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BOOK III. - Girolamo Savonarola, The Triumph of the Cross 
The Triumph of the Cross, trans. from the Italian, edited, with an Introduction by the Very Rev. Father John Procter, S.T.L. With a frontispiece portrait of the author (London: Sands & Co., 1901).
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METHOD OBSERVED THROUGHOUT THIS BOOK.
We have already proved the truth of Christianity, by means of arguments based on the past and present works of Christ. But it is our duty, not merely to demonstrate the solid foundations of our Faith, but, also, to defend it against the objections raised against it; and to show that, while it teaches many things surpassing human understanding, not one point of its doctrine is either unreasonable or incredible.
We will, then, first, discuss the articles of our belief. Next, we will examine the reasons for the divers moral commandments imposed upon us. Thirdly, we will demonstrate the equity of the laws, of which Christianity makes use in judging. And lastly, we will explain the hidden meaning of the ceremonies used in our religious rites.
It is true that many learned writers have treated these points, fully and eloquently, but we could not omit them in our work, without leaving it imperfect. And, whereas other authors have handled these matters with great diffuseness and subtlety; it is our intention to set them forth so simply, and so briefly, as to make them easily intelligible, not only to the learned but to the ignorant and unbelieving.
GOD CONTAINS WITHIN HIMSELF, AND CAN PERFORM, AN INFINITE NUMBER OF THINGS SURPASSING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING.
If we think, for a moment, of the natural weakness of our intellect, we shall easily see that in God there must be many things which exceed our mental capacity. We believe that the acme of human wisdom has been reached by a certain number of great philosophers; yet even they acknowledge themselves to be baffled by some purely natural phenomena. If, then, men of the very highest order of intelligence have been able to attain merely to a very imperfect knowledge of the everyday things of nature, how can we expect to understand heavenly mysteries, and the Divine truths which are so far above any earthly intelligence?
Again. Although men are all of the same species, they differ so much in mental capacity, that many, although making every effort, could never succeed in understanding matters which are comparatively simple to others. Why then should we wonder, if the angelic mind be so differentiated from the human, that angels know many things which men are quite incapable of comprehending? And as God is infinitely superior to angels, must there not be in Him infinite things surpassing the powers of human reason? And although we can, as a rule, know a cause by its effects; yet when a cause greatly exceeds its effects, the effects do but most imperfectly manifest their cause. Hence, God, being infinitely superior to His effects, can only be most imperfectly known by them.
It is not difficult, furthermore, to prove that God can do infinite things of which the human intellect is incapable. For, as all our knowledge begins from the senses, our intellect can only, naturally, grasp such things as are made clear to it by means of the senses; and whatever efforts we may make, we can never know anything which exceeds the natural order, or which is beyond our imagination. Now, God, being Pure Act and Infinite Power, is not tied down to any order whatsoever, but infinitely exceeds all created things, both spiritual and corporeal. Thus we are constrained to acknowledge, that He can do infinite things which we can never understand. We know, further, not only that He can do, but that He has done many such things, viz., things spiritual and angelic.
We can assign three reasons which make it fitting that God should have done, and should have manifested to the world, many supernatural things, surpassing the capacity of human understanding. First. He has done so with a view to the salvation of mankind. For, as man is made for God, and for a supernatural end, he could not attain to that end, were it not revealed to him by God, together with the means conducive to it. Secondly. God has acted thus, in order to humble man, and to teach him to know his own nothingness as compared to the Divine Majesty. For, in proportion as we realise that we can neither know nor contemplate (save most imperfectly) even things revealed to us, we shall become more lowly minded, and more reverent towards such as are Divine. Thirdly. By the manifold revelation of His mysteries, which God has made to the world, man has acquired a great relish for eternal truths, and has learned to love the Divine goodness and condescension.
Hence, the fact that we cannot understand the truths of Christianity is no reason for rejecting these truths. It is a reason, rather, for making a serious study of the religion which teaches them, and of thus proving to ourselves that it contains nothing either unreasonable or incredible. But to make this more evident, we will (in the succeeding chapters) descend to particular instances.
AN EXAMINATION OF CERTAIN ARTICLES OF THE CHRISTIAN CREED WHICH EXCEED THE LIMITS OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING.
We may divide the articles of belief peculiar to Christians, into those that pertain to the Divinity of Christ, and those that concern His Humanity.
Regarding His Divinity, we believe that there are not many gods, but one only God. This, the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, is not merely believed, but also known, by enlightened and learned men. Secondly. Together with the Unity, we believe in the Trinity of God, by which we mean, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are One God and Three Persons. These two articles regard the Divine Essence. The next articles refer to the Divine works. And, first, considering the works of nature, we profess that God has created all things, or made them out of nothing. Next, passing to the works which He has wrought in the supernatural order, we declare, that God alone can sanctify the creature, and that He does so, by means of supernatural gifts, in order to draw the creature to Himself. We next pass to the works of glory. Considering the glory of the soul, we profess that such as have been sanctified by God, will, after death, be glorified in beatitude and supernatural fruition, and that the body will rise again. We also acknowledge the immortality and glorification of the bodies of the just, and the damnation of the wicked.
Concerning the Humanity of Christ, we believe that Christ is true God and true Man—Son of God, and Son of the Virgin Mary, by her conceived and borne, through the power of the Holy Ghost; that for our salvation He was crucified, died, and was buried. We believe, moreover, that He went down to that part of hell called Limbo, thence to deliver the souls of the Patriarchs; that He rose again from death to glory, and ascended into Heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father; and that He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and to make new the whole face of the earth. Thus, our whole faith consists in these twelve articles. We also believe all that is embraced in the Holy Scriptures, and all that the holy Roman Church has defined, or shall hereafter define. We shall, therefore, proceed to discuss these twelve articles of the Creed, and to show that they contain nothing, either unreasonable, or incredible. We have not made any mention of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar nor of the other Sacraments; but they are included under the head of the sanctification of the rational creature, and we shall further treat of them when we are explaining the ceremonies of the Church. We have already spoken of the Unity of God, in the First Article of the First Book. Therefore, we shall not treat of it now, more especially as the greatest of the philosophers, and indeed nearly all men, agree with us in admitting this truth.
THE MYSTERY OF THE TRINITY IS NEITHER UNREASONABLE NOR INCREDIBLE.
Passing over the first principle of the Christian Faith, viz., the unity of God, we will proceed to the second article which is pre-eminently difficult, viz., the Unity in Trinity. By this we mean that the three Persons,—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,—are not three Gods or three natures, but One God and One Nature. We hold that there is One God, of most pure nature; and our belief is in no wise contrary to philosophy. Although we believe that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are One God, we do not teach, as Sabellius taught, that one Person is called at one time Father, at one time Son, and at another time Holy Ghost. Nor, do we hold, as was held by Arius, that the three Persons are substantially different, and that the Son is inferior and posterior to the Father, and the Holy Ghost inferior and posterior to the Father and the Son. We profess, against Sabellius, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct Persons. We teach, against Arius, that they are of one and the same nature, and equal in power and glory; so that all that belongs to the Father, belongs likewise to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; and all that belongs to the Son, belongs equally to the Father and the Holy Ghost; and all that belongs to the Holy Ghost, belongs, in like manner, to the Father and the Son. Thus, there is not between the Divine Persons the natural distinction which exists among creatures, consequent upon the more or less that each possesses, but merely a relative distinction. By which we mean that the Father possesses all that He has, of Himself, and from none other; that the Son, who has all that the Father has, derives it from the Father; and that the Holy Ghost, who has all that have the Father and the Son, receives it from Father and Son. Nor, on this account, are the Son and the Holy Ghost inferior to the Father, for they are One with Him in Nature and in dignity. Neither did the Father exist before the Son, nor the Son before the Holy Ghost. For, God, being immutable and eternal, the Father could not be God before He was the Father, and was always God and Father; and as He could not be Father without a Son, the Son is necessarily co-eternal with Him; and as the Holy Ghost is love, and the Father and the Son have loved each other from all eternity, they can never have existed without breathing forth the Holy Ghost. Neither is there any composition in the Divine Essence; for we believe that each of the Persons is One and the Same with the Divine Nature. Human reason cannot understand how in God, who is Pure Act and Simple Substance, there can be three Persons so completely distinct that One is not the Other, so that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, nor the Holy Ghost the Father and the Son, nor the Father and the Son the Holy Ghost; and yet at the same time the Father is the same Simple Nature as the Son, and the Son as the Father, and the Holy Ghost as the Father and the Son. For in God there is Personal, but not natural, distinction; and as we name things according to our knowledge of them, and knowing God by means of creatures, we name Him by names derived from creatures. Now, among creatures, the production of one living being from another living being is called generation, and the one who begets is termed father, and the one begotten, son. And as in God, one living Person proceeds from another living Person, we term this procession generation, and He from whom the other Person proceeds is called the Father, and the Person who proceeds we name the Son. This generation, unlike that of men and animals, is wholly spiritual and Divine. And therefore we say that the Son is the Word, the Image, and the Begotten Wisdom of the Father. But the procession of the Holy Ghost, who is Love, is from the Father and the Son, because love is the union between the lover and the beloved, and thus the Holy Ghost proceeds immediately from two perfect Persons, the Father and the Son. But because, in the order of nature, nothing can be found which proceeds immediately from two equally perfect beings, no special name has been found for the Holy Ghost and His procession; and therefore the general term procession has been retained. It is correct, however, to call this procession the spiration of the Father and the Son, because the Holy Ghost proceeds by love, which implies a certain impetus, or breathing forth, towards the thing beloved. It is for this reason that the Person proceeding from the Father and the Son is called, par excellence,the Holy Spirit, although both the Father and the Son are equally Spirits and equally Holy. And because in intellectual nature, there are but two processions—the one by means of the understanding, the other by means of the will—faith reasonably teaches that in God there are but two processions and three Persons.
Any one who desires to learn more about the mystery of the Holy Trinity, will find inexhaustible treasures of knowledge in the writings of the Fathers. We have stated only the mere substance of the Faith, and have been content to show that in the mystery of the Blessed Trinity there is nothing incredible or unreasonable. Faith teaches nothing contrary to reason, but merely declares, that we cannot, by natural reason alone, arrive at the knowledge of Divine things. For human reason can only, by means of creatures, know God as the Cause and Principle of created things. And, as God is the Principle and Cause of things, only by means of His Power, Wisdom, and Goodness, and as the three Divine Persons are not distinct in these attributes, but united in them, it follows that reason cannot, by means of creatures, apprehend the distinction of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. We do not say that we should not believe this mystery because we cannot understand It. For it is most foolish to gauge truth by our intellectual capacity; since in God there are infinite mysteries, unfathomable by the mind of man.
If we further consider the arguments set forth in the second Book, we can have no doubt as to the Mystery of the Trinity. Our faith in it is confirmed by certain peculiar reasons, one being that though this Mystery is above our reason, it is, in no sense, contrary to it, and that it is further rendered credible by the likeness borne to it by many created things. First, by means of the procession or emanation of creatures, the mind may rise in some sort to the contemplation of the Divine procession. For, in creatures we see processions of many kinds, of which those that belong to the more perfect nature are likewise most perfect and most interior. For example, there is in inanimate things a certain sort of generation. One fire generates another, the virtue of the generating fire passing into the one generated. This procession, however, is not perfect nor intrinsic; for it does not remain in the thing that generates, but passes into an object outside of itself. Plants, being animated, have procession more perfect and more intrinsic; for that which is generated from a plant belongs to the principle of the plant producing it, and is united to it. But here, as the thing produced is finally separated from the principle of the producer, this procession is not perfect nor intrinsic. As animals are more perfect than plants, we find in them more perfect and more intrinsic procession, and one rather spiritual than corporeal. Now, this procession is the operation of the senses which remains within the senses themselves. Nevertheless this operation, being caused by an extrinsic object, its procession is not wholly intrinsic. But the procession of the intellect is far more perfect and more interior; because, since the intellect of itself, and by no external aid, understands that which it understands, it forms its own operations within itself, produces the word and the likeness of the thing known, and is united, as it were, by love to that thing in such a way as to become an image of the Trinity—to wit: by understanding, word, and love. But, since all our knowledge has its origin in sense, the processions of our intellect are not wholly, but only partly, extrinsic. We shall find, if we consider the angelic intellect, that in it the procession of word and of love is more intrinsic and more perfect than is the case in the human intellect; because angelic cognition does not arise from sense, but is wholly interior. Nevertheless, as the whole of the angelic substance depends on God, we cannot say that the procession of word and of understanding in the angelic intellect is as intrinsic as if it depended on nothing extrinsic; and, therefore, it contains some imperfection. Knowing then, as we do, that creatures are noble in proportion as they are perfect and intrinsic, and understanding, likewise, that every effect endeavours to imitate its cause, our Faith surely teaches nothing unreasonable when it professes that, as the nobility of God infinitely surpasses the nobility of all creatures, there are in Him most perfect and intrinsic processions, arising from no extrinsic cause, and having no existence apart from His Substance; and that all creatures endeavour, in so far as they can, to imitate these processions, though they can never equal them in perfection, since the Divine Persons depend on nothing, but are God, the Cause of all things. We see, therefore, that the dogma of the Blessed Trinity contains nothing either impossible, or unreasonable.
There exists in the spiritual part of man’s nature a certain likeness to the Trinity, viz., understanding, word, and love. This likeness becomes more apparent when man his engaged in actual contemplation of God; for, then, his understanding is informed by the Divine light and presence representing the Father; he forms in his contemplation a concept of God which represents the Son, and is called the word of the mind; and the Divine love which springs from his understanding and his concept of God represents the Holy Spirit. Of course this human trinity is very remote from the Trinity of God, and differs from it exceedingly. For our intellectual word, and our love, are changeable, and are not the substance of our soul; whereas the Divine Word and the Divine Love are eternal, consubstantial with the Father. But in spite of this essential difference, so vivid a likeness to the Blessed Trinity is apparent in the nobler creatures that it is proved, that this doctrine is completely in accord with reason.
This likeness to the Blessed Trinity exists, not only in the superior, but also in the inferior, ranks of creation, since the perfection of every creature consists in three things, viz., beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is attributed to the Father, the middle to the Son, and the end to the Holy Ghost. We see, likewise, in creatures another trinity, that, namely, of substance, power, and operation. We might point out many other illustrations of the trace left by the Trinity upon creatures, and of their tendency to reproduce the number three, as if it were the sum of their perfection. Aristotle, the Prince of Peripatetics, following not faith but reason, says in his Heaven and Earth: “All things appear to be made up of threes”. And Pythagoras also concludes, that “all things are determined and perfected in this number three, which represents beginning, middle, and end,” and that “this number has been transferred from creatures to the gods”. And “if we speak of two things (he adds) we do not mean the sum total of things; but when we say three things we mean all things; for without the third thing, the quantity would be incomplete, and therefore imperfect, since perfection means completeness”. Pythagoras further adds, that “bodies being composed of three things—to wit length, breadth, and height—are perfect quantities”. By these examples, and by the arguments already brought forward, it becomes clear, that our belief in the Blessed Trinity is not unreasonable, but rather that this doctrine is a most credible, and, even according to our human standard, a most probable one. For, although far exceeding human reason, it is in no wise opposed to natural philosophy. It avails itself of the arguments of philosophy, thereby giving a most sure sign of its truth.
THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF CREATION IS NEITHER INCREDIBLE NOR UNREASONABLE.
We have hitherto considered the supernatural in its relation to God. We will now look at it as it regards creatures. And first, as every one acknowledges that God is the Efficient Cause, on whom both heaven and earth depend, it is neither untrue nor irrational to say, that God has created all things in time, or that a certain principle has out of nothing made all things, both visible and invisible. For what is an efficient cause, save a cause that gives being to its effects? And is not the most perfect cause, that which acts upon the most numerous and the most remote things? God, therefore, being Pure and Perfect, exercises His power over the being of all things. Consequently, all things depend on Him.
It is true that, in earthly things, imperfection precedes perfection. Nevertheless, speaking strictly, perfection always precedes imperfection; because every imperfect thing depends upon the perfect. God, therefore, being the most pure and perfect Act, precedes all things, and all things are made by Him.
We believe, further, and most reasonably, that all things were made out of nothing, without any preexisting matter. For, although all things in nature and in art require material on which to operate, God, being the universal cause of all effects, gives being to all things; and as being is a universal effect, it can be produced only by the universal Cause, who is God. Nothing can exist that has not been produced by Him; and even those things which are made out of matter, owe their being to Him who gave being to that matter. For all matter is either made out of something, or out of nothing. If it be made out of nothing, our proposition is proved. If it be made out of something, that something must likewise have been made out of something else. So that we must finally accept either the hypothesis of creation out of nothing, or that of eternal matter. This latter alternative is so unreasonable, that we are driven to the former, namely, that all things were created originally out of nothing; and, that from created matter other creatures have been produced. And as God acts, not from necessity but by free will, it is not necessary to say, that the world was created from eternity; but that it was made at the time chosen by the Divine Wisdom. The reason for creation in time, is hidden in the inscrutable counsels of the Most High. We can, however, in some measure, see its congruity with the Divine Nature and its utility to man. God has done all things for the good of His elect. Now this good consists, above all, in the knowledge of God; and man can know God more perfectly through His having created the world in time, than if He had created it from all eternity. For, the fact that the world was created in time, shows that God is infinitely perfect and infinitely happy in Himself, and that He has no need of creatures; otherwise He would not have deferred their creation. Thus, the Christian Faith teaches nothing incredible, nor irrational, about creation.
We will now dismiss this subject. It has been amply treated by the doctors of the Church, who have pulverised the frivolous arguments whereby Aristotle, and other philosophers, have sought to prove the eternity of this world.
THE CHRISTIAN TEACHING CONCERNING THE SANCTIFICATION, GLORY, AND RESURRECTION OF RATIONAL CREATURES CONTAINS NO ARTICLE WHICH IS EITHER IMPOSSIBLE, OR UNREASONABLE.
We have already spoken of the sanctification of man by grace, pointing out that, as man is destined for a supernatural end, to which he cannot attain save by Divine grace, this grace is supplied to Him by God, who is never found wanting to His creatures. We have likewise treated, at sufficient length, of the glory of the soul, when we proved that the end of human life is the vision of the Divine essence in the light of glory. Thus have we shown that the teaching of Faith concerning the sanctification and glory of the rational creature, is both reasonable and credible. The same may also be affirmed of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. For, although this could not naturally take place, since nature can only give life by generation, the Divine Power being infinite, and not limited to natural operation, can perform innumerable other things in infinite ways. Therefore, to God the resurrection of the body is most easy. Why should not He who has made all things out of nothing, be able, by raising the dead, to make one thing out of another thing? Death does not mean annihilation. The soul remains immortal; and the matter of which the body is formed is changed into other matter. Even were it resolved into nothing, God could call that nothingness back to life, as easily as He could create the world out of nothing.
Hence, we shall see, on reflection, that belief in the resurrection of the body is neither absurd nor impossible, but on the contrary reasonable, expedient, and necessary. Because, as the soul is the form of the body and is immortal, its separation from the body is unnatural. Now, as any unnatural condition is incongruous with the Divine Wisdom, it cannot be permanent; and therefore the soul must of necessity return to the body.
Again. Without the body, the being of the soul is imperfect. All things tend to their perfection. Therefore, without the resurrection of the body, the soul could never be completely happy, since its desire for perfection (which consists in the union of soul with body), would remain eternally unsatisfied.
Further. Happiness is due to those that live aright; and, in this life, it is not the soul which lives but the man. Life, intelligence, and all other activities are not attributes of the soul alone, but of the whole man. It is the whole man who acts, and the soul is the form, by virtue whereof he acts. Happiness, therefore, is due not only to the soul, but to the whole man who lives aright. Now, without the resurrection of the body, the soul only would receive reward.
Furthermore. Since Divine Providence rewards the good and punishes the guilty; and since the body, as well as the soul, does good and evil, the body equally deserves punishment or reward. But if the body rise not again, how is justice to be satisfied?
The foregoing arguments, besides proving the reasonableness of our faith in the resurrection of the body, demonstrate further that the body must rise to immortality. Otherwise, each death would necessitate a corresponding resurrection, and the series would continue ad infinitum.
We believe, likewise, that the body will rise to glory. For matter must be proportionate to its form, and if the soul, which is the form of the body, be glorified, the body must receive proportionate glory. For it would not be fitting that the glorified soul should be joined to a body not glorified, nor subject in obedience. Therefore, Faith most logically teaches that, by the power of God, the glory of the soul overflows into the body, rendering it agile, completely obedient to the soul, and absolutely perfect. And, since all bodies are made for man, who is their end, faith teaches, likewise, that when man is glorified, the whole world will also be glorified, since things must needs become proportioned to the end for which they are destined. After the resurrection, the body will no longer require sustenance; therefore, the motions of the heavenly bodies will cease; and animals, plants, and all compound substances will be resolved into their elements, purged by fire, and clothed in new and glorious brightness; and we shall be for ever happy with the Lord.
THE DOCTRINE OF THE DAMNATION OF THE WICKED IS ONE BEFITTING CHRISTIANITY.
As the just deserve the glory of Heaven, the wicked, who have gone aside from God, deserve the lowest place on earth, wherein they and their sins may be punished. There is no injustice in the eternity of punishment inflicted for temporal guilt. Even human law (as in the case of death or lifelong exile), avenges certain crimes by unending punishment. The wicked are justly deprived for all eternity of glory, and punished for ever in hell—not for their passing sins so much as for the malice of their will, which remained obstinately inclined to sin until death. Surely, is it not most reasonable to believe, that they who have preferred temporal pleasure to eternal glory, and would, (had it been possible), have persevered in this choice, should be punished with eternal suffering; the more so as, after this life, they are no longer capable of meriting eternal life? Again, as we have already remarked, it is not the soul alone, but the whole man who acts, and if it be reasonable that the just should be glorified in soul and body, the wicked equally deserve twofold punishment.
There are in hell other torments besides that of fire. But because fire is the most active it is always spoken of as the chief punishment. The bodies of the damned are not consumed by this fire, for the Divine Power enables their souls to preserve these bodies from destruction. But as, by malice, these souls have turned away from their Creator, their bodies are not perfectly subject to them; they are therefore capable of suffering excruciating torments in the fire of hell, though not of being consumed by it.
THE DOCTRINE OF THE INCARNATION OF THE SON OF GOD IS, IN NO SENSE, INCREDIBLE, UNSEEMLY, OR UNREASONABLE.
The Christian religion maintains inviolably that God is Man; that His Person subsists in two natures, viz., the Divine Nature and the Human; and that the union between these natures is so perfect that the Person who is God is likewise Man. No parallel to this union can be found in nature, for the simple reason, that no perfect created substance can be united to another substance in such a manner as to become one with it. Even the union between soul and body cannot be compared to the union between the Word and the human nature. The soul is the form of the body; but form is imperfect; and as God is Perfection, the Word cannot be the form of the human nature. Moreover, the Divine Nature and the human are in Christ two perfect substances; and therefore the union between them surpasses understanding. We must not, however, say that this union is impossible. God can do many things beyond the capacity of our intelligence. Then, in the union between the Divine and Human nature, His Divine Majesty suffers no change; but human nature is, by His infinite power, raised to wondrous union with His Person.
Neither can we call this union unseemly or unreasonable. For, from it countless blessings have come to the world, benefits so numerous indeed that we could not attempt to name them all, but must content ourselves with recounting some of them.
First. The Incarnation has been a most powerful means, whereby man may attain happiness. The true beatitude of man consists, as we know, in the vision of the Divine Essence. But, considering the limitations of human intelligence, and the sublimity of the Divine Nature, we might justly have despaired of gaining this supreme happiness. Therefore, God, by uniting in His own Person the Divine with the Human Nature, (a union far surpassing the union between the Divine Essence and the understanding of the blessed), has willed to hold forth to man hopes of attaining to the glory for which he was created. And man, since the Incarnation, has aspired to happiness, with greater ardour than he did before this mystery was accomplished.
Again. The Incarnation, wherein God has united Himself (directly, without intermediary), to man, has made clear to man that God is His sole End, and has thus taught him to appreciate the excellence of his own nature. It has so far enlightened the human race, that men, at the sight of this wonderful union between God and man, have abandoned the worship of idols. Then, in their quest of true religion and unalloyed happiness, they have despised all earthly wealth and dignity and pleasure.
We must further remember that, as the happiness, whereunto we were created, far exceeds the capacity of our understanding, it would have been impossible for us to have had any sure knowledge or hope of it. Even the investigations instituted by the most learned philosophers would have been in vain. Befitting therefore was it, that God, in His special Providence over man, should take flesh, in order to assure man of his future blessedness and to confirm his hopes of it. Hence, by the Incarnation, mankind has a far more complete and clear knowledge of beatitude and of Divine things.
We know, likewise, that man, before the Incarnation, was entangled in affection for many temporal things. By His Incarnation, God took the surest means possible to raise him from earth to the love of eternal things. For, who, seeing this great love of God towards man, will not be moved to love Him in return? And, in fact, since God’s love for man has been known upon earth, men have been so much inflamed with desire for Divine things, that they have entered into friendship with God, and with His saints; and they have despised all earthly ties.
Again. Certain means are necessary to enable man to gain happiness. These means are virtue and spiritual perfection. These graces have, by the Incarnation, been abundantly poured out upon mankind. The proof of this lies in the fact that, since the coming of Christ, the world has been so fertile in examples of virtue and perfection, that none, save the blind, can doubt that the teaching of Christ is the one sure road to blessedness. Thus, we see, that the Catholic faith teaches, in the dogma of the Incarnation, nothing either incredible or unreasonable.
THE BELIEF IN THE VIRGINAL BIRTH OF CHRIST IS CONSISTENT WITH REASON, AND HIS LIFE BEFITTED, IN ALL RESPECTS, HIS DIGNITY.
Hitherto we have undertaken to prove the credibility and congruity of our belief in the more difficult articles of the Christian creed. We will now proceed to discuss such as are easier. First then, if God was able to become Man, He was also able to be born of a virgin. For generation signifies the production of a person, not of a nature; and birth means the entrance into the world, not of human nature, but of an individual man or woman, subsisting in that nature. Now, as the Person of the Son of God subsisted in human nature, it was possible for God to be born of a woman, from whom He took that nature. God might, certainly, have formed the body of Christ from the earth, or from some other material. He might have done so; but He did not, because it was more fitting that it should have been born of a woman, in order that the sight of the Father of all things deigning to have an earthly mother and kinsfolk and country, and to suffer the infirmities of human life for love of us, should excite us to deeper humility.
It was, likewise, most seemly that He who in Heaven had no mother, and whose Father was the God of all Purity, should choose for His earthly mother a spotless virgin, and that He should have no earthly father.1
. . . . . . . . . .
It was, moreover, highly fitting that Christ should not have lived a solitary life, but should have mingled with men. For since He had come upon earth, in order, by His preaching, to induce mankind to seek for eternal happiness, it was necessary that He should not, like St. John the Baptist, lead an austere life but an ordinary one; that He should follow, in His eating, drinking, and other habits of life, the customs of His country; that thus He might enable men to profit by His words and example. Neither, by choosing the common life, did He in any sense contravene the principles of the spiritual life. For, perfection does not necessarily consist in austerity, but in sincerity and ardent charity; which, by fixing our mind on eternal things, ensures us against elation in prosperity, and depression in adversity.
It was also most fitting that Christ should, by His poverty, set an example to preachers, showing them that they ought to be free from solicitude about earthly gains, and from the least taint of avarice. The poverty of Christ, likewise, threw into stronger relief the power of His Divine Majesty, which alone, unaided by worldly power or learning, sufficed to transform the world. His miracles, again, are reasonably to be expected, since it was by them that He manifested His Divinity. Finally, if we reverently and humbly study all His words and works, we shall find in them the most admirable sequence, and most perfect order.
THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF ORIGINAL SIN IS NEITHER UNREASONABLE NOR INCREDIBLE.
In order the better to understand both what has been said, and what still remains to be said, we must touch on the subject of that original sin, whereby the whole human race has been defiled. We have already shown, that God, in His own good time, created the world, placing over it, as the head of all things, man, endowed with an intellectual, immortal and most noble soul; and that to this soul was fitted an immortal body, obedient in all things and proportioned to the soul, which, as form, governs its matter, the body. But, since intellectual knowledge depends upon the senses, and senses cannot have any being save in a body composed of fleshly elements warring against reason, the only body that befits the soul is the human body.
Nevertheless, we believe, with good reason, that Divine Providence, which never fails His creatures, mercifully delivered man at his creation, from corruption, and from that repugnance to reason inherent in the flesh; and that He so proportioned the matter of the body to its form, the soul, that the inferior powers were subject to reason. Hence, we say that man was, at his creation, endowed with original justice, i.e., with impassibility, and subjection of body to soul, and of the sensitive part of his nature to reason. We further hold that this original justice would, had not Adam deliberately disobeyed God, have descended to all his posterity. But it is most reasonable, that, if man wilfully chose to turn aside from God, he should be deprived of original justice, of the natural subjection of his senses to reason, and of the immortality of his body. This was the just punishment of his sin. This deprivation of original justice, inflicted on Adam, and transmitted by him to the whole human race, is what we mean by original sin.
We see in man such evident proofs of the truth of this doctrine, that it appeals strongly to our reason. The Providence of God rewards good deeds, and punishes evil ones. When we see a penalty inflicted, we know that some fault has preceded it. Now, we behold the human body subject to many sufferings—to cold and heat, to hunger and thirst, to sickness and to death. We see, moreover, that the intellectual soul is weak in reason and in will; that it is harassed by the flesh; and, that, by reason of these infirmities, man falls, daily, into many errors. These sufferings are the sign of some antecedent fault. But, although the deficiences of man seem proper to his nature, God could have supplied them all, had not man, by his own fault, placed an obstacle in the way. Therefore, it is quite reasonable to say, that the defects in human nature, are the outcome of the sin of our first parent, the representative of our whole race.
The sin of Adam was at the same time both personal and common to all nature. It was personal, in so far as it deprived Adam of original justice. It was common, in so far as the deprivation extended to all his posterity. From the point of view of the will of the human race, this privation does not imply sin; but from the point of view of the malice of Adam, this subtraction of original justice is the direct consequence of his sin. And, as he is our head and we are his members, he has implicated us in his guilt. The actual taking of a thing unjustly with the hand is thieving, and is called sin: yet the sin is not in the hand, but in the malice of him that moves the hand to steal. In like manner our privation of original justice would not be accounted unto us for sin, nor should we be born in sin, had we not been, by our first parent, implicated in his sin. His malice has affected all the members of his body, and therefore we, who are his members, are all born in original sin. But if Adam had never been endowed with original justice, and consequently had never lost it, we, had we been born with the irregularity now existent in our nature, should not have been born in sin. Ours would have been a purely natural state. For, where there is no malice in the will, there cannot be sin. It is, therefore, the malice of our first parent which causes the privation of original justice, transmitted by him to the human race, to be accounted as original sin.
There is nothing unjust in the fact that all men have to suffer the penalty due to one. Man had no natural right to original justice, in the sense in which he has a right to the use of his limbs. Justice was a free gift of God; and the giver has power to choose the time, and manner, of his gift. If God gave to Adam original justice, with the understanding that if he did not sin, both he and all his posterity should keep this gift; but that if he did sin, both he and his descendants should be deprived of their privilege, what ground have we for complaint? Human nature, in its entirety, was included in Adam. Since, then, original justice is, in no sense, our due, we could not murmur had Adam never been graced with it. How therefore can we complain that, in consequence of Adam’s violation of the conditions imposed upon him by God, our nature has been deprived of this privilege? Original sin does not, as is often thought, mean simply a wound inflicted on human nature, which has injured it by depriving it of some good proper to it. It means, rather, the deprivation of that state of original justice, to which human nature has no claim. It is as unreasonable to murmur at being born in our purely natural state, as it would be to complain that we were not sanctified in the womb, or were not created in the enjoyment of happiness.
Man cannot attain to beatitude without the gift of supernatural grace. Therefore, he who dies in original sin is deprived of eternal life; but he is not, therefore and thereby, subjected to any sorrow or suffering. Not being proportioned to beatitude, he is incapable of enjoying it. He does not, however, suffer from the loss; because God rectifies his will, conforming it to His own, and taking from it the desire of that which is impossible to it. A man who has no claim to an imperial crown, does not grieve because he is not an Emperor. Neither does such a soul suffer any sensible pain. On the contrary, it is endowed with all perfection proper to human nature—such as the knowledge of all natural things, and even the contemplation, by means of creatures, of such as are Divine. It enjoys all the happiness which human nature can enjoy. Furthermore, God confers upon these souls certain supernatural gifts—such as immortality, and impassibility of body—so that they are not subject to human infirmity; nor will they ever suffer sensible pain. And, although we believe that the abode of these souls is Limbo, the place of their habitation signifies but little. My private opinion, (subject to any future pronouncement of the Holy Roman Church), is, that after the resurrection, they will dwell on the purified and glorified earth. My reason for thus thinking is, that if the place of habitation be proportioned to the inhabitant, souls informing immortal and impassible bodies, and enjoying all the happiness natural to man, ought not to be deprived of the light of the sun and of other natural advantages and delights, in which they could have no share were they detained in a subterranean Limbo. We may go further, and say, that such a deprivation would not only be a diminution of happiness, but a sensible pain. Original sin, however, although it involves, as its consequence, the loss of the Beatific Vision, does not imply the endurance of sensible pain.
Thus, we see, that God, in His dealings with souls that pass from life in original sin, manifests, in a peculiar manner, His justice and His wisdom. We see also that the Christian teaching concerning original sin is neither incredible nor unreasonable.
OUR BELIEF IN THE PASSION OF CHRIST, IN THE OTHER MYSTERIES OF HIS HUMANITY, AND IN ALL THE ARTICLES DEFINED BY THE CHURCH, IS STRICTLY CONSISTENT WITH REASON.
God, the Father of mercies, who is all-bountiful, has supplied for the defects caused by original sin, certain fitting remedies. Of these the chief are: first, the faith and sacrifices of the Patriarchs; next, Circumcision; and thirdly, Holy Baptism. These remedies render man capable of attaining, by grace, to supernatural happiness. And if we do not receive this grace, we ought to blame, not the Providence of God, but the remissness of our parents.
Some persons may find a difficulty in the fact, that, although the Saints of the Old Testament died in a state of grace and cleansed from original sin, they nevertheless were debarred from entering Heaven. The answer to this objection is, that, as original sin was an offence against God, imputed, not to individuals, but to human nature, it was necessary that His Divine Majesty should be satisfied, before the gates of Paradise could be opened. And again, as, by original sin, guilt was incurred by human nature, which may be said to be composed of an infinite number of persons, this guilt was in a manner infinite, and demanded satisfaction, not from one individual alone, since every creature is finite, but from the whole human race.
But, another difficulty may be raised on this point. It may be argued, that it beseems the infinite mercy of God to accept from man the satisfaction which he is capable of making, and to remit the debt which he cannot pay. We answer, that, had there been no other possibility of satisfying for original sin, God would have accepted the only satisfaction which man was capable of making. But, as He was able to satisfy His justice by other means, He chose to make use of these other means, thereby both satisfying for sin, and perfecting human nature. Man could not, of himself, atone for sin. Only God, who had never sinned, could make fitting satisfaction for it. Therefore, He, in His infinite mercy, wisdom, and power, willed, by becoming man, to pay the debt which man owed, and was unable to pay.
Man owed satisfaction, and God-made Man, alone had power to make that satisfaction, not, indeed, for Himself, but for the whole human race. In this fact is revealed the fitness of His Incarnation, wherein He has united the Divine to the Human nature. In this mystery we behold His power, His wisdom, and the goodness whereby He has wholly given Himself to the human race, to embrace it, and draw it to His love. But, above all His other attributes, His mercy is made manifest; for it has led Him to be crucified for love of us. His justice also is seen; for He has Himself made satisfaction for original sin. Hence, while His mercy should inspire repentant sinners with the surest hope, His justice should cause the impenitent to tremble. This is the reason why, since the coming of Christ into the world, so many men have been drawn from sin to holiness of life.
When we consider these mercies, and the innumerable other benefits conferred by Christ upon human nature, we discover depths of wisdom which are unfathomable by the intellect of man, and which, for this very reason, are accounted folly by the world. We see, moreover, how fitting it was that Christ should suffer for the guilt of mankind.
But since He came, not merely to suffer for man, but likewise to set him an example of righteous living, it behoved Him to choose a most bitter and disgraceful death; thus teaching us that neither shame, nor suffering, should force us to betray the cause of truth and justice. Time forbids me to enlarge upon the other reasons which caused our Saviour to choose His terrible mode of death. I will only add, that His cross has been, to them that love Him, a fount of sweetness and of light, known only to those who have experienced it.
As Christ died in order to make satisfaction for our sins, and especially for that original sin, on account of which the Patriarchs were detained in Limbo, it was meet that, being already delivered from original sin, they should be enlightened by the descent of Christ into Limbo, which took place immediately after His death. And it was, likewise, most fitting that he should remain for three days in the tomb. Had He stayed there longer, men would have lost all hope of His Resurrection; and had He not remained in the sepulchre so long, they would have denied the reality of His death. But, as abode in this present life does not befit the life of glory, Christ, after His Resurrection, did not converse with men, as He had done before His death. But, as His body was perfect, and noble above all human bodies, on account both of the perfection of His Soul, and of His union with the Word, He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, as His true and sole-begotten Son. The expression sitteth at the right hand of the Father, is not to be understood as referring to bodily posture, but as signifying that Christ, beyond all creatures, enjoyed the fruition of eternal happiness. And, if it be asked how His body could penetrate the heavens, we answer that the Divine Power can enable two bodies to exist together.
Further, it is fitting that the Son of God, who was unjustly judged by men, should be the Head, and Standard, and Judge of the living and the dead. For, in this wise, does His reward correspond to the suffering which He bore for us. Thus, if we reflect, we shall see that the acts which Christ performed in the world are full of mysteries; and we shall understand, that the Christian religion is not only reasonable, but wonderful, and Divine.
We have already spoken of the faith which enables us to believe everything contained in Holy Scripture; and we have shown how true it is and how reasonable. We have also shown, that, as the objects of our faith can proceed from no one but from God, we are bound to believe them unwaveringly. But since, in doctrine as in material things, every movable thing must be reduced to something immovable, we acknowledge, with the fullest reason, that God has established in His Church, over which He exercises peculiar care, certain unchanging doctrines to which all men must submit, doctrines which contain those first principles from which all conclusions are deduced. Therefore, the Catholic Faith most fittingly holds, that all that the Holy Roman Church has defined, or shall define, is most certain truth. It rejects all other teaching. For the Church, as we shall show hereafter, is the firm and solid foundation of the faith, and our guide to salvation.
THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION MOST PRUDENTLY ESTABLISHES THE TWO PRECEPTS OF CHARITY, AS THE FOUNDATION OF OUR WHOLE MORAL LIFE.
We have already shown, that the Christian religion teaches nothing concerning faith which is either impossible or irrational. We shall now proceed to prove that this is likewise the case in those matters which regard morals. And, although we have already given sufficient proofs of this fact, when we pointed out that the Christian life is the best life possible; nevertheless, as things are better understood in particular than in general, we will descend to some details.
The first principle and foundation of our moral doctrine is the commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Deut. vi. 5; Matt. xxii. 37; Mark xii. 30; Luke x. 27). And the second commandment is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Lev. xix. 18; Matt. xxii. 39; Mark xii. 31; Luke x. 37). We must not understand these commandments as meaning that it is sufficient for salvation to love God and our neighbour from natural virtue or inclination. Our love must proceed from supernatural grace, for the reception of which we must diligently prepare ourselves. Thus, the first principle and foundation of the Christian moral life, is the obligation to love God, by means of supernatural charity, more than ourselves; and to order ourselves and all things else to His glory, as to our end. St. Paul expresses this precept in the following words, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. x. 31).
But since the rebelliousness of the flesh withdraws men greatly from the love of God, the precept adds, “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart,” which signifies, thou shalt love Him in such a way that thou shalt subjugate thy sensitive affections to thy will. For by the heart, is here meant, those sensibilities of our nature which are the fount and source of desires which separate us from Divine love. And since the will goes astray, if it be not conformed to reason, the commandment adds the words, “and with thy whole soul,” whereby we understand the will. For, since the soul is in animals the principle of life and motion, whereby we distinguish animate from inanimate beings, so, likewise, does the will move all the powers of the rational soul. Therefore, God commands us to love Him with our whole will; so that all our activities may be directed to Him; our love, desire, joy, fear, and hope, may all be centred on Him; and our whole soul may turn, in horror, from all that is contrary to His will, or derogatory to His honour. The inclination of the will depends entirely on reason; for we cannot desire what we do not know. This is expressed by the words in the commandment, “with thy whole mind,” by which is meant our understanding and our reason. These must be turned to God, who must, either habitually or actually, be the chief object of our contemplation. But we are bound to honour God, not only with our souls, but with our bodies, working our external works to His glory. Therefore, the commandment concludes with the words, “all thy strength”. Observe the word all, remembering that an end, being loved for itself, is not loved according to measure; but the means, being ordained to an end, are loved in proportion to the end to which they are ordered. Since, then, God is our End, we are commanded to love Him with our whole heart, with our whole soul, with all our mind, and all our strength. That is to say, that, both interiorly and exteriorly, we must be wholly directed to God, and lead perfect lives; so that in us God may be glorified, as the Cause is honoured by the perfection of its effect. This commandment teaches us, further, in what manner man is bound to love himself. For self-love must be directed to God, who must be glorified in man, as in His own work.
But, as the love of others is not so natural to man as is self-love, we are taught how we must love our neighbour by the words, “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. That is, thy love of others shall be governed by the same motive as that which directs thy love of thyself; and thou must desire for thy neighbour that same perfection of life, and the other blessings, which thou dost desire for thyself; so that in him, God may be honoured and glorified, as in His most perfect work. Nothing, surely, can be conceived more reasonable, than these two commandments, on which depend all other laws, both human and Divine. Therefore all that is included in them, or results from them, is by Christians esteemed holy and inviolable; and whatever impugns them, is reputed impious and diabolical.
THE EXCELLENCE OF THE MORAL TEACHING OF THE CHURCH.
We have already shown how reasonably Holy Scripture sets before us two tables of commandments: one teaching us our duty to God, and the other showing what we owe to our neighbour. For, as each man forms part of a community, he must be rightly disposed, both towards the head of the community, and to his fellow-members; that is to say, towards God, and towards his neighbours. Man is rightly disposed towards God, when He loves Him with his whole heart, his whole soul, with all his mind, and with all his strength. But as we owe to our civil rulers three duties, viz., loyalty, reverence, and obedient service, the Christian religion sums up these our obligations to God in three commandments. The first commandment bids us to honour the one only true God, and none other; the second, to reverence His Holy Name; the third, to pay Him obedient service, by honouring His day, by both interior and exterior acts of worship. From these three commandments spring all the other precepts which relate to man’s service of God; and by disobedience to them, he forfeits his eternal salvation.
The second table of the Law concerns man’s duty to his neighbour. This consists in doing him good, and avoiding injury to him. The first commandment of this table is, “Honour thy father and thy mother”. And the honour which we are hereby bidden to render to our parents means, not merely that we must reverence them in our words, but, likewise, that we must help them by good works. The next three commandments forbid us to injure any one. We can do harm to others in three ways, namely by injury to them in their own person; by injuring them in the person of those connected with them; and by injuring their property. Hence, the first of these commandments forbids homicide; the second prohibits adultery; and the third theft. And, as we are commanded to abstain from injury to others, not only in deed, but also in word or desire, the next commandment forbids false testimony; and the two following warn us against coveting either the wife, or the property of another.
But, it may be asked, why are only these two particular forms of covetousness specified, when desires contrary to any of the other commandments are equally criminal? I answer, that the evangelical law punishes, not only exterior deeds, but likewise interior inordinate affections. Special mention has, however, been made of these two kinds of evil desire, because men might hesitate to condemn them; whereas they would consider interior rebellion against God or infidelity to Him inexcusable; and they would look on contempt of parents, or desire to bring death or dishonour on their fellow-men as equally detestable. But a covetous longing for the property of others seems so natural to man, that unless such covetousness had been expressly forbidden, he would not have regarded it as sinful. We see, therefore, how perfectly Christianity legislates for mankind in all things, whether internal or external; and that all other precepts, and all philosophical systems of ethics, may be reduced to these ten commandments, which, in fact, comprise points which no heathen sages have ever understood.
Certain counsels are, furthermore, subjoined to the commandments. For, as the whole scope of the Christian life tends to the perfection of Divine love, which cannot be attained without purity of heart, the teaching of the Church divides the Christian law into two parts, namely, into positive and negative laws and precepts. The positive laws regard the perfection of charity by enjoining good works. The negative precepts concern purity, by forbidding all that can defile the soul. Now, in order to complete the perfection of this charity and purity, Christ has left us certain counsels. He exhorts those that will be perfect, to sell all that they have and give it to the poor; to observe chastity; and to embrace the religious life, whereby they will renounce not only earthly possessions, but themselves, in order to become entirely devoted to the contemplation of eternal things, and, in a certain sense, to be made one with God. In these counsels, we behold the consummate wisdom of the Christian religion, in all matters pertaining to morality. For nothing, required by reason, is neglected; and nothing contrary to reason is enjoined. A comparison of this system with any other school of ethics, will show a superiority, as marked as is the distance between heaven and earth, or the difference between light and darkness.
THE PERFECT REASONABLENESS OF THE CHRISTIAN CONSTITUTION AND CODE OF JUDICIAL LAW.
The Christian judicial system, furthermore, can be proved to be highly reasonable. For, as in every process there is some principle, which is the measure of other things, there must be in law some principle or standard which is the Eternal Law, or certain rule of Divine Wisdom, governing all the operations and motions of creatures. From this law all other laws take their rise; for the power of the first motor is felt by all inferior motors. This rule and standard exists in God, as in the Supreme Ruler, and in creatures as in things governed and set in motion by Him, subject to His Providence, and impressed with the character of His law, which inclines them to their proper end.
Rational creatures, being subject, in a peculiar manner, to Divine Providence, are also, in a special way, governed by this law; and their obedience to this Divine law renders it necessary that they should be ruled, likewise, by a certain natural law. Now, the origin of this natural law is the light of reason, impressed by God on man, making clear to him certain principles, both in practical and in speculative matters. These principles are known as first or natural laws. From these first laws all other laws are deduced. And they are deduced in one of two ways, viz., as conclusions drawn from manifest principles, (as is generally the case in speculative science); or as axioms laid down and approved by prudent men, as is the case with artists who formulate general rules, to be applied in particular cases. Thus, an architect, in erecting an individual building, will follow certain principles, universally observed in all architecture. In matters concerning morals, law is administered by means either of conclusions drawn from universal natural laws: e.g., murder is forbidden; to poison another is to murder him; therefore, giving poison to others is forbidden. Or else, the law is applied by means of certain definite rules, laid down by legislators, applying the universal natural law to particular cases. For instance there is a general law declaring that crime must be punished; but the particular penalty to be inflicted for a particular crime must be determined by the judgment of prudent men, and for the common good. Such laws must, evidently, vary according to circumstances. These are called positive, or human, laws. We see, at once, that all men are not governed by these differing positive laws; whereas the natural laws are invariable and binding on all races. They are binding, not merely in so far as they are general principles, but likewise in the case of the particular laws deduced from these general principles. For true principles cannot give rise to false conclusions.
But, as natural law would not suffice for the government of human life, the assistance of the Divine law is also necessary; and this for several reasons.
First, because, by law man is directed to the attainment of his last end; but, as his last end is supernatural, natural law would not suffice to guide him to it.
Secondly, our understanding is so feeble, that, the more we descend to particulars, the greater difficulty we experience in judging aright. The Divine law is therefore necessary, to enable us to arrive at just conclusions in particular cases.
Thirdly, human law does not punish or forbid everything that is criminal; it allows many lesser evils in order to ward off greater ones. Therefore, a law was necessary, which should show man that guilt, unpunished by human law, would be avenged by Divine law.
Fourthly, human law judges not the hidden things of the heart, but only exterior actions. Therefore, in order to teach us that we must be perfect both interiorly and exteriorly, the Divine law, which punishes the sins of the heart, was necessary.
This Divine law may be called a compendium of the Divine commandments, and it proceeds from the light of Faith. We, therefore, speak of it as being essentially the grace of the Holy Spirit, from which spring all the commandments of which we have spoken. And from these universal precepts are deduced, (either by conclusion or by specially formulated axioms), all particular laws. The particular laws, derived from the Divine law, are called canonical laws. Those deduced from natural law are termed civil laws. The laity are governed by civil, and the clergy by canonical law.
There is no opposition between the Divine and the natural law. But, as grace perfects nature, the Divine law perfects the natural law; and all that pertains to the natural law pertains, likewise, to the Divine law. The moral teaching of our natural reason is said to belong to the natural law. The duties imposed on us by the light of grace are called the precepts of the Divine law. We must not, however, imagine that everything that is contained in the Divine law belongs to the natural law; for the Sacraments and the truths of Faith pertain, solely, to the Divine, and not to the natural law.
The Christian religion, then, is organised by the Divine law. It excludes nothing which is in accordance with truth or morality; it admits nothing contrary to them. Therefore, as Christians, we do not despise the good and reasonable laws, of either uncivilised nations, or of heathen philosophers. On the contrary, we select from those laws all that is true and virtuous, and ascribe it to God, who, for the sake of His elect, has created all truth and all goodness. On the other hand, our religion is so averse to all fables or falsehood, that it will not authorise even such books as have been written to glorify the Faith and the deeds of the Saints, unless the author be reliable, and the truth of his writing manifest. And, if, in the government of the Church, some unjust law exist, it exists, not through the fault of the Christian religion, but, by reason of the impiety of some tyrant, whom the Church condemns and execrates. Thus, we see, that the Christian religion is most reasonably administered, by means both of civil and of Divine laws.
THE SACRAMENTS OF THE CHURCH HAVE BEEN INSTITUTED BY CHRIST, AND ARE ADMIRABLY ADAPTED TO THE NEEDS OF MANKIND.
It is our intention to treat, in this chapter, of the ceremonies of the Church. And, as her Sacraments are the chief ceremonies—all other rights being ordained on their account—we will begin by proving how absolutely reasonable these Sacraments are. And thus, all the other rites of the Church will be more easily understood. Christ, by His Passion, is the universal cause of our salvation. But, just as, in the law of nature, a universal cause only operates by means of particular causes, which apply its virtue to particular effects, it is likewise most reasonable that there should be some particular cause of our salvation, whereby the virtue of the Passion of Christ should be applied to our souls. This particular cause is found in the Sacraments of the Church, which are the channels of Christ’s grace to the soul. And, as a particular cause must be proportioned to the universal cause, and an instrument to the agent; it is most reasonable and fitting, that the Sacraments should be composed of external signs and of words, thus representing Christ, the Word of the Eternal Father united to human nature.
And, since none can be saved without grace, we can say most truly, that these Sacraments are Christ’s instruments in the conferring of grace. We do not mean, that their power is able to produce the final effect of grace; but we speak in the sense used by philosophers, when they say that man is begotten of man and of the sun’s heat; not meaning, of course, that either human or solar power is capable of producing the intellectual soul of man. We must remember that an instrument acts in two ways; first, by its own form, as in the case of a saw, which, from the metal of which it is made and its serrated shape, is able to cut wood; secondly, by the power and movement of the agent, which, as in the case of the carpenter using a saw, gives a specific form to the wood. But, this power does not always produce the ultimate effect on that on which it is exercised. For we see, that, though creatures are the instruments used by God in human generation, they do not beget the intellectual soul of man, which is created immediately by God; but that they are only instrumental in the final disposition of matter, and in the union of soul with body. In the same way, the Sacraments are not, either by their own virtue, or by power acquired from the movement of Christ, the chief agent, able to produce their final effect, which is grace. Grace proceeds from God alone; but the Sacraments dispose the soul for the reception of grace; and this disposition, imparted by them, is, by theologians, called their character.
We see a proof that the Sacraments thus confer grace, in the good life of those who receive them, in their conversion from vice to virtue, and in the progress in perfection made by those who frequent them. As we have, however, in the preceding Book, treated at length of these effects, we will say no more about them for the present.
THE NUMBER OF THE SACRAMENTS IS REASONABLE.
Since Christ is the universal cause of our salvation and of the spiritual life by which we live to God; and since we understand spiritual things by the likeness which they bear to such as are physical; we must distinguish the Sacraments which are instituted for the spiritual life, by comparing them with those things which are ordained for corporeal life.
Now, in physical life, we have: first, generation, whereby life is acquired; secondly, development, whereby the body is perfected; thirdly, nutrition, whereby it is preserved. Thus the vegetative life possesses powers of generation, of growth, and of nutrition. But for the animal nature, as sickness may attack it, nature provides fitting remedies; and as generation cannot occur without a parent, some generating factor must exist in the world.
Corresponding to these needs of the physical life, we have in the spiritual life many Sacraments. Of these the first is Baptism, whereby man is born again in Christ. The second is Confirmation, whereby grace is increased within him, and he is rendered strong enough to endure the trials, through which all must pass on their way to eternal life. The third is the Blessed Eucharist, without which the spiritual life of man would flag, as his body would faint without food. The fourth is the Sacrament of Penance, whereby he recovers spiritual health, and the wounds of his soul are healed. The fifth is Extreme Unction, which heals the soul, and, (since bodily sickness is sometimes caused by sin), in some cases restores health to the body; or, when recovery from sickness is not expedient, it enables the soul to pass, more devoutly and easily, to eternal life. The sixth Sacrament is that of Holy Orders, which provides fathers for the spiritual life. Then, since the spiritual life could not endure, were the human race to be extinct, we have the Sacrament of Matrimony, which is the seventh Sacrament of the Church. Thus we see, that, as in the physical order the propagators of physical life may be regarded, either as the principles of the life of their progeny, or as the rulers and superiors of their children, so in the spiritual order, Christ has ordained seven Sacraments to be the principles and the organisers of the spiritual life.
We see, then, how wisely, and how advisedly, Christ has instituted seven Sacraments in His Church.
THE RITES USED IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE SACRAMENTS ARE BOTH REASONABLE AND SEEMLY.
The matter and symbols, used in the administration of our Sacraments, are likewise most fittingly ordained. Let us first consider Baptism, the Sacrament of regeneration. We know that birth signifies the change from non-being into being; and that as all men are born in original sin, they are all born in a state of privation of grace or spiritual life; and in proportion as they add actual to original sin, they are still further deprived of grace. Therefore, it was most meet, that Christ should give to the Sacrament of Baptism power to remit sin, and to confer grace and spiritual life. Again, as bodily stains are effaced by water, it was fitting that water should be chosen as the matter of this Sacrament. And, as we can be born but once, it is reasonable that Baptism can be but once conferred.
The perfection of spiritual life consists in a constant and courageous confession of the Cross of Christ, and in boldly enduring insult for His sake. In order to produce in us this effect, He has instituted the Sacrament of Confirmation. Those who fight under a commander, bear upon them his device or crest; and so those who receive Confirmation are signed on the forehead with the Cross, in order to show, that they must not be ashamed to be the soldiers of Christ. This Cross is made of oil and of balsam. The oil signifies that the conscience of him that is anointed must shine, like oil, with those gifts of the Holy Ghost, wherewith Jesus being most excellently endowed, was called Christ, or anointed. The balsam symbolises the sweet odour of virtue, which Christians are bound to diffuse around them. It is fitting, likewise, that bishops alone should be empowered to administer this Sacrament, since they are the leaders of the army of Christ; and the captains of an army alone can adorn their soldiers with their insignia.
The Blessed Eucharist being ordained for the nourishment of the spiritual life, it is meet that its outward signs should be bread and wine. And, as food is substantially joined to the body which is nourished, we believe that Christ exists in this Sacrament, not only by His power, but in His substance; and that He is thus present, in order to unite Himself so intimately with them that receive Him with faith and love, as to become one with them. Furthermore, as the Blessed Eucharist is to be a memorial of His Passion, wherein His Body and Blood were divided, it is meet that His body should be given to us under the appearance of bread, and His Blood under the form of wine; although Christ Himself is wholly present in each species.
When we consider the Sacrament of Penance, we must remember that physical health proceeds, sometimes, from natural strength of constitution, and, sometimes, from the assistance of a physician and of remedies. The same thing holds good in the spiritual order, but with certain limitations. For the health of the soul cannot proceed entirely from our intrinsic power—none being able to deliver himself from sin without grace; neither can it be altogether effected by extrinsic assistance—for the cooperation of our will is always required. Spiritual health, therefore, needs both an exterior, and an interior, agent. And, as we call a man physically sound, when he is free from all weakness caused by disease, we say, in like manner, that the soul is healed, when it is freed from all the infirmity caused by sin. Now, sin produces three bad effects. The first of these is aversion of the soul from God, and its conversion to creatures. The second is the penalty incurred by its guilt. And the third is a diminution of grace and weakness of will; for, by sin, the soul becomes more prone to evil, and more disinclined to good. Therefore, the remedial Sacrament of Penance is most reasonably ordained to remedy these three evils. The first part of this Sacrament is contrition, which delivers the soul from aversion to God, causing it to repent of sin and to return to its Maker; frees it from the penalty of eternal death, which cannot remain due to a soul in grace and charity; and renders it inclined to good and averse to evil. But, as contrition is not perfect in all men, it does not always remit the entire penalty of sin. The Lord has, therefore, added two other parts to the Sacrament of Penance, to wit, Confession and Satisfaction. Man may wish to pay in this life the penalty which remains due to him after contrition; but he cannot know what this penalty may be; he must therefore submit himself to the judgment of Christ, to whom alone he owes satisfaction. But, as Christ, glorified in Heaven, is to us invisible, He has left in His place, as His ministers, the priests of the Church. A judge cannot, however, assess the penalty, if he be ignorant of the crime. Therefore a sinner must make confession to a priest. This confession is the second part of the Sacrament of Penance. It follows, that the ministers of Christ, in their judicial capacity, must be invested with a twofold power. First, they must be invested with authority and knowledge to judge the gravity of sin. Secondly, they must have ability to bind and to loose. This power of binding and loosing is known as the power of the Keys. Now, as the Sacraments are the instruments of grace, it is quite certain, that, by this power of the Keys, a penitent obtains more grace, and fuller remission of punishment, than he could receive merely by contrition. It sometimes happens, however, that contrition and confession do not suffice to remit the entire penalty incurred by sin. Therefore, a third part has been added to the Sacrament of Penance, namely Satisfaction, or the performance of a penance enjoined by the priest.
The Sacrament of Extreme Unction has been most fittingly ordained by Christ, in consideration of human weakness. For, as bodily sickness is often both the effect of sin, and the cause of grave spiritual detriment, a Sacrament was necessary which should repair this detriment, and should heal both soul and body; or should, at least, enable the soul to pass more easily, and with greater purity, into the other life. For the Sacrament of Penance does not always remit the entire penalty due to sin; nor does it wholly remove all inclination to sin and slothfulness in the performance of good. Nay, these evils are oftentimes increased in sickness, by pain and anxiety of mind, which hinder the dying from the remembrance of their sins. Thus, at the hour of death, there may be many remnants of sin in the soul, which call for powerful assistance, to enable a man to depart, purified, to eternal glory. Now, this assistance is given by that Sacrament, which—to denote that it should only be administered in sickness unto death—we call Extreme Unction. The matter of this Sacrament is oil, which has been chosen as representing a remedy often used to soothe physical suffering. And, as in sickness, the physician strives to apply his medicine to the root of the disease, so in Extreme Unction, the five senses, which are, so to speak, the chief instruments of sin, are anointed.
We must next consider the Sacrament of Holy Orders. As we do so, we shall see, with what good reason it has been ordained. When Christ withdrew His visible presence from the Church, it was necessary that He should have some representatives, who should dispense the Sacraments to the faithful. And, as they were to be His instruments, it was likewise necessary that they should be like, in some manner, to Himself, and thus be proportioned to their Agent. Christ, being both God and Man, His ministers had, then, to be, not angels, but men, endowed with some share of His Divine power. And, as they could not be immortal, they had to possess this power, in such a manner, as to be capable of conferring it on their successors, until the consummation of the world. This power, for reasons given above when treating of the Sacraments in general, has been fittingly bestowed upon the ministers of Christ, under the form of certain formulated words and signs, such as the imposition of hands, the presentation of the chalice and book, etc. But, as the power of Orders is given, to enable the ministers of the Church to administer the Sacraments—of which the Blessed Eucharist is the chief—we must consider the degrees of Orders, with relation to this adorable Sacrament.
We know that every power designed to produce an important effect, is served by other and inferior powers, even as an architect who intends to erect a building, is assisted by stonecutters, and other labourers. Since, then, the Sacrament of Holy Orders is instituted, mainly, in order to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ, to distribute It to the faithful, and to cleanse them from sin—in order to prepare them for Its reception—there must be some rank or Order, destined, especially, for this office, and served by ministers of inferior degree. This rank is the Priesthood, which is created for two ends, viz., to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ, and to cleanse the faithful from sin, in order to enable them to receive It. Priests, then, must be assisted in both, or in one, of their offices, by those in lower orders, who will, according to their dignity, take part in rites more or less sacred. The lowest Order of door-keepers, is instituted in order to prepare the people, to separate the faithful from unbelievers, and to exclude the latter from the Church. Next in dignity comes the Order of Readers, whose duty it is to instruct neophytes in the Faith. Then Exorcists, who must deliver them from the power of the devil. The office of those in the higher Orders is, to prepare the faithful for the Sacraments, and to assist in the celebration of the Blessed Eucharist. Thus the Acolyths must prepare the vessels and elements used in the Sacrifice; the Sub-deacons must place the unconsecrated species in the sacred vessels; and the Deacons must also have some office with respect to the Consecrated Elements, inasmuch as they are ordained to distribute to the faithful the Precious Blood of Christ. Hence, only Priests, Deacons, and Sub-deacons are said to be in Sacred Orders; this term signifying, that they alone, have power to handle that which is most Sacred. Deacons, Sub-deacons, and Acolyths also assist the priest in preparing the people. The Deacon reads the Gospel to them, and the Sub-deacon the Epistle, and the Acolyth bears the lights, which are intended to show reverence for the Holy Scripture.
And, as the Sacraments must be administered by fitting persons, appointed by some superior power, it is reasonable that Episcopal authority should exist in the Church, which, while nowise exceeding the sacerdotal power with regard to the Consecration of the Body of the Lord, is superior to the priestly power in all that pertains to the body of the Church, and the solution of any difficulties which may arise in its government. But, although there are many different bishops in many parts of the earth,—the Church being one,—the whole Christian people is under one head, and is thus united in one Faith, and in no danger of being divided by reason of different opinions springing up within the Church. The power given to the ministers of Christ is inalienable, and cannot be forfeited by any sin. And the Sacraments, administered by sinful priests, lose none, of their efficacy, since their virtue resides in the Sacraments themselves, not in their ministers. Neither do those who receive the Sacraments from unworthy priests, become themselves unworthy. For priests are only His instruments; and that on which an effect is wrought becomes like to the principal agent, not like to the instrument.
Finally, the Sacrament of Matrimony is a state most fittingly ordained, not only for the public welfare and for the preservation of the human race, but likewise for the multiplication of the faithful, to the Glory of God. The union of man with woman, in so far as it concerns the good of the Church, is a true Sacrament, blessed by the ministers of Christ, representing the union of the Church with our Lord, and conferring grace on those that receive it devoutly. And as there is only one Christ and one Church; and as Matrimony represents the union between them; the bond of wedlock must be indissoluble, in order that God may be glorified and Holy Church perpetuated.
From what we have said, it is, we think, plain, that there is nothing unreasonable or impracticable in the principal ceremonies of the Church.
ANSWERS TO CERTAIN OBJECTIONS BROUGHT AGAINST THE DOCTRINE OF THE BLESSED EUCHARIST.
Many and great difficulties are wont to arise in man’s mind concerning the dogma of the Blessed Eucharist. We, therefore, deem it expedient, to devote some space to their consideration. When we declare that the whole Body of Christ is contained in a little bread, and all His Blood in a little wine; and that, at the same time, the whole Christ is in Heaven; it seems as if we were affirming an impossibility. For Christ can only be present in this Sacrament in one of two ways. Either, the bread is changed into the Body of Christ; and this appears to be out of the question. For a thing into which another thing is changed, has no existence before this change; it only begins to exist when this change has taken place. If, then, the bread be changed into the Body of Christ, His Body cannot have existed before the bread was changed into It; just as the serpent into which the rod of Aaron was changed had no existence previous to this miracle. Thus, the Body of Christ which is in the Blessed Eucharist, is not the Body which is in Heaven, but another Body newly produced. Or else, we may say that the Body of Christ which is in Heaven, comes by local movement into the Blessed Sacrament. But this seems, likewise, impossible. Firstly, because, unless His Body left Heaven altogether, it would have to be in two places at once. Secondly, because local movement cannot terminate in more than one place at the same time; and we know that many Hosts are consecrated at once. Thirdly, because one Body cannot be in more than one place at the same moment. How, also, can a full-grown Body be contained in a little Host, and all Its Blood in a small chalice? Again, it seems impossible that accidents can exist without their substance; the more so as we know, by experience, that the consecrated bread and wine do what accidents alone could not do—(e.g., nourish, warm, and strengthen the body)—and that the consecrated wine, if consumed to excess, would produce intoxication. Furthermore, the consecrated elements are subject to vicissitudes, such as burning, putrefaction, etc., which could not affect mere accidents. And, again, if the elements be divided into small particles, how can the Body of Christ be present in each fraction? Our answer to these objections is that which we have made before, viz., that the infinite power of God can do more than we can conceive; and that, what is impossible to nature and to man, is possible to Him. In the Blessed Eucharist there is nothing beyond the power of God. For we say that the Body and Blood of Christ are present in this Sacrament by conversion. And this is not impossible to God, although it is impossible to nature, which cannot change one thing into another thing already in existence. If the infinite power of God can create something out of nothing, can it not, much more, cause one substance to be transformed into another, and therefore the substance of bread and wine to become the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ?
Since, then, the Body of Christ is not present in the Blessed Eucharist by local movement, i.e., by descent from Heaven into the Host, but solely by conversion, we must admit that His presence in Heaven differs modally from His sacramental presence. In Heaven His Body, like other bodies, occupies space and is extended; but He is present in the Host, not by mode of extension, but in an indivisible manner, and in a mode so wonderful, that this whole Body is present in every fragment of the Host. This mode of existence is possible only to God, whose power exceeds the bounds of our intelligence. But, observe, that in the Blessed Eucharist the Body of Christ is present under the appearance of bread, and His Blood under that of wine; but as His Blood, His Soul, and his Divinity never leave His Body, and His Body never leaves His Blood, the whole Christ is, by natural concomitance, present in every particle and drop of both species. Christ, furthermore, is not present in this Sacrament as in a place. Therefore, although there are many Hosts on many altars, He is not in many places but in many Sacraments. We see this in our own case, for we know that our whole soul is in every part of our body, and yet we do not say that it is in different places; because the soul is not in the body as in a place, but as the form in its matter.
As God has created all things out of nothing by His own Power, without the aid of other causes, He can produce all natural effects without using secondary causes. Therefore, although, naturally speaking, substance upholds accidents, God can preserve accidents without the help of substance. Many philosophers have maintained that quantity can exist without substance; and we say that in the Blessed Eucharist, not quantity only, but all other accidents, do, by the power of God, exist without substance. Not only does God enable accidents to exist without substance; but He enables them to do, and to suffer, that which substance would do and suffer, were the accidents joined to substance, e.g., to nourish, to intoxicate, to putrefy, to burn, etc. These actions and sufferings do not extend to the Body of Christ, but only to the accidents. Thus when the Host is broken, the fracture does not affect the Body of Christ, which remains entire in each particle.1 Many other difficulties may be urged against the dogma of the Eucharist, but the solution we have given to the difficulties enumerated, will pave the way to the solution of all others. And it will be manifest that the Catholic Faith does not, in this doctrine, propose to our belief anything impossible to God.
THE REASONABLENESS OF THE CEREMONIES OF THE CHURCH.
Having shown that the Sacraments of the Church are in accordance with reason, it will not be difficult to prove that other ecclesiastical ceremonies are equally rational. But as we cannot, for the sake of brevity, discuss them all, we will confine our attention to a few of the most important.
First, then, the homage paid by Christians to the Cross, and to representations of Christ and of His Saints, may seem to some people irrational. We must, however, remember that images may be looked upon from two points of view. We may consider the material of which they are made, gold, silver, wood, or stone. Certainly, Christians do not honour images on this account. Or, we may consider images as representing some thing or person. And this is the light in which Christians regard them. They pay homage not to the image itself, but to the thing or person represented thereby; just as, when subjects honour a picture of their sovereign, they honour, not the picture itself, but him who is depicted thereon. Therefore we pay to images the honour due to those whom they represent. We give to the Cross and Crucifix the worship of latria, which is the worship that we pay to God. We honour an image of the Virgin Mary with an inferior honour, yet with greater honour than that which we give to representations of the other Saints. We honour the Saints as the blessed friends of God. We erect their images in order to recall them to our memory, to excite ourselves to virtue by their example, and to raise our hearts in prayer to God, through their intercession. There can be no doubt that pictures and statues, representing holy objects, are as helpful as books, especially to unlettered and simple folk.
And as we know invisible things by means of such as are visible, we build and consecrate material churches—thereby symbolizing the spiritual Church, and enabling ourselves, by the sight of earthly things, to raise our minds to the contemplation of Divine mysteries. The stones of the church signify Christians united in Faith; and the lime which cements them is charity, which joins the hearts of the faithful together. The foundation-stone is Christ; and the stones around it represent the Prophets and Apostles. The high walls symbolize the sublimity of the contemplative life; the roof the active life, exposed to the storms of temptation. The spiritual temple differs from an earthly edifice in that its foundation is in Heaven. In the length of the church, we behold the permanence of the true Church; in its height, the difference of merit among its members; and in its breadth, the number of the faithful throughout the world. The sanctuary recalls to us the Virgins of Christ, and the naves those living in the married state; for as the sanctuary is narrower and more holy than the naves, virginity is holier and rarer than wedlock. The cemetery in front of the church reminds us of false Christians buried in sin. The altar represents Christ, on whom we offer our sacrifices, saying at the end of every prayer, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ”. The belfry signifies the Holy Scripture, by means of which, (if we take our stand upon it), we shall be able to discern the snares of our enemies, and to fight against them. The bells are preachers calling together the Church militant and triumphant. The windows we may take to represent the holy doctors who pour the light of their teaching into the Church. From the whiteness of the interior walls we learn purity of heart and external decorum. The twelve candles, burning before the crosses of consecration, represent the twelve Apostles, who have enlightened the world by preaching the Cross of Christ throughout it. The doors signify the Sacraments, by means of which, especially of Baptism, we enter the Church. The lamps symbolize the continual illumination of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Water may remind us of the tears of penitents. Finally the sacred vestments and vessels, the psalms, hymns, and the whole order of ceremonies, represent the Divine mysteries, which time will not permit us to explain. But from what has been said, it is evident, that nothing contained in Christian doctrine is either incredible or unreasonable.
If any one desires further instruction, and will read, and carefully reflect on, the works of the Doctors of the Church, he will understand that our religion is the work, not of men, but, of Him “who enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world”. Daily experience proves to us, that many good men, reflecting upon these mysterious rites, forget themselves, are raised above worldly thoughts and earthly things, and that their “conversation is in heaven”.
[1 ] See Introduction, p. x.
[1 ] The reader will, naturally, recall the words of St. Thomas, in the Lauda Sion:—“Fracto demum Sacramento,Ne vacilles, sed memento,Tantum esse sub fragmento,Quantum toto tegitur,” etc.,
of which the late Father Aylward, O.P., has left the following translation:—“When the priest the Victim breaketh,See thy faith it nowise shaketh;Know that every fragment takethAll that ’neath the whole there lies;This in Him no fracture maketh,’Tis the figure only breaketh,Form or state, no change there takethPlace, in what it signifies.”—Editor.