Oh Camellia sinensis!

Each time the kettle starts to hiss,

Oh praise Him! Alleluia!

Dihydrogen monoxide too,

Infuse their leaves the whole way through!

Oh praise Him! Oh praise Him!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!



In Luke 20:27-40 we receive the fullest account of why the blessed neither marry nor are given in marriage.

And there came to him some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is any resurrection, and they asked him, Saying: Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man’s brother die, having a wife, and he leave no children, that his brother should take her to wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children. And the next took her to wife, and he also died childless. And the third took her. And in like manner all the seven, and they left no children, and died. Last of all the woman died also. In the resurrection therefore, whose wife of them shall she be? For all the seven had her to wife. And Jesus said to them: The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they that shall be accounted worthy of that world, and of the resurrection from the dead, shall neither be married, nor take wives. Neither can they die any more: for they are equal to the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. Now that the dead rise again, Moses also shewed, at the bush, when he called the Lord, The God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; For he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live to him. And some of the scribes answering, said to him: Master, thou hast said well. And after that they durst not ask him any more questions.

God is the living one. Those who would approach him, in this life or the next, must divest themselves of death. Since the Fall marriage has been inextricably tied up with death. Before the Fall all who were born would have been born into grace and eternal life and reproduction existed to make up the number of the elect. After the Fall reproduction is required, as with the beasts, just to keep the human race in existence. All are now born into sin as children of wrath and most die in sin as children of wrath. The elect are born now not from the womb but from the font. All the faithful who are, since that second birth (God willing) no longer children of the world, must strive to live poverty, chastity and obedience so far as it is given them. Whether in the monastery, the presbytery or in the sacrament of marriage they form part of a common struggle to keep unstained our baptismal robe when we appear before the Lord in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and at His return in glory. For the the Christian spouses a necessarily imperfect struggle is made possible by the sacrament of marriage to restore the sanctity of the union of our first parents before the Fall when marriage existed only to beget children of God. For the Monk, engaging in spiritual combat in a state of perfection, life is directed with an undivided heart to the reality which that great sign represents. The priest approaches the Living One in the holy terror of the Mass. With him we stand before that splendid outrage in our common priesthood as children of God and children of the resurrection striving for chastity according to our state.

Even the married faithful need to be willing to separate themselves from each other if fidelity to Christ requires it of them. “And there went great multitudes with him. And turning, he said to them: If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-26). This is not just a negative requirement. The greatest love, even spousal love, respects and recognises that the beloved exists for herself and ultimately for God. In the last sentence of A Grief Observed C. S. Lewis meditates on the moment of his wife’s death quoting the moment at which Dante and Beatrice part at the end of the Divine Comedy: “How wicked it would be, if we could, to call the dead back!  She said not to me but to the chaplain, ‘I am at peace with God.’  She smiled, but not at me.  Poi si torno all, eterna fontana.” ‘Then she turned herself back toward the eternal fountain’. This moment of separation occurs when every religious enters the cloister and for every priest when he steps outside the camp and into the sanctuary of the Living God.

Cardinal O’Brien has sadly wobbled on priestly celibacy. It is of course quite false to say that Divine Law permits priests to marry. Divine Law forbids priests to marry. The Church will not allow priests to marry unless they have first been forever forbidden to exercise their priestly functions. Outside of the Roman Patriarchate other Churches sui iuris allow men who are already married to receive sacred orders up to and including the presbyterate but not the episcopate. In fact, there are regulations, still arguably in force in at least some of these Churches, requiring married priests to abstain from the use of marriage for a certain period prior to the celebration of the Eucharist. The observance of these is naturally difficult for a married priest alone in a parish celebrating the Divine Liturgy every day.

A difficult question arises concerning the status of these provisions. Is the use of marriage by priests (for this is the real issue not marriage as such) permitted by Divine Law but forbidden by the Latin Church as an ascetical discipline; or is the use of marriage forbidden by Divine Law but in such a way that the Church may dispense? We know this second possibility, of dispensing from some precepts of Divine Law, exists in the case of marriage between a baptised and a non-baptised spouse.

What is clear is that both the East and the West hold it to be in some way better for a priest to abstain from the use of marriage. No married man has ever been consecrated to the episcopate. As mentioned, the married priests of e.g. the Byzantine ritual Church have traditionally been required to abstain from the use of marriage before the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.

What makes the question hard to resolve is the fact that respect and enthusiasm for St Paul’s teaching on perfect chastity in  1 Corinthians 7 was so general in the earliest age of the Church that the question of whether perfect continence was required for clergy or just taken for granted seems not to have even arisen. More energy was expended in the second century dealing with those who in their enthusiasm for chastity or because of Gnostic tendencies forbade the use of marriage to the baptised in general.

Nevertheless, there exists direct and implied scriptural grounds for the discipline of priestly celibacy. The most explicit statement is Titus 1:8 where St Paul says that a presbyter or bishop must be continent. It is interesting that just before this, as elsewhere, he insists that he must be the husband of only one wife. This comment has often been misinterpreted by casual readers to indicate precisely that that clerical continence was not required in the Apostolic Church. In fact, it leads to the opposite conclusion. Why would second marriage have been forbidden except because it indicated a person was unable or unwilling to practice the continence the priestly state requires?

There is an incident recorded by the church historian Socrates (who died in the mid-fifth century) that supposedly occurred at the First Council of Nicaea when a famously holy and continent bishop Paphnutius dissuaded the  Council Fathers from imposing continence on the presbyterate. There is considerable dispute over the authenticity of this incident for which Socrates is the earliest authority. Those who uphold it obviously conclude that no such discipline existed earlier than 325. This is often seen a strong argument against the conclusion that priestly celibacy is Apostolic and of Divine Law. Once again this conclusion arises from a reading of the evidence through secular modern lenses. The truly interesting fact about the alleged incident is that the passing of a decree enforcing presbyteral continence was nearly passed on the nod until Paphnutius’s supposed intervention. What this tells us is that even if the story is accurate clerical continence was so widespread that its enforcement in ecclesiastical positive law would have been (but for one highly persuasive and unexpected intervention) uncontroversial.  This strengthens the idea that the practice of clerical continence is of Apostolic origin.

Of course we must conclude that by the time Socrates wrote in Constantinople in the fifth century clerical continence cannot have been universal else his assertion of the story (regardless of its accuracy) would make no sense. In fact, for an orthodox Catholic the origin of the discipline of clerical continence in Divine Law is not a matter of doubt because of the clear teaching on this subject given by Pope Siricius in 385,

Let us come now to the most sacred orders of the clergy, which we find so abused and so disorderly throughout your provinces to the injury of venerable religion that we ought to say in the words of Jeremias: Who will water to my head, or a fountain of tears to my eyes? And I will weep for this people day and night (Jer. 9:1). . . . For we have learned that very many priests and Levites of Christ, after long periods of their consecration, have begotten offspring from their wives as well as by shameful intercourse, and that they defend their crime by this excuse, that in the Old Testament it is read that the faculty of procreating was given to the priests and the ministers.

Whoever that follower of sensual desires is let him tell me now: . . . Why does [the Lord] forewarn those to whom the holies of holies were to be entrusted saying: Be ye holy, because I your Lord God am holy [Lev. 20:7;1 Pet. 1:16]? Why also were the priests ordered to dwell in the temple at a distance from their homes in the year of their turn? Evidently for this reason that they might not be able to practice carnal intercourse with their wives, so that shining with purity of conscience they might offer an acceptable gift to God. . . .

Therefore also the Lord Jesus, when He had enlightened us by His coming, testifies in the Gospel, that he came to fulfill the Law, not to destroy it [Matt. 5:17]. And so He has wished the beauty of the Church, whose spouse He is, to radiate with the splendour of chastity, so that on the day of judgment, when He will have come again, He may be able to find her without spot or wrinkle [Eph. 5:27] as He instituted her through His Apostle. All priests and levites are bound by the indissoluble law of these sanctions, so that from the day of our ordination, we give up both our hearts and our bodies to continence and chastity, provided only that through all things we may please our God in these sacrifices which we daily offer.”But those who are in the flesh,” as the vessel of election says, “cannot please God” [Rom. 8:8].

But those, who contend with an excuse for the forbidden privilege, so as to assert that this has been granted to them by the Old Law, should know that by the authority of the Apostolic See they have been cast out of every ecclesiastical office, which they have used unworthily, nor can they ever touch the sacred mysteries, of which they themselves have deprived themselves so long as they give heed to impure desires. And because existing examples warn us to be on our guard for the future should any bishop, priest, or deacon be found such, which henceforth we do not want, let him now understand that every approach to indulgence is barred through us, because it is necessary that the wounds which are not susceptible to the healing of warm lotions be cut out with a knife. (Denzinger 89)

Two questions remain. First, why did clerical continence become controversial by the end of the fourth century (and de facto optional in e.g. Constantinople) when it was apparently so uncontroversial at the beginning? Secondly, what are we to say of the married clergy of the Eastern Catholic Churches and those ordained after reception from the ‘Church’ ‘of England’ if clerical continence is of Divine Law?

In the answer to the second question lies the answer to the first. All these clergy have in common that they either personally or as Churches have spent significant periods outside of the visible hierarchical structure of the Church. Of the Eastern Catholics only the Italo-Greeks have never been in schism. The Melkites were in a rather confused position for a long time due to Antiochene disapproval/ambiguity towards the Cerularian Schism. The Syro-Malabars were caught up with the Persian Nestorians for geographical rather than theological reasons. Nevertheless, it is clear that all these Churches were, for long periods at least, headed by bishops who resisted the Roman primacy. Marriage is a symbol of the union of Christ and His Church – the Sacramentum Magnum. This union is effected by Sanctifying Grace. As Pope Boniface VIII solemnly taught in Unam Sanctam (1302) outside of the Church, defined by submission to the Roman Pontiff, “there is neither salvation nor the forgiveness of sins”. The reason chastity is superior to marriage is that it orders us more perfectly to the reality, the nuptial union of Christ and the Church, of which marriage is the symbol. Outside the Roman obedience the symbol and the reality both perish. Sanctifying grace cannot be had outside the Church and the indissolubility of marriage and obligatory clerical continence swiftly pass away. It is noticeable that those Eastern Catholics with little or very little history of real schism have the strongest tradition of clerical celibacy. By the end of the fourth century the entire Church had been rocked by the Arian Crisis for nearly seventy years. Many individuals and particular churches had been separated from the See of Rome and the true faith for long periods. The Monks, most famously St Antony, were a notable bulwark of Catholic orthodoxy. St Paul forbade the ordination of those who had been married twice because such could not be expected to maintain the continence of the clerical state. What is a restored schismatic individual or church but one who on the deepest level has been compelled to marry twice: once when he or she was baptised and once agin when restored to communion with Christ’s Vicar on Earth?

The fact that clerical continence, though of Divine Law, is dispensable bears witness to the goodness of marriage. The discipline of liturgical marital abstinence in the Eastern Churches (which requires some renewed emphasis) bears witness to the superiority of continence. The married clergy of the East also remind us of the fact that continence is not uniquely clerical. It is the monk who is the paradigm of the chaste life not the cleric. All the faithful are called to practice poverty, chastity and obedience in spirit and in fact so far as is given to them by grace and providence. For the clergy the fittingness is so intense, because of their proximity to the Holy Sacrifice, that it constitutes a norm that must be dispensed only when pressing pastoral need requires it. In this era when the true nature of marriage is under assault on every side and chastity despised, urgent pastoral need demands that the largest Patriarchate  in the Church the Church of Rome blessed with the Supreme Pastor as its proximate head preserve inviolate the Apostolic tradition of clerical continence and boldly profess the sanctity of virginity, continence and marriage to this corrupted dying age.

This question is one of the many interesting by-ways of St Thomas’s thought that one may stray through by reading his book, Questions about whatever you like (‘Quaestiones quodlibetales)’. It is IV, q. 3, art. 2. I’ve never seen it commented on, which is mainly why I bring it up.

I was inclined to think that the answer would be no: things which have gone out of existence cannot be restored, with the exception of any given human person, the continued existence of whose immortal soul after death means that he can, at the general resurrection, be brought back into being as precisely (‘numerically’) the same person.

But St Thomas doesn’t take this view. He distinguishes between ‘things’ whose identity is intrinsically dependent on their continuity and all other things. As examples of the first category he gives change and time. So  it’s part of the very notion of a given change that it is not interrupted but rather continuous; if it is interrupted and then later on the process of change is resumed, that makes 2 changes not 1. So if a ball which has been hit from one side of a tennis-court is caught by someone at the net, then that very same forward movement can never be restored; if the person who has caught the ball throws it onwards, that is a new movement, not the very same movement as before. And since time depends on change, therefore just as the very same change cannot be brought back into being, nor can the past time itself.

But with regard to other things – including what we normally mean by ‘things’, namely substances – their identity doesn’t depend on continuity in time. It depends, as far as I can see, on their form. This duck today is the same as that duck yesterday because they have numerically the same form.

So, once this duck has gone out of existence, can it be brought back into being? Not by any natural process, says St Thomas. The reason he gives is that ‘a natural agent cannot cause something to exist without a process of change’. As far as I can tell, the thought here seems to be that, since the very same change cannot be restored, nor can the very same thing that first came into being as a product of that change. The very same act of fertilisation by which duck A was brought into being cannot be restored; so any duck that is now brought into existence will not be duck A, but another duck.

However, he goes on, ‘God can restore things of this kind without a process of change, since it is within His power to produce effects without the intermediary causes, and so He can restore numerically the same things, even when they have ceased to exist {Sed Deus potest reparare huiusmodi et sine motu, quia in eius potestate est quod producat effectus sine causis mediis; et ideo potest eadem numero reparare, etiamsi in nihilum elapsa fuerint.}

So given that nature was able to bring duck A into being in the past by a series of changes, and since whatever nature can do, the Author of nature can do better, God can bring duck A into existence again even when it has once ceased to exist.

That at least is how I understand the question. But I may be wrong.

Perhaps it would be simpler to put it like this: if someone in a separated Christian body has a genuine desire to believe all that the Church founded by Christ taught, then he has a habitual ‘clinging’ or ‘inhering’ to the Catholic Church. This habitual inhering is actualised when he believes revealed truths proposed to him by this separated body, since in proposing such truths the ministers of this body are, formally albeit illicitly, acting as teachers of the Catholic faith. And so the separated brother in good faith, when he believes them, is believing teachers of the Catholic faith, and doing this on account of his habitual desire to believe whatever is taught by the Church founded by Christ. And this seems to fulfil St Thomas’s criteria for supernatural faith, without contradicting the Holy Office.

Fr Feeney’s position thus appears to derive from an insufficiently ‘formal’ reading of St Thomas. He sees that the act of faith is made in dependence on a Catholic teacher, but supposes that this must mean someone who in general has the office of a Catholic teacher, rather than one who here and now is acting as a Catholic teacher, in virtue of teaching Catholic truth.

A minor correction: in the former post I described ‘proposition by the Church’ as part of the formal object of faith. According to Garrigou-Lagrange, Thomists in general describe it as a sine qua non for faith, and not part of the formal object itself.

By a Feeneyite I mean one who holds that to be in a state of grace it is necessary not just to have an explicit faith in Christ and the Holy Trinity but also to be right about what visible society is the Church founded by Christ (if any follower of Fr Feeney should chance to read this, I apologise if I have characterised his position wrongly.) The passages in St Thomas that raise this question come in his treatment of the virtue of faith, and in particular whether one who disbelieves one article of faith can have supernatural faith in another article. The statement that perhaps most strongly supports the Feeneyite position is in the De Caritate, article 13 ad 6 :-

The formal object itself [formalis ratio obiecti] in faith is the first truth manifested by the teaching of the Church, just as the formal object of a science is the proofs that establish the conclusions; and so just as someone who knows by heart some geometrical conclusions doesn’t have the science of geometry if he doesn’t assent to the conclusion on account of the arguments that prove them… so the one who holds things that belong to the faith while not assenting to them on account of the authority of Catholic doctrine does not have the habit of faith.

The discussion in the Summa 2a 2ae q. 5, a. 3, apparently written a year or two later, is slightly different, though very similar:-

The formal object of the faith is the first truth insofar as it is manifested in sacred Scripture and the doctrine of the Church. Thus, whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and divine rule, to the doctrine of the Church which proceeds from the first truth manifested in sacred Scripture does not have the habit of faith, but  holds those things which are of faith by some means other than by faith [he then gives the same illustration about knowing the conclusion of a science and not the proofs.]

The difference is that the treatment in the Summa introduces the Scripture into the discussion of the formal object of faith. That might seem to provide room for one who wanted to argue that for St Thomas it was possible for some person to have faith without explicitly adhering to the Catholic Church; they don’t have the whole ‘rule of faith’, but they have enough of it – the First Truth revealed in Scripture – to make an act of faith.

The problem with this is that a formal object is indivisible. The whole point of talking about formal objects is that they are what make an act a certain kind of act rather than another kind of act. If you could take something away from the object and still have the same kind of act – in this case, an act of faith – then clearly the original object wasn’t the formal object at all. And whenever St Thomas speaks of the formal object of faith, whether or not he mentions Scripture, he always mentions the Church. You can’t take away inhering to the Church as to an infallible rule and still have an act of faith, for St Thomas (in theory you could, but not in the actual order of things willed by God.)

And yet, according to the Holy Office, an implicit desire for membership of the Church can be enough to ground an act of faith. Are these two positions reconcilable? Can someone who is not a Catholic and who has not resolved to become a Catholic nevertheless be adhering to the Catholic Church as to an infallible rule?

I think he can, provided that he admits that the Church founded by Christ is infallible and that it still exists, even though he is confused about where it is. Similarly, one can have trust in the veracity of one’s mother even if one should be unsure which of two identical twins is one’s mother (unlikely, I know, but that doesn’t lessen the force of the analogy.) It is sufficient if one has a definition of one’s mother that per se distinguishes her from every other person (e.g. ‘the woman who gave birth to me’), even if at the moment it does not allow one to pick her out here and now. If both twins make the same statement, for example about when one was born, and one believes it, then one can be said to be believing it on account of the veracity of one’s mother even though one doesn’t know who one’s mother is. On the other hand, if they make contradictory statements, it would not be reasonable to accept either of them for as long as one remained in doubt as to which woman was one’s mother; one would be running the risk of disbelieving one’s mother; one could no longer be said to be adhering to her words as to an infallible rule.

To apply the analogy to Christendom. If someone adheres to a doctrine taught by the Catholic Church and by various separated bodies, it seems possible that one is adhering to it on account of the infallible authority of the Catholic Church, even if one cannot empirically identify the Catholic Church. On the other hand, where the Catholic Church and the other bodies make contradictory statements, if someone assents to the statement made by the non-Catholic body, he cannot be said to be adhering to the Catholic Church as to an infallible rule, and therefore, according to St Thomas, he cannot have faith. John Henry Newman in 1840 wanted to believe everything taught by the Church founded by Christ, only he wasn’t sure where that Church was. But I think it very likely that he had supernatural faith.

Criticisms welcome.

St Thomas appears to say that it can, at least when the cause is the humanity of Christ, acting as a ‘conjoined instrument’ of the Word. In question 48 of the Tertia Pars, describing the various different ways in which our Lord’s passion saves us, he comes in article 6 to the question of efficient causality. Does Christ’s passion act an efficient cause? That is, does it cause grace in the soul by literally acting on the soul, as literally as, say, a sculptor shapes a block of marble by acting on it with hammer and chisel? St Thomas says that it does. To the objection that Christ’s passion was limited to one time and place, and so can’t literally ‘touch’ people of all times and places, he says that it can, because of the ‘spiritual power coming from the divinity united’ to His suffering body and soul. This spiritual power of the suffering Christ touches our soul by faith and the sacraments of faith as really as the chisel touches the marble.

Yet how can it? When Abraham, for example, was justified, the passion of our Lord was still 2,000 years in the future. That which doesn’t exist cannot act. I think St Thomas would reply that the Word existed when Abraham was justified; and the existence of the Word is simultaneous with all times; and so the Word, having the passion of Christ simultaneous to it, could exercise its power through the passion of Christ on another object that was simultaneous to it, namely Abraham’s justification, even though these two earthly events, the Passion and Abraham, were not simultaneous to each other.

(Technical note: one might object: simultaneity is a transitive relation: if A is simultaneous with B and with C, then B and C must be simultaneous. The answer to this is that simultaneity is only transitive whilst one remains in the same ‘kind’ of duration, for example within time, or within the angelic ‘aevum’, or within eternity. But when one considers simultaneity across different ‘kinds’ of duration, it is no longer transitive).

This at least is Abbot Vonier’s reading of St Thomas. Cajetan, if I remember correctly, plays down St Thomas’s words, and seems to think that nothing can literally act upon things which are not simultaneously present to it, and so that the actual suffering, or resurrection, or ascension of Christ are not strictly efficient causes. But I think Vonier is faithful to St Thomas here; and, even more importantly, to the language of St Paul.


Everyone upon earth might, without any verbal evasion, be saved, as far as God’s assistances are concerned. Every man born of Adam’s seed, simply and truly, might save himself, if he would, and every man might will to save himself; for grace is given to every one for this end (‘Discourses to Mixed Congregations’, VII)

God moves the human mind towards the good in such away that the mind can nevertheless resist this motion; and so it is from God that a man prepares himself to receive grace, while if a man lacks grace, this does not have its cause from God but from the man, according the word of Hosea XIII, ‘Destruction is thy own, O Israel’ (‘Quaestiones Quodlibetales’, I, 4, a.2 ad 2)

Today in the Church when one identifies love of God with love of neighbour, one commits the much worse error of reducing the love of God to the love of neighbour, rather than the other way round. In earlier times one sometimes reduced the love of neighbour to the love of God – though this identification occurred only on a very limited scale among certain devout nuns rather than among significant theologians. In this identification one turns love of neighbour into a mere act of obedience toward Christ – one thinks that, if one is motivated by the love of Christ, it is enough to treat one’s neighbour as if one loves him. But today’s danger of reducing the love of God to the love of neighbour is incomparably more dangerous.  (The Devastated Vineyard, ‘Distortion of Morality’)

Here the distance between us and the Absolute is transposed to the level of quantity. We still imagine ourselves to be of the stuff of the Absolute, as it were, and sharers in its glory. A hidden playground is still reserved for the antics of a certain refined species of pride; the nerve of pride has not been cut; the idol of self-glory has not been thoroughly uprooted. (Transformation in Christ, chapter 7)

An interesting papal statement to the effect that failure to recognise the existence of God is a sin. It might seem obvious: but both Rahner and Maritain in their different ways countenanced the idea of ‘anonymous theism’, where people really believe in God even though they think that they don’t, and whose atheism is therefore not a sin.

If, then, human beings with their intelligence fail to recognise God as Creator of all, it is not because they lack the means to do so, but because their free will and their sinfulness place an impediment in the way (Fides et Ratio, 19)

Si porro intellectu suo non eo usque advenit homo ut Deum omnium Conditorem cognoscat, hoc non tam deficienti instrumento est tribuendum, quantum potius impedimento libera ipsius voluntate ac peccatis propriis interiecto.

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