The Queenship of Mary

Neither human tongue nor angelic mind is able worthily to praise her through whom it is given to us to look clearly upon the Lord's glory. What then? Shall we be silent through fear of our insufficiency? Certainly not. Shall we be trespassers beyond our own boundaries, and freely handle ineffable mysteries, putting off all restraint? By no means. Mingling, rather, fear with desire, and weaving them into one crown, with reverent hand and longing soul, let us show forth the poor first-fruits of our intelligence in gratitude to our Queen and Mother, the benefactress of all creation as a repayment of our debt.

By St. John Damascene (b. A.D. 676)

The memory of the just takes place with rejoicing, said Solomon, the wisest of men; for precious in God's sight is the death of His saints, according to the royal David. If, then, the memory of all the just is a subject of rejoicing, who will not offer praise to justice in its source, and holiness in its treasure-house? It is not mere praise; it is praising with the intention of gaining eternal glory. God's dwelling-place does not need our praise, that city of God, concerning which great things were spoken, as holy. David addresses it in these words: "Glorious things are said of thee, thou city of God." What sort of city shall we choose for the invisible and uncircumscribed God, who holds all things in His hand, if not that city which alone is above nature, giving shelter without circumscription to the supersubstantial Word of God? Glorious things have been spoken of that city by God himself. For what is more exalted than being made the recipient of God's counsel, which is from all eternity?

Neither human tongue nor angelic mind is able worthily to praise her through whom it is given to us to look clearly upon the Lord's glory. What then? Shall we be silent through fear of our insufficiency? Certainly not. Shall we be trespassers beyond our own boundaries, and freely handle ineffable mysteries, putting off all restraint? By no means. Mingling, rather, fear with desire, and weaving them into one crown, with reverent hand and longing soul, let us show forth the poor first-fruits of our intelligence in gratitude to our Queen and Mother, the benefactress of all creation as a repayment of our debt. A story is told of some rustics who were ploughing up the soil when a king chanced to pass, in the splendour of his royal robes and crown, and surrounded by countless gift bearers, standing in a circle. As there was no gift to offer at that moment, one of them was collecting water in his hands, as there happened to be a copious stream near by. Of this he prepared a gift for the king, who addressed him in these words: "What is this, my boy?" And he answered boldly: "I made the best of what I had, thinking it was better to show my willingness, than to offer nothing. You do not need our gifts, nor do you wish for anything from us save our good will. The need is on our side, and the reward is in the doing. I know that glory often comes to the grateful."

The king in wonder praised the boy's cleverness, graciously acknowledged his willingness, and made him many rich gifts in return. Now, if that proud monarch so generously rewarded good intentions, will not Our Lady, the Mother of God, accept our good will, not judging us by what we accomplish? Our Lady is the Mother of God, who alone is good and infinite in His condescension, who preferred the two mites to many splendid gifts. She will indeed receive us, who are paying off our debt, and make us a return out of all proportion to what we offer. Since prayer is absolutely necessary for our needs, let us direct our attention to it.

What shall we say, O Queen? What words shall we use? What praise shall we pour upon thy sacred and glorified head, thou giver of good gifts and of riches, the pride of the human race, the glory of all creation, through whom it is truly blessed. He whom nature did not contain in the beginning, was born of thee. The Invisible One is contemplated face to face. O Word of God, do Thou open my slow lips, and give their utterances Thy richest blessing; inflame us with the grace of Thy Spirit, through whom fishermen became orators, and ignorant men spoke supernatural wisdom, so that our feeble voices may contribute to thy loved Mother's praises, even though greatness should be extolled by misery. She, the chosen one of an ancient race, by a predetermined counsel and the good pleasure of God the Father, who had begotten Thee in eternity immaterially, brought Thee forth in the latter times, Thou who art propitiation and salvation, justice and redemption, life of life, light of light, and true God of true God.

The birth of her, whose Child was marvellous, was above nature and understanding, and it was salvation to the world; her death was glorious, and truly a sacred feast. The Father predestined her, the prophets foretold her through the Holy Ghost. His sanctifying power overshadowed her, cleansed and made her holy, and, as it were, predestined her. Then Thou, Word of the Father, not dwelling in place, didst invite the lowliness of our nature to be united to the immeasurable greatness of Thy inscrutable Godhead. Thou, who didst take flesh of the Blessed Virgin, vivified by a reasoning soul, having first abided in her undefiled and immaculate womb, creating Thyself, and causing her to exist in Thee, didst become perfect man, not ceasing to be perfect God, equal to Thy Father, but taking upon Thyself our weakness through ineffable goodness. Through it Thou art one Christ, one Lord, one Son of God, and man at the same time, perfect God and perfect man, wholly God and wholly man, one Substance from two perfect natures, the Godhead and the manhood. And in two perfect natures, the divine and the human, God is not pure God, nor the man only man, but the Son of God and the Incarnate God are one and the same God and man without confusion or division, uniting in Himself substantially the attributes of both natures. Thus, He is at once uncreated and created, mortal and immortal, visible and invisible, in place and not in place. He has a divine will and a human will, a divine action and a human also, two powers of choosing divine and human. He shows forth divine wonders and human affections -- natural, I mean, and pure. Thou hast taken upon Thyself, Lord, of Thy great mercy, the state of Adam as he was before the fall, body, soul, and mind, and all that they involve physically, so as to give me a perfect salvation. It is true indeed that what was not assumed was not healed. Having thus become the mediator between God and man, Thou didst destroy enmity, and lead back to Thy Father those who had deserted Him, wanderers to their home, and those in darkness to the light. Thou didst bring pardon to the contrite, and didst change mortality into immortality. Thou didst deliver the world from the aberration of many gods, and didst make men the children of God, partakers of Thy divine glory. Thou didst raise the human race, which was condemned to bell, above all power and majesty, and in Thy person it is seated on the King's eternal throne. Who was the instrument of these infinite benefits exceeding all mind and comprehension, if not the Mother ever Virgin who bore Thee?

Realise, Beloved in the Lord, the grace of to-day, and its wondrous solemnity. Its mysteries are not terrible, nor do they inspire awe. Blessed are they who have eyes to see. Blessed are they who see with spiritual eyes. This night shines as the day. What countless angels acclaim the death of the life-giving Mother! How the eloquence of apostles blesses the departure of this body which was the receptacle of God. How the Word of God, who deigned in His mercy to become her Son, ministering with His divine hands to this immaculate and divine being, as His mother, receives her holy soul. O wondrous Law-giver, fulfilling the law which He bad Himself laid down, not being bound by it, for it was He who enjoined children to show reverence to their parents. "Honour thy father and thy mother," He says. The truth of this is apparent to every one, calling to mind even dimly the words of holy Scripture. If according to it the souls of the just are in the hands of God, how much more is her soul in the hands of her Son and her God. This is indisputable. Let us consider who she is and whence she came, how she, the greatest and dearest of all God's gifts, was given to this world. Let us examine what her life was, and the mysteries in which she took part. Heathens in the use of funeral orations most carefully brought forward anything which could be turned to praise of the deceased, and at the same time encourage the living to virtue, drawing generally upon fable and fiction, not having fact to go upon. How then, shall we not deserve scorn if we bury in silence that which is most true and sacred, and in very deed the source of praise and salvation to all ? Shall we not receive the same punishment as the man who hid his master's talent ? Let us adapt our subject to the needs of those who listen, as food is suited to the body.

Joachim and Anne were the parents of Mary. Joachim kept as strict a watch over his thoughts as a shepherd over his flock, having them entirely under his control. For the Lord God led him as a sheep, and he wanted for none of the best things. When I say best, let no one think I mean what is commonly acceptable to the multitude, that upon which greedy minds are fixed, the pleasures of life that can neither endure nor make their possessors better, nor confer real strength. They follow the downward course of human life and cease all in a moment, even if they abounded before. Far be it from us to cherish these things, nor is this the portion of those who fear God. But the good things which are a matter of desire to those who possess true knowledge, delighting God, and fruitful to their possessors, namely, virtues, bearing fruit in due season, that is, in eternity, will reward with eternal life those who have laboured worthily and have persevered in their acquisition as far as possible. The labour goes before, eternal happiness follows. Joachim ever shepherded his thoughts. In the place of pastures, dwelling by contemplation on the words of sacred Scripture, made glad on the restful waters of divine grace, withdrawn from foolishness, he walked in the path of justice. And Anne, whose name means grace, was no less a companion in her life than a wife, blessed with all good gifts, though afflicted for a mystical reason with sterility. Grace in very truth remained sterile, not being able to produce fruit in the souls of men. Therefore, men declined from good and degenerated; there was not one of understanding nor one who sought after God. Then His divine goodness, taking pity on the work of His hands, and wishing to save it, put an end to that mystical barrenness, that of holy Anne, I mean, and she gave birth to a child, whose equal had never been created and never can be. The end of barrenness proved clearly that the world's sterility would cease and that the withered trunk would be crowned with vigorous and mystical life.

Hence the Mother of our Lord is announced. An angel foretells her birth. It was fitting that in this, too, she, who was to be the human Mother of the one true and living God, should be marked out above every one else. Then she was offered in God's holy temple, and remained there, showing to all a great example of zeal and holiness, withdrawn from frivolous society. When, however, she reached full age and the law required that she should leave the temple, she was entrusted by the priests to Joseph, her bridegroom, as the guardian of her virginity, a steadfast observer of the law from his youth. Mary, the holy and undefiled, went to Joseph, contenting herself with her household matters, and knowing nothing beyond her four walls.

In the fulness of time, as the divine apostle says, the angel Gabriel was sent to this true child of God, and saluted her in the words, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." Beautiful is the angel's salutation to her who is greater than an angel. He is the bearer of joy to the whole world. She was troubled at his words, not being used to speak with men, for she had resolved to keep her virginity unsullied. She pondered in herself what this greeting might be. Then the angel said to her: "Fear not, Mary. Thou hast found grace before God." In very deed, she who was worthy of grace had found it. She found grace who had done the deeds of race, and had reaped its fulness. She found grace who brought forth the source of grace, and was a rich harvest of grace. She found an abyss of grace who kept undefiled her double virginity, her virginal soul no less spotless than her body; hence her perfect virginity. "Thou shalt bring forth a Son," he said, "and shalt call His name Jesus" (Jesus is interpreted Saviour). "He shall save His people from their sins." What did she, who is true wisdom, reply? She does not imitate our first mother Eve, but rather improves upon her incautiousness, and calling in nature to support her, thus answers the angel: "How is this to be, since I know not man? What you say is impossible, for it goes beyond the natural laws laid down by the Creator. I will not be called a second Eve and disobey the will of my God. If you are not speaking godless things, explain the mystery by saying how it is to be accomplished." Then the messenger of truth answered her: "The Holy Spirit shall come to thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. Therefore He who is born to thee shall be called the Son of God." That which is foretold is not subservient to the laws of nature. For God, the Creator of nature, can alter its laws. And she, listening in holy reverence to that sacred name, which she had ever desired, signified her obedience in words full of humility and joy: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word."

"O the depth of the riches, of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God," I will exclaim in the apostle's words. "How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways." O inexhaustible goodness of God! O boundless goodness! He who called what was not into being, and filled heaven and earth, whose throne is heaven, and whose footstool is the earth, a spacious dwelling-place, made the womb of His own servant, and in it the mystery of mysteries is accomplished. Being God He becomes man, and is marvellously brought forth without detriment to the virginity of His Mother. And He is lifted up as a baby in earthly arms, who is the brightness of eternal glory, the form of the Father's substance, by the word of whose mouth all created things exist. O truly divine wonder! O mystery transcending all nature and understanding! O marvellous virginity! What, O holy Mother and Virgin, is this great mystery accomplished in thee? Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Thou art blessed from generation to generation, thou who alone art worthy of being blessed. Behold all generations shall call thee blessed as thou hast said. The daughters of Jerusalem, I mean, of the Church, saw thee. Queens have blessed thee, that is, the spirits of the just, and they shall praise thee for ever. Thou art the royal throne which angels surround, seeing upon it their very King and Lord. Thou art a spiritual Eden, holier and diviner than Eden of old. That Eden was the abode of the mortal Adam, whilst the Lord came from heaven to dwell in thee. The ark foreshadowed thee who hast kept the seed of the new world. Thou didst bring forth Christ, the salvation of the world, who destroyed sin and its angry waves. The burning bush was a figure of thee, and the tablets of the law, and the ark of the testament. The golden urn and candelabra, the table and the flowering rod of Aaron were significant types of thee. From thee arose the splendour of the Godhead, the eternal Word of the Father, the most sweet and heavenly Manna, the sacred Name above every name, the Light which was from the beginning. The heavenly Bread of Life, the Fruit without seed, took flesh of thee. Did not that flame foreshadow thee with its burning fire an image of the divine fire within thee? And Abraham's tent most clearly pointed to thee. By the Word of God dwelling in thee human nature produced the bread made of ashes, its first fruits, from thy most pure womb, the first fruits kneaded into bread and cooked by divine fire, becoming His divine person, and His true substance of a living body quickened by a reasoning and intelligent soul. I had nearly forgotten Jacob's ladder. Is it not evident to every one that it prefigured thee, and is not the type easily recognised? just as Jacob saw the ladder bringing together heaven and earth, and on it angels coming down and going up, and the truly strong and invulnerable God wrestling mystically with himself, so art thou placed between us, and art become the ladder of God's intercourse with us, of Him who took upon Himself our weakness, uniting us to Himself, and enabling man to see God. Thou hast brought together what was parted. Hence angels descended to Him, ministering to Him as their God and Lord, and men, adopting the life of angels, are carried up to heaven.

How shall I understand the prediction of prophets? Shall I not refer them to thee, as we can prove them to be true? What is the fleece of David which receives the Son of the Almighty God, co-eternal and co-equal with His Father, as rain falls upon the soil? Does it not signify thee in thy bright shining? Who is the virgin foretold by Isaias who should conceive and bear a Son, God ever present with us, that is, who being born a man should remain God? What is Daniel's mountain from which arose Christ, the Corner-Stone, not made by the hand of man ? Is it not thee, conceiving without man and still remaining a virgin? Let the inspired Ezechiel come forth and show us the closed gate, sealed by the Lord, and not yielding, according to his prophecy -- let him point to its fulfilment in thee. The Lord of all came to thee, and taking flesh did not open the door of thy virginity. The seal remains intact. The prophets, then, foretell thee. Angels and apostles minister to thee, O Mother of God, ever Virgin, and John the virgin apostle. Angels and the spirits of the just, patriarchs and prophets surround thee to-day in thy departure to thy Son. Apostles watched over the countless host of the just who were gathered together from every corner of the earth by the divine commands, as a cloud around the divine and living Jerusalem, singing hymns of praise to thee, the author of our Lord's life-giving body.

O how does the source of life pass through death to life? O how can she obey the law of nature, who, in conceiving, surpasses the boundaries of nature? How is her spotless body made subject to death? In order to be clothed with immortality she must first put off mortality, since the Lord of nature did not reject the penalty of death. She dies according to the flesh, destroys death by death, and through corruption gains incorruption, and makes her death the source of resurrection. O how does Almighty God receive with His own hands the holy disembodied soul of our Lord's Mother! He honours her truly, whom being His servant by nature, He made His Mother, in His inscrutable abyss of mercy, when He became incarnate in very truth. We may well believe that the angelic choirs waited to receive thy departing soul. O what a blessed departure this going to God of thine. If God vouchsafes it to all His servants -- and we know that He does -- what an immense difference there is between His servants and His Mother. What, then, shall we call this mystery of thine? Death? Thy blessed soul is naturally parted from thy blissful and undefiled body, and the body is delivered to the grave, yet it does not endure in death, nor is it the prey of corruption. The body of her, whose virginity remained unspotted in child-birth, was preserved in its incorruption, and was taken to a better, diviner place, where death is not, but eternal life. Just as the glorious sun may be hidden momentarily by the opaque moon, it shows still though covered, and its rays illumine the darkness since light belongs to its essence. It has in itself a perpetual source of light, or rather it is the source of light as God created it. So art thou the perennial source of true light, the treasury of life itself, the richness of grace, the cause and medium of all our goods. And if for a time thou art hidden by the death of the body, without speaking, thou art our light, life-giving ambrosia, true happiness, a sea of grace, a fountain of healing and of perpetual blessing. Thou art as a fruitful tree in the forest, and thy fruit is sweet in the mouth of the faithful. Therefore I will not call thy sacred transformation death, but rest or going home, and it is more truly a going home. Putting off corporeal things, thou dwellest in a happier state.

Angels with archangels bear thee up. Impure spirits trembled at thy departure. The air raises a hymn of praise at thy passage, and the atmosphere is purified. Heaven receives thy soul with joy. The heavenly powers greet thee with sacred canticles and with joyous praise, saying : "Who is this most pure creature ascending, shining as the dawn, beautiful as the moon, conspicuous as the sun? How sweet and lovely thou art, the lily of the field, the rose among thorns; therefore the young maidens loved thee. We are drawn after the odour of thy ointments. The King introduced thee into His chamber. There Powers protect thee, Principalities praise thee, Thrones proclaim thee, Cherubim are hushed in joy, and Seraphim magnify the true Mother by nature and by grace of their very Lord. Thou wert not taken into heaven as Elias was, nor didst thou penetrate to the third heaven with Paul, but thou didst reach the royal throne itself of thy Son, seeing it with thy own eyes, standing by it in joy and unspeakable familiarity. O gladness of angels and of all heavenly powers, sweetness of patriarchs and of the just, perpetual exultation of prophets, rejoicing the world and sanctifying all things, refreshment of the weary, comfort of the sorrowful, remission of sins, health of the sick, harbour of the storm-tossed, lasting strength of mourners, and perpetual succour of all who invoke thee."

O wonder surpassing nature and creating wonder! Death, which of old was feared and hated, is a matter of praise and blessing. Of old it was the harbinger of grief, dejection, tears, and sadness, and now it is shown forth as the cause of joy and rejoicing. In the case of all God's servants, whose death is extolled, His good pleasure is surmised from their holy end, and therefore their death is blessed. It shows them to be perfect, blessed and immoveable in goodness, as the proverb says: "Praise no man before his death." This, however, we do not apply to thee. Thy blessedness was not death, nor was dying thy perfection, nor, again, did thy departure hence help thee to security. Thou art the beginning, middle, and end of all goods transcending mind, for thy Son in His conception and divine dwelling in thee is made our sure and true security. Thus thy words were true: from the moment of His conception, not from thy death, thou didst say all generations should call thee blessed. It was thou who didst break the force of death, paying its penalty, and making it gracious. Hence, when thy holy and sinless body was taken to the tomb, the choirs of angels bore it, and were all around, leaving nothing undone for the honour of our Lord's Mother, whilst apostles and all the assembly of the Church burst into prophetic song, saying: "We shall be filled with the good things of Thy house, holy is Thy temple, wonderful in justice." And again: "The Most High has sanctified His tabernacle. The mountain of God is a fertile mountain, the mountain in which it pleased God to dwell." The apostolic band lifting the true ark of the Lord God on their shoulders, as the priests of old the typical ark, and placing thy body in the tomb, made it, as if another Jordan, the way to the true land of the gospel, the heavenly Jerusalem, the mother of all the faithful, God being its Lord and architect. Thy soul did not descend to Limbo, neither did thy flesh see corruption. Thy pure and spotless body was not left in the earth, but the abode of the Queen, of God's true Mother, was fixed in the heavenly kingdom alone.

O how did heaven receive her who is greater than heaven? How did she, who had received God, descend into the grave? This truly happened, and she was held by the tomb. It was not after bodily wise that she surpassed heaven. For how can a body measuring three cubits, and continually losing flesh, be compared with the dimensions of heaven ? It was rather by grace that she surpassed all height and depth, for that which is divine is incomparable. O sacred and wonderful, holy and worshipful body, ministered to now by angels, standing by in lowly reverence. Demons tremble: men approach with faith, honouring and worshipping her, greeting her with eyes and lips, and drawing down upon themselves abundant blessings. Just as a rich scent sprinkled upon clothes or places, leaves its fragrance even after it has been withdrawn, so now that holy, undefiled, and divine body, filled with heavenly fragrance, the rich source of grace, is laid in the tomb that it may be translated to a higher and better place. Nor did she leave the grave empty; her body imparted to it a divine fragrance, a source of healing, and of all good for those who approach it with faith.

We, too, approach thee to-day, O Queen; and again, I say, O Queen, O Virgin Mother of God, staying our souls with our trust in thee, as with a strong anchor. Lifting up mind, soul and body, and all ourselves to thee, rejoicing in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, we reach through thee One who is beyond our reach on account of His Majesty. If, as the divine Word made flesh taught us, honour shown to servants, is honour shown to our common Lord, how can honour shown to thee, His Mother, be slighted? How is it not most desirable? Art thou not honoured as the very breath of life? Thus shall we best show our service to our Lord Himself. What do I say to our Lord? It is sufficient that those who think of Thee should recall the memory of Thy most precious gift as the cause of our lasting joy. How it fills us with gladness! How the mind that dwells on this holy treasury of Thy grace enriches itself.

This is our thank-offering to thee, the first fruits of our discourses, the best homage of my poor mind, whilst I am moved by desire of thee, and full of my own misery. But do thou graciously receive my desire, knowing that it exceeds my power. Watch over us, O Queen, the dwelling-place of our Lord. Lead and govern all our ways as thou wilt. Save us from our sins. Lead us into the calm harbour of the divine will. Make us worthy of future happiness through the sweet and face-to-face vision of the Word made flesh through thee. With Him, glory, praise, power, and majesty be to the Father and to the holy and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Nota Bene:This is the traditional day of her feast. Since I have, of late, been attending the etraordinary form of the Roman rite, I decided to honor the feast day today. It has since been transferred to a memorial on August 22nd.
Special thanks to the fisheater website for the photo and sermon.

When we study the preambles of faith in St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae, we do not hold that such truths are simply inaccessible by human reason. Indeed, there can and should be a science of human reason dedicated to questions about the nature and principle(s) of being. Theology, then, has every right to presuppose the existence of such sciences and even use them when reflecting on revealed truths. Yet St. Thomas does not treat these preambles as one might imagine he would have. Euclid at the start of his science, which is often used as the model of scientific structure and order, opens with a series of definitions, postulates and common notions which will be used in the science, all of which either come to us as per se notum, or are proved in another science. Why would St. Thomas choose not to do this? Why indeed would he spend so many questions going over truths already established in the lower sciences?

Fides quarens intellectum:

“I prayed and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem, because all gold is but a little sand in her sight, I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases. All good things come to me along with her, and in her hands uncounted wealth. I rejoiced in them all, because wisdom leads them; but I did not know that she was their mother. I learned without guile and I impart without grudging. I do not hide her wealth, for it is an unfailing treasure for men; those who get it obtain friendship with God, commended for the gifts that come from instruction.” Book of Wisdom from ch. 7

When we study the preambles of faith in St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae, we do not hold that such truths are simply inaccessible by human reason. Indeed, there can and should be a science of human reason dedicated to questions about the nature and principle(s) of being. Theology, then, has every right to presuppose the existence of such sciences and even use them when reflecting on revealed truths. Yet St. Thomas does not treat these preambles as one might imagine he would have. Euclid at the start of his science, which is often used as the model of scientific structure and order, opens with a series of definitions, postulates and common notions which will be used in the science, all of which either come to us as per se notum, or are proved in another science. Why would St. Thomas choose not to do this? Why indeed would he spend so many questions going over truths already established in the lower sciences? Could he not rightly presuppose that anyone with the audacity to begin the study of God in Himself, would have carefully considered those things which philosophy could offer: not only the metaphysical preambles, but also those questions about man which seem to so readily be known from the natural philosophy of the soul? He then could say that everything treated of from here on out is based on principles inaccessible to simple reason, but that we can use these philosophical beginnings, not for the sake of proving the articles of faith directly studied herein, but for the sake of enhancing our understanding of them. In so doing he would clearly demarcate where human reason stopped, have the truths brought by the “ancilliae sapientiae” readily available, and not have to waste time reproving things that his students should already know.

Instead, since St. Thomas describes theological inquiry as proceeding from principles held by faith, doesn’t the very inclusion of the metaphysical considerations as articles in a book of theology lend credence to the claims of the Modernists that all such things are beyond the bounds of human reason? Can we say that St. Thomas has already done what Kant championed so many years later, abolishing knowledge to make room for faith? Or rather, has he misled us the opposite way, beginning with things knowable by reason, he proceeds seamlessly through his consideration of God as if each new article builds on the one before, making all of theology a mere development of rational thought? Lest we fall into either error, are we not better contenting ourselves being like little children who enter the kingdom of heaven, memorizing the pious anecdotes from the Baltimore Catechism? For those who wish to be truly holy, they could pursue the hermetic lifestyle, passing all hours of the day striving to reach God through faith and charity, mortifiying their flesh, perpetually and mystically reciting the Sacred name of Jesus. In either case however, ought we all to leave St. Thomas’ convoluted metaphysical studying to the casuistic Jesuits and arrogant theologians, who have abandoned faith for human knowledge?

I do not really expect any serious Catholic, (or even historian) to take seriously the claim that St. Thomas was some closet Kantian who despaired of reason’s efficacy and leaped into a sort of Tertullian like fideism. It’s also true that for most of us we will not be content with either the Baltimore catechism option or the hermit approach. This is not because we should disparage either approach across the board; certain souls reduced by their physical disabilities may indeed be far more a conduit for grace and holiness in their simple adherence to their catechism then I will reach in the midst of all my studies. And as for those souls called to the divine life of the hermit, their life is by far superior to any life of study I may undertake. But in the end most of us do not fall into either camp, but are instead driven by the longings of our soul to reason about the basic precepts of Sacred Doctrine which all believers must hold. They will either do this in a vague confused way, or with a penetrating clarity like that of St. Thomas.

For the sake of these, the Mystical Body of Christ needs faithful to devote their lives to perfecting in themselves the virtue of Sacred Doctrine, through study, for the sake of guiding the rest of the faithful in their reflections on the faith and for combating heresies that may arise due to the poor thinking done on such matters. The Church offers us 33 doctors of the Church, all of whom are said to share by a special grace, in the teaching ministry of Christ Himself. Of these, the Church offers us St. Thomas, as the first and best introductory teacher of the Sacred Doctrine whose purity she safeguards.

Whence, as we try to understand St. Thomas’ consideration of truths known by reason within the book both he and the teaching Church recommend for those beginning the study of Sacred Doctrine, we need to begin with the presumption that he really knew what he was doing, and that the effect is very conducive to our salvation. While apologetic purposes would be a good defense, it seems inappropriate to use that defense for a book which has the purpose not of teaching apologetics, but of leading beginning Christian students to a more perfect habit of Sacred Doctrine.

The first good, then, of St. Thomas’ inclusion of the Metaphysical considerations as questions discussed in the Summa, seems to be the magisterial task of keeping his students from error. And this is done in two ways. One could argue that adopting the Euclidean model of presenting previously proven truths would too strongly suggest to the student that the articles of faith rested on the lower sciences as if upon principles. The second way is that St. Thomas has a chance to catch any philosophical errors up front, since a little error in the beginning could lead to major heresies in the end. So while not strictly proper to the science, the philosophical considerations let the teacher make sure all of his students are the on the same page before reflecting on the central truth of all reality, namely the Trinity.

The second good, is that St. Thomas can model the way in which Sacred Doctrine orders and judges and is in harmony with the other sciences. Since it is obvious from natural reason the way in which metaphysics orders and judges the natural sciences before it, then if one can exemplify how Sacred Doctrine uses metaphysics, the student can then extend this to all knowledge. So when St. Thomas uses a theological authority in a sed contra about a philosophical question, he is modeling how Sacred Doctrine judges the lower truths. In understanding Biblical passages and the teachings of the Church Fathers in accord with certain philosophical truths, St. Thomas stresses to the student that truth is one, and admits of no contradictions within itself between the different sciences. Indeed, since God is the author of creation and revelation, these truths must be in harmony, and if not, there was an error in reasoning or interpreting somewhere along the way.

When he describes certain philosophical truths as preambles to the articles of faith, he teaches us how to order all sciences to Wisdom. He makes clear what it means to be a preamble through the sed contra’s which end each one of the early sections of the Summa, namely: In Question 1, Art. 10, after teaching us how Sacred Doctrine can be a science, St. Thomas reminds us that the words of Scripture transcend all science and are ordered to placing us deeper in the mystery, while the sed contra that concludes the section on our knowledge of God in Q. 12 Art. 13 again instructs the student that we are moving toward a knowledge that no philosopher of this world can know. So at the end of both of these sections the student is called to look to a mystery that transcends human knowing and see that as point of arrival for these preambles. The point of arrival is specified at the end of the other two sections In Question 11 Article 4, “Whether God is the Most One,” we are ending the treatment of the last attribute of God’s substance that St. Thomas treats, so in a sense this article is seen as the culmination of the previous chain of reasoning. (This is not because the article is dependent on the entire chain of articles proceeding; that order could have been supplied by philosophy, this instead is an order that St. Thomas chose as one option out of several possible.) In the sed contra, St. Thomas quotes St. Bernard who tells the student, “Among all things which are called one, the unity of the Holy Trinity is most supreme.” Thus the point of arrival in this series of considerations is the Trinity, our knowledge of God’s unity is no good to our salvation unless we are looking toward His Trinity. And again in concluding the question on Divine Names, St. Thomas reminds us the point of discussing these names: we can truly say and believe that God is three-in-one. What is the great mystery the other sections were looking toward? What is this house to which Wisdom has asked her handmaids to guide us, but to which she alone can open the door? It is none other than the Sacred Mystery of all Reality, the Holy Trinity, and through his ordering and teaching St. Thomas reminds us of this central truth. And the truth and goodness of this ordering is something that is more powerfully compelling to the mind when shown to be present during the course of study than if it only were to be stated as a fact at the beginning.

The third good is accidental to the instruction, but it seems to me that it is still there none the less. While it may be true that human reason can reach the truth of the preambles, it is also true that God’s grace does not simply wrap the human person with faith like a cloak but rather quickens a smoldering wick and strengthens that which is weak. In this case the smoldering weakling is the human intellect darkened by sin. If these natural truths taught by St. Thomas are studied in the context of Wisdom, the student is already inclined to see that even his ability to come to these natural truths is a divine gift. “There is for all mankind one entrance into life and a common departure (Wis. 7:6).” All our existence is marked by original sin, from the pangs of childbirth that bring us forth to the death that ushers us out. So we, in this common sinful state of the human race, respond with Solomon and say, “Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me (Wis. 7: 7.).” It is God who grants us “thoughts worthy of what we have received, for He is the guide even of wisdom, and the corrector of the wise. For both we and our words are in His hand, as [too] our understanding (Wis. 7:15-16).” Even of natural things: knowledge of what exists, the structure of the world, natures, powers and reasonings of men, all things both the manifest by nature, and the secret revealed mysteries alike, have been taught to us by Wisdom, the fashioner of all things (see Wis. 7:17-22). This is not to say that the student’s reason by its nature, even in its darkened state could not come to these natural truths. It is to say, however, knowing his intellect to be damaged by sin, the student should give thanks to God for having strengthened and healed him through the grace that enables him to approach the sacred mysteries with a nature renewed both in power and in knowledge.

The last benefit, I believe is the most fitting and noble reason for St. Thomas to teach us the natural truths he does, whether in the section on preambles, the section of creation, or the section on moral action. We should not read St. Thomas to be writing simply another commentary on the De Anima, the Metaphysics, or the Ethics. St. Thomas believes this to be a theological work, and as such, the tone is different. Our studying these truths in theology is in many ways analogous to Milton’s Eve in Paradise Lost. Now Milton is not one that should normally be quoted either as an authority in theology or in marriage, but in this context the beauty of the subject exceeds the error of the author’s intention. Eve excuses herself as Adam is talking to Raphael and the following justification is given:

“Not as not with such discourse delighted, or not capable her ear of what was high: such pleasures she reserved, Adam relating, she sole auditress; her husband the relater she preferred... and of him to ask chose rather; he she knew would intermix grateful digressions, and solve high dispute, with conjugal caresses, from his lip not words alone pleased her. O when meet now such pairs, in love and mutual honor joined.”

Eve does not leave the study because she is incapable or insufficient to the task, but instead she wishes to learn the truth from her bridegroom’s lips. When taught she will receive it and come to understand it through her reason, and with her intelligence know it through its cause. This does not prevent her, out of charity for her beloved of desiring to hear it first from him. And so it seems that St. Thomas wants us in the Church to wish to learn these truths first from our Bridegroom. We will receive them, and know them through our reason. We do not need our Bridegroom to reveal such things to us, we can indeed come to know them, and even when He does reveal them, our intellect will come to see them in the light of reason. But how we long that He may kiss us with the kisses of His mouth, and how our hearts yearn to be joined to Him in love. So let us first hear that God is from His own mouth (Ego sum qui sum), and hear from Him He does not change (Ego Deus non mutor). Let us learn these natural truths first from our Beloved’s lips that we may enter into Wisdom’s house and dwell therein. For we have loved Him, and desired Him from our youth, and desired Him to take us for His bride, and feed us with the honey from His mouth.

Another Look at St. Anselm's Argument for the Existence of God

In St. Anselm's Proslogion, he makes his famous and controversial argument for the existence of God. Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with this argument, in the end all can agree that it is hard to wrap one's mind about it, and in particular, to find the middle term. Below I will argue that the reason this difficulty arises is that the argument is to be taken as per se notum, that this is the best way to take the argument, and that the arguments St. Anselm does provide are merely manifestations of the truth he is trying to show, not actually proofs or demonstrations of that conclusion. I will quote St. Anselm's argument below, and then begin my discussion.

I would like to give a brief apology for the following article. I know that any serious Thomist would have on hand a ready objection to St. Anselm's argument for God's existence, probably including something about a greatest prime number. I would not dare dispute him and I am sure that I would even agree with him. So, the question naturally follows, why waste one's time breaking down an argument one knows to be faulty. Further, one could claim that granted he is a doctor of the Church, surely there are more striking and impressive works, or parts of works for which he is considered a doctor. To spend much time on the Proslogion is much like dwelling on a family member's unbecoming facial blemish and to talk loudly of what a shame it is.
Rather than seeing Anselm's Proslogion as a mark of shame, or of misguided brilliance, I hold that it is a great and significant work, worthy of much thought and contemplation and not just as some intellectual exercise. First of all because he is a Doctor of the Church, and therefore held to be a great teacher of the orthodox faith. One should be very hesitant to dismiss any with such a title, even when they are in error. Secondly, because the work includes far more than just this proof, and certainly the spirit of the work is a model for us all. He provides stunning meditations of the Fall, and the attributes of God. Moreover, the obvious humility with which the work is written is something we should long to imitate. Even with regards to the proof itself there is great profit in a careful study. First, just having one's mind occupied with the highest things, and considering seriously arguments for the existence of God can bring great intellectual and spiritual benefit. Further, in helping one to understand the rigorous conditions required for arguing the existence of God. More than this, understanding the argument and seeing the implications of it, and also, how it is true. Hear what Gaunilo, famed for his objection to Anselm, says of the man whom he criticized so thoroughly:

The other parts of this tract are argued so truly, so brilliantly and so splendidly, and are also of so much worth and instinct with so fragrant a perfume of devout and holy feeling, that in no way should they be rejected because of those things at the beginning (rightly intuited, but less surely argued out). Rather the latter should be demonstrated more firmly and so everything received with very great respect and praise.

I would suggest to you, my patient readers, that the above claims should be evident. I merely exhort all who read this to give great consideration and patience to any of the great thinkers that have gone before, and most especially if they bear the great title of Doctor of the Church as St. Anselm, Doctor Magnificens.

The Promised Article

In the St. Anselm's Proslogion, he makes his famous and controversial argument for the existence of God. Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with this argument, in the end all can agree that it is hard to wrap one's mind about the argument, and in particular, to find the middle term of the argument. Below I will argue that the reason this difficulty arises is that the argument is to be taken as per se notum, that this is the best way to take the argument, and that the arguments St. Anselm does provide are merely manifestations of the truth is he is trying to show, not actually proofs or demonstrations of that conclusion. I will quote St. Anselm's argument below, and then begin my discussion.

And surely that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought cannot exist in the mind alone. For if it exists solely in the mind even, it can be thought to exist in reality also, which is greater. If then that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought exists in the mind alone, this same that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought is that-than-which-a-greater-can-be-thought. But this is obviously impossible. Therefore there is absolutely no doubt that something-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought exists both in the mind and in reality.

Now, “Ex hoc enim aliqua propositio est per se nota quod praedictum uncluditur in ratione subiecti.” (ST1,Q2,a1 respondeo). Therefore, in order to show that St. Anselm's proposition is per se notum, we must discover the predicate in the account of subject. It is important to note here St. Thomas's distinction, i.e. “Aliquid dicitur per se notum dupliciter: uno modo, secundum se et non quoad nos; alio modo, secudum se et quoad nos.” Now, the subject of the proposition in question is That-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought; the predicate is existence. That this is per se notum is clear from this, that the very argument for the truth of the proposition is the subject itself. The very reason, that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought, exists is that it is that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought, which is to say, that the predicate is contained in the subject. This is shown in other per se notum propositions as well.
They way St. Anselm gives the argument, it seems as though there is actually a movement of the mind. However, it is merely a manifestation of the truth through the the subject of the proposition, not an actual demonstration. Let us take, for example another per se notum proposition,the whole is greater than the part. If the whole is less than the part, then it would a part, but it is the whole, which is absurd, therefore the whole is greater than the part. Thus, we see that one can give the appearance of an some sort of demonstration for per se notum propositions, but they will always bear the traits of being a reduxio and of turning to the subject, or definition of the subject for the “reason”.
St. Anselm never seems to be formally attentive to this idea in his work, though his argument seems to tend this way even from the beginning when he his discussing how it came to him, "So it was that one day when I was quite worn out with resisting its importunacy, there came to me, in the very conflict of my thoughts, what I had despaired of finding, so that I eagerly grasped the notion which in my distraction I had been rejecting." Upon examination of his arguments one sees the same pattern throughout. I will leave this to you to prove to yourself, gentle reader. What I am chiefly concerned with here, is the nature of his main argument as we have given it above. I will therefore turn to my final concern and show this is the best way to take the argument.
The argument for why this is the best way to take the argument is simple: it is the only way the argument can be seen to be true. Remember above when we made the distinction between per se notum propositions. St. Anselm's proposition is a case of a proposition that is per se notum in itself, but not to us. For if one could grasp fully what it was to be God, that is, if one could see the divine essence or comprehend it, that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought exists, would be a self evident proposition. Furthermore, St. Thomas treats the argument in Question 2, article 1, as a self evident proposition. Therefore it seems clear that this is the best way to take the argument.

I know that I failed to provide an examination of the various arguments from Anselm's text, but I thought it better to avoid the tediom of such an exercise. Moreover, what is important here is to see the nature of Anselm's first argument as well as to see that this is the best way to take the argument, and this has been shown.

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