Category Archives: Theology

Why I Love the Work of Thomas Aquinas

I was recently asked why Thomas is so crucial to theology. I replied by indicating why I love his work so much.

Above all, I love Thomas’s thought because I find so many of his judgments to be considered, grounded, and true. His dexterous precision is coupled with keen attention to things. Thus, his terminology is clear; you can grasp what he is aiming at. Such clarity I used to flee, thinking it meant shallowness. I now think it is limpidity in service of communion, relationship.

However, unlike some logical experts, Thomas attends to things and does so with a profound, searching gaze. Hence, he alights upon essential features and thus achieves lasting insights. A false generalization has exceptions. A profound observation lasts, while admitting of sundry realizations which are not exceptions. Indeed, they can more truly instantiate the insight.

I believe Thomas achieves profound observation. A friend of mine, now a nun, and I both agreed on the following image: Reading Thomas on some problem (free will, e.g.) is like having your gnarly hair combed. Another friend said that after reading Thomas’s observations, one can look at the real with him and say, “That’s what it is, isn’t it?” All those “disputed points,” all those “qualifications”, all that “hair-splitting”: In fact, it is simply a tour of the real. It is Aquinas taking you on a field hike, pointing things out. It is you, watching the real with him, and falling in love with it. It is finding God’s mind in things.

Thomas’s profundity, striking the essential, and his realism, appreciating the differences, is something that admits of further development. So, I find Thomas never old but always new. 

Interestingly, I also find that in studying him, one comes more quickly to self-possession concerning one’s own judgment on matters. Erudition is hard to judge when you have none. But claims keenly laid out about fundamental matters can be considered and judged. Had Aquinas not come, I don’t think Scotus could have been as sharply critical as he was. (He did read some of Thomas, though mostly second hand. What he read from any Dominican source allowed him to take his own stance, often not identical and even at odds.) 

Secondly, the Magisterium has consistently put him forth as a model. I take this to heart. You can find references to this all over the place. For instance, seminarians are consistently guided to a close study of his thought. This is of course not to say he is the sole model. But he is “the” common doctor, not just “a” doctor, such as Gregory or Catherine. Catherine being just “a doctor.” Remarkable indeed.  

I have a more recent opinion on Thomas, and that is this. I find him cultivating “habits of thought” that are fruitful, pointing us to avenues of inquiry that promise. When we read the very cursory remarks in the Summa (yes, cursory!), we are asked to cultivate a set of habits of mind. One simple word, “being” undergoes constant structural development so that it begins to loom large, being at once all encompassing and yet simple, at once the common and the distinct. Again, the word “father” takes on entirely new contours. One is taken aback. Being is lighted up. The mouth stammers and falls silent. The real rises up. 

Also, Thomas doesn’t raise certain questions, which in a non-moving, totally abstract universe of sheer curiosity might be decent questions. But their pursuit in a universe that is moving, that involves participation in The Good, and a final judgment, and needed courses of action, in such a universe some questions are less than fruitful and even counter-productive. Their very framing might put one down a bad track. On the occasions in which one can glimpse Thomas taking off the gloves and really digging in, one realizes that his intellect towers over just about all other intellects in the history of the world, and by far, and that frequently he is only writing the bare basics of his gaze. He does this, I think, because he was an intellectual shepherd whose one concern was our union with God.

I could go on. I hope this suggests some of the reasons I love his work.

Article on Kasper’s and Ratzinger’s Trinitarian Theologies

I have posted a PDF of my Nova et Vetera article on the Social Analogy for the Trinity, or rather for the “I-Thou” argument for the Trinity. It appears on my Academia Web page.

The first page of the article I paste below:

Nova et Vetera, English Edition, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2017): 113–159

The “I-Thou” Argument for the Trinity:Wherefore Art Thou?
Christopher J. Malloy
The following thesis typifies a recent current of thought in Trinitarian theology: “The living God can . . . be thought of only as Father and Son, while a non-trinitarian, purely monotheisticGod would in fact have to be declared dead.Such an opinion, it would seem, would have struck twentieth-century Jewish thinker Martin Buber as false. After all, the central message of the Shema is “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut 6:4, RSV). Buber did not read this prayer as Trinitarian, but he did have “monotheistic” faith in the living God. Were he alive, Buber might register surprise that the author of the thesis is a major proponent of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, Walter Cardinal Kasper. Further, Kasper argues to the thesis by way of a reformulation of Buber’s own claim: “An I without a Thou is unthinkable.” Did Buber simply fail to grasp the universality of his own insight and so apply it to the God beyond the firmament?Or did Kasper overreach?Kasper presents an iteration of what I call the “I-Thou” argument for the Trinity. The argument is almost always attended by the so-called “Social Analogy,” according to which God is contemplated through the iconic similitude of a community of human persons…. 

New Article on the Trinity, touching on Kasper and Ratzinger

My latest article was just published. It is entitled, <<The “I-Thou” Argument for the Trinity: Wherefore Art Thou?>>

It was published in Nova et Vetera (English Edition) 15 (2017): 113–159

Abstract of Article: Recent Trinitarian theology, though rich and fruitful in many ways, often suffers from a lack of scientific theological precision. A notable example is the inclination of recent thinkers, such as Kasper and Ratzinger, to describe the Trinitarian faith in such a way as to imply that God cannot be rightly conceived except as Trinitarian. As they imply, if we know that God is a person or an “I,” we must know that he is Trinitarian. Correlatively, little attention has been paid to the divine unity, and much less attention to the content of the preambles of the faith, the truth of which is discernible by natural reason. The implications for inter-religious dialogue remain unconsidered, yet they are disastrous, since, on this line of reasoning, all faith commitments except the Trinitarian faith commitment must be false, and since the rational conclusion to a being that is intelligent, personal, and one must be false. This line of thought rises to the distinction of persons at the expense of the excellence of the divine nature. The current essay seeks to expound the pith of this recent line of thought and to evaluate it critically, suggesting a major reconfiguration of the noble insights that inform the problematic outcome.

The argument that undergirds the recent approach to theology is what I call the “I-Thou” argument for the Trinity. Roughly, it runs thus. God is an “I,” but he is not a bachelor. Since he is not a bachelor, he has a “Thou.” This thou cannot be limited or finite or created. Therefore, God is an I in relation to another divine I. Eventually, this argument works in another divine person and stops there. I call this logic “Evel Knievel” logic:

You can read the Introduction on the following page of the website ACADEMIA.


Another Text by Fenton

I just acquired another text by Joseph C. Fenton entitled Laying the Foundation: A Handbook of Catholic Apologetics and Fundamental TheologyClick here to order on amazon.


This is an outstanding contribution to the contemporary theological landscape, for we contemporary theologians have forgotten classical apologetics. However, it is a powerful, formidable source of reflection. It exhibits the rationality of our faith. It exhibits also the unique claim on divine appointment that Catholicism has. For the Catholic religion is the One True Religion. It alone, this day, is appointed by God. Through its teachings, we come to know the truth, about ourselves, about the paths to happiness and misery, about God. Through its agency, we are equipped to mount the ladder to that happiness.

To enter the gates of faith, to submit one’s mind to the Revelation of God as communicated through the Catholic Church, is eminently rational. In fact, the argument is made in this text that not to do so is irrational. But who can submit his mind without hearing the message? Who can believe if never told?

The task is set before us: To give an account for the hope that we cherish, an account before others. To give such an account was the brilliance of theology 50-80 years ago. Alas, the great achievements of that era have been swept away by forgetfulness. The republication of this text of Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton can help us cultivate that skill of apologetics.

New Book of Essays by Joseph C. Fenton

Christian Washburn has just published a collection of essays by Joseph Clifford Fenton entitled The Church of Christ. I have reviewed this on Amazon and will paste the review here. I highly recommend this book, and anything else by Fenton you can get your hands on.

This collection of essays from one of the greatest American theologians, Msgr. Joseph C. Fenton, makes an urgent and marvelous contribution to the renewal of Catholic theology today. The hermeneutic of rupture has been utterly disastrous. The needed renewal urged by the Second Vatican Council must be pursued once again. The thoughtful, balanced, orthodox, and acute analysis of Msgr. Fenton serves as a prime example of the kind of renewal that was and remains desirable, one in organic continuity with the great tradition, committed to the unchanging dogmas of the Church but open to new insights and corrections in matters purely speculative or hypothetical. Fenton is also clearly a man of prayer, a theologian on his knees yet one who truly practices the rigorous scientific discipline of dogmatic theology. This collection of essays is absolutely essential reading for any serious student of ecclesiology. It will serve as a corrective to the misbegotten attempts at renewal which suffer from an unwillingness to embrace all the unchanging dogmas of faith. It will also invite a return to that thoughtfulness and nuance which in fact informed pre-conciliar theology, a thoughtfulness open to legitimate development.

Fenton also exhibits the knack of getting to the real heart of the matter. For instance, he laments that too often ecclesiologists present the chief difference between Catholic and non-Catholic Churches simply in the fact that the former has the “fullness of truth” whereas the latter have only a “portion,” even if a large one, of that truth. Such a difference does exist, but Fenton rightly stresses that that difference is derivative of a much more fundamental difference, that Christ dwells, as in his One Mystical Body, in the Catholic Church alone, not in any other church.

Anyone familiar with post-conciliar theology will recognize that such an insight is almost completely passed over in silence, inevitably distorting the true portrait of the landscape that the theologian has the duty to depict if a true ecumenism is ever to achieve genuine union. For four decades or more, misinterpretations of the enigmatic phrase “subsists in” (Lumen gentium, art. 8) have thrown us two removes from Fenton’s observation. First, the best theologians have simply contented themselves with the statement “The Catholic Church has the fullness of truth,” as though one can be the Church of Christ in degrees, Protestant communities approaching it to some extent and Orthodox all the more so. This was the first forgetfulness of dogma. Second, numerous theologians went further, claiming that the Catholic Church does not even have the fullness of truth. Or they pass this truth over in silence, as though it is embarrassing to claim too much for the Church. However, scholarship is now on the rise that defends the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church. Washburn is among the protagonists of this good effort, as are Stephen Hiipp, Guy Mansini, et alia. I have attempted to weigh in on this discussion as well. That the Catholic Church (the Universal Church consisting of Rome and all the churches united to Rome) is the only Church of Christ is, in fact, dogma, which no council could ever overturn, nor did any council (Vatican II) overturn it. In order to return back to solid foundation in ecclesiology, one does a great service by reading the likes of Fenton, Journet, et alia. It is not Catholic practice to raise the foundations laid of old and erect new ones out of one’s head or on the basis of one’s own slanted reading of the “origins,” as though organic development, pruned over the centuries, had been a complete abandonment of the Church by Divine Providence, as though one’s own Zeitgeist were the rule of faith.

Washburn’s presentation of Fenton makes one want to read not only the essays in this volume but Fenton’s other essays and books as well.

I would note also that Fenton’s weaving of Scriptural data in his dogmatic (aka, systematic) approach to ecclesiology provides a wonderful model that can be discipled. Due to the excesses of historical criticism, recently revived scholastic practices of theology can tend to shy away from an appropriation of Scriptural data. By contrast, Fenton reads the Scriptures responsibly, in a manner both reasonable and also indebted to the eyes of faith, and thus enables one to appreciate the mystery of the Church in an unexpected manner. For instance, he draws an analogy about the way our Lord is present to the Church today from the very incarnate way he was present to a band of men two millennia ago. This marvelous comparison can be contemplated with perusal of attention and yield considerable fruit. It is neither inimical to nor indebted to historical critical approaches; it transcends them. Indeed, it already anticipates the call of the Second Vatican Council to render Scripture the “soul” of theology (which does not mean that “historical criticism” ought to be its soul.)

Siri on the Problem of Capitulating to the Spirit of the World

Joseph Cardinal Siri, in his important work GETHSEMANE: REFLECTIONS ON THE CONTEMPORARY THEOLOGICAL MOVEMENT, identifies three major factors in the then-current, and unfortunately errant, “theological movement” of the times.

“These three characteristic orientations: Arian, Pelagian, and Modernist, are combined more or less consciously with more or less subtlety and sometimes also guile, in a speculative amalgam, without precise outlines and without basic references, which serves as a basis for a rush towards integral humanization of all religion” (p. 51).

What does he mean? First of all, the current movement denies Original Sin as an inherited fault, as the inheritance of the loss of sanctifying graces. The infant, so it is said, is innocent and immaculate. Not just civilly before the human tribunal, but also theologically before the divine tribunal. Thus, we have the utter annihilation of Christianity, for Christianity is precisely the solution to Original Sin and its devastating consequences. The term Augustine coined — original sin — goes back as the perennial faith of the Church, anticipated in Israel.

Second, Arianism. This is the denial of Jesus. It is like saying that the Father is the only God, and Jesus is our shepherd-priest. In holding such, we deny the Holy Trinity. Thus, we gut Christianity again.

Third, Modernism. This is the notion that revelation is not an Objective Content communicated by God to us through human means. Instead, so it is alleged, revelation is an inner sense that is “subconscious” or “non-determinately conscious”. It is like saying that revelation is a permanent “existential” of our intellectual dynamism, whereby we are always confronted with the communication of God to us and always respond and interpret that communication interiorly into the ‘categories’ of our own sensibility. In this way, the Church does not constitute the medium of revelation to us, but rather is as it were a kind of social index exteriorly manifesting what would be the ideal categorical interpretation of revelation, if we were savvy and lucky enough to grasp it thus. But whether we do articulate manners to ourselves in this way is not ultimately definitive for us; rather, what is crucial is whether or not we affirm ourselves as transcendental creatures touched by this “existential.”

Siri rejects this humanization of religion. For in the end it all comes to be about “man.” He closes the opening reflections with a citation of Oscar Cullmann, a Lutheran observer at the Second Vatican Council, who had this concern after the council:

“Since [the council] certain Catholic milieus … borrow the very norms of Christian thought and action, not from the Gospel, but from the modern world.”

Joseph Cardinal Siri

Another important thinker in the 20th century, but less known in American than is Garrigou-Lagrange, is Joseph Cardinal Siri.

One of his works has been translated into English. The English is in fact a bit rough and awkward. However, if one can look past that to the essence of the thought, one can benefit significantly. The work is entitled GETHSEMANE: REFLECTIONS ON THE CONTEMPORARY THEOLOGICAL MOVEMENT.

I’ll be citing from him in upcoming posts.


Garrigou-Lagrange 2

The book I referenced last post, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s Everlasting Life, continues to impress me. Simple, and written to be read widely and by anyone 15 or over, it is profound and accurate. I will be citing from it in the days to come.

Today: The Last Judgment. Each of us is judged at the moment he dies. Either heaven, hell, or purgatory. Why, then, a judgment at the end of time? Why shall Christ come “to judge the living and the dead,” as we confess in the creed?

Among the reasons is the setting to rights all the false impressions people have of other people. Say I grab a gun from the suicide-murderer’s hand and thus get my prints and the blood of the murder and his victims on my skin. Then the police find me. Then the courts charge me with guilt. But it was all false. Likewise, suppose all praise me for this or that pseudo-accomplishment. All speak well of me. Few contradict me. The world embraces me. But it was all false; I am a sham and no man.

Well, the last judgment shall set to rights all these false impressions. Let us read:

“Dead men live in the memory of men on earth and are often judged contrary to truth. Spirits, strong and false, like Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel, are judged as if they were great philosophers. False prophets and heresiarchs, such as Luther and Calvin, are considered by many to be masters of religious thought, whereas great saints and doctors are profoundly ignored” (p. 82).

Indeed, we are living in days when the good is called evil, and the evil is called good. When the truly profound and interesting is disregarded as boring, and the titillating and dangerous is breathed in like air and invited home to one’s bed. Evil days be ours. But let us not fear. For God is near, even at the very door.

Lagrange on the Ultimate Sin

No, not the sin of despair. A prior sin of rebellion. Lagrange notes that Thomas teaches that the sin of the angels consisted in their perverse desire to imitate God. Perverse. So, a perverse imitation.

Whereas God is Infinite, Uncreated, and Pure Act, being moved by none and capable of his end by his own power, the angels, having been invited by him to an end exceeding their power, fell into two camps. One camp gladly submitted to the deifying hand of God, and thus were glorified. The other camp wanted to attain what they could, as God is what he is. They wanted to be solely from themselves, as God has no Cause.

This insight informs Lagrange’s reading of Modernist rebels, who make dogma a mere measure for action, who measure dogma by practice, who translate dogma solely into a principle of practical reason. Why do they do this, Lagrange asks? Because God’s end is too high. One cannot reach it without his supernatural assistance. But can’t we just live our lives? Do good within our measure? Why disturb us with such a high calling? In short, the rebels do not want us to reach so high.

Ah. We have here a reason for the social sin of the last times. The Catechism of JPII suggests that the end times will witness the sin of “humanism” or of an “earthly messianism.” A worship of man. A cult of man. Man-centrism. Not God-centrism. How is this in imitation of the Demons? Because they wanted only to reach that which was in their natural power. So, too, the humanists of today, those who focus spiritual energy on earthly goals, are in imitation of the Pride of Satan. Seeming humble, they are actual self-worshipers.

O God, reach into our lowliness, convert us to your Truth. Evangelize us with your Goodness. Invite us to your True Church on Earth, that in her, we may receive worthily the Substance of the True Lamb.

Another Lesson from Lagrange

The great theologian of the 20th century – indeed, among the best, as a longer view of history will no doubt disclose, after the rubble of the modernist rabble has been swept away by the winds of healing time – continues (p. 271 of Le sens commun):

We must, then, as far as possible, study dogma in itself and not in function of present needs. If, moreover, these needs were to become the norm of our affirmations, what would remain of revealed Truth? The Church today is asked today to remove, in the Word of God, what is too intransigent in the tone with which she speaks, what is too sublime in the excess of love that she expresses (the needs of the modern soul don’t rise so high), what is too tragic in the justice that she proclaims. They wish her to render the Word accessible to a number of souls that are less in love with truth than with intellectual freedom, with supernatural perfection than with a human ideal, with the rights of God than with their own rights.