Enjoyment of created goods can’t be the ultimate reward

St. Thomas explains the idea of essential and accidental rewards:

“Merit as regards degree may be gauged in two ways.

“First, in its root, which is grace and charity. Merit thus measured corresponds in degree to the essential reward, which consists in the enjoyment of God; for the greater the charity whence our actions proceed, the more perfectly shall we enjoy God.

“Secondly, the degree of merit is measured by the degree of the action itself. This degree is of two kinds, absolute and proportional. The widow who put two mites into the treasury performed a deed of absolutely less degree than the others who put great sums therein. But in proportionate degree the widow gave more, as Our Lord said; because she gave more in proportion to her means. In each of these cases the degree of merit corresponds to the accidental reward, which consists in rejoicing for created good.”

S.T., I.I, Q. 95, A. 4.

Essential reward consists in the enjoyment of God himself; accidental reward consists in the enjoyment of created goods only. The difference between them is the merit arising from the grace and charity with which an act is performed, versus the merit of the act in itself.

This may not be the point that St. Thomas is making, but it seems at least a corollary that good acts performed without charity may earn one the reward of the enjoyment of created goods, but acts performed with charity merit the reward of the enjoyment of God himself. This latter is called an essential reward because God is charity (love) itself, whereas the goodness in created things is an accidental (not essential) goodness only.

Therefore the enjoyment of created goods can’t be the ultimate reward; the ultimate reward must be the enjoyment of what is good in its essence.

We love the material because of the immaterial, part 2

[See part 1 here.]

In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world.

Calvin Coolidge, Address at the Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 5, 1926

Two movies that accidentally promote morality

Recently I watched two movies by which I was pleasantly surprised, since both promoted sexual and marital virtue, if only indirectly.

[SPOILER ALERT]

The first was “The Best of Everything” (1959), about three female roommates and co-workers, each of whom is romantically involved with a man. One of them sleeps with the guy and he ends up dumping her since he’s rich and handsome and a producer of plays, and therefore has pretty young actresses constantly throwing themselves at his feet. She becomes pathetically obsessed and starts stalking him (digging through his garbage and so forth), and ends up falling off a balcony and getting killed.

The second one surrenders her virtue when her rich, young, handsome boyfriend (not the same guy as above) swears that he would love her even if she were not “pure”. He is lying, of course, and when she becomes pregnant, instead of marrying her he tries to take her to an abortion doctor. She refuses to abort her baby though, and goes so far as to jump out of the car, and as a consequence ends up hospitalized and loses her baby anyway.

The third roommate is dumped by her fiance, who marries into a rich family, but then tries to entice her into being his mistress. She says yeah right, as if! and ends up happily ever after with a better guy.

None of the women does the right thing for the right reasons, i.e. because it’s virtuous. Woman no. 2 is ashamed of the situation she got herself into, but mainly because of how socially humiliating it is. The one who refuses to be a guy’s mistress does so mainly out of self-respect, or so it seems.

But the point is, the movie shows what kinds of messes you can get yourself into by allowing yourself to be in morally perilous situations, and how much more prudent it is to reserve sex for marriage.

“My Old Lady” (2014) is mainly about how a man’s life gets screwed up as a result of his father’s infidelity during his childhood, and how he meets a woman who is the daughter of the woman his father was unfaithful with, and who is equally screwed up. We learn that the man’s mother had committed suicide and that he himself had attempted suicide years earlier.

Part of you wants to yell, “You’re 57 years old, get over it!” Still, one likes seeing a modern movie that points up the pain inflicted on the children of infidelity.

When there is a question as to whether the man and the woman he meets might actually be brother and sister, and therefore should avoid romantic attachment, the woman’s mother, a European sophisticate (who was unfaithful with the man’s father), says “Oh heck, what difference does it make, you can’t have kids anyway!” This disgusts the woman. Again, good for the movie producers for giving the finger to the prior generation’s anything-goes attitude towards sexual morality.

Along the way the protagonist chides the woman (before they have fallen in love with each other) for having a boyfriend who is married with children.

So again, condemnations of immorality in the form of marital infidelity all round, the moral of the story seeming to be, it screws up people’s lives royally and decent people shouldn’t act that way.

My favorite line of the movie was something like, “Following your heart always ends up breaking someone else’s.”

As a bonus, the movie “Mr. Holmes” (2015) (starring the actor who played Gandalf as an elderly Sherlock Holmes) features a character who insists on purchasing gravestones for her two miscarried fetuses. Pretty good movie.

Did Adam have passions before the Fall?

It would seem that the first man’s soul had no passions.

* * *

On the contrary, Augustine says that “in our first parents there was undisturbed love of God,” and other passions of the soul.

I answer that, The passions of the soul are in the sensual appetite, the object of which is good and evil. Wherefore some passions of the soul are directed to what is good, as love and joy; others to what is evil, as fear and sorrow. And since in the primitive state, evil was neither present nor imminent, nor was any good wanting which a good-will could desire to have then, as Augustine says, therefore Adam had no passion with evil as its object; such as fear, sorrow, and the like; neither had he passions in respect of good not possessed, but to be possessed then, as burning concupiscence. But those passions which regard present good, as joy and love; or which regard future good to be had at the proper time, as desire and hope that casteth not down, existed in the state of innocence; otherwise, however, than as they exist in ourselves. For our sensual appetite, wherein the passions reside, is not entirely subject to reason; hence at times our passions forestall and hinder reason’s judgment; at other times they follow reason’s judgment, accordingly as the sensual appetite obeys reason to some extent. But in the state of innocence the inferior appetite was wholly subject to reason: so that in that state the passions of the soul existed only as consequent upon the judgment of reason.

Summa Theologiae, I.I, Q. 95, A. 2.

Thus, if the Christian ideal is to recover the state of innocence before the Fall, it doesn’t follow that we seek a passionless, i.e. disembodied, existence. Our problem is not our passions per se, but passions that refuse to be subject to reason. (Which is why they are sometimes called “animal passions”; animals lack reason.)

We love the material because of the immaterial

Contributor G. at Junior Ganymede writes, “I am religious, but not spiritual. I hate all that fleshless sanctity. Give me the Spirit that dwells in earthly tabernacles.”

Also, “Earthly wants are wonderful. He incarnated us so we could have them. They are part of the divine nature. To want is earthly. What is earthly is divine. God wants.”

And, “We associate desire with sin. That is wrong. Sinners do not want too much. Sinners want too little.”

Finally, “They say the problem with greed is that you can never have enough. I say that is the only good thing about greed. I want it all. Embrace the gospel like a bandit, grabbing blessings with both hands.”

This is basically a comment to G.’s post, but it’s too lengthy to put in a comment box.

I’m not sure I disagree with G., partly since I’m not sure what his point is. It’s about characters in old books who self-abnegate, and he somehow relates this to fleshless sanctity, since they don’t make their (corporeal?) wants known lest others feel obliged to fulfill them.

Again I don’t necessarily disagree, with the possible exception of his statement, “what is earthly is divine”. If the words “earthly” and “divine” have a scriptural meaning, they seem to stand for a contrast. St. Paul for one says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:15). And St. John: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world-the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions-is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 Jn. 2:15-17.)

I don’t take this to mean that the world and the good things of the world are bad, but that what is good about material things is itself immaterial.

When Christians say that material things are not to be desired, the point is not that they shouldn’t be desired at all, but that they shouldn’t be desired as ends in themselves. C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy describes “joy” as an experience of longing for what is beyond the material. He would feel joy in viewing a beautiful sunset, but would lose it in the act of trying to embrace it. Going back to the same spot on the same day at the same time in the following year, would not ensure you the same experience of joy because the joy is not in the sunset itself, rather the sunset points to something beyond itself.

Traditional (as opposed to Mormon) Christians don’t dispute that you should grab the blessings of the Gospel with both hands. But they would say that the blessings of material things are only good insofar as they point to the immaterial. We love to serve good food and wine at a Christmas feast, but the joy of the feast consists not in the food and wine themselves but in the spirit of the event they commemorate. There’s no sin in enjoying food and wine commemorating nothing in particular, but they bring true joy when we see in them God’s bounty and his kind providence.

A story is told of St. Catherine of Siena who, as a child, ran away from home with her brother, with the intention of going to a Muslim land to suffer martrydom. Why? Because martrydom sends you directly to heaven. This, if misguided, is nonetheless grabbing the blessings of the Gospel with both hands — actually desiring the ultimate physical harm for the sake of the ultimate spiritual blessing.

G. observes, “Sinners do not want too much. Sinners want too little.” Indeed. Wanting the whole world is wanting too little, for “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” But he who loses his life will gain it. (Mt. 16:25-26.) This is the great irony of the Gospel as illustrated in the Crucifixion: Your greatest gain comes from laying down your earthly life. This doesn’t have to mean literal death; you can lay down your life in countless ways on a daily basis. Love itself is a laying down of one’s life — “No greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn. 15:13.) Thus some of the Christian martyrs were said to have gone joyfully to their deaths for faith in the reward that follows.

I love the book A Christmas Carol. I also love a particular copy that I own. I love its design and the way it’s printed. But would I love it so much if it were Nietzsche or Marx, instead of Dickens? I love not only the physical body of the book, but I love it still more for its content. In fact I would love the content no matter what physical form it took (whereas my love for the physical form of a book might be spoiled by bad content). The content then is non-physical; it’s the meaning and message that Dickens intended to convey from his mind to his readers’, when he expressed his thoughts in a physical medium.

Or again I love my wife. But what if someone were physically identical to my wife, but not my wife? Would I love her as much as my wife? Certainly I would find her beautiful, but she would lack the “content,” the immaterial substance, of my wife.

I agree that it’s well and good to love the material together with the immaterial, but I contend that the immaterial is what makes the material lovable. Possibly G. doesn’t disagree.

Repentance and Communion

During Mass, after receiving Communion, I was pondering the meaning of Communion.

Communion, as explained before on this blog, is a participation in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. (1 Cor. 10:16-21.) We are joining ourselves with Christ on the cross. In consuming Christ we join with Christ, and this, I take it, is the literal meaning of Communion.

When Jesus calls people to follow him, he calls them to repent of their sins and be washed clean of them. In which case, each time we decide to partake of Communion we must be, not sinless but repentant. In that case we must not be sinning willfully, since you can’t will something and repent of it at the same time. And this is why it would be blasphemous and hypocritical to receive Communion in the state of unrepentant mortal sin.

Nothing new here, just something I thought of.

 

 

 

 

Fireplace Mantel Project

This isn’t normally a home improvement blog, but I have to show Joseph Moore that I have some manly skills too.

Our fireplace, when built along with the house in 1958, was made of rough, re-claimed brick, the kind with chipped edges and black and white paint here and there. (Kind of fun to wonder what buildings they were originally a part of, and how long ago.) I like re-claimed brick, but it had become rather dingy looking from smoke stains and the build-up of grime through the decades.

A year or two ago my wife put the bug in my ear to install a wooden mantel over the brick. The problem was that the surface of the bricks was not flush. Instead, each of the top three rows of bricks extends beyond the previous row by an inch or two, like an upside-down ziggurat. Here’s a photo from a few Christmases ago:

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So you couldn’t just buy a pre-made mantel and stick it on there and have it look right.

Aside from chiseling the bricks down to a flush surface, which promised to be extremely messy and which I feared could end in disaster, the only solution I could think of was to build a mantel from scratch. I was damned if I could figure how to do it though. However, after several months of letting the idea soak in, and reading various mantel-building webpages and seeing what kinds of pre-made moldings were available at Lowes, I came up with something that I thought could work. Here’s how the process went.

Step 1: Glued thin boards to some of the bricks to create a more-or-less flat surface on which to glue the pieces of the mantel, since some of the bricks stuck out farther than others, even within the same row. I used Loctite construction adhesive, which worked great.

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Step 2: Glued MDF boards onto the third row down from the top to create the bottom edge of the mantel.

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Same for the second row from the top.

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Step 3: Here I’ve skipped a couple of steps since I forgot to take pictures, but first I attached a wide board to the top of the original fireplace to make a shelf, then attached crown molding to the bottom of the shelf, extending down to the MDF covering the second row of bricks, thereby covering the top row of brick.

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Step 4: Attached a decorative strip of molding to the edge of the top shelf.

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Step 5: Attached an additional strip of decorative molding over what used to be the third row of bricks. This is called egg-and-dart molding. La-dee-dah.

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Step 6: Caulk and paint.

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And decorated for Christmas again, just like in the movies.

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Of course I see all the flaws in it but my wife says I’m crazy. Some of my family and friends, who have been to our house a thousand times but apparently are not very observant, thought it had been there all along. In other words that it had been built along with the house. Which I guess is a complement.