Questions and Answers on the “Coptic Martyrs”

Eamonn Clark, STL

It is in the news that Pope Francis is enrolling 21 men who were killed by ISIS some years ago into the Roman Martyrology.

Here are some questions and my own (quick but hopefully not sloppy) answers, and there are also some “arrows” for more reading.

What happened?

The basic story is that 21 Christian men were executed by ISIS on a beach in Libya in February of 2015. Some of them were calling on Christ as they were put to death. 20 of them were known to be Coptic Orthodox, one man, from Ghana, is less clearly identifiable as Coptic. It is not actually totally clear that the executions were strictly motivated by the religion of the men, nor is it so clear that each of the men went to their deaths voluntarily – these are two of the normal requirements for being recognized as a martyr. If anyone can help me with more details on this, I would be thankful.

Who are the Coptic Orthodox?

The story is very long. In short, the Coptic Orthodox Church is a schismatic group that split from Rome in the wake of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451) over the doctrine of Dyophysitism, which is the teaching that Christ is “in” or “has” two natures, a human nature and a Divine Nature, rather than being “of” these same two natures. This may seem unimportant, until you realize that we are talking about the fundamental character of Who and what exactly it is that we are worshipping – which is automatically a big deal. There were 13 Egyptian bishops who refused to accept the Chalcedonian formulation, protesting that the recently deceased bishop St. Cyril of Alexandria (Egyptian), had condemned those who held to this position in his 3rd anathema. (The issue here comes down to the precise meaning of the word “physis.”) In the end, the Egyptians were not persuaded by the other Fathers of the Council that Cyril was not a “Miaphysite” but was actually a Dyophysite using vague language. You will have to do the hard work of reading the history in detail to get more of the story, sorry.

Have there been attempts to reconcile with the Copts?

Yes, many. The issue of the Coptic schism was an agenda item of the Ecumenical Council of Florence (1431-1449). The Copts ultimately did not want to come back on board, despite their representatives at the Council wanting to do so. Pope Eugene IV wrote a “Bull of Union with the Copts” called “Cantate Domino,” which it turns out is very relevant for our consideration and which we will look at later. There is also a group of Coptic Catholics, who have reunited with Rome, and there were several joint declarations between the Holy See and the Coptic Orthodox some decades ago on Christology – and though they are significant steps toward unity, they did not use the magic words, “in two natures.”

What is the Roman Martyrology?

This is the Catholic Church’s official list of martyrs. It is not a list of all Catholic saints. However, one who is in the Martyrology is usually also revered liturgically as a Blessed or a Saint.

Have there been non-Catholics treated as saints before?

Yes. I know of a few, thanks to this article by Fr. Ed McNamara: St. Stephen of Perm (1340-1396), St. Anthony of Kiev (983-1073), St. Theodosius of Kiev (1029-1074), St. Sergius of Radonezh (1314-1392), and St. Gregory of Narek (950-1003). The latter has also been named as a Doctor of the Church. In these cases, as Fr. McNamara explains, given the complex historical circumstances and the time in which these men lived, union with Rome was not necessarily as clear-cut an issue as it is today. So maybe the better answer is, “No, but sort of.”

Are canonizations infallible?

This is a deeply disputed question. There is a whole book of essays recently published on this matter, which I have not read myself but can nevertheless recommend based on what I have read about it, here. The opinion which I take myself is, “No.” However, nobody will sin by venerating someone held up by Rome as a saint, including in the liturgy.

What about Eugene IV?

The Bull “Cantate Domino” does not mince words on the issue of non-Catholic martyrs. It says they don’t exist. Again, without getting into the settled debate over Feeneyism (yes, it is possible to be “in the Catholic Church” without necessarily manifesting this explicitly by outward signs), here is the relevant part of the text: “The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.” This echoes St. Augustine’s teaching on the same question, along with a host of other Fathers.

What about Feeneyism?

Feeneyism is indeed wrong, that’s settled. But the entire point of canonizations is to hold up individuals as extraordinary examples of heroic Christian virtue. It strains credulity to think that this would be appropriate of anyone who has at least dubious Christology, and openly rejects the primacy of the See of Peter (the Pope of Rome).

Is this the only strange thing going on at the moment relating to canonizations in Rome?

No. But we will cross that bridge if and when we get there.

Aren’t you just being mean and nasty?

Maybe, but I am concerned with the integrity and meaning of canonizations and ultimately of their purpose, which is the proposal for the imitation of the lives of those who are canonized. To drive the point home: nobody should be Coptic Orthodox. And sure, it is possible that God could have worked an extraordinary grace in the souls of these individuals and brought them to Himself with a high amount of merit (awesome!), but that does not mean that they are fit for public veneration as saints in the Catholic Church. If you think I’m being mean and nasty, go read the link above on the Fathers and this question. I’ll stick with those guys.

End of Q and A.

There’s more to the story, and I hope the readership will point out if I am getting any details wrong. But this at least gets the discussion moving in the right way. There is plenty of good ecumenism going on, but I fear that this is not an example of it. The lines need to be very clear. This will mostly just confuse people in the long-term, it seems.

My own question is rhetorical, and I hope it’s not too biting… How is it that people who like the 1962 Roman Missal are “too divisive,” but people who openly reject the entire idea of Petrine primacy can be put into the Roman Martyrology?

St. Josaphat, Thief of Souls, pray for us! St. Mark the Evangelist, pray for us!

Jung Goes to Chalcedon: A Christology of Archetypes?

Below is a talk I gave at the Angelicum’s annual student theology conference last week. Enjoy!

Eamonn Clark, STL

A fallen away Lutheran’s Kantian appropriation of Platonic forms hardly seems like the place to look for shocking insight into Christology, but today I will make the case that it is.

In this paper I will argue that psychologist Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes gives us tools for deepening our understanding of Christ as a Person within the narrative given to us in Sacred Scripture, in particular by examining two archetypes which have been well-treated in mythological and psychological literature: the hero and the trickster. I take all of the classical definitions of the Councils for granted – Jesus Christ is truly God the Son, and fully a man born in Bethlehem. There is much to talk about within the paradigm of Chalcedon and the Alexandrian-Antiochene controversies which occasioned the advent of our cherished credal formulas – but since we do indeed possess revealed data, we have solid ground from which to jump into areas yet unexplored. We can be like Theseus – not running into the labyrinth and becoming lost, food for the minotaur, but not simply staying safe and sound outside either. We can take hold of the cord of tradition and bring it with us to keep ourselves oriented – we can slay the minotaur.

An archetype for Jung is a kind of impression of deeply meaningful symbols upon the collective unconscious – a sort of echo of Averroist anthropology that has somehow taken in data and leaves its mark within us. Jung rejects entirely the “tabula rasa” of St. Thomas and Aristotle. We are born with these ideas already deep within our psyche, and their use in stories or encountering them in our life moves us in particular ways. We expect certain things from certain kinds of characters – a witch-queen is altogether different from a wizard-king, whether they are good or evil. Most people automatically perceive this, even if they can’t articulate it, which is normally the case.

While I am not an Averroist, there is something to be said for the observation that so many peoples across time and space seem to use extremely similar kinds of characters and tropes in their great myths – everything from wise old men to floods to heroes who go on quests.

One might be inclined to dismiss the Jungian thesis outright by saying, “It’s just the way that stories work.” But why is it that we want these kinds of characters and these kinds of stories? We can’t say it’s coincidence. We could try to chalk it up to cultural conditioning, but again, this elides Jung’s main premise: we see these patterns in practically every story-telling culture across time and space, and it is unlikely that all of our common ancestors were telling stories which were sufficiently advanced and powerful to populate our minds with this amount of similar ideas so profoundly. One might also posit that we experience life, and life has its rhythms and structures which our emotions and imagination correspond to in such a way that we are attracted to particular sorts of narratives. This is not wrong, but it still doesn’t get to the heart of the problem, as our emotions and imagination receive the world and process it in a particular way with identifiable patterns which do not explain themselves. We simply return to the same question with different terms: why these kinds of emotional responses, and these imaginative structures? There must be something deeper.

I would suggest the following limited analogy: Christ is to our perception of Him as mathematics is to music. Music has certain rules, which, if violated, create a kind of dissonance which we find jarring; these rules can be laid out in mathematical formulas. The classical liberal arts proceeded from mathematics to music, just as it proceeded from geometry to astronomy and from grammar to rhetoric: the latter studies are of the object of the former studies put into motion, that is, music is mathematics in motion, astronomy is geometry in motion. Christ is the Word, the eternal Logos, the Wisdom of God, through Whom all things are made. Our encounter with Him flows from the “rules” found within Him, the natural law and law of grace finding their origin in Him, the Eternal Law, and thus our encounter with Him is the Logos “in motion,” just like music. However, musical taste is much more deeply informed by culture than is our relationship with Christ – this is where the analogy begins to break down. For example, Westerners intuitively find minor chords “dark,” but this is not the case for others. The rules for our encounter with Christ, where not totally individual, are totally universal, that is to say, a culture does not get to tell us Who Christ is or what He wants, despite shaping the style and circumstances in which we approach Him to some degree; and yet, of course, because charity is a personal friendship with God, its pursuit and activity will also have a dynamic unique to each person.

Because our journey with the Lord is the Word “set in motion,” we can easily see how this puts us into a narrative, a story, which is more literally “words in motion,” so to speak – as from grammar to rhetoric. The fact is that the sacred story of which we are a part has rules. This means that good attempts to reach out to the sacred narrative which imbues the world with its ultimate meaning will track these rules, using particular symbols in the form of characters, tropes, and events. And indeed, we see in the narrative of Sacred Scripture the same threefold operation upon profane myth which grace has on nature: healing, elevating, and perfecting. As a result, it should not be surprising that we are somehow ourselves marked with an intuitive sense of the symbols which fill the great myths, and which even fill normal kinds of good literature. We want to tell certain kinds of stories because we are part of a story whose Divine Author is telling us to do so, whether in our nature somehow, or through the promptings of universal sufficient grace, or some combination of both. Here is not the place to explore how such a theory might respond to the theses of someone like Dupuis, but I simply note that this is a possible way to understand the “logos spermatikos,” the seeds of the Word, among the nations. The conclusion is that our mind is shaped in such a way as to recognize the hints of Christ’s truth, beauty, and goodness as hints – a point I am taking and appropriating from Fr. Pierre Rousselot.

I am concerned here with Christology – the entrance of the Author of the story into the story itself. I will focus exclusively on two great archetypes, which I think give us the beginnings of a psychological Christology: the hero and the trickster. I propose that we can understand Christ as a hylomorphic unity of these two opposing archetypes, with the hero as form and the trickster as matter. I will begin with the trickster archetype.

Claude Levy-Strauss posits that tricksters in mythology are frequently animals which eat carrion, that is, meat which is already dead. They are therefore not hunters, but they are not herbivores – they are something in-between, neither this nor that. We are inclined to be uncomfortable with figures like ravens or coyotes or vultures or snakes (and many snakes do in fact eat carrion) – we’d prefer things that we know do this or that, peaceful plant eaters or vicious hunter-killers. In fact, it is the object which they approach that unsettles us first: the corpse, the dead thing which was living. The trickster is one who cannot be trusted: he is the one who lies, who has petty motives, who will harm others for his own selfish gain, who wants to attain power over us, often by leading us into taking his own unfortunate place, such as by trapping us in a hole while climbing out of it himself. Certainly, this is not how Christ is, but we will return to this description momentarily.

Non-dietary ritual purity laws in Israel related to the state between life and non-life, or death. Thus anytime something seems to be related to crossing the divide between the two “worlds,” it is considered impure – neither this, nor that, something in between, something different. Things which cannot be categorized easily into the world of the living or the world of the “non-living” are to be rendered clearly one thing or the other. If a person becomes impure, such as through contact with a corpse, he or she must go through the symbolic stages of re-entering the world of the living. There is more to be said, but this will have to suffice – I simply point one to the thought that such a lens for studying the Passion and Resurrection could be quite illuminating.

Here are some actions of Christ which correspond to the trickster type: Shapeshifting (the Incarnation as the invisible taking a shape, the Eucharist as the visible becoming hidden in a new shape, the Resurrected Christ’s body changing into a glorified shape); Riddle-telling (parables, rhetorical responses); Gatekeeping (“I am the narrow gate,” etc.); Dwelling on the outskirts and going to the “in-between places,” which Levy-Strauss points out of coyotes, ravens, etc. (Christ does this during much of the public ministry, and especially in Bethany, just before and during Holy Week, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives, Golgotha, all just outside of Jerusalem; in-betweenness is found especially in the Baptismal site, which is in between “life and death”: Israel and the nations, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, in the jungle surrounded by desert, and then going down into water which gives and takes life, in the place which is in fact the lowest point on the planet by several hundred meters); Physical evasiveness (“He passed through the crowds,” etc.; tricksters are slippery and quick, like serpents); Touching impure things (i.e. the lepers, the woman with the hemorrhage, the dead girl – “Talitha koum” – just like eating carrion, but it is a spiritual eating); Working through chaos and shadow (in particular the miracles, which are always somehow hidden, whether by the confusion of a crowd as in the multiplications of loaves, or by the weather, as in the walking on the water, or by a wall, such as in the raising of Lazarus, and so on – it is not like jumping off the parapet of the Temple and being protected by the angels, there is room left for both doubt and for a  deeper encounter with the mystery being revealed on account of the need for faith to understand its proper meaning).

All of this symbolizes Christ’s space in our psychological weak spot – the uncanny valley, which is of course maxed out in the Resurrection, as exemplified by the fear which the Apostles experienced when they first saw Him in the Upper Room, thinking they were seeing a ghost. (Luke 24:37) He is the apex, the climax of the story, the way to the happy ending through an unsettling doorway called death. We are unsettled because we do not know what is there – we must ask, “What is it?” “Manna?” We learn in John 6 that Christ is in fact the true Manna, the true “what-is-it,” the real Mystery which provides the bridge between our deathward bios and the zoe of Heaven which shocks our psychology on account of the space whence He comes to us – but this fear is replaced by Paschal joy, when we see that He is not a ghost, or some kind of zombie, but Life itself come to us as a Friend Who will carry us safely across the divide, as our Viaticum.

But Christ is not a trickster, except in a material sense. By this I mean that it is how He works out His program among us, in particular among His contemporaries – our experience is quite different in that we have nice Chalcedonian definitions by which to understand Him. Not so for the Eleven gathered in the Upper Room, and yet in some way they understood Him much more. Christ uses these uncomfortable techniques to shake us out of the comfort of our present modus vivendi and drag us across the divide between bios and zoe – life here, and life in Heaven. He is the way there, and He is the life, zoe.  But He is also the Truth, so that leaves us wondering about the significance of Him qua trickster. In fact, the hero archetype, the formal part, gives us an entirely different lens by which to understand His trickster part. The heroic element inverts the entirety of the meaning of the trickster in Christ: instead of lying to gain power over us out of petty and selfish motives at our expense, He makes Himself weak, giving us power over Him, even to harm Him unto death, and His motive is grave, namely, to help us, especially freeing us by taking on our sorry lot Himself and revealing to us the truth. That’s a complete inversion.

Yet Christ still has and always had power over us. This is because He is God, but, in the narrative sense, He is first and foremost a hero. Heroes are powerful. This is his formal part. Christ qua hero is a theme much more explored than the trickster element, so I will only briefly examine it before returning to a consideration of the question of power.

I pass over Raglan’s 22 points of the heroic “mythotype,” though this is worth its own investigation, and I go instead directly to the “hero’s journey.” This “monomythic” narrative structure has been described by several authors, including most famously Joseph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, where it was pioneered, but also by other more recent authors. The hero’s journey essentially consists in a departure from the home, where one is born and raised, to go on a quest of some sort; next, there is some kind of initiation or trial; finally, there is a return home. The quest is always successful – the enemies are thwarted, the magic sword or golden fleece is obtained, or some object which is too powerful is destroyed, like a ring or a sorcerer’s stone. Then the hero returns home triumphant. The parallels with Christ are almost too obvious to point out: it is the entire story of the Incarnation, the Public Ministry, the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Ascension.

It is important for Campbell, at least, that the hero begins in the ordinary world, and is then called to adventure, in a world of mysterious forces and challenges, only to return home to normalcy. Odysseus is a great example. But Christ is very unlike Odysseus – and I speak here just of the “call to adventure” which the Lord receives. His real call to adventure is summed up by St. Paul: “Not deeming equality with God something to be grasped at, He emptied Himself, taking on the form of a slave.” The visible mission of the Son in the Incarnation is the call to adventure. The world of men, unlike the normal hero stories, is not full of mysterious forces, it is full of mundane forces which are perfectly comprehended by the hero and are completely under His control. Then the Lord ascends into Heaven – Nazareth is not really His home.

The journey continues after the call to adventure, with its various stages, which Christ fulfills par excellence, and which for the sake of time I will pass over. The point is that the “hero” is His formal part – He is the one who can rescue us and bring us home with Him safely.

I wish to return to a consideration of power, specifically the power of Christ over our minds as a narrative figure. I note that Christ as a narrative figure has three modes – a mode which is inaccessible to us, another which is partially accessible to us, and another which is totally accessible to us. The first mode is as a flesh-and-blood historical figure during His earthly life and ministry. The second is as a figure who is spoken of by those who had encounters in the first mode, and of course for us this comes especially in the form of the Gospels and Acts. The third is as one with whom we live out our own lives now, and to whom we pray and make sacrifice. In each of these three modes, Christ exercises a unique kind of psychological power.

The first kind of power over humanity is as an uncategorizable figure. In the Public Ministry He was somehow “not this and not that” – again, “manna,” “What is it?” This ambiguity gave Him a power over His interlocutors, both the friendly ones and the unfriendly ones. We are threatened by what is ambiguous, what is “impure,” because we do not know how to treat it… We don’t know what to expect; everything is surprising. This is the trickster element coming to the fore.

The second kind of power is as the Hero which emerges as intellectual and spiritual keystone of human history. The story itself of the Gospels is compelling because it is the story our minds were built to receive and recognize as the “right narrative.” Here we see the hero most on display.

The third kind of power is as the Lord, our God, Who has ascended into Heaven, body and soul, and Who wants now to save us if we let Him. By encountering through prayer and the sacraments the One described in our creeds and in our liturgy, prescinding from the reading of the Scriptures, we get the doctrine of His salvific power. We are utterly helpless before the gaping maw of the abyss which stands beyond death. Only He can help us. To do this, those who are capable of human acts must in fact make the choice to invite Him into their lives. They must walk with Him, in a strange and sometimes very confusing way. He is here, there, everywhere, hiding… He plays a kind of game with us, a game which is ultimately ordered to our salvation if we “play along” and follow the rules. The hero and the trickster reveal themselves here together as a unity most forcefully. He is in hiding, changing shape, touching the impurities of our souls – but he is mighty to save, using that very hiddenness and ambiguity to our advantage and the ultimate advantage of all Creation and God’s own glory.

More research is called for into the Jungian psychological paradigm as a tool to sift through the Scriptures, taking the revealed data as “the story which God wants told,” the narrative which heals, elevates, and perfects pagan narratives – including, of course, the actual historical fulfillment of those stories and their figures. This kind of approach to Scripture is becoming more popular, but this seems to be primarily the case among non-Catholics, and non-theologians; we ought to take our cue from the popularity and power of these kinds of analyses as an opportunity for evangelization, in addition to an opportunity for deepening our own speculative understanding of Christ and our relationship with Him.

Social “Ius,” Social Justice

Below is a talk I gave at the recent conference on “ius” in St. Thomas at the Angelicum’s Thomistic Institute. It is a synthesized “slice” of my doctorate that I am working on. Enjoy!

-Eamonn Clark, STL

April 22, 2023

The year is 1824. Two young brothers, Giuseppe and Giacchino, had come to Rome to be present to their dying mother. The two boys, only adolescents, have been enrolled in the Collegio Romano, which had been reopened the autumn of that same year shortly after the re-establishment of the Jesuit order. The new rector is a Jesuit himself, Fr. Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio – an eclectic thinker with deep roots in the highly charged political scene of the Italian peninsula. Dissatisfied with the deeply “modern” curriculum at the seminary, the rector was scheming. In the evenings, outside of the normal curriculum and schedule, Taparelli would take Giuseppe and Giacchino – the Pecci brothers, Giacchino later becoming Leo XIII – into a small and semi-clandestine circle of likeminded students to read an all-but-forgotten author: St. Thomas Aquinas. The Neothomistic revolution was underway.

Taparelli’s career proceeded with various obstacles – first, he was sent out of Rome to Naples, then from Naples all the way to Palermo; he was not much of an administrator, and his decreasingly hidden affinity for St. Thomas, when combined with his controversial political thought and political significance due to family ties in Piedmont, left him vulnerable to being sidelined. In his “exile” in Sicily, he developed a course in something like moral and political philosophy for the novices there entrusted to him. Out of these lectures came a text – the “Saggio teoretico del dritto naturale appoggiato sul fatto” (“Theoretical wisdom of natural law resting on reality”). This was finished in 1843.

The “Saggio,” a somewhat frustratingly rhetorical text, presents a vision of society where realities matter, so to speak; that is to say, contracts do not make societies, people do, with all of the circumstances which make those people to have the powers which they actually possess regardless of any contract which they might enter into. For Taparelli, there is hierarchy written into the very DNA of human civilization – in fact, there is practically no equality among us at all, after basic human nature and sacramental dignity are accounted for. Wealth, strength, skill, virtue, family ties, health, human favor, intelligence – all of these are different in each one of us, and this matters for how our society will flourish. Classes form, and this is not something to work against but rather to embrace, as it is inevitable; furthermore, associations of those in various industries or with common social interests ought to be allowed to form under the higher associations of city, state, and nation. Not only should they be allowed to form, but their protection and empowerment is the very purpose for which the higher strata of social organization exists in the first place, and so on down the ladder to the family unit and finally the individual. To violate the legitimate autonomy of a lower stratum of society, for example, a town mayor who busies himself writing laws to rearranging people’s furniture in their homes, destroys what Taparelli called “subsidiarity.” Even if the mayor has a much better idea of where to place a table in a family’s home, it is not his prerogative to do so, unless it is somehow violating civic or moral order in some extraordinary way, for instance, it’s on the edge of the roof and is liable to fall onto the public street below where there might be pedestrians.

Rather than meddling in the affairs of the family home, or of the neighborhood council, or the various workers’ unions or other clubs and societies which exist in the town, the mayor and his administration have the task to equip those groups to fulfill their legitimate purpose. This empowerment of the lower strata by the higher strata by the normative legal order and even perhaps to some extent the act which flows from it is what Taparelli calls “social justice.” Taparelli went on to develop his economic and political thought in countless articles as a co-founding editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a project personally supported by Pius IX – it became the Pontiff’s unofficial means of publishing his ideas.

Some scholars say that this text is the earliest use of the phrase “social justice.” It is not. The first known significant academic usage of the term was by a different priest in the Italian peninsula, a contemporary of Taparelli – Blessed Antonio Rosmini-Serbati.

Alessandro Manzoni, the acclaimed author of the Italian novel, I promessi sposi, said that his friend Rosmini was the only contemporary author on the peninsula worth reading. Manzoni and Rosmini shared a dream, or a hope, for a united Italy under a liberal regime that yet preserved the flavor of the older ways. They were close collaborators and friends.

From what we can tell, it seems that Rosmini had actually inspired Taparelli to take an interest in St. Thomas, and for a while they shared some correspondence. However, as Taparelli grew more and more conservative, the relationship broke down. Rosmini ended up being the target of plenty of articles in the early editions of CC. Liberatore was his fiercest philosophical opponent, Rosmini’s metaphysics and epistemology being considered too much based on illumination, even though not as far “out there” as Fr. Vincenzo Gioberti, another friend of Manzoni, who was the head of the ontologist school and eventually became Prime Minister of Sardinia, during the uproars of the revolutions of 1848.

It is important not to underestimate the significance of politics for understanding developments in theology and philosophy – the most cursory glance at the situation of Catholic thought in the 19th century will convince one of this. Rosmini’s greatest contribution to political philosophy actually comes to us in the form of a proposed constitution for the emerging Italian nation, “The Constitution Under Social Justice,” written in 1848 – the year of years, the year of revolution – a year so bad that the Italians call a large mess “un quarantotto,” a 48. While it was just a little too late to get to the hands of the Pope to be made use of, it marked Rosmini in the eyes of Pius IX as someone worth having close to him. He was offered the position of Prime Minister of the Papal States, which he declined. Nevertheless, the Pope took Rosmini with him in his flight to Gaeta just before the establishment of the short-lived Roman Republic. However, the papal court proved too unfriendly to Rosmini’s liberalism, causing him to retreat for some time to Naples. Upon his return, he found several of his works on the Index of Prohibited Books, including the “Constitution.” He was shattered, and went to Stresa. He was slightly rehabilitated during his life, but only in recent years have we seen a real vindication of Rosmini’s thought – in “Fides et Ratio,” and in a memorandum from Cardinal Ratzinger which defended his work. Taparelli, and his main protégé, Matteo Liberatore, had been attacking him as well, Taparelli on political economy and Liberatore on metaphysics and epistemology.

The doctrine of “The Constitution Under Social Justice” is, as all of Rosmini’s work, brilliant and engaging, even if one ultimately disagrees with it. For our purposes, I limit myself to the main topic, the role of “social justice,” which at this point in Rosmini’s mind has clearly changed to a definite formulaic principle which is easy to summarize: legislative representation proportionate to taxation on income from landed property. To Rosmini, it makes no sense to give the same control over the use of the public treasury to a man who pays little or nothing into it as to a man who pours enormous sums into it every year. This taxation is a flat tax – nothing else would be fair – and it is only drawn on property, not on mere wages; in Rosmini’s era, one who merely takes a wage would have normally been the sort of person who depends on his wage for his daily sustenance, hand-to-mouth. He would undoubtedly adjust this principle today, but I digress. This means that the poor and certainly the destitute do not get to vote on representatives in the legislature, as it would be unfair, seeing as they pay nothing into the treasury which the legislature makes use of. They do, however, get to vote on the representatives in the “political tribunal,” the organ which judges about fundamental rights, where all are equal before the law.

Don Bosco said he had never seen anyone celebrate Mass as reverently or devoutly as Blessed Antonio Rosmini. Quite an endorsement. Rosmini likewise founded a religious order, the Institute for Charity (better known as the “Rosminians”) dedicated to the service of the poor. It cannot be said that Rosmini lacked empathy or was unmerciful – he was simply a shrewd political thinker. He gives many reasons for why his system, resting on the principle of “social justice,” makes sense, putting it in special contrast with the universal and indiscriminate suffrage system of the hyper-liberal French regimes, of which there had already been over a dozen by Rosmini’s time of writing, a point he notes with searing derision. Unlike St. Jerome, when Rosmini makes fun of you, same as St. Thomas, you are certainly doing something wrong.

The birth of the Italian nation was finally complete with the capture of Rome on September 20, 1870, and the annexation of Rome and Latium into the Kingdom of Italy on October 2.

At this stage, we turn our attention to a then-13-year-old seminarian in Milan, who had grown up in the aftermath of the complex revolutionary tensions of that city and its surrounding area. His childhood had been rather peaceful, growing up early on in the small town of Desio, with his father running several silk factories and for a time a small hotel. The young seminarian was no doubt already developing his lifelong affection for the poetry and prose of Manzoni, whose work featured the area around the Brianza quite prominently, and soon he would be one of the major admirers of Rosmini’s person and thought as well. In his clerical formation, he ultimately came to favor two theologians above all others – St. Thomas, and Taparelli.

The seminarian is Achille Ratti, the future Pius XI.

In the years around Leo XIII’s attempt to implement the Taparellian program, both in terms of social doctrine principally through his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum (which Liberatore drafted), and the study of St. Thomas through Aeterni Patris, Ratti came up in Rome, arriving the same year as the latter text was published (1879). He studied here under Liberatore at the newly created Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas which was then granting degrees – it was coincidentally inaugurated on the day Ratti arrived in Rome for studies. He was, together with one other student, its first graduate, and he scored perfect marks and was invited immediately to be a member of the Academy.

Ratti’s careers as a librarian and diplomat – and much less as a prolific alpinist – are not so relevant for us. What is relevant is his major social encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, published in 1931. This was not the first time a pope used the phrase “social justice” – there had been a one-off usage by Pius X in his 1904 encyclical Iucunda Sane, lauding St. Gregory the Great’s virtue as a legate in Byzantium, and another usage earlier on in the acts of the Sacred Congregation of the Council, referring to the restitution of what had been stolen as an act of social justice. The real meat, however, is in Quadragesimo Anno.

In the encyclical, written by a young German Jesuit, Fr. Oswald Von Nell-Breuning, another student of Liberatore, social justice is a heavy theme. Unfortunately, while it would be satisfying to have had a nice bow to tie together Rosmini and Taparelli under the auspices of perhaps their most significant promoter, admirer, and interpreter, more questions than answers come to us out of Quadragesimo Anno. It is not so clear if social justice is a personal virtue, or a state of affairs in society. It is not clear if social justice is supposed to be part of already pre-existing Thomistic categories – which we would think that Ratti, a hardline Thomist would want – or if it is supposed to be something else entirely, something that doesn’t quite fit into either commutative, distributive, or legal justice.

There is no clear way out. Instead of trying to pick apart various lines from the encyclical, I wish to present briefly my own synthesis, which, while perhaps not providing for every usage, I think manages to gather together most threads in a sensible way, or at least serves as an axis around which most usages can turn.

I do, with most interpreters, including the great Cardinal Höffner, whose work on this topic is mandatory reading for anyone interested in the subject, take the view that social justice fits into “legal justice.” Legal justice, unlike distributive and commutative justice, is a general virtue for St. Thomas, This means that it is present in every virtue. The object of legal justice is the common good. One’s virtuous acts are acts of legal justice simply insofar as the virtuous act is done for the sake of the common good, whether explicitly willed as such or not. This is the “social ius,” one might say, not the ius proper to distribution (hierarchical acts of giving what is due to individuals as such) or to commutation (transactions merely among equals).

The common theme which cuts through the basic usages of Rosmini, Taparelli, Pius XI, and, indeed, even modern post-Rawlsian usages of the phrase “social justice” which one finds on signs at left-wing marches, is a kind of empowerment of a group by some kind of help given which that group is due somehow from society in general rather than from some particular individual. The Taparellian foil of subsidiarity all of a sudden becomes very striking – it gives us a framework for seeing how far such help should go, as seen earlier with the example of the furniture. Not every kind of group having difficulty is owed help by society simply because they are having difficulty.

However, we can already see a shift away from the idea of “legal justice” as a broad category. It seems that legal justice has several species, of which social justice is one. Social justice is the species of legal justice which proceeds from above to below. It is a general virtue, present in all virtuous acts, which has for its object the common good as liberating others beneath oneself precisely insofar as oneself owes others, not based on a commutative debt but based on the welfare of the social whole that cannot provide for its own natural flourishing to such a degree that it is not merely charity to assist, as with almsgiving, but it is actually justice. That is to say, if one is not acting generally in favor of the empowerment of those who require help “from above” to pursue their ends as individuals and especially as groups, one does something unjust. This position is strengthened by the point which Thomas makes about legal justice in the person of the ruler, who he says possesses it as a kind of “master craft.” It belongs most especially to the one with the care for the whole community. Yet those who have superior natural means, whether economic, intellectual, social, physical, and so on, are in a secondary and informal sense “rulers” over those with less of the same goods, insofar as they are higher than those with less according to the very good which is unequal, and so they are in some sense able to help those with less. God, lest we forget, made creation a hierarchy of beings, and He wants hierarchy in human civilization – it is not a product of the Fall, a fact which St. Paul’s exegesis of the creation of Eve so bluntly informs us of. Those are engaged in social justice who are engaged in any virtuous act at all, insofar as it redounds in any way towards the liberation or empowerment of others to pursue basic human ends as individuals, such as basic education, housing, food, and what are, in my opinion, unhelpfully labeled as “human rights,” or to pursue basic ends as groups, such as forming associations to begin with, or administering their own goods, or engaging in intragroup communication, or intergroup communication. Those who are more consciously and intentionally working on such things are simply acting more like the ruler acts with general legal justice – they are taking it up more as a master craft.

There is yet more to articulate, more distinctions to make, and alternative positions to consider, especially in light of the forest of ideas connected with this phrase “social justice.” Unfortunately, I must end my reflections here. But I believe that this paradigm of social justice as a personal but general virtue pointing toward the social ius, specifically being a species of legal justice which has for its special object the common good as liberative of those who are lower and in need of assistance to pursue their basic ends as individuals and as groups, both protects the strong anti-egalitarian spirit which both Rosmini and Taparelli possessed and makes sense of the more structural treatment of justice which we find in Pius XI’s use in Quadragesimo Anno and which we find in later usages, however distorted they may have become in the past 90 years. The primary question which those who wish to use the phrase “social justice” for their “cause” must then be – “How does this program correspond to the true common good as empowering and liberating for the sake of others pursuing what is truly good without replacing others’ own responsibility for themselves?”

I’ve started a business…

Dear Readers,

Please allow me to draw your attention to a company which I have just launched this evening here in Rome: Pro Fide, LLC.

The website is here:

Pro Fide is, to my knowledge, the only company on the planet which specializes in alternative didactic tools for ecclesiastical sciences. At this point, this basically means making cool posters that explain theology and philosophy, etc., but we will be branching out into cell phone applications soon enough. (If you or someone you know has skill in app design and would be interested in this kind of thing, let me know through the Contact tab.)

We also sell some “swag” to help power our mission. There is a large philanthropic element which is connected to these sales in particular – we are in the process of partnering with clergy in some very poor areas around the world who will get a percentage of our profits to use as alms in their own region.

There is a 10% discount code available for academic products – profidelaunch2023! – but it expires in the next few days, so use it while it lasts! Be sure to subscribe to our company’s mailing list to receive other special offers and all our news.

We currently ship to the USA and to Europe. We hope to expand to more markets very soon!

Please be patient with us if there are any bumps in the road with orders. Everything is printed on-demand, and some things you might think would be automatic are actually not at this stage. If there’s any issue, just let us know, and we will work it out.

This has been years in the making. And we are just getting started. Come be part of our first steps as a business, and buy yourself or a friend or your parish priest something from the coolest new Catholic business in the world!

Where is Christ?

This blog was originally started with the goal of exploring the arts and sciences in relation to the Catholic Faith. This post is a return to that original mission. Below is a talk I gave today at the Angelicum Thomistic Institute’s currently ongoing conference – New Heavens and a New Earth: Scientific and Theological Eschatology. Enjoy!

-Eamonn Clark, STL

We are sometimes confronted by potential converts, by catechumens, and even by curious believers about the whereabouts of the Lord. He is in Heaven, of course, but where is that? Is it somewhere out among the stars? Is it in some “parallel universe”? Or is there some other option? It is an uncomfortable experience for the apologist, the catechist, the evangelist, and the theologian not to have a simple answer for this rather reasonable question.

Today I will posit that there is a third option, though close to the “parallel universe” theory, and that its existence and mode of access, if true, reveals something profound about the gifts of the resurrection and about Christ as the Incarnate Logos in relation to modern physics. I depart a bit from St. Thomas in his treatment of the gifts of the resurrection, precisely on account of our enhanced understanding of the physical world, which presents us with new options to consider.

St. Thomas assumes that Christ is in a place – a real body demands physical space – and Christ’s Ascension is caused efficiently in a twofold manner: first, by His glorified soul, and secondly, by His unique Divine Power. (ST III-57-3)

The gifts of the resurrection are similarly explained by St. Thomas in the Commentary on the Sentences, as powers flowing from the soul on account of its glorification. I will not contest this so much as I will attempt to give some possible articulations of the effect and mode of the gifts’ interaction with the world.

St. Thomas does not seem to like the idea of multiple universes – he tells us this in Question 47, Article 3 of the Prima Pars. So, we abandon that idea.

As a scientific springboard, I want to consider two possible or even probable physical remnants we have of the Resurrection of Christ.

The first remnant is the Shroud of Turin. Here I take it for granted, of course, that the Shroud is in fact the linen cloth which laid over the dead Christ, and which has received the image of his Body. A very long description would be required to explain adequately exactly what we find on the Shroud, but we are more concerned with how the image was produced. Of course, we do not possess any technology today which is capable of giving anything close to a plausible imitation of what we find in the image. The best estimation is that the image was produced by a sort of radiation of light from the body of the dead Christ. We will return to this momentarily.

The second remnant is an electromagnetic field – or something like a field – which was discovered by scientists during the 2016 excavations in the Holy Sepulcher. The electromagnetic field underneath the Edicule, in the cave in which Christ was buried, is a much lesser-known reality but is just as puzzling if not more so than the Shroud. As Aleteia reported, “As soon as [the measuring instruments] were placed vertically on the stone in which Christ’s body rested, the devices either malfunctioned or ceased to work at all.” This electromagnetic field apparently also had ruined previous attempts at measuring the depth of the shaft which leads from the Edicule down to the cave. There is no known natural explanation for why there would be such an electromagnetic field in that location.

The musing of there being a possible connection between the electromagnetic field and the Shroud has been made before. Here is my own elaboration, synthesizing my own take on the Shroud itself, coupled with the fact of the electromagnetic field. I propose, with many others, that the Shroud is the result of a hyper-energetic burst of radiation from the Body of the Lord at the moment of His Resurrection. I propose uniquely that this burst was a mixture of various types of radiation – everything from alpha particles to gamma rays – which were controlled by a kind of infused habit of an electromagnetism emanating from the Lord which was under His control, or something very similar. It is because of this unique situation that the Shroud is not replicable by natural means, nor is there even a plausible explanation given the natural forces which we know of unless they are warped somehow and brought together in a way not seen in nature – which is precisely what I am proposing. It is experimentally verified that electromagnetic fields can warp radiation, and if this could somehow be done with a sort of immediate voluntary power over the character of the field itself in every part of the field, one could control the radiation at a whim, thus explaining the image. This even explains the lack of slight warping we would expect from a sheet laid over a face – the Shroud is a flat image, like a photograph or a mirror, without stretching, which we would expect from vertically collimated burst of information on a slightly curved surface. Instead, it is designed to be fitting for devotion. The alternative would be that the linen cloth itself was elevated above the dead or resurrecting Christ and stretched out flat, which seems strange and unnecessary.

In the case of a habit of this sort of elemental control, one might not only be able to warp radiation emanating from one’s own body, but could warp other things around oneself as well, such as folding linen cloths without touching them, or creating electromagnetic fields in one’s surroundings. The linen cloths being folded can be explained several other ways, but it seems certain that this latter phenomenon really happened. The Lord left a trace of Himself in the place He rose from, just as He did in the Shroud. I propose, then, very cautiously, that anywhere that the Risen Lord appeared or disappeared during the 50 days before the Ascension, we would find electromagnetic aberrations similar to those found in the Holy Sepulcher. To drive it home: empirical tests could actually be carried out in what is most commonly thought to be the Upper Room, despite its having been rebuilt, and along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. These would be the obvious contenders for such tests, and perhaps also the site of the Ascension itself on the Mount of Olives and the probable route to Emmaus.

Next, I note two abnormal manipulations of spacetime as relevant for our consideration – the normal sort of manipulations being gravity, electromagnetism, and, in a way, mere motion.

The first is wormholes, specifically electromagnetically induced wormholes – a wormhole being a kind of bending of spacetime to take a “short cut.” There has been some experimental verification of creating miniature wormholes for electromagnetic fields themselves, such as by Prat-Camps, Navau, and Sanchez (2015), and there is increasing clarity that electromagnetic fields, taking for granted Penrose’s Weyl curvature hypothesis, as proposed by Lindgren and Liukkonen in 2021, are a feature of spacetime itself. Just as gravity manipulates spacetime within a vacuum, so too does electromagnetism, implying that the field is somehow already “there,” which perhaps makes the proposal of harnessing electromagnetism itself to create wormholes more plausible. Would a sufficient control over these forces allow one to open a wormhole and be “carried through it” by electromagnetism? Maybe.  

The next element of abnormal manipulation is less about manipulation itself but more about its mode. I speak now of the apparent relationship between superpositions of particles and knowledge of those same particles. In brief, wave functions, of light for example, seem to collapse into particles – if we measure them. We should be bewildered by such a finding, “And yet it turns,” to quote Galileo. Erwin Schrodinger, who pioneered the mathematics of wave functions, famously pointed out the seemingly absurd conclusions of superpositions and by extension quantum mechanics in general with his famous thought experiment. There is a cat in a box which has a mechanism triggered by a particle emitting radiation, with a likelihood of 50% of the radiation occurring, and the mechanism will then release a deadly poison, thus leaving us with the ridiculous conclusion that the cat is “just as alive as it is dead” until we know it is in the one state or the other by opening the box. Dr. Wolfgang Smith offers an elegant way out of the conundrum. He draws a distinction between “physical” and “corporeal.” This means, in short, that he advises us to see substances (the corporeal) as being more than a collection of matter (the physical) – the atomic and subatomic world is real but is not of itself substantial, being rather a bundle of potentialities. This possibly gives us a very fine Thomistic solution to the problem of entanglement with substances. Nevertheless, we are left not only with the fact that wave functions do indeed collapse when observed, as with photons in the double-slit experiment – and they must be observed by a mind to collapse fully, or else the non-conscious measuring instrument simply becomes entangled with the cat-poison-radiation – we are also left with the oddity of the gift of agility, which St. Thomas discusses at abnormal length in the Commentary on the Sentences trying to deal with the problem of “instant motion.” And here we must ask if “spooky action at a distance,” as Einstein derisively referred to it, between entangled particles at large distances from each other wherein these particles somehow control each other seemingly instantaneously is a clue to how agility qua instantaneous does not violate classical Aristotelian physics the way St. Thomas assumes. Clearly, instant or at least faster-than-light motion or control, of a kind exists between entangled particles. The question occurs to us then whether in the resurrection we are somehow able to entangle ourselves with the entire universe.

And how would the motion work? Could it be the case that Christ, the Logos, the One begotten by the interior procession of Divine Self-knowledge, knows into being the manipulations of the world which we see in the Resurrection narratives, by doing something like resolving a wave function – namely, “resolving” His own self, thus causing near-immediate motion through an electromagnetic wormhole? This would be in line with, and an elevation of, the very controversial but in my view promising Von Neumann-Wigner interpretation of quantum mechanics, which posits the demarcation line of wave function collapse to be the mind, not instruments which the mind can make use of, as noted already, which would, it seems, be even more bizarre. This theory is unacceptable to most who work on quantum mechanics because it is at odds with a rather central dogmatic assumption: materialism.

Perhaps there is also an analogy for agile motion, even if dim, with angelic movement and manipulation. St. Thomas explicitly rejects this in his discussion of agility in the Commentary on the Sentences, but we know about entangled particles and wormholes, whereas St. Thomas did not. In his famous text, The Intellectualism of St. Thomas, Fr. Pierre Rousselot, SJ posited that human nature has “the drive to become an angel.” He means this in regard to our inclination to know things through their essence, which the angels do naturally. But here I mean to apply this same principle to motion. Perhaps we approximate the angelic nature in the resurrection in the way that we move and manipulate the physical world, by somehow containing space in our intellect and then applying the power of the will to it directly, thus having a movement somewhat like the angels (see ST I-53; 54-2). Afterall, we already know, “In the resurrection they do not marry and are not given in marriage, for they are like the angels in Heaven.” (Matthew 22:30) I simply note the possibility. Could it further be the case that the gifts of the resurrection elevate a natural power which we already seem to possess, namely, observing-into-being certain facts – such as seen by observing the photons in the double-slit experiment, causing them to behave differently than if they were unobserved, or unknown? Again, perhaps. But perhaps also, in 100 years, that generation of scientists will speak about photons as we speak about flogiston or the ether.

Just as the heart and mind are freed in the Beatific Vision, so too is the body freed in the resurrection on account of the gifts, and the mode of those gifts does in fact seem to be in a curious relationship with the four fundamental forces of the universe, which are: gravity, the weak nuclear force (radiation), the strong nuclear force (which binds the components of an atom together), and electromagnetism.

The gifts of the resurrection are agility (the ability to move rapidly from one place to another, for example, after the breaking of the bread on the way to Emmaus), subtlety (the ability to penetrate through solid substances, as the Lord did in the Upper Room), clarity (a kind of luminosity), and immortality or impassibility.

By His actions during the Resurrection appearances, the Lord shows Himself to be master over the fundamental forces. In the Ascension, we see control over gravity. In the moment of His Resurrection, as indicated by the electromagnetic and radiative leftovers, we see the control over the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force, and we perhaps can posit the same of all the appearances and disappearances. The luminosity of His body, not experienced directly in His Resurrection appearances but experienced elsewhere, viz., in the Transfiguration and in the visions in Revelation, is also indicative of a kind of mastery over the weak nuclear force. In walking through the walls, we see control over the strong nuclear force – we do not need to say with St. Thomas that the Lord was strictly in the same physical place as the wall, we can say that His control over the sub-atomic world allowed Him to pass through without contact. Could the Lord be harnessing the fact that even macroscopic objects like human bodies are in fact, like the light which emanates from glorified bodies, both particle and wave? In other words, is the Lord somehow causing a diffraction with Himself to “scatter” and then reassemble? Or is He swinging from particle to wave and back again? Or some combination of all this, with “wave collapse” occurring through an act of the understanding caused by the will? Perhaps.

The four fundamental forces do not seem to track the gifts one-to-one. But there is certainly an intricate connection between the forces and the gifts of the resurrection, not entirely unlike the complex relationship between the virtues, the spiritual gifts, the fruits, and the beatitudes. Immortality, or impassibility, seems to be the trickier one to nail down, as it does not easily lend itself to a four-force analysis, despite some promising recent leads in medicine involving the use of electromagnetism and obviously radiation – and yet we know that whatever biological process causes one’s death, it is caused by the four forces, so controlling them within oneself obviously allows one to resist bodily corruption.

The conclusion is that a miraculous habit imposed by God in the resurrection bestows the power to control the four forces by a kind of immediate power, which includes the ability to manipulate space-time by the special harnessing of the same forces. This is the natural medium by which we live the life we are most meant to live. By the gifts, seemingly especially agility and perhaps also subtlety, we access Heaven by the manipulation of natural space-time. We are empowered by these gifts to enter into a physical but hidden world, which could be, in a word, right next to us, but which is “guarded,” like Eden.

I posit that the increasingly deep study of the four fundamental forces, and the spaces in between, like dark matter and energy, virtual particles, and so on, will only serve to show how elegant the mastery is over those same forces by Christ in the Resurrection.

Before offering my final and concluding hypothesis, I pause to note two objections, one Scriptural and one based on parsimony.

The first objection is a statement of the Lord Himself. The Lord says to Mary Magdalene in John 20:17, “I have not yet ascended…” Doesn’t this counter the claim that the appearances and disappearances of Christ do not make sense on my account, because of the time in between appearances? If Christ were “hiding” in Heaven in the time in between His resurrection appearances, He would have ascended, thus making His statement to Mary Magdalene untrue.

There are a few ways to reply. First, we could say that the action of the Ascension itself contains some special significance or power that is unlike merely going back and forth – each time only for a short while, when in the Ascension the departure is definitive until the Parousia. This is a weak argument, but it is plausible. It would be better to suppose that Christ was merely walking upon the Earth in a far away place, or, most likely, that He was neither in Heaven nor in the normal places of the universe but was instead in a third place which is also only accessible through the gifts of the resurrection and which is now obsolete.

The second objection is based on parsimony, and it has probably been arising in some of your minds: “Why not just give a purely miraculous explanation? Why all the need for these intermediary natural forces?”

In response, I say that we could just as easily ask why we will have bodies in the eschaton in the first place. As embodied creatures, we live in the physical world, which has its own rules and forces and logic. There is a fittingness to retaining the use of the natural forces by which we interact with the world around us as the means for the very same thing; but it is, of course, also appropriate that our relationship to those forces changes to be more immediate, with more direct control over them. And I recall your attention to the empirical starting point for this investigation, namely, the Shroud and the electromagnetic field under the Edicule. Those are there for a reason. They mean something. The imposition of the gifts is undoubtedly miraculous, but why should their mode of operation be miraculous? Why would it not be the case that they have simply become fully empowered to use the natural world for all it is capable of?

The limitations of this brief study are obvious. I have shown some possible steppingstones to interesting conclusions, but there is much in between. To borrow an image from Von Balthasar in the Prolegomena to his Theo-Drama, I have constructed a gymnasium, which athletes can now use.

In the end, I conclude and propose the following. Christ is the Master of the four fundamental forces, and we shall be masters with Him in the resurrection – the ultimate anti-entropic event. Given that Christ is not merely resurrected but is the Resurrection, we can rightly suppose that He, the Logos, the One through Whom all things were made, visible and invisible, is in fact the final frontier for theoretical physics. Any attempt to “get fully underneath” the four forces has been and inevitably will be frustrated so long as one limits oneself to considerations of the created world; in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. There is no getting “behind” the Word. The Logos, God the Son, incarnate in Christ, is the unified theory of physics.

A Question for Sedevacantists…

Eamonn Clark, STL

Most sedevacantists claim that John XXIII was not validly elected pope because he held something heretical prior to the conclave, thus he was not a Catholic, thus he was ineligible for election.

While I think that is incorrect, here I will grant it for the sake of argument.

Here’s the question: how do you know that was the first time? Don’t you think it’s possible that, say, a weirdo like John XII was not totally orthodox prior to his supposed papacy? What about even earlier, when we have practically no record of anything about the early lives of the supposed popes? Doesn’t that disturb you? Wouldn’t it be more likely that God doesn’t ever let His Church fall into such a state where the vast majority “goes along with it” and doesn’t really worry about it?

Just asking.

Invitation for Mass Stipends

Dear Readers,

I live in a house full of priests here in Rome. Many of them come from very poor countries. If you would like to help them and yourself, please reach out through the Contact tab. There are priests here who would love to take Mass intentions, in return for, I would suggest, about 10 Euro after exchange and transfer fees.

There are even priests available for Gregorian Masses – an ancient and venerable tradition of 30 Masses celebrated continuously (one each day) for a particular intention. In this case, I would recommend simply multiplying the normal stipend (300 Euro after exchange and transfer fee).

You would arrange all of the payment details between yourselves – not through me, or through my own bank account.

Please let me know if you would like to support any of my housemates. It would help them to buy simple things which they often go without.

God bless you,

Thoughts on the “Marital Debt”

Eamonn Clark, STL

In the past year, I’ve become immersed in the world of Catholic doctrine and discussion on marriage and sexuality. This adventure has undoubtedly just begun, but I have already reached a few conclusions. Let me share some of them.

  1. There is no excellent book available on marriage and sexual ethics that is readable for the average Catholic adult which is not simply a moral theology text. (Let me know if you know of one.) As close as it gets is Christopher West’s “Good News About Sex and Marriage,” revised edition, which does a pretty good job overall.
  2. There are few excellent moral theology texts focused on marriage which have been published in the past several decades. Dr. Fastiggi’s book “Catholic Sexual Morality” is on that short list (though it is not perfect).
  3. There are puzzles in sexual ethics which have not been satisfyingly solved.
  4. There is a strong but completely unjustified movement to change the understanding of the marriage goods to having a reformed version of “fidelity” (now “mutual help”) on par with the good of children, with Gaudium et Spes #50 serving as the alleged prooftext. (They appeal to the section, “while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account,” etc., which presumes that “not making of less account” means “is not superior,” which is an invalid inferential conclusion – rather, it should be inferred that the mere reality of the superiority of the good of children does not affect the intrinsic goodness of fidelity/mutual help, just as the superiority of Christ does not “make of less account” the goodness of, say, Mary the Mother of God… They are not “competing” goods, despite being hierarchical – they have their own intrinsic worth which is not affected by the other good. This comes out in the surrounding text in the same document.)
  5. NFP/periodic continence is a deeply misunderstood topic which is almost universally given a lax treatment by the authors.
  6. The “marital debt” is also a deeply misunderstood topic, and there is an astonishingly minimal awareness of what this even is, let alone how it works.

It’s the 6th one I’m talking about here. The marital debt has a long juridical-moral tradition, reaching a kind of crescendo in Gratian, then being filtered through Peter Lombard into St. Thomas, then expounded on by the manualists (like Sanchez – it’s Book 9 in the 1st volume, which is linked to) and synthesizers up until quite recently. There are many points we could talk about, but in this post we’ll go through the basics and discuss why this topic so often gets butchered by both those eager to present the classical (and correct) doctrine on the matter and those who balk at it.

A lot of people want to appeal to St. Thomas on this, and they are right to do so. However, there is an issue with that – St. Thomas, in line with St. Augustine, presumes that requesting the debt, absent at least a habitual intention to have children, is always at least a venial sin. That’s not the doctrine of St. Alphonsus, modern popes, and other authorities – but we’ll just leave that question aside for right now.

First, let’s present the foundational text: 1 Corinthians 7:1-9.

“Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

So, St. Paul is saying that, if you are getting married, you are giving over your body to your spouse for his/her access at his/her will, and vice-versa. Otherwise, why would you get married? If you don’t need to have relations, stay celibate! And that’s precisely what he talks about later in the chapter.

“Are you saying marriage exists just to use and be used by someone to prevent sin?” No. But this is an understandable reaction given two points. First, most who present the doctrine of the marital debt do not give it the nuance required and/or are generally pastorally insensitive. Second, the world does not see marriage rightly anymore, which subconsciously warps our attitudes towards it even when we make the attempt to be pious and right-thinking. Marriage is primarily about multiplying the glorification of God by having children who will worship Him in spirit and truth – in other words, marriage is primarily about making saints, especially of your children, while working on yourself and your spouse as well. The spouse’s vocation is to be a domestic missionary. Marriage is not primarily about satisfying one’s personal hopes and dreams, even though that’s important. It’s also not primarily about slaking lust, but this is an important function of marriage. One has a more direct path to union with God as a celibate, and celibacy also enables one to make saints more easily on account of availability for ministry in addition to the interior spiritual goods it offers, so it is preferrable – unless one will struggle with concupiscence too much without relations, or unless there is some other special reason, as Paul indicates later in the chapter.

While Paul’s precept is in one place framed as a negative statement (“do not deny each other”) it is really better seen as a positive precept – “do this” – as he gives first (“should fulfill his marital duty” etc.). Positive moral precepts of the “do this” variety (i.e., “give alms to the poor”) admit of exceptions, unlike negative moral precepts (“do not blaspheme”). This is for two reasons. First, because positive obligations can interfere with each other. Suppose a church is on fire and one’s child is trapped inside. One has the duty to reverence Christ in the Eucharist by bodily signs, especially by genuflection – but one has a higher duty in this moment to save one’s child from being killed in the fire. God wants “mercy, not sacrifice” in this case – run to the place where your child is, don’t bother to genuflect, and get him out of the fire! Second, because positive obligations are sometimes impossible. A man who witnessed a murder has the obligation to testify in court to act as a key witness, but if he is in a coma he is excused.

Given this, there are several cases when the marital debt need not be fulfilled. While authors will disagree about some particular points, we’ll take an obvious case. A woman has a heart condition which is aggravated by sexual intimacy such that a single conjugal act could be fatal. She would not only be not obliged to acquiesce to a request for the debt from her husband, she is obliged to refuse.

St. Thomas discusses another kind of case, where the woman requests the debt after having just received it. There is no obligation to pay it, because biologically it cannot be paid by the man, and the woman in this case is acting like a harlot, not a spouse – which she shouldn’t do.

So there we have two kinds of obvious cases of being able to say, “No.” These are not controversial. But what about… “I have a headache.” “I’m tired.” “I’m not in the mood.”

Here we have to pause and clarify something, as this is the space where the zealous go awry, and the anti-zealous rightly pounce. Simply proposing the idea of relations, or even asking for them, does not constitute a strict appeal to one’s marital right. Consider the following exchange between husband and wife at 10:30 P.M.

Husband: “Can we go to bed? You know…”

Wife: “Oh… I’m sorry, I’m trying to get the checkbook to balance before calling it a night and have a bad headache. Can we wait until tomorrow night?”

Husband: “I know, and I can appreciate that and I’m sorry about the circumstances. It’s just that I’ve been having such a hard time at work, it’s been so stressful and we haven’t slept together in a month because I’ve been coming home so late, and you’ve been up so early with the baby. Are you sure you can’t?”

Wife: “I just don’t the energy right now. I’m totally exhausted and feel a cold coming on.”

Husband: “Please, I really, really need this tonight.”

Wife: “No, not tonight, sorry.”

Husband: “I’m telling you I need you to sleep with me tonight. Please.”

Wife: “No. Goodnight.”

So… at what point in the conversation was the debt refused? Certainly not in the first response of the wife. If the husband had taken that and gone off, she could reasonably assume that his request was not really that serious, at least not as serious as her reason for declining. With the second exchange we are getting a little closer, but it’s still reasonable to see the request not as a strict appeal to his right as a husband, especially given that in her response she is still leaving things open for him to make a decision of whether to continue to ask or to decide to let it go. With the third exchange, we are now toeing the line, if not crossing it. With the fourth and final exchange, the line has clearly been crossed – at this point, there can be no lack of clarity about the appeal to his right, which would indeed overcome the appeal to the mild physical discomfort of the wife. On St. Thomas’ view, if the husband tomorrow takes an impure glance at that pretty secretary at work he’s been trying to avoid getting close with, while it is his sin, his wife is partially to blame due to having illegitimately increased the occasion of sin, as it’s her responsibility to help her husband with this precise kind of thing… Remember, nobody else can. But the refusal itself is grave matter – one signs away one’s body when getting married. Actually, all things being equal, strictly refusing a perfectly legitimate request for the debt for a completely frivolous reason is worse than adultery. In the exchange of marriage vows, one implicitly makes a negative promise (“I will not sleep with others”) and a positive promise (“I will sleep with you”). To violate the positive promise is in itself a worse offense than to violate the negative one – one isn’t simply giving too much to someone else, one is denying what one promised to give to one’s spouse. “This is mine, and it is only mine.” It’s the “is mine” part that is the most important, our psychological and social dispositions to think otherwise notwithstanding. That’s not to say that adultery isn’t a terrible sin – it is – it’s to say that the completely unjustified refusal of a reasonable request for the debt is even worse. (As an aside, today we might struggle to explain why adultery is really all that immoral – I won’t descend into that discussion here, I just want to note in passing that the mistaken appeal to Gaudium et Spes about the equality of marriage goods which I noted in the introduction is perhaps more significant than it might at first seem.)

There are some competing principles here, and it is important to appreciate them to have a not-totally-crazy understanding of the marital debt. Spouses should in fact be eager to serve each other. That of course includes the desire to have relations when requested. It also includes the desire to be considerate of one’s spouse’s condition. Because of this, a healthy sexual dynamic between spouses includes communicating about oneself – like being sick, having work to do, etc. The appeal to one’s right should only come as a last resort – and can itself be excessive and thus sinful. Suppose, for example, that the husband in the conversation above is simply an intemperate man, and it’s not stress from work or lack of intimacy that is occasioning the request but just his out-of-control libido which he makes no effort to reform. If mixed with a lack of care for the welfare of his wife, the situation becomes very bad very quickly. And yet, except in the limited cases where it is acceptable to refuse the debt flatly, or in cases where the holistic reality of the marriage is abusive (a more complex topic), she will have to give in to the requests.

This goes both ways. Oddly, St. Thomas primarily talks about the woman having excessive requests for the debt, and we usually only talk about the man having such a problem. Anyway, husbands too must respect legitimate requests from their wives, even when inconvenient or uncomfortable.

Initiating a conversation about a request for relations does not amount to refusing the debt, which is the sense one gets from some presentations of the issue. However, at the “bottom” of such conversations there is the possibility of appealing to the debt, and in such a case it must be accepted, unless a very serious reason exists. And there is often sin in such requests for the debt.

To know whether refusing a request is sin or not can sometimes be difficult. (For the nerds, what we are talking about is the quasi-potential part of prudence called “gnome.”) But the larger point is this: don’t be selfish, and don’t marry someone selfish.

In the end, navigating the marital debt is actually not that hard to figure out in general. It’s only the very special cases of when flat refusal is justified which can get complicated (and which we won’t explore here). As a good husband or wife, you want to help your spouse – either by giving over your body to your spouse at his or her request, or by holding your body back so you can respect the reality of the presently unsuitable condition of your spouse, even when you could legitimately insist on your right. Good spouses are eager to help each other. St. Paul gives this principle, albeit in a different context but which nevertheless applies here: “Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10) And when in doubt about the legitimacy of a reason to refuse the debt strictly speaking, lean towards paying it. That’s pretty much the whole rule summed up.

Much more can (and ought to be) said. But this will suffice for now. I leave you with two recent sources which give decent formulations of the principle:

Fr. McHugh and Fr. Callan (#2614-#2616)

Fr. Dominic Prümmer (#860-#861)

For the nerds, there are many older manuals on this website in the Research tab which will go through this kind of stuff and more in all the deliciously casuistic nauseating detail which you and I so crave.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

Principles for Chaste Relationships – Part V

Eamonn Clark, STL

This is the conclusion to a short series on the topic of chastity and courtship from a Thomistic perspective. See part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4. I am more or less confident in the content laid out therein, but what writing this series has taught me, and what other studies I have been undertaking on marriage ethics have taught me, is that this subject is far under-treated in today’s popular Catholic literature, and when it is discussed, it’s often poorly discussed. As for the current academic literature, I am still largely unaware of what the threads are. The problems in the popular literature are generally laxist – but even the more rigorous sources are frequently lacking in the distinctions and precision that would fully satisfy a truly astute reader. Part of the problem is that it can be very difficult to parse through many different kinds of experiences or feelings, and this difficulty is aggravated by the delicacy of the subject – one cannot (or at least should not) “experiment” with impurity and lust in order to get a better grasp on the topic!

I’ve written a very beefy article on NFP recently and am looking for the right place to publish – but I think it may be better put into a book, as a series of longer essays. (For instance, I would rework this very series into a chapter.) If you think that’s a good idea, please let me know, as I need the encouragement. Eventually I want to write a much larger work on the topic of sexual ethics, but a thematic exploration is something which I could realistically take on in the near future, while the larger work I have in mind would not be so easy – more like the work of a lifetime.

At any rate, here is the last installment of this series. (It’s the first real series I have actually finished on these pages, – I must eventually get back around to the Trinity series… God deserves it!)

The fifth great principle: if you can raise your mind, do that.

There are three fundamental precepts of the natural law: self-preservation, generation and rearing of offspring, and the pursuit of truth in community. They are interwoven with each other, but there is a hierarchy as well: if we don’t stay alive, we cannot continue the human species, and if the human species dies out then we have no natural community, and if we ourselves die we can neither naturally participate in community nor pursue truth. So it is this third precept which marks out the highest thing in natural law… the rational delights of encountering persons (and Divine Persons) as such.

The one who can simply relate with the opposite sex without much of the struggle to keep away from impurity will do better to forego marriage altogether. And the couple that is busy romancing who could easily be engaging in more intellectual – while still personal and sincere – conversation should do that. These rational pleasures are more lasting, and they are more fulfilling when rightly perceived. Lower pleasures must always be used in the service of the higher pleasures… We eat to stay alive, and we stay alive to… what? To know, love, and serve God according to our natural status as rational animals in this life.

There are lower kinds of love, such as the kind which the senses have for their proper object (i.e. sight and color, hearing and sound) or which characterize other natural desires (i.e. the pull of gravity on a body). Rational love is chosen freely by the lover. When fully actualized, it is reciprocal and becomes friendship. Friendship has two great poles, or elements – sacrifice and contemplation. A true friendship is one where there is delight in the thought of the other, and there is a willingness to suffer for the other. This is what healthy romantic relationships entail on the part of both parties, taking for granted the other virtues being present. We can see that these two poles also exist in the liturgy – sacrifice and contemplation. The Liturgy of the Word is primarily for contemplation, though it is also sacrificial, as the readings are an incarnational offering to God of what He has done for us. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is obviously sacrificial primarily, though the ultimate point is in fact contemplative – to meet Christ here and now, as our greatest Friend.

The best advice is the advice of Christ, echoed by St. Paul, and then taken up and elaborated many times by the saints – if you can go without marriage, go without it. It will be easier to reach the higher places of the spiritual life. In fact, if one has made good progress in the virtue of chastity while yet unmarried, it is a very good sign that he or she should simply remain celibate, unless one’s self-mastery is somehow deeply integrated with the expectation of marriage such that it depends upon it.

But it isn’t something to worry about – neurosis is not the way of the spiritual life, charity is. As St. Augustine said, “Love God and do what you will.” But keep trying to elevate your mind and heart as well, knowing that this task will eventually be accomplished for you by God in Heaven.