I pointed out some time ago that the overthrow of the antichrist and the end of the world are not necessarily simultaneous events.  Commenting on 1 Thess. 5:3, St Thomas remarks that impious men may in the future feel themselves to be in peace and security, “when they see that the world is not immediately consummated after the death of the antichrist, as they had expected” (IV Sent. 48, 1, 4, 1 ad 1).

In fact, that there will be some interval between the two things appears to be directly revealed, given Dan. 12: 11-12:

From the time when the continual sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination unto desolation shall be set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waits and comes unto a thousand three hundred and thirty-five days (Dan. 12:11-12).

That interval of forty-five days suggests Lent.  If day 1290 were Ash Wednesday, day 1335 would be Holy Saturday (that doesn’t mean that day 1335 is the Second Coming; it could just be the end of a mopping-up operation.)

I wonder if some of the words of our Lady at La Salette could be relevant here:

Twenty-five years of plentiful harvests will make them forget that the sins of men are the cause of all the troubles on this earth.

This suggests a relatively short period of spiritual abundance after the victory, eventually leading to complacency and the end.

St Irenaeus may have interpreted too literally the teaching which he received from the priests who had heard St John, but it certainly looks from Apocalypse 18-20 that there is some great restoration within history after the overthrow of the false prophet.

The elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, related that they had heard from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to these times, and say: ‘The days will come, in which vines shall grow, each having ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in each one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five and twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord through me.’ In like manner, that a grain of wheat would produce ten thousand ears, and that every ear should have ten thousand grains, and every grain would yield ten pounds of clear, pure, fine flour; and that all other fruit-bearing trees, and seeds and grass, would produce in similar proportions; and that all animals feeding on the productions of the earth, should become peaceful and harmonious among each other, and be in perfect subjection to man.

And these things are borne witness to in writing by Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book; for there were five books compiled by him. And he says in addition, Now these things are credible to believers. And he says that, when the traitor Judas did not give credit to them, and put the question, ‘How then can things about to bring forth so abundantly be wrought by the Lord?,’ the Lord declared, ‘They who shall come to these shall see’  (St Irenaeus, ‘Against heresies’, V.33).

I listened to a reading of Sigrid Undset’s novel ‘Jenny’ recently.  It is one of her early novels, from before she became a Catholic and while she was still a Norwegian atheist.  I’d heard people praise her for ages, but until now I’d never made her acquaintance.

What a book!  I won’t give away the plot, but it perfectly fulfils the classic ideal of a tragedy, a noble character’s being ruined by a single flaw whose consequences unfold themselves in the course of the action (by the way, why is it that women excel in writing novels?  I would take any of Jane Austen’s books over any of Dickens’s, and Wuthering Heights may well be the greatest novel in the English language ever written.)

All that put me in mind of the Greek chap who said that tragedy was a matter of purifying or affording release to pity and fear and similar emotions.  There were certainly buckets of pity and fear to go round at the end of Jenny.  But what exactly does the phrase from the Poetics mean?

I imagine there is a long and rich commnentatorial tradition to draw on here, but I am entirely ignorant of it.  Nor, I’m afraid, did I ever study the Poetics.  But I shall still comment on it, and without compunction, since C. S. Lewis says somewhere that no one has ever been able to decide what Aristotle meant by the phrase.

The case seems to me this.  All the fundamental emotions – eleven, according to St Thomas, though with innumerable sub-species – have an organic basis in the human body, and so we will experience all of them from time to time.  Yet some of the basic emotions, though natural to fallen man, are also intrinsically harmful, not morally, but physically.  Here is St Thomas; and though the physiology is obviously primitive in the extreme, it sounds plausible:

Man’s life consists in a certain movement, which flows from the heart to the other parts of the body: and this movement is befitting to human nature according to a certain fixed measure. Consequently if this movement goes beyond the right measure, it will be repugnant to man’s life in respect of the measure of quantity; but not in respect of its specific character: whereas if this movement be hindered in its progress, it will be repugnant to life in respect of its species.

Now it must be noted that, in all the passions of the soul, the bodily transmutation which is their material element, is in conformity with and in proportion to the appetitive movement, which is the formal element: just as in everything matter is proportionate to form.

Consequently those passions that imply a movement of the appetite in pursuit of something, are not repugnant to the vital movement as regards its species, but they may be repugnant thereto as regards its measure: such are love, joy, desire and the like; wherefore these passions conduce to the well-being of the body; though, if they be excessive, they may be harmful to it.

On the other hand, those passions which denote in the appetite a movement of flight or contraction, are repugnant to the vital movement, not only as regards its measure, but also as regards its species; wherefore they are simply harmful: such are fear and despair, and above all sorrow which depresses the soul by reason of a present evil, which makes a stronger impression than future evil (Summa Theologiae, 1a 2ae 37, 4).

In other words, we need to flush out the sorrow and fear from our system, since they are physically bad for us.  Since emotion, having an organic basis, cannot remain at an intense level for a long time without a reaction setting it, one way to do this is to induce an unusually high degree of sorrow and fear. We don’t want to do this by using something in the real world (since this would involve bringing a real evil upon ourselves), and therefore we use something in the imaginary world.

There is a problem, however.  Our emotional life has not only physical consequences but also moral ones.  Virtue lies in being glad and sad about the right things.  If therefore I induce a pity and terror directed toward unworthy objects, I become worse. If I read sentimental novels, I grow sentimental; if I read brutal horror stories, I grow callous.

Tragedy, therefore, requires a noble hero or heroine.  To feel pity or fear for the woes of such a person is a noble outlet for these emotions.  Yet why must the person have one flaw?  Is it not nobler still to pity the sufferings of a sinless man or woman?  In itself, certainly.  Yet either because we perceive that such a person, however much they suffer, cannot be called wretched, or else because we are ourselves flawed, it appears that, by nature if not by grace, we pity the flawed hero or heroine more keenly.

What is the essential division of love? St Thomas presents it as the division between ‘love of friendship’ (amor amicitiae) and ‘love of desire’ (amor concupiscentiae).

As the Philosopher says (Rhet. ii, 4), ‘to love is to wish good to someone.’ Hence the movement of love has a twofold tendency: towards the good which a man wishes to someone (to himself or to another) and towards that to which he wishes some good. Accordingly, man has love of concupiscence towards the good that he wishes to another, and love of friendship towards him to whom he wishes good (1a 2ae 26, 4).

This allows St Thomas to solve the problem raised in Plato’s Lysis and only partially answered in books 8 and 9 of the Nicomachean Ethics, of whether likeness or unlikeness is the cause of love. He answers that the cause of love of friendship is an actual likeness between the friends:

For the very fact that two men are alike, having, as it were, one form, makes them to be, in a manner, one in that form: thus two men are one thing in the species of humanity, and two white men are one thing in whiteness. Hence the affections of one tend to the other, as being one with him; and he wishes good to him as to himself.

By contrast, the love of desire is caused by a potential likeness. It derives from the ‘likeness’ that exists between potentiality and its act; akin to the similarity that exists between a hole in a jig-saw puzzle and the piece that fits into it. Thus, thirst is like the quenching of thirst rather than like, say, the satisfaction of curiosity. And this is only ‘likeness’ in an analogous sense, and indeed includes a contrariety within itself, and so seems to be an explanation of whatever truth there is in the proverb, already found in antiquity, that opposites attract. Thus, a silent person and a loquacious one might be mutually attracted insofar as each best realised the other’s potentiality for conversation.

So, we have two basic forms of love, corresponding to the relations of act-act and potency-act. But this raises the question: is there another basic form, corresponding to the relation of act-potency? That is, if someone has a perfection that he can communicate to another, does that give rise to a third kind of love?

We might think for example of the love of a parent for a little child. The parent may have some ‘love of desire’ for the child, for example, as he thinks of how the child may grow up to shed lustre on the family. And the parent will have the ‘love of friendship’ for the child: because of the similarity between them – the child being, as Aristotle says, ‘a sort of other himself’ – the parent spontaneously wills good for the child for the child’s own sake.

But there seems to be another kind of love, not obviously reducible to the first two, by which the very helplessness of the child endears him to the parent. We might even call this ‘love of endearment’. Older writers might have called it ‘love of condescension’, though the term would be hopeless nowadays. At any rate, it seems to correspond to the relation of act-potency.

And with what kind of love does God love rational creatures when He offers them His friendship? Can it already be with the love of friendship? Yet surely they do not have a similarity to Him sufficient to call forth a love of friendship.

But thou wast cast out upon the face of the earth in the abjection of thy soul, in the day that thou wast born. And passing by thee, I saw that thou wast trodden under foot in thy own blood. and I said to thee when thou wast in thy blood: Live.

So, does this mean that our basic division of love should be into three, and not two?

Some years ago, when the anti-apartheid agitation was at its height in the western media and among popular singers, drummers, and electric guitarists (those stern guardians of morality), a certain breakfast cereal had the slogan ‘Free Nelson Mandela!’ emblazoned on the outside of the box. I remember hearing about a chap, obviously not too well versed in international politics, who duly emptied his box of cereals and was miffed at not finding his free Nelson Mandela inside. He didn’t know what it was, but he wanted one.

So please understand that I am not giving anything away gratis in this blog-post. No, I am referring to the need to free the angelic doctor from the positions which he is used to support in the recent apostolic exhortation, ‘The Joy of — ‘.

The first mention of St Thomas is in para. 99, where the document quotes the words from STh 2a 2ae, 114, 2 ad 1: “Every human being is bound to live agreeably with those around him”. This is not too bad, though it omits the second half of the sentence, which is nisi propter aliquam causam necesse sit aliquando alios utiliter contristare (“unless it should be necessary for him for some reason to cause them profitable sadness at some time”).

The next mention is in section 102, where the document quotes St Thomas as teaching that it is more characteristic of charity to love than to be loved. This is quoted in support of the claim that the only value of loving oneself is that it is “a psychological prerequisite for being able to love others”. The quotation from Aquinas is fairly accurate (though one could quibble at the translation of maxime  as ‘the most’ rather than as ‘very much’); but he did not think that love of oneself was only important as a sine qua non for loving others. No, loving oneself is valuable as such. In fact, in the order of charity, a man is bound to love himself before any other creature. St Thomas explains that this is why it is never licit to commit a sin for any end whatsoever. By contrast, making love of neighbour as what is valuable for its own sake, and denying that love of self is valuable for its own sake, opens the way to sinning for the good of one’s neighbour.

In paragraph 120, the document quotes St Thomas’s description of love as a vis unitiva, a unifying force. This is unexceptionable, although he is not as one might suppose from the context of the citation speaking of conjugal love, but of love in God. Something similar can be said about the quotation of  his description of love as a ‘union of affection’ or ‘affective union’, which again the document quotes as if it were said specially of married love. There is nothing much wrong here, though at least a ‘cf.’ before the reference to the Summa would have been in order.

The use of St Thomas that is made in paragraphs 123, 126-7, and 134 appears to me good.

Paragraph 145, however, says: “Experiencing an emotion is not, in itself, morally good or evil. The stirring of desire or repugnance is neither sinful nor blameworthy.  What is morally good or evil is what we do on the basis of, or under the influence of, a given passion.” It footnotes Sth 1a 2ae 24, 1. This is objectionable. What St Thomas says here is that no emotion, abstractly considered, is either good or bad. Not even hatred is bad as such, since it is good to hate sin. But actually existing emotions are either good or bad, even independently of what may be done under their influence. St Thomas says: ipsae passiones, secundum quod sunt voluntariae, possunt dici bonae vel malae moraliter. Dicuntur autem voluntariae vel ex eo quod a voluntate imperantur, vel ex eo quod a voluntate non prohibentur (“The emotions themselves, insofar as they are voluntary, can be called morally good or bad. And they are said to be voluntary insofar as they are commanded by the will, or else because they are not checked by the will.”)

Paragraph 146 cites the angelic doctor in connection with the statement that: “A family is mature when the emotional life of its members becomes a form of sensitivity that neither stifles nor obscures great decisions and values, but rather follows each one’s freedom”. The citation is a bit strange, since St Thomas says nothing about families or great decisions and values or freedom in it; he just explains in what sense emotions co-exist with moral virtues. However, there is no particular harm in citing him, I suppose.

Paragraph 148 first of all cites the angelic doctor in support of the statement that excessive seeking of some pleasure can weaken or taint that same pleasure. This is alright. Personally I find the use of the next quotation, in a footnote to the same paragraph, somewhat distasteful in its context, and there is no attempt to give a well-rounded account of St Thomas’s teaching on the relation between the use of matrimony and virtue; but let us pass on.

Now, paragraph 301. Here the pope states that people, and from the context he is speaking of Catholics, can be living in irregular (e.g. adulterous) situations and may know the Church’s teaching on ‘the rule’, and yet may be unable to see the point of ‘the rule’. These people, he says, may possess sanctifying grace and may be unable to obey the rule without sinning. This is contrary to Trent; but here I am considering only the use which Amoris Laetitia makes of St Thomas. And it quotes him in support of this position! “Saint Thomas Aquinas himself recognized that someone may possess grace and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one of the virtues well.” As Joseph Shaw has pointed out, this quotation is completely irrelevant to the matter at hand. St Thomas is talking of people who have repented of past sins, and who keep the moral law, but do so with some difficulty because of the effect that those past sins have left behind. It is hard not to see this as a cynical misuse of the angelic doctor.

Paragraph 304 seeks to recruit St Thomas in favour of having no unvarying law about how to act towards those in e.g. adulterous situations. It quotes a passage from 1a 2a 94, 4: “Practical reason deals with contingent things, upon which human activity bears, and so although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects…  In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles.” Presumably one is supposed to think that St Thomas would have said that therefore you can’t have a fixed principle of not giving Holy Communion to those who live in an adulterous relationship, but only a defeasible presumption of not doing so. The problem with this is that it ignores his, and the Church’s, teaching about intrinsically evil actions. Since some actions are intrinsically evil, one can indeed have unvarying negative precepts, saying that such and such a thing must never be done, whatever the circumstances. Affirmative precepts, on the other hand, such as giving back a loaned article when the lender requires it, bear on a good to be done and not on an evil to be avoided, and since goodness requires not only a good object but also the right circumstances, affirmative precepts can be suspended in particular cases (e.g. don’t return a gun to a madman.) The precept of not giving Holy Communion to those in public mortal sin is a negative precept, based on the intrinsic evil of dishonouring the Church.

In a footnote to the same paragraph, the document says: ‘In another text, referring to the general knowledge of the rule and the particular knowledge of practical discernment, Saint Thomas states that “if only one of the two is present, it is preferable that it be the knowledge of the particular reality, which is closer to the act”.’ This is a reference to the commentary on the Nicomachaea ethics, Book 6, lecture 6, section 11. It is misleading. St Thomas does not contrast rules and discernment here, but universal truths and more particular truths. He gives the example of someone who knows that ‘light flesh’ is healthy to eat, but doesn’t know what counts as light flesh, and someone else who doesn’t know the general principle about ‘light flesh’, but does know that the flesh of birds is healthy to eat. The latter person is a better guide to diet. So St Thomas is not saying that the priest who knows that Mrs Smith really loves her new husband but has never heard that one should not give Holy Communion to those in adultery is in a better position to judge what to do at the altar-rails, but that a priest who knows that one should not give Holy Communion to those in public adultery, but doesn’t know the general principle that one should not give It to those in public sin, is in a better position to decide what to do than one who knows that one should not give It to those in public sin, but who has no idea about what counts as public sin.

I didn’t notice any other references to the Angelic Doctor in this document.

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.

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.

So, the Irish have chosen madness and the abyss. Another one for the ‘astonishing but unsurprising’ file.

The Irish State has dissolved itself, and this for two reasons. First of all because it has renounced the Catholic faith that until now was enshrined in the preamble to its constitution. St Thomas Aquinas writes:-

It must never be permitted that infidels should newly gain dominion over the faithful, for this would cause scandal and be a danger to the faith. For easily those who are subject to the government of others can be changed by those under whom they live, so that they may follow their rule, unless those who are subject be of great virtue. . . . And so the Church in no way allows infidels to acquire dominion over the faithful.

This would by itself be sufficient to make the official institutions of Ireland henceforth illegitimate. But there is a second reason. The state has officially declared war on marriage and the family, abolishing marriage insofar as lies within its power. But the State is a society of families united under a common rule. By nullifying the family, as far as lies within its power, it nullifies itself; it denies its own reason for existence and so it denies or dissolves itself.

When the Moors swept over Spain, no Spanish Catholic, surely, would have supposed that those Moors who got permanent control over their particular village or town were their legitimate rulers. They were not in the same position as the pagan Roman rulers who held power from God, according to Romans 13. If the Spanish obeyed the local Moorish ruler, it was from prudence, because until a counter-attack could be organised, it was the lesser of two evils. In the same way, from now on the Irish need not obey the ‘laws’ of the ‘State’ out of justice, but only out of prudence. Heretics, apostates and lunatics do not hold power from God over the faithful.

Ideally, the remaining Catholics should officially secede from the evil pseudo-State, and find some promising young army general to help them set up a new State somewhere in Eire. I am serious. Apparently of the 43 constituencies, only Longford and Roscommon-South Leitrim voted to retain marriage. Since these are contiguous, that would seem to be the best place to found it. Maybe Poland or Hungary would help them.

I heard a conversation the other day between two Catholics about whether the earth is in the centre of the universe or not. The first one argued that it was reasonable to suppose that God would have placed the earth in such a special position, since mankind is uniquely valuable in this visible universe, and since earth was destined to be the venue for the Incarnation. He thought that the popular modern idea that earth is not in a spatially central position would have been very distressing for people at the start of our modern period, and must have led to a decline in Christianity.

The other speaker disagreed with this. He said that contrary to common belief, people in the middle ages had not thought that there was anything favourable about living at the centre of the universe. On the contrary, the centre was seen as a particularly unfavourable location: it was the sub-lunar sphere, the place of change and decay, so bad in fact that at the very centre of the centre was hell itself. This is the idea that C. S. Lewis develops in his book The Discarded Image, in which he explains that to the mediaeval mind, to live on earth was to be ‘outside the city walls’: an exile or a barbarian. St Thomas Aquinas says in his commentary on the De Caelo et Mundo (I wish I’d noted down the reference) that the centre of the universe is the least noble part because it is the least ‘formal’ part. The outermost sphere, he explains, contains everything else and so it is the most formal part – that is, it acts on the other parts, at least in the rarefied philosophical sense in which to contain is to exercise an act. The central spheres both contain and are contained. Only our sphere is contained and does not contain. Therefore because form is better than matter, the centre is the least noble location.

I don’t see why one shouldn’t hold both positions at the same time. That is, one could hold that philosophically speaking the centre is the least noble place, and thus suitable for a race under probation and for the punishment of sins, while also holding that given the way man spontaneously thinks, it would be a striking sign of God’s loving care for earth to be in the middle – a sign that we are the apple of His eye. Likewise we could contemplate the fittingness of the Incarnation from both perspectives: considering the earth as in the least noble place, we would see a new sign of the ‘condescension’ of the divine Word, who humbles Himself to live even here; considering our tendency to place a dramatic event in the midst of the crowd watching it, like a great wrestling match in a ring in the middle of the wrestling hall, it would be a sign of the unique greatness and drama of the Incarnation, that it should happen in the midst of the universe, while the angelic powers spread throughout the universe look on in wonder.

Of course, this all supposes that one is able to accept the statement of the Catechism of the Council of Trent that God placed the earth in the middle part of the universe, in media mundi parte…



There has been a lot of buzz recently around the June 16-29th St Albert the Great Summer School in Norcia. Norcia is a sort of Catholic paradise. The town itself is beautiful, situated next to the Sibylline Mountains it looks like a scale model of Western Civilization. In the centre of the town square is a statue of St Benedict who (with his twin sister St Scholastica) was born there in 480. Around the square there is an imposing sixteenth century fortress, a renaissance cathedral, a fourteenth century town hall and the Basilica of St Benedict. The Basilica is built over the fortified former Roman secular basilica where the holy twins were born. Behind the Basilica is the wonderful observant monastic community of English speaking Benedictines who sing the full office and the Mass in Latin according to the pre-1962 books. The crypt of the Basilica where the monks sing most of their offices is constructed out of the very room where Ss Benedict and Scholastica were born. The Monks also brew the most wonderful beer. The gastronomic delights do not end there either because Norcia is the centre of Wild Boar and Pork butchery (and truffles) in Italy and is full of splendid restaurants and pizzerias. The previous Albert the Great summer schools involved the close study of the text of St Thomas in seminars, spiritual conferences by the superior of the Monastery Fr. Cassian Folsom, ending with a scholastic disputation presided over by another of the monks. It seems the same format is planned for this year when they will be studying the Letter of St Paul to the Romans with the commentary of St Thomas. I know at least one Laodicean is going. It all sounds rather splendid.

I’ve discussed before the question of the criteria by which to judge whether a person is truly a heretic or simply in error about revealed truths. I quoted three criteria, any one of which, according to an ‘approved author’, was by itself a sign of an error being simply an error, not a heresy.

None of the three criteria mentioned seems entirely satisfactory. The first – would the person be ready to accept the Catholic Church’s ruling if he knew it? – certainly applies to the Catholic who is simply in error, but it doesn’t apply to those in other denominations. If they had this disposition, they wouldn’t be in the other denominations (unless some other motive like human respect intervened).

The second – ‘if he knows nothing about the Catholic faith and has never wondered about it’ – is a sufficient proof that the person’s failure to join the Catholic Church is not culpable per se, but it hardly establishes that he has the virtue of faith. He may know nothing about the Catholic faith and yet still culpably reject certain revealed truths taught him by his non-Catholic preacher, and which he finds distasteful, thereby becoming a heretic in God’s sight.

The third suggested criterion – ‘if, wondering about the Catholic faith, he has sought the truth as far as he is able’ – seems like a good one, but it is difficult to apply. How does one judge of someone else, unless one knows him extremely well, whether he has sought the truth as far as he is able?

Yet it seems useful to make some kind of judgement in this matter when dealing with non-Catholics who profess a faith in Christ: not a definitive judgement, since that belongs to God alone, but at least something that can guide one for practical purposes: to form at least a suspicio, if not an opinio

The problem is that there are two considerations that seem to pull in opposite directions. On the one hand, we are bade think as well of other people as we can. St Thomas tells us that, even though most people are bad, we should still attribute good intentions to other people in particular cases ‘unless manifest signs of their malice appear’; we will be wrong most of the time, he says, but the mind suffers no harm in being wrong about such contingent matters!  This principle suggests that we should think of separated brethren as merely erring.

On the other hand, it is to the honour of God and of Christ that the Church should not be difficult to recognise; that it should be, as our Lord has foretold, a city set on a hill. This principle suggests that we should think of separated brethren as culpable.

How can we resolve this antinomy? Perhaps by judging, according to the second principle, that culpable error is more likely in general; while in particular cases refraining for as long as possible from making any judgement, and making a favourable judgement if some judgement is necessary and no ‘manifest signs of their malice’ appear (for example, when a priest agrees to anoint an unconscious non-Catholic).

Yet there is perhaps one other criterion that could be applied effectively. Does the person desire that there should be on earth an infallible guide to the truth that Christ taught to the apostles? The virtue of faith is an inclination to believe all this truth. So whoever has the virtue would surely welcome the idea that there was an infallible guide to what this truth is, as this will make it much easier for him to realise his inclination. He may regretfully think that there is in fact no such guide; but if he desires that there should be, that is a good sign. On the other hand, if he is clear that he doesn’t want there to be any such guide, that he thinks such a thing would be contrary to his own dignity, then we seem to have the ‘manifest signs of malice’ which on St Thomas’s principle would allow the judgement that someone is a heretic.

An example of what I mean by a desire that an infallible authority should exist even while not believing that one does is found in Newman’s 1848 novel, Loss and Gain. In this passage two friends, Charles and Sheffield, both Anglican ordinands, are lamenting the conversion of a third ordinand to the Roman Church. Sheffield speaks first:-

“The idea of his swallowing, of his own free will, the heap of rubbish which every Catholic has to believe! in cold blood tying a collar round his neck, and politely putting the chain into the hands of a priest! … And then the Confessional! ‘Tis marvellous!” and he began to break the coals with the poker. “It’s very well,” he continued, “if a man is born a Catholic; I don’t suppose they really believe what they are obliged to profess; but how an Englishman, a gentleman, a man here at Oxford, with all his advantages, can so eat dirt, scraping and picking up all the dead lies of the dark ages—it’s a miracle!”

“Well, if there is anything that recommends Romanism to me,” said Charles, “it is what you so much dislike: I’d give twopence, if some one, whom I could trust, would say to me, ‘This is true; this is not true’. We should be saved this eternal wrangling. Wouldn’t you be glad if St. Paul could come to life? I’ve often said to myself, ‘Oh, that I could ask St. Paul this or that!'”

“But the Catholic Church isn’t St. Paul quite, I guess,” said Sheffield.

“Certainly not; but supposing you did think it had the inspiration of an Apostle, as the Roman Catholics do, what a comfort it would be to know, beyond all doubt, what to believe about God, and how to worship and please Him! I mean, you said, ‘I can’t believe this or that’; now you ought to have said, ‘I can’t believe the Pope has power to decide this or that’. If he had, you ought to believe it, whatever it is, and not to say, ‘I can’t believe’.”

Sheffield looked hard at him: “We shall have you a papist some of these fine days,” said he.

“Nonsense,” answered Charles; “you shouldn’t say such things, even in jest.”

“I don’t jest; I am in earnest: you are plainly on the road.”

Sheffield, I think we are meant to judge, is a formal heretic; Charles merely a material one.