Friday, January 30, 2009

The Heavy Artillery

"I have ordered all things in number, measure, and weight." Said by God, repeated yearly in the breviary by Ireneus.
And what could be heavier than the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas? Even in their most mature years, as I have observed, priests, bishops, cardinals and even popes, groan a little - or sometimes one hell of a lot - when confronted with the image and concepts of the Angelic Doctor, or as the new archbishop of Detroit, installed on Thomas' January 28 feast day, called him, the Doctor Communis, or everybody's doctor.
The root of the second title lies in the fact - startling when first heard by those who have never studied the subject - that Thomas never stopped insisting that philosophy is only common sense, and therefore - I add - in a certain way only tells us what we already, somehow, either know or suspect. And yet to study his writings seems so burdensome to many. Or because Thomas lived and wrote long before Freud, Jung, Mark, Darwin, James Joyce and so on, he seems so old-fashioned and somehow totally opposed to modern doctrines that insist that human nature is evolving, or may even have actually changed. They refuse to believe that Thomas is any longer a sine non qua on the road to wisdom.
In fact it was a bishop who said to me, within recent memory, that he had "gone beyond Saint Thomas." And it was a pope, John Paul II, who allowed the canon law group to remove Thomas from the prescribed status he had held since the days of Leo XIII. And there are those who think to call John Paul a saint? A good and great man, certainly, but the real head of the Church warned against neither "jot nor tittle" and I have never been able to see that He did not specifically have Aquinas in mind at the moment he spoke.
Nor, without Saint Thomas, would I have got into the Seventh Mansion. It was most certainly not without daily and constant recourse to my beloved three-volume Summa, in all those most astonishing days and months. There were other writers more explicitly concentrated on the spiritual life, yes - John of the Cross, Teresa, Francis de Sales, Ignatius of Loyola - but Thomas was never off the team, and in fact I went through it all with a whole new re-appreciation of my old mentor and the mind - along with my wife's - that brought me into the Church.
In fact the current employment of Thomas is so shoddy in so many areas that it was a distinct delight to read the inaugural address of the Most Reverend Allan Vigneron, the new man in Motor City, which MT had googled up on Rocco Palmo's quite invaluable Whispers in the Loggia.
Good Lord. Not only a bishop, but an American bishop, who can smell the herbal breezes from Rocca Secca? Amongst that collection of spiritually illiterate doorknobs does there actually dwell a genuine mind? How refreshing. How comforting, if Christ actually decided to come back to earth and kick the crap out of the Sanhedrin once again. There might be a chancery or two where he could, in relief, lay down his whip. If any reader, by the way, thinks I'm being unnecessarily harsh, or unappreciative, let him look up the history of the lately late Avery Dulles, S.J., theologian and ultimately cardinal, and see what he had to say about the apostolic successors in his native land. As a group, American bishops knew little to nothing about theology, liturgy, or spiritual direction. That was over twenty years ago. Has it changed? Would some bishop like to show up in my study to demonstrate the supposed new level of episcopal wisdom?
Maybe in Motown? Blacks, and Blues? Might that have something to do with it? The somatic discipline that is in music, and in music alone, although not without analagous references.
All of this is due, in a sense, to Kathleen Norris and her book, because in order to deal with Acedia and Me in the measure that it deserves, I have had to resort to the prophetically relevant sections of the Summa Theologica: Saint Thomas Aquinas on pain and sorrow, volume One in my Benziger.
This is also a pleasant benefit for me: not only a legitimate excuse to once again take up STA, but also a very necessary browse through the thought of a man who can provide all the fundamental concepts for a completely balanced and judicious study of Asian wisdom as it applies to the culture of the body, i.e., health and fitness.
After two full days of contemplative "inactivity", I was finally, yesterday, let out to walk. There is a very fine five-and-a-half mile route east, across the big orange bridge, to a restaurant, for a chow mein lunch, and back again along the lake shore walk to the mouth of Cottonwood Creek and then home through town. The distance, in God's kindly Providence, makes up for the 48 hours of suspended muscles and disabled joints, and the view cannot help but enlarge and liberate the mind, which for a full week now has been labouring, albeit pleasantly, with Ms Norris grasp of acedia. Well, not entirely pleasantly, as the mature contemplative is rarely allowed much in the way of unbroken episodes of spiritual pleasure, and it has in fact been something of a game of intellectual ping pong, with the reciprocating balls and bats only allowed to shut up when I turned into, first, John of the Cross and the relevant sections in the the first book of the Dark Night, and then, Thomas.
Numerous references, or attempted references, to texts which I thought might spell out more meanings for acedia, only turned up useless, because blank.
Acedia is neither vice, nor virtue. It is a species of passion, more explicitly, a species of sorrow. It is largely a result of a decision of the will, more or less based on the information available to the intellect, which includes, of course, in the Thomistic scheme of thing, the intellectual memory, which in human beings relies on the imaginative, or sensitive memory. Acedia is therefore a feeling, or perhaps, lack of feeling, that should serve as a warning rather than a location in which we can wallow in self-pity. Or, in artillery terms, a forward observation post from which we can shell, i.e., blame, all the influences which we would like to believe put us into our present dilemma.
I think this is one of the reasons why I ran into the warning light, in Katheen's book. She was challenging Gregory's moral theology, in herself going "beyond Saint Thomas", as thoughtless , in its own way, as Mohammed denying the divinity of Christ.
The Super Bowl is coming up this weekend. There we will see a good deal of physical courage. And that is a good thing. But what the world needs more of, and much more desperately, is intellectual and spiritual courage. Where does it exist in its fullness, outside my most immediate circle?


cabbage ears said...

Ken...I may have missed the post. I also shake my head and fist at this computer. At a certain point I can only puncuate in Latin!!!! But, accidie can also visit the committed and faithfull. Aristotle delineated and mapped the intrigues of human nature to a fine, fine degree. I am only a pittance of his understanding and insight. I do not quibble with Aristotle. I tried. I failed. Would Aristotle fix my computer. It is only a year old. Human nature on the other hand has a myriad of nefarious disguises. I enjoyed The Heavy Artillery. It is indeed a pleasure. Music can be debated, but the benefits of its necessity and support for sane living is beyond dispute. Walk on my friend, there is nothing like sanely aged legs walking this earth. I have a touch of arthritis in my hip and a former ripped ligament in my knee. I walk often in my dreams. I still work each day, so forgive my pauses. I look forward to your postings on this site. regards...Irene

cabbage ears said...

It should have been Aquinas..but due to the similarity of Aristotle and Aquinas in my personal mind, I injected Aristotle. They both weighed in heavily on the nature of human nature regarding God and existence. Irene

eastsilica said...

You didn't miss the post, I missed the click or something, so it did not go anywhere useful. I was talking about my first training for dealing with the "difficult" at Elwyn Street starting with my parents and my grandmother on my father's side.
Monica tells me she is enjoying the dialogue between you and me over the Ranger. She likes being the fly on the wall, she says, up in Prince Rupert, where she works in both archives and the reporter business.
Where do you live? Do you travel in your work?