Category Archives: Theology

Gift of the Holy Spirit #7: Fear of the Lord


-please click on the image for greater detail

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Lord, grant that I may fear but one thing: that of displeasing You and being separated from You.

MEDITATION

The Holy Spirit invites us to His school: “Come, children, hearken to me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Psalm 34:12). This is the first lesson the divine Paraclete teaches the soul desiring to become a saint. It is fundamental and most important because, infusing into the soul hatred of sin, which is the greatest obstacle to union with God, it insures the development of the spiritual life. In this sense Holy Scripture says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (cf Sirach 1:16).

To educate us in the fear of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, instead of placing before our eyes pictures of the punishment and pains due to sin, instead of representing God as a stern judge, shows Him to us as a most loving Father, infinitely desirous of our good, and He presents us the touching picture of God’s favors and mercies. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore, have I drawn thee,” whispers the Holy Spirit in the depths of our soul; “You are not servants, but my friends, my children” (cf. Jeremiah 31:3; cf. John 15:15). Captured by love for such a good Father, the soul has but one desire, to return Him love for love, to give Him pleasure and to be united with Him forever. Consequently, it fears nothing but sin, which offends God and alone can separate it from Him. What a difference there is between this filial fear, which is the fruit of love, and servile fear, which arises from the dread of punishment! It is true that the fear of judgment and the divine punishment is salutary and in certain cases can serve greatly to hold a soul back from sin; but if it does not change gradually into filial fear, it will never be sufficient to impel the soul on to sanctity. Fear that is merely servile contracts the soul and makes it petty, whereas filial fear dilates it and spurs it on in the way of generosity and perfection.

COLLOQUY

“My God, although I desire to love You, and although I know the vanities of the world and prefer to serve You rather than them, I can never be sure while I am here below, that I shall never again offend You. Since this is true, what can I do but flee to You and beg You not to allow my enemies to lead me into temptation? How can I recognize their treacherous assaults? Oh! my God! how I need Your help! Speak, O Lord, the word that will enlighten and strengthen me. Deign to teach me what remedy to use in the assaults of this perilous struggle! You Yourself tell me the remedy is love and fear. Love will make me quicken my steps; fear will make me look where I set my feet so that I shall not fall. Give me both, O Lord, for love and fear are two strong castles from the height of which I shall be able to conquer every temptation. Sustain me, O God, so that for all the gold in the world, I may never commit any deliberate venial sin, however small” (cf. Teresa of Jesus Way of Perfection 39, 40, 41).

“My Lord and my God, all my good consists in being united to you and placing all my hope in You. If my soul were left to itself, it would be like a puff of wind, which goes away and does not return. Without You I can do no good, nor can I remain steadfast. Without You, I cannot love You, please You, or avoid what is displeasing to You. Therefore, I take refuge in You, I abandon myself to You, that You may sustain me by Your power, hold me by Your strength, and never permit me to become separated from You” (cf. St. Bernard).”

Love,
Matthew

Gift of the Holy Spirit #2: Understanding

“The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD, and He will delight in the fear of the Lord.” -Isaiah 11:2–3

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – Come, O Spirit of understanding, and enlighten me!

MEDITATION

As we advance toward God, we encounter many difficulties, not only because of creatures obstructing our path, but also because of the impenetrability of the divine mysteries. To enable us to surmount the former, the Holy Spirit comes to our aid with the gift of knowledge; to overcome the latter, He comes to our aid with the gift of understanding.

Our intellect is incapable of seizing the infinite. Although gifted with faith, its manner of understanding is always human, proceeding by means of ideas and limited concepts, which are totally inadequate to express the divine realities. Revelation itself comes to us in human language; therefore, it cannot tell us what God is in Himself, nor manifest to us the intimate essence of revealed truths. Proceeding with the virtue of faith alone, we are constrained to stop, so to speak, at the surface of the divine mysteries. We know with certitude that they have been revealed by God; we adhere to them with all our strength and yet we do not succeed in penetrating them. However, what faith alone cannot do, it is able to do with the help of the gift of understanding. This gift surpasses our human way of comprehension and enlightens us in a divine way; it makes us “intus legere,” that is, “read within” the divine mysteries, with the light, with the understanding of the Holy Spirit Himself.

It is a swift, deep penetration which, while adding nothing new to what we already know from revelation, does make us understand the inner meaning of the revealed truth. The gift of understanding tears off, so to say, the outer coverings of the propositions and human concepts, allowing us to see the substance of the divine mysteries. Faith tells us that God is Trinity; the gift of understanding tells us nothing more, it does not make us see, nor does it explain this mystery to us, but it does make us penetrate it. Under the influence of this gift, the soul not only believes that God is One and Three, but it has the intuition that the mystery of the Trinity is essential to the divine nature and that it reveals better than anything else the perfection, the power, and the infinite love of God.

COLLOQUY

Come, Holy Spirit, come light divine!

“O light that sees no other light, light that obscures all other light, light which is the source of all other light, brightness compared with which all other brightness is darkness, and all other light obscurity; supreme light, not darkened by blindness, not clouded by darkness, not obscured by shadows; light that no obstacle impedes, no shade divides; light illuminating all things together and forever, absorb me in the ocean of your brilliance, that I may see You in Yourself, and myself in You, and all things beneath You” (St. Augustine).

“How can I approach You, O Holy Spirit? You dwell in inaccessible light, and are Yourself all light, knowledge and splendor, while I dwell in a place of darkness and am nothing but ignorance and rudeness.

“Meanwhile, O divine Spirit, I beg You with confidence to illumine me. Reveal to me the divine greatness and the divine mysteries, so that I may adore and acknowledge them. Disclose the wiles of the devil and of the world, that I may avoid them and never fall again; reveal to me my miseries and my weaknesses, my errors, my prejudices, my obstinacies, the artifices of my self-love, so that I may hate and correct them. But, O beneficent light, above all illumine my soul, that it may know what You wish of me: make me understand well the charm of Your attractions and of Your grace, and all that I must do to merit the beneficent influence of Your goodness, so that I may correspond with complete fidelity; O loving Spirit, sustain me in this fidelity unto death” (Fr. Aurillon).”

Love,
Matthew

The Seventh Deadly Sin: Sloth


-by Br Francis Mary Day, OP

Saint John Chrysostom tells us that, “It is not so much sin as sloth that casts us into hell.” How can this be? Sloth is not the most serious of sins, but in the Christian life, it can be the most dangerous, for to sloth is to anticipate damnation. Saint Thomas Aquinas considers sloth a major factor in the “sin against the Holy Spirit” that Jesus speaks of in the Scriptures (ST II-II q. 14, a. 2):

And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Mt 12:32)

[ Ed. Sloth is a sin of omission, in contrast to the other deadly sins which are sins of commission.  It is the most difficult sin to define, and to credit as sin, since it refers to a peculiar jumble of notions, dating from antiquity and including mental, spiritual, pathological, and physical states. Saint Thomas Aquinas defined sloth as “sorrow about spiritual good” and as “sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good… [it] is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away entirely from good deeds.” (ST II-II q. 35, a. 1) According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “acedia or spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness.”(CCC 2094)

Sloth includes ignoring the seven gifts of grace given by the Holy Ghost (wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord); such disregard may lead to the slowing of spiritual progress towards eternal life, to the neglect of manifold duties of charity towards the neighbor, and to animosity towards those who love God. (Manning, Henry Edward (1874). Sin and Its Consequences. London: Burns and Oates. pp. 40, 103–117)]

What is sloth but a final resistance to the gift of grace? It is the radical decision of a soul that no longer wishes to share the life of God, but desires to spend its life, and its death, in a state apart from Him. God respects our free will, and He will not violently force Himself upon a soul. This is why Jesus says that a sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this life or the next.

That being said, this description of sloth can sometimes seem so radical and so intense that it would be impossible to commit. Short of some tremendous personal or social crisis, it can be hard to imagine ourselves falling into the sin of sloth. On the other hand, sloth is often the fruit of another sin that is much more subtle: acedia. Acedia is sometimes understood as the capital sin of sloth, the implication being, as a common phrase goes, “For Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do. Satan is the god of sin, the underworld and all things evil.” (“Against Idleness and Mischief“(1715) -by Isaac Watts (1674-1748)).

Josef Pieper, one of the most prominent Catholic philosophers of the last century, describes acedia as “a kind of anxious vertigo that befalls the human individual when he becomes aware of the height to which God has raised him” (On Hope, 55). In an apparent paradox, acedia is sadness over salvation, even though we do not desire to obtain salvation. Pieper tells us, “Man flees from God because God has exalted human nature to a higher, a divine state of being…[a man fallen into acedia] expressly wishes that God had not ennobled him, but had ‘left him in peace’” (On Hope, 56).

This kind of sadness can often lead to discouragement and various levels of inactivity, which is why acedia includes within it what we typically think of when we consider sloth. Acedia can also result in a state of overwork, whereby we try to ignore or bury our nagging guilt and sadness with pointless exercises. This is why acedia is traditionally considered as a sin against the third commandment; it is the inability of the soul to rest in God. Genuine leisure and healthy labor can only come about when a man is at peace with himself and with God.

Sloth is often a result of acedia, but there are other results that accompany it. Acedia may result in a sort of uneasiness or restlessness of mind called evagatio mentis. This is a fancy way of describing something altogether too common, often manifested in observable phenomena: an inability to stay in one place, a lack of purpose, loquaciousness, excessive curiosity, or a lack of quietude. One is reminded of a quotation from the Pensées of the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Other effects of acedia include torpor, which is an indifference to salvation; rancor, which is hatred of anything that reminds us of the divine good; and malitia, which is the inner decision to favor evil.

None of these things start off as something entirely obvious, but they are the logical results of a soul (or a society) that wishes to flee from God. Acedia can only be overcome, St. Thomas says, by vigilant watchfulness. Once you can recognize the temptation to acedia, the war is half won.

Love,
Matthew

Gift of the Holy Spirit #4: Fortitude/Perseverance

CCC 1808 Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. “The Lord is my strength and my song.” Ps 118:14 “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Jn 16:33

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – Grant, O Lord, that by Your grace I may persevere unto the end.

MEDITATION

To become a saint, it is not enough to be courageous and patient and to practice the other virtues for a few days or a few months, or even for a few years. Our perseverance must persevere in these dispositions to the end of our life, never yielding to fatigue, discouragement, or laxity. This is the crucial point for, as St. Thomas says, “to apply oneself for a long time to a difficult task—and virtue is almost always difficult—constitutes a special difficulty” (Summa Theologica IIa IIae, q.137, a.1, co.); and it is only by overcoming this difficulty that we shall be able to reach perfection. We are not angels, we are human beings. The angel, a pure spirit, is stable by nature; if he makes a resolution, he holds to it; but this is not the case with us. We, being composed of spirit and matter, must suffer the consequences of the instability and fluctuations of the latter. As stability is characteristic of spirit, so instability is characteristic of matter; hence it becomes so difficult for us to be perfectly constant in the good. Although we have formed good resolutions in our mind, we always feel handicapped by the weakness of the sensible part of our nature which rebels against the weariness of sustained effort, and seeks to free itself from it, or at least to reduce it to a minimum. Our bodies are subject to fatigue; our minds are disturbed by emotions which are always fluctuating. That which at one moment fills us with enthusiasm may, at the next, become distasteful and annoying to such a point that we think we can no longer endure it. This is our state while on earth and no one can escape it. However, God calls us all to sanctity, and since sanctity requires a continual practice of virtue, He, who never asks the impossible, has provided a remedy for the instability of our nature by giving us the virtue of perseverance, the special object of which is the sustaining of our efforts. Though fickle by nature, we can by the help of grace become steadfast.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord, I shall certainly be saved if I persevere to the end, but my perseverance must be virtuous if it is to merit salvation; from You comes the virtue which will save me; it is You Who make me persevere until I attain salvation.

“At present, I am still engaged in battle: the struggle from without against false virtue, the struggle from within against my concupiscence. When I think of the number of little faults which I commit every day, even if only in thought and word, I realize that their number is very great, and that this great number of little failings makes an immense heap. O unhappy that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death? You will deliver me, O God, by Your grace, through the merits of Jesus Christ, Your Son and Our Lord. In the toil of this battle, then, I shall look to Your grace and, in the heat and burning thirst which I feel, I will beg for Your life-giving shade.

“Help me, O Lord Jesus, by saying to me: ‘Do not tire of the narrow way: I walked it before you, I am the way Itself; I am the guide, and I carry those whom I lead and bring them to Myself at the last.’” (St. Augustine).

“O eternal God, grant me the virtue of perseverance; without it, no one can please You nor be acceptable to You. This virtue brings to the soul an abundance of charity and the fruit of every effort. Oh! how happy I should be, Lord, if You would give me this virtue, because even here on earth it will make me enjoy a pledge of eternal life. But Your light reveals to me that I cannot attain it unless I suffer much, because this life cannot be lived without suffering. He who would escape suffering would deprive himself of holy perseverance” (St. Catherine of Siena).

Love,
Matthew

Aug 29 – Beheading of John the Baptist & free will


-“The Feast of Herod”, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531, oil on panel, Height: 81.3 cm (32 ″); Width: 119.7 cm (47.1″), Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT (please click on the image for greater detail)


-by Br Raymond La Grange, OP

“Today is the memorial of the Passion of John the Baptist, who was killed by the corrupt King Herod for condemning the monarch’s illicit marriage (Mk 6:17-29). For John, this was the culmination of a life of sanctity announced by an angel even before his conception (Lk 1:11-17). (Ed. Freed from sin by the Magnificat, John leapt in his mother’s womb.)  This divine decree presents a curious paradox. God, being all-powerful, was able to determine the course of John’s life before his birth (ST I q. 23, a. 6), but at the same time, God respected John’s free will (ST II-I q. 6, a. 4, ob. 1). How is it that God can determine what we will freely choose?

Modern thinking often seems to suppose that freedom of the will means that our choices have no cause other than the will, as if the will depends on nothing. Thomas explains instead that the will is free because it proceeds from an interior principle, namely knowledge, that allows us to act for an end which we know (ST II-I q. 6, a. 1, 4). God did not ‘force’ John the Baptist to give up his life; rather, by his grace he enlightened John the Baptist so that he would understand the good of preaching the truth even when it endangered him.

As a rather crude analogy, consider how a parent can teach a child to make good choices, not by compulsion, but by education. Keep in mind also that some knowledge is abstract, as when a smoker who is trying to quit knows that his habit is bad for him, but rationalizes that away each time he smokes. John’s knowledge was entirely practical; he knew clearly that in his situation the only thing worth doing was to tell the truth. He saw clearly the disappointment inherent in every other course, and so he was free to act for the sake of the truth.

Furthermore, there is never competition between divine and human causality. Two human agents can operate on the same level, when for example two men pull on a rope. In that case, we can ask who pulls harder, and if the men are pulling in opposite directions, maybe the rope will not move at all. But God operates on a completely different level. He is the one who created humans and ropes and set all things in motion.

As another crude analogy, if I write with a pencil, both I and the pencil are equally truly causes of the writing, but in very different ways. Even though I am “in charge,” I do not force the pencil to do anything unnatural. God has even more causal power, because he created pencil-materials in the first place. In the same way, God created John the Baptist as the kind of person who would give up his life for the sake of the truth. God is the first cause on which all else depends. Nothing escapes his causal power, not even the interior life of John (ST I q. 19, a. 6, ad. 3).

You might have noticed that, left to our own devices, there are actually significant limits on our freedom. Those who struggle with habitual sin will know well the painful cycle of repeatedly making a bad choice. The will continually inclines toward damaging action, misapprehended (deceived) for the moment as a good.

Our choices are rather dependent on our own fallen selves, and so we will not always be able to avoid deceiving ourselves and making poor choices. True freedom, then, can only be found outside ourselves, in grace given freely by God that can break us out of our own self-imposed prison. It is by such grace that John’s interior movements were so perfected that he was able to freely give his life. It is only by such divine grace, and not by some creative act of the will, that we can truly draw closer to God”

Love,
Matthew

Love thy neighbor…

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – Grant, O Lord, that I may understand the depth of meaning in the precept of fraternal charity.

MEDITATION

Jesus has given us as the foundation of all law, not only the precept of the love of God, “the greatest and the first commandment,” but also the precept of the love of neighbor, and He expressly said that it is “like” to the first (cf Matthew 22:38,39). That the precept of the love of God should be the basis of all Christian life is easy to understand, but it is not so easy to see that the same holds true of the precept of fraternal charity. However, Jesus has bound these two commandments so closely that the one cannot subsist without the other. He did not say that all is based on the first commandment, that of love of God, but fraternal charity“on these two commandments [the love of God and of neighbor] dependeth the whole law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). Why did He put the love of neighbor so close to the love of God as to make of it, with the latter, the one foundation of all Christianity? Because the virtue of fraternal charity is not love of the creature in itself and for itself, but it is love of the creature “propter Deum,” that is, for God’s sake, because of its relation to God. In other words, we must clearly understand that God commands us to love Him not only in Himself, but also in His rational creatures whom He has been pleased to create to His image and likeness. Just as a father wants to be loved and respected not only in his own person, but also in that of his children, so God wants to be loved in His creatures as well as in Himself, and He desires this to such an extent that He considers anything done to one of His creatures as done to Him. Jesus has said: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). Fraternal charity is of great importance, because it is in reality an extension of our charity toward God, an extension which embraces all men in relation to God, their Creator and their Father. For this reason, the precept of the love of neighbor is inseparable from the precept of the love of God.

COLLOQUY

“O charity, you are as great as my God Himself, for God is Charity. You are so exalted that you reach the throne of the Blessed Trinity. There you enter the bosom of the eternal Father, and from the Father’s bosom, you go to the heart of the Incarnate Word, where you take your rest and are nourished. Thus the soul who possesses you seeks its nourishment and rest in God alone, after which it returns to earth, for you reach even to our neighbors, O charity, loving them not only as creatures, but as beings created by God to His own image and likeness. You do not stop at loving their bodies, that is, their exterior appearance, but you penetrate to the interior of their souls, which you love more than all else. You do not stop at God’s gifts, but soar to the Giver and love all men only in Him.

“O charity, you are so sublime that you unite us to God! You can do all things and in the Church you form a trinity, as it were, similar to the Blessed Trinity; because just as the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and all three are united and are one and the same Being, so, by your virtue, O charity, this union reaches us, because you unite the soul to God, and one soul to another; in this invisible way, you form in the Church a kind of trinity. He who possesses you, O charity, nourishes himself with God, to such a point that he becomes like God through grace and participation.

“O my God, give me such perfect charity that I may know how to yield to my neighbor, helping and relieving him in all his needs, weaknesses, and troubles. May I know how to have prudent compassion for the faults of others” (St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).”

Love,
Matthew

Too much religion


-by Br Raymond La Grange, OP

“In his Summa Theologiae, qq. 81-100, St. Thomas Aquinas discusses the virtue of religion, whereby we render due worship to God our creator. It may seem odd that Thomas devotes 20 questions to this virtue, each composed of several articles. Questions 92-95, in particular, deal with vices of excess. Vices of excess broadly concern “overdoing it,” as opposed to vices of defect. For example, consider the virtue of courage: cowardice is the defect, and foolhardiness is the excess. Thomas then dedicates four questions to excessive religiousness.

At first sight, this is confusing. It is easy to understand that insufficient religiosity is bad for the soul, but how can we be too religious? An admonition to be “less religious” may seem like an arbitrary rule that does us no good. Sins of excess in matters of religion, however, do not consist in giving too much worship to God, but in giving improper worship, or worshipping the wrong things. By teaching us how to properly render worship to God, the Church focuses and strengthens our worship, and protects us from evil. These “rules” are actually valuable insights from the spiritual masters.

God commands us to worship no other gods (Ex 20:2-6). St. Thomas explains that idolatry—the worship of other gods, or of creatures as if they were gods—is the most grievous of sins because it so thoroughly distorts our relationship to God. The honor that should only be given to the source of all being is given instead to what is lesser.

Aside from worshipping the wrong God, we can worship in the wrong way. We do, of course, have the freedom to pray in our own words in most settings. Our prayer, however, must conform to true doctrine. In liturgies, especially the Mass, our prayer must conform to certain norms, because it was handed on to us through the apostles and their successors, and ultimately from Jesus Himself. We cannot invent our own religion and pray according to our own ideas. Offering right worship ensures that the focus of our worship is really God and not idols or our own conception of God.

St. Thomas’ teaching also strengthens our faith. He speaks of an external worship that is disproportionate to the internal state. If we perform numerous grandiose religious acts without making an effort to change our hearts, what we offer is empty. It is, for example, required that we desire not to sin again when we go to the Sacrament of Confession, even if we know that we probably will sin. Confession is not a magic fix that gets us around God’s commandments. Any worship that is not attached to some desire for the good (however feeble) is no worship at all.

Finally, proper worship protects us from the demonic. It belongs to God alone to disclose future events that are not naturally knowable, or to miraculously circumvent the laws of nature. If we try to usurp this power by practicing magic, astrology, or any kind of divination (ouija boards, tarot cards, fortune tellers, palm readers, and healing crystals are common modern examples), we take for ourselves what belongs to God. In all of these cases, we attempt to take for ourselves what only God can give. He alone can give supernatural help. If we find such help from elsewhere, it is not from any friend of God.

St. Thomas seeks to teach us how to worship properly, so that we may more easily understand and develop our relationship with God. God is the only Creator and sovereign over His creation, and we can do nothing without Him. Our worship must always be anchored in this reality.”

Love,
Matthew

Is eternal punishment in Hell just?


-half panel, The Crucifixion & The Last Judgment, Jan van Eyck, ca. 1440–1441, oil on canvas, transferred from wood, 22 1/4 × 7 2/3 in, 56.5 × 19.5 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


-by Karlo Broussard

The Eternity of Hell

Okay, someone may concede that punishment in general is not inconsistent with God’s goodness.

“But,” they’ll say, “eternal punishment? Doesn’t that seem unjust, since eternal punishment would be disproportionate to the sin that’s committed only in a small moment of time?”

Here are a few ways we can respond.

First, the objection assumes that a punishment has to be equal or proportionate to a fault as to the amount of duration. But this is false. If the duration of punishment had to correspond to the duration of an offense, then it would be unjust to give a murderer a prison sentence any longer than the time it took for the murderer to kill his victim.

But that’s absurd. As the Jesuit philosopher Bernard Boedder writes, “[T]ime cannot be the standard by which punishment is to be determined” (Natural Theology, 340).

The measure of the punishment due for sin is the gravity of the fault. Aquinas explains, “The measure of punishment corresponds to the measure of fault, as regards the degree of severity, so that the more grievously a person sins the more grievously is he punished” (Summa Theologiae suppl. III:99:1).

In other words, it is the internal wickedness of an offense that is the measure of expiation for it.

Now, as Aquinas points out in several places within his writings, the gravity of an offense is determined by the dignity of the person sinned against. For example, punishment for striking the president of the United States is going to be greater than punishment for striking a fellow citizen in bar brawl.

Since God is ipsum esse subsistens (subsistent being itself), he is infinite in dignity and majesty. Therefore, his right to obedience from his reasonable creatures is absolute and infinite. There is no right that can be stricter and every other right is based on it.

A willful violation of this right, which is what a mortal sin is, is the most severe offense a human being can commit. Boedder explains it this way: “A willful violation . . . of this right implies a malice which opposes itself to the foundation of all orders” (Natural Theology, 340).

For Aquinas, it is an offense that is “in a certain respect infinite” (Compendium Theologiae, 183). And because it is infinite in a certain respect, Aquinas concludes, “a punishment that is in a certain respect infinite is duly attached to it.”

But, as Aquinas points out, such a punishment can’t be infinite in intensity because no creature can be infinite in this way. Therefore, Aquinas concludes, “[A] punishment that is infinite in duration is rightly inflicted for mortal sin.”

Now, it’s important to note that for Aquinas an infinite duration of punishment can be just only if the sinner no longer has the ability to repent and will the good. Well, the sinner after death no longer has the ability to repent, since the soul can no longer change what it has chosen as its ultimate end after death. Therefore, we can conclude with Aquinas that the infinite duration of punishment in hell is just.

The Alternatives Don’t Work

Another way that we can respond to the “Eternal Punishment is Unjust” objection is to see the alternatives to eternal punishment, temporary punishment or annihilation, don’t stand up to the scrutiny of reason.

Consider temporary punishment. Perhaps the soul receives an intense dose of punishment and then enters heaven upon being relieved of it. This would be an injustice. For example, let’s say I find out that my fourteen-year-old son ditched school and went to a party with his older teen friends and got drunk and smoked a joint (this is merely hypothetical, mind you).

Suppose further that I punish him by saying, “Son, you’ve been a bad boy, and as a result you’re going to stay in your room for ten minutes. But when that time is up, pack your bags because we’ve got tickets to spend the weekend at Disney Land and visit the new Star Wars Land.” (He loves Star Wars).

How does this register on your justice monitor?

My guess is that it doesn’t rate very high—especially if my son refuses to apologize for his misconduct. The duration of the punishment is much too small relative to the reward he is given.

Similarly, a temporary stint in hell—no matter how long the term—is much too small of a punishment relative to the everlasting happiness of heaven. It would be unjust for God to give heaven as a reward to a person that committed the most grievous offense of all, the permanent rejection of God’s absolute right to obedience, worship, and love.

Annihilation is also an unreasonable alternative.

How could a person experience the punishment justice demands for permanently rejecting God if he were annihilated? The gravity of violating God’s absolute right would be reduced to nothingness if there were no punishment for it. Justice would not be served.

Furthermore, it would violate God’s wisdom to annihilate the human soul.

Why would he create a human soul with an immortal nature only to thwart it?”

Love & His mercy,
Matthew

Ghosts & Demons


-by Jimmy Akin, a former Presbyterian, Jimmy is a convert to the Faith and has an extensive background in the Bible, theology, the Church Fathers, philosophy, canon law, and liturgy.

Question: Is it sinful to want to learn more about ghosts and demons?

Answer: Learning about ghosts and demons is part of our Catholic Faith. The key is not becoming unduly curious about or preoccupied with either, especially demons.

Ghosts are disembodied human beings, something we all become at death. Praying for the repose of the faithful departed and others who have died is a good thing. In addition, asking the prayerful intercession of the saints is also a good thing.

What is not good is seeking out communication with the dead, e.g., through séances. This is an example of divination, which is strictly prohibited (see CCC 2117-19). These are the problematic activities people often have in mind re: learning about ghosts, not praying for the dead, learning about the saints or asking for their intercession.

Demons are fallen angels and thus pure spirits who have irrevocably chosen against God and His people. They are powerful and malevolent, and we must not make ourselves vulnerable to their nefarious machinations.

Rather, we must be wary of their activity and resist them as Sts. James and Peter counsel (Jas. 4:7-8; 1 Pet. 5:6-10). In that light, it’s good to know ourselves and our weaknesses, and how the devil operates in general in trying to lead us away from God, and how he might try to tempt us in particular.

At the same time, we must not become preoccupied with either ghosts or demons. Instead, our minds, as St. Paul reminds us, should be focused on that which is good (Phil. 4:8).”

Love,
Matthew

Where’s Purgatory in the Bible?

“Any Catholic who is familiar with apologetics knows to answer with 1 Corinthians 3:11-15:

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Paul is talking about the day of judgment that comes after death (see Hebrews 9:27). And in light of the “fire” that tests the quality of a person’s works, Catholics argue that the person is being purified. Fire is used metaphorically in Scripture as a purifying agent—in Matthew 3:2-3,11 and Mark 9:49—and as that which consumes: Matthew 3:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8). This state of existence can’t be heaven because the individual has the defilement of bad works and is suffering loss. Nor can it be hell because Paul says the person “will be saved.” A state of purification in the afterlife that is neither heaven nor hell—that’s purgatory!

But for Protestants it’s not so clear. They offer a few reasons why they think this doesn’t refer to purgatory.

One is that Paul says these things will only happen at the final judgment—“for the Day will disclose it” (v.13). For this text to support the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, so the argument goes, it would need to speak of an intermediate judgment before the Second Coming. Since it doesn’t, a Catholic can’t use it to support purgatory.

What should we make of this Protestant counter? Is it a precious stone that would survive the fire of scrutiny? Or is it more like straw?

Let’s test it and find out.

It’s true that when Paul speaks of “the Day” he is referring to the final judgment—that is, the judgment at the end of time when Christ comes in glory (Matt. 25:31-46). But this doesn’t prevent a Catholic from using this passage to support purgatory.

Paul was not envisioning this passage for such an intermediate state because, as some scholars point out, Paul wrote this at a time (c. A.D. 53) when he thought the Second Coming was imminent, and that he and most of his audience would experience it. For example, he writes in reference to it, “we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17; Cf. 1 Cor. 15:51).

Given this, we wouldn’t expect Paul to think that these events take place during an intermediate judgment before the final judgment. But what if the time horizon shifted and most people died before the Second Coming? Could we say they received some kind of judgment prior to the last judgment? And would these events that Paul describes have taken place at that judgment?

The time horizon indeed does seem to shift for Paul. In 2 Timothy 4:6, he tells Timothy that he knows his death is imminent: “For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.” If he knows he’s about to die, then surely he doesn’t expect to be alive for the Second Coming.

What about an intermediate judgment before the final judgment? Scripture reveals that such a judgment does exist, and it occurs immediately after death when God determines a person’s final destiny—what the Catechism calls “the particular judgment” (CCC 1022).

Jesus makes this clear in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus is “carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22) and receives a fate of comfort (v.25). The rich man is taken to Hades where he experiences “torment” (v.23) and “anguish” (v.25). The different fates assigned to each man immediately after death imply a particular judgment.

Hebrews 12:23 speaks of our union with “the spirits of just men” as members of the New Covenant. That we approach their spirits suggests they are dead. And that they are a part of the heavenly reality that Christians participate in tells us that they exist in heaven, and thus have been judged.

Revelation 6:9 implies the same thing, for the martyrs in heaven beg God to avenge their blood on their persecutors who are still on earth. Revelation 7:9-14 describes those “clothed in white robes” who “have come out of the great tribulation” of the first century experiencing their eternal reward in heaven.

Now that we know there is such a thing as an intermediate judgment (“the particular judgment”) before the final judgment, the question becomes: “Can we apply the events that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 to the particular judgment?”

We have good reason to think that we can.

The events that Paul describes have no intrinsic relation to the timing of judgment, but to judgment itself. Works are being weighed, and the soul receives its final destiny (in this case it’s heaven).

This is what happens at the particular judgment. According to the Catechism, each person has his works weighed (CCC 1021) and receives his “eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death,” “either entrance into the blessedness of heaven—through a purification or immediately,” or “immediate and everlasting damnation” (CCC 1022).

Since the type of judgment that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (e.g., works are tested, the soul’s final destiny is determined) is the type of judgment that takes place for souls at the particular judgment, then it’s reasonable to use this passage to describe what happens at the particular judgment. And if the particular judgment, then purgatory.”

Love,
Matthew