I would not expect there to be any evil at all, just as I would not expect steeping tea in an abandoned cabin, precisely because I would not expect there to be a contingent universe (frankly, I would expect nothing), a moral standard, moral obligations upon conscious rational agents, and so on. But because there is evil and because theism better predicts or explains those things needed to make sense of evil, then evil provides great evidence for the existence of God.

There is more to be explored on this issue, including why God would create a world with the amount and types of evil we see, but what has been said so far should encourage us to explore such questions as theists. That is all that is needed to diffuse the problem of evil—or if it remains a problem, then it is a problem only for atheism.

His love,
Matthew

Conscience Rights & Intrinsic Evil


-by Fr. Christopher Pietraszko, Ignitum, Fr. Christopher serves in the Diocese of London, Ontario.

“Bio-ethicists have claimed that to offer effective-referrals (government (Canada, a failed state, for example) legal requirement for doctors) for medically assisted suicide, abortion, etc. is to “formally cooperate” with an act that is intrinsically evil.

Conscience rights are an important thing worth protecting, at the civil level, and we must learn to accept the negative repercussions that come from the diversity of views that result therein. In any community it is imprudent to micromanage or coerce consciences, violently into the same value and agenda as the state. Obviously, there are some matters which involve enforcement, however when it comes to matters of conscience that are complex, and diverse, the process of informing one’s conscience should not be obstructed by coercive tactics from the government such as “losing your Job if you don’t offer an effective referral” or “You are fired because you would not provide Plan B.” There are several things that this inhibits in a mature democracy, but I will name three: (1) affective maturity, (2) individual dignity, and (3) free-speech/thought.

1) Affective maturity is where one can understand another person’s position that is contrary to their own without taking it personally. In this regard, there is an openness to the other to dialogue, and not vilify the enemy. This happens on both sides – take for instance those discussing the vaccine: it is the “mark of the beast” or the people receiving the vaccine “hate the vulnerable.” None of these are mature responses, but they are angry ones that are rooted in a type of affective-wound that has gone unhealed. Part of that maturity is living in a society where we meet professionals who don’t share our same world view, and having the patient respect that they do not have a right to force someone to do something they don’t believe in.

2) Respecting the individual consciences of others allows them to go through a process of informing their conscience, and to exercise it. Consciences are a distinctive part of a human person where their own individuality is called to humbly submit to the truth and act accordingly. In this regard we reflect on the importance of “interior freedom” where fear, coercion, and dictates are not imposed upon that individual for the sake of egalitarian conformity. Such conformity is unintelligible, especially if it rises from a type of Categorical Kantian ethical system that does not have the opportunity to nuance complex situations that may exist in each individual. For instance, there are those who cannot receive the vaccine for several reasons, some in regard to their interpretation of the data/science, others because of their medical situation as mothers, etc… but the circumstances of each particular individual needs to be respected, as well as the process by which they come to make a decision so that it can truly be their own. Without this freedom, we have slaves to fear and coercion.

3) Free-Speech and free-thought is incredibly important, because, as a subset to the previous point, it enables a person to freely examine their own reasoning without the pressure to conform to various tribes. However, if a disproportionate type of enforcement occurs, it will undermine the ability to speak, dialogue and even shed a light upon the topic being discussed. Conclusions and recommendations from others will become untrustworthy because opposing views have been silenced or oppressed.

Finally the application of all of this is to say that while the Church cannot provide religious grounds for a person to avoid receiving the vaccine, the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Holy Office, the Roman Inquisition) does clearly indicate that one should respect the conscience freedoms of others. These two should not be conflated: religious reasons, and conscience freedoms. Although there is certainly an overlapping dimension between the two, the religious aspect pertains to the moral and theological reasoning, while the conscience pertains to one’s own particular circumstances, their own philosophical reasoning, and experiences. Thus, conscience rights are more general (broader) than religious rights. These conscience rights, the CDF does believe are worthy of defending, which in a democratic country, and especially in Ontario have demonstrably been proven not to be respected. I think this is an area worthy of our efforts to reexamine.

The original purpose of this post was to explain that while I am in favor of vaccines, I respect the right for others to think otherwise. I believe we need to have healthy discussions on this matter, as a mature democratic society should, but this is unfortunately inhibited by what is already demonstrated to be a lack of liberty amongst health officials, and what is sometimes an equal-opposite reaction.”

His justice shall reign,
Matthew

The demonic is real


-Gustave Dore, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“One reason that we might find it hard to believe the New Testament is because we don’t know what to do with all that talk about the devil and the demonic. Jesus drives out demons throughout the Gospels. For instance, St. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest, describing only thirteen healings, yet four of them (1:21-28, 5:1-20, 7:24-30, and 9:14-29) are exorcisms.

There are several reasons that we might struggle to believe in such accounts. Let’s briefly consider three possible objections before looking at how we might respond to them.

First, there’s the claim that belief in the devil is really an import from paganism. Elon Gilad argues in Haaretz that the Jewish belief in Satan derives from Zoroastrianism, which envisions the universe “as a battle ground between [two] opposing supreme gods[:] Ahura Mazda, the ‘wise lord,’ and Angra Mainyu, the ‘destructive spirit.’” Much of his argument is circular: for instance, he claims that the earliest biblical books don’t depict Satan but also argues that if a book does depict Satan, it must not be very old.

Gilad gets one thing right: there is an evil god of Zoroastrianism. That said, Angra Mainyu is said “to have existed ‘from the beginning’, independent of Ahura Mazda (i.e. he is coeval).” That’s not particularly similar to Satan, a creature created by God who then rebels. But still, Gilad is raising an important question: What should Christians make of the fact that many other religions do have a supreme evil figure?

Second, we might struggle with biblical accounts of possession and exorcism because such stories are common in the ancient Mediterranean world. The Lutheran theologian and New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann points out that we find similar accounts in non-biblical Jewish literature and in Greek literature, with authors like Philostratus and Lucian describing exorcisms. Bultmann argues that their common “stylistic characteristics” suggest that the New Testament description of exorcisms is really just “folk stories of miracles” that made their way into the Bible.

Third, there’s the idea that exorcisms are a belief of a pre-scientific age. The usual story goes something like this: back before we knew about disease or mental health, people believed that demons were responsible for physical and mental illness, but today we know better. Bultmann argues that “faith in spirits and demons” is “finished” by modern scientific knowledge.

“Likewise, illnesses and their cures have natural causes and do not depend on the work of demons and on exorcising them. Thus, the wonders of the New Testament are also finished as wonders; anyone who seeks to salvage their historicity by recourse to nervous disorders, hypnotic influences, suggestion, and the like only confirms this. Even occultism pretends to be a science. We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.”

Bultmann’s argument calls Jesus’ ministry into serious question, since it suggests that (1) Jesus falsely believed in demons because he was ignorant of things like disease or mental illness, (2) Jesus knew about disease and mental illness but encouraged the crowds in falsely associating these things with demons, or (3) the evangelists simply made up these healing stories. How could an all-knowing and good Jesus act as if demonic possession were a real thing if it isn’t?

In short, because demons, possession, and exorcism are all real things. As C.S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity, modern readers balk at this kind of talk: “I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil—hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.’” Simply put, neither modern science nor Rudolph Bultmann has actually disproven the ideas of possession and exorcism.

What all three of the above objections get wrong is that they’re too narrow. It’s true that Zoroastrians believed in a powerful evil spirit that was sort of like the devil. But so do cultures on every inhabited continent. Are we to conclude that the Israelites took this idea from all of them, too, or that they all took it from Zoroastrianism? Likewise, it’s true that possession and exorcism stories are found throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. But the same goes for cultures across the world, in both the ancient and the modern world, including places that have never been Christian. As Craig Keener explains in “Spirit Possession as a Cross-cultural Experience”:

“Possession experience is not limited to either the [New Testament] or the ancient eastern Mediterranean world. One specialist, Erika Bourguignon, has observed that spirit-possession beliefs are geographically and culturally pervasive, “as any reader of ethnographies knows.” After sampling 488 societies, she found spirit-possession beliefs in 74% of them (that is, 360 societies), with particularly high ranges in the islands of the Pacific (88%) and 77% around the Mediterranean. . . .

Transcultural elements in fact include a biological element that cannot be reduced to (though may be patterned according to) cultural models. Studies reveal “an altered neurophysiology” during many possession states. While some anthropologists note that neurophysiological studies cannot resolve whether supernatural factors might supplement natural ones, it is clear that neurophysiological changes, including hyperarousal, do occur.”

It’s worth stressing that these are cultures in which possession cases are still happening. Rather than electric lights and radios and modern medicine disproving these events, modern science reveals that something is happening on a neurological level, and it’s happening across cultures and continents, including in plenty of places that don’t believe in the Bible.

This is exactly what you should expect to see if Christianity is right about the devil and his demons. Think about it this way. The Christian claim is that there are powerful spiritual beings who do harm to human beings. If we didn’t find evidence of such beings in any other culture, that would point to this being a Christian invention. The fact that we do find evidence of such beings, throughout history and today, in places that have little or nothing to do with Christianity, is evidence of the truth of the Christian teaching.

That doesn’t automatically mean that each of these possession cases is authentic. Some of the cases of alleged possession are surely misdiagnosed cases of mental illness, after all. But the fact that some cases are misdiagnosed mental illness doesn’t mean that all of them are. After all, the fact that some cases of mental illness are misdiagnosed as physical illness, and vice versa, doesn’t disprove the existence of two distinct (but related) categories of mental and physical illness. What Christianity, and countless other religions, is saying is that there are in fact three distinct (but related) categories: mental, physical, and spiritual.

Jesus wasn’t oblivious to the fact that these three categories existed. As Matthew 4:24 puts it, when Jesus’ “fame spread throughout all Syria . . . they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.” Some of those coming to Jesus had physical and viral problems, and others had neurological problems, but others had spiritual problems. And rather than debunking this idea, the fact that we find similar-sounding beliefs in Zoroastrianism, ancient Greek culture, and across the ancient and modern world suggests that it’s true.”


-Michael the Archangel by Guido Reni, Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636, please click on the image for greater detail

“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.”

Love & divine protection,
Matthew