Free-will Valued

Free-will Valued posted in Eleison Comments on August 11, 2012

Concerning the drama of souls falling into Hell (and many choose to do so – Mt.VII, 13; XXII, 14), a reader raises a classic problem which can be framed briefly as follows. Either God wants souls to be damned, or he doesn’t. If he does want it, he is cruel. If he does not want it, yet it still happens, then he is not omnipotent. Then is he cruel, or is he not omnipotent? Which?

Let us establish immediately that God sends no soul to Hell. Every one of the many souls damned sent itself to Hell by the series of choices that it made freely during its time on earth. God gave to it life, time and free-will, and also any number of natural helps and supernatural graces to persuade it to choose to go to Heaven, but if it refused, then God let it have what it wanted, namely an eternity without him. And that loss of God, for a soul made by God only to possess God, is by far its cruellest suffering in Hell. Thus God wished that the soul might choose Heaven (“He will have all men to be saved” – I Tim. II, 4), but he wanted to allow the evil of its choosing Hell in order to bring out of that evil a greater good.

Notice the use made here of the two English words, “wish” and “want.” To “want” something is more full-blooded than merely to “wish” it. Thus a family father may well not wish his son to suffer harsh experience in life, but in view of all the circumstances he can want to let him suffer because he knows that that is the only way his son will learn. Similarly in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father did not wish to let his younger son leave home and squander his heritage, but he wanted to let him do so because that is what the father in fact did, and good did come of it – the return home of the son, now repentant, a sadder but wiser young man.

In the same way God wishes on the one hand all souls to be saved, because that is what he created them for, and that is why he died for all of them on the Cross, where one large part of his suffering lay precisely in his knowing how many souls would not choose to profit by their Redemption to be saved. Such a God can in no way be considered or called cruel! On the other hand God does not want all souls to be saved unless they also want it, because if he did, they would all be saved, because he is all-powerful, or omnipotent. But, given all the circumstances, that would mean in effect overriding the free choice of those who, left to themselves, would choose not to be saved, and that would mean trampling on their free-will. Now just see how passionately men themselves value their free-will, when you see how they dislike being given orders or like being independent. They know that their free-will is the proof that they are not just animals or robots. So God too prefers his Heaven to be populated with men and not just with animals or robots, and that is why he does not want all men to be saved unless they also want it.

Yet God does not want souls to be damned, because that again would be cruelty on his part. He only wants to allow them to be damned, in view of the circumstances that souls will thus have the eternity of their own choice, and he will have a Heaven of human beings and not just animals or robots.

Thus his wish to save all souls means that he is by no means cruel, while the damnation of many souls proves on his part not a lack of omnipotence, but a choice to value his creatures’ free-will, and the infinite delight that he takes in rewarding with Heaven souls that have chosen to love him on earth.

Mother of God, now and in the hour of my death, help me to love your Son and to choose Heaven!

Kyrie eleison.

Deadly Angelism

Deadly Angelism posted in Eleison Comments on February 11, 2012

Discerning what made T.S.Eliot (1888–1965) “indisputably the greatest poet writing in English in the 20th century,” a conservative English writer of our own day, Roger Scruton, has some interesting things to suggest to Catholics hanging on to their Faith by their fingertips in these early years of the 21st century – briefly, in the pain is the solution! If we are being crucified by the world around us, that is the Cross we are meant to be carrying.

Eliot was in poetry an arch-modernist. As Scruton says, “He overthrew the 19th century in literature and inaugurated the age of free verse, alienation and experiment.” One may well question whether Eliot’s final combination of high culture and Anglicanism is a sufficient solution to the problems he was tackling, but who can deny that with his famous poem, the “Waste Land” of 1922, he blazed the trail for contemporary English poetry? The enormous influence of his poems demonstrated at least that Eliot had his finger on the pulse of the times. He is a modern man, and he tackled head on the problem of modern times, summed up by Scruton as “fragmentation, heresy and unbelief.”

However, the “Waste Land” could not be the masterpiece that it is if it did not make some sense out of the chaos. It is in fact a brilliant portrait in a mere 434 lines of the shattered European “civilisation” that emerged from the ruins of World War I (1914 -1918). And how did Eliot manage to do that? Because as Scruton says, Eliot the arch-modernist was also an arch-conservative. Eliot had soaked himself in the great poets of the past, notably Dante and Shakespeare, but also in more modern masters such as Baudelaire and Wagner, and it is clear from the “Waste Land” that it is Eliot’s grasp of the order of the past that enabled him to get a handle on the disorder of the present.

Scruton comments that if then Eliot blew away the great romantic tradition of 19th century English poetry, it is because that romanticism no longer corresponded to the reality of his age. “He believed that his contemporaries’ use of worn-out poetic diction and lilting rhythms betrayed a serious moral weakness: a failure to observe life as it really is, a failure to feel what must be felt towards the experience that is inescapably ours. And this failure is not confined, Eliot believed, to literature, but runs through the whole of modern life.” The search for a new literary idiom on Eliot’s part was therefore part of a larger search – “for the reality of modern experience.”

Now have we not seen, and do we not see, the same “serious moral weakness” inside the Church? One may call “Fiftiesism” that weakness of the Church of the 1950’s which was the direct father of the disaster of Vatican II in the 1960’s. What was it if not a refusal to look squarely at the modern world for what it is? A pretence that everything was nice, and everybody was nice? A pretence that if I just wrap myself up in an angelist sentimentality, then the problems of the Church in the Revolutionary world will just float away? And what is now the pretence that Rome really wants Catholic Tradition if not the same essential refusal of modern reality? As Eliot taught us that sentimentality is the death of true poetry, so Archbishop Lefebvre showed us that it is the death of true Catholicism. The arch-conservative Archbishop was the truest of modern Catholics.

Catholics, today’s reality may be crucifying us in any one of its many corrupt ways, but rejoice, again, says St Paul, rejoice, because in our own acceptance of our modern Cross today is our only salvation, and the only future for Catholicism

Kyrie eleison.

Future Discussions

Future Discussions posted in Eleison Comments on March 5, 2011

To the relief of some, to the disappointment of others, it looks as though the doctrinal Discussions held over the last year and a half between theologians of Rome and representatives of the Society of St Pius X will after all come to an end this spring, because the main subjects of discussion will by then have been covered, without any real prospect of agreement opening up. Such is the conclusion tentatively to be drawn from remarks of the Society’s Superior General, Bishop Fellay, made in the course of an interview he gave on February 2.

Now let anyone disappointed be sure that there are Romans and important priests of the SSPX who will hardly give up their efforts to build a bridge between the churchmen of Vatican II and the churchmen of Catholic Tradition. But howsoever it be with such strivings to unite all Catholics of good will, strivings that ebb and flow, yesterday, today and tomorrow, Our Lord’s words are an anchorage: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mt. XXIV, 35). For on his life the Church’s life is modelled, and in his life there was an ebb and flow of human strivings and sufferings, culminating in the dreadful crucifixion, but while he felt every human urge to shy away from the crucifying will of his Father – “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me . . .” – still his human mind and heart were anchored in that divine will – “ . . .nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mt.XXVI, 39).

So the same unchanging divine will that directed and anchored Our Lord’s human mind and will, must anchor also the life of his Church. So Popes, Councils, religious Congregations and Societies may come and go, but in order to be Catholic they must submit to that divine will to which Our Lord submitted, and they must tell the exact same truths that Our Lord transmitted from his Father to his Church. Like no other institution upon earth, the Catholic Church is so built around Truth that its survival is proportional to its fidelity to that Truth. It is because the Conciliar Church is putting human interests in the place of divine Truth, that it is disintegrating, and any Catholic Congregation or Society that would do the same will likewise fall apart.

It follows that whoever is faithful to the fullness of revealed Truth is in effect – not in principle, but in practice – in the driving-seat of the Church (See “Letters from the Rector” Vol. IV, p.164). Furthermore, whoever has that Truth and pretends he is not in the driving-seat would be what Our Lord would have called himself, had he denied his Father, “a liar” (Jn.VIII, 55). That is because any messenger disowning the divineness of his divine message is no true lover of his fellow-men, as he and they may like to think, but he has for his father the Father of Lies (Jn.VIII, 44).

There is a Truth, even if most people can barely recognize it. The right and ability of the Romans to govern the Church depends on their being faithful to that Truth. The right and ability of the SSPX to stand up to unfaithful Romans depends on the SSPX’s own faithfulness to the Truth. For now the SSPX has been faithful, so for now the SSPX will survive, but may Rome, by returning to the Truth, make that survival unnecessary!

Kyrie eleison.

Christ’s Suffering

Christ’s Suffering posted in Eleison Comments on April 4, 2009

The eve of Palm Sunday is surely a good moment to consider with St. Thomas Aquinas (IIIa, Q46, art.5,6) how Christ’s suffering surpassed all other sufferings. Of course Christ could not suffer in his impassible divine nature, but he had chosen his perfect human nature, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary, to provide him with an incomparably sensitive instrument of suffering, in body and soul, to redeem us all and to save us from Hell if we wish.

As for Christ’s body, every part of it, from thorn-crowned head to nailed feet, was tormented in his Passion, culminating in the excruciating pains of death on the Cross, three hours racked between cramp from pushing up on nailed feet to breathe, and breathlessness or suffocation from slumping down on nailed hands to relieve the cramp. Crucifixion was positively designed to be excruciating – both words derive from the Latin for “cross” (crux, crucis).

As for Christ’s soul with its far greater range of perception than that of mere bodily senses, however perfect, St. Thomas names three heads of suffering. Firstly, by infused knowledge, Christ saw all sins of all men of all time, and chose to pay by his self-sacrifice for all those sins in general. In other words he used his superhuman gifts not to avoid suffering but to suffer the more. Yet at the same time he wished to suffer not just by a divine reckoning according to which a mere pin-prick of the Divine Person would have been payment infinite and more than enough, but by a human reckoning, as though he alone were to undergo umpteen executions to pay for umpteen criminals!

Secondly, by normal human knowledge, Christ suffered in his soul from observing all the kinds of people contributing to his Passion: Jew and Gentile, man and woman (e.g. the serving-girl mocking Peter), leaders and people, friend and foe. In particular, says St. Thomas, Christ suffered in his soul from being hated by his own people, then still God’s Chosen People, and – worst of all – from being abandoned and betrayed by his very own Apostles. Thirdly, like any man, Christ suffered in his soul from having to die, and the more innocent and perfect his life had been, the more keenly he suffered its loss and the injustice of its loss.

Now what other human being, or mass of human beings, have lived a perfect and innocent life; have chosen to lay it down by a death anything like as terrible as crucifixion; have been able to see all sins of all men and wish to pay for them; finally have observed abandonment all around them to the point of feeling deserted even by God (“lama, lama, sabactani”)? Were there six million such men, still they could not claim that their sacrifice was motivated by anything like the charity of Christ, with his overwhelming divine and human love for every one of us poor sinners. So their sacrifice would still not be remotely comparable to His.

Kyrie eleison.