Friday, May 09, 2014

St Thomas sometimes had a bad day at the office

When writing, St Thomas would usually dictate to his secretaries. It's an established fact that he could dictate to two or even three secretaries at the same time. He had an amazing capacity for such work.

But I think he too probably had his bad days at the office. Recently I came across something in the Summa that I found humorous.

In answering the question "Can angels work miracles?" Thomas says no, they cannot, because such power belongs only to God.
In responding to the objection that St Gregory said some angelic spirits can work wonders, Thomas replies that they could be said to work miracles only in the sense that either God works miracles at their request, or because they act in a ministerial role with respect to the miracles that occur. Then he gives the example that I find humorous: "for example, collecting the dust (of the dead) at the General Resurrecction or doing something of that sort."

For me it conjured up a funny picture of angels going around with little baskets collecting dust and trying to reassemble it into bodies. I don't know how the general resurrection will work, but however God does it through his power, I don't think it would mean physically putting dust back together. So maybe Thomas just had a hard time coming up with a good example, especially if he was dictating to more than one secretary, which explains his further comment, "or doing something of that sort."

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

A few questions. If demons are fallen angels what was the nature of this "fall"? What keeps angels from "falling" today? Is there a hierarchy among demons as there is among angels? Lastly, why doesn't God segregate demons from humanity? Why does He allow them any interaction with the physical universe?

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Hello Anonymous,
While we don't know the exact circumstances of the fall of some angels, most theologians think it was some form of pride, understood as some sort of rebellion against God.

Angels don't fall today for the same reason that human beings who go to heaven can no longer sin. The angels' testing was a one-time event. They were given a choice to choose God or not. Because they are mighty spirits, their power of will is so great that once they make such a choice they cannot go back on it. So the good angels were confirmed in grace forever. They could no more fall than the saints in heaven can fall.

Theologians such as St Thomas commonly speak of 9 grades or levels of angels, the terms for these being taken from Scripture. From highest to lowest they are:
seraphim
cherumbim
thrones

dominions
virtues
powers

principalities
archangels
angels

Presumably angels from the various groups fell, so there would be a hierarchy among the demons as well.

St Thomas says that God does not send the demons to tempt us, but God allows this as a sort of test. Our time on earth is a time of testing. God always gives us grace to resist temptations. If there were no struggle, there would be no reason for reward. At the same time, we have the help of the good angels. God does send them to help us.

I wrote a little book called "Angels: Help from on High" that you may be interested in. It can be found at our webstore at
www.pauline.org

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the reply. With regard to angels, are they created in the image of God? What exactly does it mean to be created in the image of God?

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Hello again,
Yes, angels are created in the image of God, as are human beings.
In general, the phrase "in the image of God" means that the creature has a certain likeness to God that mirrors him in a particular way.

For us and for the angels, we say that we are the image of God for two main reasons. One is that we have a rational nature, that is, intelligence and free will. Angels have that too, but they do not have bodies. Their intelligence is much more acute than ours.

The second reason is that as persons, we are able to have relationships with other persons. This is an image of the Trinity, which is a communion of the three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Angels are also persons and have some sort of relationships with each other as well as with God. But since we can't see them, it's hard for us to know exactly how that works for them.

In his theology of the body, Pope John Paul stressed the second reason for us being the image of God. When speaking of the Genesis text of creation, he said about Adam, "It was not so much in the moment of solitude [ie. before the creation of the woman] but in the moment of communion that the human person became the image of God."

Anonymous said...

If humanity were ever to come in contact with other intelligent life forms in our universe, would they be considered to have been created in the image of God? What if they have no concept of God? Wouldn't this raise questions as to the existence of God? It would make it seem God to be human invention if he didn't reveal himself to other intelligent creatures. I know science can't disprove God, but it seems the more we learn from science, the more it points away from God. The book of Genesis isn't a science book but it gives the impression man and the earth are at the center of creation when in reality both seem like insignificant specks in the vastness of time an space. The book of Acts has Jesus ascending into heaven by floating into the sky. Why would God inspire the writers of the bible to write these scientifically inaccurate passages? It often feels we live in an indifferent universe. I apologize for rambling but sometimes it seems God makes it difficult to believe in his existence.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

I just saw this and have a couple minutes before lunch. Any kind of rational creature would be made in the image of God. Human persons are one kind of person, but there could be others we don't know of. The essential thing would be that the creature would have a rational nature.
If such creatures exist, I think it's likely that God would have revealed himself to them, just as he did to us. C.S. Lewis wrote 3 books exploring this in the form of a story: Perelandra, Out of the Silent Planet, and That Hideous Strength. They're great reads if you're interested in that topic.

In terms of the material universe, it is true that the earth seems insignificant. But we are important to God because he created us as persons whom he loves. So the material aspect doesn't correspond to the spiritual reality going on.
The purpose of the bible, as you mention, is not to be a scientific text. So the writers just spoke as things appeared. In some way, Jesus withdrew his bodily presence after the resurrection. The Gospel of Luke says, "While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven." The point is not to give a scientific explanation of where heaven might be located, but that it's not here and our hope is focused on God himself.

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking. What kind of an individual "tests" another? Certainly not the loving kind. If one individual loves another then they just love them no strings attached. Bob M.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Hello Bob,
Good to hear from you again!
"Testing" can have nuances of meaning, and some of them are positive. A medical test, for instance, is often a valuable tool for determining the presence of a disease in order to treat it.

I think in terms of the angels, the terms "testing" indicates a means of determining what's really there. The "test" was about whether or not they wanted to have the Beatific Vision of God in heaven. As free creatures, they had to say yes or no. It was up to them, like it is up to us if we want to live good lives or not.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the response. Wanting something and following through are two different things. Many people want to live good lives but fail miserably. Is wanting to live a good life sufficient? How is one to know what is a credible impediment to living a good life and what isn't? Also, did these angels have this Beatific Vision when they accepted or rejected it? If they had it and it was truly good how could anyone reject it? If they didn't have it when they were forced to choose then how could it have been an informed decision? Bob M.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Hello Bob,
You're right that wanting something and actually doing it are different things. In terms of one's life, none of us live a perfect life. I like to see it as a learning process. Sometimes we fail, but then we can learn from that and do better in the future. If we truly want something, we will make some efforts to reach that goal even if we fail along the way.
Also, our life is only given to us moment by moment. All we can do is live one day at a time, and if we try to do our best each day, by the end of our life we will have lived a good life.

About the angels and the Beatific Vision, they didn't have it when they made a choice for or against God. Since they are very intelligent, God would have made something about it known to them so they could make a good choice. I think that would be enough for them to have made an informed decision. It might be like getting married, for example. The persons who marry for the first time don't know exactly what their married life will be like. But they are willing to love each other and venture out to the unknown.

Anonymous said...

This may sound like a dumb question but would it have been a "good" choice for every angel to accept God? What I mean by this is if God made something of the Beatific Vision known to them and they still didn't want it wouldn't rejection be the "good" choice for them? Wouldn't it be dishonest to not choose what you want? I suppose what I'm asking is if they regret their decision or would make the same decision if they had the chance. With regard to married couples, many of them regret their decision to marry. It makes me cynical about love. They often claim to "love" each other but later hate each other. Did this "love" die? Was it ever real? Bob M.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Hello Bob,
Free will and its power of choice has two aspects. One is the basic power of choosing, and this is a good. But it's not an end in itself.
The purpose of freedom is that we might choose what is good. When we do so, this leads us to the second level of freedom, which we might call freedom of being.
In other words, when we choose what is good we become better persons.
God is the absolute good; to choose God is the only way to happiness for us. So the choice the fallen angels made was in no way good for them. It was a bad choice, a bad use of their free will.
Maybe an example would clarify this. If someone had a choice between murdering another person or not, it would never be good to choose to murder, even if the person wanted to do it. Such a desire does not come from the best of what a person is, but from the worst. So the mere exercise of free will is only a means to a greater good.
I think what is really at the root of it all is the question of relativism, which is one for our age. Pope Benedict talked a lot about it because it is everywhere today. This link may be useful; it has a link within it to an important homily of Benedict in which he talked of relativism:

http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2005/colson_relativism_may05.asp

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

In a nutshell, we are given freedom not that we might choose whatever we want, but what is good.

Anonymous said...

That was an interesting link. It covered many points but I'd like to focus on one and that is situational relativism and how it relates to your example of murder. Several years ago I saw the movie The Last of the Mohicans. Towards the end of the film there is a scene of a British officer being burned alive by the Huron. The character Hawkeye is leading others away from the village. From outside the village Hawkeye shoots and kills the officer to mercifully spare him a gruesome and painful death. Was what he did wrong? Did it come from the worst of who he was or did the "situation" warrant his action? Bob M.

Anonymous said...

Modern humans have been around for approximately 200,000-250,000 years. They evolved in a world where suffering and death existed far longer than that. For the vast majority of man's existence the God of the Bible had no interest in any type of relationship with man. People prayed to whatever gods, goddesses, spirits etc. they believed to exist. Of course none of it did any good. Then the God of the Bible suddenly shows up and performs spectacular miracles in the Old and New Testaments. Now people pray to this God. Of course the results of these prayers are the same as before. Suffering and death continued as it always had. Dreaded diseases like polio caused much suffering. Parents would pray for their children and this God would do nothing. It is only in the modern era with true miracle workers like Dr. Jonas Salk that these problems are being solved and they weren't solved with prayer. I see no reason why anybody should heed any teachings of this God. They did us no good in the past and they do us no good today. God's silence and inaction speak volumes. It's clear we're on our own. Thank you and good day. Bob M.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Hello Bob,
I've had plenty of problems in my own life solved with prayer. Sometimes the answer isn't the one I might expect, but it always turns out to be the best one.
Yes, scientists like Dr Salk have helped people, but all of those things are limited to life on earth. The religious question has to do with eternity. We're only here for a brief span, and even if we live to be 100, it's over soon enough. Then eternal life.
So, if you want to have Dr Salk as your Savior, be my guest, but I'll take Jesus any day!

Anonymous said...

How do you know your problems were solved by prayer and were not just random? Plenty of people don't pray and their problems get solved. I've tried to pray but feel all I've accomplished is I've talked to the air. I brought up Dr. Salk as someone who accomplished something that people in the past would consider miraculous. Who knows what "miracles" scientists may accomplish in the very near future. Some scientists speak of "the Singularity" when technology progresses at an unbelievable exponential rate that what today seems impossible becomes possible. This is not a majority view but neither is it a fringe view. They speak of extending lifespans indefinitely. One scientist even hopes to live to the Singularity so that he can "resurrect" his father. What's wrong in hoping for that? Bob M.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Hello Bob,
About prayer, I know my own experience.
I'm skeptical about the claims of the singularity and other technological things, because what they never mention is how things can go wrong. Anyone with a computer knows that!
My main problem with it though is that it is a perspective simply limited to this earthly life. Who would want to live indefinitely in what the beautiful prayer of the Memorare terms "this valley of tears."
I'm looking forward to eternal life in heaven, where there will be perfect joy and peace. That's just not possible on earth. Ultimately, we need Jesus because only Jesus can save us from sin, which is the root of all evil and unhappiness.

Anonymous said...

Perfect joy and peace sound too good to be true. :( Bob M.

Anonymous said...

Sister,
I'm just not understanding this prayer business. I just read "Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink." When did this happen? Also, "the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, the faithful God's initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response." A response to what? In my 42 years on this Earth I've never heard anybody calling. What form does this call take? Have I been missing something?
Bob M.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Hello Bob,
The first quote sounds like it was in reference to the incident in John's Gospel (ch. 4) where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well and asks her for a drink. John uses water as a symbol for grace and the Holy Spirit.

God calls us through grace. It's not that he speaks to us in the form of an audible voice. The Holy Spirit can work in our hearts by sending thoughts, inspirations, or some sort of attraction to the good. There's an expression "grace builds on nature" which means that God usually doesn't do extraordinary things to catch our attention. Often God can speak to us when we read Scripture, in a way that the thoughts there may move our hearts or inspire us to repent of our sins, etc.

If you are really interested in this topic you might like to read some of the Church's greatest writers on prayer, like Teresa of Avila. This link is to her "Interior Castle" which likens the soul to a castle with many mansions.

http://www.catholictreasury.info/books/interior_castle/index.php

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Also, when the disciples asked him how to pray, Jesus gave them the Our Father.
It's a good way to begin praying, just to say the words of that prayer and let go of any desire for God to respond in a particular way.

Anonymous said...

Sister,
Thank you for taking time to answer my questions and for your reading suggestions. Has it always been true that God doesn't do extraordinary things to catch our attention. I've read some incredible stories about some of the saints, e.g. St. Anthony of Padua and the donkey he commanded to worship Christ in the eucharist. Also St. Denis and other cephalaphores. Were these just legends or were they declared saints based on these stories? Should we believe these stories today? Miracles today seem much more ambiguous. I read an article about a man from around Boston whose severe back ailment disappeared and this was attributed to the intercession of Cardinal Newman. My problem is that they quoted an orthopaedic surgeon who said he didn't see anything unusual in the man's healing. Miracles don't seem clear cut today as in the past. What is the point of a miracle if you're not sure it's a miracle?
Bob M.

Anonymous said...

Sister,
I just wanted to throw this out there for anybody who may read this. It may help them if they feel the same way as I do. I've noticed some prayers that start out "Lord, I firmly believe...". I would feel like a hypocrite saying this. In Mark 9:24 is the passage "I do believe, help my unbelief!" This isn't a prayer but I suppose it could be. It could be said in conjunction with other prayers. I hope someone finds this helpful. Thanks.
Bob M.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Thank you, Bob, that's a good suggestion. I like that passage too.
I'm praying for you too.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Hello Bob,
About the question of miracles, reports of miraculous events have occurred throughout Church history. So it seems that they have indeed occurred, but it is not the usual way God operates. Miraculous events tend to be rare.

We could distinguish two things about them. One is that God has the power to work miracles. The other is that in the case of any particular seemingly miraculous event, it has to be examined to see if it really is miraculous.

In the case of the saints, a miracle is required for canonization. The Church has a pretty rigorous process to examine these claims in order to verify if they are true or not. This includes bringing in medical doctors to examine the evidence impartially. Such is also the case for miracles at Lourdes. I don't know the particulars of the case you mention, but apparently the doctors who examined the case in Rome did think it was miraculous. I don't know if the surgeon quoted in the news report was the man's doctor or not. If not, he may not have had all the facts of the case. In any event, in beatifying someone the Church is really testifying to their holiness of life. Catholics, however, are not obliged to believe that the particular event was actually a miracle. I know this topic can get a little involved, but it also involves some human judgment as to the facts of the case and so there may be some room for disagreement.

Anonymous said...

Sister,
I have been reading a book where the author states that everything that God creates is good. What exactly does good mean? Over the course of history millions have suffered and died as the result of smallpox, cholera, the Black Death etc. All these diseases are caused by bacteria, viruses and other microbes supposedly created by God. What is "good" about them. Their only reason for being seems to be to cause misery. It is difficult to reconcile the existence of these microorganisms with a loving creator.
Thank You Bob M.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Hello Bob,
The problem of evil is a difficult one and Christian thinkers have often grappled with it.
In terms of creation, Catholics believe that everything God created is good. Insofar as it has existence and is a being, it is good.

This is important because the alternative would be to propose that some things are evil in themselves. Then that leads to the idea that there are two gods, one good and one evil. In that scenario, the good god would have created good things, and the evil god, bad things. Some belief systems such as Manicheism proposed exactly that, that matter is evil and only spirit is good.

Christian thinkers such as Augustine (who had been a Manichean before his conversion) proposed instead that evil is not a positive entity, but instead, it is a lack of something that ought to be there.

In the example of the microbes, I'm not a scientist but read someplace that only a very small percentage of them cause disease. Various microbes actually do things that are good for the environment. For example, they consume dead matter, so that without them nothing would ever decompose and that would be a huge problem.

Some of them do cause disease, though. But while that can cause bad effects for us, it doesn't make the microbes evil in themselves. They could have some purpose we are not aware of. It's also a question of looking at the total good of the whole world. For the good of the whole system, some of the parts may have to be destroyed at times, or suffer something.

In any case, the problem of suffering is a difficult one and there are no easy answers to it. None of us like to suffer. It helps to recall, though, that suffering on earth passes but eternal life with God in heaven will be forever, and it is a life where there is no suffering. Ultimately the mystery of suffering is revealed in the suffering of Jesus on the cross.

I hope this helps a little.

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