Monday, January 28, 2008

Wisdom from… [28 Jan.]

THOMAS AQUINAS** (1225–1274): The cross exemplifies every virtue

Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? There was a great need, and it can be considered in a twofold way: in the first place, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.

It is a remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on the account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives. Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.

If you seek the example of love: Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends. Such a man was Christ on the cross. And if he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.
(Conferences on the Creed)

** A Dominican friar, St. Thomas wrote the monumental work Summa Theologiae. Although his philosophy took its shape from Aristotle, at a deeper level Saint Thomas continued to uphold many fundamental Platonist doctrines which he received from Saint Augustine and Dionysius of Areopagite.

[A large part of why I entered the Catholic Church is because I knew a man very well, and thus I was able to witness how this man's growth in faith was winningly cruciform. Neither volcanically straight like a revival-frenzy of faith, that blows itself out and all too often only scalds bystanders, nor coyly balanced in the palm like a trick coin for amusing others, as the faith of hypocrites is. Rather, it has been cruciform by being both transcendent––Godward and prophetic––and immanent––humane and human. It has become two-dimensional and real by being both this and that, up and down, here and there, over, under, left, and right. It has taken on the jagged corners of a cross, corners that, while at times making for unseemly steps back and forth, hither and thither, have on the whole made for a depth that is only fitting true stories. A cross is a target, a crosshairs in the earth, and, often, hitting the target requires some bobbing here and there of the scope. Such errors of marksmanship are lethal for the shooter in only two cases, first, if the target fires back faster, and, second, if the shooter simply never shoots. But, seeing as grace is a perpetual gift, the first risk is less common than might be supposed; meanwhile, the second, not-shooting, is not something this man will do. That persistence to err, to misfire, given the confidence of a grace-built bunker around you, is simply what faith is. And that is the faith that one me over to the Church's faith as a model; it is also the kind of faith that wins me back and back again in the confessional, before the altar, on my knees, and over the years.]

ST AUGUSTINE: Prayer from the Heart

The pure prayer that ascends from a faithful heart will be like incense rising from a hallowed altar. No fragrance can be more pleasing to God than that of his own Son. May all the faithful breathe out the same perfume.
-- Commentary on Psalm 140, 6

Prayer. Lord, I am poor and needy, and you are generous to all who appeal to you.
-- Confessions 11, 2


This poor life is only a journey to the happy life to come. We must not be angry with one another on the way, but rather we must march on as a band of brothers and sisters united in meekness, peace and love. I state absolutely and make no exception: do not be angry at all if that is possible. Do no accept any pretext whatever for opening your heart's door to anger. Saint James tells us positively and without reservation,"…a man's anger does not fulfill God's justice." [Jas 1:20]
(INT. Part III, Ch. 8; O. III, p. 162)


ON bright blue days I do not want anything to happen; the world is complete and beautiful––a thing for contemplation. I no more ask for adventures under that turquoise dome than I ask for adventures in church. But when the background of man's life is a grey background, then, in the name of man's sacred supremacy, I desire to paint on it in fire and gore. When the heavens fail man refuses to fail; when the sky seems to have written on it, in letters of lead and pale silver, the decree that nothing shall happen, then the immortal soul, the prince of all creatures, rises up and decrees that something shall happen, if it be only the slaughter of a policeman.
('Tremendous Trifles')

[This reminds me of something I said in my recent post, "Up, up, and away!": When the heavens conceal an unknown and unknowable face, in traditional religion, the face of man is concealed in turn; when the heavens, however, no longer suggest any faces in the gaseous clouds, the face of man is a gassy mirage on a larger sea of mindless matter. Man is not tolerated when the immaterial gods trivialize his frame in eternity, nor, just as easily, when the material cosmos incinerates it in down-winding time.]

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