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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.


Lydia S said...

Nice post, Patrick!

St. Thomas Aquinas's writings are difficult for me to understand (as is Sheen at times), but I was looking at the Summa and came across this: "The body is necessary for the action of the intellect, not as its origin of action, but on the part of the object; for the phantasm is to the intellect what color is to the sight. Neither does such a dependence on the body prove the intellect to be non-subsistent; otherwise it would follow that an animal is non-subsistent, since it requires external objects of the senses in order to perform its act of perception."

I also read a quote from St. John Damascene the other day that is related to the discussion of angels: "An Angel is an intellectual substance, endowed with liberty. Every being that is endowed with reason is also endowed with free will. Consequently an Angel, being a nature endowed with reason and intelligence, is also equipped with freedom of choice. Being a creature, he is mutable, because he is free either to persevere in what is good, or to turn to what is bad."

Patrick L. said...

Thank you for reading and for the response.

I looked up the section (Ia.75.a2) to see the context of the statement from Thomas. He uses some language in that section that makes it difficult (e.g. "subsistent," "determinate," "substance") for me to understand what he is saying, but it appears that if I understood the verbiage, this section might help me in understanding the point Sheen mentioned about the body.

Ia.q55.q3 has material that also appears relevant:

"For this reason are some things of a more exalted nature, because they are nearer to and more like unto the first, which is God. Now in God the whole plenitude of intellectual knowledge is contained in one thing, that is to say, in the Divine essence, by which God knows all things. This plenitude of knowledge is found in created intellects in a lower manner, and less simply. Consequently it is necessary for the lower intelligences to know by many forms what God knows by one, and by so many forms the more according as the intellect is lower."

There is more relevant material in that section: link.

The last sentence from St. John Damascene confuses me a little, because it appears that by saying that angels can either "persevere in what is good or turn to what is bad," it seems that he is saying that angels are free to do exactly what Fr. Pacwa said that they are not free to do.

One possibility, I guess, is that the insight into angels explained by Fr. Pacwa may not have been gained until after the time of St. John Damascene (†749). Perhaps it was not even understood until Thomas came along (†1274). I realize that another possibility is that I may be misunderstanding what St. John Damascene is saying.

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