How can the Son be equal to the Father?

One thing that puzzled me in my early Christian years about God the Father and God the Son, was how the Son could be equal to the Father in every way. It seemed the very fact that he was called “Son” necessarily implied that he was inferior to his Father, in age if nothing else.

But St. Thomas argues:

The Son is necessarily equal to the Father in greatness. For the greatness of God is nothing but the perfection of His nature. Now it belongs to the very nature of paternity and sonship that the Son by generation should attain to the possession of the perfection of the nature which is in the Father, in the same way as it is in the Father Himself. But since in men generation is a certain kind of change of one proceeding from potency to act, it follows that a man is not equal at first to the father who begets him, but attains to equality by due growth, unless owing to a defect in the principle of generation it should happen otherwise. From what precedes (27, 2; 33, 2,3), it is evident that in God there exist proper and true paternity and sonship. Nor can we say that the power of generation in the Father was defective, or that the Son of God arrived at perfection in a successive manner and by change. Therefore we must say that the Son was eternally equal to the Father in greatness. Hence, Hilary says (De Synod. Can. 27): “Remove bodily weakness, remove the beginning of conception, remove pain and all human shortcomings, then every son, by reason of his natural nativity, is the father’s equal, because he has a like nature.”

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I., Q. 42, A. 4.

Human sons are inferior to their fathers — smaller, weaker, less intelligent (at least until they mature) — because men must proceed “from potency to act”. In other words, we don’t attain to the perfection of our nature all at once, but must acquire various qualities and abilities through growth and training.

It is not so with God, who does not arrive at perfection “in a successive manner and by change”, but was always perfect. In other words he always possessed all the perfections of his nature. He didn’t grow like a human baby from a little bit powerful to more powerful, and then eventually to all-powerful, but was all-powerful from eternity.

Since Jesus is God and possesses the same nature and essence, he too possessed all the perfections of his nature from eternity. Therefore the Son is equal to the Father in greatness.


Conservation of energy

I happen[ed] to be studying astronomy [at the time I wrote the first draft of this post]. From my textbook:

“Our third crucial conservation law for astronomy is the law of conservation of energy. This law tells us that, like momentum and angular momentum, energy cannot appear out of nowhere or disappear into nothingness.”

*   *   *

“According to present understanding, the total energy content of the universe was determined in the Big Bang. It remains the same today and will stay the same in the future.”

Bennett, Jeffrey, The Cosmic Perspective: The Solar System (5th ed.), San Francisco:Pearson Addison-Wesley, 2008, pp. 130, 134.

Quite so. Energy can’t be created “out of nowhere” because it takes an infinite power to create anything out of nothing. And it can’t be destroyed for the same reason.

God created a certain amount of energy/matter at the Big Bang, and “objects can gain or lose energy only by exchanging energy with other objects.” (Id.)

excatholic4christ knows your faith better than you do

The blog excatholic4christ is written by a guy named Tom who, by his own account, was raised Catholic but never really had faith in Jesus until after he grew up, got married and had kids, and left the Catholic Church, at which point he “accepted Jesus Christ as [his] savior.” He writes, “Like most Catholics my ‘faith’ was just a part of my family and cultural baggage.

Tom evidently considers it a duty on his blog to criticize and condemn the Church at every opportunity. I suppose the purpose, as he sees it, is to keep people from being deceived into believing her teachings.

Since Tom never really knew Jesus while practicing Catholicism, and therefore lacked the one absolutely essential component of the true practice of the faith, it’s not surprising that he largely misunderstands it. As St. Augustine said, you must “believe so that you may understand”; and St. Anselm, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand.” A nonbeliever necessarily lacks understanding.

I assume Tom would agree that a disbeliever in the Bible could never understand the Bible as well as a believer. Between an atheist biblical scholar and a Christian, all other things being equal, the Christian will have insights into the text which the atheist lacks. The same obviously applies to the Catholic faith: One who believes and practices the faith on a daily basis will thereby grow in understanding and insight, while the disbeliever will not. One who lacks belief in Christ necessarily has a large hole in his understanding and practice of Catholicism.

Tom’s implied claim that his twenty-some years of practicing the faith gave him insights into the faith and knowledge and understanding of its teachings, which believers in the faith lack, is therefore unconvincing.

For example he asserts that the Catholic Church teaches that one must “obey the Ten Commandments perfectly in order to be allowed into Heaven“. All of my Catholic readers will immediately recognize the error of that statement. I corrected him in a comment, and he replied by quoting an online Catholic dictionary, to the effect that being free of mortal sin is necessary to get into heaven. I said yes, we must be free of mortal sin, but venial sins don’t forfeit salvation. He then dismissed the Church’s distinction between mortal and venial sins, on the ground there is no official list of mortal and venial sins by which to distinguish them.

Obviously I had an answer to that assertion, but another feature of Tom’s blog is his tendency to give himself the last word. He moderates all comments before they appear on his blog, and my comment in reply simply disappeared (for neither the first nor the last time). Therefore Tom’s readers should know that when Tom has the last word in a comment thread, often it’s not because his guest commenter had nothing more to say. He was simply not allowed to say it. It’s easier to win a debate when you control who gets to speak.

Since I wasn’t allowed to respond to Tom’s last comment on his blog, I’ll do it here.

In answer to the argument that there is no list of mortal and venial sins, and no bold line by which to tell them apart, and therefore no meaningful distinction between them: The fact that he lacks understanding of the difference between them, doesn’t prove that the Church understands no difference. He may have lacked understanding of the difference between them while he was a practicing Catholic, but then again he also lacked faith in Jesus at the time, so perhaps it’s no surprise that this insight escaped him.

The difference between a mortal and venial sin has to do with whether the sin involves grave matter; whether the person knew it was a sin; and whether he did it with full deliberation and in his right mind. A sin that lacks any of these components is a venial sin. Now unless Tom insists that every sin ever committed is done with full knowledge, deliberation and consent, he must admit that venial sins exist according to the Catholic understanding. He may deny that there is any objective difference that affects one’s salvation, but he can’t deny that some sins meet the Catholic definition of venial.

It’s true that there is no list of sins labeled “mortal” and “venial”. The reason is that stealing, for example, may be venial or mortal depending on the amount stolen, and who it is stolen from. Stealing $20 from a rich man is venial, while stealing the same amount from a homeless man might be mortal, since it could cause him to go hungry. Sins that cause mild annoyance are venial, those that cause grave harm are mortal. Sometimes the gravity of a sin must be determined on a subjective basis.

But for the most part, Catholics who are well instructed in the faith have a working understanding of which sins are serious and which aren’t, and that suffices to get people through daily life. When in doubt whether a sin you’ve committed is mortal, you abstain from communion until you’ve confessed it to a priest.

There is no need to engage in drawn out, handwringing self-examination as to whether a sin is venial or mortal. It’s not as though venial sins are allowed and mortal sins aren’t; all sin is forbidden by definition. So a dilemma can never arise where you must decide whether to commit a sin based on whether it’s mortal or venial. If it’s a sin at all you mustn’t do it, and that should end the handwringing.

But the salient point in response to Tom’s post, is that perfect sinlessness is NOT necessary for salvation according to the Catholic religion.

It’s not my intention to criticize Tom for rejecting the Catholic faith. If he were to state a doctrine he disagreed with and give reasons for his disagreement, I could respect that. But Tom’s practice is to insist on his own understanding of Catholic doctrine, condemn that understanding as violating the teachings of Christ, and in doing so claim that he has debunked Catholicism itself, when actually he has only knocked down his own straw man.

Tom is welcome to post any comments he may choose in defense of his position here. I won’t delete them or “moderate” them out of existence.

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.

Bastille Day – Almost Forgot!

“The French Revolution is the archetype and model for all future efforts to implement Progressive ideals once power has been seized.”  Thus Joseph Moore. Read on …

Yard Sale of the Mind

Let us take this day as a vigorous reminder of what insane partisanship and unscrupulous ideological fanaticism can do with historical facts. To sum up: A mob killed a few retirees and cripples who were guarding a prison holding a few upper-crust criminals and crazy people, and set them free in the name of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Vive la révolution! I guess.  And this has become the great event that marks France’s joining the ranks of countries that have slaughtered tens of thousands of their own unarmed citizens because they failed to get with the Enlightenment program. Or something.

As Tonio-K put it: but just because we’re hypnotized, that don’t mean we can’t dance!

On the reality side of things, there are the Vendee Martyrs.  As reported in the Telegraph: 

In early 1794 – at the height of the Reign of Terror – French soldiers marched to the Atlantic…

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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