One of the earlier books I read after I had made up my mind to go through RCIA and join a parish was this wonderful little book by Josef Pieper. He has been one of my favorite Catholic authors. He lived to the ripe old age of 93 and passed away in 1997. A tribute published by First Things said:
“Pieper emphasizes the close connection between moral and intellectual virtue. Our minds do not — contrary to many views currently popular — create truth. Rather, they must be conformed to the truth of things given in creation. And such conformity is possible only as the moral virtues become deeply embedded in our character, a slow and halting process.
We have, he writes on one occasion, “lost the awareness of the close bond that links the knowing of truth to the condition of purity.” That is, in order to know the truth we must become persons of a certain sort. The full transformation of character that we need will, in fact, finally require the virtues of faith, hope, and love. And this transformation will not necessarily — perhaps not often — be experienced by us as easy or painless. Hence the transformation of self that we must — by God’s grace — undergo ‘perhaps resembles passing through something akin to dying.’”
I remember turning pages in this little book thinking “Oh my God, I’ve signed on for THIS?!! Angels!!!” And then being reassured by Pieper’s marvelous intellect and wonderful interpretations. I felt so much smarter and reassured after I had finished. As is my custom, some memorable selections here:
Christian Life and Belief
Just as knowledge and competent action go hand in hand, so do faith and life. Christian life requires Christian faith as its foundation; and Christian faith bears its full fruit in Christian life. Christian life without Christian belief is impossible; Christian belief without Christina life is unfruitful.
Christian faith is no mere matter of inner thoughts and feelings. It is an encounter with the reality of the Blessed Trinity…faith is supernatural because it exceeds our natural powers. Faith exceeds the nature of man, exceeding even the natural powers of his spirit. Luke 11:13 tells us that God our father is “ready to give from heaven his Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”…Faith necessarily includes the assent of the intellect to truths that are not clear, and so an assent that has its basis in the free will. Supernatural gift that it is , it becomes our personal possession only when we accept it voluntarily. We are free. The way lies open for us to say, “My natural eyes and ears and my natural reason are quite enough for me ; any reality I cannot perceive with them is of little consequence as far as I am concerned.”
Novarian, 3rd Century AD
Human understanding can form no worthy concept of God’s essence nor of His magnitude nor of His attributes. The might of the human language cannot bring forth a single word to express His majesty. All ingenuity of speech and all intellectual acumen are helpless before His greatness. Even sheer thought alone does not suffice to grasp Him; if it did He would be smaller and the mind of man, whereas in reality He is more sublime that any word, beyond any expression of ours. Everything which he Himself has thought , is less than Him. The totality of human speech, compared to Him is puny in the extreme. Turning to Him in silence we can, it is true, have some inkling of Him; but as to how He is in Himself, that is beyond our utterance.
Call him light and you give a name rather to His creature than to Him. Call him power and you name not Him but that which his His . Call Him majesty, and you describe His glory rather than Him. He is more sublime that any sublimity, brighter that any light, stronger than any power, fairer than any beauty, truer than any truth, greater than all majesty. He is wiser than all wisdom, kinder than all loving kindness, more just than all of justice! Name whatever force you choose, it will be less than Him who is the God and father of all forces. Truly one can say: God is incomparable, God is beyond all that can be said.
Gregory Thaumaturgus (Bishop of the Third Century): The Trinity
There is one God, father of the Living Word, Father of Him who is wisdom, power and eternal prototype. He is the perfect begetter of the perfect offspring, Father of the only begotten son.. There is one Lord, only begotten of the only God, as much God as His Begetter is, perfect reflection and identical image of the Godhead. He is the wholly effective creative word, wisdom comprehending all things, Power putting all creation into existence. He is true son of the true father; as the Father is invisible so He is invisible; as everlasting, so everlasting; as immortal, so immortal; as eternal, so eternal.
And there is one Holy Spirit, a Person in the Divine Nature, and He appeared to men through the son. He is a perfect replica of the full being of the Son; He is the living Giver of life, holy Source and Dispenser of holiness. In Him is God the Father revealed, who is above all things and in all things; and in Him is God the Son revealed, who is an exemplar for all things. These three constitute a perfect Trinity in glory, eternity and royal dominion, without division and without separate being. There is nothing created or subordinate in the Trinity, nor is there anything that might have been added later. There never was the Father without the Son, or the Son without the spirit. Unchangeable and unalterable the same Trinity is forever.
God And Creation
The process of creation of man and things never reaches a stage where man and things can exist solely of themselves and act solely of themselves. Rather God is constantly creating the world anew by conserving and sustaining all things in existence. But in no sense is the world God, neither as a whole nor in any of its parts. Nor is God in any way included in His creation. God’s creative process in the world and in all beings stems from His complete sovereignty over the world.
It is from God, utterly and completely above and outside the world that all created beings and things derive their origin and their continued existence. By the creative power of God, creation lives. All created things are infinitely distinct from the eternal and limitless God, their Creator. But God the Creator permeates everything with his divine essence and the all powerfulness of his love.
The Sensual-Intellectual Human Nature
Penetration to the deeper essence of things, not perceptible to the senses is possible only to the reasoning mind. The reasoning mind alone can relate itself to the whole of reality. To be able to establish an inner link with all creation is precisely what distinguishes the higher level on which man moves from the essentially lower level of the animal. Furthermore, only the reasoning mind is capable of an act of free will; and free will also distinguishes man essentially from all creatures lower than himself. Without freedom of choice and decision man could neither sin nor be converted nor be sanctified. However, the use of our mind requires the use of the senses to start with. Purely intellectual knowledge is not possible for man. Yet God so created our sensual-intellectual human nature as to make us able to see Him in the Beatific Vision in eternal life. The ultimate reason for man’s distinctive difference is the spiritual character of his soul.
Angels are bodiless spiritual beings completely independent of sense perceptions who perceive and grasp the whole of creation much more directly and much more thoroughly than it is possible to the human mind.
The Nature of the World and Of Man Is Good
The divinely created nature of the world is good in itself, the divinely created nature of man is good in itself. It needs neither justification nor apology. It is an act of injustice and contradiction against the Creator to disagree with Him and not find His creation good.
The Dignity of Human Nature Wondrously Restored
The first man pleased God in an infinitely higher way than did all the other created beings on earth. Adam was more than good, he was holy. That is to say he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he lived in supernatural community with God. The first man’s community of life with God was a gift from God, a gift infinitely exceeding man’s natural powers and anything due to man. What Adam’s arrogant and ungodly choice primarily and especially destroyed was this very thing, his holiness, his supernatural life shared with God, in a word his “grace.” …
Our Lord’s act of redemption, restoring human nature from original sin and winning back for us what we had lost, has bought us something much greater than we could ever have lost. “And where sins abounded, grace did more abound” (Romans5:20). Through Jesus Christ, who is the way to eternal life, anew creation was called into being. Man redeemed has become the brother and co-heir of the Son of God. This is why the Church begins one of her prayers in the Mass with the words, “O God, by whom the dignity of human nature was wondrously established and yet more wondrously restored.”… Original sin had destroyed man’s bridge of access to God, and only from God’s side could that bridge be rebuilt. Jesus /Christ rebuild it.
Mary is the only human being free from original sin and its consequences. …Mary from the first moment of her existence was in the state of grace united to God in supernatural community of life. The dogma of Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven is a further development and unfolding of this truth.
Other Consequence of Original Sin
The other consequence of original sin remain with us after the Redemption, –especially our internal conflict, our suffering, our physical death. But these things have now become transformed into healing remedies conducive to eternal life. In his own suffering, man is able to take part in the redeeming suffering of Christ — a suffering which the Church calls blessed. St Paul says: “Even as I write, I am glad of my suffering on your behalf, as in this mortal frame of mine, I help to pay off the debt which the afflictions of Christ have still to be paid, for the sake of his body, the Church.”
St. Hillary of Poitiers On the Eternal Word And Its Incarnation
I do not know nor do I enquire, but yet I find consolation. The archangels do not know it, the angels do not learn it, the millennia do not contain it, the prophetic spirit did not proclaim it, the Apostle did not ask it, the Son Himself has not relinquished it. Will you then, who do not know the origin of creation, not endure in quiet humility your ignorance about the birth of the Creator?
Jesus Christ, Priest And Lord
Christ is not only Priest , He is also Head and Lord of the whole human race. God “has put everything under his dominion, and made him the head to which the whole Church is joined, so that he Church is his body, the completion of him who everywhere and in all things is complete” (Ephesians 1:22)
Jesus’ Living Reality As Shown In The Apostles Creed
The creed’s way of calling attention to Christ’s transcendence of history is by changing the tense. Up to and including the Ascension the tenses are in the past – historical. But He “sitteth at the right hand of God the Father almighty” is present –eternal.
The Holy Spirit
The Church says that the Holy Spirit is the bond of love which embraces the Father and the Son and proceeds form them both. St. Augustine says that “as the Word of God is the Son of God, so the love of God is the Holy Spirit”. St Paul says that “the love of has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom we have received.”…
He is what binds the soul of man supernaturally to God the absolute First Cause of Life. Throughout this supernatural love man is made a Saint and a Son of God. Thus as the Father creates man and the Son redeems him, so the Holy Spirit sanctifies him, makes him holy. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, who is the focus of all supernatural life, creation and redemption are brought to their completion…It is the presence of he Holy Spirit that allows us to call God “Father.” …
On the first Pentecost (or Whitsunday) the Holy Spirit was sent to the young Church, as he Lord had promised. At that moment the Church entered definitely upon her full life. St Thomas Aquinas says that the Holy Ghost is the soul of the Church, and just as a man’s body is animated by his soul, so the Church lives by the virtue of he Holy Spirit whom Christ sent to her in the power of the Father.
Resurrection Of The Body
How our resurrection will happen or what the resurrected body will be like – this no man can know or say. The Apostle Paul gave his answer to questions of this kind in the first Epistle of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:35-38) “But perhaps someone will ask, How can the dead rise up? What kind of body will they be wearing when they appear? Poor fool, when thou sowest seed in the ground, it must die before it can be brought to life; and what thou sowest is not the full body that is one day to be; it is only bare grain, of wheat, it may be, or some other crop; it is for God to embody it according to his will, each grain in the body that belongs to it.”
In the creed “I believe in life everlasting.” expresses a mystery which no man will ever fully grasp as long as he lives on this earth. (1 John 3:2) “We are sons of God even now and what we shall be hereafter has not been made known as yet. But we know that when he comes we shall be like him; we shall see him, then, as he is.” And St Paul (1Corinthians 2:9) tells us that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart conceived, the welcome God has prepared for those who love him.”
Life activated by Christian faith consists in the Christian’s cooperation in the works of he Blessed Trinity. The central purpose of this life is that, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we allow the creative work of the Father and the redemptive work of the Son to become fruitful and complete in us. …This share in the life of the Trinity is what we call sanctifying grace… It is utterly and completely a free gift of God. But at the same time it is truly an elevation, which man merits by reason of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, who is both God and Man; it lifts human nature into the Divine Nature, in order to live a life proceeding from the Holy Spirit, the threefold life of God Himself — (1John 3:1) we are called “children of God; and such we are.”
The Eucharist is indeed the very mass itself. In the Mass Jesus Christ becomes really present, in order that His Sacrifice on the Cross by which he earned new life for man, may be offered again and again in the midst of His Church. The Mass is not just a commemorative celebration; nor is it merely a communal preparation for Holy Communion. The Mass is essentially a public sacrifice; and the reception of the Body of our Lord is essentially a sacrificial act, a sacrificial meal. Christ himself offers Himself to His Father as sacrifice for sinful mankind; and the Christian community likewise offers itself together with Christ in the same sacrifice to the Father. The priest is the instrument of he self-offering Christ , and at the same time he is the representative of the co-offering community, or congregation. By this continuing renewal of the Sacrifice of he Cross, its fruits are given to all who assist in offering the Mass….
In order to effect our eternal salvation, Christ willed to sacrifice Himself once to the Father upon the altar of he Cross. But his priesthood was not to cease at His death. Therefore at the Last Supper He offered His Body and Blood to the Father in the form of bread and wine, thus bequeathing to His Church a Sacrifice through which the Sacrifice of the Cross, once offered, is made present, its memory preserved until the end of he world, and His healing power applied to us for remission of the sins which we daily commit.” Every Christian should bear the meaning of the Mass in mind…The Mass is the public and common Sacrifice offered by the People of God.
The Properly Ordered Life
Man’s life is properly ordered when it is directed toward man’s true end – God as revealed to us in Christ. In order to live a life directed toward this end, we must know how to evaluate all other human aims and good and their true worth. Whoever does not know the final reason for man’s existence cannot know the true value of created things for man. Man’s proper relation to God, to the world, and to his fellowman is confused and destroyed by sin. Sin is a man’s willful straying from his true end. It is through this deeply mysterious and incomprehensible willful straying from God that all other relationships between man and the world and man and his fellow man fall into disorder. Crippled by sin, man does not live to his full capacity. He loses the fullness of his destined life – his life in God, his life of divine sonship.
The Latin word virtus means manliness. The German word for virtue, Tugend, comes from taugen, to be fit and related to this is the English word doughty, now obsolete except in humor, but originally meaning able. Virtue makes a man fit and able to be what his Creator intends and to do what his Creator wills…A good man is more fit…He wants to do good and he can … he wills it. …Sin makes man unfit to do what he is intended to be and do….