DCMission Statement

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sheen and Pacwa on Angels, the Intellect, and the Body

Although some seem to have suggested otherwise to me, the writing of Ven. Fulton Sheen can be somewhat challenging, in my opinion. In what I've read of his book Three to Get Married, there are a few cases in which he challenges the reader with material that can be fairly deep for one who does not have a solid background in certain subject matters. A case in point is the following passage in which he discusses the relationship between the mind and the body.

It is a basic principle of philosophy that there is nothing in the mind which was not previously in the senses. All our knowledge comes from the body. We have a body, St. Thomas tells us, because of the weakness of our intellect.

— Ven. Fulton Sheen, from Three to Get Married.

While it may be common sense to some that our bodies result from the weakness of our intellects, this is not exactly the most intuitive point for me. Consequently, this passage (along with the encompassing paragraph) has caused me a bit of trouble.

Much to my delight, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. - who, on his program Threshold of Hope, is currently working through the encyclical of Pope St. John Paul II entitled Fides et Ratio - recently had an individual call in to ask about a topic related to the above passage. Although the question does not deal directly with the point regarding the weakness of the intellect being the cause of the body, Fr. Pacwa offers, in his usual way, a clear response to a closely related question with a practical example which most will find accessible. The question and answer can be found in the video below from 39:40-42:26.

Caller: "...on page 290 in the Magnificat, it says that the Devil is God's creature - the very first line. Why don't we pray for the conversion of the Devil like we do for the conversion of Russia and other sinners and people that commit violence?"

Great question, Amy, and what you are dealing with here is the difference between the nature of an angel and the nature of human beings. Let me give you a couple of ways to look at it. First of all, let's take a look at human beings. We are spirit and body, right? Now, have any of you here in the audience ever tried to lose a little weight? All right, I did too. So, as a result, [did] you say, "Ok, I'm going to lose some weight, so I'll stop eating all the bad stuff." Did that work? Not for me! You know, when I see a homemade apple pie, or something like that, I say, "Oh, this can't be that fattening!" And so here's the thing, because we have a body with its different desires as well as a mind and spirit, we can say in our mind, "This is what I want to do," but my body says, "Apple pie! ... With a lard crust!" (Cause those are the good ones.) So we can go back and forth. Angels, on the other hand, don't have bodies that contradict what's in their spirit. They are pure spirit. And when an angel makes a decision, it is permanent. So, you and I, as human beings, are compared in the Bible to clay, and we keep getting molded throughout life. Angels are like fast-setting concrete. They make a decision - boom, that's it. They can't change. That's why we don't pray for the evil angels to change, and that's also why the good angels cannot go back and start over and say, "Maybe I'd like to try being evil." They make their decision, it's permanent. That's the nature of being pure spirit versus body and soul.

— Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., from Threshold of Hope, 22 July 2014.

August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration (both calendars). The Collect for today is discussed on a post at Fr. Z's blog.

O God, who in the glorious Transfiguration
of your Only Begotten Son
confirmed the mysteries of faith by the witness of the Fathers
and wonderfully prefigured our full adoption to sonship,
grant, we pray, to your servants,
that, listening to the voice of your beloved Son,
we may merit to become co-heirs with him.

— Collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Problem of Reconciling Evil as Nothingness and Being in Hell: Fr. John Hardon Answers (Quaerimus IV)

"...seek and you will find..."

— Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9.

An ongoing search has been underway since last October when I posed the question dealing with the notion of evil as nothingness - famously proposed by St. Augustine - and the problem to which this leads given that Hell and the beings in it exist. I posted the original question here and offered some thoughts on a reader's response here. In listening to a series of talks by Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., I have been fortunate enough to come across a lecture in which he addresses this question explicitly, referencing Sacred Scripture as well as teachings from the Church's Sacred Tradition in his response.

He begins with an enumeration of the three senses in which God is omnipresent found in Church teachings:

Before we go into the closer meaning of God's omnipresence, I think we should know something about the world in which God, as we say, is omnipresent. The first way that God is present is called "natural." By the very nature, whatever exists, exists only because God is present to that creature sustaining it in its existence. It is also called "ominipresence." This is called God's "universal presence." In all creatures - both rational and irrational - in Heaven, on Earth, in the center regions, is God - even present in Hell. We must say "yes." If that's the fundamental way in which God is present, we ask, is God also present in a supernatural way? Yes. More properly called, "the divine indwelling." The way that God is present in the souls of those who are in the state of grace. Oh, what a difference between God being present in every creature and God's unique presence in those who possess His grace. Finally as our Faith tells us, God is also present in what we call His "Real Presence," where God is present, not only as God, but as the God who became man. In His Real Presence, God is present, as we say, "corporeally." He is present in the Holy Eucharist for all eternity...

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from Our Spiritual Life – Men’s Retreat, Lecture 23: Omnipresence of God, 1978-9. (Emphasis added.)

The next writings he cites on the topic come from the Old Testament, namely Psalms 139 and Jeremiah 23:24:

What is the revelation of God on His omnipresence? Both Sacred Scripture and what we call "Sacred Tradition": they are filled with professions of faith in God's omnipresence. Just to read one short passage from one of the Psalms: "Where shall I go before your spirit?" the psalmist prays to the Lord. "Where can I flee before your face? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there. If I descend into Hell, you are there. If I take my wings and fly to the outermost parts of the sea..." even there, you, my Lord, are there. You are everywhere. You are always near me with your omnipresence. Then, the Lord says to the prophet Jeremiah, "Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" The answer is, God fills every creature that exists. Unless God were present, nothing else would be there.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from Our Spiritual Life – Men’s Retreat, Lecture 23: Omnipresence of God, 1978-9. (Emphasis added.)

Finally, I think that the post would not be complete without a quotation giving what Fr. Hardon refers to as "the most detailed profession of faith in God's omnipresence from the Scriptures," found in Acts 27:

St. Paul is speaking to the pagan Greeks of Athens. He tells them that the God who created the world is everywhere. This gave St. Paul the occasion for explaining that this "unknown God" - as the pagan Greeks called Him - this "unknown God" is not far from any human being. In fact, unless God were present, there would not be a human being. Says Paul, "In him we live, and move, and have our being." (Acts chapter 17, verses 27 and 28.) Now we ask, how is God present everywhere? Given the revealed fact that God is omnipresent everywhere, the Church has, over the centuries, gone on to explain...

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from Our Spiritual Life – Men’s Retreat, Lecture 23: Omnipresence of God, 1978-9.

Servant of God Fr. John Hardon (†2000), pray for us.

On the traditional calendar, today is the feast of St. Basil the Great (†379), bishop and Doctor of the Church.

Sancte Basili Magne, ora pro nobis.