Monday, June 8, 2009

Mentibus nostris - II

While driving to Hobart, and doing as I often do, listening to a CD of and/or praying the Te Deum (of which more anon), I made a little meditation on Providence, reflecting on the Collect of Whit Saturday...

Now, when considering Providence, it is not merely a matter of God foreseeing everything (though of course, being outside of time, God sees all that ever was, is or will be in one glance), but rather it is fundamentally an active rather than a passive matter, since God is Perfect Act; again, as He is Necessary Being, and all Creation merely contigent, His Creation lies at an inferior level of existence relative to His: He Is, He must be, whereas everything else could just as easily never have existed.  

Of course, the question of evil, that most thorny of questions (and the strongest counterargument against the existence of God, as Aquinas noted) at once arises: what of Bambi and the wolf, the volcano and the village, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung (who killed more than both)?  While God permits in His infinite forbearance much physical 'evil' and moral evil (i.e. sin, which strictly speaking is the only true evil; all other bad occurrences are more or less tragic sufferings, but not evil per se), we must believe with the Apostle that "all things work together for good", as the Lord's secret plans unfold toward their ultimate accomplishment, and assert with Julian of Norwich that "all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well" - without falling into the Voltairean trap of being a Dr Pangloss, or looking at events through rose-tinted glasses.

The Lord established the dispositions of His Creation, which we call the (physical) laws of the universe.  In the vast majority of cases, the world unfolds according to the Divine Plan simply through the fulfilment of these causal connexions.  Indeed, speaking of miracles, or apparent suspensions of physical laws, in comparison to the vast extent of the cosmos, encompassing tens or hundreds of billions of galaxies each with perhaps the same vast number of stars and uncountably many worlds, the fact that from time to time on earth miracles take place is virtually ignorable - the laws of physics hold 100% of the time to many decimal places.  And further, miracles are usually not wholesale suspensions of material laws, but are rather implemented by God through the agency of angels, who are spiritual beings as much part of Creation as men, birds or rocks; and their ability to command the forces of nature is a perfectly explicable result of their superior status as incorporeal powers able effortlessly to dominate mere matter.

God loves to work through secondary causes - this is an important Scholastic axiom; hence, His commissioning of angels to do His bidding.  The higher angels mediate knowledge and instructions to lower angels - as is indicated by the names of their choirs: the Thrones, Dominations, Principalities, and Powers have as it were middle-rank executive functions, and give orders to the Virtues, Archangels and Angels, whose names signify their ability to act and their status as sent to act.  (The highest choirs, the Seraphim and Cherubim, worship God everlastingly.)  However, Christianity is not Gnostic Emanationism: all the angels enjoy the Beatific Vision, and all are evermore enlightened and inflamed by the Divine Radiance.

It is standard terminology to speak of the Holy Spirit illuminating the intellectual faculty of the soul, that the mind know; and to speak of Him inspiring the will, that the soul decide to act.  Query: is this 'direct', or through the mediation of angels?  Certainly a higher angel can thus communicate with a lower, and as all men are assigned each a Guardian Angel, it might seem that the Angel Guardian would have this role.  But again it would savour of heresy to suggest that this is the case to the exclusion of the direct action of the indwelling Holy Spirit, making of believers His temples, sanctifying them as Lord and Lifegiver.  Clearly one should revere one's Angelic Guardian, thank him for his guidance and protection, for his prayers and his secret suggestions of truth and good; but one should worship and adore the Holy Spirit as the One Who raises one to supernatural life, as Uncreated Grace producing created grace in the soul, and thereby elevating the soul to a new mode of operation.

Likewise, in the case of the Sacraments, Christ it is Who, by the physical instrument of His Sacred Humanity, applies to us the merits of His Passion, acting in each Sacrament as the One Priest, bestowing God's gifts on man; the human priest or minister is His instrument in this.  Again, the parallel Scholastic principle must be borne in mind: God is the First Cause, and acts through secondary causes in such wise that both God and each secondary cause is truly the cause the effect under consideration.  What effects baptism?  The proximate matter is water; the proximate formula is the spoken words of the minister, be he priest, Pope, layman or heathen; the mediate cause is Christ's word of commandment, He as God the Word effecting what he signifies; again, the mediate cause is Christ's Sacred Passion, by which Sacrifice He won all graces; the final cause, or intended goal, is salvation, which is God's will for all as the Apostle testifies; and of course the ultimate Cause is God.

All comes from Him; all exists through Him and for Him; to Him be glory forever.  Amen.

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