Archive for the ‘Sacraments’ Category


Augustine on the Appetites 4 – G. Meilaender

July 12, 2013
What Augustine did see, and what his emphasis on procreation might remind us also to see, is that sexuality is more than a personally fulfilling undertaking intended to make us happy and give us pleasure. Of course, the unitive good of marriage is not properly understood when thought of in so self-serving a way, but perhaps it lends itself readily to such distortion. The notion that sexuality is a profound but very private and personal form of play is quite strong in our culture - and that "necessity" becomes sweet to us. By contrast, Augustine saw in the exercise of our sexuality a task -- of begetting and rearing children -- that God sets before human beings. If in correcting or supplementing his views we lose or ignore that insight, we may ourselves turn out to need correction.

What Augustine did see, and what his emphasis on procreation might remind us also to see, is that sexuality is more than a personally fulfilling undertaking intended to make us happy and give us pleasure. Of course, the unitive good of marriage is not properly understood when thought of in so self-serving a way, but perhaps it lends itself readily to such distortion. The notion that sexuality is a profound but very private and personal form of play is quite strong in our culture – and that “necessity” becomes sweet to us. By contrast, Augustine saw in the exercise of our sexuality a task — of begetting and rearing children — that God sets before human beings. If in correcting or supplementing his views we lose or ignore that insight, we may ourselves turn out to need correction.

Saint Augustine formulated the classic Christian understanding of desire, that “our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” Gilbert Meilaender maintains that this frustrated desire lies at the heart of our existence. In The Way That Leads There he takes Augustine as a “conversation partner” for exploring subjects that human beings have wrestled with for centuries — desire, duty, politics, sex, and grief. Meilaender’s carefully reasoned insightful work rescues Augustine from many of our misperceptions and interacts meaningfully with both C. S. Lewis and Catholic moral theology, generating insights on difficult topics. The picture of life that emerges in these pages is one of incompleteness, of our inability to perfect and unify our moral lives. Yet this inability is not a cause for despair; it is rather a call to look, with Augustine, to God as the source and object of our greatest desire.


The final part of Meilaender’s exposition of Augustinian thought on the appetites combines the observations on food and sex:

Food and Sex
When thinking with Augustine about the pleasures and dangers of food, we found it necessary in the end to move toward a richer and deeper understanding than his of the good of eating as a human activity. We must do the same in the case of sex. Indeed, Roman Catholic thought itself — though its condemnation of contraceptive intercourse had roots in the Augustinian contention that the pleasure of sex and the good of offspring are not to be separated — has not been able to rest entirely content with his analysis.

Having thought with Augustine about the place of food and of sex in human life, we need to bring these together and see what can be learned from the one for the other. Even in Augustine’s day the monk Jovinian, who was condemned (whether rightly or wrongly has been disputed) for teaching that virginity and marriage were equally worthy states of life, extended his critique to the use of food, teaching that “[t]here is no difference between abstinence from food and receiving it with thanksgiving.” [David G. Hunter, "Resistance to the Virginal Ideal in Late-FourthCentury Rome: The Case of Jovinian," Theological Studies 48 (March 1987):] And, of course, Augustine’s experience as a Manichee would have suggested an ascetic practice that connected abstinence from sex with abstinence from food. [Hunter, p. 53] Insight gained in the one case (food) may help in the other (sex).

In his instructive assessment of Augustine’s understanding of human sexuality in the history of redemption, Paul Ramsey suggested that Augustine had “the problem of saying why only one tumult of the soul — that which springs from fallen sexuality — causes shame.” [Ramsey, p. 63] Ramsey was of course right to note that Augustine placed great argumentative emphasis on man’s inability to control his generative organ and the shame that inability created. Nevertheless, the kind of description Augustine gives of sin’s effect on sexuality is not unlike language he uses in other contexts. For example, he sees in the unruliness of the sexual organ an apt punishment for man’s disobedience to God. In City of God (16.4) he uses similar language to describe the scattering of the peoples at the Tower of Babel:

“Since a ruler’s power of domination is wielded by his tongue, it was in that organ that his pride was condemned to punishment. And the consequence was that he who refused to understand God’s bidding so as to obey it, was himself not understood when he gave orders to men.” Closer still to my concern, when Augustine speaks of the need to discipline the body by fasting, he says: “Your flesh is below you; above you is your God. When you wish your flesh to serve you, you are reminded of how it is fitting for you to serve your God.”
[Augustine, The Usefulness of Fasting, in Saint Augustine: Treatises on Various Subjects, Fathers of the Church, vol. 16 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1952), p. 4.]

Other desires — in particular, our desire for food — are, like sex, necessities that may in our bondage to sin become sweet to us. To consider together these two necessities, sex and food, offers an occasion to do for sex what we did for food — namely, to find in if another good beyond the obvious biological one.

I suggested above that Augustine’s analysis of our desire for food was incomplete in an important way. Eating serves, in his view, only one good: nourishment of life and health. Any legitimate pleasure we have in eating may not therefore be separated from and pursued apart from that good. We should eat only to sustain life.

What Augustine missed, I suggested, was another good that eating serves — the human conversation and community that a shared meal constitutes. Perhaps we should wonder whether something similar is not missing from his analysis of sexual desire. He supposed that in paradise the bond joining Adam and Eve would have been essentially a bond of concord or friendship. “Their married intercourse, had it occurred, would have been [merely and no more than] a physical concretization of their pre-existing concord.”

Hence, he “never found away… of articulating the possibility that sexual pleasure might, in itself, enrich the relations between husband and wife.” [Brown, p. 402] Desire for coitus may be put in service of the good of procreation, and we should affirm Augustine’s belief — shared generally by Christians — that such procreation is an important good or purpose of sexual union.

But sexual desire also embodies, nurtures, and enriches the good of carnal conversation and community — the complete sharing of life — between husband and wife. To seek such community, therefore, even when children are not planned, wanted, or desired, is not mere grasping for a repeated pleasure separated from the good of marriage. On the contrary, it is one of the goods of marriage. Thus, contraceptive intercourse for the expression and enjoyment of such community cannot separate the pleasure from the good of marriage; for it is one of the goods of marriage.

This brings us, of course, to where Catholic thought itself has in recent years come — to speaking of two goods, procreative and unitive, that marriage serves. For Augustine there was (in paradise) one good of marriage, and the pleasure of the sexual act was not to be separated from that good. Other goods of marriage (fidelity and sacrament) come into the picture only within a fallen world, and they do not alter the basic structure of his thought.

To suggest, as I now have, that we should think of sexual union within marriage as itself one of the goods of marriage (rather than simply as a pleasure that must be enjoyed only as part of an act aimed at procreation) is to speak of both a procreative and a unitive good of marriage. So the question we found in Augustine must be reformulated. We now have to ask not about the relation between the pleasure of coitus and the good of offspring, but rather about the relation between two goods: children and fleshly communion.

Might contraceptive intercourse wrongly separate not a pleasure from a good but the good of procreation from the good of communion in love between spouses? The claim that these two goods must be “inseparable” in the sexual act is essentially the claim that contraceptive intercourse makes impossible the full communion in love that the act of coitus between husband and wife intends.

When pondering this claim, we should not forget what we learned from thinking about the goods of eating. A meal is both medicine for the body and the expression of human community. In any proposed separation of these goods we must simply try to see whether the resulting moral reality involves distortion or harm. To express marital communion in the sexual act while using contraceptives is not unlike sharing in a festive meal when one is not hungry and eats little.

Precisely in order to share fully in the good of community on that occasion one does not do what one does on the occasion of some other meals. Although the species-sustaining, biological purpose of food is not served by such eating, neither of the goods of eating seems distorted by doing so.

Thus, thinking along with Augustine, we move beyond and in some respects “correct” his understanding of the place of both food and sex in human life. We may share in a meal not to sustain life or health but simply as an embodiment of human community — a kind of “ecstatic” experience in which we set to the side our aim of self-preservation and simply enter into the fellowship the meal constitutes.

The good not served in such participation in the meal is not the only good of eating, and one might well eat even when nourishment is not at all needed. Likewise, husband and wife may share in the act of love not to produce a child but simply as the most intimate incarnation of their mutual self-giving — a kind of ecstatic experience in which they set aside their procreative potential and simply share the fellowship their bodily union constitutes.

The good not served in their coitus is not the only good the sexual act serves, and they might well make love even when they neither need nor desire children. To be sure, deliberately avoiding children indefinitely could be expected to have a subtle but deformative effect on the character of their love. Were this to happen, then, clearly the several goods of marriage would have been separated too greatly.

The implications of such a correction of Augustine’s understanding go far beyond a consideration of contraception alone. Indeed, correcting Augustine in this way is necessary if we are to make sense of the deepest reasons for concern about new reproductive technologies — a concern clearly reflected in Catholic teaching. When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published Donum Vitae, central to its rejection of laboratory fertilization was the belief that the child must be understood as gift, not product — equal in dignity to his parents:

“[T]he origin of a human person is the result of an act of giving. The one conceived must be the fruit of his parents’ love. He cannot be desired or conceived as the product of an intervention of medical or biological techniques.”
[Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin, and on the Dignity of Procreation (Boston: St. Paul Books and Media, 1987), p. 28.]

It is not unusual to see a link between this reasoning, which condemns assisted reproduction, and the reasoning that disapproves of contraception. Certainly the Congregation thought it saw a connection. “Contraception deliberately deprives the conjugal act of its openness to procreation and in this way brings about a voluntary dissociation of the ends of marriage. Homologous artificial fertilization, in seeking a procreation which is not the fruit of a specific act of conjugal union, objectively effects an analogous separation.” [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, p. 27] More colloquially put, contraception makes possible sex without babies; assisted reproduction makes possible babies without sex. In either case the goods of marriage are separated.

But are the moral realities reflected in these two separations really so similar? Kim Power has claimed that “Augustine implicitly legitimated a split between love and sex which facilitates the depersonalisation of sexual intercourse. ” [Power, p. 161] This does not, I think, put the matter quite rightly, but she has pointed to a serious problem.

Augustine’s mistake, as Paul Ramsey noted with characteristic insight, was not that he depersonalized sexual intercourse; it was that he could think of personal presence in only one way. He thought of the person as present in coitus only if the act was undertaken at the command of the rational will (for, presumably, the purpose of procreation). [Ramsey, pp. 60, 62, 65]

Thus, rightly ordered sexual intercourse would not be depersonalized, but the person present in it would be characterized not in terms of passion but in terms only of reason and will. Even in paradise, says Augustine, “the man would have sowed the seed and the woman would have conceived the child when their sexual organs had been aroused by the will, at the appropriate time and in the necessary degree.” [City of God 14.24]

Hence, by his own lights and in terms of his own understanding of the human person, Augustine did not depersonalize sexual activity. Nevertheless, by driving a wedge between the desire to give oneself lovingly and passionately in the sexual act and the (rationally willed) purpose of producing a child, he invites us to think of the child as a product. Adam and Eve would, rationally and deliberately, have set to work to produce children as needed, and they would not have consummated their sexual union for any other reason.

This is precisely the separation of babies from sexual love, the understanding of the child as product, that new reproductive technologies express. It is just such a separation — what Power calls the “split between love and sex” — that makes many of the new reproductive technologies seem quite reasonable to their advocates. And the case against such forms of reproduction will depend, finally, on a view of personal presence in coitus that Augustine — acknowledging only the good of procreation and not also the good of communion in the sexual act — was unable to develop.

But once, unlike Augustine, we acknowledge both procreative and unitive goods in marriage, we are freed to consider the relation — and the separation — of these goods in new ways. Thinking along with Augustine, of the desire for sex as rather like the desire for food, we were able earlier to see why contraception does not necessarily distort or deform the meaning of our sexuality. The separation effected by new reproductive technologies is a different moral reality, however, and we will see what is problematic about it most clearly when we correct Augustine’s vision of coitus as nothing more than a rational activity aimed at offspring.

The act of love is not simply a rational, willed undertaking. Of course, a man and a woman might decide to make love. They might choose to do it for certain reasons — for example, because they hope for a child. But in the act itself, passion, not reason or will, is central. We speak of lovers experiencing “ecstasy” — a word that describes a going out of oneself, a relinquishing of control, a setting aside of one’s projects and purposes.

Even if spouses make love because they want a child, the act itself requires a letting go of such plans and projects in mutual self-giving. We might even say then, as Ramsey did in his discussion of Augustine, that “bodily powers and precisely the spontaneous and rationally insubordinate movements of sexuality are, for the purpose of accessibility or presence to another being in this world, superior to the means the soul has for the deliberate communication of itself to the other.” [Ramsey, p. 65]

Thus, married intercourse is not merely the concretization of an already existing concord, which concretization might then also be put in service of the production of children. On the contrary, it is a mode of presence to the spouse unlike any other.

From this act, in the doing of which lovers have set aside all plans and projects, a child may result. That child — begotten, not made — springs from their embrace but is not the product of a purposive act. Such a child may properly be thought of as a gift. Love-giving has been life-giving, not because the lovers willed it, but because God has so blessed it. In this instance, unlike the instance of contraception, the moral reality — our understanding of the relation of parents and child — does seem to be distorted if we separate unitive and procreative goods; the presence of the child then results from our will and choice. By contrast, the child is a gift precisely because he or she results from an act and embrace in which we set aside our intentions and purposes, in which we step out of ourselves and cease attempting to be productive.

We can begin to see this only as we think our way into Augustine’s view and beyond it, recognizing that the act of love need not be sought or desired for any reason other than the communion it expresses and embodies. “Producing” a child in other ways seems to distort the moral meaning of the child; it removes the procreative good of marriage from the context in which it is personalized and humanized (and is rather like taking in nourishment entirely apart from the fellowship of the meal).

By contrast, within a marriage that is genuinely open to children, embodying the communion of marital love in contraceptive intercourse (rather like sharing in a festive meal while actually eating little and taking in little nourishment) does not in and of itself depersonalize or dehumanize either that act or the child who may be given through it.

All this said, however, we should not fail to give Augustine his due. What he did see, and what his emphasis on procreation might remind us also to see, is that sexuality is more than a personally fulfilling undertaking intended to make us happy and give us pleasure. Of course, the unitive good of marriage is not properly understood when thought of in so self-serving a way, but perhaps it lends itself readily to such distortion. The notion that sexuality is a profound but very private and personal form of play is quite strong in our culture – and that “necessity” becomes sweet to us. By contrast, Augustine saw in the exercise of our sexuality a task — of begetting and rearing children — that God sets before human beings. If in correcting or supplementing his views we lose or ignore that insight, we may ourselves turn out to need correction.


Marriage and the Just State — George Weigel

October 9, 2012

This engraving accompanies the astrological chart for Benjamin Brownsell, married 29th November 1784. A man and a woman face one another and clasp hands, as they stand between two pillars. Two naked cherubs (a boy and a girl) are about to place laurel wreaths on them, symbols of victory for the bride and groom. The two children are the zodiacal symbol for Gemini, the twins; they have stepped out of the ring of the zodiac, and other signs are visible to each side. Between and in front of the couple another cherub is ready to lift a garland to the woman. In the foreground, musical instruments, including a harp, a trumpet and a violin; baskets of roses; urns of incense; above the pillars a domed roof culminating in a fruit basket, and two doves embracing. The temple bears symbols of the heart pierced by arrows. All very symbolic. There is a caption: “Marriage is Honorable in all.”                        Hebrews, Chapter 13. Verse 4

Back in the day, altar boys loved to serve weddings because it involved ready cash: minimally, $5 (which in those days meant something), often a ten-spot.  Once in a great while an exceptionally generous best man would slip each server an envelope with $25 — a small fortune to a boy in the early 1960s.

Serving weddings should have enlarged more than the youthful exchequer, however. For wedding servers were exposed, time and again, to the prescribed “exhortation” the priest read to the couple before they pronounced their vows. That exhortation is worth recalling, now that the very idea of “marriage” is being contested on four state ballots, and in the national election, on Nov. 6:

“My dear friends: You are about to enter upon a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred, because established by God himself. By it, he gave to man a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the continuation of the human race. And in this way he sanctified human love and enabled man and woman to help each other live as children of God, by sharing a common life under his fatherly care.

“Because God himself is thus its author, marriage is of its very nature a holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and unreserved giving of self. But Christ our Lord added to the holiness of marriage an even deeper meaning and a higher beauty. He referred to the love of marriage to describe his own love for his Church, that is, for the people of God whom he redeemed by his own blood. …

It is for this reason that his apostle, St. Paul, clearly states that marriage is now and for all time to be considered a great mystery, intimately bound up with the supernatural union of Christ and the Church, which union is also to be its pattern.

“No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. …”

It’s impossible to imagine a Catholic priest pronouncing those words at a gay “wedding.” And that impossibility illustrates several Catholic theological objections to the notion that same-sex couples can “marry.” “Gay marriage” is opposed to the divine order built into creation and to the Gospel: for “gay marriage,” by its very nature, cannot be a fruitful one-flesh union, and “gay marriage,” which by definition involves grave sin, cannot be an image of Christ’s spousal love for the Church. Thus Catholics who support “gay marriage” are deeply confused about both Word and Sacrament, the twin pillars of Catholic life.

In public policy terms, the Catholic critique of “gay marriage” reflects the Catholic idea of the just state. Rightly understood, marriage is one of those social institutions that exist “prior” to the state: prior in terms of time (marriage existed before the state), and prior in terms of the deep truths embedded in the human condition. A just state thus recognizes the givenness of marriage and seeks to protect and nurture this basic social institution.

By contrast, a state that asserts the authority to redefine “marriage” has stepped beyond the boundaries of its competence. And if that boundary-crossing is set in constitutional or legal concrete, it opens up a Pandora’s box of undesirable results. For if the state can decree that two men or two women can make a “marriage,” why not one man and two women? Two women and two men? These are not paranoid fantasies; the case for polyandry and polygamy is now being mounted in prestigious law journals.

And if the state can define “marriage” by diktat, why not other basic human relationships, like the parent-child relationship, the doctor-patient relationship, the lawyer-client relationship, or the priest-penitent relationship? There is no principled reason why not.  Thus “gay marriage” is another expression of that soft totalitarianism that Benedict XVI aptly calls the “dictatorship of relativism.”

Conscientious voters will keep this — and the Democratic Party platform’s endorsement of “gay marriage” — in mind on Nov. 6.

A short addendum here:

A Light Unto My Path — Father Robert Barron
G.K. Chesterton observed that secular society regularly complains about the Church’s imposition of laws and regulations, especially in the arena of sex. What was true in Chesterton’s time is even truer today: contemporary secularism criticizes the Church as finger-wagging in matters sexual. Whereas the non-religious world says, “Do what you want,” the Christian world says, “No!”

Chesterton turned this conventional wisdom on its head. When two young people fall in love, they don’t say things like, “I’m rather fond of you” or “I’ll stay with you as long as things work out.” They become poets and make the most extravagant statements: “I will give my very life for you!” and “You are everything to me; I will never love another the way I love you.” Young lovers would want those sentiments written across the sky for all the world to see.

In insisting on the indissolubility of marriage, he concluded, the Church wasn’t imposing a burden; it was ratifying the natural exuberance and intensity of true love. In the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus teaches, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” The natural intensity of love is strengthened and elevated through association with the supernatural love of God. If without reference to God, young lovers naturally pledge their undying fidelity to one another, how much more when they realize that their love is ordained by God and ordered to his purposes.

The indissolubility of marriage is a liberating law of both nature and grace.


The Sacrament of Penance

September 19, 2012

In 1985 the German Bishops’ Conference published an adult catechesis based on the Great Confession of Faith, the Nicene Creed. The editorial committee featured Walter Kasper and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. The following topic was part of its presentation:

Personal Penance
Through baptism and confirmation we become a new creation. Through the Eucharist we are united in the most intimate way to Jesus Christ and to one another. Nevertheless, we often experience in painful ways that we fall short in our following of Jesus Christ, that we even place ourselves in contradiction with what we as Christians should be and do according to God’s will. Instead of letting ourselves be led by the Spirit of Christ, we often follow the “spirit of this world”. Yet God’s mercy is greater than all sin and guilt. He offers even those who have fallen into serious sin after baptism another possibility for a change of life and for grace. This is the sacrament of penance. The Church Fathers often speak of it as a second, toilsome baptism, a second plank of salvation after the shipwreck of sin.

The attitude toward the sacrament of penance is now in a deep crisis. There are many causes for this, including many misunderstandings and many unhappy experiences at confession. Above all, though, many today have difficulties in recognizing their own failure as guilt before God, as sin. Many do not even speak of personal sin any more. Too often we look for guilt and failure, if we do so at all, only in “the others”, in our opponents, in the past, in nature, in our disposition, in the environment, or in circumstances. But when man no longer acknowledges his responsibility for himself and for his deeds, humanity itself is in danger.

This situation is all the more alarming because Jesus’ call to conversion is at the center of his message about the coming Kingdom of God. According to Mark, the call to repentance belongs to Jesus’ fundamental proclamation: “Reform your lives and believe in the gospel!” (Mark 1:15). Conversion and penance must be part of every Christian life. “Unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 18:3). According to Jesus, all need this conversion, even the just who think they do not need it. “If we say, `We are free of the guilt of sin’, we deceive ourselves; the truth is not to be found in us” (1 John 1:8).

When Jesus speaks of a conversion, he is thinking chiefly — and in the Old Testament tradition of prophecy — not of external works, such as penance in sackcloth and ashes with fastings, mortifications, weepings, and lamentings, nor is he thinking only of inner self-examination, reflection, and a change of opinions. All these can be meaningful forms for expressing a conversion. But Jesus tells us that we should not make a show of our fasting through a somber face and a gloomy appearance (Matthew 6:16).

What is decisive in a conversion happens in a man’s heart, in the center and the depths of his person.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord, your God
(Joel 2:12-13).

This conversion must take effect in doing good and in the concrete fulfillment of God’s will, especially the demands of justice and love. There is no returning to God without returning to one’s brothers and sisters. So the prophet exhorts us:

Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow
(Isaiah 1:16-17).

For Jesus, just as for the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist, penance is essential in a real conversion. It is man’s fundamental change of direction, a turning away from evil and turning toward God. In this conversion, man must renounce the deceptive idols with which he thought to secure and fulfill his existence; he must seek the support and substance of his life in God alone. Conversion and faith are two sides of one and the same thing.

Of course, even the prophets encountered the dullness and hardness of man’s heart. Any conversion requires that God bestow a new heart on man (Jeremiah 24:7; 31:33). Conversion is not our work or our achievement. It is God’s gift. It is the grace of being allowed to begin anew. God must first turn to man in gracious mercy before man can turn toward God. Our conversion does not mean bringing God around and conciliating him. On the contrary, it is always a response to God’s preceding reconciliation. The definitive act of reconciliation happened when Jesus shed his blood “on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). In Jesus Christ, in his cross and Resurrection, God has reconciled the world with himself once for all (2 Corinthians 5:18 — 19), establishing peace through the blood of Christ (Colossians 1:20).

Such a conversion happens fundamentally in baptism, which is the sacrament of changed life and of the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Baptism means a renunciation of evil and a turning toward the salvation that God bestows on us through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. So baptism bestows on us once for all the new life in Christ, which must lead to our resisting sin and living for God (Romans 6:6-14). Conversion or, as we also say, penance is thus a constant task; it characterizes the whole life of the baptized Christian.

Of course, the Church early recognized that even the baptized succumb to temptation and fall away. She also knew, of course, that God is rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4), bestowing the possibility of a new conversion on any sinner who is ready to change. St. Ambrose says that in the Church there are “water and tears: the water of baptism and the tears of penance”. Since the Church as a whole is “at once holy and in need of purification, [she] follows constantly the path of penance renewal” (LG 8).

The daily penance of Christians takes many forms. Holy Scripture and the Fathers emphasize three of them: fasting, praying, and giving (Tobit12:8; Matthew 6:1-18). They also name reconciliation with one’s neighbor, tears of penance, concern for the salvation of one’s neighbor, intercession of the saints, and love. The living Tradition of the Church has added the reading of Holy Scripture and the praying of the Our Father. There are also other faith-inspired ways for carrying out a change in one’s daily life — for example, change of attitude, common discussion about guilt and sin, gestures of reconciliation, brotherly confession, and brotherly confession.

Even certain forms of leading a spiritual life, such as the examination of conscience, the monastic “chapter of faults”, and discussion with a spiritual director, are forms of expression of penance. Nor should we forget the ethical consequences of a new orientation in life: change of one’s lifestyle, asceticism and manifold renunciation, works of charity, and works of mercy, atonement, and reparation.

All these forms of everyday penance must come together in the common celebration of the Eucharist. It is the “sacrifice which has made our peace with you” (Third Eucharistic Prayer), since it is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ offered once for all. Assisting at Mass and especially receiving communion bestow forgiveness for everyday sin and preserve us from serious sins (DS 1638; NR 570). We are reminded of this by the fact that the celebration of the Eucharist begins with an act of penance. There are also other liturgical forms for the forgiveness of sins. Examples are the penance service, reflection and prayer, intercession the Church’s liturgy of the hours, and reading and meditation on Scripture

The penitential seasons and penitential days of the Church (Advent, Lent, Fridays) are special focal points of the Church’s penitential practice (SC 109-10). These times are particularly suited for spiritual exercises, days of recollection, penitential liturgies, fasting, and charitable deeds.

All the forms of penance enable the sinner to let himself be formed anew by the Spirit of Jesus Christ and to express this Spirit both in a personal penitential attitude and in works of penance. Every form of Christian penance must be moved at least incipiently by faith, hope, and love. So they all share a basic structure. Its elements are insight into one’s guilt, contrition for the deed committed or omitted, confession of guilt, willingness to change one’s life (including making reparation of damages), asking for forgiveness, receiving the gift of reconciliation, thanks for the forgiveness imparted, and living a life of new obedience. We travel the road of penance not as individuals, but in community with all members of the Church. This ecclesial dimension is best expressed in the sacrament of penance, where personal penance is sacramentally concentrated.

Sacramental Penance
The Gospels tell us that Jesus forgave individuals their sins: “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5; Luke 7:48). He also gave this authority “to men” (Matthew 9:8). The Church as a whole is to be a sign and an instrument of reconciliation. But this authority is given in a special way to the apostolic office which has been entrusted with the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). The apostle has been sent as an ambassador “for Christ, God as it were appealing through us. We implore you … be reconciled to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20). The Church traces the authority to forgive sins granted to the ecclesiastical office back to the Risen Lord himself:

“Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive men’s sins,
they are forgiven them;
if you hold them bound,
they are held bound”
John 20:22-23.

With Jesus himself, the forgiveness of sins always had a communal aspect also. Jesus reconciles sinners to God by taking them up into the meal fellowship with himself and with one another. The sinner isolates himself from God and from his brothers; through his sin, the community of God’s people is disrupted and his own life in holiness is injured.

That is why the sinner is excluded from full communion with the Church (1Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 7:10-13). He can no longer partake fully of the Eucharist, the sacrament of unity and of love. In penance, the person changing his life must travel again along the way by which reconciliation first came to him. He must reconcile himself with his brothers in order to attain a new communion with God. Conversely, through the forgiveness of God, we are, “at the same time, reconciled with the Church”, whom we have wounded by our sins and who cooperates with our conversion through love, example, and prayer (LG 11).

The communal structure and ecclesial dimension of penance is best expressed in Jesus’ words to Peter: I will entrust to you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). These words hold for the Church as a whole (Matthew 18: 18). The words “binding and loosing; mean that whoever is excluded (to bind is to banish) from the community is also excluded from communion with God. Whoever is taken up into the community again (the banishment is removed, “loosed”) is also taken up by God into communion with him. Renewed reconciliation with the Church is the way to reconciliation with God, This was well expressed in the public penance of the ancient Church. So too the formula of sacramental absolution that has been obligatory since 1975 says, “Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace.”

In its details, the sacrament of penance has had a long, complicated, and varied history. But the basic structure of this sacrament has always been twofold. Penance consists, on the one hand, of the acts of a changed life made possible by grace: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. On the other hand, it consists of the action of the Church. The ecclesiastical community under the leadership of the bishop and of the priests offers forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ, laying down the necessary forms of satisfaction, praying for the sinner, and doing penance on his behalf, in order finally to impart to him full ecclesial communion and the forgiveness of his sins. The sacrament of penance is at once a thoroughly personal, individual act and an ecclesial, liturgical celebration.

So the Council of Trent teaches that the actions of the penitent in contrition,. confession, and satisfaction are “as it were, the matter of this sacrament,” while priestly absolution is its form (DS 1673; NR 647-48). The fruit of this sacrament is reconciliation with God and with the Church. It is often connected with peace and joy of conscience and with great consolation (DS 1674-75; NR 649).

We must still describe the individual elements of the sacrament of penance more exactly. For the penitent, contrition occupies the first place. Contrition is the “pain of soul and the detestation of sins committed, with the resolution to sin no more from then on”. Contrition is called “perfect” when it is motivated by the love bestowed by God (contrition out of love). It has the power to forgive venial sins; it also brings forgiveness of serious sins when it is connected with the firm resolution to make a sacramental confession. Contrition is called “imperfect” when it is motivated by a consideration of the hideousness of sin or by fear of eternal damnation and other punishments (contrition out of fear). Such an unsettling of one’s conscience can be a beginning that is later perfected by the gift of grace, especially by the imparting of the forgiveness of sin in the sacrament of penance. Of itself, though, contrition out of fear does not have the power to bring forgiveness of sins (DS 1676-78; N 650-51).

Confession of guilt, even considered in purely human terms, has a liberating and reconciling effect. By confession, man owns up to his sinful past, assumes responsibility for it, and opens himself anew for God and. for the community of the Church, thus opening the way for a new future. The Church teaches that confession is an essential and irreplaceable part of the sacrament of penance, by which the penitent subjects himself to God’s gracious judgment (DS 1679, 1706; NR 652, 665).

For that reason, it is necessary to confess those serious (or mortal) sins that the penitent remembers after careful examination of his conscience; the confession must adequately describe their concrete situation according to number, kind, and circumstances (DS 1707; NR 666). According to Church law, “all the faithful who have reached the age of discretion are bound faithfully to confess their grave sins at least once a year” (CIC can. 989). Although the confession of daily (or venial) sins, which do not exclude us from. communion with God, is not necessary, the Church recommends it. This so-called devotional confession is a great help for personal formation of conscience and growth in the spiritual life. It should be included at least in the observance of the Church’s penitential seasons.

In satisfaction, we make appropriate reparation for the damage caused by sin and for any scandal caused by it (e.g., restitution of stolen goods,’ restoration of another’s good reputation). At the same time, satisfaction gives us practice in a new way of life; it is a remedy against weakness. Penance should correspond so far as possible to the gravity and kind of sins. It can include prayer, sacrifice and renunciation, service to one’s neighbor, and works of mercy. Satisfaction is not some arbitrary act by which we earn forgiveness. It is rather the fruit and sign of a penance already affected and bestowed by the Spirit of God.

The priestly absolution in the sacrament of penance is something more than a proclamation of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins or a declaration that God has forgiven sins. It receives the sinner back into full ecclesial communion. And so it is a judicial act, as the Church’s teaching says, and belongs only to the one who is able to act in the name of Jesus Christ for the whole Church community (DS 1685, 1709-10; NR 668-69). The sacrament of penance is, of course, a gracious judgment in which God, the merciful Father, turns lovingly to the sinner through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.

The confessor is equally judge and physician. He should act as a father and a brother. He represents Jesus Christ, who shed his blood on the cross for the sinner. That is why the confessor should proclaim and interpret the message of forgiveness for the penitent, should help him to a new life by counsel, should pray for him, do penance on his behalf, and above all bestow on him the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ.

The new order for the “celebration of penance” (1974) provides three forms of the sacramental penitential celebration.

The celebration of reconciliation for individuals. Even this form should have a certain liturgical shape — a greeting by the priest, reading of a scriptural text, confession of sin, imposition of penance, prayer, priestly absolution, concluding doxology, and liturgical dismissal with priestly blessing. If pastoral reasons require it, the priest can omit or abbreviate some parts of the rite. The following parts, however, must always be preserved in their entirety: the confession of sin and the acceptance of the imposition of penance, the summons to contrition, the formula of absolution, and the dismissal. If there is danger of death, it is enough for the priest to say essential words of absolution: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the, Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In practice, however, this renewed form of the sacrament of penance has not yet been generally implemented.

The communal celebration of reconciliation with confession and absolution of individuals. In this form, individual confession and individual absolution are connected with a common penitential celebration as preparation and as common thanksgiving. The individual confession is thus embedded in a liturgy of the word with scriptural reading and homily, common examination of conscience and general confession of sin, praying of the Our Father and common thanksgiving. This common celebration expresses more clearly the ecclesial dimension of penance.

The communal celebration of reconciliation with general confession and general absolution. This form is permitted only when there is grave necessity, such as danger of death, It can also be used when there are not sufficient confessors to hear the confession of individuals in a fitting way within an appropriate amount of time, so that the faithful through no fault of their own would have to go without the grace of the sacrament and holy communion for a long time. This form presupposes the resolution to confess serious sins individually as soon as possible. The decision on whether there is grave necessity belongs to the diocesan bishop, in consultation with the other members of the bishops’ conference (CIC can. 961).

We should distinguish penitential liturgies in the narrower sense from these three sacramental forms of penance. The liturgies are an expression and a renewal of the conversion that took place at baptism. The people of God celebrates them in order to hear the word of God, which calls us to a change and renewal of life and which announces the redemption from sin through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A penitential celebration usually includes an opening (song, greeting, and prayer), readings from Holy Scripture (with interspersed songs or silences), a homily, a common examination of conscience, and a prayer for the forgiveness of sins (especially the Our Father). Sacramental absolution is not included. These penitential liturgies should thus not be confused with the celebration of the sacrament of penance.

Still, they are very useful for conversion and purification of the heart. They can foster the spirit of Christian penance, help the faithful to prepare for their individual confessions, deepen the sense of the communal character of penance, and lead children to penance. Such services can bring forgiveness of venial sins when there is a genuine spirit of conversion and of loving contrition. They should therefore have a place in the life of every community, especially during the Church’s penitential seasons.

The Church’s doctrine and practice of indulgences is closely connected with the sacrament of penance. An “indulgence” is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sins, the guilt of which has already been forgiven. An indulgence presupposes a personal conversion, the reception of the sacrament of penance (if serious sin is present), and the reception of communion (in the case of a plenary indulgence). An indulgence is granted by the Church, from the treasury of the merits of Jesus Christ and the saints, to those who perform certain assigned works (such as certain prayers or visits to pilgrimage Churches).

The doctrine and practice of indulgences is difficult for many Christians today to understand. In order to understand it more deeply, one must grasp its historical roots and its greater context.

Generally speaking, there have been indulgences in the Church from the beginning. As regards details, indulgences have a long history. In the ancient Church, the intercession of confessors (those who had borne great sufferings in the persecutions) played a great role. Since the temporal punishments for sin were “served” in the ancient Church by punishments of a specified length, indulgences were often spoken of in terms of “days”.

In their present form, indulgences date from the eleventh century. Since the early Middle Ages, they have often been connected with certain works of piety — participation in a crusade, pilgrimages to holy sites, certain prayers or good works. Examples are the Portiuncula Indulgence, the Jubilee Indulgence on the occasion of a Holy Year, and the All Souls Indulgence.

Indulgences were also often connected with financial donations for ecclesiastical purposes. This led to great abuses, especially in the Middle Ages. These abuses were an occasion for the beginning of the Reformation. In consequence, the Council of Trent thoroughly reformed the practice of indulgences and eliminated the abuses.

It maintained in principle, however, that indulgences are exceedingly beneficial for the Christian people. It therefore condemned those who declared indulgences to be useless or who denied the Church the right to confer indulgences. The Council wished rather to limit indulgences according to the ancient, proven custom of the Church, and to exclude all acquisitiveness (DS 183 5; NR 688-89). A doctrinal deepening of the teaching on indulgences and a practical renewal for the present were achieved by Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Constitution on the Revision of Indulgences (1967).

For a deeper understanding of the doctrine of indulgences underlying the practice, one must first be clear that sin has a double consequence. Serious sin breaks communion with God and forfeits eternal life (the eternal punishment of sin). But it also wounds and poisons the union of man with God, as well as man’s life in the human community (the temporal punishment of sin). Neither punishment of sin is “dictated” externally by God; both follow intrinsically from the very essence sin. The remission of the eternal punishment of sin is effected in the forgiveness of the guilt and the restoration of communion with God.

Yet the temporal consequences of sin remain. The Christian must strive to accept these temporal punishments of sin from God’s hand in patient endurance of suffering, distress, toil, and finally in conscious acceptance of death. He should struggle to throw the “old man” and to put on the “new man” through works of mercy and of love as well as through prayer and different forms of penance (Ephesians 4:22-24).

The Church offers the Christian another path to tread in the gracious communion of the Church. The Christian who purifies and sanctifies himself with the help of God’s grace does not stand alone. He is a member of the body of Christ. In Christ, all Christians are one great communion. “If one member suffers, all members suffer with it” (1Corinthians 12:26). What is called the treasury of the Church or the treasury of grace is communal participation in the goods of salvation that Jesus Christ and the saints with the help of his grace have earned.

In granting an indulgence, the Church speaks on behalf of the individual Christian with her authority to bind and: loose as conferred on her by Jesus Christ. The Church authoritatively assigns the penitent a portion of the treasury of merits of Christ and the saints for the remission of sin’s temporal punishment. In doing so, the Church wants not only to aid the individual, but also to spur him on to works of piety, penance, and love. Since the faithful departed who are in a state of purification are also members of the one communion of saints, we can support them by way of intercession as they suffer the temporal punishment for their sin.

In Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution mentioned above, the essence of the treasury of the Church is interpreted very fittingly. “It is not like a sum of goods which were amassed in the course of the centuries after the manner of material riches. Rather, it consists in the infinite and inexhaustible value that the atonement and merits of Christ, the Lord, have before God…. The treasury of the Church is Christ the Redeemer himself insofar as the satisfaction and merits of his work of redemption have their permanence and validity in him. Furthermore, the truly immeasurable, inexhaustible, and always new value that the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints possess before God also belong to this treasury. They have followed in the footsteps of Christ, the Lord; by his grace, they have sanctified themselves and completed the work entrusted to them by the Father. Thus have they worked their own salvation and contributed also to the salvation of their brothers in the unity of the mystical body” (NR 691).

A particular problem is posed by what is called a plenary indulgence, which is the remission of all the temporal consequences of sin. If it is to be effective in this perfect way, it presupposes a perfect disposition of a kind very infrequently found, except when a Christian gives his whole life back into the hands of God, his Creator and Redeemer, in the hour of death. The sacrament of the anointing of the sick and the indulgence for the dying have their place here.


MadMen And The Sociological Reasons For Marriage – Derek Jeter

June 6, 2012

MadMen has made the moods and social mores of the 50’s and early 60s part of its story. It has received numerous awards and cirtical acclaim for its historical authenticity and visual style:

MadMen depicts parts of American society and culture of the 1960s, highlighting cigarette smoking, drinking, sexism, feminism, adultery, homophobia, and racism. There are hints of the future and the radical changes of the 1960s. Themes of alienation, social mobility and ruthlessness also underpin the tone of the show. MSNBC noted that the series “mostly remains disconnected from the outside world, so the politics and cultural trends of the time are illustrated through people and their lives, not broad, sweeping arguments.” Creator Matthew Weiner called the series science fiction in the past, reasoning that just as science fiction uses a future world to discuss issues that concern us today, Mad Men uses the past to discuss issues that concern us today that we don’t discuss openly., Mad Men

Of course these issues are dear to the hearts of the Hollywood liberal community so best of luck for seeing anything that reflects the state of marriage or the so-called 60s sexual revolution. We are all on the losing side of that piece of cultural history but it’s doubtful you will ever see it truthfully portrayed on TV or in the movies.

Let me give you a little 50’s report. Most of this comes from a talk by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, of the Ruth Institute, which I took notes on. Despite all the 50s sexism the oppression of women and confinement of men to dreary jobs (how much has that really changed?), mothers and fathers were there. Fathers went to work came home at night mostly sober. And they slept in same bed. Only one home – mom’s house was dad’s house. So there was no problem for kids to figure out how to behave with Dad’s girlfriends or mom’s new guy. 

We played in safe neighborhoods. And we were allowed to roam about at our own will. If I played on a school team or in the PAL (Police Athletic League), I got there on my own, because it was right there at my neighborhood playground or the next neighborhood over.

It was unthinkable that parents would present us with new lovers with whom we would be forced to have a relationship. Mom and Dad argued but we never worried that those arguments would be the end of our lives together. We had brothers and sisters – real brothers and sisters not these hothouse varieties of half-brothers and half-sisters who might come and go out of our lives again.

New babies were never symbols of our parent’s new relationships, an unmistakable sign that our parents would never get back together again.  Sure we were upset by the new baby taking time from us but we never dealt with the new baby as symbol who solidified the new relationship with us being relegated to being the remains of an unwanted past.  We didn’t worry that new siblings would disappear if an adult relationship broke up. We grew up together with the same set of brothers and sisters who had the same parents.  The kids I grew up with never had judges deciding where they would go to church or go to school. We spent Christmas and Thanksgiving with both parents, not to mention the rest of the time. None of this every-other-weekend with my Dad shit, pardon my French.

Which is not to say that childhood or adolescence was easy but compared to kids these days bearing their backpacks and shuttling between houses per court orders, I guess I’m forced to say it must have been a picnic. Part of the shift to no-fault divorce made marriage more of an adult centered institution. It used to be that marriage was for the children — that it was a gender-based institution ordered towards the procreation, rearing and protection of children. No longer.

The sociological reason for marriage is rather simple: to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another. Why is that important? Because kids are entitled to a relationship with both of their parents.  Imagine if we didn’t reproduce the way that we do? Say that like amoeba we sub-divided and gave birth that way. Or, say that like snakes we hatched as adults out of eggs. No reason for marriage then and it would be doubtful that anyone had ever thought of it. But we don’t give birth that way, so we attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another for the benefit of society because it is essential and it is fundamental to the kind of beings we are. We are mothers and fathers, parents, and we came up with, on a world-wide basis and across thousands of years, MARRIAGE. Marriage is who we are.

If you believe that kids are entitled to a relationship with both of their parents that means, ipso facto, you acknowledge that the child has an interest in the stability of their parent’s union. Because that union is essential to the child HAVING THAT RELATIONSHIP. That’s why you need something that will protect the child’s interest and that something, once again, is the institution of marriage. To protect the child’s interest as well as to protect both parents’ interests and their common interest in raising the child so that one parent doesn’t dash off with child and neglect the other party’s interest.  This is why marriage exists as a universal human institution and this is why it is important that we start with an understanding of traditional marriage as JUSTICE FOR THE CHILD.

Same sex marriage undermines those fundamental principles that uphold the essential public purpose of marriage that I have stated above.

1.  Children are ordinarily entitled to a relationship with their mothers and fathers.

Now we know this doesn’t always happen.  There are reasons why the biological mothers and fathers cannot be with their children to make this happen but we have a special solution to that problem. It’s called adoption. This is a child centered institution. Or it used to be when adoption existed to give children the parents they need NOT to give adults the kids they want. The way we deal with adoptions does not undermine the basic principle that kids are still entitled to a relationship with their biological parents.

Same sex marriage claims that kids don’t need a mother and a father that they don’t need both parents. Two separate court cases now on record where judges have found for same sex marriage and have specifically said it’s a myth that children need a mother and a father. . .The supreme court of the state of Iowa specifically said that. It is what you have to say if you are to maintain that a same sex union is the equivalence of marriage between a man and a woman. Where same-sex adoption occurs is where this principle has now been recognized.

2. The next key principle of law and social practice and a consequence of number one is that is that mothers and fathers are not interchangeable, that they are not substitutes for each other. Same sex marriage advocates have to argue that a mom and a dad is the equivalent of two moms or two dads.

Dr. Jennifer Morse tells a joke about crashing the family car and she asks her audience when they called home asking if they cared if it was thier father on the line or their mother. Some audiences laugh in appreciation instantly getting the point of the father as an authority figure but back east at law schools there is no laughter because they don’ t get the point of a difference in gender. They can think of some family somewhere where that was not the case and hence invalidated the general principle for them.

If you don’t get the point of gender differences – and young people these days are trained to reject differences between men and women — they don’t see the differences between mother s and fathers. If  you don’t get the point of gender in the first place you are not going to get the point of gendered marriage. This is part of the reason younger generation is being drawn to the idea that same sex marriage is an acceptable thing or even a good thing. There is a lot of sociological evidence out there that gender matters but same sex marriage proponents are undermining it.

For example there remains a lot of evidence about fatherlessness. Fatherlessness has a serious impact on the development of children and that it has a different impact on boys that it has on girls. When you look at childhood development boys and girls are always looked at differently because for every childhood milestone development boys and girls and different; boys and girls are different from the very beginning. With boys there is a heightened probability of a fatherless boy getting into trouble: juvenile delinquency , violence, gangs, getting incarcerated, going to jail –70% of guys in jail are fatherless. It’s a very serious risk factor for boys.

But this is something that same-sex marriage asks us to look past for to say that moms and dads are interchangeable hides that fact from us, renders it moot in a way. The Father’s authority is not something easily measured or calculated but for most it is a reality that can’t be ignored and in countless ways we can see it affirmed in the experiences of children who grew up with moms and dads.

The absence of fathers for girls is a totally different thing. For girls the risk is early sexualization. If you become sexually active at an earlier age there are a whole bunch of risks associated with that obviously: teen pregnancies, STDs etc. It turns out that getting your period earlier (earlier onset of menses) is often the consequence of a girl growing up fatherless. Having your biological father in the home delays the onset of menses. Having an unrelated male in the home has the opposite effect: girls get their periods earlier. Why is that? No one knows, but the facts are known. You can’t just say it is culturally determined and you can get rid of it with education or something. The very mystery of this shows that there are a lot of things going on with families that we simply don’t know about. It is mysterious and it should caution us not to go mucking about. Same-sex marriage undermines the basic social principle that mothers and fathers are not interchangeable.

3.   Same sex marriage will undermine the biological principal that mothers are female and fathers are male.

The institution of marriage as currently understood contains a “presumption for paternity.” When a woman gives birth it is presumed that the man she is married to is the father.  Establishing who the mother is not that complex, when a baby is born there is usually a mother around. The father is more of a problem. The institution of marriage is designed to attach the father to the baby. In 95% of the cases the man who is married to the woman is, in fact, the father of the child. Marriage is supposed to be a sexually exclusive relationship between a ma n and a woman — and if in fact it is, then the husband will be the father of all of  the woman’s babies. You thereby attach the father to the child just as firmly as the mother. That is what marriage is supposed to do. It gives the same degree of permanence and security to your attachment with the father as you do with the mother.

The advocates of same sex marriage are trying to transform this presumption of paternity into a presumption of parentage.  The presumption of parentage is that if I give birth to a child and I am in a same sex union then the other woman is presumed to be the other parent of that child. In a hundred percent of the cases this is of course NOT TRUE. To make this sleight of hand, the presumption of paternity becomes the presumption of parentage and it will all be the same, so it has to undermine the principle that biology is how we determine who is a mother and who is a father.

4. The fourth principle of law and social practice is that the law recognizes parenthood, but does not determine what it is. 

The ordinary case is that if you give birth to a baby in a hospital, say, a little old lady comes around with a clipboard and  you fill out a form and register the facts of who the mother and who the father is . You don’t ask the little old lady for permission to be the mother or father, you just ARE the mother and father.  You tell the state, the state doesn’t come to you and say you count and you don’t – the state recognizes you as the mother and father. 

Now the state is evolving on how to deal with a woman who has a same sex partner.  There are more than a few cases where a woman has a lesbian lover and they break up. The former partner goes to court to maintain her relationship and have herself declared as a de facto parent of the child. Courts are now beginning to recognize that claim — particularly in the states who have some same-sex statute or one who has recognized these marriages. In these cases these states have begun to reinvent parenthood. So for example in the state of Washington the state came up with a four part test to determine parenthood (For example 1. Do you hold yourself out as the parent? 2. Do you contribute to the support of the child blah blah blah. )

Instead of a nice bright line on who is the parent or not we have the state getting involved trying to figure out whether some one has changed enough diapers or wiped enough noses to become a parent of a child. The whole gay legal establishment is working on establishing  gay parenting rights. They go around the country looking for cases where the woman is not the adoptive mother nor the biological mother and LAMDA legal, a ga legal organization, is trying to get them parental rights – these people are NOT parents (they are not the adoptive nor the biological parent).  This is not a wholesome development because if you think this is going to be confined to the 3% gay community it wouldn’t be so bad but there is no reason to believe that this will be confined to lesbian couples.

If you think we will have one set of rules for lesbian couples and another for traditional couples you will find that to be not a stable position. Dr. Jennifer Morse flat out predicts that this will start to bleed into other areas — the whole world of step-parenting, cohabitation parenting and all kinds of issues are now going to be up for grabs and the state will be deciding who counts as a parent rather than registering parents.

The last thing Dr. Morse covers is a peek into the future that attempts to reveal the problems that will be caused by undermining these 4 principles I’ve listed above. I can see same-sex marriage advocates going nutz here because there is no proof to any of this but a simple and powerful observation that says this is where we are now and it will probably get worse.

  1. Marriage will separate children from their parents. Rather than children having an entitlement for being in relationship with their parents. Marriage will become the vehicle for separating them from one of their parents.

How does a lesbian have a baby? Usually with an anonymous sperm donor. If the child’s other parent is a woman then that means the male sperm donor is being pushed out of the way. Marriage is the union that will be doing the separating. So instead of marriage attaching children to their parents, marriage will separate them from their parents. This is not a wholesome development.

2.  If the law is going to be saying that mothers and fathers are interchangeable, it will probably not have the same impact on mothers as it it will on fathers. The impact will be to further marginalize fathers from the family. Same sex marriage will finally become the vehicle that pushes men out of the family for good. We have already said that the father’s attachment is the one that is more problematic and if they (mothers and fathers) are going to be equal it will be the father’s attachment, the weaker, that will be sacrificed.

I heartily concur with this. When people see two women raising a child the reaction more often than not is who needs a father. But when people see two men raising a child no one says who needs a mother.

The UK and Canada have same-sex marriage. In the UK when a woman came forth to be artificially inseminated there used to be (prior to same-sex marriage being recognized) a requirement/a rule that an affidavit be signed stating that the child’s need for a father figure would be satisfied. Wasn’t much of a requirement but it was a gesture towards fatherhood.  When same-sex marriage was passed this requirement was abolished for fear that it was offensive to lesbian couples.

More ominously, when same-sex marriage was passed in Canada they also changed the birth certificate. Mother’s info on the top and on the bottom “Father Or Co-Parent’s Information.” Fatherhood was diminished to a check box.

3.   One of the negative results of undoing biology,undermining the biological principal that mothers are female and fathers are male will be the rise of triple or multiple parenting.  When you throw out the mom is female and dad is male understanding of marriage, the more natural grouping will become the two lesbian couples and the male sperm donor, whoever he may be. If the sperm donor is in fact a gay man with a partner you could wind up with four. There have been cases in PA and in Canada where three parents have been assigned by a court. 

The same sex union cannot produce a child. It has to have a third party so the problem becomes what about that third party. If we throw them out completely then the child has no relationship with a father. And if we don’t throw them out completely, we have a much more complex configuration of parenthood and quite frankly we have no idea what we are walking into. There is no reason to assume that because the parents are happy that everything is going to be wonderful.  Remember that was the thinking in no-fault divorce and look where that got us. Divorce was not harmful to children as long as the parents were happy – that’s what the studies said.  Same studies exist today – very minimal evidence and HUGE conclusions on how great gay parents are.

4.  The scope of the state’s power over society will be expanded greatly by the introduction of same sex marriage.

When the state takes it upon itself to decide who counts as a parent (principle four) the state is interfering with a natural order. There is a natural order to a mother and a father and the state is going to take over that little realm to itself, substituting a naturally existing thing something it has invented itself.  Defacto parent is something no one has ever heard of (mommy and daddy are fine). So the state is solving a problem it itself has caused. Just as the state is intrusive now deciding where kids spend Thanksgiving and Christmas etc , how much money dad spends whether he is allowed to attend little league games – all because of the breakdown of traditional marriage from no-dault divorce.

Same sex marriage is fundamentally an artificial creation of the state.  Natural marriage has a depth and integrity of its own. Natural marriage can sustain itself whereas same sex marriage is a creation of the state and has to be sustained by the state.  The state has to come and intervene to make sure that you are teaching children that same sex couples are the same as opposite sex couples. The state gets involved in education, it gets involved n civil society. A wedding photographer in New Mexico where they don’t even have same sex marriage – a lesbian coupled comes in and says we would like you to take photos of our commitment ceremony and the photographer says I’d rather not do that. The lesbian couple hauls him up in front of a civil rights commission and he lost.

There are cases where the Knights of Columbus are asked to rent their hall for a wedding ceremony and they said no.  They were fined by the provincial government of Canada.

The last example is a beauty. The Quebec Policy Against Homophobia  states that the government of Quebec should wipe out all evidence of heteronormativity. When the government of Quebec gives itself a blank check to wipe out all evidence that heterosexuality is normal they have gotten a blank check to intervene in every aspect of human life. Their goal is to wipe out heteronormativity in the school, in the workplace, in the family and on the sporting field. Quite simply this is none of the government’s business to be dealing with what people are thinking on the sporting field. Peruse the government white paper in the link above if you don’t believe me.

I have two take-aways from Dr. Morse’s talk. One is that DOMAs (Defense of Marriage Acts) need to do much more than one-man-one-woman. We need to put something of the “for life” ending to that back in our understanding of marriage. We really need to send a signal to young people that their parents’ idea of marriage was not only crappy but wrong. We need to start rolling back no-fault divorce. And same-sex marriage opponents need to stop focusing on the suitability of gays for the marriage of institution. The issue is MARRIAGE and Dr. Morse needs to be quoted more often in any discussion of same-sex marriage and its effects on marriage. This is about kids and their rights to a stable relationship with their mothers and fathers.


“One Man One Woman For Life” – Derek Jeter

June 5, 2012

If you tried to summarize canon law, scripture and Catholic Teaching into a bumper sticker, you couldn’t do worse with the title of this post. One of the ironies of the slogan is that if you lop off the last two words you may see the current slogan that defenders of traditional marriage use; “one man, one woman.” But if you want Matthew 19 in there, you need to add the “For Life.”

No one would be as audacious as to add those last two words today. In fact it might provoke some laughter at your sheer naïveté or lack of awareness of the state of the institution of marriage in American society. The facts are:

Married adults now divorce two-and-a-half times as often as adults did 20 years ago and four times as often as they did 50 years ago… between 40% and 60% of new marriages will eventually end in divorce. The probability within… the first five years is 20%, and the probability of its ending within the first 10 years is 33%… Perhaps 25% of children ages 16 and under live with a stepparent.
Brian K. Williams, Stacy C. Sawyer, Carl M. Wahlstrom, Marriages, Families & Intimate Relationships, 2005

The first comparison is to 40 years ago for this is when the first blow against traditional marriage occurred and it was a devastating one. They called it “No Fault Divorce” and within twenty years it had transformed the idea of traditional marriage, perhaps eliminating the concept of “Together Forever” outside of a few pop ballads. It took away the idea that marriage would be a permanent relationship.  Instead of the law having a presumption of permanence and society siding with the partner who sought that, the law now had a presumption of impermanence siding with the party who wants to end the marriage. The old law accommodated exceptions in certain situations to the rule of permanence but never supported the idea of impermanence. 

When you are up to your ass in alligators, goes the old proverb, it is difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp. In this case it is more than instructional to recall the initial objectives in initiating no-fault divorce…

No-Fault was supposed to lower the cost for a “very small number of people” whose marriages had broken down. Divorce originally meant a long and involved process to prove abandonment, cruelty, incurable mental illness, or adultery. By the 1960s this had encouraged the use of collusive or deceptive practices to bypass the fault system and there was widespread agreement that something had to change.

The no-fault divorce “revolution” began in Oklahoma in 1953, but gained national impetus in 1969 in California, and was nearly completed in 1985 in South Dakota. In August 2010, New York’s governor, David Paterson, signed a bill removing mutual-consent requirements for “no-fault” divorce into law. One form or another of no-fault divorce has long been legal in all 50 U.S. states, and the District of Columbia.
Wikipedia, Divorce

As it rolled out across the country the main impetus to its growth was the virtual boon in employment and income it provided to divorce lawyers and family courts, so there became a groundswell for support of no-fault.  You would have had to have been brain dead to wish No-Fault Divorce on your fellow citizens in South Dakota in 1985 but the next best thing would have been a campaign of deception and misinformation brought by the folks who stood to gain from it. No-fault was deemed “good for kids” because it eliminated the difficulty and anguish of divorce or living in a loveless marriage. Happy parents, it was disastrously reasoned, make for happy kids, we were assured.

One of the dubious claims of the same-sex marriage crowd is that it will point to a state that has passed a gay marriage statute and then claim, “See, nothing has changed in that state.” Changes to traditional institutions such as marriage take years to work their ways out in social structures and the culture at large. The notion that no-fault divorce turned out to be “good for kids” is pretty much indefensible. The sheer misery that this change has meant for kids should be a sober reminder to anyone looking at the next set of proposals to change marriage that is being advanced by the same sex marriage crowd.

Much of the arguments against gay marriage proceed from discussions of homosexuality and the suitability of gays to be deemed worthy of the institution. Most of those criticisms are religious in nature and while those who make the arguments may be sincere and genuine in their critiques of homosexual acts (not homosexuality as is widely perceived) there remain some serious objections to same-sex marriage based entirely on its conception of marriage and how it will change traditional marriage.

Instead of marriage being a gender based institution ordered towards the procreation, rearing and protection of children, marriage will become a gender neutral institution with concern for children moved completely to the side. It will become an adult centered institution.  The redefinition of marriage will change the incentives about what kind of  unions to form and whether to get married at all. 

Legalizing same sex marriage is part of the movement to make same-sex marriage and opposite sex relationships equally acceptable. There are many things that are going to change when we redefine marriage to be the union of any two persons instead of being the union of a man and a woman. Much the way it was a big mistake to think that no-fault divorce was going to change one little thing it is similarly a big mistake to think that same sex marriage will change just one little thing. Opposition to same sex marriage has almost nothing to do with what you think about people in same sex marriages – quite unlike what Judge Walker in San Francisco  or what the city of San Francisco alleged in its brief in the 9th circuit court recently. It has to do with what we think of marriage. The issue is MARRIAGE, not GAYS.

My arguments here are based upon those made by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, she of the Ruth Institute. Check this out: This powerful video captures her testimony to the Rhode Island House Judiciary on March 1, 2011. Reportedly, silence followed her testimony in our nation’s most Catholic state. See if she doesn’t blow you away, too.


The Oneness of the Christian Sacrifice – Abbott Vonier

June 4, 2012

Completed in 1955 after nine months of work, Salvador Dalí’s painting The Sacrament of the Last Supper has remained one of his most popular compositions. Since its arrival at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1955, it replaced Renoir’s A Girl with a Watering Can as the most popular piece in the museum. The combination of a classic Christian theme with the jarring techniques of Surrealism captures the eye, as Dali was able to do repeatedly with such works as The Temptation of St. Anthony, Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Crucifixion or Corpus Hypercubus, The Madonna of Port Lligat, Nuclear cross, and The Ecumenical Council, among others. The composition was laid out using the Golden Ratio, just like Michelangelo’s classic.

It is well known that the most constant reproach of Protestantism against the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice is this, that the Catholic Church, by teaching the need of a second sacrifice, virtually denies the all-sufficiency of the sacrifice on Calvary. Yet the Church has never ceased protesting that her Eucharistic sacrifice is by no means a derogation of the natural sacrifice of Christ on the Cross; it is, on the contrary, an additional honor to that great act by which Christ redeemed us.

The sacrifice of the Christian altar and the Sacrifice of Calvary are one and the same. At the same time the Church maintains that the Mass is a sacrifice in the true sense of the word, an act which is new every day, though the sacrifice be not new. We have, then, in this matter unity and duality of a very peculiar nature. It is my conviction that unless we cling firmly to the sacramental concept of the Eucharistic sacrifice we cannot meet the Protestant difficulty. But if once we grasp the meaning of the sacrament, the Protestant difficulty vanishes, and the fundamental oneness of the Christian sacrifice becomes apparent.

If the Eucharistic sacrifice were in any way a natural sacrifice it would be simply impossible to avoid the conclusion that there are two different sacrifices, and the question: Why two sacrifices? would be justifiable. The circumstance that the second sacrifice would take place under entirely different conditions would not save us from such a conclusion; if it were a sacrifice in natura, however much disguised, it would be really another sacrifice, not the same sacrifice. But let the sacrifice be a sacrament in the full sense of the word, then it cannot be a new sacrifice, but it must be the representation, pure and simple, of the historic or natural sacrifice.

If there were in the Mass an immolation, or a mactation, or a death, or an heroic deed, not already contained in the sacrifice of the Cross, the Eucharist would at once become sacrifice number two, because in that case something new would have happened in the world of grace which did not happen on the Cross.

It is the genius and very nature of the Christian sacrament to be an act which may be repeated indefinitely, though the content, or, if you like, the object of the act, be immutable. This is the representative role of the Christian sacrament. Such a thing cannot happen anywhere outside the sacramental sphere. Is not the sacrament precisely this mystery of never ceasing repetition or representation of something in itself immutable? If Christ came to us in His natural state and were thus offered up, this new coming and this new offering would be events forming new chapters in the historic career of the Son of God.

But the sacramental presence and the sacramental offering of Christ are not historic events in His career; they do not form new chapters in the book of His life. Of course, the acts by which He instituted the Eucharist and offered Himself up for the first time are most tremendous deeds in His historic career; but to be offered up in the sacrament does not belong to the historic life of the Son of God. If there is repetition of acts, those repetitions are not on the part of Christ, they are on the part of the Church living here on earth. “As the thing which is offered up everywhere is one Body and not many bodies, so there is one sacrifice everywhere.” [Summa, III, q 73,a.3, ad3]

It is such a pity to see how often an initial misconception in these high matters leads to profound divergences of thought, nay, even to dangerous presentments of Catholic truth. To save the oneness of the Christian sacrifice the strange hypothesis has been put forward in our own days that the Eucharistic sacrifice is not so much a representation of the sacrifice of the Cross as an integral portion of the sacrifice of the Cross. The Eucharistic sacrifices, both at the Last Supper and now, are being considered as so many stages in the one great all-embracing sacrifice whose culminating act was on the Cross.

It is not my mission here to criticize theological opinions. It is certain, however, that to consider the Eucharistic sacrifice as being in any way a portion of the universal sacrifice is a profound reversal of the traditional role of the sacrament. A sacrament is not an act in the drama, however great that drama may be; a sacrament is essentially the representation of the whole drama. The historic drama must be complete before sacraments are possible.

Sacraments are the monuments of the finished thing, not the introductory scenes or the last acts of some great historic deed. If the Eucharistic sacrifice were in any way a portion of the universal sacrifice it would represent nothing except itself; it would contain nothing except itself; it would not apply to us anything except such grace as would belong to it in its partial role; it would not contain more immolation than would be warranted by its essentially limited place in a greater mystery.

Now the Christian sacrament, and above all, the sacrament-sacrifice, is a representation, an application, an immolation, and a containing of the whole immensity of the universal sacrifice. We must, if we are to save the dignity of the Catholic Mass, make it a thing by itself, not merely the first or last act of another thing, however divine and powerful.

I can understand the temptation that comes to anyone who lets go his grasp of the sacramental view in general, and more particularly of the sacramental view of the Eucharistic sacrifice. He finds himself confronted with an awkward duality, which he hopes to reconcile by making Mass a part of the Christian sacrifice. He thus invokes what might be called a oneness of organism, as when we call “one” the various members of the same body. In the theory I allude to, Mass is only a member, it is not the whole thing.

But in the traditional view Mass is the whole thing; it contains the whole Christ with the kind of totality described earlier. Is not one of the basic principles of the Eucharistic sacrifice to be found in the very completeness and finality of the sacrifice of the Cross? If Mass gave anything to the Cross it would cease to be a sacrament, as it would cease to be a representation. Mass is the memory or the monument of Christ’s passion. Is it not the very purpose of a monument to stand for the complete victory, the final triumph? We do not erect monuments to deeds incomplete or half-achieved, however heroic they may be.

To take away something from the completeness of the sacrifice of the Cross on the one hand, and on the other hand from the completeness of the sacrifice of the Mass, is not to join them into one organism; it is to maim them both. In this matter you cannot make a whole with two halves, because sacrament and nature are totally different. But they become one through that very difference, as I have already said, because the one is the total representation of the other’s totality of reality. The traditional view of the Church, as I shall prove by-and-by, is that the sacrifice of Calvary was complete and perfect of its kind; the Eucharist adds nothing to it, but it is truly “the brightness of its glory and the figure of its substance.”

To come back to the Protestant, we may say to him that his position is in a way comprehensible if he denies the whole sacramental system, root and branch, making of faith alone his approach to Christ; but if a man admits sacraments at all there is no more reason for him to reject the sacrament-sacrifice than to reject the sacrament-regeneration — i.e., Baptism. In both we have nothing else than a representation — in the technical sense of the word — of Christ’s death and its application to the individual soul.

If Baptism is no derogation to Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, but is, on the contrary, the sign of Christ’s victory, why should the Eucharistic sacrifice be such a derogation? Are we not dealing in both instances with modes of contact between the individual soul and the historic Christ? The Eucharistic sacrifice may be a more vivid representation, or, if you like, a more burning contact, having more of activity than of passivity, containing a divine substance; but when all is said there is no radical difference in strict theological thought between Baptism and the Eucharist, considered in its true sacramental functions of sacrifice and spiritual nutriment.

This seems a fitting place for the examination of a difficulty which may sometimes bewilder even careful thinkers in theological matters. The Eucharistic sacrifice was offered up first at the Last Supper, before the natural sacrifice on the Cross took place. Would not this point to the conclusion that in some way the Eucharistic sacrifice is truly the beginning of the whole sacrificial drama of Christ? Did He not, when He offered Himself in sacrifice in the supper room, perform the first act of that priesthood which reached its consummation on Calvary?

Here, again, one must admit that it would be difficult, not to say impossible, to fit the Last Supper into the act of redemption if we gave to the Eucharistic sacrifice the meaning and the value of a natural sacrifice. If it were a natural sacrifice, we could not avoid the conclusion that the world was redeemed before Christ shed His first drop of Blood, as the Last Supper would have had infinite value as sacrifice in its own right.

The other alternative would be, of course, the one adopted by some recent theologians whose views have already been mentioned, who consider the Last Supper to have been merely the first act of the one universal sacrifice, and who make the sacramental reality and the natural reality complement each other. But if once the sacramental view of the Eucharistic sacrifice is admitted, the difficulty no longer exists. As the sacrament is essentially a representation, it could be instituted at any moment by Christ, provided He existed bodily in the reality of the Incarnation, and not only in the hope of the believer.

That great act of Redemption, the immolation of Christ on the Cross, could be represented before, as well as after, His crucifixion; and though the sacrament derives all its truth and value from the death of Christ, its institution, or even its celebration or use, may precede that event. The celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice by Christ no more superseded His role on Calvary than did the first breaking of bread of the Christian Church after the coming of the Holy Spirit. Sacraments, and sacraments only, possess that aloofness from the historical sequence of events.

Speaking of Baptism, Saint Thomas gives us in very succinct phrases the theology of those wonderful anticipations by Christ. Taking it for granted that men may have received Christian Baptism before Christ died on the Cross, he says: “Even before Christ’s passion Baptism received its efficacy from Christ’s passion, as it was its figure; but it prefigured differently from the sacraments of the Old Law, as these were mere figures; but Baptism derived the power of justifying from that very Christ by whose virtue the passion itself was to become salutary.” [Summa, III, q 66,a.2, ad1]

Applying this doctrine to the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Last Supper, we may say that it prefigured the sacrifice of the Cross; and the Christ who was to give His own natural Flesh and Blood that power of redeeming mankind, gave to bread and wine the power of representing sacramentally that same Flesh and Blood. We need not even consider the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Last Supper as being a final vow of the Son of God to undergo death, a theme beloved of more than one preacher. The traditional view of the Last Supper is much more sacramental in tenor: Christ, on the eve of leaving this world, gave us the memory or monument of Himself, and nothing in the nature of that great monument obliged Christ to wait until after the event for this.

The monument is such that He could erect it before the event, it being a sacrament. The institution of the Eucharistic sacrament at the Last Supper, then, was not so much Christ’s vow to die, as His anticipated triumph in His death.


Melito of Sardis

May 29, 2012


Melito of Sardis (died c. 180) was the bishop of Sardis near Smyrna in western Anatolia, and a great authority in Early Christianity: Jerome, speaking of the Old Testament canon established by Melito, quotes Tertullian to the effect that he was esteemed a prophet by many of the faithful. His feast is celebrated on April 1.

Last week I joined a Communio Study Group in Boston. Communio, in case you’ve been missing out on it, is a leading journal of Catholic intellectual writing that “strives to provide long-term resources for reflection, renewal, and mission in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council as interpreted by the Pontificate of John Paul II.” Along with First Things it forms my Catholic magazine/journal readings.

Each month a member of the Communio group chooses an article from the journal and leads a discussion concerning it. It sounded like fun and turned out to be the same. It will help me get the journals off my shelves and into my head.

In May we discussed an article by an Orthodox priest, by Fr. John Behr that was about the eschatological dimensions of the liturgy. It’s a topic that falls into my interest in liturgical theology which is one of my categories in

 I took a course not long ago titled “Spiritual Liturgy” which turned out to be an eye-opener as I was constantly challenged to track my reactions to the Eucharist. Reading the following reminded me of a level of awareness that I constantly need to promote within myself.

If you live in the Boston area and would like to join us, give me a holler through the comment mechanism and I will help set it up for you.


 Melito of Sardis

Now, everything that we have been talking about — the encounter with the risen Christ, the coming eschatological Lord in the opening of scripture and the breaking of bread — is exemplified in an early Christian text, On Pascha, by Melito of Sardis — only published in 1940. Since then there has been a debate about what kind of text it is.

It was first classified as a “Good Friday Homily,” although it does not really fit into a homelitic genre. It is now recognized as a kind of Haggadahan exposition of the Passover reading from Exodus, which would accompany the Jewish table rite known as the Seder, which developed in diaspora Judaism, when the Passover sacrifice was no longer possible at the temple. This makes it, in fact, the earliest liturgical text that we have, and, for that matter, the earliest representative of a Haggadah that we have.

One must recall that the reading of the Exodus scripture was never understood as the recalling of a (merely) past event, but as a way of inscribing oneself in the same unchanging reality of God. As when Joshua urged the Israelites gathered at Shechem to devote themselves to the Covenant which God had made with their fathers, they speak of this as having happened to themselves (Josh 24).

Melito begins immediately following on from the reading of the scripture of the Exodus, and takes it to be speaking of Christ (i.e., directly, without the intermediary of a gospel text)

1   The Scripture of the Exodus of the Hebrews has been read,
and the words of the mystery have been declared,
how the sheep was sacrificed
and how the people was saved,
and how Pharaoh was flogged by the mystery.

2   Therefore, well-beloved, understand, how the mystery of the Pascha
is both new and old
eternal and provisional,
perishable and imperishable
mortal and immortal.

3   It is old with respect to the law
new with respect to the word.
Provisional with respect to the type
yet everlasting through grace.
It is perishable because of the slaughter of the sheep,
imperishable because of the life of the Lord.
It is mortal because of the burial in the ground,
immortal because of the resurrection from the dead.

4.   For the law is old
but the Word is new.
The type is provisional,
but the grace everlasting.
The sheep is perishable,
but the Lord,
not broken as a lamb but raised up as God,
is imperishable.
For though led to the slaughter like a sheep,
he was no sheep.
Though speechless as a lamb,
neither yet was he a lamb.
For there was once a type, but now the reality has appeared.

5.  For instead of the lamb there was a son,
and instead of the sheep a man;
in the man was Christ encompassing all things.

6.  So the slaughter of the sheep
and the sacrificial procession of the blood,
and the writing of the law encompass Christ,
on whose account everything in the previous law took place,
though better in the new dispensation.

7.  For the law was a word,
and the old was new, going out from Sion and Jerusalem,
and the commandment was grace,
and the type was a reality,
and the lamb was a son,
and the sheep was a man,
and the man was God.

8.  For he was born as a son,
and led as a lamb,
and slaughtered as a sheep,
and buried as a man,
and rose from the dead as God,
being God by his nature and a man.

9.  He is all things.
He is law, in that he judges.
He is word, in that he teaches.
He is grace, in that he saves.
He is father, in that he begets.

He is son, in that he is begotten.
He is sheep, in that he suffers.
He is human, in that he is buried.
He is God, in that he is raised up.

10.  This is Jesus the Christ,
to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

This is a wonderful preface in praise of Christ, understanding him in terms of the scriptural account of the Exodus.

Melito then begins again by saying that he will re-narrate the account:

11.  This is the mystery of the Pascha,
just as it is written in the law, which was read a little while ago. I shall narrate the scriptural story,
how he gave command to Moses in Egypt,
when wanting to flog Pharaoh
and to free Israel from flogging
through the hand of Moses.

It continues with a fuller exposition of the scriptural story, seeing in all its details the reality of Christ. It is, for instance, because of Christ’s blood that the angel turns away from the dwellings with lamb’s blood smeared across the lintels: it is not that the angel does not like the smell of lamb’s blood, but rather that he sees in the blood of the lamb the reality of the blood of Christ.

This is then followed by a more universal depiction of salvation history, beginning with humanity in Eden and the continuation of the way in which humanity continued in sin, but also the way in which Christ was also present, already working, in types, our salvation.

59   If you wish to see the mystery of the Lord
Look at Abel, who is likewise slain,
at Isaac, who is likewise tied up,
at Joseph, who is likewise traded,
at Moses, who is likewise exposed,
at David, who is likewise hunted down,
At the prophets who likewise suffer for the sake of Christ.

And then the first half of the oration comes to an end:

65.. Many other things were proclaimed by many prophets
concerning the mystery of the Pascha, who is Christ,
to whom be the glory forever.

The second half of the oration begins with the words:

66.. This is the one who comes from heaven onto the earth for
the suffering one,
and wraps himself in the suffering one through a virgin womb,
and comes as a a man.
He accepted the suffering of the suffering one,
through suffering in a body which could suffer,
and set free the flesh from suffering.

Recent scholars have seen in these words, “This is the one who comes (aphikoinenos) from heaven,” an allusion to the aphikomen, the piece of bread broken off from the main loaf at the Passover Seder of Judaism, hidden, and brought in towards the end. This aphikomen — “coining one” — is taken as a messianic symbol. Melito clearly identifies the Paschal Lamb with Jesus.

Now the oration continues with a cry against Israel for not having recognized him, but having instead crucified him. This seems to us to be anti-Semitic (the Jewish community in Sardis would have just finished their Passover meal when the Christians gathered to celebrate their Pascha). But the invective against Israel is always in the second person: Melito is saying to his community: you did not recognize him — you stand convicted. It is only as convicted that they are then able finally to recognize him as their Savior. And so, the oration concludes with Melito speaking in the person of Christ:

100.. The Lord clothed himself with humanity,
and with suffering on behalf of the suffering one,
and bound on behalf of the one constrained,
and judged on behalf of the one convicted,
and buried on behalf of the one entombed,
rose from the dead and cried out aloud:

101.. “Who takes issue with me? Let him stand before me.
I set free the condemned.
I gave life to the dead.
I raise up the entombed.
Who will contradict me?”

102.. “It is I,” says the Christ,
“I am he who destroys death,
and triumphs over the enemy,
and crushes Hades,
and binds the strong man,
and bears humanity off to the heavenly heights.” “It is I,” says the Christ.

103.. “So come all families of people,
adulterated with sin,
and receive forgiveness of sins.
For I am your freedom.
I am the Passover of salvation,
I am the lamb slaughtered for you,
I am your ransom,
I am your life,
I am your light,
I am your salvation,
I am your resurrection,
I am your King.
I shall raise you up by my right hand,
I will lead you to the heights of heaven,
There shall I show you the everlasting Father.”

104.. He it is who made the heaven and the earth, and formed humanity in the beginning,
who was proclaimed through the law and the prophets,
who took flesh from a virgin,
who was hung on a tree,
who was buried in earth,
who was raised from the dead,
and ascended to the heights of heaven, who sits at the right hand of the Father, who has the power to save all things,
through whom the Father acted from the beginning and forever.

105.. This is the alpha and omega, this is the beginning and the end,
the ineffable beginning and the incomprehensible end.
This is the Christ,
this is the King,
this is Jesus,
this is the commander,
this is the Lord,
this is he who rose from the dead,
this is he who sits at the right hand of the Father,
he bears the Father and is borne by him.
To him be the glory and the might for ever. Amen.

This is a wonderful text, exemplary of what happens in liturgy, and especially the eschatological dimensions of liturgy. We began by standing to celebrate the Passion, the Exodus of Christ, understood in the light of the books of Old Testament being opened in the light of Christ. This then moves seamlessly into the celebration of the Paschal Lamb, the coming one — identified with the aphikomen — the part of the loaf hidden at the beginning of the meal and brought out towards the end. And then, in and through all of this, Christ, the coming one, is now present, speaking in the person of Melito himself. This is realized eschatology in action, even now when it is read as a text almost two thousand years later.


A Sacramental Ontology – Hans Boersma

April 9, 2012

Surveying the barriers that contemporary thinking has erected between the natural and the supernatural, between earth and heaven, Hans Boersma issues a wake-up call for Western Christianity. Both Catholics and evangelicals, he says, have moved too far away from a sacramental mindset, focusing more on the "here-and-now" than on the "then-and-there." Yet, as Boersma points out, the teaching of Jesus, Paul, and St. Augustine -- indeed, of most of Scripture and the church fathers -- is profoundly otherworldly, much more concerned with heavenly participation than with earthly enjoyment.
In his new book, Heavenly Participation, Boersma draws on the wisdom of great Christian minds ancient and modern -- Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, C. S. Lewis, Henri de Lubac, John Milbank, and many others. He urges Catholics and evangelicals alike to retrieve a sacramental worldview, to cultivate a greater awareness of eternal mysteries, to partake eagerly of the divine life that transcends and trans-forms all earthly realities.

It is difficult for Christians — whether Catholic or evangelical — to imagine a time when theology was regarded as the most important discipline. The modern period has taught us to look to other sources as the main guides for establishing our life together. The argument that theology is the most authoritative guide for our common (public) life seems profoundly presumptuous to many who have grown up in modern liberal democracies. In fact, many will claim that such a high view of theology strikes at the very root of our cultural arrangement. I will not dispute this claim. It seems to me unsurprising and even logical, considering that modernity takes its cue from earthly rather than heavenly realities. Its basic, dissident choice has been to take temporal goods for ultimate ends.

I find myself in agreement with John Milbank’s oft-quoted statement: “The pathos of modern theology is its false humility. For theology, this must be a fatal disease…. If theology no longer seeks to position, qualify or criticize other discourses, then it is inevitable that these discourses will position theology.”[ John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, (Oxford: Blackwell,1990)] Furthermore, if the political and economic establishment of modern liberal democracies feels threatened by the view that theology should be our primary disciplinary practice, perhaps this is simply an indication of the ultimate incompatibility between modernity and the theological convictions of the Great Tradition. None of this is to suggest that I am setting out to do battle with “outside” economic and political forces. Rather, I am taking aim at historical developments within theology, which I believe lie at the root of our contemporary cultural problems. As a result, I am calling for a resacramentalized Christian ontology (or outlook on reality).

The word “ontology” may put some people on edge. The expression places us, so it seems at least, in the area of abstract, metaphysical thought. Should Christians really concern themselves with ontology? Isn’t the danger of looking at the world through an ontological lens that we may lose sight of the particularities of the Christian faith: God’s creation of the world, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the particular ecclesial community, and Scripture itself? I understand these fears, and I appreciate the word of caution as an important one. Nonetheless, the objections do not make me abandon the search for an ontology that is compatible with the Christian faith.

As I hope to make clear throughout this book, I believe that the Great Tradition of the church — most of the Christian era until the late Middle Ages — did have an ontology. The call for a purely “biblical” theology seems to me terribly naive. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we all work with a particular ontology; unfortunately, usually the ontology of those who plead for the abolition of ontology turns out to be the nominalist ontology of modernity.

However, I do agree with the cautionary comment that a Christian ontology must be centered on Christ, that it dare not avoid the particularity of the visible church, and that it needs to take seriously the church’s engagement with divine revelation in Scripture. These concerns, I believe, were carefully safeguarded in the Platonist-Christian synthesis of the Great Tradition. This tradition was quite conscious of the fact that there is no such thing as a universally accessible, neutral “ontology” separate from the very particular convictions of the Christian faith.

Sacramental Ontology as Real Presence
Before going any further into this discussion, I think it is necessary to define some of my terms. What do I mean by “sacramental ontology,” and by the “Platonist-Christian synthesis” on which it relies? Until the late Middle Ages (say, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), people looked at the world as a mystery. The word “mystery” did not have quite the same connotations that it has for us today. Certainly, it did not refer to a puzzling issue whose secret one can uncover by means of clever investigation. Our understanding of “mystery novels,” for example, carries that kind of connotation.

For the patristic and medieval mindset, the word “mystery” meant something slightly – but significantly — different. “Mystery” referred to realities behind the appearances that one could observe by means of the senses. That is to say, though our hands, eyes, ears, nose, and tongue are able to access reality, they cannot fully grasp this reality. They cannot comprehend it. The reason for this basic incomprehensibility of the universe was that the world was, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins famously put it, “charged with the grandeur of God.” Even the most basic created realities that we observe as human beings carry an extra dimension, as it were. The created world cannot be reduced to measurable, manageable dimensions.

[Flannery O’Connor puts it well: “The fiction writer presents mystery through manners, grace through nature, but when he finishes there always has to be left over that sense of Mystery which cannot be accounted for by any human formula" (Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, ed. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald [1957; reprint, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 19701, 553).]

Up to this point, my explanation is probably relatively uncontroversial. Most of us, when we think about the ability of the senses to comprehend reality, realize that they are inadequate to the task. And I suspect that we generally recognize that the reason for this does not lie mainly in faulty hearing, poor vision, or worn-out taste buds, but in the fact that reality truly is mysterious. It carries a dimension that we are unable to fully express. But let me take the next step, and I suspect that in doing so, I may encounter some naysayers. Throughout the Great Tradition, when people spoke of the mysterious quality of the created order, what they meant was that this created order — along with all other temporary and provisional gifts of God — was a sacrament.

This sacrament was the sign of a mystery that, though present in the created order, nonetheless far transcended human comprehension. The sacramental character of reality was the reason it so often appeared mysterious and beyond human comprehension. So, when I speak of my desire to recover a “sacramental ontology” here, I am speaking of an ontology (an understanding of reality) that is sacramental in character. The perhaps controversial, but nonetheless important, point that I want to make is that the mysterious character of all created reality lies in its sacramental nature. In fact, we would not go wrong by simply equating mystery and sacrament.

What, then, is so distinct about the sacramental ontology that characterized much of the history of the church? Perhaps the best way to explain this is to distinguish between symbols and sacraments. A road sign with the silhouette of a deer symbolizes the presence of deer in the area, and its purpose is to induce drivers to slow down. Drivers will not be so foolish as to veer away from the road sign for fear of hitting the deer that is symbolized on the road sign. The reason is obvious: the symbol of the deer and the deer in the woods are two completely separate realities.

The former is a sign referring to the latter, but in no way do the two co-inhere. It is not as though the road sign carries a mysterious quality, participating somehow in the stags that roam the forests. In diagram 1, symbol X and reality Y merely have an external or nominal relationship. The distance between the two makes clear that there is no real connection between them. Things are different with sacraments. Unlike mere symbols, sacraments actually participate in the mysterious reality to which they point. Sacrament X and reality Y co-inhere: the sacrament participates in the reality to which it points.


In his essay “Transposition,” C. S. Lewis makes this same point when he distinguishes between symbolism and sacramentalism [C. S. Lewis, "Transposition," in The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses (1949; reprint, San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001), 102.].

The relationship between speech and writing, Lewis argues, “is one of symbolism. The written characters exist solely for the eye, the spoken words solely for the ear. There is complete discontinuity between them. They are not like one another, nor does the one cause the other to be.” By contrast, when we look at how a picture represents the visible world, we find a rather different kind of relationship. Lewis explains:

Pictures are part of the visible world themselves and represent it only by being part of it. Their visibility has the same source as its. The suns and lamps in pictures seem to shine only because real suns or lamps shine on them; that is, they seem to shine a great deal because they really shine a little in reflecting their archetypes. The sunlight in a picture is therefore not related to real sunlight simply as written words are to spoken. It is a sign, but also something more than a sign, because in it the thing signified is really in a certain mode present. If I had to name the relation I should call it not symbolical but sacramental.

For Lewis, a sacramental relationship implies real presence. This understanding of sacramentality is part of a long lineage. According to the sacramental ontology of much of the Christian tradition, the created order was more than an external or nominal symbol. Instead, it was a sign (signum) that pointed to and participated in a greater reality (res). It seems to me that the shape of the cosmic tapestry is one in which earthly signs and heavenly realities are intimately woven together, so much so that we cannot have the former without the latter.

Later on, I will need to say more about what this reality is in which our sacramental world participates. For now, it is enough to observe that the reason for the mysterious character of the world — on the understanding of the Great Tradition, at least — is that it participates in some greater reality, from which it derives its being and its value. Hence, instead of speaking of a sacramental ontology, we may also speak of a participatory ontology.

Of course, any theist position assumes a relationship between God and this world. And many evangelicals will, in addition, agree that this link between God and the world takes on a covenantal shape. God makes covenants both with the created world as a whole (Genesis 9:8-17; Jeremiah 33:19-26) and with human beings (Genesis 15:1-21; 17:1-27; Exodus 24:1-18; 2 Samuel 7:1-17; Jeremiah 31:31-33; Hebrews 8:1-13). There is, I believe, a great deal of value in highlighting this covenantal relationship.

But the insistence on a sacramental link between God and the world goes well beyond the mere insistence that God has created the world and by creating it has declared it to be good. It also goes beyond positing an agreed-on (covenantal) relationship between two completely separate beings. A sacramental ontology insists that not only does the created world point to God as its source and “point of reference,” but that it also subsists or participates in God.

A participatory or sacramental ontology will look to passages such as Acts 17:28 (“For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring”), and will conclude that our being participates in the being of God. Such an outlook on reality will turn to Colossians 1:17 (“He [Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together”), and will argue that the truth, goodness, and beauty of all created things is grounded in Christ, the eternal Logos of God. [See also the angelic hymn of Isaiah 6:3, which proclaims that "the whole earth is full of his glory"; and Ephesians 1:23, which speaks of the church as Christ's body, "the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."] In other words, because creation is a sharing in the being of God, our connection with God is a participatory, or real, connection — not just an external, or nominal, connection.

Few people have expressed this distinction better than C. S. Lewis has: “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” [C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory," in Weight of Glory, 42] We do not want merely a nominal relationship; we desire a participatory relationship. In fact, a sacramental ontology maintains that the former is possible only because of the latter: a genuinely covenantal bond is possible only because the covenanting partners are not separate or fragmented individuals. The real connection that God has graciously posited between himself and the created order forms the underlying ontological basis that makes it possible for a covenant relationship to flourish.

When we talk about “real presence,” we tend to think in terms of Eucharistic theology, and we ask the question: Is Christ really present in the Eucharist (the sacramentalist position), or is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper an ordinance in which we remember what Christ did by offering himself for us on the Cross (the memorialist position)? Of course, there are all kinds of shades and nuances in the various positions, but this is nonetheless a fair description of the issue at stake in the differing approaches to the Eucharist.

On the one side, we have those who insist on a participatory or real connection between the elements and the heavenly body of Christ itself; on the other side, people argue for an external or nominal connection between the elements and the ascended Lord. [As I mentioned, we do need to take account of nuances. For example, the way I have described the alternatives, it may be difficult to slot in Calvin's understanding of spiritual presence. On the one hand, clearly, Calvin is not a memorialist; on the other hand, he never describes Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper as "real" presence. For in interpretation of Calvin's views as in sync with "real presence," see William R. Crockett, Eucharist: Symbol of Transformation (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1999), 149-52.]

Understandably, debates surrounding a participatory or real link between Christ and creation came to a head in connection with the issue of the ecclesiastical sacrament of the Eucharist. This was, after all, the central sacrament in the church’s life. Eucharistic debates, important for their own sake, had wide-ranging implications. So, for good reason, by the time the sixteenth-century Reformation came around, the church had been debating the nature of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist for centuries.

I simply wish to draw attention to the fact that the debates surrounding the real presence (or, we might say, participation) in the Eucharist were but the particular instantiation of a much broader discussion about real presence. While the church fathers and medieval theologians did look to the bread and wine of the Eucharist as the sacrament in which Christ was really present, in making this point they simultaneously conveyed their conviction that Christ was mysteriously present in the entire created order. Christ’s sacramental presence in the Eucharist was, we might say, an intensification of his sacramental presence in the world.


Sacraments And Signification – Abbot Vonier

January 13, 2012

The Baptism of Christ by Giovanni BELLINI, 1500-02, Oil on canvas, Santa Corona, Vicenza, Italy. He is considered to have revolutionized Venetian painting, moving it towards a more sensuous and coloristic style. Through the use of clear, slow-drying oil paints, Giovanni created deep, rich tints and detailed shadings. His sumptuous coloring and fluent, atmospheric landscapes had a great effect on the Venetian painting school, especially on his pupils Giorgione and Titian.

There is an excellent definition of the nature of the sacraments in Article Four of the Sixty-First Question of the Third Part of the Summa Theologica: “Sacraments are certain signs protesting that faith through which man is justified.” Such a definition makes the transition from the role of faith to the role of the sacraments a very natural and easy one. The power of the sacraments could never be dissociated from the power of faith; the two supernatural agencies move forward hand in hand. A sacrament is always an external sign witnessing to that more recondite quality of the soul, the faith that justifies man by bringing him into contact with Christ.

Two very important questions arise here: First, why should there be this external protestation of the faith? Second, to what extent shall we give to those signs a literal efficacy of signification? In the answer to the second question there lies all the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism; in fact, it may even be said, between Judaism and Christianity. In its many aspects this will be the main object of our study; but for the moment let its dwell on the first point, the radical oneness of the Catholic theory concerning the means of justification.

Faith and sacraments are indissolubly united; though faith may be called the older and more universal factor. The sacramental system is grafted on faith; it is essentially the executive of our faith; it is, shall we say, the reward of faith. Because of her faith the Church is granted those further powers of reaching Christ which make Christ not only the object of devout contemplation, but of physical possession; the sacramental reality is granted to those who have faith; such is the burden of Christ’s teaching in the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. He who does the work of God by believing in Him whom the Father has sent is the one to whom Christ will give His Flesh to eat and His Blood to drink. We may apply here that important principle of spiritual growth which Christ enunciates more than once: “To everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall abound, but from him that hath not, that also which he seemeth to have shall be taken away.”

Because of her generous faith the Church is given the abundant riches of the sacraments. What might appear at first sight to be the exception to the rule — that faith and the sacraments are indissolubly united — is only a more profound application of it; I refer to the practice of infant Baptism. Saint Thomas, following Saint Augustine, relies on the faith of the Church herself in order to keep intact the essential union of faith and the sacrament of faith.

“In the Church of the Savior the little ones believe through others, as through others they contract those sins which are washed out in Baptism”; these are the words of the earlier Father which the medieval Doctor expands into the following theological explanation: “The faith of one, nay of the whole Church, is of profit to the little one through the operation of the Holy Spirit, who makes the Church into one, and makes the one share the goods of the other.” There could hardly be a more unfair accusation brought against the Catholic Church than to say that by her uncompromising insistence on the sacramental life she diminishes the power of faith.

It is really the Puritan, rather than the Protestant in general, who is the enemy of the sacramental system taken in the wider aspect of that Thomistic definition in the previous post. For the Puritan, faith is not in need of any help or any adjuncts. Yet the reasons given by Catholic theologians for the presence in the Christian dispensation of these external signs of internal faith are chiefly psychological; man’s nature being what it is, sacraments are indispensable to a full life of faith.

Saint Thomas gives a threefold reason for the institution of the sacraments; but this threefold reason is really one —  man’s psychology. However, the three factors are

    1. firstly, the condition of man’s nature, being a composite of spirit and sense;
    2. secondly, man’s estate, which is slavedom to material things and only to be remedied by the spiritual power inside the material thing;
    3. thirdly, man’s activities, so prone to go astray in external interests, finding in the sacraments a true bodily exercise which works out for salvation.

Nothing would be easier than to develop this subject with all the fascinating means that psychological studies put at our disposal.

The sacramental life of the Church is based on a perfect understanding of man’s needs. Sacraments are through their very nature an extension of the Incarnation, a continuation of that mystery expressed in the words: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Is not the Son of God made Man, the Sacrament par excellence, the magnum sacramentum, the invisible made visible? “And evidently great is the mystery of godliness, which was manifested in the flesh, was justified in the spirit, appeared unto angels, hath been preached unto the Gentiles, is believed in the world, is taken up in glory”

To say that a Sacrament is a protestation of the faith which is in us, is not a complete definition of the Christian sacrament; though it may be considered as adequate enough for a sacrament in its widest meaning. Even Saint Thomas never hesitates to give to some of the major rites of the Old Law the name of sacrament; always making it quite clear, however, that the power of those ancient observances never went beyond signifying the patriarchal faith, while the Christian sacrament has a much higher degree of signification, one indeed that has effectiveness associated with it. It would be quite mistaken, and very ungenerous, not to grant to the ancient rites instituted by God sacramental dignity of at least an inferior degree; they all were external signs of the faith in the coming redemption. They were tremendous helps to that faith, although in themselves they were not direct causes of grace.

Saint Thomas divides the life of mankind into four seasons —  the state of innocence before the fall, the state of sin before Christ, the state of sin after Christ, and the state of bliss in heaven. No sacraments are necessary in the first and in the last state; sacraments are necessary to man in the two middle states. But it is in the “state of sin after Christ” that sacraments reach their perfection; the seven sacraments of the Christian dispensation are sacraments in the highest sense, because, besides signifying the grace which is the inheritance of faith, they also contain that grace and cause it.

An objector may find fault with the arrangement that God has given to man different sacraments before Christ and different sacraments after Christ. Does this not argue mutability in the divine will? The answer of Saint Thomas is a perfect synthesis of that broader view of the sacramental system which makes it as old as the world:

To the third objection let us reply that the father of the family is not said to be of changeable disposition because he gives different orders to his household according to the variety of seasons, and does not command the same work to be done in summer and in winter; so likewise there is not mutability in God’s ways because He institutes one set of sacraments after the coming of Christ and another in the time of the Old Law; for these latter were apt prefigurements of grace, while the former are manifest grace already present amongst us.

The Power of Sacramental Signification
It is the very essence of a sacrament to be a sign; it is its proper definition. “We now speak specifically of sacraments insofar as they imply the relationship of a sign.” Let us never deprive a sacrament, even the most excellent, of this constitutional property of signification. The orthodox realist in sacramental theology boldly proclaims his faith, I do not say in the symbolical nature of the sacrament, but in the demonstrative nature of the sacrament as a sign, or, if we like the word better, in its representative nature as a sign.

This power of signification inside the one and the same sacrament is not simple but complex, for the sacramental element performs its function in various ways, as well as signifying various realities; yet it has a certain definiteness, a clearly outlined circle of signification, which has been traced by the hand of God. It is the divine institution which is directly responsible for the choice of those signs which, in the words of Saint Thomas, are given us “for a more explicit signification of Christ’s grace, through which the human race is sanctified.” The angelic Doctor adds, with that true liberality of mind so characteristically his own, that this clear circumscribing of the sacramental signs does not in any way narrow the road of salvation, because the material things which are indispensable for the sacraments are commonly to be had, or may be procured with very little trouble.

Sacraments, then, are truly signs from heaven. In no other sphere of human transactions does the external sign become such an efficient messenger of the internal reality. There is in Article Three of the same Question a passage of Saint Thomas which may be called truly classical as stating the power of signification proper to the sacraments:

My answer is, that, as has been already said, the sacrament, properly so-called, is a thing ordained to signify our sanctification; in which three phases may be taken into consideration, namely: the cause of our sanctification, which is the passion of Christ; the essence of our sanctification, which consists in grace and virtue; and then the ultimate goal of our sanctification, which is eternal life. Now all these are signified by the sacraments. Therefore a sacrament is a commemorative sign of what has gone before, in this case the passion of Christ, a demonstrative sign of what is being effected in us through the passion of Christ, that is grace, and a prognostic sign, foretelling our future glory.

Every sacrament, then, has something to declare: it recalls the past, it is the voice of the present, it reveals the future. If the sacrament did not fulfill its function of sign proclaiming something which is not seen, it would not be a sacrament at all. It can embrace heaven and earth, time and eternity, because it is a sign; were it only a grace it would be no more than the gift of the present hour; but being a sign the whole history of the spiritual world is reflected in it: “For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until He come.” What Saint Paul says of the Eucharist about its showing forth a past event is true in other ways of every other sacrament. The passage we have transcribed from Saint Thomas refers to every one of the seven sacraments.

In order to elucidate this all-important role of signification in the sacraments we may make a comparison with the non-sacramental means of grace. If my heart be touched by God’s grace, such a divine action, excellent and wonderful though it be, is not a sign of anything else; it is essentially a spiritual fact of the present moment, and ends, as it were, in itself. It has no relationship of signification to anything else, whether past, present or future.

Such is not the case with the sacraments; through them it becomes possible to focus the distant past and future in the actual present; through them historic events of centuries ago are renewed, and we anticipate the future in a very real way. All this is possible only in virtue of the sacramental sign, which not only records the distant event, but, somewhat like the modern film, projects it upon the screen of the present.

O sacred Banquet, wherein Christ is received, the memory of His passion is recalled, the soul is filled with grace, and there is given to us a pledge of future glory.

This antiphon from the Office of Corpus Christi, when compared with the above text from the Summa, at once betrays its Thomistic origin. But although the Eucharist performs that function of transcendent representation in the spiritual order in a more excellent degree, all the other sacraments do the same in their several ways. All the sacraments enable us to step out of the present.

Much confusion of thought in the doctrine of the sacraments in general, and of the Eucharist in particular, would be spared us if we never let go of that elemental definition of the sacrament, that it is a sign. Whatever reality there is in a sacrament is deeply modified by this role of signification. Baptism, for instance, is not just any kind of cleansing of the soul; its cleansing power is in the burial and resurrection of Christ which is signified in the sacramental rite.

Know you not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in His death? For we are buried together with Him by baptism into death: that, as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.

In this text of Saint Paul the elements of past, present and future in our baptismal conformation with Christ are strikingly verified.

The current definition of a sacrament as an external sign of internal grace would certainly be too narrow for Saint Thomas, if by “internal grace” we meant nothing but the actual transformation of the soul. This is, in fact, only one of the things signified. But if by “internal grace” we also mean the cause of grace —  Christ’s passion, and the goal of grace —  eternal life, then the definition is adequate. But to limit the sacramental power of signification to the present moment, to the transformation of soul which takes place when the sacrament is received, would be an unwarranted minimizing of the sacramental doctrine, and would leave much of our scriptural language unintelligible. How, for instance, could the Eucharist be a memorial of Christ if it were only a supernatural feeding of the soul?

When Our Lord said: “Do this for a commemoration of Me,” He gave the Eucharist an historic import which is not to be found in the spiritual raising up of the individual soul alone. A commemoration is essentially a sign, a monument, something related to a definite person or event of the past.

Saint Thomas lays it down as an axiom that a sacrament is always an object of the senses. A merely spiritual thing, an act of our intellect or will, could never fulfill that role of signification which is so essential to the sacrament. The sign, on the contrary, is an external manifestation of the process of thought and volition: Saint Thomas quotes from Saint Augustine a very succinct definition: “A sign is that which, besides the impression it makes on the senses, puts one in mind of something else.”

When I see the baptismal water poured on the head of the catechumen, and when I hear the words of the priest who does the christening, if I am a man of faith, my mind, roused by these external rites and signs, travels a long way. I go back to the Jordan, where Christ is being baptized; I go back to Calvary, where blood and water issue from the side of Christ; my mind leaps forward to that people who stand before the Throne of God in white robes which have been washed in the Blood of the Lamb; and, more audacious still, my mind gazes right into the innermost soul of the catechumen and distinguishes that soul from all non-baptized souls, through that spiritual seal which makes it a member of Christ. The sacramental sign is pregnant with all that spiritual vision of my faith. In the order of signs, of course, we include words as well as things; both are, in fact, objects of our senses, and the words are generally necessary to make more precise the signification of the thing. `A repetition of words, when words are added to the visible things in sacraments, is not superfluous, because one receives determination through the other.”

In a text already quoted Saint Thomas makes a clear-cut distinction between the two roads which lie before us, and which lead directly to the passion of Christ: the act of the soul, and the use of external things. The former is faith, the latter is the sacrament. Let us give this distinction its full value. The external things are as solid a road to Christ as the act of the soul. The sacramental signs, which are the external things alluded to by the Angelic Doctor, have become, in God’s Providence, a distinct supernatural world, as real as the supernatural world of graces given to the souls of men.

At the same time, those sacred signs differ radically from the acts of man’s soul performed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They are visible, palpable realities, not breathings of the Spirit in the hearts of men. They are not mere aids to man’s memory; they are not just opportune reminders of the invisible. “If anyone says that sacraments have been instituted solely for the purpose of fostering faith, let him be anathema.” External things have been taken hold of by God as directly as men’s souls. Like this visible planet of ours, the supernatural world of salvation is divided into land and water. The graces of the Holy Spirit are the water; the external things, the sacraments, are the land.


Faith And The Sacraments – Abbot Vonier

January 12, 2012

Carl Heinrich Bloch, Marriage At Cana

In 1865 Bloch was assigned to illustrate the life of Christ, in a series of 23 paintings for the King’s Praying Chamber in Frederiksborg Castle Chapel, Denmark. It would take Bloch almost fourteen years to complete the commission. The resulting paintings would define his career and would be complemented by eight altar pieces and an outstanding series of 78 etchings, influenced by Rembrandt’s depictions of Christ.

Following the premature death of his wife in 1886 he was left with the responsibility of his eight children. The grief and stress proved to be too much and he died of stomach cancer in 1890 at the age of 56. In addition to his Biblical art, Bloch was renowned as a genre and portrait painter and served under various positions at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Bloch’s painting ‘Marriage At Cana’ (above) depicts the reaction of the servers as they realize the water has been transformed into wine. The figure of Christ looks on from a distance from his seat at the wedding table. The masterly use of lighting bathes Jesus and the wedding guests in bright daylight as one of the servers in the foreground points to the source of the miracle.
From The Bible Illustration Blog


The Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is a particular instance of the more universal question of the mode of our union with Christ. We take for granted the Incarnation and the Atonement on the Cross; we take for granted that the Son of God through His death has redeemed mankind in general and has satisfied for sin; we know that in Christ there is plentiful redemption; such things are for us unchallengeable and universal articles of belief which may be called God’s side of the matter, that aspect of truth which is turned heavenward.

But the universal truths thus enunciated leave untouched that other problem of our own individual share in the treasures of redemption — how do individual men come into contact with that great Christ who is our Redemption personified? There is evidently in the Christian doctrine of redemption an element so absolute that it stands by itself, quite independent of man’s benefit therefrom. Before it is at all possible to think of man’s enrichment through the grace of Christ’s redemption we have to assume that much greater result of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross which is aptly expressed in the term “Atonement,” by which is meant, not directly the benefit of man, but the benefit of God: that full restoration of what had been taken from God through man’s sin, His honor and glory. Christ’s act on the Cross has given back to the Father all that was ever taken away from Him by man, and the divine rights have been fully restored.

It is not an absurd hypothesis to think of Christ’s great act of atonement as having an exclusively divine side — that is to say, Christ could have died on the Cross with the exclusive purpose of giving back to the Father all the glory which He had lost through man’s transgression, without the human race being in any way the better for it. But this is merely an hypothesis, though a perfectly rational one.

Actually Catholic doctrine says that Christ’s sacrifice, besides being an atonement, was also a redemption — in other words, a buying back into spiritual liberty of the human race which had become the slave of evil. But even this aspect of Christ’s divine act, though a perfectly human one, is still too universal; salvation is primarily for mankind as a species; the entry of the individual into the redemptive plan remains to be effected.

The urgent problem is, how am I to be linked up effectively with that great mystery of Christ’s death? When shall I know that Christ is not only the Redeemer, but also my Redeemer? Mere membership with the human race does not link me up with Christ, though it be true that Christ died for the whole race. This membership is indeed a condition, sine qua non, of my becoming one day a member of Christ; but a member of Christ I shall not become unless some new realities be brought into play. These new realities which are the link between me and Christ are faith and the sacraments.

“The power of Christ’s passion,” says Saint Thomas, “is linked up with us through faith and through the sacraments. This, however, in different ways: for the linking up which is by faith takes place through an act of the soul, while the linking up which is by the sacraments takes place through the use of external things.”

It is a favorite idea with Saint Thomas, that faith is truly a contact with Christ, a real, psychological contact with Christ, which, if once established, may lead man into the innermost glories of Christ’s life. Without this contact of faith we are dead to Christ, the stream of His life passes us by without entering into us, as a rock in the midst of a river remains unaffected by the turbulent rush of waters. This contact of faith makes man susceptible to the influences of Christ; under normal conditions it will develop into the broader contacts of hope and charity; but it is the first grafting of man on Christ which underlies all other fruitfulness. Till faith be established the great redemption has not become our redemption; the riches of Christ are not ours in any true sense; we are members of the human race, but we are not members of Christ.

It does not belong to my subject to enter into a discussion as to the reasons why one man has faith while another is without faith; nor do I propose to lay down what is that minimum of faith which is indispensable in order to establish true contact between the soul and Christ.

It is sufficient for our purpose to know that a man who has faith has laid his hand on the salvation of Christ. It is the most universal way of coming into touch with the redemption of the Cross; it is a way of approach which is always open, in the past, in the present, in the future. Mary, the Mother of God, through her faith, entered into Christ’s passion in the very moment of time when it took place; Adam, in his very fall, plunged into it headlong; and it will be present to the last human generation through that wonderful act of the soul of which Saint Thomas speaks in the above text. Whether we say that Christ will suffer — passurus est — or whether we say that Christ has suffered — passus est — is quite immaterial to the immediateness of contact by faith. “As the ancient Fathers were saved through faith in the Christ to come, so are we saved through faith in the Christ who has already been born and has suffered.”

I feel that we are less habituated in our times to think of faith as a kind of psychic link between the soul and Christ; yet such is the traditional concept of that wonderful gift. Anyone who has faith is in the supernatural state, and therefore is directly in touch with Christ’s life, even though he be actually in a state of mortal sin.

The Council of Trent has taken great trouble to make clear this point of Catholic moral theology. A man ceases to be Christ’s solely through the sin of infidelity; he does not cease to be Christ’s through any other sin, however heinous. As long as his faith is a true faith he remains a member of Christ’s mystical Body, though there be grievous sores of mortal sin upon his soul. Through that faith, which nothing can kill except the sin of formal infidelity, he keeps so near to the mystery of Christ’s death on the Cross that his recovery from the wounds of sin, however grievous, is a normal process of supernatural life, not strictly miraculous. It is true that the faith of the believing Christian in the state of mortal sin is a fides informis, a faith devoid of the higher vitalities of charity, yet it is a real faith.

Unless we grasp that function of faith as the psychic link between Christ and the soul Catholicism becomes unintelligible. The Church would become, as it did in Lutheran theology, an adventitious association of the elect. But the Church is constituted primarily through faith, and her powers are meant for those who possess that supernatural responsiveness of soul. If we really believe that the Church possesses enough power to wipe away sin, we assume, as well, that sin is compatible with membership in Christ’s mystical Body.

Incorporation into Christ, according to Saint Thomas, has a threefold degree; the first is through faith, the second is through the charity of this life, the third is through the possession of heaven. It is true that the whole tendency of faith is towards charity, that ultimately faith without charity cannot save us; nonetheless, charity cannot exist in man without faith, while there may be true faith in man without actual charity.

All this goes to demonstrate that there is in faith an instrumental power, enabling man to open the door that leads to perfect union with Christ. We cannot speak of such instrumental power in charity, for charity is not a means towards the possession of God; it is, on the contrary, actual possession of God. Saint Thomas calls faith an indispensable endowment of the soul, because it is the beginning or principle of spiritual life.’

This peculiar position of faith in the spiritual order as a kind of tool of supreme excellence will be seen in a clearer light when we come to ask ourselves the question whether there be another kind of means for man to get at Christ’s redemptive life. Once more let it be emphasized that through the possession of charity we do not only contact Christ, we are actually in Christ. Charity is not an instrument, while faith has primarily an instrumental role. Now the sacraments are truly such another set of means for the attainment of that final object, to be united with Christ in charity.

The sacraments complete and render more efficacious that instrumentality of faith just spoken of: they do not supersede the instrumentality of faith, but they make it more real, if possible, and certainly more infallible in its effect. The relative position of faith and the sacraments in bringing about man’s justification through charity is an interesting theological question of which we shall have more to say by-and-by.

The sacraments are essentially sacraments of the faith, sacramenta fidei, as Saint Thomas invariably calls them; both faith and sacraments have that power of divine instrumentality which open to man the treasure-house of Christ’s redemption.

I cannot end this chapter without quoting from Saint Thomas a beautiful passage in which he describes God’s action, which he calls grace, keeping faith alive in the soul, even of the sinner:

Grace produces faith not only when faith begins to exist in the soul for the first time, but also while it habitually abides in the soul…. God brings about the justification of man in the same way as the sun produces light in the air. Grace, therefore, when it strikes with its rays the one who is already a believer is not less efficacious than when it comes for the first time to the unbeliever, because in both it is its proper effect to produce faith: in one case strengthening it and giving it increase, in the other case creating it as an entirely new thing.

The sun of divine grace once above the horizon sends forth its rays of faith into the minds of men, and nothing can resist their light except blind obstinacy and infidelity.


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