The Spousal Meaning of the Body and Vocation

This post on the importance of the spousal meaning of the body for vocational discernment is a guest article written by Robert McNamara, a graduate of the International Theological Institute (formerly in Gaming, and now in Trumau, Austria). He will be entering the seminary in Ireland at the end of August. Please say a prayer for him.

Pope John Paul II in his Wednesday audiences of the early 80’s, now widely known as the theology of the body, spoke about the meaning of the human body. Meditating upon the reality of the creation of man, male and female, as written about in Genesis, he deduces that the body has a spousal meaning. He says that this spousal attribute of the human body is “the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and—through this gift—fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence” (Theology of the Body 15:1). The spousal meaning of the body is therefore obviously significant for the question of vocation. But how significant? And in what way?

To discover the spousal meaning we look to the mystery of man’s creation. In creation man and woman are given life by the Creator and are in their turn capable of making a gift of their own lives. Created in the image and likeness of God man is called to exist “for” others (Cf. Mulieris Dignitatem 7:7). This, the Pope says, is a “fundamental characteristic of personal existence” (Theology of the Body 14:4). Writing as Bishop in his book Love and Responsibility Karol Wojtyla states, “The fullest, the most uncompromising form of love consists precisely in selfgiving, in making one's inalienable and non-transferable `I' someone else's property” (pp. 97). This potential for self-gift is rooted in man’s freedom, in his consciousness and self-determination, in what the Pope calls the “freedom of the gift,” but it is realized above all in the body. Thus the body has a spousal meaning the essence of which is to concretely realize man’s freedom for self-gift, to be “for” others in a radical way, one that is definitive and total. It is in its fullness a gift of the person but one which is made in and through the body and more specifically through sex, that is, masculinity and femininity, as a fundamental attribute of the body. And so, we discover the human body as a path of love.

Spousal self-giving as the name implies is obviously the basis of the vocation of marriage, but it is likewise the basis of the vocation of continence for the kingdom. The Pope explains:

“[T]he nature of the one as well as the other love [marriage and perfect continence] is “spousal,” that is, expressed through the complete gift of self. The one as well as the other love tends to express that spousal meaning of the body, which has been inscribed “from the beginning” in the personal structure of man and woman.” (Theology of the Body 78:4)

This statement is an important matter for consideration by those either discerning or living consecrated celibacy. Those who choose marriage choose to live their bodily existence “for” their spouse and children. Those who choose celibacy choose to live their bodily existence “for” the sake of the kingdom of God. Celibates do not actualize their gift of self to God abstracted from their body and sex. The hearing of the call and the expression of the individual’s consecration depends on and is given definitive form by the sex of the person. The call to continence, says the Pope, is “formed on the basis of the consciousness of the spousal meaning of the body in its masculinity and femininity, and further, as a fruit of such consciousness” (Theology of the Body 81:5).

[Aside: The spousal nature of continence should not be surprising when we recognize God’s relationship with humanity in its spousal dimension, “The history of God's relationship to humanity is a history of spousal love, prepared for in the Old Testament and celebrated in the fullness of time” (Verbi Sponsa 4:1). By means of baptism we are “definitively placed within the new and eternal covenant, in the spousal covenant of Christ with the Church” (Familiaris Consortio 13:6). Marriage or consecrated celibacy then gives definitive form within the body of Christ to an individual person’s mode of witness to Christ’s spousal love for the Church.]

Consciousness is a decisive factor. When we consider the ‘meaning’ of something we have in mind not only the reality itself but our consciousness of that reality. Consequently it is not only significant for the question of vocation that the human body objectively has a spousal meaning, but also a mature consciousness of that meaning within the individual subject is crucial. Such a consciousness of the body adequately grounds and motivates the celibate life. It furnishes discernment of vocation with all of the realism that the challenge of celibacy actually poses to man’s natural strivings, while at the same time creating a foundation upon which the earthly “for” can be transformed into a heavenly “for.” Perhaps we can say that awareness of being “for” others as a bodily being, either male or female, creates the space in which the personal call of Christ can find a satisfactory echo and ongoing resonance.

The question then begs: how can we grow in a mature awareness of the spousal meaning of the body in such a way that we can hear the call of Christ with readiness and answer it with force? It appears from the Pope’s writings that the answer is through the gift and virtue of purity. Using the helpful image of a watchman the Pope explains how one grows in purity of heart. Man, he says, must become master of his own “innermost impulses” by watching over the “hidden spring” of his heart learning to draw only those impulses which are “fitting for purity of the heart.” In this way he can build “with conscience and consistency the personal sense of the spousal meaning of the body, which opens the interior space of the freedom of the gift” (Theology of the Body 48:3). Perfecting this effort we have the gifts of the Holy Spirit especially piety which disposes the inspired person to grow conscious of the meaning of the human body, his own and others.

With a vivid consciousness of the meaning of his body in purity of heart, man experiences himself as originating in love and destined for love (Cf. Theology of the Body 15:5 ff). He experiences himself as rooted in love, and finds in this happy experience a greater ability to respond with love. Purity of heart has enabled him to encounter and know himself in his bodily existence as a “subject of holiness” (Theology of the Body 19:5). It is this experience of man as a subject of truth and love, with the organically connected interior space of the freedom of the gift formed on the basis of the spousal meaning of the body which enables man to hear the call to continually surrender himself in all the truth of his existence and in an unreserved manner to Christ, and for the sake of His kingdom.

Natural Law and Universal Ethics – Update

I've now translated the footnotes in the International Theological Commission's document The Search for Universal Ethics: A New Look at the Natural Law, including the Latin notes (mostly from the Summa Theologiae) that were left untranslated in the original document. The footnote references have also been hyperlinked to the text of the notes, for easier navigation in a web browser.

Married Saints – Why so few?

Why are there so few married saints? And especially, why are there so few who were canonized precisely as married persons? Most married persons who have been canonized have not been canonized precisely as married persons, but as martyrs, or as religious or widows in the case of those who devoted themselves to the religious state or the state of widowhood after their spouse's death (or in some cases, by the mutual agreement of the spouses). And to my knowledge, in the modern formal process of canonization there have been no married couples canonized as such, though two couples have been beatified together, and may in the future be canonized: Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini, and Louis Martin and Marie Celine Guerin (the parents of St. Therese).

The different explanations made for this fact can be grouped into three categories:

(1) There simply aren't many married saints, because of the practical concerns of married life that make it hard to focus entirely on God and his will.
(2) While there are plenty of married persons who are truly saintly, the exemplar of holiness can be seen more evidently in martyrs or religious than in married persons, and therefore it is mostly these who are canonized.
(3) Married saints are not so frequently recognized for what they are.

Sometimes one of this reasons is given as more or less the entire explanation, but I think there is actually some truth in all three of these explanations:

Fewer married saints

(1) St. Paul says, "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. … The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. … so he who marries does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better." (1 Corinthians 7:8,32-35,38) The evangelical counsel of chastity (see Mat 19:10-12) is proposed as a means for securing "undivided devotion" to God. The Christian tradition retains this idea, so that it is said "You would find many among us, both men and women, growing old unmarried, in hope of living in closer communion with God" (Athenagoras, A plea for the Christians, Chap. 33).

Pope John Paul II mentions the fact that most canonized saints are religious as evidence for the value of the religious state as a means to perfection, thus suggesting that the superiority of the religious state as a means for growing in the love of God is a reason for the greater number of religious canonized:

Religious communities are called to the duty of perfection, clearly expressed by Christ in his conversation with the young man: "If you wish to be perfect" (Mt 19:21). Later, down the centuries, the Church's tradition has given a doctrinal and practical expression to these words. The state of perfection is not only theory. It is life. And it is precisely life that confirms the truth of Christ's words: do not the majority of canonized saints come from religious Orders or Congregations?

These words, from a pope who has himself canonized a number of married persons, and who is always careful to note the call of every person to holiness and to the perfection of charity, are not without their weight.

But is the scarcity of canonized married persons due principally to the fact that marriage isn't as suitable a means as religious life for attaining holiness, or is it also due to the fact that marriage wasn't properly appreciated as a means for attaining holiness? Because the married state was not seen as a particularly helpful state for growing in divine love and holiness, those who intended to devote themselves most earnestly to this spiritual growth tended to refrain from marriage if possible, with the consequence that there were relatively few exemplary holy persons in marriage. St. Augustine points out: "[There are some marriages in which the spouses are not divided in heart, but completely devoted to God.] But they are very rare: who denies this? And being rare, nearly all the persons who are such, were not joined together in order to be such, but being already joined together became such (On the Good of Marriage, n. 14). That is, where there are few examples of holy marriages, people will more rarely enter marriage seeking or expecting to become holy through marriage." In this sense, the paucity of married saints is arguably a self-reinforcing prediction. The more emphasis that was put on the religious state as a means to holiness, the more rarely would persons choose marriage in order to become holy. And with fewer persons choosing marriage as a means to holiness, the fewer persons there were who attained exemplary sainthood in marriage, etc. (See my earlier post, Is Marriage for the Weak?).

Visibility of holiness

(2) In the early Church, only the martyrs were regarded the way we now regard canonized saints (the term "saint" itself was then used for all the faithful). In martyrdom the imitation and love of Christ is most perfectly manifest, inasmuch as Christ himself gave his life for the life of the world, and inasmuch as there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for the beloved. As martyrdom became more infrequent, but people still needed contemporary examples of sanctity to honor and to look to, the notion of venerable sainthood was extended to those who did not lay down their lives in martyrdom, but who, as far as possible, left everything to follow Christ, since this is the next most clear manifestation of the Christian call to deny oneself and to follow him.

In fact, the path to holiness always involves the evangelical counsels in some way; if not literally, as in the consecrated state, and least in spirit. All Christians are called to follow the spirit of the counsels. And naturally, the taking up of the counsels both literally and spiritually, as practiced by the saints who embraced the evangelical counsels literally, is the example or model for following the counsels spiritually. And in this sense, religious are already seen as models for the laity, not in the sense that the laity should desire to imitate the exterior form of the life of consecrated religious, but in the sense that they should imitate the inner content, that which is expressed, or meant to be expressed, by the exterior form of life of consecrated religious.

As regards canonized saints' being models of holiness, there could be advantages and disadvantages to having "normal" persons from every state of life canonized. On the one hand, one might argue that people need models of sainthood in the state of life in which they live, and so the model of life provided by the consecrated religious is not adequate for married persons–they also need models of saintly married persons. In fact the idea of saints being models was less emphasized early in the Church than it is now. From the point of view of being models, there is much to be said for having numerous canonized saints from every Christian state of life.

On the other hand, one might argue that canonizing people who seem entirely "normal", could lead to a misunderstanding of the radical call to perfect holiness addressed to every Christian. There is a certain danger of looking at all that the saints have in common with us, becoming self-complacent, and neglecting the need to purify ourselves more and more.

Recognition of holiness-process of canonization

(3) The holiness of "normal," married persons living in the world was less likely to be recognized, because the formal process of canonization required much time and effort, a detailed investigation into the person's life, and accepted miracles. These conditions were more frequently and better provided in the case of religious than in the case of married persons: (a) religious communities have much more people and time for seeking canonizations of their members than normal lay persons do; (b) for much of the Church's history, religious were better educated, and were more likely to be able to write, and thus to become known through their writings, whereas lay persons were only known through more direct contact; thus more recorded information about their life would be available (especially important in cases when the cause for canonization was taken up only many years after the person's death), and there would be more people interested in and supporting the person's canonization.

Supporting this argument, those lay persons who were well-known, and who had more persons interested in their canonization; either on account of their position, as in the case of royalty (St. Edward the Confessor, St. Louis of France, Bl. Karl of Austria), or on account of mystical experiences or visions (e.g., St. Catherine of Genoa, Bl. Anna Maria Taigi), have been, in comparison with their small numbers, relatively frequently canonized.

Biography of married saints

Some books have been devoted to biographies of married saints. John F. Fink has compiled a biography of twenty-four married saints (the link is to the description at the publisher, Alba House. The book may also be purchased at Amazon). These twenty-four saints do include several who were canonized for other reasons, such as St. Thomas More, canonized as a martyr.

A book by Ferdinand Holbock describes briefly the lives of over 200 married saints and blesseds: Married Saints and Blesseds: Through the Centuries.

Evolution and Creation VIII – Relationship to God

From Hugh Owen's The Importance of the Traditional Doctrine of Creation

My comments are in red.

8. The Traditional doctrine of creation fosters an intimate relationship between Christians and God, their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Theistic evolutionism erodes this intimacy.
According to the traditional understanding of creation, God created the entire universe for man at the very beginning of creation, about six thousand years ago. According to this interpretation of Genesis, there is nothing in the entire world that does not exist for man. [But there are many things that do not exist directly for man, but only indirectly, as parts of a whole. The various parts of the universe that man never sees or experiences directly (e.g., certain sections deep within the earth, or asteroids too small for man to observe), are only for man inasmuch as they are part of the whole universe, which is as a whole for the sake of man.] Man has always been at center stage. Moreover, in the beginning, God and man lived in such intimacy that there was perfect communication between them. Adam’s every thought, word, and deed, unfolded under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Adam saw God in all things, and all things in God. From this perspective, it is easy to believe that every human life is worth more than the entire material universe, and that the whole purpose of the universe is to provide a place for intimate union between God and his human children. From this perspective, the most harmful effect of Original Sin was the alienation from God that it produced, and all of the evils of human life—death, disease, mutations, violence, and selfishness—stem from the original loss of intimacy between God and his children.

In contrast to this traditional doctrine of creation, theistic evolutionism denies that man has had any special place in the history of the universe. [Sounds more like atheistic evolutionism to me, though even an atheist could recognize a special place of man in the universe. Theistic evolution, in any case, does not deny man's special place.] According to the evolutionary time scale, for most of the world’s alleged 15 billion year history, man was nowhere to be found. Having evolved from the apes during the last 1 % of cosmic history, man is only a blip on the screen. [This is a very materialistic way of viewing things. Are we to judge of the importance of things by the amount of time spent on them? Is a person's wedding a scarcely significant event because it takes up less than 0.005% of his or her life? The duration of Christ's human life was a fraction of the duration of human history. Does that make it relatively unimportant?] Even then, he evolves into a state of nature characterized by violence, disease, mutations, natural disasters, and a relentless struggle for existence, all of it intended by God from the beginning to be part of man’s experience. Instead of a beautiful, perfectly harmonious universe, the first human beings awoke to—or evolved into—a world of bloodshed and misery. [This view of the perfection of the universe, as consisting in the absence of all natural evils such as pain, disease, and death, is not the traditional Catholic view. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the view that, e.g., creatures such as lions would not have harmed other animals, but would have, before the fall, lived on plants, and not on the flesh of other animals, is "completely unreasonable." The perfection of the universe consists in its order; this order consists especially in the various natures and goods found in it; but there are many bodily natures and goods that cannot naturally exist without other natural evils, as the lion cannot exist without the death of the animals it eats.] Moreover, God willed that man endure hundreds of thousands of years of violence, disease, crippling mutations, natural disasters, and a relentless struggle for existence, in the darkness of false beliefs, until God saw fit to reveal the rudiments of the natural and divine law to the Hebrews a few thousand years ago. [According to the Catholic tradition, the natural law is discernible in creation, and in this sense is revealed by God apart from the historical revelation, or Jewish revelation in particular "For the Fathers of the Church the "sequi naturam" and the "sequela Christi" are not opposed… To follow [reason] is to follow the personal Logos, the Word of God…. the doctrine of the natural law… allows one to illustrate why the pagans, independently of the biblical revelation, possess a positive moral conception" (International Theological Commission A Search for Universal Ethics: A New Look at the Natural Law, n. 26.)] According to this view, God preserved no accurate record of the vast bulk of human history, but simply inspired the Hebrews to re-fashion various pagan myths and legends into morally uplifting myths about 600 years before the Incarnation of Jesus. [The dating of the Scriptures is not directly connected with the question of evolution. They are possibly connected indirectly, inasmuch as there is historical evidence for each. I am not an expert on historical evidence for the dating of the Scriptures, however, so can't comment on that.]

Theistic evolutionism has spawned a host of novel interpretations of Genesis, most of which clash violently with the unanimous [more accurately, majority] interpretations of Genesis made by the Church Fathers. Perhaps the most popular of these novel theories is known as progressive creationism. According to its proponents, the absence of transitional fossils in the fossil record indicates that God created the prototypes of the various kinds of creatures by an act of creation at various points in geological history. However, through their unwillingness to challenge the evolutionist chronology of billions of years, the progressive creationists end by accepting all of the anomalies mentioned in the preceding paragraph—except that they believe that God shone a light in the darkness of geological ages by creating new kinds of creatures from time to time. According to progressive creationism, however, God did not perform these creative acts for the sake of man, who was not created until somewhere between 50,000 and 1,000,000 years ago, but for His own inscrutable purposes, which had nothing to do with creating a harmonious and welcoming home for his first human children. [God's providence is universal, and includes all time. In fact, everything in history that influence any individual man, was willed by God for that man. Much more was everything in the history of the world that has a bearing on the world, and thus on man, willed for the sake of man. (And obviously, on the view that we see the evidence of evolution in fossils and so on, this evolution is relevant for man inasmuch as man sees this evidence.)] Needless to say, such attempts to “reform” or “save” theistic evolutionism and to reconcile it with the Catholic Faith bear little if any resemblance to the Faith of the Apostles, Fathers, and Doctors of the Church.

Natural Law and Universal Ethics

The International Theological Commission recently published a document on the natural law as the foundation for universal ethics. The document is available on the Vatican website in French and Italian. I've made a translation into English (the body of the text is complete, notes will be coming) and posted it here on this website. The document is fairly long, but worth reading, especially for those interested in Thomistic ethics, interreligious dialog, politics, or similar fields where the concept of natural law is particularly important.

The Search for Universal Ethics: A New Look at the Natural Law

Counsel of Poverty – On the Perfection of the Spiritual Life VII

The First Way to Perfection, Which is the Renunciation of Temporal Things

Among temporal goods the first we should renounce are external goods, which are called riches, [This renunciation is first, not in the sense of most important, but rather, in the order from imperfect to perfect. It is a basic starting point.] and the Lord counseled this when he said, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt. 19:21). [Principal in the consideration of the evangelical counsels is not our judgment of their utility, but the fact that they are counseled by Christ. Hence Thomas begins with Christ's expression of this counsel.]

St. Thomas illustrates the value of this counsel in two ways. First, by the story of the rich young man who received the counsel, and what happened with him. The young man went away sad, being too attached to his possessions to give them up in order to follow the Lord more closely. Secondly, by the words of Christ spoken in this context, namely that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. St. Thomas sees the second statement as expressing the impossibility of entering heaven when one has an inordinate love of riches (understood in the sense of loving them in a manner incompatible with their being means to true spiritual goods), and the first statement as expressing the difficulty of possessing riches without one's heart being caught by them.

St. Thomas continues to clarify that it is indeed possible to possess riches without one's heart being attached to them, and gives the example of Abraham, who had much wealth, but was perfect in faith and the following of God. But, he says, the fact that Abraham had wealth without being attached to wealth, indicates the great virtue of Abraham. But most persons, not having this kind of virtue, cannot retain wealth without being attached to it. He restates the case more generally: the rich man who does not sin by the affection for riches, who does not covet money, who does not place his trust or hope in his wealth, is indeed a man of great virtue and love of God; but as great virtue is rare, so such a rich man, who has riches without being attached to them, is very rare.

In the Summa Theologiae (II-II 186:3 ad 6) St. Thomas cites Jerome in support of the position that it is better to give away one's wealth all at once for the sake of God, than to distribute it little by little. Jerome says, "to him who says that it is bettter to have possessions and to divide them gradually among the poor, not I, but God will respond saying, 'If you wish to be perfect etc.'… what you praise is the second or third rank, which we also recognize, as long as we admit that the first rank is preferable to the second and third."

Distributing Wealth

But let's suppose that someone in fact could in the long term help many more poor persons by distributing his wealth in a gradual manner than by giving it all away at once–or even not "distribute" at all, in the sense of simply giving it away; the best use of the wealth might be in running a business in a manner that, by being truly fair to employees, partners, etc., is better for the common good of society than giving away the money would be. What should we say about this case? Is such a man forced to choose between his own spiritual perfection and love for the poor? That would seem to be an absurd conclusion. But how do we bring these two desires into harmony, the desire to be free from possessing wealth so as not to be attached to it, and the desire to do good with the wealth?

Granted that the desire to help the poor springs from and corresponds to true love for them as God's children, we would have to say, in the abstract, that this charity for the poor would have to take precedence. To hold otherwise would be to place a certain form of perfection or means to charity over charity itself.

Realistically, however, the two desires may be quite rarely in conflict. It is possible, for example, to found a charitable organization or to transfer ownership of the wealth or business in question to an existing charitable organization… and if the skill of the original owner were necessary for guidance in the use of it, he could be retained for this guiding role. In giving the money he intends to use for charitable purposes over to an organization, he would give up some control over how it is to be used; he might think this is a bad thing, because the organization might make unwise decisions regarding the use of the money. But in fact, supposing that the leadership is wisely chosen, what reason would the original owner of the wealth have for thinking that he knows better how to put it to good use, or that he will remain firm in his pursuit of noble ends, and not fall in love with some distorted ideology?

It would seem, then, that a rich man might best attain these two goals (making good use of the wealth, and guarding himself from attachment to it or the power it brings) by giving his money or his business to a sound charitable organization, or establishing one. I would hesitate to pronounce definitely on this, however. There are some weaknesses to which organizations are more prone than individuals. For example, an organization tends to be more susceptible to influence by the media than a single individual does. So there might be some situations where it is better for a rich person to retain control of the charitable purposes to which it is put.

Evolution and Creation VII – Spiritual Forces of Evil

From Hugh Owens The Traditional Doctrine of Creation

7. The Traditional doctrine of creation fosters a realistic understanding of the spiritual forces of evil and attributes the evils of the world to man’s cooperation with them. By denying the literal historical of Genesis 1-11, theistic evolutionism blinds its adherents to the supernatural dimension of life, reduces many of the supernatural actions of God, angels, and demons, to natural causes, and thus makes its disciples unfit for spiritual warfare.

In the first chapters of Genesis, all of the Apostles and Fathers read a realistic account of the spiritual seduction of our first parents by Satan, the Prince of Darkness. Without exception, they understood the Christian life as spiritual warfare with the principalities and powers of darkness. They lived their everyday lives with a keen awareness of the supernatural world, and of the constant struggle between good and evil spirits that raged within them and around them. For the Fathers of the Church, the Genesis account of the temptation and the Fall was an endless source of meditation and instruction in spiritual combat, which kept them in a state of constant vigilance and readiness to resist the wiles of the devil. Like the Holy Fathers, those who now embrace the traditional interpretation of Genesis find themselves attuned to the supernatural dimension of life, forewarned and forearmed for the spiritual combat, and more capable not only of protecting themselves from spiritual harm, but also the souls entrusted to their care.

By denying the historical truth of the first chapters of Genesis, theistic evolutionism has fostered a preoccupation with natural causes almost to the exclusion of supernatural ones. By denying the several supernatural creative acts of God in Genesis, and by downplaying the importance of the supernatural activity of Satan, theistic evolutionists easily slip into a naturalistic mentality which seeks to explain everything in terms of natural causes. [This danger is to some extent real, but it is also to some extent unavoidable, and the opposite approach has its own danger. The more things that are explained in terms of natural causes, the more likely it is, other things being equal, that someone will think that all things can be explained in terms of natural causes alone. But should we try to bolster up our belief in spiritual beings such as angels, or divine miracles, by deliberately refraining from investigating the natural causes of things? On the other hand, the "all or nothing" approach has an even greater danger, that when it becomes evident that something which one believed to have only a spiritual cause, is shown to have some natural cause, one will reject all spirituality causality. Thus it happens that a person who believes that either evolution is true, or that God works in the world, may pass suddenly from belief in God to atheism, when he becomes persuaded that evolution is true] Once this mentality takes hold, it is easy for men to regard the concept of spiritual warfare as a holdover from the days of primitive superstition. Diabolical activity is reduced to material or psychological causes. The devil and his demons come to be seen as irrelevant. Soon “hell” joins the devil and his demons in the category of antiquated concepts. And the theistic evolutionist easily makes the fatal mistake of thinking that he has nothing more to fear from the devil and his angels.

According to Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the chief exorcist of Rome, there is a tremendous increase in diabolical activity and influence in the formerly Christian world. And yet most of the bishops of Europe no longer believe in the existence of evil spirits and many no longer have even a single exorcist in their dioceses. To the Fathers of the Church who believed in the truth of Genesis, this would be incredible. But in view of the almost universal acceptance of theistic evolution, it is hardly surprising.

[On the whole, there is not such a specific correlation between belief in evolution and a lack of belief in evil spirits. There is more of a connection at a more general level. The belief in evolution fits in well with a materialist empirical approach to the world, and this approach often ignores or denies the work of evil spirits. In this sense there is the possibility of someone finding confirmation of this "scientific" approach to the world in theistic evolution. More on this idea of two "worldviews" later.]

Legionaries of Christ

I was thinking some time ago about doing a post on the Legionaries of Christ, whom I never put in the list of suggested Catholic religious communities, due to serious concerns regarding them. Occasioned by the Apostolic Visitation just beginning now, this interview with Fr. Thomas Berg, who left the congregation in April 2009, is a fitting occasion to say a few things.

The disordered life of the founder, Fr. Maciel, is not simply something that can be left aside. Some legionaries seem to have hoped that this could be done, that their rule of life, approved by the Church, was not essentially tied to Fr. Maciel, and therefore could be basically just retained. However, the Church's approval of the rule, an approbation of it as a suitable means for living a life of Christian charity, is first, not infallible, and second, the approbation of a rule does not strictly imply that there are not substantive defects in it. And in fact, there seem to be a number of legionary practices criticized over the years (and rightly so, in my opinion) that are not entirely incidental to Fr. Maciel's problems.

One of the most obvious of these is the "vow of charity," a vow not to criticize superiors and to report those who do so. According to the Legionary web page (available at the Internet Archive–page has been taken down from the live web site), the vow covers something that would be obligatory anyway, namely the avoidance of slander. However, the website does not give the actual text of the vow–apparently it is a secret, despite the denial that the vows are secrete. The text of the vow is, apparently "I, (Name), promise and vow never to criticize any act of governance of the superior, nor his person, and to inform the superior if I am aware that anyone has broken this promise." I could be wrong, but it seems to me that this vow is simply invalid, and never truly bound anyone. A vow is "a deliberate and free promise made to God concerning a possible and better good which must be fulfilled by reason of the virtue of religion" (Code of Canon Law n. 1191). "Not to criticize" is not simply speaking a better good. If one were to say "imprudently criticize" or "wrongly criticize" than it would be, and such a vow valid. It seems the real purpose of the vow may have been more to protect the reputation of the congregation and of Fr. Maciel than to foster charity among its members. (It could be that Fr. Maciel thought to himself that its purpose was charity–it is a characteristic in many cases that persons who commit such abuse are actually guilty of self-deception as to their true motives in pursuing relationships, maintaining good reputation, etc.)

Fr. Berg mentions four problems: (1) the inability of the legionaries as a body to engage in honest and objective self-critique, an inability "to see and honestly recognize the flaws and errors that so many people outside the Legion are able to see"; this problem is connected with (2) a mistaken understanding and living of religious obedience, an excessive dependence on the superior, and the prohibition of criticizing one's superior. Fr. Berg critiques this as follows:

The Legionary seminarian is erroneously led to foster a hyper-focusing on internal "dependence" on the superior for virtually every one of his intentional acts (either explicitly or in virtue of some norm or permission received, or presumed or habitual permissions). This is not in harmony with the tradition of religious life in the Church, nor is it theologically or psychologically sound. It entails rather an unhealthy suppression of personal freedom (which is a far cry from the reasoned, discerned and freely exercised oblation of mind and will that the Holy Spirit genuinely inspires in the institution of religious obedience) and occasions unholy and unhealthy restrictions on personal conscience.Furthermore, Legionary norms regarding "reporting to," "informing," "communication with," and "dependence on" superiors constitute a system of control and conformity which now must be considered highly suspect given what we know about Fr. Maciel. They furthermore engender a simplistic, and humanly and theologically impoverished notion of God's will (its discernment and manifestation) that breeds personal immaturity.

…Legionary seminarians are essentially trained to suspend reason in their obedience and to seek a total internal conformity with all the norms, and to withstand any internal impulse to examine or critique the norms or the indications of superiors.

(3) the continuance of seeking vocations as usual; Fr. Berg's suggests the Legion should call a halt to vocational work during the apostolic visitation, or even longer, until it clears up its critical problems; this is not a easy question, but he may well be right. (4) the deprivation of seminarians of honest information concerning the Legion: "a complete presentation of the basic facts of Fr. Maciel's double life; the understanding that the religious life, with its norms and internal discipline, they have come to live is deeply problematic and in need of thorough scrutiny and review; a thorough presentation of the reasonable criticisms that have been leveled against the Legion and Regnum Christi; and an honest admission on the part of the major superiors of the Legion's errors."

Regarding the last two points I would add my own thought that for a long time the vocational practice of the Legion seemed ordered more to "recruiting" and keeping vocations than to fostering true human development. In this respect it is not surprising if it continues a drive to recruit and keep "vocations."

The biggest question Fr. Berg raises is whether there is a genuine charism in the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, or whether the work of God in the Legion has been only drawing good out of a merely human and fundamentally flawed project. This is indeed a question. As pointed out above, it would be wrong to suppose that there must be a true inspired charism, just because the Church approved the institute. While the guidance of the Spirit guarantees that the Church on the whole and in the long run acts wisely in its approbation of forms of life, individual decisions are not infallible.

Related: see the Legionaries' communiqué of March 25, 2010.

Freedom for Love – On the Perfection of the Spiritual Life VI

For a brief summary of this and the preceding three chapters, see the earlier post: Aquinas On Degrees of Love For God.

The Perfection of Love of God That Falls Under Counsel

When St. Paul had said, “Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect,” and, “but I follow after, if I may by any means lay hold,” he added shortly afterwards, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded.” From these words we can see that although the perfection of the blessed is not possible to us in this life, we ought, to strive to imitate it as far as we can. [The commandment of the love of God in one sense obliges us to love God in the manner possibly in this life, loving nothing else more than him, and at least implicitly directing to him everything we love and everything we do. But as St. Augustine points out, even the perfection of heaven is included in the commandment of love, not as though we are obliged to have this perfection here and now, which is not possible, but as a perfection for which we are to aim. And this commandment, obliging us to seek the perfection of love, is fulfilled the more perfectly, the more we employ helpful means to strive more for this perfection.] And it is in this that the perfection of this life consists to which we are invited by the counsels. [The counsels are such helpful means for growing in perfection.]

For it is manifest that the human heart is more intensely drawn to one thing, to the degree that it is drawn back from many things. Thus the more a man is freed from the affection for temporal things, the more perfectly his mind will be borne to loving God. Hence St. Augustine says that "the desire of temporal things is the poison of charity; the growth of charity is the diminishment of cupidity, and the perfection of charity is no cupidity." (Eighty-Three Questions, Book 83, Quest. 1). Therefore all the counsels, which invite us to perfection, aim at this, that man's mind be turned away from affection to temporal objects, so that his mind may tend more freely to God, by contemplating him, loving him, and fulfilling his will.

[Every created good is good by sharing in God's goodness. And nonetheless giving up created goods is helpful for growing in love of God. This is because of the limitation of human nature, which on the one hand, has a limited power of attention and of love, and on the other hand, cannot all of the time see things only in relation to God. "A person has only one will and if that is encumbered or occuped by anything, the person will not possess the freedom, solitude, and purity required for divine transformation" (St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, book 1, ch. 11).

Indeed, when we desire things or persons in full subordination to God, e.g., when we love other persons as created in God's image, as loved by God, and as persons for whom we desire beatitude in God, then our love for these things or persons is not really a separate love from the love of God, and is no hindrance to the intensity of love for God. St. John of the Cross says, "[When one is not encumbered by attachments], a person remains unencumbered and free to love all rationally and spiritually, which is the way God wants them to be loved…. [This] love is according to God and exceedingly free. If the love contains some attachment there is greater attachment to God, for as the love of neighbor increases so does the love of God, and as the love of God increases so does the love of neighbor" (Ascent of Mount Carmel, book 3, ch. 23).

But in fact, in our imperfection and weakness, we do not, cannot always desire and love only in reference to God. And when a man considers and desires created goods without full reference to God (seeing them as participations in God, images of God, or ways to God), then his attention and love is divided, and he thus cannot give as intense love and attention to God. And this is the basic reason why, other things being equal, giving up temporal goods offers a person the possibility of a freedom of mind and heart which, if he puts to good use, will help him grow more surely in the love of God and neighbor.]

See also: Texts of Aquinas on the Counsels

Commandments and Counsels (previous blogpost)

Evolution and Creation VI – Sabbath rest

From Hugh Owens The Importance of the Traditional Doctrine of Creation:

Comments are in red.

6. Theistic evolutionism breeds indifference to the Lord’s Day and a wrong view of natural science. The Traditional doctrine of creation fosters appreciation and reverence for the Lord’s Day and a correct view of natural science.

Theistic evolutionism denies the primordial institution of the Sabbath “in the beginning.” For the theistic evolutionist, the seven day week is something that developed [a strange choice of words… is this meant to imply that one who holds to theistic evolution necessarily holds that the seven day week was developed gradually by man, rather than instituted by God?] after man’s emergence from the apes. It was not something instituted by God for man from the very beginning of creation. [Is God limited in his power to institute a seven day week, so that the only way he can do so is by "doing" something different on each of seven days?] This view contradicts the universal belief of the Church Fathers in the divine institution of the Sabbath and of the seven day week in the beginning of creation. The theistic evolutionist view also contradicts the very words of Our Lord who said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Indeed, implicit in these words is the idea that the Sabbath was “made” by God, for man—not just for the Hebrews—and must therefore have been made for him from the beginning. [If I read the argument correctly, it is: according to theistic evolution, the sabbath was not made by God; according to Christ, the sabbath was made by God. No argument whatsoever is given that for the implicit assertion that theistic evolution means that God did not make the sabbath. Two possible arguments occur to me, but each of them dependents on a problematic view of God. One argument would be that if God didn't institute the Sabbath in the beginning, then he didn't institute it at all, suggesting that after the work of creation God stepped back and didn't have anything more to do with the world–giving a deistic view of God. Another argument would be that theistic evolutionists, following the analogy of God working through natural causes, would also hold that the seven day week and the sabbath were developed through human culture. But this does not imply that they are not from God, unless we simply deny that God is the author of human nature, and can manifest his will through men.] This same understanding is reflected in the ancient liturgies which speak of Sunday, “the first day of the week,” as the “first day of creation.”

The first public apparition of Our Lady in modern times with a message for the whole Church took place at La Salette, France, in 1846. Profanation of the Sabbath was one of the two main sins that Our Lady lamented at La Salette and she identified them as the cause of a severe famine and a terrible plague. Yet today the Sabbath is trampled upon everywhere and rarely, if ever, is mention made of this sacrilege from the pulpit.

Is it a coincidence that the sharp decline in Catholic Sunday observance coincided with the rise of theistic evolutionism in the Church? [Yes and no. Both have certain connections with a scientific mentality, and in this way are connected with each other, but there is not much direct connection.] Consider this: Who is more likely to observe a strict day of rest from business, money-making and shopping, a Catholic who believes that God “rested” from his labor of creating new kinds of creatures on a literal seventh day, or a theistic evolutionist who believes that the seven day week was a man-made idea [the straw man again!] that arose after the evolution of the human body from inorganic matter through billions of years of death, disease, and random mutations? By analogy, would the practice of abstinence or some other kind of mortification on Friday increase or decrease if “scholars” succeeded in convincing the faithful that Jesus did not really die for us on a Friday? [It would probably not be affected, as long as Friday remained the liturgical commemoration of Christ's death (and would definitely not be affected for those with sound liturgical sense). The practice of mortification on Friday has suffered and declined a lot more than the observance of Sunday, which in many ways still remains, without people being convinced, or even particularly inclined to believe that Jesus did not really die on a Friday. This analogy in fact shows the weakness for a causal connection between Sunday observance and belief in evolution.]

Unfortunately, the consequences of the theistic evolutionist denial of a divinely-instituted Sabbath extend far beyond a failure to “keep the Lord’s Day holy.” Theistic evolutionists also reject the notion—shared by all of the Fathers and Doctors without exception—that there was a clearly defined creation period after which God ceased to create new kinds of creatures and allowed secondary causality to operate within the framework of natural laws. Consequently, the theistic evolutionist empties the notion of the Sabbath rest of the Lord of all of its meaning. [Actually, it is the notion of God's "rest" as a negation, as no longer being at work, which empties the Sabbath rest of it's real meaning. Consideration of Christ's words, "My Father is still working, and I am working," might be in order.] According to the traditional understanding of Genesis, the Sabbath marked the end of the creation period, after which God ceased creating new kinds of creatures.

Abolishing the distinction between the creation period and the period of divine providence has led to major confusion about the limitations of natural science and the proper relationship between theology and the natural sciences. This in turn has led to a colossal waste of time, money, and energy on the part of governments and academic institutions which have tried to extrapolate from presently-observed natural processes all the way back to the moment of creation. [This claim doesn't pertain so much to faith, theology, or spiritual life, but one significant remark regarding this, is that whatever one thinks is the content of the Christian faith regarding the manner of creation, one cannot really expect this to influence governments research in natural science, unless those governments are explicitly Christian, and recognize the faith as a principle for guiding their own decisions… which was true of many in the past, but of very few today.]