Monday, May 18, 2015

Really, What Is The Big Deal About The Ascension

What is the significance of the Ascension of Jesus? Would we not be better off if Jesus had not ascended? Why did He only show Himself to His disciples, not to those who crucified Him--to show them His power and glory? Let's take the last first.

If He had shown Himself to others, they would have believed that He had not died, and would have been intent upon attempting to kill Him again. When this would have been deemed impossible, perhaps they might have become obedient, howbeit not because of love.

Would it have been better for us if He had not ascended, if He had remained physically here with us? The aforementioned would have probably resulted because at some point He would have become visible to others. Also because of His physical presence, He could only be present in one place at a time, as the Pope is. Because of His physical presence, all eyes would be upon Him and not His universal disciples. Most importantly: God knows what is best for our sanctification. If Jesus had remained upon Earth, the Holy Spirit would not have been sent. Secondly, there would be no Catholic Church--no Body of Christ--no Sacraments, especially no Eucharist. There would not be the love, the dependance upon one another, i.e. the love of neighbor.

It is plausible that one might arrive at a conclusion that he does not depend upon others. No man is an island; he has a need for others. He needs others to teach him, forgive him his sins, to encourage him, to institute the Eucharist, to socialize with him, etc. "Well, does not Protestants get along without some of those things?" The Protestants do not realize that the Catholic Church is their life-blood. They would not, could not, exist without the Catholic Church. Just because they do not believe it does not make it any less true. Just because some people do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God does not negate the truth that He is. Satan knows that, if he can destroy the Catholic Church, it would be the demise of Christianity. This is why the world primarily attacks the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church offers up its Masses not only for Catholics but for all Christians. People who "escape" hell do not go to hell because of the Catholic Church. Yes, you will hear the the retort: "That is not true; it is because of Christ." Yes, that is true, but that selfsame Jesus Christ is the HEAD OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, His Church, His Body; hence, it is because of the Catholic Church.

Because of the Ascension, Jesus created His Church, the Catholic Church. Because we do have the Catholic Church and the Sacraments instituted by Christ, esp. the Eucharist. Because of the Ascension, the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son. Because the Holy Spirit was sent, Christ is all--in each of us and all of us.

Each person of the Godhead, the Trinity, loves the Others as Himself. We see this truth in creation, but especially in the Incarnation, the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would not have told us to love our neighbor as ourselves if this was not the love of God. Love of neighbor is the love that makes us the image of God. I will not go into detail; but, suffice it to say: Jesus, the Son of God, became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin by the Holy Spirit because of love of the Father, making mankind God's "neighbor." Jesus loved His neighbor as Himself, giving Himself totally, unto Death. No greater love has a man for his brother, for his neighbor. Because of the Ascension, mankind is able to manifest this love, especially through the priesthood and the Mass of the Catholic Church, instituted by Jesus, the Son of God, Himself.

In the Liturgy of the Hours, the antiphon for the Invitatory today is: Alleluia, come, let us worship Christ the Lord as He ascends into heaven, alleluia. The word "come" reminds us to turn our minds to God. Then we are told that Christ "is" ascending and that we should worship as He is ascending. The Ascension is not only a past, historical event; it is also a present thing, an ongoing event.

How is this possible? The more that Catholics grow into the image of their Head, Jesus, the more we "ascend" to His likeness. When we sin, we "descend" to the depths of the likeness of the earth, the world (cf. St. Augustine's commentary on Psalms). Many people outside of the Catholic Church are concerned only about being "saved and going to heaven;" not so, the Catholic: The Catholic is concerned about "ascending" to the likeness of Christ. This is true worship, worship in Truth and Spirit. This is the purpose of the Catholic Church, its Sacraments and Masses, its prayers.

In the Invitatory of the Liturgy of the Hours, we are invited to encourage other daily to turn our minds to to God, to His precepts, asking for His grace to enable us to walk in His precepts and praying for His mercy to walk with us and guide us as we attempt to cooperate with that grace. We remind and encourage each other to not grow stubborn and presumptuous as our forefathers did in the wilderness. True worship is when we walk in obedience, and we cannot do this alone; we need each other, the Catholic Church--love in action. The grace of God and His mercy is most often exhibited through the actions of others, especially Catholics. In our prayers for each other, our working for the good of each other, and our aid to each other, we manifest the love of God, and the resultant effect is: Christ is ascending in us, in the Catholic Church. We are not individuals; we are a Body. This occurs in every Mass.

"Let God arise, let His foes be scattered." We can easily apply this to ourselves: "Lord, arise; show us our sins, that they may be scattered through our repentance and obedience; may the wicked[ness] [in us] perish; may we bless You through obedience. May we ascend, and Christ ascend in us."

I recall a Protestant preacher advising that, if you desire to understand a passage better, read it and then reread it--backwards. It is great advice. Let's try it with our reading from Ephesians 1 and then from Ephesians 4. First, read it again; and, here, I have it backwards:

Ephesians 1:17-23:

And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way. May the eyes of [your] hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.

Ephesians 4:1-13

"And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ. What does'“he ascended' mean except that he also descended into the lower [regions] of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. Therefore, it says: 'He ascended on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men.' But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

This is ascending with Christ and Christ ascending. He ascended on high, not to a place but a--for lack of a better term--position. Because of His love for the Father and His neighbor, the Son of Man, Jesus, being also the Son of God, ascended in his manhood to a position with divinity, at the right hand of God. And He took prisoners captive." In other words, those in captivity, He took captive. Those in captivity to sin and death, Jesus took captive by His love and the love of His Father, which is the one and same love, just as the husband is held captive by the love of his wife and the wife is held captive by the love of the husband. First and foremost, He does this by virtue of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection; He is doing it also, because of the Ascension, through mankind--the Catholic Church--by giving gifts to men: some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip us, the holy ones...

Because of the Catholic Church's obedience and ascending unto the likeness of Christ: "All you peoples, clap your hands, shout to God wit cries of gladness (by virtue of our obedience, done by the grace and mercy of our God), for the LORD, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth (as aforementioned)." "Earth" is us before Baptism and our mortal and venial sins. Christ mounts His throne, the Cross, bearing our sins, turning death into a conduit to glory. By His grace and mercy (exhibited by His working through us, esp. the Church), we walk more and more in obedience, which is "singing hymns of praise." Because God is king of all the earth, let us walk more and more in obedience. "God reigns over the nations, God sits upon His holy throne."
--Tommy Turner

Thursday, May 7, 2015

My Friends Are My Foes?


Threatened but Trusting

1 A psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom. 2 How many are my foes, LORD! How many rise against me! 3 How many say of me, 'There is no salvation for him in God'."

All psalms relate to Jesus in some way for Holy Scripture is revealing God to us, of whom Jesus is a perfect image for He is the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. Secondly, because the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ, all psalms relate to her also--because she is the visible Christ in this world. Thirdly, because we are baptized by Jesus into the Catholic Church, because we are members of the Body, the psalms also relate to us. Now, Psalm 3 is "a psalm of David, when he fled from his son, Absolom. Hence, we need to identify how this relates to Jesus, the Catholic Church, and Catholics individually. (I say "Catholics" and not "Christians" because all Christians are attached to the Body of Christ, the Catholic Church, in some way, some more tenuous than others.) Catholics, having the fullness truth because they are the Body of Christ, are more vehemently attacked than those who only have partial truth.

"A psalm of David, which he fled from his son Absalom."

Jesus, we know, did not flee from anyone; in what way does this relate to Him? St. Augustine has a great commentary on this psalm as it relates to our Lord, Jesus Christ, upon which I rely heavily. He tells us: "From whose face although it may be understood historically that He fled, when on his departure He withdrew with the rest to the mountain; yet in a spiritual sense, when the Son of God, that is the Power and Wisdom of God, abandoned the mind of Judas; when the Devil wholly occupied him; as it is written, The Devil entered into his heart, John 13:27 may it be well understood that Christ fled from his face; not that Christ gave place to the Devil, but that on Christ's departure the Devil took possession."

Charles Spurgeon, a famous Baptist preacher from England, has a very good commentary on the psalms, The Treasury of David. However, this must be read with Catholic doctrines in mind.

Mr. Spurgeion reminds us that King David crossed over the Kedron, as did our Lord. King David was fleeing from his Son; Jesus was going determinedly into His Passion. St. Augustine gives us understanding when he tells us: "May it be well understood that Christ fled from [Judas'] face; not that Christ gave place to the Devil, but that on Christ's departure the Devil took possession."

In like manner, when we rebel against Christ by rebelling against His Catholic Church, the Church is "fleeing" from us, in that we are no longer in strict communion, no longer adhered to Her teachings. When we commit sin, giving in to the desires and thoughts of the flesh, Christ begins "fleeing" from us; when we commit mortal sin, He has "fled." When we are in disagreement with Church doctrine, the Catholic Church is "fleeing" from us. We have become Absalom.

"Absalom" means "father is peace" or "father's peace." St. Augustine tells us: "Absalom, as some interpret, in the Latin tongue signifies, Patris pax, a father's peace. And it may seem strange, whether in the history of the kings, when Absalom carried on war against his father; or in the history of the New Testament, when Judas was the betrayer of our Lord; how father's peace can be understood. But both in the former place they who read carefully, see that David in that war was at peace with his son, who even with sore grief lamented his death, saying, O Absalom, my son, would God I had died for you! (2 Samuel 18:33) And in the history of the New Testament by that so great and so wonderful forbearance of our Lord; in that He bore so long with him as if good, when He was not ignorant of his thoughts; in that He admitted him to the Supper in which He committed and delivered to His disciples the figure of His Body and Blood; finally, in that He received the kiss of peace at the very time of His betrayal; it is easily understood how Christ showed peace to His betrayer, although he was laid waste by the intestine war of so abominable a device. And therefore is Absalom called father's peace, because his father had the peace, which he had not." When we rebel against Christ by way of rebelling against His Body, this applies to us as well.

"LORD, how are mine adversaries increased! many are they that rise against me." Mr. Spurgeon writes: "If you turn to 2 Samuel 15:12, you will find it written that 'the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom,' while the troops of David constantly diminished!" Regarding Jesus, St. Augustine states, "So multiplied indeed were they, that one even from the number of His disciples was not wanting, who was added to the number of His persecutors." In like fashion, when groups break away from the Catholic Church, when individuals fall away, fall into disagreement with Her, oh, how Her enemies have increased!

In what way does this relate to us? Does "how many are my foes, how many rise against me" apply to us? We are our own worst enemy. In what way is this true? Most significantly in our thoughts and feelings, our "friends." When our thoughts and feelings fall contrary to the Church, they rapidly increase the more we dwell upon them, the more we harbor them, causing us to drift away from Christ and His Church, causing us to rise up against the One Who loves us.

"How many say of me, 'There is no salvation for him in God?'"

There is good probability that these words were not spoken, but presumed. If Absalom believed that God would come to his father's aid, he would never have conspired nor fought against him. It was for the very reason that he did not believe God would come to David's aid that he did rebel. Those that joined Absalom in his rebellion presumed the same thing. As it relates to Jesus, hear St. Augustine: "It is clear that if they had had any idea that He would rise again, assuredly they would not have slain Him. To this end are those speeches, 'Let Him come down from the cross, if He be the Son of God;' and again, 'He saved others, Himself He cannot save. (Matthew 27:42) Therefore, neither would Judas have betrayed Him, if he had not been of the number of those who despised Christ, saying, 'There is no salvation for Him in His God'."

It is also possible that some of the religious truly believed that Jesus was a blasphemer and, for that reason, should be put to death. Listen to the words of our Lord as related by St. John: "They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he offereth service unto God" (Jn 16:2). Therefore, they presumed that there was no salvation for Jesus in God.

How many times do we feel that God is not concerned about us, is not working in our lives? How many times do we feel that there is no real difference between us and those who do not esteem God? These, and thoughts and feelings such as these, are dangerous foes. We live by our thoughts and feelings. I have never had anyone tell me, "There is no salvation for you in God," but, oh, how many times I have felt that, thought that! Decisions that have to be made--I have made many bad ones, although I prayed about them before coming to a conclusion. Our thoughts and feelings are our "sons, daughters, friends." If we feed and water them, let them dwell in us, they will kill us, for they tell us that there is no help for us in God. They will tell us to look around and see: Do you see God working? You just imagine God is working. There is no difference between you and a non-believer.


Mr. Spurgeon explains: "This is a musical pause; the precise meaning of which is not known. Some think it simply a rest, a pause in the music; others say it means, 'Lift up the strain— sing more loudly— pitch the tune upon a higher key— there is nobler matter to come, therefore retune your harps.' Harp-strings soon get out of order and need to be screwed up again to their proper tightness, and certainly our heart-strings are evermore getting out of tune, Let 'Selah' teach us to pray 'O may my heart in tune be found Like David’s harp of solemn sound.' At least we may learn that wherever we see 'Selah,' we should look upon it as a note of observation. Let us read the passage which preceeds and succeeds it with greater earnestness, for surely there is always something excellent where we are required to rest and pause and meditate, or when we are required to lift up our hearts in grateful song. 'SELAH'.” Therefore, I want to stop here, and just relate some of my thoughts.

My mind goes back to King David, and grace and mercy. The first thing that I think of his grave sin of adultery and murder--of which he was forgiven. Then we have the incident with his son, Absalom. In 2 Samuel 14:32, 33, we have Absalom saying to Joab, "...Why did I come back from Geshur? I would be better off if I were still there! Now, let me appear before the king. If I am guilty, let him put me to death." "The king then called Absalom; he came to him and in homage fell on has face to the ground before the king. Then the king kissed Absalom." Absalom was guilty of murdering his brother; nevertheless, he was forgiven. After this comes Absalom's treason. After receiving the king's grace and mercy, Absalom thinks of himself, desiring to build himself up, make a name for himself. Are we any different after Baptism and Confirmation? Do we not often forget God's grace and mercy.

Now, I get the impression that King David does not forget God's grace and mercy after his repentance, for he calls out to the Lord. Nevertheless, look at what happens. On the face of it, God is not coming to the aid of David. His son and "friends" are rising up against him, and he must flee. In the entire incident, we do not see God intervening miraculously, but working subtly, using the wills of men. On the face of it, while David was fleeing, it is easily understood that the nation saw that God was not helping the king. This is true for us also. However, David knew God, knew He was Good, Just, and Mercy. Things are very near rock bottom, but his hope is God: "Take the ark of God back to the city. If I find favor with the LORD, He will bring me back and permit me to see it and its lodging place. But if He should say, 'I am not pleased with you,' I am ready; let Him do to me as He sees fit." David knew that, even if God was not pleased with him, God nevertheless would act in mercy; therefore, he was at peace in his soul. Selah. We do know "the rest of the story."

How many times do those that we love return that love with anger and hatred? Let us keep David in mind. "As David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, he wept without ceasing." Think not that he was weeping for himself; he was weeping for Israel. When loved ones attack us, may we weep for mercy for them, as the Catholic Church pleads for mercy for those who hate Her. In the way we show mercy, mercy will be shown to us. As King David did not allow this situation affect his confidence and love of God, although he deservedly should have lost his kingdom, let us not lose confidence and love of God when our thoughts, feelings, and passions attack us. David's desire was that God would find favor with him and permit him to see the ark in its lodging place. God finds favor with us and allows us into His presence--every Catholic Church.  "Selah"
--Tommy Turner

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

ST. THOMAS AQUINAS The "Pivotal" Saint

Thomas Aquinas' thought and writings were, "pivotal," meaning, as defined by Webster's Third International Dictionary, that they were "central in importance, function, influence or effect." This definition of "pivotal" applies to Aquinas for the following reasons: (1) First, everything developed by Christian philosophers and theologians before Aquinas pertaining to the church's doctrine and dogma reached a climax of vitality and exactness in his writings. (2) Second, everything pertaining to the church's doctrine and dogma developed by Christian philosophers and theologians after Aquinas, were based on or somehow incorporated the essence of his writings into their works.

The "Go-Between" of Past and Future

Since "centrality" is also a part of the definition of pivotal, it is helpful to note that Aquinas is also pivotal chronologically. That is so because he stands roughly in the center, or the middle, of the development of the church's doctrine and dogma from its inception some eight centuries before him, and its continuation roughly eight centuries after him. Thus he systematized and updated for his time (the "High Middle Ages," or the years 1100's-1300's) the teachings of the best early Catholic philosophers and theologians. These are the four traditional Doctors of the Latin Church: St. Ambrose (339-97); St. Jerome (342-420); St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) and St. Pope Gregory the Great (505-604, who was pope from 590). Further, St. Thomas developed the tone, the terminology, the categories and conclusory theses that were used by the best philosophers after his time, from the Renaissance (1300's - 1600's) onward.

By serving as the synthesizer of the "before" of Catholic doctrine and dogma, and the progenitor of the "after," Thomas became in effect the founding father of all Catholic philosophy and theology.

Scholasticism and the "Summae"

Saint Thomas Aquinas, O.P. (1225–1274), was an Italian Dominican priest and the leading philosopher and theologian in the tradition of Scholasticism. ("Scholasticism" may be defined as a method of philosophical and theological speculation which aims at a better understanding of revealed truths.) Scholastic philosophers and theologians put their theses into the form of "Summae," or summary-condensed versions of the subject-matter which they taught. ("Summae" is the plural of "Summa," the latter of which refers to just one such summary). Aquinas excelled at presenting his theories in the form of Summae. His Summa Theologica.

His most famous Summa was the "Summa Theologica ("Summation of Theology")," which is a vast structure of treatises, questions and articles which fall into three parts: The first part treats of God considered in Himself and as the principle of creation. The second part treats of God as the end of man, and of man's return to God. The third part treats of Christ as the way of man to God. Within the Scholastic trend of nick-naming its leading thinkers, Aquinas became known as the "Angelic Doctor," for the brilliance of his Summae.

"Thomism," and "Natural Theology"

He was the foremost classical proponent of natural theology, and the father of an entirely new school of Catholic theology and philosophy, known as Thomism. Thomism was philosophy-theology patterned after "Thomas," which flourished well into the 20th Century. Philosophers who base their work on St. Thomas in modern times are called "Neo (or "New")-Thomists." St. Thomas' influence on Catholic thought is fundamental and primary. Further, much of modern secular philosophy was conceived in the development or refutation of his ideas, particularly in the areas of ethics, natural law, metaphysics (the science of existence), and political theory.

Thomas' great work on "natural theology" was the body of knowledge about God which may be obtained by human reason alone without the aid of revelation, and hence contrasted with "revealed theology." St. Paul had been the first to write about this distinction between natural and revealed theology in his Epistle to the Romans, where he writes, "[W]hat can be known about God is evident to [those philosophers who question what is known about God], because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what He has made." (Romans 1:19-20).

St. Thomas wholeheartedly supported St. Paul's statement, and philosophically expanded St. Paul's teaching in Romans. In fact one can summarize the overall achievement of St. Thomas by saying that he developed his philosophy so that it upheld and supported divine revelation, making of revelation something that could be expressed in philosophical language. In doing this, Thomas established philosophy as a scientific exposition of Catholic theology, making it relevant to the academic and intellectual thinking of his time, while nonetheless keeping his philosophy in line with the Church's teaching on divine revelation. If one were to ask where St. Thomas's writings stood on the Scripture versus Tradition continuum, one could best say that Thomas' philosophical-theological writing incorporated Scripture into a new form of Tradition. In the Thomist Tradition, the greatest classical Greek philosophers were represented as supportive of Scripture.

The Church's Model Teacher

Thomas was long held in the Catholic Church to be the model teacher for those studying for the priesthood, and his thought as the highest expression of both natural reason and speculative theology. The study of his works, according to papal and magisterial documents, was long a core of the required program of study for those seeking ordination as priests or deacons, as well as for those in religious formation and for other students of the sacred disciplines (Catholic philosophy, theology, history, liturgy, and canon law). One of the 35 Doctors of the Church, he is considered the Church's greatest theologian and philosopher. Pope Benedict XV declared: "This (Dominican) Order ... acquired new luster when the Church declared the teaching of Thomas to be her own and that Doctor, honored with the special praises of the Pontiffs, the master and patron of Catholic schools."

His Philosophy Based on Revelation

Although Thomas was a theologian and the leading Scholastic philosopher, he never considered himself a philosopher, and criticized philosophers, whom he saw as pagans, for always "falling short of the true and proper wisdom to be found in Christian revelation." With this in mind, however, Thomas greatly respected Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), so much so that in his Summa, he often cites Aristotle simply as "the Philosopher." Despite his emphasizing divine revelation in what he wrote, his work updates philosophical topics, and in this sense may be characterized as philosophical. Thomas's philosophical thought has exerted enormous influence on subsequent Christian theology, especially that of the Catholic Church, and extending to Western secular philosophy in general.

Plato, Aristotle and Church Teaching

Prior to Thomas, Platonism, or the philosophy of Plato (428-347 B.C.), was considered by Christian thinkers as the only philosophy sufficient to serve as the basis of Christian theology. In other words, before Thomas, Plato was the Philosopher. However, shortly before Thomas began to study philosophy, European contact with the Arabic east led to the western discovery of what had been in the European Church otherwise lost portions of Aristotle. St. Thomas' philosophy received its characteristic shape under the influence of the Church's newly discovered metaphysical writings of Aristotle.

Though a student of Plato, Aristotle's philosophical position was very different than Plato's. Plato thought that all individual things in creation were based in their "Ideas." Thus, for example, Plato thought that a tree possessed reality only in the Idea of "Treeness." Plato conceived the Ideas as arranged in a hierarchy, at the head of which was the "Idea of the Good." Plato's "Good" alone had reality for him, and came close to being, but not quite arriving at, the Idea of God. Aristotle asserted that an Idea exists only as expressed in an individual object. Thus he maintained against Plato, that, so far from there being an Idea called "treeness," for example, possessing existence in its own right, it was the union of the "form" tree with "matter" which makes the real individual tree.

It is easy to see why Plato, with his supreme Idea of the Good, was the favorite philosopher of the Catholic Church when St. Thomas arrived on the scene. Aristotle's philosophy was regarded with suspicion, largely because his teachings were thought to lead to a materialistic view of the world. But St. Thomas built up his system on an avowedly Aristotelian basis, following Aristotle's incarnational, scientific lead. Thomas' upholding of Aristotle over Plato persuaded Latin philosophical theologians in the West during Thomas' time to make Aristotle the founder of a new Christian philosophy, namely the new Thomist philosophy. Thomas essentially dethroned Plato as the philosopher within Christianinty, and replaced him with Aristotle. Thomas wrote several important commentaries on Aristotle's works, including On the Soul,Ethics and Metaphysics, which placed him at odds with many traditionalist Catholic thinkers.

Thomas believed that to find the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs divine help, but that the intellect may be moved by God to its act. Following Aristotle, he believed that human beings have the natural capacity to know many things without special divine revelation, even though such revelation occurs from time to time, as Thomas put it, "especially in regard to such (truths) as pertain to faith." But faith is the light that is given to man by God according to man's nature: In his typically turgid philosophical jargon, Thomas wrote, "Every form bestowed on created things by God has power for a determined actuality. And thus the human understanding has a form, viz. intelligible light, which of itself is sufficient for knowing certain intelligible things, viz. those we can come to know through the senses."

On Virtues

In his Summa theologiae, Thomas wrote: "Virtue denotes a certain perfection of a power. Now a thing's perfection is considered chiefly in regard to its end. But the end of power is act. Wherefore power is said to be perfect, according as it is determinate to its act."

Thomas especially followed Aristotle on the latter's distinction between "potential" and "act." As an acorn exists in potential to the oak tree, when it acts, growing into the tree, it has achieved the purpose of its existence. Plato taught that existence is in the eternal, pre-existing Idea of something, and thus created things evolved from their Idea, or their pre-existing basis.

Thomas defined the four cardinal virtues as prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. The cardinal virtues are natural and revealed in nature, and they are binding on everyone. There are, however, three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. These are somewhat supernatural and are distinct from the cardinal virtues in their object, namely, God: "Now the object of the theological virtues is God Himself, Who is the last end of all, as surpassing the knowledge of our reason. On the other hand, the object of the cardinal, or intellectual and moral virtues, is something comprehensible to human reason. Wherefore the theological virtues are specifically distinct from the cardinal virtues."

On Law

Furthermore, Thomas distinguished four kinds of law: eternal, natural, human, and divine. Eternal law is the decree of God that governs all creation. Natural law is the human "participation" in the eternal law and is discovered by reason. Natural law, of course, is based on "first principles." [T]his is the first precept of the law, that good is to be done and promoted, and evil is to be avoided. All other precepts of the natural law are based on this.

The desires to live and to procreate are counted by Thomas among those basic (natural) human values on which all human values are based. According to Thomas, all human tendencies -- in their potential -- are geared in act towards real human goods. In this case, the human nature in question is marriage, the total gift of oneself to another that ensures a family for children and a future for mankind. To clarify for Christian believers, Thomas defined love as "to will the good of another." Human law is positive law: the natural law applied by governments to societies. Divine law is the specially revealed law in the Scriptures.


Thomas viewed theology, or the sacred doctrine, as a science, the raw material data of which consists of written scripture and the tradition of the Catholic Church. These sources of data were produced by the self-revelation of God to individuals and groups of people throughout history. Faith and reason, while distinct but related, are the two primary tools for processing the data of theology. Thomas believed both faith and reason were necessary for one to obtain true knowledge of God. He blended Aristotle's philosophy and Christian doctrine by suggesting that rational thinking and the study of nature, like revelation, were valid ways to understand truths pertaining to God. According to Thomas, God reveals himself through nature, so to study nature is to study God. The ultimate goals of theology, in Thomas's mind, are to use reason to grasp the truth about God and to experience salvation through that truth. Reason and Faith.

Thomas thus believed that truth is known through reason (natural revelation) and faith (supernatural revelation). Supernatural revelation has its origin in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and is made available through the teaching of the prophets, summed up in Holy Scripture, and transmitted by the Magisterium, the sum of which is called "Truth." Natural revelation is the truth available to all people through their human nature; certain truths all men can attain from correct human reasoning. For example, he felt this applied to rational ways to know the existence of God.

Though one may deduce the existence of God and his Attributes (One, Truth, Good, Power, Knowledge) through reason, certain specifics may be known only through special revelation (such as the Trinity). In Thomas's view, special revelation is equivalent to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The major theological components of Christianity, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, are revealed in the teachings of the Church and the Scriptures and may not otherwise be deduced. However, supernatural revelation (faith) and natural revelation (reason) are complementary rather than contradictory in nature, for they pertain to the same unity: truth.

On Just War

St. Augustine (see page 1) had believed that Christians should be pacifists, but that they should use defense as a means of preserving peace in the long run. For example he argued that Pacifism did not apply to the defense of innocents. In essence, the pursuit of peace must include the option of fighting to preserve it in the long-term. Such a war could not be preemptive, but had to be defensive, to restore peace. St. Thomas used the authority of Augustine's arguments in an attempt to define the conditions under which a war could be just. He laid these out in his historic work, Summa Theologica:

First, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power. Second, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.

Proving God's Existence

Thomas believed that the existence of God can be proven. In the Summa theologiae, he considered in great detail five reasons for the existence of God. These are widely known as the quinque viae, or the "Five Ways."

The Five Ways Aquinas Tried to Prove God's Existence: Thomas' five proofs for the existence of God take some of Aristotle's assertions concerning principles of being. For Thomas, God as prima causa (first cause) comes from Aristotle's concept of the unmoved mover and asserts that God is the ultimate cause of all things.

Motion: Some things are undoubtedly undergoing motion, though cannot cause their own motion. Since Thomas believed there can be no infinite chain of causes of motion, this leads to the conclusion there must be a first cause of motion that is not itself moved by anything else, and this is what everyone understands by God.

Causation: Like motion, nothing can cause itself, and like motion there must be a First Cause, called God

Existence of necessary and the unnecessary: Our experience includes things certainly existing but apparently unnecessary. Therefore, we are compelled to suppose something that exists necessarily, having this necessity only from itself; in fact itself the cause why other things exist.

Gradation: If we can notice a gradation in things in the sense that some things are more hot, good, etc., there must be a superlative which is the truest and noblest thing, and so most fully existing. This then, we call God.

Ordered tendencies of nature: A direction of actions to an end is noticed in all bodies following natural laws. Anything without awareness tends to a goal under the guidance of one who is aware. This we call God.

The Nature of God

Thomas felt the best approach, commonly called the via negativa, is to consider what God is not. This led him to propose five statements about the divine qualities:
(1) God is simple, without composition of parts, such as body and soul, or matter and form.
(2) God is perfect, lacking nothing. That is, God is distinguished from other beings on account of God's complete actuality, whereas everything created exists in potential, moving toward actuality. Thomas defined God as the "subsisting act of being."
(3) God is infinite, i.e., God is not finite in the ways that created beings are, physically, intellectually, and emotionally limited. This infinity is to be distinguished from infinity of size and infinity of number.
(4) God is immutable, i.e., incapable of change on the levels of God's essence and character.
(5) God is one, i.e., without diversification within God's self. The unity of God is such that God's essence is the same as God's existence. In Thomas's words, "in itself the proposition 'God exists' is necessarily true, for in it subject (God) and predicate (existence) are the same."

Nature of the Trinity

Thomas argued that God, while perfectly united, also is perfectly described by Three Interrelated Persons. These three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are constituted by their relations within the essence of God. The Father generates the Son (or the Word) by the relation of self-awareness. This eternal generation then produces an eternal Spirit "who enjoys the divine nature as the Love of God, the Love of the Father for the Word."

This Trinity exists independently from the world. It transcends the created world, but the Trinity also decided to give grace to human beings. This takes place through the Incarnation of the Word in the person of Jesus Christ and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within those who have experienced salvation by God.

Nature of Jesus Christ

In his Summa Theologica, Thomas begins his discussion of Jesus Christ by recounting the biblical story of Adam and Eve and by describing the negative effects of original sin. The purpose of Christ's Incarnation was to restore human nature by removing "the contamination of sin", which humans cannot do by themselves. "Divine Wisdom judged it fitting that God should become man, so that thus one and the same person would be able both to restore man and to offer satisfaction." Thomas argued in favor of the satisfaction view of atonement; that is, that Jesus Christ died "to satisfy for the whole human race, which was sentenced to die on account of sin."

Thomas argued against several specific contemporary and historical theologians who held differing views about Christ. Thomas stated that Jesus was truly divine and not simply a human being. He argued that the fullness of God was an integral part of Christ's existence. However, Thomas held that Christ had a truly human (rational) soul, as well. This produced a duality of natures in Christ. In short, "Christ had a real body of the same nature of ours, a true rational soul, and, together with these, perfect Deity." Thus, there is both unity (in his one personhood) and composition (in his two natures, human and Divine) in Christ.

Echoing St. Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373), Thomas said that "The only begotten Son of God...assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."

Treatment of Heretics

Thomas Aquinas belonged to the Dominican Order (formally Ordo Praedicatorum, the Order of Preachers) which began as an order dedicated to the conversion of the Albigensians and other heterodox factions, at first by peaceful means; later the Albigensians were dealt with by means of the Albigensian Crusade. In the Summa theologiae, Thomas wrote:

"With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but 'after the first and second admonition,' as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death."

Goal of human life

In Thomas's thought, the goal of human existence is union and eternal fellowship with God. Specifically, this goal is achieved through the beatific vision, an event in which a person experiences perfect, unending happiness by seeing the very essence of God. This vision, which occurs after death, is a gift from God given to those who have experienced salvation and redemption through Christ while living on earth.

This ultimate goal carries implications for one's present life on earth. Thomas stated that an individual's will must be ordered toward right things, such as charity, peace, and holiness. He sees this as the way to happiness. Thomas orders his treatment of the moral life around the idea of happiness. The relationship between will and goal is antecedent in nature "because rectitude of the will consists in being duly ordered to the last end [that is, the beatific vision]." Those who truly seek to understand and see God will necessarily love what God loves. Such love requires morality and bears fruit in everyday human choices.

The Afterlife

Thomas, following Church doctrine, accepts that the soul continues to exist after the death of the body. Because he accepts that the soul is the form of the body, then he also must believe that the human being, like all material things, is a form-matter composite, which is Aristotle's principle philosophy of creation. Substantial form (the human soul) configures prime matter (the physical body) and is the form by which a material composite belongs to that species it does; in the case of human beings, that species is rational animal.

Aquinas says that the soul shares in the material and spiritual worlds, and so has some features of matter and other, immaterial, features (such as access to universals). The human soul is different from other material and spiritual things; it is created by God, but also only comes into existence in the material body.

Human beings are material, but the human person can survive the death of the body through continued existence of the soul, which persists. The human soul straddles the spiritual and material worlds, and is both a configured subsistent form as well as a configurer of matter into that of a living, bodily human. Because it is spiritual, the human soul does not depend on matter and may exist separately. Because the human being is a soul-matter composite, the body has a part in what it is to be human. Perfected human nature consists in the human dual nature, embodied and intellecting.

Aquinas believes the soul persists after the death and corruption of the body, and is capable of existence, separated from the body between the time of death and the resurrection. Aquinas knows that human beings are essentially physical, but that that physicality has a spirit capable of returning to God after life. For Aquinas, the rewards and punishment of the afterlife are not only spiritual. Because of this, resurrection is an important part of his philosophy on the soul. The human is fulfilled and complete in the body, so the hereafter must take place with souls "enmattered" in resurrected bodies. In addition to spiritual reward, humans can expect to enjoy material and physical blessings. Because Aquinas’s soul requires a body for its actions, during the afterlife the soul will also be punished or rewarded in corporeal existence.
--Tony Gilles

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Love in Deed and Truth: Does God keep His word?

"Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us." JN 15:1-8

The first thought that occurred to me while reading this paragraph: "My heart does not condemn me; I have confidence in God; nevertheless, I do not receive from Him whatever I ask." Therefore, I knew I had to look closer, attempt to discern what the apostle was conveying to his readers.

Why do we "receive from Him whatever we ask"? Not because "our hearts do not condemn us," not because "we have confidence in God," but because we "do what pleases Him." How do we know we please Him? "Because we keep His commandments." What commandments? "We should believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as He commanded us," "not in word or speech, but in deed and truth." Because we "love not in word or speech but in deed and truth...we shall knew that we belong to the truth. Then, in whatever our hearts condemn, we will be reassured because of this love in deed and truth, "for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything."

Man justifies himself. I have never met the person who says, "I have an evil heart." Every man thinks that he has a good heart. This is why he says, "God knows my heart." However, God says through the Prophet, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is desperately sick: who can know it?" People think it will be good when God judges because God knows the heart." We should be fearful because God does know the heart.

However, we can be reassured when our hearts (minds) condemn us because we love our neighbor in deed and truth. We can only love in deed and truth when we "believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ." Now, the apostle does not say only "believe in His Son, Jesus Christ," but "in His name." What is this "in His name"? To keep it succinct: The Nicene Creed.

Of course, the thought occurs, "I don't know that I love in deed and truth sufficiently." This is our hearts trying to condemn us. The apostle calls his readers "children." We are not fully mature. We have to take baby steps, one foot at a time. The confessional is a place of healing--progressive healing many times. We have to grow. The confessional and the Eucharist are two Sacraments which produces much growth. The confessional is not only a placed to get sins absolved; it is a place of mercy, where Christ not only forgives but stands beside us, weeping with us, aiding us. Forgiveness by itself is little good if there is no mercy to change us into the image of the One forgiving.

"Jesus said to his disciples: 'I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples'.”
He takes away every branch in Him that does not bear fruit. Think about that. The branch is in Him; nevertheless, it is taken away, cut off, because it does not bear fruit. What fruit? "Love in deed and truth." How do we remain in Him? Because we already believe in the name of Jesus Christ, we remain by loving in deed and truth. God is love. If we are His children, born again in Baptism, we are love. This love is not for material things, for making a name for ourselves, or anything else that the "natural" person desires; this love is a desire that every person be the image of Christ, especially every Catholic. What good is the arm without the rest of the body? Do not think of yourself only! You are part of a Body! Think of the Body! "If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask for whatever you want"--which will be for the good of the entire Body--"and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

I recall reading a statement from a man. He said that he prayed for the Church but things got worse. I also recall that we were called upon to pray about the HHS mandate. It was not decided in our favor. Is God really in control? Does He keep His word that "ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you"? On the face of it, the man is right. But is he? The Catholic Church does not ask God to have an issue be determined this way or that; the Catholic Church holds the issue up to God, asking Him to do what is best for the Church. When the Church is persecuted, it is not because the Church asked God that we be persecuted; the Church does not even pray that the persecution be stopped. The Church prays that God will be merciful, standing in front of us, behind us, and beside us, giving us wisdom and strengthening us to persevere. In this way, we will see His deliverance.

God loves in deed and truth; the Catholic Church, the Body of Christ loves in deed and truth. Let us observe them and do likewise, taking baby steps in order that we do not become overwhelmed and give up. God bears fruit; the Catholic Church bears fruit. By the grace of God, we will produce fruit also--because we are baptized into Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church and are obedient.
-- Tommy Turner

Reacting to Those who Attack our Beliefs

...When the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you...You thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life... (ACTS 13:14, 43-52)

It is extremely easy to look with disdain at the Jews because of this. We must be careful. Let us put ourselves in their places. Their religious beliefs are--seemingly unto them--being attacked. How do we react when our heartfelt beliefs are attacked? We react at times, outwardly or inwardly, in a similar fashion. I have asked protestants where the Bible came from and who determined what books were to be in it. A common answer is: I don't care; I just believe. You can hear the anger. They feel their beliefs being attacked and cracking. I tell them just do the research. They say no, they will not. If we are afraid of truth, our faith is flimsy, no matter how sincere.

Now, the Jews had the prophets and the Scriptures. When Truth manifested the shortcomings in their sincere beliefs, they reacted in the expected way. They saw the weaknesses in their interpretations, in their beliefs, and could not answer. They "felt" they had truth; but, because they did not, their beliefs began crumbling. There they attacked with hatred. See the calmness of Paul and Barnabus because they knew they had Truth. Jesus, the Word of God, came to the Jews. It was necessary that He do so, in order to fulfill Scripture. Because He did not fill the expectations of the messiah the Jews were looking for, because He went against their beliefs, because He was shattering their beliefs, they reacted in hatred and crucified Him. We have the same scenario here because the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ. Once again, it was necessary that the Jews hear the word of God first, because they had the promises, the prophets, and the Scriptures. Because they reacted in hatred to Christ again--through the Catholic Church--they were thrusting God from themselves, making themselves unworthy of eternal life--Jesus Christ.

As Catholics, we have Truth. Although we may not have all the answers to attacks, we do not have to fear: We know we can get the answer because we are the Body of Christ, Truth.When people retaliate against us because they do not like the Truth, we can stay calm and pray for them. However--however, let us not disdain them. We do not want our Father to disdain us; therefore, let us not disdain others. Let us, on the other had, show mercy by praying for them.
--Tommy Turner

When I was a Protestant --Me and Jesus

When I was a protestant, one phrase I heard often was "a personal relationship with God." I think it would be more accurate to call it "a personal relationship with Jesus." It sounds good. It brings one to the mentality that: It is me and Jesus; we have a good thing going. It is mostly exclusive of others. Yes, there is evangelization and good works that often follows, but it is from an obligation, not love for neighbor. I can hear the retorts: That is not true; we believe in salvation by faith alone, works not being necessary. I used to say the same thing. "I do this out of love, not obligation; I am saved whether I do the works or not." Deep down, in my heart, in the recesses of my mind, I know good works are necessary, because it is for that purpose we are created.

It is true that we must have a personal relationship with God. God is three Persons; we are persons. To get a better understanding of the word "personal," let's look at some of the synonyms of the word: intimate, particular, secret, special, exclusive, privy, claimed, own, peculiar. It's individualistic. Here are some antonyms: common, ordinary, public, unimportant, usual, general. It does relate to an individual; nevertheless, it is not individualistic.

Jesus prayed often in private. What do you think: Was He praying for Himself, or was He praying for others, esp. the Catholic Church? One may bring up His plea in the Garden: Father, if you are willing, remove this clalice from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." Because of the word "remove," He has the chalice already in His possession: He must either keep it, or He must pass it on--to humanity. Jesus is God; therefore, His will is the same as the Father's. However, Jesus is Man, human; therefore, because His human will, which He calls His own, is inferior to Divine will and desires to shrink from its duty, He makes it submit to Divine will. He does this for us. Just as He turns death to Life, hate to Love, He here transfers our weak, imperfect will to the strong, perfect Divine will, and shows us how to do it. (cf. Catena Aurea--Gospel of St. Luke).

Let's look at the human body. Does the right hand have a personal relationship with the brain? Well, yes, in a sense; but it is not personal exclusive from the rest of the body. It's "personal" relationship is for the good of the entire body. The Me-and-Jesus mentality boils down to: I am saved, and I hopes others will be saved; but if not, so be it; I am "covered." When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ and the Catholic Church, the BODY OF CHRIST. It is the BODY OF CHRIST that will be saved, consisting of its members. We are baptized into LIFE. "The word of God grew and multiplied." This is what life does. The BODY OF CHRIST is growing. "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon Him."

"Life" is defined: the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally. Evolution is attempting to discover the origins of life. Life cannot come from inorganic; it must come from organic, from life. Life has to always exist, and Life is God.

Now, life reproduces, multiplies. When there is evil in life, it reproduces, multiplies, until it eventually kills itself. We see this in cancer cells. When there is Good in life, it reproduces, multiplies, until all of it is exceedingly Good. This is what God did by sending His Only Begotten to become Man, turning death to life, hatred to love. This is what Jesus did in giving birth to the Catholic Church, the BODY OF CHRIST, of which He is HEAD. Jesus is LIFE.

Our personal relationship with Christ, with God, is through the Catholic Church. We do everything for the benefit of the Church. We might not be the heart, stomach, intestine, arm, leg, etc.; we are, however, at minimum, a cell, doing its good works in love of Christ and His Catholic Church. When we pray, do good deeds, we are glorifying God because this is part of divine life.

Now, we are not perfect. Jesus died for all of humanity; nevertheless, He only washed the feet of His disciples. "If I do not wash you, you have not part in me...He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not all of you." This has definite reference to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are bathed in Baptism; nevertheless, our feet get dirty. The feet are used for walking, and we do not always walk as we are created to walk. Jesus washes our "feet" in the Confessional through the Catholic Church. Therefore, He commands His apostles to do likewise. The Catholic Church is the Kingdom of God. Let us live in it. Let us do good, not evil. It is LIFE. Jesus gave us Himself in the Eucharist. Let us not live for pleasure, but LIFE.

Same-sex unions cannot a marriage be because life cannot be reproduced. Sex is not the fulfillment of love; otherwise, rape would be love. Contraception has to be wrong because it defines love as pleasure. Pleasure cannot reproduce life. Divorce and remarriage cannot exist because it terminates the oneness between bride and groom, which is a manifestation of Christ and His Church. God gives us wisdom on how to choose a husband or wife. We must utilize that wisdom and stop allowing feelings to become the determining factor.

God is LIFE; the Catholic Church is LIFE because it is born of God. May we have a personal relationship with God by truly being Catholic.
--Tommy Turner