These three great saints, Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, and Catherine of Siena are, within the same Order, like a reflection of the three divine Persons: the Father, the Word, and the Spirit of love. Their union remains mysterious for us only because it is so intimate and so sublime (Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange)

I was recently clearing out part of the attic, and came across a tattered prayer-book. It contains a prayer for happy friendships, something which I’ve not seen elsewhere. Here it is:

   THRICE-BLESSÈD almighty Lord and God, Who hast made this world for man and rulest it still only for his good;

   Who hast established man in paradise and callest him ever into perfect amity with Thee;

   Thou who hast taught man through the holy Scriptures that the faithful friend is a sturdy shelter and a treasure beyond price, and who hast promised the boon of true friendships to such as feareth Thee;

   Thou also who didst knit together the heart of Jonathan with that of good David Thy servant, that he might love him as his own soul;

   and hast provided at the incarnation of the everlasting Word, our Lord Jesus, friends to Him that should solace and delight His earthly hours, Lazarus, whom He returned from the temporary tomb, and John, who laid his head upon our Saviour’s breast;

   grant to us, we beseech Thee, the gift of happy friendships; and teach us so amiably to foster, loyally to preserve and nobly to rejoice in them, that we may deserve to drink the new wine of Thy Kingdom with the old wine of trusted friends, in the presence of our only Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.

As in the theatres, when it grows toward evening, and the spectators depart, then going out and laying aside their dresses, they who seemed kings and generals are seen as they really are, the sons of gardeners and fig-sellers: so also when death is come and the spectacle is over, and all the masks of poverty and riches are put off, by their works alone are men judged, which are truly rich, which poor, which are worthy of honour, which of dishonour (Pseudo-Chrysostom, quoted in Catena Aurea on Lk XVI:24).

In his delightful book Enthusiasm, Ronald Knox remarks on the Jansenist belief that the Church is destined to decline continuously from her pristine excellence until the end of the world. He says that this opinion would be as hard to justify from history as it is from theology. Newman in Loss and Gain puts the same Jansenist view in the mouth (if I remember correctly) of Campbell, the Scotch Protestant, but without giving any indication of whether he himself endorses or opposes it.

Chesterton, I think in his book on Chaucer, recounts how he was once asked by a very intelligent agnostic whether he thought that the human race improved as time went on, or degenerated, or stayed about the same, and that the questioner seemed to think that he had covered all the possibilities. In reply he asked the other chap whether he thought that Ebeneezer Brown of 22, The Beeches, Tooting Bec, improved, degenerated or stayed about the same between the ages of 30 and 40 (I quote from memory, and invent the names.) Chesterton says that it then seemed to dawn on his interlocutor that the answer rather depended on Mr Brown and how he chose to behave. In other words, for Chesterton, because man has free will there is no necessity for the human race to go in any direction in particular. This is certainly an invigorating way to answer our question, but I’m not sure the conclusion follows. There is such a thing as having moral certainty about future events that will depend on free will; St Thomas says somewhere that in a town full of irascible people, you can be sure an argument will break out at some point, even though you can’t tell in advance when or between whom. In the same way, one could hold that the human race will go in a certain direction even though each man is free to go where he wants.

Maritain throughout his writing has a theory that both good and evil increase in the human race as time goes by, like the wheat and the cockle growing side-by-side. I suppose this means that the just will on average be more just, and the unjust on average more unjust from one century to the next. I don’t think he really tries to prove this, though he does make the point that if persecutions intensify, those who resist them will need to have a correspondingly greater holiness. On the other hand, even if his theory were true, it could still be the case that an increasingly large number of people became unjust in every age. Also, since the cockle on his account can be within the Church as well as outside, it wouldn’t help to answer the question about how the Church on earth was destined to fare.

Tolkien, in a private letter from 1956, wrote: “I am a Christian and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long defeat.” I like those quotation marks around ‘history’. Presumably they signify that the subject as usually studied is defective, as abstracting from the supernatural truths that alone allow us to understand it. But why ‘a long defeat’ rather than a series of victories and defeats? Presumably he was thinking of history as tending toward the reign of the antichrist, which he must have considered as the final period of history, ended only by the eucatastrophe of the second coming.

St Thomas, speaking about how the articles of faith have grown over the years from Abraham onwards, says this:

The final consummation of grace came about through Christ, and so His time is called ‘the fullness of time’. Consequently, those who were closer to Christ, whether before, like John the Baptist, or after, like the apostles, knew the mysteries of faith more fully. We see the same thing in regard to the condition of a man, who has {bodily} perfection in youth, and a man is the more perfect in proportion as he is close to youth, whether before or after (2a 2ae 1, 7 ad 4).

He is not speaking here about an increase in the articulation of the mysteries of faith, I think, since then it would not be true that knowledge declines after the apostles. After all, we have their writings, and we have the commentaries on them made by the Fathers and doctors which make explicit many things contained only implicitly in Scripture. He must therefore be speaking of the depth of understanding, or intensity of faith. But this comes about, as he explains elsewhere (2a 2ae 6, 1) through the grace given to intellect and will; by charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But this apparently implies that sanctifying grace is poured out more abundantly insofar as people are closer in time to the Incarnation and Pentecost. If the mysteries of faith are more keenly understood the closer people are to the time of Christ, this must be because charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit – which are proportioned to one’s degree of sanctifying grace – are given more abundantly, the closer one is to that time. This would be fitting, as emphasising the central place of the Incarnation within history. It would also fit in with some remarks of St Gregory the Great which I have quoted elsewhere in these chronicles:

By the awful course of the secret dispensation, before this Leviathan appears in that accursed man {antichrist} whom he assumes, signs of power are withdrawn from holy Church. For prophecy is hidden, the grace of healings is taken away, the power of longer abstinence is weakened, the words of doctrine are silent, the prodigies of miracles are removed

St Bede, like St Jerome, thought that the overthrow of antichrist would come before the end of the world. But he still thinks that there will be very little true faith left at the end of the world. Commenting on Luke 18:8 (“When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?”), Bede writes:

When the almighty Creator shall appear in the form of the Son of man, so scarce will the elect be that not so much the cries of the faithful as the torpor of the others will hasten the world’s fall.

Were the Janensists, then, correct? Is the Church a kingdom gradually sliding into decay, which will be saved from extinction only by the coming of the Lord? Things are more complicated. For one thing, not only has the Church on earth expanded in numbers from about 120 on Pentecost Sunday to its present membership, but also there have been periods since Pentecost when the proportion of people on earth in a state of grace was surely increasing; for example, from AD 33 to AD 133. This is certainly a victory for the city of God over the city of man. The Church has also progressed in the ever more perfect elaboration of sacred doctrine and the possession of more splendid liturgical rites (whether these are used is another question). Also she has progressed in having an ever greater treasury of merit and satisfaction on which to draw, and more examples of holiness, through the lives of the saints who have passed to their reward. Moreover, as Vatican I taught, her continued existence is in itself a sign of her divine mission, and this sign in the nature of things becomes more striking with the passage of time. All these things are triumphs over the kingdom of darkness.

Nevertheless, it could still be true, as seems to be implied by the words of St Thomas, that the average level of grace of those in the Church is lower in every generation; it could also be true that the percentage of those in the Church living fervent lives is in continual decline. Yet even this could be a tendency rather than an iron law. St Thomas uses the analogy of the human body, which is more perfect the closer it is to youth. Yet while this is true others things being equal, it may be that a particular man exercises more or has a better diet, and so is stronger or has more stamina, at some time earlier or later than at his natural peak of health. So it could be that the exercise demanded by the stress of particular events, for example, universal persecution, will temporarily raise the average level of holiness in the mystical body; or it could be that the intake of many new members to whom God wishes to attach a special blessing (for example the Jews, for the sake of their fathers) will have the same effect. But all the same the underlying trend would be downwards. Yet any given Christian may still achieve heroic sanctity, if he wants. And the proportion of people on earth in a state of grace can increase even if the average level of their sanctity decreases; though other things being equal, for example if there are no new pagan lands to evangelise, this seems less likely than likely.

A happy and fervent new year to all the saints at Laodicea.

One cannot help wondering, after the sermon for the Feast of the Holy Family that he gave on Sunday. According to the English version on the Vatican’s web-site, he said at one point:

At the end of that pilgrimage, Jesus returned to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents (cf. Lk 2:51). This image also contains a beautiful teaching about our families. A pilgrimage does not end when we arrive at our destination, but when we return home and resume our everyday lives, putting into practice the spiritual fruits of our experience. We know what Jesus did on that occasion. Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, causing great distress to Mary and Joseph who were unable to find him. For this little “escapade”, Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it {per questa sua “scappatella”, probabilmente anche Gesù dovette chiedere scusa ai suoi genitori. Il Vangelo non lo dice, ma credo che possiamo supporlo.} Mary’s question, moreover, contains a certain reproach, revealing the concern and anguish which she and Joseph felt. Returning home, Jesus surely remained close to them, as a sign of his complete affection and obedience.

Presumably the pope means the Creed when he says it on Sundays. But what does he mean by it? These words suggest that he is in the habit of interpreting it in a Nestorian fashion.

The Remnant’s petition to the pope to change course or else to abdicate is here.

St Thomas, asking “whether likeness is a cause of love”, says this:

From the fact that two are similar, as it were having one form, they are in a certain sense one in that form, as for example two men are in the species of humanity or two white men are one in whiteness. And thus the love of one tends towards the other, insofar as he is one with himself, and he wills good to him, as he does to himself . . . . But everyone loves himself more than another, for everyone is one in substance with himself, but only one in the likeness of some form with the other. (Summa Theologiae 1a 2ae 27, 3)

Speaking about the order that exists in charity, he says something similar:

God is loved as the principle of that good {sc. beatitude} upon which charity’s love is founded; a man loves himself by charity insofar as he is a partaker of that Good; while the neighbour is loved by him insofar as he has fellowship with this neighbour in that good. Now fellowship {consociatio} is the reason for love insofar as it involves a union ordered to God. Therefore, since unity is more than union, therefore the fact that a man himself shares in the divine good is a greater reason for loving than the fact that another is associated with him in this sharing. Thus a man is bound by charity to love himself more than his neighbour (Summa Theologiae 2a 2ae 25, 5).

Dietrich von Hildebrand, speaking generally about love, says this:

What characterizes love’s special transcendence, that is its responsiveness to value, is its capacity for interest in another person because of what is most beautiful and precious in him. But this is overlooked and it is thought that to attain any real understanding of love’s nature one should turn to a source of unmistaken at-oneness –  the inevitable ‘interest’ a person has in himself. . .

The impossibility of deriving love for another from ‘self-love’ or at-oneness with self becomes even clearer when love is compared to the solidarity with a person which is little more than an extension of the at-oneness one has with himself. Such at-oneness in relation to another does, of course, exist. A typical example is found in the behaviour of a man who is extremely sensitive when someone takes advantage of or humiliates his wife, despite the fact that he has no real love for her and perhaps abuses her himself. Because he looks on her as part of himself, the fact that she is his wife puts her in the realm of his own at-oneness with himself. He experiences an attack on her as if it were directed at him – not because he loves her but because he considers her an extension of his own ego. The same thing is involved where an employer abuses or takes advantage of his servant but, having no affection for him whatever, still takes it as an offence against his own person if someone else should behave insultingly toward the servant.

Every attempt to make an analysis of love by beginning with self-love, every thought that something as univocal {perhaps a better English translation would be ‘distinctive’} as one person’s love for another can be explained in the ambiguous terms of self-love, closes the door to any real understanding of love (‘Man and Woman’, 34-35).

There is an interesting prima facie contradiction here between these two deep minds. St Thomas tells us that self-love, not only has a priority over love for others (a sign of which, as he says, is that it is never lawful to commit a sin in order to free one’s neighbour from sin), but is also the model on which love for the neighbour is taken; that which makes love for neighbour intelligible. I spontaneously will good for myself; natural good, by virtue of nature, and supernatural good, if I am in a state of grace. But insofar as my neighbour is another “I” – that is, insofar as I perceive him to be naturally or supernaturally similar to me – I therefore to that extent also will good for him too. Thus, love of self is taken as something more fundamental and obvious, and it is used to explain love of neighbour, though without reducing the neighbour to a means by which I acquire good for myself.

Von Hildebrand, though he doesn’t mention St Thomas or anyone else, is unhappy with this approach. This is not only because he fears that it makes love of another into veiled egoism, but also because he thinks that it fails to capture what is distinctive about love for another, which he characterises as “interest in another person because of what is most beautiful and precious in him” (elsewhere he writes that love is distinct from affective attitudes such as esteem, admiration and veneration in that it is a response to the other person taken as a whole, rather than to certain values or qualities within him.) Presumably he would argue that what we call self-love is, by contrast, not an interest I have in myself because of what I perceive to be beautiful or precious within myself, but a simple instinct which men have in common with beasts. In any case, he would deny that self-love makes love of others intelligible, for I do not perceive myself to be more beautiful or valuable than all other people. For the same reason, he would deny that I love myself more than others; or perhaps it would be truer to say that he would think the expression wrongly formulated, since he appears to regard love for others and love for oneself as not being love in the same sense of the word (this is what he means by calling love for others “univocal”.)

Is there any way to reconcile these two approaches? St Thomas’s reasoning seems obviously correct: since appetite just is the inclination to what is perceived as good, every being with rational appetite wills good to himself, that is, loves himself, and this is more fundamental and ineradicable than love for the other, since our conjunction with any given other (apart from God) is contingent not necessary. Likewise, he gives an intelligible account of how love for the other arises, and of how it is truly willing the good for the other and not just for oneself in disguise. Yet von Hildebrand seems correct in saying that love for another has features that differentiate it from self-love, even well-ordered self love, in such a way that it is wrong to consider love for another as simply a more or less diluted form of love for oneself. Self-love is not based on a perception of one’s own beauty, whether of spirit or countenance (fortunately, perhaps.) Even the love that one has for oneself by means of charity is not based primarily on a perception of the value of one’s own soul, for then there would be no reason why this love would take priority over the charity that one must have toward others. Self-love is actualized not mainly in contemplating oneself, but in contemplating the desired object (of course it can be actualized in contemplating one’s own real or imagined beauty of body or spirit, but this is not what is most typical of it, and moreover it is not safe for a rational creature so to act extra patriam.)

Here we have an important difference: love of another person is actual in contemplating that person, whereas love of oneself is normally not actual in contemplating oneself, but in contemplating some other person or other thing. Von Hildebrand therefore seems right to say that ‘love of oneself’ is not the best starting point from which to understand ‘love of another’, in the sense that the experience of loving oneself is not sufficient to understand the experience of loving another, as by contrast the experience of tying one’s shoelaces is sufficient to understand the experience of tying someone else’s. But St Thomas is right to say that ‘love of oneself’ is the best starting point from which to understand ‘love of another’, in the sense that the possibility of the latter can be apprehended by means of an understanding of the former. I suppose it is the difference between phenomenology and philosophy.

The London Times is visibly descending into insanity. The principal article in it today, by the columnist Daniel Finkelstein, argues that while people should be arrested for public nudity at the moment because it is against the law, nevertheless people have been getting used to increasing degrees of undress over the last century, and a day will come when people will be ready for complete public nudity, which will then become the law, and that will be no problem, you see, because it will be the law.

Not infrequently, too, God, in order to chastise their pride, does not permit men to see the truth, and thus they are punished in the things wherein they sin. This is why we often see men of great intellectual power and erudition making the grossest blunders even in natural knowledge (‘Tametsi’, Leo XIII, no. 9).

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