The Fasting of the Avaricious

How clearly is the behavior of the rich expressed! They are grieved if they do not seize others’ property; they refuse food, they fast—not to atone for a sin but to commit a crime.  You may see them coming to church then, dutiful, humble, constant, in order to merit obtaining the successful outcome of their wickedness. (St. Ambrose, On Naboth)

The ideal type of the capitalistic entrepreneur… avoids ostentation and unnecessary expenditure, as well as conscious enjoyment of his power, and is embarrassed by the outward signs of the social recognition which he receives. His manner of life is, in other words, often, and we shall have to investigate the historical significance of just this important fact, distinguished by a certain ascetic tendency… (Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism)

Seek nothing else

I sought the Lord, and He heard me. Those who are not heard are not seeking the Lord. Mark these words, holy brethren; the Psalmist did not say: “I sought gold from the Lord, and He heard me; I sought length of days from the Lord, and He heard me; I sought this or that from the Lord, and He heard me.” It is one thing to seek something from the Lord, and another to seek the Lord Himself. I sought the Lord, he says, and He heard me. But when you pray, saying: “Put that enemy of mine to death,” you are not seeking the Lord, but, so to speak, making yourself the judge over your enemy and making your God into an executioner. How do you know that he for whose death you are asking is not a better man than yourself? Perhaps from the very fact that he is not asking for yours. So do not seek anything outside the Lord, but seek the Lord Himself, and He will hear you, and even as you are yet speaking He shall say: Here I am. What is the meaning of Here I am? Behold, I am present, what do you want? What do you ask of me? Whatever I give you is of less worth than myself: take possession of my very self, enjoy me, embrace me. You are not yet wholly equal to it; lay hold of me by faith and you shall cleave to me—so God tells you—and I will relieve you of your other burdens so that you may be completely united to me, when I have changed this mortal being of yours to immortality; so that you may be equal to my angels, and may always look upon my face and rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you; for you have sought the Lord, and He has heard you and delivered you from all your afflictions. (St. Augustine on Psalm 33)

Inquisivi Dominum, et exaudivit me. Qui ergo non exaudiuntur, non Dominum quaerunt. Intendat Sanctitas vestra: non dixit: Inquisivi aurum a Domino, et exaudivit me; inquisivi a Domino senectutem, et exaudivit me; inquisivi a Domino hoc aut illud, et exaudivit me. Aliud est aliquid inquirere a Domino, aliud ipsum Dominum inquirere. Inquisivi, inquit, Dominum, et exaudivit me. Tu autem quando oras, et dicis: Occide illum inimicum meum; non Dominum inquiris, sed quasi facis te iudicem super inimicum tuum, et facis quaestionarium Deum tuum. Unde scis ne melior te sit cuius mortem quaeris? Eo ipso forte, quia ille non quaerit tuam. Ergo noli aliquid a Domino extra quaerere, sed ipsum Dominum quaere, et exaudiet te, et adhuc te loquente dicet: Ecce adsum. Quid est: Ecce adsum? Ecce praesens sum, quid vis, quid a me quaeris? Quidquid tibi dedero, vilius est quam ego: meipsum habe, me fruere, me amplectere: nondum potes totus; ex fide continge me, et inhaerebis mihi, (hoc tibi Deus dicit) et caetera onera tua ego a te deponam, ut totus mihi inhaereas, cum hoc mortale tuum ad immortalitatem convertero; ut sis aequalis Angelis meis, et semper videas faciem meam, et gaudeas, et gaudium tuum nemo auferet a te; quia inquisisti Dominum, et exaudivit te, et ex omnibus tribulationibus tuis eruit te. (EnPs 33)

It is Indeed Good to Be Here


Giovanni Giuliani, Choir Stall in Heiligenkreuz

Giovanni Giuliani, Choir Stall in Heiligenkreuz

Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: Lord, it is good for us to be here.  It is indeed good to be here, as you have said, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honour could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?  Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into his divine image, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here – here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: Today salvation has come to this house. With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of his eternal blessings, and there where they are stored up for us in him, we see reflected as in a mirror both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come. (Anastasius of Sinai, Sermon on the Transfiguration of the Lord)

A theater of angels and men

And insofar as the world is a theater of angels and humans, we should know that just as anyone in a theater is under obligation to say or to do certain things in sight of the spectators, and that he is punished as having affronted the whole theater should he fail to do them, so we too are under obligation to the whole world, to all the angels as to the human race, with regard to that which, should we be willing, we may learn from wisdom. —Origen, On Prayer28.3

St. Gregory Nazianzen on the Primacy of the Common Good in the Spiritual Life

A reader has pointed out that what I call the ‘disastrous conclusion’ that Garrigou-Lagrange draws in the final passage quoted in my last post is drawn almost entirely from quotations from St. Thomas. Including this one: Debet autem homo semper magis sibi providere in spiritualibus bonis, in quibus unusquisque sibi praecipue subvenire potest. (IIa IIae, Q 117, A 1, ad 1). In context there is nothing wrong with such quotations. The problem is the use to which Fr. Garrigou puts them. Compare the Garrigou quote in the last post with St. Gregory Nazianzen agonizing over whether to return from retirement (Oration 12): Continue reading


“The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24) These words, even applied though it is Judas to whom they are applied, are astonishingly harsh, and yet they are not only applicable to Judas. Jerome writes, “it is better not to be, than to be in evil.” And, as Guardini writes, this could apply to any of us:

Aren’t there many days in our lives on which we sell him, against our best knowledge, against our most sacred feeling, in spite of duty and love, for some vanity, or sensuality, or profit, or security, or some private hatred or vengeance? Are these more than thirty pieces of silver? We have little cause to speak of “the traitor” with indignation or as someone far away and long ago.

In Acts 1:20 St Peter applies Psalm 108 [109]: 8 to Judas. It is profitable to read the whole Psalm in that light: Continue reading

What Abraham Did Not Do

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did.” (John 8:39-40)

The Catena Aurea includes the following comment of Origen on the passage above:

It might seem to some, that it were superfluous to say that Abraham did not this; for it were impossible that it should be; Christ was not born at that time. But we may remind them, that in Abraham’s time there was a man born who spoke the truth, which he heard from God, and that this man’s life was not sought for by Abraham. Know too that the Saints were never without the spiritual advent of Christ. I understand then from this passage, that every one who, after regeneration, and other divine graces bestowed upon him, commits sin, does by this return to evil incur the guilt of crucifying the Son of God, which Abraham did not do.  You do the works of your father.

The teaching here is so familiar that it is hard not to let it become a mere notion, a cliché, rather than the unspeakably terrible thing that it is. Bl. Columba Marmion writes:

[The soul] in voluntarily performing an action contrary to God’s will practically denies […] that God is supreme goodness worthy of being preferred to all that is not Himself; it puts God beneath the creature. Non serviam: “I know Thee not, I will not serve Thee”, says this soul, repeating the words of Satan on the day of his revolt. Does it say them with the lips? No, at least not always; perhaps it would not like to do so, but it says them in act. Sin is the practical negation of the Divine perfections […] practically, if such a thing were not rendered impossible by the nature of the Divinity, this soul would work evil to the Infinite Majesty and Goodness; it would destroy God.

But the really astonishing thing is not the malice of sin, but the mercy of God in the face of that malice: “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” (Romans 5:10)

Pious Jesus

The Christmas liturgy uses of Psalm 2 a lot. I suppose this is because of  verse 7: “The Lord said to me: you are my son, today I have begotten you.” But it is illuminating to read the rest of the Psalm in the light of the Christmas mystery (and visa versa). The introit of Midnight Mass uses verse 7 as the antiphon, but verse 1 as the verse: “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?” If one reads on, one sees that the nations rage because they do not want to serve God: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his Christ, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.'” Their opposition to God stems from an unwillingness to serve Him, to submit to Him. This is seen as irksome because it seems to be contrary to liberty. As St. Thomas argues:

Every aversion towards God has the character of an end insofar as it is desired under the notion of liberty, as according to the words of Jeremiah (2:20): For a long time you have broken the yoke, you have broken bonds, and you have said, ‘I will not serve.’ (ST IIIa Q8, A7, r.)

This is a sin against what St. Thomas calls the virtue of “religion”– rendering to God His just due. St. Augustine calls this virtue “piety,” but points out that this word has various other meanings as well:

Piety, again, or, as the Greeks say, εὐσέβεια, is commonly understood as the proper designation of the worship of God. Yet this word also is used of dutifulness to parents. The common people, too, use it of works of mercy, which, I suppose, arises from the circumstance that God enjoins the performance of such works, and declares that He is pleased with them instead of, or in preference to sacrifices. From this usage it has also come to pass that God Himself is called pious… (Civ. Dei X,1)

Now, all of these senses of piety are involved in the Christmas mystery. Mankind having rebelled against through impious pride, God looks down on them with merciful pietas and decides to send them his son. And of course His Son gives comes not in power, but in weakness, a piteous baby. God woos man, conquering man’s pride with his humility. And then of course this baby gives an example of piety toward His human parents. My favorite Christmas sermon of all time is Bl. John Henry Newman’s Omnipotence in Bonds which is all about this point:

And so, like some inanimate image of wood or stone, the All-powerful lies in the manger, or on her bosom, doubly helpless, both because His infancy is feeble, and because His bonds are strong. It is in this wise He was shown to the shepherds; thus He was worshipped by the wise men; thus He was presented in the Temple, taken up in Simeon’s arms, hurried off to Egypt by night, His tender Mother adoring the while that abject captivity to which it was her awful duty to reduce Him. So His first months passed; and though, as time went on, He grew in stature, and burst His bonds, still through a slow and tedious advance did He enter on His adolescence. And then, when for a moment He anticipated His mission and sat down among the Doctors in the Temple, He was quickly recalled by His Mother’s chiding, and went back again to her and Joseph, and, in the emphatic words of the text, was “subject unto them.” […]  I glory in [this], for I see in it the most awful antagonism to the very idea and essence of sin, whether as existing in Angels or in men. For what was the sin of Lucifer, but the resolve to be his own master? What was the sin of Adam, but impatience of subjection, and a desire to be his own god? What is the sin of all his children, but the movement, not of passion merely, not of selfishness, not of unbelief, but of pride, of the heart rising against the law of God, and set on being emancipated from its trammels? What is the sin of Antichrist, but, as St. Paul says, that of being “the Lawless One,” of “opposing or being lifted up against all that is called God, or worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God”? If, then, the very principle of sin is insubordination, is there not a stupendous meaning in the fact, that He, the Eternal, who alone is sovereign and supreme, has given us an example in His own Person of that love of subjection, which in Him alone is simply voluntary, but in all creatures is an elementary duty? O my Brethren, let us blush at our own pride and self-will.

“All the Christian Fathers and Theologians:” De Koninck and Aelred of Rievaulx

Charles De Koninck’s passionate defense of the primacy of the common good over any merely private good, published toward the end of World War II, when an understandable reaction against totalitarianism had lead many philosophers to posit the primacy of the “personal” over the social, provoked an equally passionate response by the Rev. I. Th. Eschmann, O.P. Eschmann chiefly objected to De Koninck’s thesis that the good of the order of the whole universe is that good which God principally intends in creation, and to which all particular goods in the universe are subordinated. “Is it necessary to remind Thomists,” Eschamnn writes, “that they should not, in any way whatever, revive the old pagan blasphemy of a divine cosmos?” And if De Koninck’s thesis were true “then the personalists, and with them all the Christian Fathers and theologians and philosophers, should close their shops, go home and do penance, in cinere et cilicio, for having grossly erred and misled the Christian world throughout almost two thousand years.” According to Eschamann De Koninck’s thesis is really a Platonic/Aviccenan thesis that St Thomas was careful to avoid. De Koninck in his reply shows just how central his thesis is to St Thomas’s whole thought, and how deeply it is rooted in scripture and St Augustine. But what of the rest of the fathers and medieval theologians does one find it there? A glance at the Greek Fathers shows that the primacy of the common good was well known to them. And in the pre-Avicennan Middle Ages? Re-reading St Aelred of Rievaulx’s On Spiritual Friendship I was struck by how well developed the specific thesis of the order (or peace) of the universe as the chief intrinsic common good is in his work:

For God, who is supreme in power and goodness, is a good sufficient unto himself; he is himself his own good, his own joy, his own glory, and his own happiness. Nothing exists outside him that he could need, whether person or angel or sky or earth or anything they contain, for every creature cries out to him, “You are my God, for you have no need of my goods.” Not only is he sufficient unto himself, but he is the sufficiency of all other things, giving to some existence, to others sensation, and to still others intelligence. He is the cause of all that exists, the life of everything with sensation, and the wisdom of everyone endowed with intelligence. Therefore, as the highest nature he fashioned all natures, set everything in its place, and with discernment allotted each its own time. Moreover, since he so planned it eternally, he determined that peace should guide all his creatures and society unite them. Thus from him who is supremely and uniquely one, all should be allotted some trace of his unity. For this reason, he left no class of creatures isolated, but from the many he linked each one in a kind of society. —I.51-52

(Deus enim summe potens et summe bonus, sibi ipsi sufficiens bonum est; quoniam bonum suum, gaudium suum, gloria sua, beatitudo sua, ipse est. Nec est aliquid extra ipsum quo egeat, non homo, non angelus, non coelum, non terra, nec aliquid quod in ipsis est, cui omnis creatura proclamat: Deus meus es, quoniam bonorum meorum non eges. Nec tantum sibi sufficit ipse, sed et omnium rerum sufficientia ipse est, dans aliis esse, et aliis sentire, aliis insuper et sapere, ipse omnium existentium causa, omnium sentientium vita, omnium intellegentium sapientia. Ipse itaque summa natura omnes naturas instituit, omnia suis locis ordinavit, omnia suis temporibus discrete distribuit. Voluit autem, nam et ita ratio eius aeterna prescripsit, ut omnes creaturas suas pax componeret, et uniret societas; et ita omnia ab ipso qui summe et pure unus est quoddam unitatis vestigium sortirentur. Hinc est quod nullum genus rerum solitarium reliquit, sed ex multis quadam societate connexuit. —I.IV)

In other words, the unity of peace that unites all creatures, the tranquility of created order, is the trace of the creator in His creation–that for the sake of which he creates. Hence Aelred goes on to say that sin consists in puttung one’s private good before the common good:

But after the fall of the first human, with charity growing lukewarm, when cupidity crept in and let private gain supplant the common good

(At post lapsum primi hominis, cum refrigescente caritate cupiditas subintrasset, fecisset que bono communi privata praeponi…)

On Legitimate Disagreements with the Successors of the Apostles in Prudential Matters


Aelianus of Laodicea has posted a reply to my post on the anointing at Bethany that I think merits an extended response. He writes:

The Holy Father’s moderation of the papal liturgy along with his comments about the desired poverty of the Church seem to imply that he feels there is a relationship between the splendour of the liturgy and the provision the Church makes for the poor. Presumably some people feel this is an unfair suggestion and that the faithful have more than enough resources to provide for the poor and for the worthy service of the altar. Presumably they also feel that the implied relationship is a distraction from the inadequacy of the provision made for either. Furthermore, while the faithful may indeed neglect the poor materially, the essence of the problem lies in the principle upon which wealth is acquired not the mere quantity or distribution. Here perhaps the true negligence lies in the coyness of the holders of the teaching office in proposing the divinely revealed truth concerning the true function of money. In this (as in other matters) there have been shepherds, who have not, as becomes Apostolic authority, extinguished the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by their negligence.

This in turn underlines the fact that the prudential judgements of Popes about liturgical style or when and how much to teach are not guaranteed by God and that it is not the role of the faithful to imitate the apologists of the late USSR in frantically discerning why the Pope is necessarily right in every such prudential judgement. One only has to apply this prudential infallibility idea to previous centuries to see its absurdity. The faithful do not need to be guided and ruled by the Vicar of Christ, the authentic guardian of tradition (whether Benedict XVI, John XII, Celestine V, Boniface VIII or Francis) in their choice of footwear or transportation, liturgical composers, prose style or missionary strategy. When, however, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he undoubtedly possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.

I have never denied that one can have legitimate disagreements with the Holy Father on prudential matters. In fact in a previous post I expressed my own disagreement with his liturgical minimalism, and unease at his apparent Gallicanism. Aelianus is surely right that our attitude toward the Holy Father should not be that of Soviet apparatchiki toward Stalin. But neither should it be the attitude of the citizens of liberal democracies toward their leaders — an attitude of habitual mistrust and scorn. It should be the attitude of a pious son toward his father, of a loyal subject toward his legitimate ruler.

It is vital not to regard our Holy Father with habitual suspicion, but rather to regard him with filial trust and docility, to try to learn all we can from his teaching, to be guided by his rule, and to voice legitimate criticism only with the utmost reverence and discretion. Continue reading