Love Longs But Doesn’t Possess

Ps 130:5-6 – I wait for the LORD, my soul waits and I hope for his word. My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak.

The Psalmist expresses so well our relationship to God: one of yearning and waiting.  Truly, the person who loves God is a person who longs for Him.  But this longing and yearning isn’t limited to our relationship with God; rather, it extends to our very own loving relationships as well with those whom we love: spouse, children, family, and friends.

The condition of the lover to the beloved is one of limited knowing.  In other words, because the beloved is a person with so much more than what is physically available to our senses that her being is communicated more than by our own empirical assessment of who she is.  The lover who mistakenly believes that he knows the entirety of his beloved’s being is one who seeks to possess rather than to love, for genuine love longs for instead of trying to possess the other.  This is the reason that Scriptures are filled with instances of people longing for God.  And once this longing is fulfilled, the peace is so overwhelming that death seems but a trivial occurrence – Lk 2:29-32

Likewise, when we, in our own human relationships, seek to genuinely love, we must therefore learn to long and yearn for those whom we love.  We yearn for them to reveal to us who they are, and we then embrace those revelations.  Without self-revelations we can never know anymore about our beloved than those things that are superficial and physical, marked by our own determinations of what they mean, and this is terribly dangerous because our determinations of others can be perilously biased.

Thus, whereas love that takes on the form of possession will take after the “you are mine” motto because it seeks to take control and take charge, love that takes on the form of longing and yearning will take after the “I’m yours” motto since it expresses that it is open to receiving what the beloved is willing to reveal to it, and it thirsts for those revelations.  Therefore, we wait and we long for our beloved’s revelations.  And when those revelations come and we can love deeply and peacefully, the bumps and obstacles within those loving relationships are but trivial occurrences of a fallen world.


Jesus: The Son Of God, Part 2 of 2

In part 1 of this posting, I pointed out what God meant to first-century Palestine Jews and what they saw in the title “Son of God”.  I will use James DG Dunn and NT Wright, two conservative and traditional New Testament biblical scholars, as primary sources to tackle the task at hand.

Whether or not Jesus thought of himself as the Son of God is a question that raises a lot of difficulties for Christology scholars.[1]  However, given that we have no recorded autobiographical text of Jesus, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive way to make an argument in favor of either position.  Yet, Dunn argues that we can hope to penetrate into the mind of the first-century Palestinian Jew named Jesus, however implicitly through his words and actions, to learn of his own sense of divine sonship.  Dunn and Wright conclude that any movement that suggests that Jesus thought of himself as a divine person sharing in the divinity of God is ludicrous and does not take into account the historical context and development of the New Testament texts.  On the other hand, it is not altogether moot for us to approach the question “did Jesus ever claim his divine sonship?” since we have enough evidence from to the scriptural text, as well as other historical works, to insist that Jesus saw himself having an eschatological uniqueness in his relationship with God.

One argument for the self-knowledge of Jesus as having an eschatological uniqueness is his addressing of God as abba in the Gospel writings.  Dunn insists that this piece of evidence is a good starting point insofar as this way of addressing God was not very common in the Jewish tradition of Jesus’ time.  When Jesus addressed God as abba, it seems that there is an intimacy striking of someone familiar to the subject who is the object of his affection in a very familial way.  Distinctively, and worthy of noting, is when Jesus taught an adaptation of the Kaddish, where he addresses God as abba instead of the traditional ‘Lord of the world’ as how these prayers normally begin.  Further, Dunn points to Paul’s usage of abba as something distinctive for the Christians as another piece to the argument since, as Dunn argues, “had it been in common usage within any other large group or class within Palestine or Judaism Paul could hardly have thought of it in this way, as a distinguishing mark of those who shared the Spirit of Jesus’ sonship, of an inheritance shared with Christ.”

Yet, the question remains why it seems that Jesus saw himself as the great I AM in the gospel accounts, most prominently in the Johannine text.  Here, we find that the historical argument from the Johannine scripture is moderate, if not weak, for the self-knowledge of Christ as the Word of God, born before all ages.  In fact, Dunn, citing C.H. Dodd, argues that much of what is said about the person of Jesus as the pre-existent being proceeding forth from the Father in the Johannine tradition is a literary product of the author’s meditation or sermons.  This is the result of comparing the synoptic and the Fourth Gospel, which provides us with various sayings and affirmations that Christ made about himself which are present in the Johannine tradition, but are not present in the Markan, Matthean, and Lukan traditions.  This means that Jesus did not see himself as the very God of Israel who created all things from the beginning and to restore it to its former glory.


First century Judaism was situated amidst a variety of religious beliefs that saw god in various ways.  For the Jews of this time, God was seen in a twofold manner: the One existing before all things Who created all things and Who has called Israel to be his people and offer Himself to them as their God.  All of these religious traditions, along with Judaism, saw the title son of God in a variety of different ways.  Some pagan religious traditions and myths saw the title as a conferring of divinity by god himself to the one he has chosen, or that a god as copulated with a human being to give birth to a demi-god and so forth.  For Judaism, son of God is used in reference to one who lives in a holy manner and who has kept the Law of the Lord.  Accordingly, this title is used of various persons, as well as to refer to Israel and the Israelites themselves.

With this in mind, we do not think that Jesus thought of himself as the Son of God in the manner that modern Christians think of this Christological title.  There is little evidence to suggest that Jesus thought of himself as the same substance (homoousios) as that One God who created Heaven and Earth, and Who called Israel to be His people.  What little evidence we do have of this exists only in the Johannine tradition and, when placed side by side with the Synoptic traditions, does not provide a good enough argument for us to insist that Jesus understands himself as the Son of God with the same understanding that the Nicene Creed claims of him.  Yet, this in no way negates the expression of faith that the Nicene Creed claims of Jesus.  Instead, we must remember that the Nicene Creed is an extended proclamation of faith expressing in a more coherent manner what the early Christians understood by claiming Jesus as the Son of God.

[1] Cf. James DG Dunn “Christology In the Making”  and NT Wright “The Resurrection Of the Son of God”



I was recently a guest on our local Catholic radio morning show to talk about some basic things about plenary indulgences.  Then a couple of days ago, a former student messaged me to ask for a simple explanation of what indulgences are.  I took these two events as signs for a posting on indulgences.  In this post, I will be very brief and to the point on what indulgences are and how they work.  If you wish to know more about indulgences, I suggest a close reading of Paul VI’s work, Indulgentiarum Doctrina.

Many Catholics and Christians fear the term indulgence because of what happened with Luther and the Catholic Church in the early 1500’s.  However, I believe that most of us have a very poor to completely erroneous understanding of indulgences.  I hope here to clarify some common errors normally attached to indulgences.

In order for us to understand indulgences, we must first understand that in Catholic theology, there is a difference between forgiveness of a sin and the punishment for the sin.  In other words, when a person is forgiven the sin, he still must undergo some punishment that is required by Divine justice, whether suffering in this life or in the next life as part of his purgatorial sufferings.

There are two sacraments crucial for the forgiveness of sins in the Catholic tradition.  The Sacrament of Baptism breathes new life from the Holy Spirit into the baptized person and he receives complete forgiveness of original sin, both for the original sin and the temporal punishment that accompanies the sin.  Thus, when person is baptized, we have a tabula rasa (clean slate), if you will, with regards to the punishment of his original sins.  However, in the Sacrament of Penance, the person’s guilt is pardoned so that he would not suffer eternal damnation that results from mortal sins, but the punishment for his sin as required by Divine justice remains.

Indulgences are extra-sacramental and in no way replaces the Sacrament of Penance as normally and erroneously understood.  Indulgences do not forgive sins since that is not their function.  Indulgences are meant to take away the temporal punishment required by Divine justice.  For this very reason, indulgences are granted and received only by those who have received the Sacrament of Penance and have been forgiven of their sins.  Additionally, the merit (for grace) for indulgences is drawn from the treasury of the Church and of the holiness of the Saints and does not belong to and is completely different from the merits of the person’s own penitential work.

An (imperfect) Analogy To Help

Imagine that you are a murderer and have been condemned to death by the state.  However, you’ve expressed genuine repentance for your own wrong-doing and the Governor is moved by your repentance, and thus grants you a pardon from death.  However, because of the justice of the state, you are still required to serve 10 years in prison for your crime.  But the people of the state thinks that you have done all you can and wish that you be released sooner than the 10 years, and so they request the court to remove some (or maybe all) of the years you are supposed to serve as time served.

In the above imperfect example, we can see that the indulgence is like the request by the people to mark some of the required time for you to be in prison as being served.  But their request presupposes that you have been pardoned and that you are truly repentant.  Their request is an addition and does not replace a pardon of your death.

Types Of Indulgences

In general, there are two kinds of indulgences: partial and plenary.  Partial indulgences remove some time from the complete punishment that Divine justice requires of the sinner.  Plenary indulgences remove all of the punishment time that is required of the sinner by Divine justice.  Here I will briefly list what is required for each kind of indulgence:

Partial Indulgence

  1. Do the work or say the prayer that is meant to grant the partial indulgence
  2. Be in a state of grace either before or by the completion of the work for the indulgence
  3. Must intend on receiving the indulgence since if the person was to complete everything else but did not intend on receiving the indulgence then he does not receive it.

Plenary Indulgence

  1. Do the work or say the prayer that is meant to grant the plenary indulgence
  2. Receive the Sacrament of Penance
  3. Must be in Eucharistic communion with the Church
  4. Must say a prayer in union with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff – the Pope
  5. All attachments to sin must be absent (<- This last one is quite tough!)

Hope this helps!

Freewill And God’s Co-Causation Part III

Having established that God is the cause that holds the rational agent in existence, it is now necessary to see to it that God’s causing and co-causation insofar as He is the Prime Creator of the will does not necessitate His determination of the will.  The will is moved by an intrinsic principle belonging to the agent, viz. the intellect.[1]  This movement of the intellect towards truth and goodness directs the will because the will aims at goodness.  But the will cannot be said of as being moved by the agent if it is moved by God.  Therefore it is necessary to conclude that the will is moved by the agent and not by God:

As Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) “it belongs to Divine providence, not to destroy but to preserve the nature of things.” Wherefore it moves all things in accordance with their conditions; so that from necessary causes through the Divine motion, effects follow of necessity; but from contingent causes, effects follow contingently. Since, therefore, the will is an active principle, not determinate to one thing, but having an indifferent relation to many things, God so moves it, that He does not determine it of necessity to one thing, but its movement remains contingent and not necessary, except in those things to which it is moved naturally.[2]

The human will is free insofar as every act that the human person wills is a voluntary act—even acts that are under coercion.  Aquinas argues that there are two types of acts: the voluntary and the involuntary.[3]  Acts which are involuntary are intrinsic to the thing itself but are not willed by the agent since there is a lack of recognition of the good as object of the will (be this rational or irrational).[4]  On the other hand, the willing of an act is voluntary since the agent recognizes the good as known.[5]  In the human agent, the good as known directs the action voluntarily.  But voluntary does not entail freedom, for, as Aquinas notes, freedom is the object of the will and can only be understood in light of reason.

It is necessary here to consider an objection to the nature of the will as I have proposed here.  If, as argued above, the will is free and necessitated by a natural telos (end) to the Good as the intellect apprehends it, then it would mean that the will is not free to act insofar as it must act towards the ultimate Good in the face of the ultimate Good.  In this way the will, while arguably freed from the coercion of God’s will, is still necessitated by its natural inclination.  And if such a position is true then we must consider that in God’s creation of the will and its telos as such entails that God acts in the will immediately, thus negating its freedom.

The objection seems reasonable at first glance, but is invalidated at closer considerations of the objective and subjective dimensions of the will.  Aquinas writes in his reply to the seventh objection in question six in De Malo:

An active principle moves necessarily only when it overcomes the power of the passive principle.  But since the will is in potency to the good universally, no good overcomes the power of the will as necessarily moving it, except that which is good according to every consideration, and this is the perfect or complete good alone, i.e., happiness, which the will cannot will, that is, in such a way that it will the opposite; nevertheless the will can actually not will happiness because the will can turn away, i.e., avoid thinking about happiness inasmuch as the will moves the intellect to its act, and to this extent neither does the will necessarily will happiness itself, just as a person would not necessarily become warm if he could repel heat from himself when he willed.[6]

The distinction made here, and what Aquinas points to, is the particularity of the goods of the soul.  Where the objective aspect of voluntary act is the reality of the good toward which the desire of the will is inclined, the subjective dimension is the possession of such reality.  As Aquinas writes, the will is directed towards a universal good, but such goods are participations and consequently are particular.  As such, the reflective power of the intellect on the good [as particular] allows for the will to reconsider even the perfect good.

Another consideration of the freedom of the will as being caused by God only in the manner that he is the immediate cause of the agent’s being arises from the argument of evil actions.  According to Aquinas, the will is the faculty of love and desire which acts directly at the apprehension of the intellect.  The intellect, however, may at times mistake a non-good as a good.[7]  The apprehension which belongs internally to the agent is itself auto-causing, thus it is not God which is the source of this mistake.  Further, God cannot be said of as sinning for “someone is the cause of sin in two ways: in one way because he himself sins, in another way because he causes another to sin.  Neither of which can belong to God.”[8]  In the first way, God cannot be said as sinning because of the attribution of His nature free from the defect which sin requires for its existence.[9]  In the second way God cannot cause other to sin since sin is essentially the turning away from the calling to the ultimate end which is all-good.  Yet, God is the very End towards which the will is called.  Therefore, it violates the law of noncontradiction that one is both the cause of goodness and sin at the same time.

Conclusively, it seems that while human actions have as their authors both God and the human subject, the human subject acts freely.  From what has been said in the past three posts, God is said as the cause of human acts only insofar as He is the reason for the human author’s existence at any given time—contrary to Durandus’ objection.  As the cause and the One to keep the human agent’s being in existence, God is attributed with the human act, but this does not mean that he himself is the actor.  For one can speak of co-causality in two ways.  In the first, co-causation can be said of as two actors causing a certain effect in which without either one of the actors the effect cannot take place.  For example, let us consider two men who are carrying a casket.  The two are co-causes in the effect of the casket being moved, and without either one, the casket cannot move in the same way as it is moving when the two are carrying it.  In the second way, co-causation can happen in the sense that one’s being is dependent upon the other directly and simultaneously that any act one does is attributed to the other as well.  Consider for example an imperfect analogy of a human agent and a machine that is necessary to keep him living.  We can attribute the human agent’s actions to the machine only insofar as without the machine the person would cease to live and therefore no actions are possible.  Yet the human person’s actions are not dictated by the machine, but by the person himself.  It is in this latter sense that God is said as an immediate cause in human actions for it is He whom the human person is dependent on for his existence at any given time.

[1] Summa Theologiae, II, 1, 9, a1, Corpus

[2] Summa Theologiae, II, 1, 10, a4, Corpus

[3] Summa Theologiae, II, 2, 6, a1, Corpus

[4] Ibid. if a thing has no knowledge of the end, even though it have an intrinsic principle of action or movement, nevertheless the principle of acting or being moved for an end is not in that thing, but in something else, by which the principle of its action towards an end is not in that thing, but in something else, by which the principle of its action towards an end is imprinted on it.

[5] Ibid. But those things which have a knowledge of the end are said to move themselves because there is in them a principle by which they not only act but also act for an end. And consequently, since both are from an intrinsic principle, to wit, that they act and that they act for an end, the movements of such things are said to be voluntary: for the word “voluntary” implies that their movements and acts are from their own inclination.

[6] De Malo, 244

[7] This is evident in Aquinas noting that evil does not have a per se cause since no one aims at committing evil.

[8] De Malo, 104

[9] The existence of sin is not ontological per se but is only in contrast to the lack of goodness in the action itself or is an accidental effect of the action.

Freewill And God’s Co-Causation Part II

In the last post, I opened up a reflection regarding an agent’s freewill and the question of whether or not an agent’s action is fully and completely free given that God exists in the agent most intimately and therefore ought to be said as being a co-actor in any given action.  In this post, I would like to briefly examine what it means to say freedom and what is the nature of the will.

In my opinion, St. Augustine’s definition of freedom which is presented by Thomas Williams in Williams’ translation of On Free Choice of the Will is sufficient for the current reflection.  As regards to the will, I will present Aquinas’ position since I also think that his understanding of the will is excellent and quite sufficient.

Augustine argues that freedom can be understood in many different senses.  The three categories in which he places these different senses of freedom are physical, metaphysical, and autonomous.[1]  Physical freedom “involves the absent of restraints.”[2]  In other words, physical freedom is the freedom which allows the subject to act with nothing to hinder his actions.  On the other hand, metaphysical freedom is “the freedom to choose in a way that is not determined by anything outside my control.”[3]  The third type of freedom is autonomy.  Williams point out that for Augustine freedom of autonomy is the freedom that the subject has over himself without someone directing him to act as such; it is the freedom perceived as “I am my own boss.”  These three understandings of freedom together make up the synthesized understanding of freedom when we approach the will.  It should also be noted that this is the understanding and definition of freedom which is considered when freedom is mentioned in the rest of this reflection and its series.

With regards to the will, Aquinas defines it as a rational appetite and therefore requires reason for its operation.[4]  Aquinas notes that the will is moved by both the rational agent and also God.  Natural things have natural tendencies which are moved without judgment, e.g. a rock always moves downward.  Yet there are also things which act with judgment but also necessitated by a natural tendency, e.g., a deer will run as soon as it sees a tiger.  There is a third type of action which is free of natural necessities and uses judgment of the intellect; this is what Aquinas calls the will.  He argues that the will, because it is a power belonging to the rational appetite caused by God, is caused therefore by Him.[5]  Concomitantly, the will can also be argued as being caused by God because of its teleological tendency towards the Good as instilled by God.[6]

[1] Augustine (Williams) XI

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Summa Theologiae, II, 2, 6, a2, rep. obj. 1

[5] Summa Theologiae, II, 1, 9, a6, Corpus; note, however, that the will is caused by God does not mean that He is its immediate mover.

[6] Ibid.


Freewill And God’s Co-Causation Part I

A question came up the other day in class about the nature of morality, consequences, and responsibility.  A student asserted that we are guided by divine providence and in that sense seem to be predetermined to certain actions.  Our conversation led to an interesting observation: if God is in all of us, then is He not also the cause of our actions?  In these next blog posts, I want to see if I could come to an answer for this question.

First I think it is helpful to note that in order for an act to be subjected to moral scrutiny and judgment, it must necessarily be free.  In other words, actions of a moral kind cannot be condemned or commended if they are performed under coercion or out of ignorance.  The drunken man’s murdering action is of a less degree of seriousness—less because drunkenness does not alleviate the ignorance and the decision to get drunk in the first place—than that of a man who murdered purposefully and with premeditated contemplation.  Yet, what our original question seems to indicate is that all human actions have as its author two causes: the human subject and God.  From what I know, several positions exist in coming to answer this question..  Among these different positions are the theological determinists/compatibilists and their counterpart, the theological incompatibilists.  I find the theological incompatibilists’ position quite attractive.

I think it is worthwhile to note that the problem we’re trying to work through seems to suggest that God is the immediate cause of all actions of creatures because it has been said that God is in the creature most intimately.  Aquinas holds that God is in all things most intimately since He is their Cause of existence.  Aquinas does make the careful distinction that God is not in creatures and things as part of their substance or accidents; rather, God is in creatures as the agent which holds them in existence and therefore is in them most intimately.[1]

If Aquinas is indeed correct in his argument that God is in every creature intimately and is therefore the cause of their actions, then would this not take away from the freedom of rational creatures who thinks they are acting freely?  This would also mean that if God is the cause of all the of the creature’s movements then the creature is passive in the action itself and thus to speak of morality is absurd.   The question and criticism must not go unnoticed since it also denies free will on the part of the rational agent in that all actions are cause by God.  If the criticism is indeed correct then any discussion at all about the merits and morality of the rational creature’s actions is superfluous and meaningless.

This problem is considered by Durandus de Saint Pourcain.  Durandus argues that God is the immediate cause of every action of the creature but that this does not take away from the freedom of the creature at all.  Durandus first considers the argument that God is the immediate cause for an action because he is the cause of being.  Durandus lays out the objection as such: if God is the cause of being of a creature and the actions which flow from the creature flows from its very being, then it logically follows that God is the immediate cause of such actions.[2]  However, as Durandus is quick to point out, this conclusion is false in that it concludes on a faulty assumption.  To say that God is the cause of the being does not entail necessarily that actions by that being are caused by God.  Yet, as we shall see, Durandus’ conclusion based on this objection is also problematic.

A Closer Look At Sin and Christian Charity

A couple of posts ago, I gave a (very very) brief (and amateur-ish) examination at the nature of sin.  I have since then been thinking and reading more about it, so here is another closer examination of sin and love:

Sins are of different degrees and types and this becomes crucial in theological reflection and for the examination of conscience in preparation for the Sacrament of Penance.  The Church proposes two general categories for sinful acts: venial and mortal/grave.  As Bernard Haring points out, “mortal sin is always grave, as death is grave.”[1]  The Catholic Church teaches us this by pointing out that mortal sin “destroy the charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law” where as “venial sin allows for charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.”[2]

Simply put, sins of profoundly grievous nature are mortal in that they entail the death of a relationship—the relationship between the sinner and God.  The distinction made between mortal sin and venial sin is necessary since it would be false to assert that a sin of a serious nature is of the same grade as that of something less serious just as it would be silly for us to say that an illness that causes death is just as seriousness as a sprained ankle.  At the same time, we must be mindful that venial sins can lead to mortal sins.  Consider Haring’s comment on the difference between mortal and venial and the latter’s possible leading to the former:

Mortal sin…is a refusal of God’s friendship, opposition to the Covenant, and total alienation of the person from God, from himself, and from the community.  It is a fundamental option against God and, explicitly or implicitly, a conscious idolatrous option for one’s own egotism or idols…Venial sin is like sickness.  Not all sickness is grave, but it would be an absurdity to assert that every ailment to the point of death is in the “nonserious” or “slight” category.  It would be equally absurd to claim that no venial sin can be grave.[3]

Insofar as mortal sin is concerned, there are three conditions that qualify at act as mortally wounding the relationship between us and God: the object and matter of the sin must be of a grave degree, there must have been full and conscious intent, and the action was willfully free.[4]  Essentially, mortal sins are those actions that are contrary to those laws laid out in the Ten Commandments and other moral laws built upon these commandments.  Venial sins, on the other hand, are those that are lesser in degree and committed in ignorance or under coercion.

If we are to understand that sin is the separation of ourselves from God, then it is reasonable to conclude that it is only in God that we obtain holiness.  This holiness must be searched in relation to Christ and in imitation of him.  As John Paul II tells us in Fides et Ratio, it was God himself who came and lived among us so as to bring us into communion with himself.[5]  This incarnation of God is so that we can come to know him and imitate his holiness.  The more we desire to be holy and lead a holy life, the more we strive to be like Christ himself.

When we sin and we recognize that we are sinning, we ought to understand that not only is sin the destruction of our relationship with others and God but that we have failed to imitate Christ.  This recognition of failure ought to humble us and extend an invitation for our return to Christ—the one who is the source of all graces.  Consequently, we as sinners ask for forgiveness and accepts God’s calling to return to Him.  By accepting this divine initiative, we find not only forgiveness, but also peace in that the disorder of the relationship has been restored to its original form.

Finally, the better we understand sin and its destructive powers over us, we are more likely to avoid it and respond to others with love.  The turning away from sin is not only seen as obedience to God’s will and an imitation of Christ himself, but is also viewed as an action of love.  Love, insofar as the Catholic vision is concerned, is most genuine when we recognize our own failures and sins so that we can proceed to learn to love as we would have ourselves loved.   In this sense, the love that is freed is the love which proceeds in faith.   When we allow love to flourish in faith we can then exclaim “I see!” like that blind man that Jesus healed.  This is faith giving sight to sin so that we are able to see the Truth and goodness of God through the love of neighbor.  Therefore, through the recognition of our own sinfulness, we are able to love more abundantly.

[2] Catechism #1855

[4] Catechism #1857

[5] Fides et Ratio #10