Miracle vs. grace

You pray (a) for the simplest grace, almost as an afterthought, and (b) for the greatest miracle of healing the world has ever seen. You get both.

(b) is immeasurably more amazing. Everyone is struck dumb, the enemies of the faith are silenced, you’re overwhelmed by the divine reality, and give thanks for the rest of your life.

(a) is forgotten almost a soon as granted. You may not even remember asking for it by the time it comes. In your heart, you treat this as one more religious routine like one might have in any other religion. You pray for unconfirmable “spiritual” stuff and vague, unconfirmable spiritual stuff “happens.”

But what if grace is real? What if what you’re asking for in this smallest increase or exercise of sanctifying grace is to partake in the divine nature, to demand that God work for your glorification as necessarily as he works for his own, to demand a gift in virtue of which you merit to have all your thoughts replaced by the divine essence itself so that you might live in participated eternity… What if what you’re asking for is the seed of a divine life which, even in this life, is ordered to the ecstasy of transforming union?

And don’t forget you want a divine life. You’re asking to be elevated above the entire natural order, both human and angelic. You want to get a good not just higher than anything in the universe, but higher than all put together. You want to see an object that not even the seraphs or cherubim saw in the perfection of their evening knowledge. You want to understand the universe in virtue of an insight infinitely beyond what even the most intelligent physicist could learn if given infinite time and the best possible institution to learn from and live in.

Seen from this angle, you ask for incomparably less in (b).

The angelic multitude

Thomas explains the multitude of the angels by the principle that God creates higher things in greater numbers than lower things. The premise seems odd: doesn’t it force the absurdity that, since men are greater than a single human cell, there are more cells than humans? Or since humans are a higher species than bacteria, there are more humans than bacteria? Here is a commentary on Thomas’s argument:

1.) God cannot help manifesting his glory in all he does. Once he chooses to create a multitude, he can’t help but make the multitude of things manifest his excellence.

2.) The excellence of any maker is not manifest by making many individual things different in number, but many things of different types or species. If you couldn’t help but manifest how good you were at barbeque, you wouldn’t make the same thing over and over again (pulled pork, say) but pulled pork, brisket, sausage, ribs, etc. Excellence is manifest in the diversity of types or species.

3.) All created species are somewhere on the hierarchy between divine pure act and the pure potency of prime matter.

4.) What is closer to prime matter is more homogeneous, uniform, etc. it is less differentiated, and so fewer species suffice to manifest the divine excellence. As species get closer to God, it takes more species to manifest the divine excellence. So there must be more angelic species than material species. How many more?

5.)  Material species are immeasurably more like each other than the angelic, as all have a principle of pure homogeneity within them. So the angelic species are immeasurably more numerous than material species. Angels are comparable to material things, as each has potency, but angelic species are immeasurably more unique and distinct, the material immeasurably more homogeneous, as the material things have an intrinsic principle of homogeneity in them.

6.) But the merely material species of living beings on planet earth are themselves are tremendously numerous: if one confines himself to just species now existing, there are between 8-100 million of them, and these represent an extraordinarily small percentage of all species, perhaps only 0.1% (most species are now extinct, or perhaps even yet to arise.) One needs to add to this number all species of immaterial things: elements, star types, galaxy types, molecules, and perhaps even the different types of possible sentences, cells, etc.

7.) The angelic multitude should dwarf this immensity of all species of all material beings over time. If all the species described in (6) were pebbles in your hand, the angels are as if the mountain range, the whole planet, the dwarf star… whole physical universe.

8.) This is why every vision of the angelic host (over which God is dominus deus sabaoth) leaves the prophet speaking the largest number he can say repeated over and over: Daniel 7:10, Revelation 5: 11, Psalm 68 :17, etc.

More than watchmen

From the De profundis, v. 5-6:

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,

and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning. 

Why more than the watchman? What increase is involved in this more than? 

1.) The watchman – or any of us – counts on sunrise as a certainty, simply because of the trust we have in nature to come through as it’s come through before. But trust in the word in in something more trustworthy than nature.

2a.) The watchman is not by nature or intrinsically a watchman, but by some accidental factor added to his substance. But the soul as such hopes in the word, and waits on the coming of the Lord. Our nature, whether considered in its first birth as an intellect or, more to the point, in its second birth in as part of the Mystical Body, looks for the Lord from a desire that comes out of its roots, and running though all our operations.

2b.) The soul as intellect has an order to the cause of all being, and so it is proper to its life to live in some era where it must trust in the word of the Lord, like a student trusts in the teacher. To live as such a viator belongs both to men and to angels, both of whom need some faith to be saved.

2c.) This text is a support for the angelic evening and morning knowledge. So taken, the soul waits more than even an angel (called a “watcher” in other contexts too) waits by his evening knowledge, or natural knowledge. “A watcher waiting for the dawn” is thus an angel in his angelic nature. The order of grace is therefore greater than anything in nature, even the totality of the angelic universe.

3.) The light the soul waits for is a greater light than the one the watchman waits for, since the greater light casts out the greater darkness. The watchman announces to those who are sleeping, but there is a far deeper sleep on those who need to hear the word of the Lord announced to them.

4.) One who waits for the dawn rests at morning. But there is a greater rest in the arrival of the Lord, promised to the one who hopes in his word.


By the 1980s English speakers settled into an agreement that a key desirable feature in sexual friendships was being commited. The word comes with an unresolved ambiguity:  it describes both (a) what continues though an ongoing resolution of the will (“I’m committed to waking up every morning and jogging” or “you need to be committed to reaching your goals!”) and (b) what continues because the power to decide otherwise has been taken away from the will, whether by its own choice or not (as in “John was committed to the mental hospital for a six-month sentence” or “make a financial commitment to Chesterton Academy” i.e. give us money you can’t take back, or even sign this paper promising the school can automatically deduct money from your account.)

It’s hard to avoid thinking that the reason why the word gained such popularity is precisely because it can avoid dealing with, and perhaps even trade on, this ambiguity of meaning. The word can do valuable work in some contexts, but the cost of using it is that our policies and beliefs about sexual friendships can’t lead to happiness until we resolve what commitment leaves ambiguous.

Who brought you out of Egypt

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt (Ex. 20: 2.)

These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt. (Ex. 32: 4.)

Both are said on perhaps even the same day, the first as the first word of a theophany revealing the totality of divine law, the second as the first word of Baal’s progression from asserting that (a) he can be worshiped alongside Yahweh, or perhaps even as a means to Yahweh (cf. 32:5) (b) as generating a zeal in the hearts of the mob who wanted Baal, pressured the religious authority into making him, and “rose early the next day” to offer him sacrifice, and which (c) soon became a drunken orgy.

The drama of salvation

-The drama of most recorded salvation history (of which the NT is only the last chapter) is whether one will worship Yahweh or Baal and Ashtaroth. What is the drama here? It can’t be over what stone to sacrifice a bull, could it? The cynic might wonder if that’s all that’s at stake – “Weren’t religious wars fought over less?” think Pascal’s An inch or two of cowl can put 25,000 monks up in arms.

-On the one hand, all divinity is the paradigm of what is reliable, familiar, and dependable. Divine images can be placed in any room, their actions structure days and weeks and seasons, their laws are well-known, their characters are easier to summarize than any person we know. Baal is the god of fertility and storms (rain causes fertility, get it?) Venus is the goddess of love and beauty (ditto?) Bragi was the Norse god of music and poetry…

-…On the other hand, as soon as one gets much past the god’s subtitle, the clarity and simplicity reveals itself as one pole of  enantiodromia. Baal is the cause of fertility, his wife is evoked for ease of childbirth… and one must sacrifice their children to him. Venus is the goddess of beauty, but also of victory in battle. The connections are not mindless contradiction, but quickly suggest the harmony of opposites. Venus unfies sexual love and success in battle because both are conquests, both penetrate the body of the one he faces,, etc. Baal is responsible for fertility, but seen in another light this makes offspring his, so they must be returned to him. This suggests the more general enantiodromia of divinity as source of life only reached through death.

-Even if we take the battle between Yahweh and the idols as between divinities, our work is cut out for us, since even this is to take it as differing unities of opposite poles. Yahweh is father and also spouse, merciful and blazing with wrath. So who to compare him to? Baal is an obvious candidate, but so too, in a perhaps more relevant way, the feminine line associated with him, containing the goddesses Scripture calls Ashteroth (the plural) or her relative, the supreme Assyrian goddess Ishtar/Innana, taken as equivalent to the Greek Aphrodite or Roman Venus.

-We all know by now that it’s pointless to hope for a goddess of sex to be one thing at all times, except transgressive, and this because she is transgressive. Sexual set loose rejoices to identify opposites. The transgressive love of the Nineteenth Century (communities of wives!) looks nothing like Stonewall, and transgenderism arises on a different axis from either.  The sexually prolific machismo of one man might be completely disgusted by, and even define himself against the equally sexually prolific gay man. Women can see pornography and promiscuity as both necessary for and antithetical to liberation. The woman of modern cinema must be both seductress of all men and yet indifferent to and even justifiably contemptuous of all of them. This is clearly divinity.


Living life giver

The Fourth Gospel knows nothing of the unmoved mover, but only the living life-giver. 

While inarguably a catchy slogan, the insight one needs to have is that the difference between the two is, at best, merely verbal. An unmoved mover is unmoved precisely as actual, for everything moved, as such, is potential. But actuality is first of all the immanent activity of life, so it is per se nota sapientibus that to call something the unmoved mover is to call it supreme life. To call the supreme life life-giving, however, does not go far enough. All life that is given, is given from him; but this is because any actuality whatsoever, whether the substantial actuality of the non-living or the accidental actuality of our artifacts or free choices, is just a way of taking part in the supreme and infinite life.

So unmoved mover in fact says literally everything that living life-giver says, plus more.

Immaculate Conception

I will put enmity between you and the woman, between her seed and yours. 

-Mary was at enmity for as long as she was the woman.

-The enmity is attributed to the offspring – Christ – as much as to the woman. But it is beyond question that Christ’s enmity extends to the whole of his life without exception.

-The Fathers and writers…saying, “I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed” — taught that by this divine prophecy the merciful Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was clearly foretold: That his most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was prophetically indicated; and, at the same time, the very enmity of both against the evil one was significantly expressed. Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent.

Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus 

Fifth Petition

14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

-This demands a habitual forgiveness, which demands daily training in forgiveness. The seventy times seven, etc.

-The practice of offering one’s daily sufferings includes forgiving one’s daily annoyances.

-As members of the mystical body, any trespass against Christ is a trespass against us. These can be recognized, felt and forgiven, always in a way that holds open the possibility of repentance. News stories play an important role in telling us about the trespasses.

-The passion is the paradigm for experiencing the outrage against our mystical body as the head himself experienced it.

-In Christ, the rejection of sin is experienced as rejection within a human heart. The whole weight of this is felt in the agony of the garden, but our ongoing experience of this as his mystical body fills up what is still lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

-The Sacred Heart is lifted on the center of the cross and into the pinnacle of history. This heart experiences each offense against God as we experience each offense against us.  The heart was thus bore the trespass of many and was entirely crushed for our offenses. But this what allows us to see it, more correctly, as a supernova of divine forgiveness that will never die out, or even go dim.

Free will and indifference

Let free will mean a choice made with indifference to alternatives. I don’t think this defines free will, but it seems to be the working hypothesis for many. The Jesuit/ Franciscan Scholastic-era opinion, for example, arguably stressed the component of indifference in discussions of will, and these schools seemed to be more influential in forming modern thought.

But there are two very different ways of being indifferent to alternatives:

1.) On the part of the real equality of objects. There are all sorts of times when the objects we must choose between are equal and so provide us with no reason to choose one option over another. At the beginning of the buffet you reach out to a tray of forks and grab one. You could have just as easily grabbed that one as this one, but the objects themselves give no reason for preference.

2.) On the part of a defect of the subject. There are times when we are aware of being unable to choose between alternatives because we don’t have enough information, experience, wisdom, moral character, etc.

The first sort of indifference is best dealt with by never thinking about it. All such decisions must be recognized for what they are and simply not thought about. One seeks to remove them from reason. The second sorts of indifference, however, is completely contrary: one seeks to subsume it as far as possible into reason. One uses the indifference of (2) as the matter for the development of the virtue of prudence, and large parts of law and social arrangement need to be set up so as to subsume (2) indifference into the rational order.

So the indifference of the will forks into two contrary paths, one that drives objects further and further from rational consideration, and which recognizes the pointlessness of rational consideration; and another which seeks to become more and more under rational sovereignty and control. Discerning the difference between these two is not always easy, and this discernment is itself a matter of prudence.

So defining free will by indifference makes the relationship of free choice to reason inherently ambiguous. So long as we are considering (1) level indifference, free will has nothing to do with reason, and even irrational animals will need something like “free will” with respect to such objects. Consider Buridan’s ass, or the sorts of objects one is asked to “choose” in Libet experiments. But to cut the connection between (2) level objects and reason is a self-evident absurdity.

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