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Posts Tagged ‘Beatific Vision’

St. Irenaeus (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

[NB: This post is the first in a series of papers on moral theology. You may read the second paper, “The Nature of the Voluntary,” here and the third paper, “The Three Moral Determinates in Relation to Law and Conscience,” here.]

“The glory of God is man fully alive; but man’s life is the vision of God,” St. Irenaeus declared in Adversus haereses.[i]  This phrase points to man’s ultimate and objective end. The current crisis in moral theology is mainly attributed to losing sight of a correct anthropology of man. In order to reestablish a correct view of moral theology, we must first reestablish a correct view of man. For us to see clearly the ultimate end of man and the objective nature of that end, we must begin with a correct understanding of the nature of the soul. Through this integration, the words of St. Irenaeus become clear and firmly establish our moral compass.

St. Augustine tells us that man is at once “both a servant and free.” It is upon this point we must build our understanding of the man’s soul. Moral theology traditionally hinged on finding a proper balance between duty to the law (the servant aspect) while also encouraging the spiritual formation which the law seeks to instill within man (the freedom aspect). Modern moralists have attempted to play one aspect off the other; a sort of “either/or.” Yet, a true understanding of man shows us it is a situation of “both/and.” In order to find its true direction, the human soul requires both, and therefore entails a return to a traditional understanding of man’s soul.[ii]

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over…[all creation]…upon the earth’” (Gen. 1:26, RSV-CE). Of all visible creation, man alone can know and love his Creator; called to share in His life. The Catechism tells us the human body is special precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul. The immortal soul is a special gift of God created immediately by God and not “produced” by the parents, showing that from creation man was ordered to a supernatural end. Although undeserved by man, God is able to raise man’s spiritual soul to communion with Him. The Church believes the unity of body and soul is so profound that the soul is considered the “form” of the body: “…spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”[iii]

As a union of body and soul, material and spiritual, man interacts with created reality through his material body using his spiritual attributes of intellect and will. St. Thomas tells us only those actions of which man is master are properly called human. True human acts arise from deliberate use of the will and intellect; they involve reflection and choice. Moral choice requires the participation of both will and intellect since the concept of free will includes both powers.[iv]

The question now becomes one of determining how man should act, or the proper employment of intellect and will. A rational being must first determine the ultimate goal of his actions (the order of intention) before beginning to implement those goals. In this step, intellect is emphasized since a journey must first have a destination. Arrival at the destination is called the order of execution and here the will is emphasized since through the will a person attains his goals. Put simply: “One must investigate and decide on an ultimate destination and pursue it.”[v]

What is this ultimate destination for man? Being seeks perfection. So, in man’s every action, he seeks greater or further participation in being: “As the eye seeks sight, the mind seeks truth and the will seeks good or perfection.” This material end of the will, the actual good which perfects humanity, is the Holy Trinity. Thus, all things have the Holy Trinity as their origin and all things seek to return to the Holy Trinity.[vi]

For man, this happiness is the Beatific Vision. We find expression of this in Jesus’ preaching of the Beatitudes. The Church teaches that the Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness placed in the human heart by God to draw man to Him and they reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: God’s call to the Beatific Vision.[vii]

St. Thomas tells us, “man naturally desires, as his ultimate end, to know the first cause. But the first cause of all things is God. Therefore, the ultimate end of man is to know God.” Yet, he also tells us that “…throughout this life God can be known in no higher way than that whereby a cause is known through its effect.” God gave us an innate desire to know Him, yet did not provide us the means within ourselves to know Him by nature alone – we require His assistance of divine grace.[viii]

A misinterpretation of St. Thomas’s phrase “natural desire to see God” by Cardinal Thomas de Vio Cajetan (1469-1534) resulted in centuries of confusion in Catholic teaching. Cajetan took “desire” to mean an appetite of the will which negated the gratuitous character of grace. To compensate, he developed a “two-end” theory involving a hypothetical “pure nature” into which man could have been created, but instead was created in a second nature of grace which actually ordered man to Beatific Vision. Twentieth century theologians Henri de Lubac and Karl Rahner attempted to correct the failures in Cajetan’s theory, but instead only added to the confusion. The problem was rooted in an incorrect order of approach: happiness, possibility of attainment, and natural desire. The opposite is actually the correct order: the fact of natural desire, possibility, and then happiness.[ix]

An analysis of St. Thomas’s writing makes clear he did not mean “natural desire” as an appetite of the will, but as identical with the power of the intellect and its desire to know. This natural desire is a potential to know, not the knowledge itself. It is not desire in the sense of an appetite, but the tendency of every being to seek its perfection. Our destiny cannot be realized in this life because our intellect demands knowledge of the first cause. St. Thomas shows us that even the angels cannot be satisfied with knowing God merely as cause. As he concludes: “Although man is included to an ultimate end by nature, yet he cannot attain that end by nature, but only by grace because of the exalted character of the end.”[x]

Thus, the very nature of man’s soul drives him to reach towards the ultimate objective end of his being: the Beatific Vision. Although possessing an innate desire to see God, man cannot reach his ultimate end in his nature alone, but requires him to freely accept the freely offered gift from God of His grace. As the Catechism succinctly sums it up:

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to Himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for[.][xi]


Endnotes

[i] As quoted in: Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Man’s Desire for God (Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library, 2003), ix.

[ii] Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Both a Servant and Free: A Primer in Fundamental Moral Theology (New Hope, NY: New Hope Publications, 2011), xi, xiii.

[iii] Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 356-357, 364- 367.

[iv] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 1, a. 1, at New Advent, http://www.newadevent.org; Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 34.

[v] Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 34-35.

[vi] Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 36-37.

[vii] CCC, 1718-1719.

[viii] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 25, 11; III, 48, 9, Joseph Kenny, O.P. (ed.) (New York: Hanover House, 1955-1957) at Priory of the Immaculate Conception, http://dhspriory.org; Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 42-43.

[ix] Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 1-12.

[x] Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 12-13, 15, 19.

[xi] CCC, 27.

2011 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

When discussing sin, hell, and damnation in relation to salvation, people sometimes bring up an objection citing a person in an isolated jungle who has never heard the Gospel. Surely, they claim, God would not be so “cruel” as to condemn this person to hell merely because he never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel. This well-meaning, but utterly misguided, notion shows a deep lack of understanding regarding the true Catholic Faith. Let’s consider this situation a bit further to see if we can come to a better understanding regarding the Truth of God’s Law.

First, we very clearly need to distinguish that if a person outside Christ’s Church is saved, he is not saved because of his religion but in spite of it. Certainly God is completely free to save whomever He chooses, including those outside the Church, yet at the same time we cannot discount what He has told us through His Divine Revelation about His plan for Salvation.

Some within the Church, on both sides of the rail, have misinterpreted the teachings of Vatican II, either accidently or on purpose, to claim that every religion is just as good as any other and that the Catholic Church has no particular claim on the Truth, and therefore has no right or obligation to proselytize. This is a dangerous lie. Vatican II very clearly taught, in complete continuity with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, that the fullness of Truth subsists in the Catholic Church (here’s a link to a very important document from the CDF clarifying the meaning of the word “subsists:” http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=162).

According to the Fathers of the Church, the most primitive religion is the natural religion of monotheism brought about by the work of God’s holy angels entrusted with the care of nations. As Fr. Jean Danielou says in The Angels and Their Mission, “The very regularity of the laws of nature is a sort of revelation through which man can recognize the existence of a provident God.” The angels were charged with the mission of providing protection and temporal assistance to nations, along with a primary spiritual role of leading pagan people towards God and retaining the spark of natural revelation. However, nations turned away from the natural religion due to the egotism and presumption of man, coupled with the activity of demons; instead of God, pagans turned to foolish worship of idols.

Thus, while elements of truth exist in other religions, they do not contain the fullness of Truth. God does not desire man to remain in the ignorance of false religion. Instead, those elements of truth in otherwise false religions are designed to prepare people for and lead them to the Truth, which is found only in the one, true, orthodox Catholic Faith. This is why missionary and apologetic activity remains critically important and why ecumenical activity should encourage dialogue but never compromise the Truth.

God is not cruel; He is pure and perfect love. As pure and perfect love, He grants us the free will to either accept or reject Him – for true love only exists if it is freely given and freely returned. Therefore, it is not God’s pure and perfect love which condemns us. It is we, through our own actions, who condemn ourselves. We forget that true love isn’t all smiley faces and warm puppies. Instead, true love is very often tough and difficult. Our Lord reminds us of this throughout Sacred Scripture. A close reading of Sacred Scripture shows us that salvation is anything but easy or a “given” – in fact our Lord clearly indicates the truth that not everyone is saved. In a misguided attempt not to “offend,” there’s been a de-emphasis of sin, the devil, and damnation in recent decades. Yet, isn’t it better to live in the Truth no matter how difficult it might be than to be “comforted” by a lie?

St. John pulls no punches when he tells us, “Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). Thus, the Second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1438-1445) declared: “the souls of those who die in mortal sin or with only original sin soon go down into hell, but there they receive different punishments.” Those two punishments are the “pain of loss” and the “pain of sense.” The “pain of loss” is the absence of the Beatific Vision. The “pain of sense” is brought about by actual sin and is felt by the senses even after the resurrection of the body. As Pope Innocent III summed it up, “the punishment for original sin is the loss of the vision of God, but the punishment for actual sin is the torment of an everlasting hell.”

The “pain of loss” is compatible with a state of natural bliss or perfect happiness – it merely lacks the Beatific Vision. This is the state many orthodox theologians throughout the history of the Church refer to as “limbo.” Limbo itself is not a dogmatic teaching of the Church, but is a strongly accepted theory among many eminent and solid theologians. I agree with the arguments for the existence of limbo and its role as the repository for souls who die without the Sacrament of Baptism. I don’t find this to be “cruel,” but instead simply a fact of the Truth. Those in limbo are in a state of perfect natural happiness; they are not being eternally punished as are those suffering “pain of sense,” instead they simply lack the Beatific Vision (they are happy, but unaware they could be more happy).

This notion that God wouldn’t be so “cruel” as not to save everyone comes down to believing what we wish to be true instead of what we’re told through Divine Revelation is actually the Truth. God clearly spells out His Law and the consequences of either rejecting or accepting that Law. Yet in our subjective and relativistic “me” centered society, we think it “unfair” and “cruel” if we’re held to an objective standard of Truth. However, at the end of the day, no matter how loudly we complain or how much we wish it were otherwise, we cannot break His Law, but only break ourselves against His Law.

As for our man we left standing alone in the middle of the jungle, did not our Lord command us to “make disciples of all nations?” If our man in the jungle dies without every hearing the Gospel, or worse yet turns to demon-inspired idolatry, then in a sense aren’t we at least partly to blame for not fully following the command of our Lord?

+JMJ

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