Showing posts with label Catechism of the Catholic Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Catechism of the Catholic Church. Show all posts

Monday, December 24, 2012

Studying the Summa: Gratitude

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, covers a wide variety of topics, which we will periodically be studying on our blog. Since it is especially appropriate for the Christmas season, our first topic will be gratitude. In receiving our gifts this Christmas, we must remember to have a proper sense of gratitude. Aquinas teaches us exactly what that means. He writes that gratitude is due to a gift-giver because he gives a gift expecting nothing in return, which is commendable. Thus, the recipient “is under moral obligation” to give something in return.

Is thankfulness, or gratitude, a special virtue?
Aquinas writes that we are indebted to others and justice requires that we repay them appropriately. He provides a four-tiered ranking of those whom we owe: God, parents, persons in positions of dignity, and benefactors. We owe most to God, from whom all good things flow. To each descending category we appropriately owe less. This reminds us that we should be not only thankful to our gift-givers this season, but also to God and others whom we always owe thanks. Once we understand how to give thanks to those other categories, we can finally understand the gratitude which we owe our benefactors, or gift-givers.

Christmas can be a reminder that we should be giving thanks every day of our lives. We can appropriately thank God for his infinite gifts through religious worship and prayer. Secondly, we can thank our parents for our existence and upbringing through practicing piety, says Aquinas. Thirdly, persons in positions of dignity (such as governors or professors) also deserve to be given thanks for their service in our character development.  Aquinas only deals with giving proper thanks to gift-givers after God, parents, and persons of dignity. To answer the original question, Aquinas says that thankfulness or gratitude is a special virtue because it is a response specifically suited for our gift-givers.

Should we give thanks to everyone that gives us gifts?
“In all things give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Yes. Aquinas reasons that the gift-giver is the cause of the gift-receiver. In a similar relationship, God is the cause of all things that exist in the world and all of His creation points to him. In the same way, the gifts from the giver point to that giver. This leads Aquinas to say that “he who has received a favor should, by repaying the favor, turn to his benefactor according to the mode of each.” On Christmas, we owe our gift-givers thanksgiving and gratitude. Aquinas even notes that if someone gives a gift reluctantly or without joy, we still owe him thanks for his gift. Man is bound by justice to give thanks to every benefactor, and to do so with genuine gratitude.

Are we bound to repay for our gifts immediately?
Aquinas quotes the philosopher Seneca to begin his answer:
He that hastens to repay, is animated with a sense, not of gratitude but of indebtedness.
Aquinas says that repaying immediately would seem more like paying a legal debt than giving true thanks. The best time to give thanks for our gifts is at a time that is convenient for the gift-giver. Imagine if we had thank-you cards pre-filled out on Christmas and immediately handed the card to the gift-giver as we opened our gift. This would look more like a chore than a true act of thankfulness. There is no hard and fast rule for when it is best to give thanks, and I’m sure it will be different for every gift recipient. The important thing is that Aquinas teaches us that we are to pay thanks back to our gift-givers when it is convenient for them, not when it is most convenient for us.

Should we be thankful for the gift alone?
Aquinas responds that our thanks should not just be for the gift itself, but also for the intention of the gift-giver. The thoughtfulness, joy, and love that go into giving gifts are more important than the gift itself. It really is the thought that counts. Our repayment for such gifts, then, should focus mostly on the thought and love behind the action of giving than exactly what the gift is. In Luke 21:1-4, it can be seen that Jesus taught the same. When the poor widow put two coins (a measly sum in comparison to other patrons) into the offering at the treasury, Jesus said that the widow “put in more than all of them” (Luke 21:3) because she gave all she had while the others gave out of their surplus wealth. The point is that the thought counts much more than the item, or the quantity, given. Hence, our thanks should extend beyond what we unwrap this Christmas and into the thought and generosity of the gift-giver.

Should our repayment of the gift be greater than the gift we received?
Again the answer is yes. This is both challenging and confusing. Aquinas concludes his section on gratitude by stating that “gratitude always inclines, as far as possible, to pay back something more.” This requires getting away from our attitude of selfishness, which is very difficult to do. It is not enough just to repay, we must repay even more than what we have been given.

This also begs the question of when repayment ends. After all, if I repay my gift-giver more than he has given me, he would be required to do the same, and so on for infinity! Luckily, Aquinas addresses this very question. He says that “the debt of gratitude flows from charity, where the more it is paid, the more it is due” and that “it is not unreasonable if the obligation of gratitude has no limit.” Imagine that! The idea of creating debt by giving thanks seems undesirable. However, this debt is different from legal or monetary debt and Aquinas insists that it is related to charity and might in fact have no limit. Remember, Aquinas isn't saying a $100 gift should be repaid with a $200 gift. Rather, the meaning and generosity behind the repayment should attempt to exceed that of the original gift.
Many things can be learned from Aquinas’ discussion of gratitude. Firstly, we constantly owe thanks to God and others, not just those who give us private gifts on Christmas. Secondly, we owe gratitude and thanks to each of our gift-givers, no matter how joyfully the gift is given. Thirdly, our repayment to our gift-givers should come at a time convenient to the gift-givers, not at a time that is convenient for us or immediately upon the reception of our gift. Fourthly, our thanks should be not only for the actual gift but primarily for the love and graciousness of the gift-giver. Lastly, our repayment of the gift should flow from our genuine gratitude and be even greater than the gift we have received.

I pray that Aquinas’ teaching on gratitude can help us be truly gracious this Christmas season as we receive the gifts that are given to us. Merry Christmas!

All uncited quotes have been taken from the article on gratitude in the Summa Theologica.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Is Purgatory in the Bible?

What is Purgatory?

“All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church; Paragraph 1030

“The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church; Paragraph 1031

Where is it in the Bible?

Dave Armstrong has a very thorough article on this topic. We, however, will only look at a few convincing examples from Scripture:

  1. Matthew 12:32: “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world, nor in the world to come” (DR Version)
    • This argument, that Jesus here implicitly refers to some purification of sin that occurs "in the world to come," is used by Saint Isidore of Seville, Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the Great, Venerable Bede, and Saint Bernard.[1] As Father John Hardon explains, “by this it is to be understood that certain faults are pardoned in this life, and certain others in the life to come.”[2] This is implicit in Jesus’s statement and seems to match perfectly with the Catholic Church's doctrine on Purgatory.
  2. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire” (NAB).
    • Here, we see Saint Paul speaking at length about our works (building upon the foundation) and how they will be treated during Judgment. He claims that our works will be “revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each one’s work.” The commentary in the New American Bible explains that fire “both destroys and purifies.”[3] It is the final verse, verse 15, that implicitly points to Purgatory. “If someone’s work is burned up,” if it is purified by the fire so that “the person will be saved,” then the fire is purgative so that the person may be purified for heaven. See the Catechism paragraph 1030 (cited above) and how it meshes perfectly with what Saint Paul is saying to the Corinthians.
  3. 2 Maccabees 12:39-44: “On the following day, since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his companions went to gather up the bodies of the fallen and bury them with their kindred in their ancestral tombs. But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.”
    • The doctrine of Purgatory is closely related to the practice of prayers for the dead; if there was no Purgatory, there would be no reason to pray for the deceased. Though 2 Maccabees is a deutero-canonical book, and only in the Catholic canon, there is still much to be said about it in convincing Protestants. Clearly, as the author points out, this ritual of “praying for the dead” is a “very excellent and noble” practice of the ancient Jews. If this practice were appalling to Jesus, it is likely that he would have corrected the Jews, [4] as he did with many of the other Jewish traditions. Jesus does not correct this Jewish tradition, and if this were one of the things Jesus said but was not written down (John 21:25), it is likely a prohibition of prayers for the dead would have appeared in the writings of the early Church. Instead, the Church Fathers consistently urge people to pray for those in Purgatory.
  4. Purgatory follows logically from other verses: As Peter Kreeft says, “the existence of Purgatory logically follows from two facts: our imperfection on Earth and our perfection in Heaven.” Several verses in scripture flesh out this fact:
    • 1 John 1:8—When we die, we are imperfect: “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves,and the truth is not in us”
    • Revelation 21:27—“In Heaven, we will all be perfect:” “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and to it the kings of the earth will bring their treasure. During the day its gates will never be shut, and there will be no night there. The treasure and wealth of the nations will be brought there, but nothing unclean will enter it, nor any[one] who does abominable things or tells lies. Only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
    • “Put these two principles together, and purgatory necessarily follows.”[5]

The Church does not profess faith in Purgatory apart from evidence in the Scriptures. In fact, she often uses them to explain and defend her faith in this purifying state of existence.

[1] Edward Hanna; Catholic Encyclopedia; Purgatory
[2] John Hardon; The Catholic Catechism
[3] New American Bible; Note on 1 Corinthians 3:13
[4] Dave Armstrong’s Biblical Evidence for Catholicism Blog; Biblical Evidence for Purgatory: 25 Bible Passages
[5] Peter Kreeft; Catholic Christianity