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Monday, July 19, 2010

Cult of the Expert

You can always tell when someone encounters a popular rendition of the Theology of the Body for the first time. It's like watching someone smitten by a movie star, or joining a new and powerful cult movement: they burble about things which are, upon further contemplation, manifestly absurd.

As Scripture says, it tastes sweet in the mouth, but it is sour in the stomach.

The newest burble is occasioned by William May's recent article in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly.

Dr. Jeff Mirus, of CatholicCulture.org, after having read May's analysis, concludes,
In its femininity and masculinity, the human body is an image of the Trinity, which is Itself an eternal relationship of love. Moreover, Christ’s body, taken on and freely given for others, is a further sign of man’s Divine call to love.
Now, God bless Dr. Mirus and William May, but need we recall that May is definitely not orthodox in his understanding of how the hierarchy of good works?

Specifically, Dr. May denies that there IS any hierarchy of goods.

That's a problem.

Instead, he asserts all things are equally good. This, of course, is just the converse of the Protestant position that all sins are equally bad - there is no mortal vs. venial sin.

Clearly, May is not a Thomist.

Which is not surprising, given that St. Thomas SPECIFICALLY and EXPLICITLY condemns as manifestly absurd the idea that the body images the Trinity as anything more than a trace:
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, [emphasis added] 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]
So, like Christopher West - who, coincidentally, attended the institution at which Dr. William May teaches - we now have the home of Diogenes infected with the anti-Thomist, anti-JP II meme that JP II is somehow out of step with the Angelic Doctor.

And, of course, we do have a choice.

We could stick with the ancient teachings of the Church from time immemorial and the writings of the man whose Summa Theologica was enshrined on the altar at the Council of Trent along with the Sacred Scriptures.

Or we could go with the personal interpretations of a pair of media hucksters (George Weigel and Chris West) and an American theologian (William May) concerning a set of prudentially inept Wednesday audiences which have been referenced by Magisterial documents less than a half-dozen times in the intervening 30 years.

Well, it's obvious what we should choose!

According to these cultists, we're supposed to toss the Summa and doggedly follow their highly idiosyncratic, highly personal (though not very personalist) interpretation of Pope John Paul II's virtually unreadable Wednesday audiences.

And the beauty of those Wednesday audiences is precisely that they are so obscure. For reasons which no one really knows, the newly elevated John Paul II apparently thought it a good idea to throw a bunch of scholarly jargon into his first series of Wednesday audiences. Precisely because JP II was not a particularly lucid writer, especially in his earliest papal works, anyone can read anything they want into those audiences and who will contradict it?

Rather than admit that this was a huge mistake in judgement which has subsequently been hijacked by a group of heterodox Catholics (of which group, Dr. May and Chris West form a nucleus), we are all supposed to think that this was a smart move on John Paul II's part. And, yes, I know Dr. May supported Humane Vitae when few others did. But that doesn't keep him from being theologically loopy, as a quick glance at his position on the hierarchy of goods readily demonstrates.

The cult of the expert has replaced the cult of the saints. Instead of following millennia worth of examples of the lives of the saints, we follow people like Maciel, May, Monaghan and West. They aren't holy, they are in many respects barely Catholic, but because they are excellent at marketing themselves and their cause, they gain adherents. Instead of teaching the Catholic Faith, they hijack it for their own ends: a remunerative religious order here, a profitable real estate deal there, a lucrative book deal in the corner.

Could someone explain to me again how TOB is not a cult, on the order of Maciel's Legion, or the cultic Mother of God community from which Chris West sprang and from which Tom Monaghan took so much advice?


Addendum:
Before nitpickers begin commenting, I should add that I fully realize Thomas was not correct in every particular of what he taught. In that same Summa, for instance, he is famously claimed to have denied the Immaculate Conception.

Of course, anyone who actually takes the time to read what he wrote, discovers this claim is false. He did not deny the Immaculate Conception, he only denied that Mary could have been sanctified before the infusion of her rational soul - a perfectly reasonable theological position. We don't baptize dogs because dogs don't have rational souls. We don't sacramentally anoint chairs or tables because they don't have souls at all.

If Thomas had known the infusion of the rational soul took place at conception - which is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception implies - he would have instantly agreed that the Immaculate Conception was a reasonable teaching:

Article 2: Whether the Blessed Virgin was sanctified before animation?

I answer that, The sanctification of the Blessed Virgin cannot be understood as having taken place before animation, for two reasons. First, because the sanctification of which we are speaking, is nothing but the cleansing from original sin: for sanctification is a "perfect cleansing," as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. xii). Now sin cannot be taken away except by grace, the subject of which is the rational creature alone. Therefore before the infusion of the rational soul, the Blessed Virgin was not sanctified.[emphasis added]

Secondly, because, since the rational creature alone can be the subject of sin; before the infusion of the rational soul, the offspring conceived is not liable to sin.[emphasis added] And thus, in whatever manner the Blessed Virgin would have been sanctified before animation, she could never have incurred the stain of original sin: and thus she would not have needed redemption and salvation which is by Christ, of whom it is written (Matthew 1:21): "He shall save His people from their sins." But this is unfitting, through implying that Christ is not the "Saviour of all men," as He is called (1 Timothy 4:10). It remains, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified after animation.

2 comments:

Bender said...

Now, I'm considered an expert on the subject . . .
The cult of the expert has replaced the cult of the saints.


You do realize that you are mocking yourself?

I've never read this blog before, but I must say I am singularly unimpressed. You do understand the concept of the Magisterium, do you not? And that you are not the Magisterium, and that not even St. Thomas Aquinas was the Magisterium, unlike Pope John Paul II, whom you practically smear as a nattering boob.

Clearly, May is not a Thomist

I don't know if he is or isn't. I'd be content that he is merely Catholic. It is the Catholic Church, after all, not the Thomas Aquinas Church. And the Catholic Church is guided by the successors of Peter, and not by those who have been deemed doctors of the Church.

That you can't understand John Paul II does not mean that he was wrong or misguided. It merely means that you don't know what the hell you are talking about when you criticize him. And if you can't understand the Wednesday audiences, you might try reading his other writings where he expounded on the exact same teaching.

Or, if you can't stomach that, bother to read what Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict has written on the matter. He gets it. Or are you also more of an expert that he is?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

You DO realize that John Paul II does NOT say what Mirus or May says he says?

John Paul II agrees with Aquinas.
But you would never know that by reading through the recent crop of TOB experts.

And you DO realize that Popes can make prudentially erroneous judgements, right? Like Pope Honorius, who was condemned by the liturgy of the Church as a heretic? Why did the Church herself condemn himb? Because he made a prudentially poor judgement to be silent on a subject of Catholic Faith.

John Paul II made a prudentially poor judgement in how he delivered his TOB talks. There's nothing wrong with the talks themselves, but the target audience was all wrong. You can see that in the very paucity of references made to those audiences by other Magisterial teaching.