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Friday, March 13, 2009

Is Our Family Like God's Family?

I must confess something.
I sometimes use this blog as a way to remember an argument that comes up infrequently, but which requires me to document the answer whenever it DOES come up.

If I put it on the blog, it never disappears, and I can go search it later.
One such argument is the following, and it is extremely common among certain theologians and certain TOB promoters. I put it here for your edification and delight:

The comparison between father-mother-child and Father-Son-Spirit is specifically called absurd by Aquinas.

Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 93, Article 6
It would seem that the image of God is not only in man's mind.

Objection 2.
Further, it is written (Gen1:27) God created man to His own image, to the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. But the distinction of male and female is in the body. Therefore the image of God is also in the body, and not only in the mind.

I answer that, While in all creatures there is some kind of likeness to God, in the rational creature alone we find a likeness of image as we have explained above; but in other creatures we find a likeness by way of a trace.

Reply to Objection 2.
As Augustine says (De Trinitas, 12:5) some have thought that the image of God was not in man individually, but severally. They held that "the man represents the Person of the Father; those born of man denote the person of the Son; and that the woman is a third person in likeness to the Holy Ghost, since she so proceeded from man as not to be his son or daughter." All of this is manifestly absurd: [Aquinas doesn't mince words here] first, because it would follow that the Holy Ghost is the principle of the Son, as the woman is the principle of the man's offspring; secondly, because one man would be only the image of one Person; thirdly, because in that case Scripture should not have mentioned the image of God in man until after the birth of the offspring. Therefore we must understand that when Scripture had said to the image of God He created him, it added, male and female He created them, not to imply that the image of God came through the distinction of sex, but that the image of God is common to both sexes, since it is in the mind, wherein there is no distinction of sexes. [How many Theology of the Body promoters have said that the image of God is in the sex?] And so the Apostle (Col 3:10), after saying According to the image of Him that created him, added, Where there is neither male nor female.

Reply to Objection 3.
Although the image of God in man is not to be found in his bodily shape, yet because "the body of man alone among terrestrial animals is not inclined prone to the ground, but is adapted to look upward to heaven, for this reason we may rightly say that it is made to God's image and likeness, rather than the bodies of other animals," as Augustine remarks. But this is not to be understood as though the image of God were in man's body, but in the sense that the very shape of the human body represents the image of God in the soul by way of a trace. [Notice that: insofar as anything in the body images God, it does so by way of a trace]


Anonymous said...

Typically, whenever I hear TOB promoters discuss this, it's always in terms of husband and wife (usually it's their union and not the child itself referenced) as an analogy for helping in understanding the Trinity, and it's always with the caveat that this is obviously an imperfect analogy.

I've usually seen it in terms that JPII used...

"man became the 'image and likeness' of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning. emphasis added

...which seems to me to be something far different from what St. Aquinus is responding to.

I guess the bottom line is that it seems obvious that orthodox teaching is that we have in God a communion of persons, and in marriage, we also have a communion of persons.

I am not sure why that's an objectionable comparison?

Or maybe I am misunderstanding what the post is about?

BTW: Just finished 'Designed to Fail'....AWESOME book! Thank you for writing it.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Both Scott Hahn and Christopher West have made explicit the very comparison that Aquinas denies:

God the Father equivalent to the human father,
God the Spirit equivalent to the Holy Spirit,
God the Son equivalent to the child produced.

West even tries to pretend that John Paul II uses this analogy.

JP II does no such thing, in no small part because Thomas specifically calls it absurd.

Neither Hahn (who claims to have read a lot of Aquinas) nor West (who clearly hasn't), realize that what they are saying is specifically and manifestly absurd.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I should also point out that the TOB promoters never recognize that JP II never uses the Wednesday audiences to discuss the primary outcome of sex, i.e., children.

Those audiences are meant to be a long commentary on Humanae Vitae, nothing more.

Yet, because JP II omitted discussion of children, TOB promoters fail to notice the important role children play in the married, sexual life. They keep talking about means without ever discussing the primary end.

That's absurd.

Anonymous said...

I've listened to West's TOB series, and I've read at least one of his books, and any number of articles. I won't say he's never made the comparison that way, but for what it's worth it's not the impression I took away, and I don't remember him including the child as part of the analogy.

I was recently reading an article by him that seemed to me to present it in exactly the terms that JPII does.

I fully admit that I could be wrong about this, and maybe he has presented it exactly in the terms you are saying, but I just don't recall that being the case.

I do think I recall Dr. Hahn making a comparison like that somewhere. But my recollection was that its not really in the terms you've presented it and that it also was not in the context of TOB.

Since you've named them, I wonder if you could show where they've done this. That would seem to be only fair.

I don't want to come across as overly confrontational. I really respect your work and I was just a bit surprised by the post and would like to see more information about it.

Anonymous said...

Now I am really confused. Maybe I don't know enough about your take on TOB to be commenting.

I am new to the blog...could you maybe point me to some previous writings where you've discussed this so I can come up to speed?

Anonymous said...

Yet, because JP II omitted discussion of children, TOB promoters fail to notice the important role children play in the married, sexual life.

In particular I find this comment strange when directed at TOB promoters.

To say that they neglect the important role children play in married sexual life seems so far off base to me that I can't even begin to reconcile it with what I have heard from some of those folks.

Could you expand on this?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

There was a huge controversy over this a few years back - here's a summary of it.

I've heard West make similar arguments in public discussions, although I can't point to things he's written since I can't stand to read him. He nauseates me.

Certainly West's supporters make exactly this argument, since I've had a number of discussions with them on exactly this point.

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Dear Steven

So wouldn't you recommend West's book Good News About Sex and Marriage even as a companion reading to your book or JPII's original ?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

The first version of Good News had an imprimatur from Archbishop Chaput. It also had erroneous teaching on sodomy. West corrected it (along with other errors) and issued a "Revised and Expanded" version. The first book was not pulled, the first imprimatur was not pulled. I don't have high regard for West's judgement, so I never recommend anything by him.

To tell you the truth, even though I've written a book on the Theology of the Body, the more time I spend with TOB, the more I think the whole thing is overblown.

My initial reaction was that it must be marvelous because everyone said it was. But all JP II did was synthesize what the Fathers said.

You're better off just reading the Fathers and Doctors. For my money, they are easier to understand than JP II. Pope Benedict XVI is a MUCH superior writer, and - I would argue - a superior theologian to JP II. I also think Benedict is a greater Pope.

I didn't think anyone could top JP II, but now that we have a point of comparison, I am concluding that my earlier judgment was based on a very narrow experience of pope and Church.

When it comes to TOB, the bloom is off the rose. It's pleasant, and it has a certain utility, but overall, it is only impressive to people who don't know much about what the Church has to say about sex. Once you find out what She has always taught, TOB is kind of pedestrian.

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

OK, thanks for the explanations, Mr. Kellmeyer

I hope you're not becoming a rad-trad, though :)

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, I still don't know Latin, so there's only so far I can go in that direction. :)

But seriously, one of my college degrees is in history. Historians are all about original sources - what does the original source say?

If I want to study something, I should go to the most original sources I can find. For the Church, that means I have to start with the Fathers and Doctors.

People like Scott Hahn, Chris West, Mark Shea, me - anybody who is doing synthesis or interpretation - we really shouldn't be used any more than is absolutely necessary to climb past us and up to the REALLY good stuff.

When I didn't know anything and I wanted deep insight into something, I used to read Hahn. I don't do that anymore, and haven't read anything by him for years.

All Hahn does is synthesize the Fathers and Doctors. That's all ANY of us do - because most people are too intimidated by the saints to actually encounter them in their writings and their biographies. We can steal from them all day long and nobody knows it.

But if you REALLY want to know what is going on, that's where we steal all of our ideas. Skip us and go to the source whenever you can.

I hate it when I write comments like this. It never helps my book sales... :)

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Well, I for one intend to read Sex and The Sacred City some day, anyway... :)

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I've heard West make similar arguments in public discussions, although I can't point to things he's written since I can't stand to read him. He nauseates me.

Certainly West's supporters make exactly this argument, since I've had a number of discussions with them on exactly this point.

I hate to be a stickler, but I just don’t think it’s fair for you to name him without being able to produce any samples of him making a statement other than that he’s made ‘similar’ arguments in public discussions. And it’s even more unfair to attribute this to him because his ‘supporters’ make the argument.

Also, I find the comments about him to be very uncharitable. Can’t you just leave it at the fact that you can’t stand to read him, or even that you really dislike his work?

Like it or not, he’s a Catholic brother, and he’s doing some good I think.

Let me be clear…I am not a TOB-er, or a promoter of TOB. I actually agree with your later comments very much.

I was excited about it at first, but I’ve listen/read a few different versions of it (including West’s), and I do think it is overblown as well.

I also agree that, as much as I still adore JPII, I found his writing to not be very accessible or enjoyable (I loved his spoken words though). I too have been saying for years that I find Pope Benedict's writings vastly superior.

I think I’ll refrain from comparing the pontificates of the two though and say that each was the pope the HS chose for us and that’s good enough for me.

All that said, West and Hahn most certainly have a vital role (like them or not) in the woefully un-catechized American Catholic Church. It seems to me that you and they are basically on the same team, so I really don’t get the apparent vitriol.

I agree that at some point it’s just as well to move ‘past’ them, but they are most definitely speaking to a large group of people 'where they are.'

If it weren’t for Dr. Hahn’s work in particular, I think I’d have had an infinitely more difficult time finding my way back to the Church from fundamentalism. I think that is true for many converts/reverts.

You say…

When it comes to TOB, the bloom is off the rose… it is only impressive to people who don't know much about what the Church has to say about sex.

…and unfortunately, the number of people who are in that position is legion. I for one thank God that there are folks writing stuff that is accessible to them, even if it is ‘only’ a synthesis.

Finally, I am saddened to see you referring to the NOR as a source in discussing Hahn’s work. I

followed the ‘controversy’ at the time and found their work to be scandalous and despicable. They seemed to me to be willfully misrepresenting what he was saying throughout.

I’ll also point out that episode you pointed me to had nothing to do with your original post regarding the absurd analogy of family, but is about something altogether different.

Dang! I apologize for being so argumentative.

I just finished reading your book ‘Designed to Fail’ and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I thought I’d see if you had a blog…and you did. I've read some of your old posts and overall like what I’ve seen. For whatever reason this post just rubbed me wrong, and your subsequent comments don't help much.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, I understand if you don't like this post or my comments on it, but I have history with both Scott Hahn and Chris West.

I don't care to go into the details here. Let's just say that I studied under Scott, and I learned a lot both good (about the Faith) and bad (about the man).

As for Chris West, I have heard too many heresies from him over the years. This isn't just my opinion. In one case, I was standing right next to chancery officials who heard the same talks and expressed the same sentiments about the quality of those talks that I did.

While many people find both men edifying (and Hahn is vastly, infinitely superior to West - they aren't in the same league. At all.) I am always troubled by the "lots of people like them" argument.

After all, lots of people liked Arius, Nestorius and Dan Brown, but that didn't mean they were right.

Hahn is justifiably liked. 95% of his stuff is superb. West.... West reminds me far too much of Nestorius and Arius. The latter two were popular not because they were right, but because they agreed with popular misconceptions of the day. West has been caught in too many errors for me to be comfortable with him.

I will grant you that it is unjust for me to make these statements without providing clear-cut examples. You are free to like either, both or neither, as you choose. I like Hahn a lot, I like West not at all. They are brothers, but Saint Nicholas punched Arius at the Council of Nicaea, so there is precedent for my distaste. Whether there is reason for it... that God can judge.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate the last comment. It explains a lot without revealing too much.

I happen to agree with most of what you say.

I totally agree with you regarding Hahn and West...they are not in the same league at all.

Thanks for clarifying.

Brendan said...

Your comments about West lack soft-petaling for sure, but not charity. It does no good to his soul to be left out there without a peep of correction.

I thank you for saying what you did, because I had the same repugnance from reading Good News but I was not sufficiently informed to know whether my judgment was fair. Now you have settled my doubts with some real facts.