Thursday, January 03, 2008

Interview: Aquinas on the Virtue of Religion


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1) To what extent can one say that sacrifice to God is natural to man? Natural law prescribes that all men offer sacrifice to God. This is something that is knowable through reason, even when unaided by Divine Revelation. (Cf. ST II-II.85.1 & 4.)

2) Does the same apply to polytheistic sacrifice? No. What the natural law commands is the exercise of the virtue of religion, which is the habit that allows us to offer to God what is due to Him (Cf. ST II-II.81.2). (This, of course, presupposes that we can know the existence of the One, True God through natural reason. Cf. ST I.88.3.) Now, polytheism fails to offer due worship to God; it offers it to something other than God (Cf. ST II-II.85.2). Therefore, polytheism does not fall within the definition of religion. Rather, it falls within the definition of "superstition," the vice that opposes religion by way of excess; more precisely, it belongs to the type of superstition that we call "idolatry" (Cf. ST II-II.94.1).

3) Of the four ends of sacrifice (worship, expiation, thanksgiving, and petition), one seems to be lacking in pagan Greek religion, namely, worship. Is this due to the Greeks' lack of Divine Revelation? If they were not aware of the fact that the natural law prescribes worship, certainly this is not due to not having the means of knowing, for this can be discovered by unaided reason. I'm going off on a limb here, but perhaps it was due to their polytheism, which was simply a corruption of their natural knowledge of God--in which case it would have been directly due to their sinfulness, and thus indirectly due to their lack of Divine Revelation. The pagan Greeks seemed to have been aware of the motives for the three other forms of prayer, but perhaps not for worship. Each of the four ends of prayer has a motive (Cf. ST I-II.102.3 ad 10). The motive of petitionary prayer is the hope of benefits received; that of thanksgiving, the reception of benefits; and that of expiation, the commission of sin. The Greeks had hope of receiving benefits, received them, and sinned; so they practiced prayer of petition, and thanksgiving, and expiation. However, the motive for the prayer of worship is the Divine Majesty itself. Perhaps due to their polytheism, they were not aware of the Majesty of the One, True God (after all, their "gods" were not at all that impressive, especially as far as their moral character goes) and, therefore, found little motive for the prayer of worship.

4) How is sacrifice inherently part of latria? By reading ST II-II.85, you will already have the basics of what sacrifice is, namely, one of the exterior acts (the primary act, in fact) of the virtue of religion (i.e., latria). The context for this doctrine is ST II-II.81 (on the virtue of religion in general), which I recommend you read entirely, especially article 7 (on the exterior acts of the virtue of religion, one of which is sacrifice). Also, read SCG III.120, where Aquinas discusses latria as the worship due to God alone.

5) How is the Mass a perfect Sacrifice? Aquinas goes a bit into this in ST I-II.102.3c, with reference to the causes of the ceremonial precepts of the Old Law. He also talks about the immolation of Christ in the Mass in ST III.83.1.

6) How are the rubrics (particularly orientation and tone of voice) fundamental to the perfection of this sacrifice? Technically, the natural law prescribes that we offer sacrifice to God, but not how we offer sacrifice. How we offer sacrifice is a matter of divine or human positive law (i.e., Revelation or Ecclesiastical Law): ST II-II.81.2 ad 3. Now, Revelation does not specify, at least for the New Law, that we must worship facing East or that the priest should recite his prayers in a low voice. Ecclesiastical (liturgical) law has prescribed these from time immemorial, but these laws are not immutable. Therefore, it cannot be argued that these are essential. However, one can argue in many ways that these rubrics are "fitting." In ST III.83, Aquinas discusses the various elements of the rite of the Mass and argues for their fittingness.

7) Does man rely on externals that manifest spiritual realities? Yes, because we are body-soul composites, and there is nothing in the intellect which does not first come through the senses. Already in ST II-II.81.7c you will get the essentials of this doctrine, but he also has something very interesting to say in ST II-II.84.2c. Moreover, in SCG III.119 you will get a detailed explanation of how the mind is raised to God by means of sensible things.
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