Monthly Archives: June 2017

Send us Good Shepherds, O Lord

Shepherds we do not deserve, for our sins are many and our confidence wanes. We are like sheep, wandering without direction. Each of us would fail the Truth if we simply pointed to the one “whom You gave to be with me” as the reason for our confusion, sadness, and lack of faith.

Yet wandering we are, weary, wanting for solid food, wanting for firm direction, wanting a word of confidence in us: “You can do this, because with Christ, all things are possible,” wanting in ourselves the fulfillment of the Law by your gift (Rom 8).

Send us Shepherds who do not write mercy with the erasure of Law, who call not cancer development, who hack not apart the tree of life imagining a rotting “newness” with lowly thoughts so far from Yours.

Send us Shepherds who pander not to our basest wants, but call us to the measure of your pure riches.

Send us Shepherds who edify and unite around the Perennial Truth that is Ever Ancient, Ever New, and always Beautiful.

Before you consume us in your Anger, and we be destroyed.

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.

Does God Need Man?

Of course He doesn’t!

Catholic Dogma is absolutely clear. God is infinitely perfect in himself, infinitely happy in himself, infinitely simple. God therefore needs nothing whatsoever. He is the source of all things else. He is the absolutely gratuitous source of all things else. Creation is an absolutely free act.

This means that creation need not have occurred, and God would be the same God he is “now.” The “now” is said from our perspective, for God is simply God. The “now” of God is just this: GOD. There is no “now” that measures him, unlike our own “now.” There is a “now” that measures us. God is his own measure, which means he remains unmeasured.

It is heresy to state that God created anything at all out of a need. Out of necessity. Out of any necessity whatsoever. Vatican I declares “IF ANYONE … HOLDS THAT GOD DID NOT CREATE BY HIS WILL FREE FROM ALL NECESSITY BUT AS NECESSARILY AS HE NECESSARILY LOVES HIMSELF, … LET HIM BE ANATHEMA” (DEI FILIUS, CANON 5 OF CHAP. 1).

Excluded here is any kind of necessity whatsoever. God does not need us in order to gain happiness. God does not need us just because he is God: That is, he is not a kind of naturally self-diffusing good that simply must create, just like the sun simply must radiate light.

If God created all things without any need or necessity whatsoever, then he needs not one of them. Now, man is a created thing.  Thus, God does not need man. He remains God, whether or not man continues to exist. This is the constant Tradition of the Church. This is the Formal Teaching of the Infallible Magisterium, to which all Catholics are forever bound. This is Truth.

Does this truth denigrate God’s love for us? Does it denigrate us? Absolutely not!

First, a lie denigrates us. A truth builds us up. If you tell me I am a great windsurfer, you denigrate me, because it is a lie. We know that the person who tells false things about our greatness flatters us. We know that who flatters us is not offering us true love; however noble his intentions, he is quite misled. I want to be lifted up by Truth. By God.

Second, only if I get God right can I get myself fully right. If I have a false conception of God, I will have a false conception of myself. But to say that God needs anything is to make God a creature, a fellow finite being struggling to make ends meet. If I do this, then how can I rely on this weak and pathetic god? Sure, I might confide in him and have a beer with him. But can I trust him with my all? Can I count on him being omnipotent? Able to overcome all things? No I can’t. Thus, if I think God needs me, I no longer can count on him. But I know my weakness. I know I need him. That is why I reject every claim that God needs me. Such claims are poison.

Third, to get it right that God does not need me makes his love all the more surprising and exhilarating. He does not need me, but he calls me into being. He does not need me, even now, but he sustains me. He woos me from my laziness and apathy. He redeems me from my sinfulness. He heals me from self-inflicted wounds. He kisses my sinful heart, to make it new. He touches my eyes, which have darkened themselves, to make them see. He strengthens my faltering limbs. He builds me up. He calls me home. Without any need. Steady love, totally for me. Why, O Lord, do you look on mortal man? A worm and no man? I thank you. Help me to receive your gifts well.

Conquer your enemies with your Truth, converting their minds and their hearts. And, lest they be found to poison the wells of your saving waters, remove the rebels from your holy house.

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….