Category Archives: Theology

Vatican II DID NOT say “whatevs”…

-from http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=2383

-by Bishop Robert Barron

“Dr. Ralph Martin, Professor of Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, has written an important book titled “Will Many Be Saved?” The text received a good deal of attention at the recent synod on the New Evangelization, and its opening pages are filled with endorsements from some of the leading figures in the Church today. Dr. Martin’s argument is straightforward enough: the attitude, much in evidence in the years following Vatican II, that virtually everyone will go to heaven has drastically undercut the Church’s evangelical efforts. Why then, if salvation is guaranteed to virtually everyone, would Catholics be filled with a passion to propagate the faith around the world with any urgency? Therefore, if the New Evangelization is to get off the ground, we have to recover a vivid sense of the reality of Hell, the possibility, even likelihood, of eternal damnation for the many who do not come to a lively faith in Christ.

Martin certainly has some theological heavyweights on his side. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas believed that the majority of human beings end up in Hell. And the official magisterium of the church has insisted on a number of occasions that missionary work is vital, lest millions wander down the wide path that leads to perdition. Moreover, these theological and magisterial positions are themselves grounded in the witness of Scripture. No one in the Bible speaks of Hell more often than Jesus himself. To give just a few examples, in Mark 16, the Lord says, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” And in John 5, he declares, “The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” And in a number of his parables – most notably the story of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 – Jesus stresses the desperate urgency of the choice that his followers must make.

To be sure, the conviction that Hell is a crowded place has been contested from the earliest days of the Church, and Martin fully acknowledges this. Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Maximus the Confessor all held to some form of universalism, that is to say, the belief that, at the end of the day, all people would be gathered to the Lord. And this view was revived during the era of exploration, when it became clear to European Christians that millions upon millions of people in Africa, Asia and the Americas would certainly be condemned if explicit faith in Christ was truly requisite for salvation.

The universalist perspective received a further boost in the 20th century, especially through the work of two of the most influential Catholic thinkers of the time, Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Rahner held that every human being is endowed with what he termed a “supernatural existential,” which is to say, a fundamental orientation toward God. This spiritual potentiality is fully realized through explicit faith in Christ, but it can be realized to varying degrees even in those non-Christians who follow their consciences sincerely. The supernatural existential makes of everyone – to use Rahner’s controversial phrase – an “anonymous Christian” and provides the basis for hoping that universal salvation is possible. Basing his argument on the sheer extravagance of God’s saving act in Christ, Balthasar taught as well that we may reasonably hope that all people will be brought to heaven. A good part of Balthasar’s argument is grounded in the Church’s liturgy, which demands that we pray for the salvation of all. If we knew that Hell was indeed a crowded place, this type of prayer would be senseless.

Now the heart of Martin’s book is a detailed study and critique of the theories of Rahner and Balthasar, and space prevents me from even sketching his complex argument. I will mention only one dimension of it, namely his analysis of Lumen Gentium paragraph 16. Both Balthasar and Rahner – as well as their myriad disciples – found justification in the first part of that paragraph, wherein the Vatican II fathers do indeed teach that non-Christians, even non-believers, can be saved as long as they “try in their actions to do God’s will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience.” (Ed. ‘God’s will’ is a very specific statement here, that as understood by the Catholic Church, not a general definition of the god-of-your-own-choosing/defintion, etc.  This is so implied as to often be overlooked.)  However, Martin points out that the defenders of universal salvation have, almost without exception, overlooked the next section of that paragraph, in which the Council Fathers say these decidedly less comforting words: “But very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the world rather than the Creator…Hence to procure…the salvation of all these, the Church…takes zealous care to foster the missions.” A fair reading of the entire paragraph, therefore, would seem to yield the following: the un-evangelized can be saved, but often (at saepius), they do not meet the requirements for salvation. (Ed. as defined by the Catholic Church, Mt 16:19.)  They will, then, be damned without hearing the announcement of the Gospel and coming to an active faith.

So who has it right in regard to this absolutely crucial question? Even as I deeply appreciate Martin’s scholarship and fully acknowledge that he scores important points against both Balthasar and Rahner, I found his central argument undermined by one of his own footnotes. In a note buried on page 284 of his text, Martin cites some “remarks” of Pope Benedict XVI that have contributed, in his judgment, to confusion on the point in question. He is referring to observations in sections 45-47 of the Pope’s 2007 encyclical “Spe Salvi,” which can be summarized as follows: There are a relative handful of truly wicked people in whom the love of God and neighbor has been totally extinguished through sin, and there are a relative handful of people whose lives are utterly pure, completely given over to the demands of love. Those latter few will proceed, upon death, directly to heaven, and those former few will, upon death, enter the state that the Church calls Hell. But the Pope concludes that “the great majority of people” who, though sinners, still retain a fundamental ordering to God, can and will be brought to heaven after the necessary purification of Purgatory. Martin knows that the Pope stands athwart the position that he has taken throughout his study, for he says casually enough, “The argument of this book would suggest a need for clarification.”

Obviously, there is no easy answer to the question of who or how many will be saved, but one of the most theologically accomplished popes in history, writing at a very high level of authority, has declared that we oughtn’t to hold that Hell is densely populated. To write this off as “remarks” that require “clarification” is precisely analogous to a liberal theologian saying the same thing about Paul VI’s teaching on artificial contraception in the encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” It seems to me that Pope Benedict’s position – affirming the reality of Hell but seriously questioning whether that the vast majority of human beings end up there – is the most tenable and actually the most evangelically promising.

Love,
Matthew

Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful, Fruitful Love, A Fountain of Grace

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At 49, I like to kid myself I still possess some modicum of “hipness”.  I was never a hipster, really, to begin with, but, I guess, I teach them and have to try to keep the lectures, at least, mildly interesting?

However, it does come as a shock when current, less-than-attractive fashion is pushed right onto my nose?  🙁  I have recently heard two sermons from campus ministers, who are closer to the battle, per se, than yours truly.  There was so much despair.  It really took my breath away.  So much despair…in general, and particularly about marriage.  🙁  Young people have the meme in their heads, why bother?  Why not just live for myself?  Always?  Why not?  Why bother?  Why go through the pain and the suffering of dating?  The compromises of living with the other gender, whom completely DO NOT GET IT!!!!

My observation is that evil is always directly opposed to good.  You know it’s evil because of this orientation.  Cleverly disguised, well-marketed, slick, shiny, attractive, alluring, but a lie.  Evil is always a lie; he is the father of lies.  Evil NEVER tells you the Truth, that’s how you know it’s evil.  Evil always tells you what you WANT to hear, but you know, in your heart-of-hearts, it is a lie.  Evil HAS a feeling.  It does.  It damnably does.  Evil NEVER entertains, even for a hair-splitting fraction of a second the possibility of the Cross.  Never.  That’s another way it identifies itself.

If, as Catholic theology tells us, sacraments are fountains of grace, what more appropriate means, or motivation does Evil have or need than to dissuade us from the life giving waters of grace?  To be deprived of His Grace is to become the slave of sin and evil.

-from http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/life-and-family/marriage/the-meaning-of-catholic-marriage/

-by Alice Von Hildebrand

“In our society, the beauty and greatness of married love has been so obscured that most people now view marriage as a prison: a conventional, boring, legal matter that threatens love and destroys freedom.

“Love is heaven; marriage is hell,” wrote Lord Byron 150 years ago. At the time he could not have foreseen the incredible popularity that his idea would have today.

In our society the beauty and greatness or married love has been so obscured that most people now view marriage as a prison: a conventional, boring, legal matter that threatens love and destroys freedom.

My husband, Dietrich von Hildebrand was just the opposite. Long before he converted to Roman Catholicism, he was convinced that the community of love in marriage is one of the deepest sources of happiness. He saw the grandeur and the beauty of the union of spouses in marriage — symbolized by their physical union which leads in such a mysterious way to the creation of a new human person.

He recognized that love by its very essence longs for infinity and for eternity. Therefore, a person truly in love wants to bind himself forever to his beloved — which is precisely the gift that marriage gives him.

In contrast, love without an unqualified commitment betrays the very essence of love. He who refuses to commit himself (or who break a commitment in order to start another relationship) fools himself. He confuses the excitement of novelty with authentic happiness.

Such affective defeatism — so typical of our age — is a symptom or a severe emotional immaturity which weakens the very foundation of society. It is rooted partly in a misunderstanding of freedom. Many people criticize marriage because they fail to realize that a person also exercises his freedom when he freely binds himself to another in marriage.

These critics of marriage do not see that continuity — and especially faithfulness — is an essential characteristic of a truly great personality: he chooses to remain faithful to what he has seen, even though his vision may later become blurred.

In matters of love and marriage, “hell” does not come from fidelity; it comes from lack of fidelity, which leaves men technically unbound but actually solitary: trapped in a shallow arbitrariness and a stifling subjectivism.

Indeed, contrary to Lord Byron and to popular belief, marriage is the friend and protector of love between man and woman. Marriage gives love the structure, the shelteredness, the climate in which alone it can grow.

Marriage teaches spouses humility, making them realize that the human person is a very poor lover. Much as we long to love and to be loved, we repeatedly fall short and desperately need help. We must bind ourselves through sacred vows so that the bond will grant our love the strength necessary to face the tempest-tossed sea of our human condition.

For no love is free from periods of difficulties. But (as Kierkegaard aptly remarks), because it implies will, commitment, duty, and responsibility, marriage braces spouses to fight to save the precious gift of their love. It gives them the glorious confidence that with God’s help, they will overcome the difficulties and emerge victorious. Thus, by adding a formal element to the material element of love, marriage guarantees the future of love and protects it against the temptations which are bound to arise in human existence.

In a relationship without commitment, the slightest obstacle, the most insignificant difficulty is a valid excuse for separating. Unfortunately, man, who is usually so eager to win a fight over others, shows little or no desire to conquer himself. It is much easier for him to give up a relationship than to fight what Kierkegaard calls “the lassitude which often is wont to follow upon a wish fulfilled.”

Marriage calls each spouse to fight against himself for the sake of his beloved. This is why it has become so unpopular today. People are no longer willing to achieve the greatest of all victories, the victory over self.

To abolish marriage is, Kierkegaard tells us, “self- indulgence.” Only cowards malign marriage. They run from battle, defeated before the struggle even begins. Marriage alone can save love between man and woman and place it above the contingencies of daily flux and moods. Without this bond, there is no reason to wish to transform the dreariness of everyday life into a poetic song.

Sacramental marriage

In Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love, my husband introduced these themes which illuminate the value and importance of natural marriage and show the role that marriage plays in serving faithful love.

At the same time, my husband saw that even in the happiest of natural marriages, mortal man — the creature of a day (as Plato calls him) remains terribly finite and limited. Consequently, every merely natural love is necessarily tragic: it will never achieve the eternal union for which it naturally longs.

But when my husband converted to Catholicism, he discovered a wonderful new dimension of marriage: its sacramental character as a fountain/font of grace. St. Paul illuminated the sublime dignity of sacramental marriage in calling it a “great mystery” comparable to the love of Christ for His Church (Ephesians V: 32). Natural love pales in comparison to the beauty of a love rooted in Christ.
As a sacrament, marriage gives people the supernatural strength necessary to “fight the good fight.” Every victory achieved together over habit, routine, and boredom cements the bonds existing between the spouses and makes their love produce new blossoms.

Also, because it explicitly and sacramentally unites the spouses with the infinite love that Christ has for each one of them, sacramental marriage overcomes the tragic limits of natural marriage and achieves the infinite and eternal character to which every love aspires. It is therefore understandable that after his conversion to Roman Catholicism, my husband (who was already the great knight for natural love) became an ardent knight in defense of the supernatural love found in sacramental marriage. His enthusiasm for the great beauty and mystery of faithful love in marriage led to the writing of this work.

It is therefore understandable that after his conversion to Roman Catholicism, my husband (who was already the great knight for natural love) became an ardent knight in defense of the supernatural love found in sacramental marriage. His enthusiasm for the great beauty and mystery of faithful love in marriage led to the writing of this work.

History of marriage

The preparation of Marriage actually began in 1923 when my husband gave a lecture on marriage at a Congress of the Catholic Academic Association in Ulm, Germany. The lecture was a resounding success.

In the lecture he argued that one should distinguish between the meaning of marriage (i.e., love) and its purpose (i.e., procreation). He portrayed marriage as a community of love, which, according to an admirable divine economy, finds its end in procreation.

Even though official Catholic teaching had until then put an almost exclusive stress on the importance of procreation as the purpose of marriage, the practice of the Church had always implicitly recognized love as the meaning of marriage. She had always approved the marriage of those who, because of age or other impediments, could not enjoy the blessings of children.

But conscious that he was breaking new ground in making so explicit the distinction between the purpose and the meaning of marriage, my husband sought the approval of Church authority. So he turned to His Eminence Cardinal Pacelli, then the Papal Nuncio in Munich. To this future pope (Pius XII), my husband expounded his views, and to his joy, received from the future Pontiff a full endorsement of his position.

Cardinal Pacelli’s approval coupled with the success of the lecture on marriage encouraged my husband to expand and develop the lecture into the small volume which you now have in your hands.

Since its first publication in German, Marriage has been translated into most of the major languages of Europe, where it has never lost popularity. When it was first translated into English during World War II, critics received it very favorably and the book enjoyed great popularity, remaining in print through four editions over fourteen years.

It gives me great joy to greet this new edition, which once again makes Marriage available to English speaking readers after an absence of nearly 30 years.

Especially today, this book — revealing the sublime Christian vocation of marriage — is a must for anyone who is anxious to live worthily this great mystery of love.

Thomas a Kempis tells us that “love is a great thing.”
So is marriage.”

Love,
Matthew

teen sexting & custodia occulorum, “custody of the eyes”

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“Christian, remember your dignity, and the price which was paid to purchase your salvation!” -cf Pope St Leo the GreatSermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.

“Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember Who is your head and of Whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.” -CCC 1691, St. Leo the Great, Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.

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-by Sam Guzman, “The Catholic Gentleman”, from http://www.catholicgentleman.net/2014/06/custody-of-the-eyes-what-it-is-and-how-to-practice-it/

“Oh! how many are lost by indulging their sight!  St. Alphonsus de Liguori

Mk 9:47-48, Lk 11:34-36

WHAT IS IT

At its most basic level, custody of the eyes simply means controlling what you allow yourself to see. It means guarding your sense of sight carefully, realizing that what you view will leave an indelible mark on your soul.

Many of the saints, in their zeal for purity, would never look anyone in the face. “To avoid the sight of dangerous objects, the saints were accustomed to keep their eyes almost continually fixed on the earth, and to abstain even from looking at innocent objects,” says St. Alphonsus de Liguori.

Now, staring at the floor at all times is a bit extreme for most of us, but it does demonstrate the seriousness with which the saints viewed the importance of purity. They teach us that is simply impossible to allow hundreds of immodest images into our minds, however innocently, and remain pure.

Of course, to the modern mind, this guarding of the eyes is rather quaint and even ridiculous. How prudish, many would think, to think that we should exercise any control over what we see. And yet, if we care about our souls, we have no other option.

HOW TO PRACTICE IT

The best place to begin practicing custody of the eyes is in the things which we can control, such as movies, magazines, or television shows. If your favorite TV show has a sex scene every 5 minutes, you need to cut it out of your life. It’s not worth the temptation. In short, don’t consume things that are occasions of sin. Carelessly putting yourself in spiritual danger in this way is a grave sin itself, so take it seriously.

It’s actually rather easy to edit what you consume. But what about the things we can’t control, such as the immodestly dressed person walking past you? This takes far more prayer-fueled discipline and practice. That said, here are some suggestions.

First, if you’re struggling with the way someone else is dressed, immediately look elsewhere, perhaps their face. I don’t care how beautiful anyone is, it is essentially impossible to lust after someone’s face. The face is the icon of each person’s humanity, and it is far easier to respect a person’s dignity when you’re looking at their face and not her body.

Second, it may just be appropriate to stare at the floor sometimes, especially if there’s no other way to avoid temptation. This doesn’t have to be the norm, but if the situation warrants it, it is foolish not to do so. (Ed. better to appear foolish, or daft, in the eyes of man, than guilty before the eyes of Jesus at our particular judgment.)

Third, avoid places you know are especially problematic for you. For most, the beach can be a problem. Dozens of people in tiny bikinis is just too much. If that’s the case for you, avoid the beach.

Finally, fast and pray. This should go without saying, and yet I am always amazed that people think they can control themselves without God’s help.  (Ed. Grace.  It’s ALL ABOUT GRACE!!!!  Jn 15:5)  It simply isn’t possible. (Ed.  PRAY!!!!  And it will be given to you!  I promise! Mt 7:7-8) We always need grace in the battle against concupiscence, and if we trust in ourselves and our own willpower, we will do nothing but fail.  (Ed.  We are powerless.  He is ALL-POWERFUL!!!)

CONCLUSION

Yes, temptation is everywhere, but we are not helpless victims. (Ed.  We have THE GREATEST ALLY in our battle with sin!!!  We do!!!  We do!!!  Praise Him, Church!!!  Praise Him!!!)  We must take the need for purity seriously, and that means guarding carefully what we allow ourselves to see. Through prayer, fasting, and practice, we can learn to take control of our eyes and avoid temptation. This isn’t quaint and archaic—it’s basic to spiritual survival.

Let us call upon our most pure Lady and her chaste husband St. Joseph, begging their intercession for our purity.”

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Male saints holding lilies symbolize their purity of life, St Joseph, Most Chaste Spouse, pray for us!!!!

“It is a common doctrine of the Saints that one of the principal means of leading a good and exemplary life is modesty and custody of the eyes. For, as there is nothing so adapted to preserve devotion in a soul, and to cause compunction and edification in others, as this modesty, so there is nothing which so much exposes a person to relaxation and scandals as its opposite.”—-St. Alphonsus Rodriguez

Love,
Matthew

Aug 8 – Study as Asceticism, or “The Wood of the Desk is the Wood of the Cross!”

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-by Br. Joseph Paul Albin, OP (Central Province)

“As Dominicans we have a number of aphorisms that come up again and again. If you’ve hung out with us you’ve heard, “contemplate and share the fruits of your contemplation,” “if you’ve met one Dominican you’ve met one Dominican,” and “never deny, seldom affirm, and always distinguish.” One that I haven’t heard as often but is of principal importance in my life as a student is, “the wood of the desk is the wood of the Cross.”

In our lives as Dominicans we hear again and again of the four pillars: prayer, study, community, and preaching. Study is one of the most important aspects of our lives. We are called to study. Our study is not self-serving; we don’t chase titles, adding lists of letters to the end of our names. Instead our study is intimately linked to our mission, the salvation of souls. Study enriches our prayer, our community life, and our preaching. Through our study we cultivate a desire for truth, and we bring that desire for truth to others. Our Constitutions state this clearly, “Study enables the brothers to ponder in their hearts the manifold wisdom of God, and equips them for the doctrinal service of the Church and of all people. They ought to be all the more committed to study because in the Order’s tradition they are called to stimulate people’s desire to know the truth.” Our study ends up being one of our great gifts to the Lord in service to His people and His Church.”

Love,
Matthew

Dec 24 – Protestant Existential Angst with Christmas

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-Santa Calvin, by the author

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-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP (prior to joining the Order, Br Bonaventure received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“Tomorrow is the day that every child (young and old!) has been waiting for: Christmas. We keep vigil on this Eve of the Nativity and anxiously await the celebration of Christ’s first coming in humility, with anticipation for his second coming in glory. Who would deny such a celebration to the Church? Surprisingly, some bearing the name Christian!

When in 1519 Huldrych Zwingli took to his pulpit in the newly Reformed city of Zurich, he did not follow the custom of preaching from the lectionary but began with Matthew’s Gospel and preached through the whole book, in what became known as lectio continua.

Holy days and feasts were ignored in this Scripture-centered form of worship. The most famous Reformer, John Calvin, largely followed Zwingli’s tradition: the city of Geneva had stopped celebrating holy days outside of Sunday. Even Christmas was not to be commemorated in any special way. On Christmas Day 1550, Calvin welcomed a larger than usual church crowd with the following:

“Now I see here today more people than I am accustomed to having at the sermon. Why is that? It is Christmas Day. And who told you this? You poor beasts. That is a fitting euphemism for all of you who have come here today to honor Noel.”

The Puritans in England under Oliver Cromwell would go even further: in 1647 the English Parliament officially abolished celebrating Christmas. The Puritans of New England largely followed suit. In Massachusetts a fine was even imposed on those caught celebrating in secret!

Why this Christmas animus? The Westminster Confession of Faith offers a Protestant principle cited for such a suppression:

“The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture. (WCF XI.1)”

Christmas Day, December 25th, is not in the Scriptures; therefore, it is not to be celebrated – the simplicity of sola scriptura strikes again!

Happily the majority of modern Protestant churches do not follow their fathers in faith, even if the denial of Christmas liturgy does follow this Protestant principle quite naturally and straightforwardly. Yet, as with many Protestant beliefs, sometimes simplicity is simply too simple for reality. (Ed. It is generally known, the intelligentsia of Europe did not defect during the Reformation.)

Take, for instance, the Protestant detestation of any notion of mediation between God and man in the sacraments of the Church. The Protestant claim of immediacy between God and man sounds simpler, but what of this mortal flesh and physical world we find ourselves surrounded by: all a dream, a vision, an unreality? What of the Incarnation of Jesus, the taking on of this supposedly unseemly medium of creatureliness? It strikes me, at least, that the Catholic teaching on mediation in sacraments, among other things, is exactly and simply right. We are creatures of space and matter. If we are to be met at all, it will be in this space and this matter.

But we are not only creatures of space; we are also creatures of time. St. Augustine, in his famous discourse on time in his Confessions, admits as much: “I confess to you, Lord, that I still do not know what time is, and I further confess to you, Lord, that as I say this I know myself to be conditioned by time” (XI.xxv.32). And this conditioning by time is part of the fabric of the cosmos. As Joseph Ratzinger says in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “Time is a cosmic reality. The orbiting of the sun by the earth… gives existence the rhythm that we call time.” This means, Ratzinger continues, that “man lives with the stars. The course of the sun and the moon leave its mark on his life.”

While the rhythms of time make up creatureliness in general, they especially mark man. We are creatures enveloped by time. We remember the past, perceive the present, and anticipate the future in ways that other animals, let alone plants and stars, can only be represented as doing in fictional and fabulous tales.

For just this reason God seeks to meet us in temporal fashion as the Church celebrates the rhythms of salvation history in time. Seasonal cycles bring about ecclesial and personal remembrances and anticipations of God’s mighty deeds. We, lowly creatures of time, are being educated into God’s time of salvation in preparation for the eternal now of heaven. Worship is about the changing seasons and the developing of God’s story in time and beyond it. As Ratzinger reminds us: “The liturgy is the means by which earthly time is inserted into the time of Jesus Christ and into its present.”

Thus the Church rightly celebrates the Seasons and Holy Days of the Church calendar, and our anticipation on Christmas Eve as children, waiting for the decorated dawn of morning, is taken up in the liturgy in our anticipation of the second coming of Christ. We, creatures of time, need particular Holy Days and Seasons just as we, creatures of space, need particular sacraments and signs. And thankfully God has given us the gift of liturgical time with its special celebrations – especially Christmas, that liturgical day of remembering when God took on human flesh and dwelt amongst us.

This post started off polemically, but on a day such as this, the Eve of our Savior’s birth, perhaps it is fitting to end on a more irenic note with some words from one of John Calvin’s Christmas Sermons (yes – he did occasionally preach them!):

“Let us note well, then, that the peace which the angels of Paradise preach here carried with it this joy, which the first angel had mentioned, saying ‘I announce to you a great joy,’ that is, the salvation you will have in Jesus Christ. He is called our Peace, and this title declares that we would be entirely alienated from God unless he received us by means of his only Son. Consequently we also have something to boast of when God accepts us as his children, when he gives us freedom to claim him openly as our Father, to come freely to him, and to have our refuge in him.”

Love & Merry Christmas,
Matthew

Doctrine Saves?….Doctrine Saves!

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Basic Christian Doctrine is the study of the revealed word of God. It is Christian Theology regarding the nature of truth, God, Jesus, salvation, damnation, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Gospel, resurrection, and more.

“holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict,” (Titus 1:9).

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-by Br Dominic Mary Verner, OP

“It’s a bold claim. “Doctrine”—the word doesn’t exactly conjure images of heavenly harbors or paradisal sands. It hits the ears about as pleasantly as “doctor exam,” “doctoral dissertation,” or “indoctrination.” If the word had a smell, it would probably be the smell of old-book must—the smell of dead letters on acidic paper playing host to acrid fungal spores (I’d rather not think of its taste). Doctrine divides. The letter kills. How can we say that doctrine saves?

To see the goodness of Christian doctrine, how sweet its sound, it first helps to recall what it was like to be aged about three. Yes, you, dear reader, like me, were once three. And at the time, we had the rather obnoxious habit of asking all who would listen, “Why?” It was the most sensible question for us to ask at the time, because we knew, as if by instinct, that the world had a lot of explaining to do.

This is in part because, truth be told, neither you nor I chose to exist—not at that time, not in that place, not to those parents, not as this type of creature, not in this strange world with its storied history. No one asked us. Then, subito! There we were, thrust into history, tuned into season three of The Human Drama without a clue as to what happened in seasons one or two. What are we doing here? What are we to do? How did it begin? How does it end?

Perhaps our despair of these questions is the reason “doctrine” sounds so dismal. Perhaps we never got satisfying answers. Perhaps the answers seemed too abstract, too impersonal, too frightful or demanding. Perhaps we heard the telling of so many fragmented and conflicting stories that we gave up on ever putting the pieces together. Whatever the reason, somewhere along the line, we grew out of our questions. Doctrine lost its existential spice, its invigorating aroma, its sweet saving sound.

There is hope, of course, to recapture the flavor. Advent is a time when the Author of doctrine sets us up to be awestruck again. In times past, the God who placed us dazed and confused in season three of the cosmos spoke to us through the prophets, but in these later days, he sent us His Son. The Word became flesh, doctrine incarnate:

“In these later days, he spoke to us through a Son, Whom He made heir of all things and through Whom He created the universe, Who is the refulgence of His glory, the very imprint of His being, and Who sustains all things by His mighty word.” (Heb 1:1-2)

By the voice that creates, we learn our origin. By the Word that sustains, we know our way. By the Son that radiates glory, we achieve our destiny. Divine love that creates, redeems, and saves; a glorious company forged in filial obedience, self-denial, and hope; an inspired Church commissioned to pass on the flame of God’s teaching—not exactly acrid book must, that!

Sacred doctrine saves because it is the last speech of the first Son, the living legacy of the God-man born in a manger, destined to conquer death by a death born of love: “I AM the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (Jn 11:25-26).

His doctrine has the power to change everything—to give hope to the hopeless, to give sight to the blind—and the power, praise God, to save even a wretch like me.” (Ed…& me, too!) 🙂

She's a Christian

Love,
Matthew

Mortality

deep_cold_woods_by_wilde108-d4mtjb6

by Michael Perry

“There is this moment when the chickadees approach in such a rush that I think of them not as a flock, but as a hustle of chickadees. A dozen or more, landing in the brush and branches all around my head and shoulders, in so close I can hear the flirrrr of their wings, the scrape of their talons on the birch bark, and the peck-peck of their beaks like specks of sand sprinkled over dry leaves.

Temperatures were on the upswing. The snow, fallen only for a few days, was melting, and all along the bottom side the branches were hung with water droplets. When the chickadees came swarming, featherweights though they were, their activity was enough to shake loose a small rain over my head and shoulders.

Each year come late Fall, I spend the better part of a week in the woods. This time outdoors serves more than one purpose, the most fundamental being venison chops. But above all it serves a necessary reset. There is a lot of thinking (and sometimes naps, but let us remain philosophical), and not all of it comfortable. I have long held that for all its soothing and restorative potential, nature’s true power lies in making us feel deeply vulnerable. Inescapably mortal. Brief.

Later in the week I sat on a ridge in the predawn dark. The wind was really only a breeze, but when I shone a light on our old mercury thermometer before leaving the yard, the crown of the meniscus had ducked just below zero, so even the lightest puff of air felt anesthetic; my cheeks were stiff and my beard and mustache were clotted with icy beads of exhaled moisture (and other, but let’s move on — it is difficult to render poetic the snotsicle). Thinking I saw movement against the far side of the valley, I strained to see, only to be faced with the freezer breeze against my corneas.

If you have tried this, you know my eyes watered up and spilled over, and everything went to a blur. Emotion doesn’t enter into it; this is simply the body responding to the forces of the nature that rule us, no matter if you do have a smartphone in your pocket.

In time the eastern horizon lightened, but did not brighten; a thick batt of clouds overlaid all visible sky. At sunrise the star itself did not show, but through some unseen, sub-horizon break a vast wash of storybook rose leaked through and ruddied up the overcast underbelly in a broad, fan-shaped wash. In a short minute, the red began to recede, thinning out and going pale and drawing back within itself, and then the sky was simply gray again, and perhaps the moral of that story was, this whole works is on the clock.

Nature provides its comforts. But I value it most for re-seeding my unease. For the way it knocks a wobble into my habits and certitudes. The click of one dead goldenrod stem against the other reminds me of my own dry bones.

I spend a handful of the short, dark, frozen days — leading up, as they do, to the season of resolutions — staring at the world through a criss-cross tangle of leafless aspen slashings or a stand of sumac stripped and shivering in nothing but dark-blooded stocking caps and find myself feeling fragile, a useful state in that it may lead me to step more carefully upon reentry.

One evening late in my November sojourn it began to snow at dusk. I sat until I could see the world in nothing but black and white. The forest was stock-still, so frozen I could hear the sound of snowflakes striking the parchment oak leaves like sprinkled sand, and now I was back to remembering the chickadees. This brought to mind the idea of circles (one of your more obvious and well-worn nature motifs, but no less relevant for it), and then from far-off I heard the wash of the interstate, all the back-and-forth hustle its own sort of circle, and I thought, Well, I’ll just stay here until it’s completely dark.”

Love,
Matthew

Sin, Tears, Forgiveness, Conversion

mary washing jesus feet

When was the last time you heard a worthy, edifying homily on sin in a Catholic Church?  Really.  Seriously.  I don’t think I’ve ever.  I did hear, from a Jesuit homilist, once, the Catholic Church does believe in Hell.  That was once in forty-nine years.  The paucity of these mentions stand out simply for their paucity, not for any fascination with the subject on my part.

Or, when the prophets of old are thundering condemnation, why is it always the smallest lector, with the softest/tinest voice, who can neither see nor be seen over the ambo, does the reading?  Part of the New Evangelization should definitely be the training of lectors to read for appropriate dramatic effect given the text, imho.  Politics over proclamation?  🙁  (I’m not much of a liturgist.  I’m very Roman in this regard, plain and simple, with as little affectation as possible.  Thank you, Charlemagne.  I am also fond of plain, white, stripped New England Congregationalist churches.)

Given the prevalence of sin, its universal and universally disastrous effects in our lives and the world, and it being the reason for the Incarnation, you would think you would, logically, hear more of it on Sundays?  I understand the hesitance to address difficult topics, however, our fears are insufficient reason not to proclaim the truth.

I find it difficult to comprehend the glory of my redemption if I first do not contemplate the depths of the depraved state to which I have fallen, (see Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.  Holla! to all my SJs!) and rise from, in the glory of my own Resurrection, thanks to His mercy and salvific effect.

-by Rev Donald J Goergen, OP, PhD, STM

“The reality of sin and the forgiveness of sin, we can never let go of either side of the coin in that regard. So let us first ask is sin real? And what does it mean? Often we have defined it as offending God, or an offense against God, but can God be offended? It is an offense against love, against covenant love, against the covenant that God has made with us and that we have made with God. Many texts from the New Testament exemplify the human struggle with falling short of what God has created us to be.

A classic text is Romans chapter 7:15-20, in which Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions for I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do, is what I do.” In other words, Paul is very much aware here of the un-freedom within which he lives, that he is not free. He’s not able to will what he really wants to will.

And then also there is that text from the Gospel of John to which Pope St John Paul II referred and on which he commented extensively in his own encyclical on the Holy Spirit. That text from the Gospel of John 16:8, “…and when He comes. That is –The Advocate, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, when He comes, He will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”  What does it mean to convince the world concerning sin in that text from the 16th chapter of the Gospel of John?

There is in John, in Paul, and elsewhere, of course, in the Scriptures, this awareness that yes we can offend God. That God is love and we might find our lives not aligned with God. I’d referred earlier on another occasion, to Rudolf Steiner in one of his works, again, not an Orthodox Christian, or Catholic thinker, but nevertheless one in touch in many ways with spiritual aspects of our lives, he said, “Nevertheless, whether we are aware of them are not, we must realize that forces hostile to life exist.”

This is part of the struggle in our modern world, the tendency, in a way, to disbelieve in the devil or in demonic forces or the demonic. Cardinal Newman in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua about his own life gave a great text on one occasion in which he speaks about considering the world and its length and breadth its various histories and then the ways in which we don’t live up to what God expects of us and what we expect.

It’s like looking in the mirror and not seeing our own face. And so it is for him the awareness in some ways that the world is out of joint. Yes, sin is real. Sometimes you may use other words to talk about the reality of the struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Robert Johnson, the Jungian psychologist, again speaks more about the shadow, the un-chosen side of our lives that cause us trouble or he might speak about the disowned, the need to reconnect with the shadow, the dark side of ourselves.

Whatever language we use, there is in our lives, the reality of sin as well as the reality of the forgiveness of sin. For Christians, for Catholics, this has often has been discussed in the context of the capital sins, just as we might speak about the virtues.  St John Cassian and in the East, spoke of eight principal vices following a classification of Evagrius before him. In the West, Gregory the Great reduced this list to seven what we think of as the seven capital sins. If we mention the eight, they were gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, despondency or sadness, achadia or spiritual wariness or sloth, vainglory and pride.  These are mentioned in the fifth conference of St John Cassian as well, as in the Institute.

So there is this reality of the garbage, to use that image again, that lies there within each of us that comes to the surface of which we need to be more aware as we live contemplatively. All of this is a part of who we are.  In some ways, I suppose, it’s acknowledging a fraud, that each of us in some ways attempts to present ourselves publicly as being other than we are. And that we need to come to grips with our own sinfulness and that this is the question then of awakening, of conversion, of repentance.

Conversion, am I open to conversion? I suppose if I’m honest, I’d have to say much of the time no, I’m not. Conversion requires a radical reorientation of one’s life. A restructuring of one’s self, it’s asks us the question, is God enough for us? Is God enough? And as much as we might want to say yes, most often, probably, we in fact, through our behavior, at least, are saying no. Conversion is a continuing process. It’s not just a once and for all kind of thing.

There may be that powerful conversion experience, in other words, it may be dramatic, but it can also be gradual, and most often conversion is both.  Those events, experiences, in which we are turned around, but then that continuing conversion whereby we have to live out of that new awareness, consciousness, or experience and we can talk about conversion of heart, as well as of mind, or of affective conversion, intellectual conversion, moral conversion, and spiritual conversion.  As it settles in, it takes place, transforms at varied levels of our being, conversion of will, conversion of mind.

John Paul II again in that encyclical on the Holy Spirit wrote conversion requires convincing of sin, and of course this goes back to that text also from the Gospel of John, but conversion requires convincing us of sin. That’s the tough step, convincing, especially the modern person of the reality of sin. Conversion requires convincing of sin, he writes, and he goes on, “It includes the interior judgment of the conscience and this being a proof of the action of the Spirit of Truth in our inmost being, becoming at the same time a new beginning of the bestowal of grace and love.”  “Receive the Holy Spirit…” he writes, in this convincing concerning sin; we discover a double gift, the gift of the truth of conscience, and the gift of the certainty of redemption.

Conscience, reality of sin, redemption, forgiveness of sin, and he continues in order to convince/convict us of the forgiveness of sin, of the reality of grace, of the awareness of God as mercy, of the fact of redemption. In other words, emphasizing its twofold dimension to conversion. Convincing concerning sin, and convincing concerning its forgiveness, hence the conversion of the human heart, clearly Pope John Paul II here has a very good grasp of this reality.

And how we can have an emphasis on one without the other? We can so emphasize the reality of sin that we neglect and forget the reality of grace, mercy, forgiveness, or we can so talk about the forgiveness of sin that we in a way just take the reality of sin for granted as not to be taken seriously. But the two needs to come together less our own contemplative in Christian lives become distorted.

Sri Aurobindo, a mystic of modern India, perhaps in one way the greatest mystical philosopher of modern India, died in 1950, not a Christian, in a great book called the Synthesis of Yoga, speaks about conversion in his own way.   And just to take a couple expressions from his own thinking, he says, “The acceptance of a new spiritual orientation and illumination, a turning or conversion seized on by the will and the heart’s aspiration, this is the momentous act which contains, as in a seed, all that is to come.” In other words, we cannot over emphasize the importance of this conversion, awakening, illumination; it’s an aspiration that contains as a seed everything that’s to come. And he writes a truly spiritual conversion does not consist in the change of one’s mental beliefs, but in the acceptance of a new spirit, a spiritual force, life in the spirit, a decisive turning we could say from business-as-usual.

And, therefore, there is, for him, in this process of conversion, first an aspiration, a yearning for the Divine.  Again, Augustine:  “Our hearts are restless…”, a yearning for the Divine, an aspiration from the mind as well as the heart. It’s not yet conversion, but aspiration.  Then the second is following the aspiration, the desire, the yearning comes in a twofold conversion and consecration. Consecration means making sacred and offering of one’s actions and interior movements to the Divine, consecrating one’s life to the divine.

A conversion is a more spontaneous movement of the consciousness, but then the consecration as the deliberate process that grounds it, the conversion may be sudden but the consecration takes time. The consecration makes the conversion last so the process begins with that reality of aspiration followed by then the twofold conversion and consecration. The consecration being required for the persistence striving steadily, effort, perseverance, and of course for us this is all the result of grace.

But we can also think of consecration as a religious consecration: the consecrated life, the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart, St Louis de Montfort’s total consecration to Jesus through Mary;  varied forms of, but consecration is essential if conversion is going to be carried through. This then entails the awakening of one’s innermost self, something is awakened within us. One wakes up and this culminates in the gradual transformation of who we are, our whole being:  the physical, the affective, the mental, the spiritual, it’s a turning of our whole self towards God.  The transformation of consciousness from egoic or false consciousness to a more pure consciousness, purity of heart, conversion the different stages or facets of conversion, all of it of course, grounded in the moral life.

We referred in our last conference to the moral virtues. We didn’t speak at any length about them. But in every religious tradition there’s this emphasis on the moral dimension. In Buddhism they speak about the five precepts, to refrain from killing or physical violence.  To refrain from taking that which is not offered or from stealing, to refrain from misuse of our sexual power or energy, to refrain from lying or harsh or idle speech, to refrain from taking intoxicants that clouds the mind. These are clearly a moral foundation for the Buddhist way of life.

Likewise for us, the moral foundation can be put in different ways but the Ten Commandments is foundational. I recall an example someone once had given that there are those today who want to practice meditation or live a life of contemplation, but are not so preoccupied with a basic moral living, with basic morality, and the analogy was used, it’s like someone’s wanting to row a boat while leaving it tied to the dock.  If we do not have a solid moral foundation on which to build its like remaining tied to the dock and the boat isn’t going to go anywhere.

In other words, the contemplative life builds on the moral life and in fact they cannot be separated, they are all part of a whole.   Spiritual theology is not something totally separate from moral theology, moral theology from doctrinal theology, it’s as a whole.  But for this conversion to take hold of us, for this awakening to happen, for this consecration to take place that enables us to persevere, requires repentance, repentance. In the Gospel of Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel!”

Again, Catholic teaching gives us an unfolding of stages of repentance, or aspects from sorrow for sin, contrition, you could say, to a firm purpose of amendment. That purpose, almost like a consecration, to doing penance, finally, to confession, frequent confession. More frequent than perhaps many of us might feel drawn towards.

St John Chrysostom spoke about five paths of repentance.  He said “Would you like me to list the paths of repentance? They are numerous and quite varied. In other words, different forms or ways of repentance all lead to Heaven. A first path of repentance is the condemnation of your own sins that then is one very good path. Another, and no less valuable is to put out of our minds the harm done us by our enemies in order to master our anger and to forgive others, then our own sins against the Lord will be for a given.  Do you want to know a third path? It consists of prayer that is fervent. It comes from the heart. If you want a fourth path, I will mention almsgiving, whose power is great and far-reaching. If forever a man lives a modest, humble life, that no less than the other things I’ve mention, takes sin away, too. Thus I’ve shown you five paths of repentance, 1) condemnation of your sins, 2) forgiveness of your neighbors sins, 3) prayer, 4) almsgiving, 5) humility; repentance, the foundation.”

The reality of sin, the forgiveness of sin, sorrow for our own sin, firm purpose of amendment, doing penance, confession, consecration, and perseverance; but many of our spiritual ancestors spoke about two conversions, that of water and that of tears, and the gift of tears. That of water, of course, involving baptism, and in that sense also baptism of the adult.  St John Cassian was the first to have given us a classification of tears in his ninth conference, and he spoke about five sorts of tears.

The relationship between compunction or sorrow for sin and fiery prayer, the ecstatic contemporary prayer, is something of which he spoke, and he spoke about the remembrance of our sins, producing tears, followed by ineffable joy. That again, I mention earlier, the joy of repentance, tears followed by joy, as one enters into this new way of life. For Cassian, tears was most common form of spiritual experience encompassing both sorrow and joy and the experience of grace.

Pope St Gregory the Great, in the West, is known as the Great Doctor of Compunction, or the Western Doctor of Tears. He outlined four kinds of compunction or tears. In the East, Simeon the New Theologian was known as the Theologian of Tears. St Catherine of Siena, OP, later spoke about five kinds of tears. Four kinds, and then about those who desire to weep and are unable to do so, is a very special kind. A kind of spiritual tear where there is no physical tear. She speaks about God, responding that there is a weeping of fire that is a longing for God so intense that she writes, “Such a soul would like to dissolve her very life in weeping, but these souls cannot shed physical tears. They rather shed tears of fire, the source being a heart full of fire, or an ardent longing for God.” She also writes, “This is how the Holy Spirit weeps.  The Holy Spirit weeps in the person of every one of my servants, Christ says, who offers me the fragrance of holy desire and humble prayer.”

So she speaks about these as spiritual tears or tears of the heart or the inner the weeping of the Holy Spirit. If you wish, go to her Dialogue, chapters 88 to 97, to read more where she talks about five kinds of tears, but really the first four being more common and then this is kind is weeping of fire. This spiritual tear where we do not physically weep, but indeed our hearts are manifesting its both sorrow and joy before the Lord. We think here even of the prophet Ezekiel, when he speaks about our hearts of stone in the hearts of flesh. And says, “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you and I will take out of your flesh, the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

So here we are getting to the basics, the basis, and the foundation of the contemplative life. That we can look to the heights of, we can desire to infused, we want to open ourselves. But again, it’s almost as if that’s what that “dark night” was all about, needing to let go of our way of controlling our spiritual journey and to come back to simply compunction. Sorrow for sin, contrition, repentance, conversion, to not know myself as sinner will be to never know God as mercy.

If we yearn to know God and if knowing God is to know God as mercy, then we must come to grips with the reality of who I am as sinner. Always keeping in mind what Pope St John Paul II said, “The two sides, the reality of sin and the reality of its forgiveness, never one without the other.”

This time as a closing prayer I would like to take some verses from Psalm 51, the Miserere, a great Psalm acknowledging who we are as sinners. Let us pray, “Have mercy on me God in your goodness in your abundance of compassion, blot out my offense, wash away all my guilt, from sin, cleanse me. For I know my offense, my sin is always before me. Against you alone have I sinned, cleanse me with hyssop that I may be pure, wash me, wash me, Lord. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

Reward & Merit

Vatican beautiful

-Roma Aeterna

Imho, the differences in some Protestant objections to Catholicism, as I have tried to plumb them, and Catholic rantings about Protestant ones, are often very minor nuances of terms? 🙁  I feel this is MORE tragic than if the contrast and the chasm were more stark, gross, and grievous. 🙁  Ut unum sint.  Jn 17:21. And the devil giggles. 🙁

-from http://www.catholic.com/tracts/reward-and-merit

“Paul tells us: “For [God] will reward every man according to his works: to those who by perseverance in working good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. There will be . . . glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Rom. 2:6–11; cf. Gal. 6:6–10).

In the second century, the technical Latin term for “merit” was introduced as a synonym for the Greek word for “reward.” Thus merit and reward are two sides of the same coin.

Protestants often misunderstand the Catholic teaching on merit, thinking that Catholics believe that one must do good works to come to God and be saved. This is exactly the opposite of what the Church teaches. The Council of Trent stressed: “[N]one of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification; for if it is by grace, it is not now by works; otherwise, as the Apostle [Paul] says, grace is no more grace” (Decree on Justification 8, citing Rom. 11:6).

The Catholic Church teaches only Christ is capable of meriting in the strict sense—mere man cannot (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2007). The most merit humans can have is condign—when, under the impetus of God’s grace, they perform acts which please Him and which He has promised to reward (Rom. 2:6–11, Gal. 6:6–10). Thus God’s grace and His promise form the foundation for all human merit (CCC 2008).

Virtually all of this is agreed to by Protestants, who recognize that, under the impetus of God’s grace, Christians do perform acts which are pleasing to God and which God has promised to reward, meaning that they fit the definition of merit. When faced with this, Protestants are forced to admit the truth of the Catholic position—although, contrary to Paul’s command (2 Tim. 2:14), they may still dispute the terminology.

Thus the Lutheran Book of Concord admits: “We are not putting forward an empty quibble about the term ‘reward.’ . . . We grant that eternal life is a reward because it is something that is owed—not because of our merits [in the strict sense] but because of the promise [of God]. We have shown above that justification is strictly a gift of God; it is a thing promised. To this gift the promise of eternal life has been added” (p. 162).

The following passages illustrate what the Church Fathers had to say on the relationship between merit and grace.

Ignatius of Antioch

“Be pleasing to him whose soldiers you are, and whose pay you receive. May none of you be found to be a deserter. Let your baptism be your armament, your faith your helmet, your love your spear, your endurance your full suit of armor. Let your works be as your deposited withholdings, so that you may receive the back-pay which has accrued to you” (Letter to Polycarp 6:2 [A.D. 110]).

Justin Martyr

“We have learned from the prophets and we hold it as true that punishments and chastisements and good rewards are distributed according to the merit of each man’s actions. Were this not the case, and were all things to happen according to the decree of fate, there would be nothing at all in our power. If fate decrees that this man is to be good and that one wicked, then neither is the former to be praised nor the latter to be blamed” (First Apology 43 [A.D. 151]).

Tatian the Syrian

“[T]he wicked man is justly punished, having become depraved of himself; and the just man is worthy of praise for his honest deeds, since it was in his free choice that he did not transgress the will of God” (Address to the Greeks 7 [A.D. 170]).

Athenagoras

“And we shall make no mistake in saying, that the [goal] of an intelligent life and rational judgment, is to be occupied uninterruptedly with those objects to which the natural reason is chiefly and primarily adapted, and to delight unceasingly in the contemplation of Him Who Is, and of his decrees, notwithstanding that the majority of men, because they are affected too passionately and too violently by things below, pass through life without attaining this object. For . . . the examination relates to individuals, and the reward or punishment of lives ill or well spent is proportioned to the merit of each” (The Resurrection of the Dead 25 [A.D. 178]).

Theophilus of Antioch

“He who gave the mouth for speech and formed the ears for hearing and made eyes for seeing will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works [Rom. 2:7], he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things, which neither eye has seen nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man [1 Cor. 2:9]. For the unbelievers and the contemptuous and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity . . . there will be wrath and indignation [Rom. 2:8]” (To Autolycus 1:14 [A.D. 181]).

Irenaeus

“[Paul], an able wrestler, urges us on in the struggle for immortality, so that we may receive a crown and so that we may regard as a precious crown that which we acquire by our own struggle and which does not grow upon us spontaneously. . . . Those things which come to us spontaneously are not loved as much as those which are obtained by anxious care” (Against Heresies4:37:7 [A.D. 189]).

Tertullian

“Again, we [Christians] affirm that a judgment has been ordained by God according to the merits of every man” (To the Nations 19 [A.D. 195]).

“In former times the Jews enjoyed much of God’s favor, when the fathers of their race were noted for their righteousness and faith. So it was that as a people they flourished greatly, and their kingdom attained to a lofty eminence; and so highly blessed were they, that for their instruction God spoke to them in special revelations, pointing out to them beforehand how they should merit his favor and avoid his displeasure” (Apology 21 [A.D. 197]).

“A good deed has God for its debtor [cf. Prov. 19:17], just as also an evil one; for a judge is the rewarder in every case [cf. Rom. 13:3–4]” (Repentance 2:11 [A.D. 203]).

Hippolytus

“Standing before [Christ’s] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: ‘Just is your judgment,’ and the justice of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment” (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212]).

Cyprian of Carthage

“The Lord denounces [Christian evildoers], and says, ‘Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name have cast out devils, and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you who work iniquity’ [Matt. 7:21–23]. There is need of righteousness, that one may deserve well of God the Judge; we must obey his precepts and warnings, that our merits may receive their reward” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 15, 1st ed. [A.D. 251]).

“[Y]ou who are a matron rich and wealthy, anoint not your eyes with the antimony of the devil, but with the collyrium of Christ, so that you may at last come to see God, when you have merited before God both by your works and by your manner of living” (Works and Almsgivings 14 [A.D. 253]).

Lactantius

“Let every one train himself to righteousness, mold himself to self-restraint, prepare himself for the contest, equip himself for virtue . . . [and] in his uprightness acknowledge the true and only God, may cast away pleasures, by the attractions of which the lofty soul is depressed to the earth, may hold fast innocence, may be of service to as many as possible, may gain for himself incorruptible treasures by good works, that he may be able, with God for his judge, to gain for the merits of his virtue either the crown of faith, or the reward of immortality” (Epitome of the Divine Institutes 73 [A.D. 317]).

Cyril of Jerusalem

“The root of every good work is the hope of the resurrection, for the expectation of a reward nerves the soul to good work. Every laborer is prepared to endure the toils if he looks forward to the reward of these toils” (Catechetical Lectures 18:1 [A.D. 350]).

Jerome

“It is our task, according to our different virtues, to prepare for ourselves different rewards. . . . If we were all going to be equal in heaven it would be useless for us to humble ourselves here in order to have a greater place there. . . . Why should virgins persevere? Why should widows toil? Why should married women be content? Let us all sin, and after we repent we shall be the same as the apostles are!” (Against Jovinian 2:32 [A.D. 393]).

Augustine

“We are commanded to live righteously, and the reward is set before us of our meriting to live happily in eternity. But who is able to live righteously and do good works unless he has been justified by faith?” (Various Questions to Simplician 1:2:21 [A.D. 396]).

“He bestowed forgiveness; the crown he will pay out. Of forgiveness he is the donor; of the crown, he is the debtor. Why debtor? Did he receive something? . . . The Lord made himself a debtor not by receiving something but by promising something. One does not say to him, ‘Pay for what you received,’ but ‘Pay what you promised’” (Explanations of the Psalms 83:16 [A.D. 405]).

“What merits of his own has the saved to boast of when, if he were dealt with according to his merits, he would be nothing if not damned? Have the just then no merits at all? Of course they do, for they are the just. But they had no merits by which they were made just” (Letters 194:3:6 [A.D. 412]).

“What merit, then, does a man have before grace, by which he might receive grace, when our every good merit is produced in us only by grace and when God, crowning our merits, crowns nothing else but his own gifts to us?” (ibid., 194:5:19).

Prosper of Aquitaine

“Indeed, a man who has been justified, that is, who from impious has been made pious, since he had no antecedent good merit, receives a gift, by which gift he may also acquire merit. Thus, what was begun in him by Christ’s grace can also be augmented by the industry of his free choice, but never in the absence of God’s help, without which no one is able either to progress or to continue in doing good” (Responses on Behalf of Augustine 6 [A.D. 431]).

Sechnall of Ireland

“Hear, all you who love God, the holy merits of Patrick the bishop, a man blessed in Christ; how, for his good deeds, he is likened unto the angels, and, for his perfect life, he is comparable to the apostles” (Hymn in Praise of St. Patrick 1 [A.D. 444]).

Council of Orange II

“[G]race is preceded by no merits. A reward is due to good works, if they are performed, but grace, which is not due, precedes [good works], that they may be done” (Canons on grace 19 [A.D. 529]).

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004″

Love,
Matthew

The Wheel of Fortune – Rota Fortuna & Freedom

wheelof1

-the wheel of fortune from the Burana Codex; The figures are labelled “Regno, Regnavi, Sum sine regno, Regnabo”: “I reign, I reigned, my reign is finished, I shall reign.”

I_rule1

-the Rota Fortuna, a modern interpretation

The modern, or current idea of Freedom is much different than it has been.  The idea of Freedom in the current age is the freedom from any constraint, hence the freedom to do whatever I want.  Sometimes called the freedom of indifference, from Ockham, focusing solely on the will, with no spiritual dimension.

This is dramatically different from the traditional Christian concept of Freedom.  Traditionally, the Christian ideal of freedom was the freedom from attachment, or inordinate desire, from the goods of this world, this life, and hence, the Freedom for Excellence.

The Freedom for Excellence, which we receive as a gift from our loving God, is a freedom from attachments to accomplishments, possessions, competitiveness, and odious comparisons between ourselves. It is a freedom arising from gazing at God as He presents Himself to us, and loving God intently. God gives us this freedom as a gift. He is the origin and the end of this excellence, to which we are all called.  It is the power to act freely with excellence and perfection; proceeding from reason and will, therefore rooted in inclinations to truth and goodness.  The Freedom for Excellence is rooted in the soul’s spontaneous inclinations to the good and the true, natural human disposition toward beatitude, and the perfection of the good.

God made us and he calls us back to Himself. This is excellence at its core. He asks only that we attend to Him, with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our strength, and with all our minds. He wants us to look at Him, and love Him.  At the center of the Rota Fortuna is often depicted Christ Himself, the message being:  detach yourself from the desires for things of this life, for they do not last and cannot satisfy.  Focus on Christ, for He alone is our salvation, our everything, our every satisfaction.  He alone can satisfy human desire, the human heart.

The Rota Fortuna, the Wheel of Fortune, was commonly used in middle ages and originally belonged to the Roman goddess Fortuna, and hence, the reason the zodiac is a wheel . The Rota Fortuna also appears as a card in a deck of tarot cards.  The goddess Fortuna is sometimes depicted as spinning the wheel, with a blindfold over her eyes.  This wheel is painted in many medieval Swedish churches as well.

Edward Burne-Jones: The Wheel of Fortune.

-The Wheel of Fortune, by Edward Burne-Jones, 1875-1883,  Musée d’Orsay

The wheel traditionally depicts a young, happy-go-lucky character that, in the prime of his youth, jumps onto the wheel.  Besides this aspirant are, traditionally, the word, “Regnabo”, I shall reign.  At the top of the wheel sits a king crowned, the pinnacle of success, the summit of powers, even referring to our bodily powers of youth, which wane quickly with the onset of middle age, a prelude of the total, complete disability and corruption to come, even if health remains ruddy, due solely to age.  The word next to the reigning monarch is “Regno”, “I reign”.  Next, at 3 PM, is a former king falling off the wheel, deposed in fortune and power, with the word “Regnavi”, “I reigned”.  And, finally, at the bottom is the completely destitute beggar, with the words, “Sum sine regno”, “I reign no more”, the climax of life.

In the modern interpretation above, the doves by his side representing his innocence. Flanking him in the image is a picture of the rising sun, symbolizing the early morning stages of life. Written beside him is the text “I will rule”. In the older versions of the wheel the latin text “Regnabo” was written which means “I shall reign”.

In the modern interpretation above, to the above left of the subject is the greek letter ALPHA. This is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and this also signifies the beginning. On the top right is the Greek letter OMEGA. This is the last letter in the Greek alphabet. Alpha and Omega comes from the phrase “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” from the book of Revelations. This is a reference to the nature of the wheel- it brings the young rookie from the Alpha point towards the Omega point. The Omega point being the place of one’s death.

On top of the wheel there is a muscle man standing waving a gun defiantly in the air. He is strong and is in the prime of his life. Behind him the sun is at its highest point in the sky. He feels like an indestructible conqueror that nothing can stop. Behind him there is a text that says “I rule” making a reference to the old latin text “Regno” or “reign”, which accompanied this character.

Lastly an old man is being pulled towards his grave by a smiling devil. The night has come and life has started to fade in the last cycle of the wheel. The moon looks on as all this transpires. Written by his side is the text”I ruled” signifiying that his time is at an end. In the original wheels the latin text “Regnavi” or “I reigned” was written. Finally below the wheel a skeleton lies silently on the ground saying nothing while animals look on as the wheel keeps spinning.

O noble Peter, Cyprus’ lord and king,
Which Alexander won by mastery,
To many a heathen ruin did’st thou bring;
For this thy lords had so much jealousy,
That, for no crime save thy high chivalry,
All in thy bed they slew thee on a morrow.
And thus does Fortune’s wheel turn treacherously
And out of happiness bring men to sorrow.
~ Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Monk’s Tale

Makes me think of Ozymandias by Shelley.  Romans 13:11.

Love,
Matthew