Demonstrating the Sacraments as the Spiritual Heartbeat of the Church

Roger W. Nutt’s new work, General Principles of Sacramental Theology, is a significant and timely contribution to the field of sacramental theology, one which will fill a long-standing void in the Thomistic theological landscape.

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Perhaps the most important aspect of the work is its salient analysis of modern thought and its relation to the pursuit of wisdom. In general, the field of sacramental studies in recent years has largely stood as a sort of microcosm for the wide-ranging contemporary predilection to de-spiritualize everything which it touches. However, what Nutt has done is to properly situate the sacraments within a worldview which strives toward wisdom and real spiritual progress. This ultimately lays the ground work for an understanding of the sacraments which transcends modernity’s proclivity to see even religious practice as entirely experiential, technocratic, and ultimately anthropocentric. The fundamental claim that the sacraments are "visible tokens of God's action"(21) in the world animates the particular theological analyses which comprise the book, allowing them to speak once again to the human desire for wisdom and virtue (rather than remaining dusty, old Thomistic principles of interest only to the curator of ideas). Proper sacramental theology is indeed wedded to Christianity’s claim that mankind is drawn in a supernatural way toward union with God.

Nutt roots sacramental efficacy in the power of Jesus Christ and the Paschal Mystery which is the center point of salvation history. The problem of sin is met with the salve of the sacraments, which not only heal but also elevate man to communion and participation with the divine life itself.

As such, Nutt provides an overview of the sacraments which includes careful considerations of each essential element of Thomistic sacramental theology. For the sake of brevity, I will simply list the most important of those principles: an historical and speculative treatment of the sacraments as signs, sacramental form and matter, ministerial intention, the necessity of the sacraments, sacramental causality and grace (ex opera operato), sacramental character, the institution and authority of the sacraments, and the tripartite sacramental formula of the sacramentum tantum, rest et sacramentum, and res tantum.

While Nutt gives a detailed primer on each principle, he also explores the thought of contrasting theologians and theories. For example, after considering St. Thomas’ theory of instrumental efficient causality, Nutt examines the occasional causality of Duns Scotus, the moral causality of Melchior Cano, as well as some of the views of the Reformers. This analysis not only aids the reader in providing a broader context within which to situate St. Thomas’ views but also helps to clarify those views by way of contrast.

Throughout the work, Nutt cites major figures of the Catholic intellectual tradition but remains in fruitful dialogue and contact with a varied group of modern theologians such as Bernhard Blankenhorn, John Gallagher, Reginald Lynch, Thomas Weinandy, and Sr. Judith Kubicki.

It seems that Nutt’s work has been highly successful in what it sought to achieve, that is to “to address a current lacuna in English-language theological literature” which has been present largely since the publication of Bernard Leeming’s Principles of Sacramental Theology some six decades ago. I believe that it may even be said that Nutt's work transcends Leeming’s work in multiple ways, not least of which with its clarity, coherence, and purposeful consideration of the very foundational principles of solidly Catholic, Thomistic sacramental theology.

The book works at once both to reinvigorate the mind of the sacramental scholar and to introduce the novice to the basic precepts which are fundamental for sacramental study. This book is a must-have for anyone interested in sacramental theology, and ought to immediately become the go-to authority and text for introducing students to the sacramental theology of St. Thomas and its relation to competing sacramental theologies. As such, it appears to me that this work will become an absolutely essential and formative piece of the discussion of sacramental theology for years to come.

It must, of course, be noted that the work is not simply a manual of important sacramental principles. General Principles is itself a speculative contribution to the field insofar as it re-engages fundamental questions in light of what Nutt characterizes as the via moderna of seeing all sacramental practice through the lense of experience, mere history, or anthropology.

Instead, Nutt has re-established the sacraments as the font from which the Church draws her hope and through which she is drawn back to God. Nutt states at the outset that “vital sacramental spirituality constitutes the very heartbeat of the Church,” (6). Rather than relegating sacramental theology to an examination of human ritual or seeing the sacraments as merely an extension of liturgical studies, General Principles restores sacramental study to its legitimate, theo-centric character. With controversies continuing to upset the Church regarding the theological understanding of the operation and reception of the sacraments, Nutt’s work is a true service and offering to the Church, guiding it back toward the Thomistic principles which demonstrate the sacraments and their life-giving pulse.

New Book from Lawrence Feingold: An Introduction to Fundamental Theology

New Book from Lawrence Feingold: An Introduction to Fundamental Theology

As the various debates and crises of the 20th century illustrate, the specific focus of fundamental theology addresses some of the most contentious and pertinent aspects of theological and ecclesial reflection within the (post-)modern milieu. Dr. Lawrence Feingold’s recent volume, Faith Comes from What Is Heard: An Introduction to Fundamental Theology, published by Emmaus Academic, provides the reader with a much-needed “textbook” (xix) that faithfully and perspicaciously navigates the decisive waters of fundamental theology.

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Praemotio Physica and Predestination

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With the arrival of The Catholic University of America Press' Thomism and Predestination: Principles and Disputationsthe questions pertaining to the Angelic Doctor's understanding of predestination and election have once again been brought to the fore of the Thomistic landscape. In looking through the many fine essays that make up this volume, it becomes clear how intimately linked are the questions of physical premotion and predestination. 

Certainly, some may take objection to their relation, especially those who deny that St. Thomas ever held to a doctrine of physical premotion at all. Still, while all Thomists will certainly agree that the grace whereby the elect are chosen (and thus whereby they merit their salvation) is gratuitous, the mechanism of how exactly that grace works to produce the salutary act with the human patient is still hotly disputed.

Many remind us that St. Thomas himself never used the term praemotio physica. While this is certainly true, it is argued by several within this volume that St. Thomas did indeed hold to the doctrine even if he did not explicitly use the term. Steven Long says, "...St. Thomas does affirm that there is a real motion bestowed by God to every creature, a motion that is ontologically prior to any action whatsoever on the part of any creature, including volitional action: and this is what “physical premotion” means. Those who reject the doctrine because Thomas does not use this precise formulation are exhibiting what one might call a semantic ipsissima verba-ism that obstructs their acknowledgment of Thomas’s manifest and express teaching," (pg. 54).

It is indeed true that St. Thomas states unequivocally that, "God moves man to act, not only by proposing the appetible to the senses, or by effecting a change in his body, but also by moving the will itself; because every movement either of the will or of nature, proceeds from God as the First Mover," (ST I-II, q. 6, a. 1, ad 3). Moreover, St. Thomas states, "When anything moves itself, this does not exclude its being moved by another, from which it has even this that it moves itself," (De malo, q. 3, a. 2, ad 4). 

Without the doctrine of physical premotion, questions are immediately raised as to the efficacy of the divine decrees and providential governance over creation. Certainly man participates as a secondary or instrumental cause in his own good action, culminating in the beatific vision for the elect. However, if God is not the primary cause of each and every good act, we may begin to ask whether the elect are distinguished by the grace of God or, conversely, by their own good cooperation with grace, rendering God somehow passive in regard to their distinction and election. 

In so many ways, this new volume on predestination highlights the intimacy between this doctrine of physical premotion and many other facets of the Thomistic theological tradition. In his own essay in the volume, Fr. Serge-Thomas Bonino, O.P. considers how physical premotion necessitates that evil be first permitted by the divine will, otherwise it could not be a part of the divine plan. That God's permission remains non-causal is argued in an essay by Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P. It is man who causes his own defect and sin, not God. Thomas Osborne considers how the Thomist ought to understand St. Thomas when he speaks of God causing the being of the sinful act but not that it be sinful. 

Joseph Trabbic explores the doctrine of praemotio physica as it relates to recent objections from Fr. Brian Shanley, O.P. Fr. Christopher Cullen, S.J. elucidates the ways in which premotion aids in a proper reading of St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises. 

Of course, not all of the essays in the volume deal explicitly with premotion. Roger Nutt contemplates beautifully an often over-looked aspect of this discussion, namely the central role of the Incarnation of Christ for the mystery of predestination. Also exploring the centrality of the Incarnation, Michael Dauphinais surveys St. Paul's spirit of joy in Ephesians, reminding the reader that God's loving election is a source of Christian hope. Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P. considers the relation between devotion to Mary and election, especially as contemplated by Louis de Montfort. 

One of the aspects of this volume which will make it most attractive to Thomists of all stripes is the fact that it is a unified conversation with differing voices. The authors found within often disagree as to the fundamental meaning of the doctrines of physical premotion and predestination themselves. Lawrence Feingold presents an essay which tackles the question of the resistance of grace, arguing along similar lines to Jacques Maritain and Francisco Marín-Sola, two figures who certainly disagreed with, for example, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, referenced favorably within the volume by Bonino, Trabbic, and others. 

Fr. Matthew Lamb unfolds the thought of Bernard Lonergan, whose own view in regard to premotion is far from the classical definition of physical premotion (a direct working on the will as an exterior principle which moves the will to will.) For Lonergan it is instead something closer to the bringing about of a contactus or proximity between two created beings which are already created and preserved in act, allowing one to act upon the other as cause of some effect.

Barry David considers the quantitative scope of salvation, arguing against St. Thomas that the assertion of a minority salvation mitigates the divine goodness. Michael Waldstein spars charitably with the thought of his friend and colleague Steven Long over Hans Urs von Balthasar, pure nature, and its relation to man's ordering to his supernatural end of beatitude. 

While each essay is worthy of speculation and contemplation, the most valuable character of the work is its discussion as a whole. At the center of any of the fruitful tensions, disagreements, and even concurrences between the individual essays is a sign of the Thomistic project once again collectively picking up these difficult but central questions.

Much of that discussion deals, at its core, with the way in which God causes the beatitude of His chosen, a fundamental theological principle for all Thomists. The differing understandings of physical premotion and its relation to human freedom and evil are certainly at the center of this fecund project. Each essay, whether it explicitly deals with premotion or not, is an important comment and addition to the Thomistic tradition on the nature of that doctrine. As such, while the volume addresses a myriad of issues and their relation to the mystery of predestination, it is an important contemporary consideration of praemotio physica. It is a must-read for anyone who is at all interested in predestination or the human dependence upon God for the good acts which are predestination's effect.

New Book! Thomas Aquinas: A Historical and Philosophical Profile

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Many authors have noted developments in Aquinas’ thought over the years. As early as 1280, for instance, a number of Dominicans wrote a work called Articuli in quibus frater Thomas melius in Summa quam in Scriptis locutus est, which documented 32 times Aquinas changed his mind on various topics by comparing the two SummasIn this masterful work of Pasquale Porro, however, changes from the whole Thomistic corpus are documented and traced chronologically. The reader is also provided with both the historical context of the developments in Aquinas' thought and an incisive analysis of the implications and influence such developments have on contemporary discussions. It has been translated from the Italian for CUA Press by Joseph Trabbic and Roger Nutt.

 

Wisdom in the Face of Modernity: Second Edition

Sapientia Press has released the second edition of Wisdom in the Face of Modernity, A Study in Thomistic Natural Theology.

In this remarkable presentation of Aquinas’ natural theology, Fr. Thomas Joseph White attempts to not only clearly present the Angelic Doctor’s teaching, but to also respond to challenges brought forward by modern authors.

 In response to the criticisms of ontotheology by Kant and Heidegger and their claims that the philosophical arguments presented by scholastics such as Aquinas are no longer tenable, White argues that they gravely misunderstood the philosophical presuppositions of classical natural theology. St. Thomas, White insists, would not have appealed to an aprioristic kind of intuition of God as Kant and Heidegger seem to presuppose he would have.

One of the major goals of the book is to explain the order of metaphysical discovery in terms of what Aquinas refers to as a via intentionis (according to which man begins with his experiential knowledge of that which exists and then goes on to analyze the metaphysical structure of concrete beings by means of a posteriori arguments). In this context, he examines the claims of Gilson, Maritain and Rahner regarding the order of discovery and maintains that a renewed appreciation of St. Thomas’ Aristotelianism could help us correct some of the defects in their otherwise meritorious contributions.

Finally, the book also investigates the ways that the study of natural theology can affect the study of theology. Interestingly, White considers the apophatic and cataphatic aspects of Aquinas from a philosophical point of view while pointing out that even if we can know something about what God is by means of analogy, the human mind naturally has some conception of its inadequacy and thus even on the natural level has some kind of velleity for a more perfect knowledge of God.

This edition has three new appendices :

-       Philosophical Wisdom and the Final End of Man: Thomas Aquinas and the Paradigm of Nature-Grace Orthodoxy

-       Divine Names

-       On the Nature of Christian Philosophy: A Response to Critics