Turtles All the Way Down

Reblogged from The Underground Thomist:

Whenever we say that some being, P, is wise, we can ask the further question “Why should P be considered wise?”  In every such case there are two possible answers.  One is that P is the first principle of wisdom, its very root and unchangeable meaning – that it isn’t wise because of something else, but is the very thing that makes other wise things wise.  You [the blogger’s interlocutor] don’t want to give that answer, because to you, first principles seem to be arbitrary, just because no further reason can be given for them.  You want to say that if P should be considered wise, the reason must lie in the fact that it conforms to some deeper standard – call it P2.

Very well.  But wait:  Now we have to ask “Why should P2 be considered wise?”  Again, there are two possible answers.  Either P2 is the very root and meaning of wisdom, or it isn’t.  Again you worry that this makes it arbitrary, so suppose we say it isn’t.  In that case, P2 must be wise not because it is the very root and meaning of wisdom, but because it conforms to some still deeper standard – call it P3.

As you can see, if you continue to object to a root and meaning of wisdom, then we are going to have an infinite regress of reasons for considering P wise:  P is wise because it conforms to P2, P2 is wise because it conforms to P3, P3 is wise because it conforms to P4, and so on without end.  But an infinite regress of explanations is no an explanation at all.  If you are worried about arbitrariness, the thing to avoid isn’t a necessary first principle, but an infinite regress.

Thus we must believe that at some point the regress has to stop.  We do, finally, arrive at something, call it P Prime, which is the very root and meaning of wisdom.  And if that is what it is, then just because it doesn’t depend on anything else, it cannot be other than it is.  And just because it cannot be other than it is, it isn’t arbitrary.  A mystery, yes, in the sense that it is greater than our minds.  But arbitrary, no.

I am not sure what tempts us to think that something is arbitrary just because it cannot be other than it is.  We don’t say that the arithmetical principle that two things equal to a third thing are equal to each other is arbitrary.  We say that it is a standard by which we can tell what other things are arbitrary.  I think we should think that way here.

But P Prime is much more than a principle of arithmetic.  As we continue to reflect, we find P Prime to be not only the very root and meaning of wisdom, but the very root and meaning of being, of goodness, of beauty, and of everything that is worthy of admiration.  In P Prime we find even the very root and meaning of Personhood, so we are right to view P Prime not as It, but as Him.

This necessary being P Prime is what we call God.  We Christians make the further daring claim that He is the very God of our faith and has come among us.


Reblogged from Scriptural Postscript:

The Feast of Passover, Pesah, meaning “to pass over, to spare,” is so named for two reasons. First, on the night the Hebrews escaped from their Egyptian slave masters, an angel of the Lord traversed the land, killing the firstborn child and beast of every house, except those houses sprinkled with the blood of the paschal lamb (Ex 12:23). Thus, the angel passed over the Hebrews, sparing their firstborn. Second, Pesah derives its name from the fact that the Hebrews passed through the sea as if on dry land, with walls of water to their right and left (Ex 14:21-22).

Passover has additional significance for Christians. The Greek word Pascha is akin to pascho, meaning “to experience something painful,” as did Christ in His Passion, His suffering and death. Moreover, Christ passed from this world to the next, as the Hebrews passed through the sea to freedom. Christians follow Christ through such a passage, either by spiritually dying to sin, or by physically dying the death of a martyr, as is written, “We have passed through fire and water, yet You have brought us to a place of abundance” (Ps 66:12), or by desiring heavenly things, as the Lord beckoned, “Come to me, all who desire me, and be filled with my fruits” (Sir 24:26).

God bless!

The mystery of the Atonement solved

There was a discussion recently on another blog concerning the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. It was asked why Jesus had to die on the cross, whether God’s requirement of an innocent victim for the sake of remitting the sins of others was consistent with mercy, and similar questions. This is obviously a deep subject and one which continues to be debated by qualified theologians, but I boldly pontificate nevertheless.

If Christ’s sacrifice is acknowledged to be the fulfillment of the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7), I think it might help to think about how the Passover accomplished the salvation of the Israelites. Was it a matter of justice? A lamb needed to be killed so that the Israelites need not be killed? I don’t think so. It seems that God had made up his mind to save the Israelites as a nation, nevertheless each individual Israelite family needed to do something in order to partake of that salvation: Sacrifice a lamb, put its blood on the lintel of their house, and eat the lamb. Those who failed to do this would die.

This was a way of excluding from salvation two groups: Those who were not of the Israelite nation and therefore would not be included in this ritual of salvation; and those who were of the Israelite nation yet couldn’t be bothered – or lacked the faith – to perform the ritual.

God could simply have saved the Israelite nation without their having to do anything. But he wanted them to do something to be saved, which would require faith: Faith that the threat of death was imminent, pursuant to the warning of God’s prophet; and faith that the Passover ritual would save them from it, also pursuant to the word of God’s prophet.

Was it unmerciful of God not to save those who didn’t do those things? Certainly not, since he provided a way for them to be saved if they would be saved. Those who chose not to do it, either didn’t believe in the peril, or didn’t trust the remedy.

The parallels seem clear: The Egyptians represent the world generally, not caring about God, neither loving nor fearing him, and certainly putting no faith in him. The nation of Israel represents the Church: A body of people professing belief in, and love for, and fear of God. God intends to punish those who neither love nor fear him, and sin in violation of his laws.

No one outside the Church will be saved*, but it’s not even sure that everyone within the Church will be saved, but only those who participate in the rituals of salvation which God has laid down for that purpose. This not only separates his own sheep from those who are not of his fold, but also those ostensibly within the fold who genuinely believe in and fear and love him, from those who do not.

In short, Jesus’ crucifixion only makes sense in the context of the Mass. Without the Mass, Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross does indeed seem pointless.

I realize this begs the question of why Jesus had to die. As I understand it, he didn’t. St. Bernard apparently said (though I can’t find the source) something like, “The Blood of God is something so precious, its virtue is so great, that one single drop would more than have sufficed to save the entire world, yet behold what God has done!”

But it seems to me that by his death, Jesus showed what is required of us: To resist sin to the point of death. He showed that death itself is preferable to disobeying God’s will. He also used the occasion to show that death is not the end, since even death is subject to God’s power, and therefore not something to be feared: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28.) It is for this reason that we are saved by taking up our own crosses and following in his steps: Because valuing our own lives more than God’s will leads to death: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mt. 16:26.)

Jesus died, when he could have saved us in an easier way, to be a pattern to us and to suffer in every way in which he calls on us to be willing to suffer; yet to do so in faith and the sure hope of resurrection. This was Jesus’ sacrifice: To lay down his life in obedience to his Father’s will, and enable us to do the same!

[* This doesn’t address those who may be saved in individual cases without formal membership in the Church, by means known to God alone, but addresses only the normative means of salvation, the way in which God intends people to be saved in and through his Church, for which purpose it was established as the only sure and direct way of salvation.]

Mass roundup


Holy Thursday commemorates not only the beginning of Jesus’ Passion, but also the institution of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In recognition of Holy Thursday, then, here is a roundup of past posts concerning the Mass:

Nothing if not a sacrifice

The Mass saves

What is the point of Communion?

Manners and the Mass

Manners and the Mass, Part 2

How Jesus saves us

Bid these offerings be brought by thy holy angel

My prayer be an incense offering

Draw near in obedience

The Mass in literature, Part 1

The Mass in literature, Part 2

The Mass in literature, Part 3

Agnus Dei

Asperges me, Domine

And with regard to Jesus’ washing of the feet, which also is commemorated on Holy Thursday:

Serve as I have served you

A blessed Holy Triduum to all!

What is the point of communion?

A Protestant blogger writes, “[I]f communion is reduced to ‘just a symbol’ then what’s the point?” The following is adapted from a comment to that post.

I agree that if the bread and wine of communion is only a symbol, it seems a pointless one. Are we to remember Christ’s death on the Cross by eating bread and drinking wine (or grape juice)? If remembering is so important, aren’t there better ways of doing it? A crucifix would seem the most obvious, or a painting of the crucifixion. Or, reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion and death.

But Jesus evidently meant communion to be some kind of a ceremony to be performed by his followers. Even Protestants seem to understand this, as evidenced by the fact that when they do communion, it’s always in a certain form: Someone saying prayers over bread and liquid grape extract of some kind, followed by distribution to the congregation, followed by a few moments of meditation. Thus, not merely a reminder but a ritual. But what is the purpose of the ritual?

Jesus said to perform the ritual “in remembrance of” him. This strikes me as something like Veterans Day, which we celebrate every year “in remembrance of” the men and women who have died for our country. Someone who has never known a veteran killed in a war will not observe the day as a way of remembering any particular veteran, nevertheless he will do it “in remembrance of” countless veterans whom he never knew and has no memory of. It’s a ritual by which we not only remember, but also honor and revere them.

But that still brings us back to the question, how does eating bread and drinking wine constitute honor and reverence for Jesus? Obviously he said to do it, so we could say that we honor him by obeying his command to do it. But that’s rather circular, isn’t it? Honor me by doing this thing which you honor me by doing since I said to do it in order to honor me?

Therefore it seems clear that it must have some purpose or function aside from merely doing it because Jesus said to do it. How to know what that function is?

This is my body

Seemingly, the obvious place to start is with the fact that Jesus mysteriously said, in regard to the bread and wine, that the bread was his body and the wine his blood. (Lk. 22:19.)

Is Jesus honored or remembered by our eating plain bread and drinking plain juice? But what if the bread really is his body and the wine really his blood? Does that make a difference? In that case we would not just be thinking of him, but actually being present with him and taking him into ourselves. Would that not be “remembering” him on a whole other level?

Celebrate the feast

We gain further insight from other scriptures. Note for example, 1 Cor. 5:7:  ‘For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’

‘Christ our Passover’ refers to the fact that Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb. The Israelites were saved from the angel of death by having sacrificed a lamb and spread its blood on their lintels. And don’t forget eating the lamb: ‘And you shall not leave any of it over until morning.’ Ex. 12:10.

If Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb, what does that mean? Obviously it means that he saves not only the Jews but the whole world, and not merely from temporal death but from eternal death. That’s clear enough. But what about the eating part?

The Jews were commanded to celebrate the Passover feast yearly as a remembrance, by eating an actual lamb. Christ commanding his followers to consume bread which he referred to as his body, and wine which he referred to as his blood, in remembrance of his own saving sacrifice, obviously is drawing a parallel with the Passover lamb. In light of this, when Paul says that Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, therefore let us celebrate the feast, can it be any clearer that communion is a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice in the same way that the yearly Passover feast was a remembrance of the first Passover?

Yet let’s not fail to call to mind, that Christ’s sacrifice is the fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice, and the feast of his body and blood is the fulfillment of the Passover feast. This being the case, which should be the more real and which the more symbolic? Wouldn’t it be strange if the Passover feast, being a mere foreshadowing, consisted of the slaughtering and eating of an actual lamb — while the feast in remembrance of Christ’s fulfilling sacrifice is the eating of foods that are mere symbols? How can the fulfillment be less literal than the foreshadowing? Shouldn’t it be the other way around, the original Passover being merely symbolic, and Christ’s feast being more real?

Participation in the sacrifice

Later we have St. Paul saying, ‘You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.’ 1 Cor. 10:21. This is right after he had said, ‘The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?’

What does it mean to say that the bread and wine are a “participation” in the body and blood? Previously, in verse 18, Paul had said, ‘Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?’

Evidently under the Old Covenant, when you sacrificed a lamb or a bull or whatever, eating of the sacrifice signified your participation in the sacrifice. This again brings us back to the Passover Lamb: You had not only to kill the lamb and roast it, but also to eat it. Eating it signified your participation in its sacrifice. Those who were saved from the Angel of Death were not those who merely believed in the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, but those who participated in the sacrifice of the Lamb by eating of it.

Yet here we have Paul talking about the bread and the wine being a “participation” in Christ’s body and blood. But not merely Christ’s body and blood, but the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood. Because remember, Jesus didn’t say merely “This is my body”, “This is my blood.” Rather he said, “This is my body which will be given up for you”, and “This is my blood which is poured out for you.” So when we “participate” in Christ’s body and blood, that obviously refers to participating in the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood on the Cross. Eating his body and blood, therefore, is how we participate in that very sacrifice.

Now, how can this be so, if the bread and wine are merely symbols? If they’re just symbols, doesn’t that mean that our participation in Christ’s sacrifice is also merely symbolic? But if we’re really to participate in Christ’s sacrifice, his body given up for us, and his blood poured out for us, don’t we have to really partake of his body and blood, as the Israelites really partook of the Passover Lamb?

Unless you eat the flesh …

If eating of the Passover Lamb saved the Israelites from death, and Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover, does this shed any light on John 6? ‘[U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’ John 6:53. Couldn’t the same have been said of eating the flesh of the Lamb on the night of Passover — that if you didn’t eat it, you would die?

The table of demons

And again, the statement of Paul’s quoted above, ‘You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.’ (1 Cor. 10:21.) This is in the context of discussing whether to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Paul says that you can’t participate in Christ’s sacrifice, while at the same time participating in sacrifices to demons; “Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” (1 Cor. 10:22.) What sense does this make, unless we are to partake of Christ’s sacrifice in a literal, and not merely symbolic way?

Guilty of the body and blood

Finally, if our eating and drinking is a literal partaking of Christ’s sacrifice, we can make better sense of Paul’s warning that he who eats the bread and drinks of the cup unworthily “shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1. Cor. 11:27). For if, in eating, we’re participating in Christ’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, shall we eat it in a state of sin? If in doing so we are divided, and some are getting drunk, and the poor are being humiliated – that is, if we’re treating the sacred meal as if it were a regular meal of bread and wine, “without recognizing the body” — do we not commit the gravest sacrilege? “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Cor. 11:30.) But if it really is just plain bread and wine, which we are treating as plain bread and wine, where is the sacrilege in that? How can bread and grape juice be profaned?

Taking Christ’s words at face value — that the bread really is his body and the wine really his blood — doesn’t this make sense of the whole thing? Aren’t the confusion and mystification over the meaning of communion caused by not taking Christ’s words at face value?

Is the solid better than the spiritual?

Bruce Charlton writes that “The solid is better than the spiritual”. I don’t think he means it absolutely, but is explaining that within the Mormon metaphysical system as he understands it, the solider the better. God has a body, and the devil and his minions don’t — presumably as a punishment. “Spiritual progress,” he writes, “entails getting a body; incarnation is better than pre-mortal spirit life; body is better than no body – evolution is from spirit-being to solidity.” Things just naturally move that way, he says. To go from less material to more material is to go from worse to better.

(I would point out that this is apparently Bruce’s speculation on the implications of Mormon metaphysics, as he sees it, based on his understanding of Mormon doctrine. As far as I know, there is no “official” Mormon metaphysics, therefore critiquing Bruce’s understanding of Mormon metaphysics is not intended as a critique of the Mormon religion per se.)

I grant that the solid seems better than the spiritual, for material beings who can only experience reality through their senses. To such beings, a being which can’t be sensed seems “less” than one that can: It weighs less, has less extension in terms of height, width and depth, can’t make noises by which to be heard. Indeed from the perspective of the physical, he’s nothing.

What is “solid”?

But what is the physical, ultimately? Is it as solid as it appears? We are told that “[i]f we could magnify the simplest hydrogen atom so that its nucleus (a proton) were the size of a basketball, then its lone electron would be found about 2 miles away. All of the space in between the electron and the basketball-size nucleus is empty!” [Source.]

The following is from a commenter who doesn’t like what some people infer from the fact of an atom being mostly empty space:

“The worst thing about this horrible application of popular science is the word ‘mostly’. Atoms are mostly empty space we are told- so what is the solid particle, the billiard ball, that exists within the atom? Is the neutron or electron or proton not defined by sub-sub-atomic forces and particles that render them mostly empty as well? Unless there is a basic impenetrable solid element of finite size we should instead say that atoms and everything else that atoms are completely empty, but that is so obviously wrong no one would be willing to sound like an idiot to say it.” [Source.]

In other words, if even sub-subatomic particles are themselves mostly empty, then there is nothing “solid” about atoms, or the matter which they compose (an idea which this person evidently finds disturbing).

To a being who is himself composed of matter, material things seem very solid and substantial by virtue of their matter. But how would a material thing appear to one who is pure spirit? Not limited by size, presumably he could see things down to the sub-subatomic level, and see that they were almost entirely — or indeed entirely — empty space. Then again, “see” is not really applicable to a being of pure spirit. He would simply understand that the being was mostly empty space. He would not be impressed by the “solidity” of the material thing as perceived by other material beings. I would say that he could pass right through it and therefore it would not appear solid to him — except that being pure spirit, he would not move from place to place, “place” and “movement” being spatio-temporal terms inapplicable to himself. He could understand how the material being is perceived by other material beings, but he would also know that the perceived solidity was something of an illusion, the perception being dependent on their being composed of matter themselves, and sensing other material beings through their material senses.

In other words, Bruce’s contention that “solid is better than spiritual” seems to depend on his assumption that materiality is the default perspective; basically, that God himself is material and therefore his perspective trumps any other. Further, that there is no purely spiritual perspective, there being no purely spiritual beings to enjoy such a perspective. Which is basically the assumption of materialism.

What is matter?

I have posted before about my speculation on what matter really is. I understand that on some level, matter and energy are the same thing. Further, matter and energy themselves are not “solid” things. Energy is not made up of particles.

I find energy defined as “the ability to do work”. But the ability of what? I have the ability to do work, and therefore possess energy. But it’s not really my energy, since the amount of energy in existence is constant, neither increasing nor lessening but only changing into different forms. It existed before I did, and will persist after I’m gone. Therefore energy is not someone’s or some thing’s “ability to do work”, but is “ability to do work” generally. The universe is full of matter and energy, that is, matter and “ability to do work”. Ability” being defined as “power or capacity”, the universe is full of power, and matter in turn is made of power. The universe, in fact, is made of power, ultimately — not of solid particles, but of empty space filled with power — albeit power which is arranged and which acts in ordered and predictable ways.

God as Christians have traditionally conceived him, is immaterial, yet all-powerful.

For an immaterial being to be the source and explanation of material things seems counter-intuitive. But isn’t that because we conceive of “immaterial” as “nothing”, due to our being utterly dependent on matter to be able to perceive and imagine things?

The alternative is that the power that fills the universe has a material cause and explanation. But this is clearly circular. If material things themselves are composed of power, how can they be the cause and explanation of that power? Therefore the cause and explanation of matter must itself be immaterial.

Thus I contend, contra Bruce, that the spiritual is “better” than the solid.[1]

[1] “Better” in the sense of “higher, more powerful, and less limited”. 

There was a discussion in the comments to Bruce’s post, in which I disputed Bruce’s contention that holding the spiritual to be higher entails a longing on the part of “traditional [non-Mormon] Christians” to be immaterial or disembodied, or a belief that we would be better off if we were. 

I concede that I am inferior to God, and to the angels in terms of intellectual ability, as a result of being limited to perceiving and understanding the world through my senses. But I have no desire to be other than God made me. I’m not a Lucifer, refusing to accept an inferior status. My longing is to live in a resurrected body no longer subject to illness and fatigue, and freed from concupiscence, to adore God singleheartedly with my whole being. To use my capacities to the full, without hindrance, would be fulfillment enough. I have no wish to be more nor less than human, but only human to the full.

How do we know the soul is immaterial?

St. Thomas asks, Whether the soul is composed of matter and form? (ST I., Q.75, A.5.)

His answer is no, and he demonstrates it in two ways:


First, on the ground that the soul is defined as the form of the body, as opposed to the matter of the body. He had previously said that “the soul, which is the first principle of life, is not a body, but the act of a body”. (ST I., Q.75, A.4.) The soul is what the body does. When the body stops acting — stops breathing, eating, sleeping — we say the soul has left it.

For this reason the soul is analogous to act, and matter is analogous to potency. Matter is in potency to any number of forms. For example carbon can take the form of coal, or it can be part of oil or gasoline, or part of a carbon-based life form, which in turn can be anything from a single-celled organism to a plant to a man. But the form of a man can only be the form of a man; it is not in potency to any other form. It is the soul of a man which makes the matter of which he is composed to become a man, as opposed to a lifeless heap of matter, which is what a dead body is. The soul is the act of man-ness, to which the matter composing the body is only in potency, until such time as the soul actualizes it, that is, makes it actually a man.


Second, with regard to the specific case of the human soul, on the ground that if the intellectual soul were made of matter, then it could only know individual things and not universal things. Consider by way of illustration the senses of the human body: First, they can only sense physical things; and second, they can only “know” the specific thing that they are sensing at any given time. That is, they can’t know universal things. They can sense this dog, but have no way of sensing universal dog-ness.

St. Thomas explains that “whatever is received into something is received according to the mode of the recipient”. Physical sensations are received according to the mode of the sense which is doing the sensing. Thus, a dog is received into the eye only insofar as it reflects light. It is received into the sense of touch only insofar as it has a surface which may be touched. Same with the other senses.

But what happens when we think of or have knowledge of the concept of dog-ness? In that case the whole dog enters our mind at once, not merely its appearance or texture or smell or sound, but all of it together. And not merely a particular dog, but the essence of dog-ness, by which we recognize any number of physical animals as being the same thing. This is not an individual dog with a specific appearance; it can be either black or white, large or small, longhaired or shorthaired; therefore it’s not a physical thing, since every physical thing has one specific set of physical attributes. A single physical dog is either white or black, but not both, large or small but not both, longhaired or shorthaired, but not both. Whereas the concept of dog-ness allows for variations in all of those attributes as part of the very concept itself.

Because dog-ness has no specific physical attributes, it is non-physical. And if “whatever is received into something is received according to the mode of the recipient”, then whatever it is that receives the concept of dog-ness, which we call the intellect, must itself be non-physical.

The Mass saves


Can we ever offer God perfect worship, completely wholeheartedly, disinterestedly, free of distractions, and with a totally clear conscience? Even if we could do all that, would our worship be worthy of God? Could our music ever be beautiful and magnificent enough, and our places of worship as well? Even if we made them as beautiful as human art can accomplish, would they be worthy of God, who created the whole earth, the sun and the moon and the stars?

If we can’t do these things, is there any point in worship? In modern days people are in the habit of saying, “Of course there is! God knows our hearts and will forgive our shortcomings and imperfections.” But this is due to the mere habit of thinking as Christians. The notion of divine mercy has been so drilled into our heads in Western civilization, even those of us who aren’t Christians, that it’s nearly an axiom, a first principle. But this assumes what we’re arguing for. We assume God will forgive our shortcomings, only because we know (on some level) that Christ has already appeased his justice, by offering perfect worship in our behalf, in his sacrifice on the Cross.

Before the Cross, do you suppose people thought that they could offer any old worship, in any old place, in whatever frame of mind they happened to be in, certain that it would be acceptable and pleasing to God, notwithstanding its being utterly unworthy of him, nay not even the best of which they were capable?

If Jesus’ death on the Cross was a sacrifice, then it was worship, as surely as the worship of the Old Covenant Temple. But even Old Covenant Temple worship was not assumed to be always worthy and pleasing to God. It was worthy only if done in complete accordance with the requirements that God himself had laid down. And even then, they knew that in fulfilling the worship requirements of the Law, they were not meriting God’s approval by the perfection of their worship, but only doing what was required of them.

Why then do we assume God approves of our worship, poor and lowly as it may be? Only because Jesus’ sacrifice, again, was worship — worship utterly pure and worthy, infinitely meritorious. And because his worship is our very own.

Without Jesus’ worship being our own, our worship would be as pathetic as we know it to be. We sit distracted, we’re tired, we can’t wait to be done. We snapped at our wife on the way to Mass. We’re carping to ourselves, or whispering to each other about the homily. We’re covertly glancing at our more attractive neighbors in the pews. Is this an acceptable sacrifice? Does this merit heaven?

It merits heaven because eating of his Body, we participate in his Sacrifice (1 Cor. 10:18). Participating in his Sacrifice, our worship is his worship.

It doesn’t require perfect participation in the Sacrifice, only participation. The Sacrifice is perfect forever, and we can’t sully it. If my attention were total and my singing perfectly on-key, my thoughts always chaste and my patience untiring, for an eternity, my worship would still be unworthy without the Cross; but by the same token, an eternity of my mind wandering, or my off-key singing, can’t make the slightest dent in the perfect obedience and infinite merit of the Cross. It is now and ever shall be the perfect, holy and living Sacrifice of our redemption.

Therefore I needn’t sing perfectly, I need only sing. I needn’t be utterly free of distraction, but make some effort to avoid distraction. Not perfect contrition, but as much contrition as I’m capable of.

This doesn’t excuse laxity at Mass. We should do our best if for no other reason than because God is so merciful as to allow us to offer meritorious worship in our own behalf. If we can’t appreciate that and act devoutly in consequence, why go there at all? But if we fail in giving full attention, and commit venial sins by our wandering eyes and minds, well, that’s just the kind of thing that Jesus came to save us from: The Physician is here for the sick, not the well.

“Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” (Catechism 1822.)

A single act done by virtue of divine charity is sufficient to merit heaven, since it is Christ who acts in us. And if charity is the virtue by which we love God above all things, then a single act of perfect worship by which we express our love for God — attending a single Mass with the right intention — does the same. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood” — not a certain minimum number of times, but he who eats and drinks it, period — “has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54.)

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The meaning of Sunday rest

St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “[R]est is taken in two senses, in one sense meaning a cessation from work, in the other, the satisfying of desire. Now, in either sense God is said to have rested on the seventh day.” (ST I.I., Q 73, A. 2.) Further, “[I]it is right that the seventh day should have been sanctified, since the special sanctification of every creature consists in resting in God.” (ST I.I., Q 73, A. 3.)

Rest in this sense seems akin to enjoyment, “enjoyment” defined not as having fun, but as possessing something. For example when we speak of the freedoms we enjoy in this country, we’re using “enjoy” in that sense.

When you have been pursuing something, and finally attain it, you then proceed to enjoy it. You may also say that you are resting in its attainment, that is, resting from your pursuit of it. An example might be a man pursuing the love of a woman. Once he has proposed marriage to her, and she has accepted, he then comes to a state of both enjoyment and rest, since he now possesses the thing he was pursuing (and she possesses him too, of course). Similarly with regard to an academic degree, or a job, or climbing a mountain: You strive, strive, strive … and then you reach the goal. Your striving ends and you rest in your achievement, enjoying the fruits of your labor.

When we speak of God resting on the seventh day, what do we mean? Obviously he didn’t need physical rest, so it must be the rest of enjoyment: His work was done, and he found it good, and rested and enjoyed what he had made.

What then is the point of resting on Sunday, the Lord’s Day? Is it merely to rest from our temporal labors, namely our jobs? Or just to spend a day focused on God?

Is it merely that God rested, and commands us to rest, and so we rest (though not very strictly in modern days, it seems to me)? But surely we’re not resting in the same sense in which God rested: That we’ve been creating all week, and now we’re happy with what we’ve created, and we spend Sunday enjoying it?

It occurs to me that in the Catholic context, in the light of the Mass, it might mean something more. If rest is the enjoyment of what you have been pursuing, and if Jesus is literally present in the Eucharist, then the Sunday rest means literally enjoying God. We’re to spend the other six days “pursuing” God, so to speak: In praying and spiritual reading, penance and good works, giving of ourselves and denying ourselves (particularly on Fridays). But on the Lord’s Day we receive what we’ve been pursuing. We enjoy God’s literal presence in the Mass and we rest in it for the remainder of the day.

Consummatum est, Jesus said on the Cross, reenacted in the Mass. Ite missa estNow go and enjoy it.

What is theology?

“[D]eduction only is the instrument of Theology. There the simple question is, What is revealed? All doctrinal knowledge flows from one fountain head. If we are able to enlarge our view and multiply our propositions, it must be merely by the comparison and adjustment of the original truths; if we would solve new questions, it must be by consulting old answers. The notion of doctrinal knowledge absolutely novel, and of simple addition from without, is intolerable to Catholic ears, and never was entertained by any one who was even approaching to an understanding of our creed. Revelation is all in all in doctrine; the Apostles its sole depository, the inferential method its sole instrument, and ecclesiastical authority its sole sanction. The Divine Voice has spoken once for all, and the only question is about its meaning.”

John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University (1852), Discourse 9, Section 4.