Wednesday, October 1, 2008

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

St. Thérèse, Little Flower, pray for us as you promised; for us and for the whole world, that we may be drawn deeper into God, who is Love. I offer this quote for Rebecca, to show, using words I could never compose, why it is better to be wanted by God, desired by God, than to be needed:

"Just as the sun shines simultaneously on the tall cedars and on each little flower as though it were alone on the earth, so Our Lord is occupied particularly with each soul as though there were no others like it. And just as in nature all the seasons are arranged in such a way as to make the humblest daisy bloom on a set day, in the same way, everything works out for the good of each soul."

This truth is hard to see at times, but we know such insight in the life of Thérèse Martin was more than off-set by doubts, by darkness, by fear. In the end, the light shines through darkness, as the Little Flower, who now dwells in perpetual light and intercedes for us knows. I just love that she is a Doctor of the Church. She was proclaimed such by Pope John Paul II on 19 October 1997. In the proclamation JPII wrote: "Therese of Lisieux is a saint who remains young, despite the years that pass, and she is an eminent model for Christians of our day along the road to the third millennium." Her little way is a true path of Christian discipleship for the third millennium and always, to the end of the world.


  1. Dcn Dodge,
    I am a divine passiblist (I reject the idea that God is impassible).
    I am not a formerly trained philosopher and potentially am quite able to make mistakes in what terms mean and in the implication of the terms themselves.
    I was recently involved in a discussion were someone claiming to have less understanding of philosophy than I did asked, “does God need us or want us?” You of course commented on this just 2 days ago.

    I responded that in Catholic thought God does not lack anything. He thus has no wants and no needs.
    Part of the further discussion seems also worth noting. I claim that ultimately need and want are synonymous. I need oxygen to live, but I do not need oxygen if living is not important/necessary. I need $1 million to be a millionaire, but I do not need $1 million if being a millionaire is not important\necessary. If I infer a couple of steps from the response, it was effectively, “I need that which is necessary for me to be as God desires that I am/become, I may want other things but these are not needs.”
    I think this abstraction is important. God has no accidental properties. To be as God essentially is, God lacks/needs/wants nothing. And since God is impassible He cannot receive from outside Himself. And since God is unchanging, He cannot be other than He is through the realization of a lack/need/want. So in Catholic thought God does not need us for He is complete without us, but I cannot see how it does not do violence to the word “want” to suggest He wants us when in fruition or frustration this “want” has no effect.
    To me it seems that all is precisely the same for the impassible God if I love Him or if I reject Him. How can He want me to love Him if He is totally unmoved by my love?

    I do not want to be a Catholic, but if I am to not be a Catholic, I want it to not be because I have understood the BEST that is Catholicism and concluded that it is not sufficient. I do not want to be like so many folks who look at some caricature of another faith and reject that faith because such is the easy road. Since shortly after I ceased to be a Catholic, I have been intrigued by Catholicism and convinced that it was the second best theology/religion/read-of-history (with third and … being leagues below). I have many reasons (a Catholic might say stumbling blocks) I am not Catholic. The largest however seem to be built upon reason and philosophy, subjects I can now speak about but may not understand as well as I think I do.

    I do not want to disturb tributes to St. Thérèse, Little Flower and am thus willing to sulk away as quietly as I have come. I was however told that you were “a Catholic deacon, trained in philosophy” (and even that you have discussed God’s impassibility before thought it seems not in the first two pages, I will look more). I should also say, I am quite hard headed. If you like I can agree (and then attempt) to listen with great passivity so as not to advocate for my views (I will assume this is not the path you would choose unless you say it is). Also if you would rather not feel like a Catholic philosophy “genie in the bottle,” you can just recommend reading to me.

    Anyway, thank you for reading this far.
    Charity, TOm

  2. Tom:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments and question. You are not disturbing my tribute to the Little Flower, but enhancing it.

    It is not a valid inference to jump from the fact/idea that God does not need us, like we need oxygen, to being what might be called a "divine impassiblist". Here the parental analogy will suffice- I did not need to become a parent. I chose to become a parent. Making that choice didn't just change my life, it changed me, it changed who I am. To wit: one can believe that God does not need us, in a strict sense, and that God is invested in creation, in us, and cares about and is affected/effected by us and the world. In fact, that is my position. The lead on this clearly must be attriubted to Origen, but can also be seen in Augustine and other, more contemporary, Catholic theologians. even ones as different as Balthasar, who deserves a lot of credit for bringing Origen back into the tradition, and Rahner.

    Again, it is important not to abstract the question too much. In addition to the parental analogy, think about a romantic attachment, an unrequited love, Do you need that person? No, but it may feel like you do, we have a lot of (mostly bad) poetry to prove this point. Not having that person, not being able to relate in an intimate way, leaves a mark, we are affected and effected, that is, changed by it.

    In the Catholic tradition, when it comes to the subject of divine (im)passibility, there is no singular answer. The most predominant answer would be the Thomistic one, which you have outline well enough. Not all Catholic thinkers, including BXVI, are not Thomists.

  3. Thank you very much for responding to me.
    I agree completely that God not needing us does not demand God is impassible. My point was that God’s impassibility has profound impacts upon the idea that God either needs up or God wants us.

    I did not know that Pope Benedict XVI was not a Thomist. I am familiar with the idea that there are those who are not Thomists, but it has been my experience that they are in the minority. In addition to virtually all those who have not thought about the questions, most folks who have thought about it seem to declare that they are in alignment with Aquinas. I personally have been sympathetic to Molina’s middle knowledge, but I should acknowledge that I am not radically well versed in this and other alternatives to Thomist thought.

    I have looked around in response to your post and it would seem that there are definitely some modern Catholic thinkers that are / are accused of being passiblists. Previous explorations of this issue with Catholics have resulted in the recommendation of two books.
    [b]The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought[/b] by Paul L. Gavrilyuk
    [b]Does God Suffer?[/b] by Father Thomas Weinandy

    Weinandy goes so far as to say (I am not sure if it is in the book, but it is in the article with the same title), “From the dawn of the Patristic period Christian theology has held as axiomatic that God is impassible—that is, He does not undergo emotional changes of state, and so cannot suffer. Toward the end of the nineteenth century a sea of change began to occur within Christian theology such that at present many, if not most, Christian theologians hold as axiomatic that God is passible, that He does undergo emotional changes of states, and so can suffer.”
    Weinandy names Hans Kung (which did not surprise me). I had initially not really noticed that Weinandy names Balthasar. This surprised me a little. My generally feel (taken largely from Catholics with whom I have dialogued), is that Kung is often considered unorthodox. I do not recall those same folks suggesting such a think about Balthasar.

    Is there anywhere that you could direct me to Origen or Augustine’s passiblist writings? I could imagine how some of the folks I have dialogued with would label Origen, and how they would label the specific writings of Augustine. That of course does not make them correct.

    I am sympathetic with the presentation of Gavrilyuk and a much less focused, but in full agreement, presentation by Pelikan. For me it would be tough to be a Catholic passiblist in that I see the impassibility of God being a huge ingredient in the first 4 to 6 or 7 councils. From the 4th century on, I think most heretics and orthodox agreed upon the impassiblity of God. They just disagreed on how to draw the lines between God the Father, God the Son, and the Man Jesus Christ.

    When I was directed here I expected to be exposed to the flaws in my philosophical reasoning from the foundation of impassibility to my various problems. I was not expecting to be supported in my philosophy and questions with respect to the Catholicity (or perhaps universal Catholicity) of impassiblity. This of course is fine. Are there any Catholic passibilists who endeavor to defend passibilism historically? Or some who draw upon some of Augustine’s writings to defend passiblism? That would be very interesting for me. I am a more recent non-professional philosophy student and a somewhat less (though not experienced really) non-professional Christian history student.

    Also while I do not think it particularly relevant; based on your location, you are familiar with my religion. I on occasion do to not mention it, because usually dialogue turns to this rather than a subject I am interested in learning about. I however, do not want to hide anything.

    Thank you very much for your response.
    Charity, TOm

  4. Without being dismissive or derogatory, being something of a divine passibilist myself, I do not believe that God the Father is an exalted human being (i.e., "has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's" {D&C 130 and Abraham chapter 3}). My point in mentioning this is that if you believe that- I do not want to debate that belief here because this not an apologetics blog; there are plenty of those around- there is no serious theological issue with God being passionate (i.e., as opposed to the "without body, parts, or passions"), about God having changing emotional states. I do not agree that God having changing emotional states is an acceptable definition of divine passibilism. Such a definition would be derived from philosophy, not theology. It is too much of a reduction.

    Without being argumentative or condemnatory, it stands to reason that such a "God" is a contingent being, requiring a "God" himself. I would argue that according to the LDS plan of salvation, at least as I understand it, it is something of a necessity for gods to create. So, the whole issue of God not needing us also becomes different on that view. To say that God had a God, or, with Arius, the Son was created by the Father, is to say God is not God because God is not divine. So, while such a "God" might be have a body, parts, and passions, He isn't divine. Again, apart from not being scriptural, this was the fundamental problem with Arius' proposed solution, if we accepted that, we could in no wise say the Son was truly divine and if the Son was not divine, then, with Hebrews chapter 9 in mind, we are still in our sins. At best He would be some kind of demi-god and there is only one God. I mean the axiom One God in three (divine) persons wasn't made up out of whole cloth, neither does it represent a misinterpretation of scripture, nor is it contradictory in the least.

    To give just one quick example, take Deut. 6,4: "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!" I like very much this footnote from the NAB: "This passage contains the basic principle of the whole Mosaic law, the keynote of the Book of Deuteronomy: since the Lord alone is God, we must love him with an undivided heart. Christ cited these words as 'the greatest and the first commandment,' embracing in itself the whole law of God (Matthew 22:37, 38 and parallels)." That there is but one God of heaven and earth and all that exists is the major theme of the whole of Jewish Scripture, which the church has accpeted as divinely inspired from the beginning. It is axiomatic because it an explicit part of revelation.

    I answer in this way out of necessity, otherwise we would be equivocal about divine passibilism. In other words, we are talking about two different things.

  5. At the risk of making an invalid inference myself, it is not possible to argue from passibilism in the tradition, beginning before Origen, to anything like an LDS doctrine of God.

  6. Tom:

    All your information does is alter the course of the discussion. My point is that the LDS doctrine of God is so different that, when discussing divine impassibility, we run the risk of equivocating, that is, discussing two different things.

    Since I am not burdened with an over abundance of time, I will park my comments here:

    Suffice it to say that there is nothing in Catholic teaching, in the Christian tradition, that necessitates the absolute acceptance of divine impassibility. Of course, for many centuries, for some five hundred plus years, due to the dominance of Thomism, this idea was predominant. In the ressourcement that occurred in the twentieth century, even prior to Vatican II, the possibility of divine passilbility was retrieved from the Tradition and re-introduced into Catholic thought by, among others, Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

    I highly recommend his anthology Origen: Spirit and Fire. I also recommend an article in Communio, Summer 2003, by Jean-Pierre Batut, entitled “Does the Father Suffer?” in which he gives, to quote the abstract, "an overview of the question of God’s suffering in order to show both the novelty and the deeply traditional character of what is the core of Balthasar’s theology of divine pathos: Balthasar’s grounding of God’s real involvement in history in the intra-trinitarian difference between the Father and the Son." This article will go along way toward answering your particular questions. It is annotated. So, references to relevant passages in Origen and Balthasar, as well as other contemporary and traditional Christian thinkers are provided, giving you a decent bibliography from which to start. If you'd like, you can e-mail your address and I will be happy to mail you a copy of the article.


Heeding the most important call of all

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