Tag Archives: St. Thomas Aquinas

Faith and Providence

“Faith and Providence”
A reflection on Matthew 9:2
Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

He entered a boat, made the crossing, and came into his own town. And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.” At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He rose and went home. When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings.

Matthew 9:1-8

The faith of friends
Heaven’s will bends?

The couplet ends in wonder because theologians themselves debate the workings of divine providence. How can God be both “immutable” (lacking imperfection) and also be moved by the prayers of the faithful? Does prayer change God?

Any attempted solution comes from a “perspective,” which by definition is limited. From the perspective of time, observers mark the changes of being and becoming, and it appears that prayer changes God. 

From the “perspective of eternity” (a contradictory notion), God is “the simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of interminable life” (definition of Boethius as quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica 1.10.1). Accordingly, God does not change.

Eternity and time, primary and secondary causes, find their convergence in God beyond all concepts and “perspectives,” even beyond the concept of God. 

In Aquinas’ classic solution, prayer fulfills God’s unchangeable will from all eternity (ST 2-2.83.2c). 

St. Thomas realized at the end of his life, however, that all words fail to circumscribe the uncircumscribable: “All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me” (December 6, 1273 after a mystical experience).

Eating Christ

Icon of the Eucharist

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

John 6:52-59

Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so also the one who eats me will live because of me.

John 6:57; NABRE

The Father gives life (zóé) to the Son without beginning or end. All things come from and return to the Father, the fountainhead of life. Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man are compared to receiving life from the Father. The phrase “flesh and blood” is a familial one:

Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death…

Hebrews 2:14

Applying earthly terms to divinity, the Son of God shares in the “flesh and blood” (life) of the Father, and thus “lives because of the Father.” In turn, the children of Adam share in the “flesh and blood” of the Son of God, and live because of the Son. 

By coming from the Father into the world and uniting flesh (sarx) to divinity (John 1:14), Jesus raised all of humanity and the cosmos to the Father. 

Many walked away from Jesus when he emphatically stated that eating and drinking his flesh and blood were necessary for eternal life.

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

John 6:52-55

Followers of Christ outside of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches interpret these texts metaphorically (e.g., that eating is believing), but Christian tradition from the beginning testifies to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

Cannibalism it is not, however, though early Christians were accused of it. In the speculations of St. Thomas Aquinas, the flesh and blood of Christ were never separated from the Godhead, even on the Cross and in the tomb.1 Thus, to eat and drink Christ means to eat and drink God Incarnate in the wholeness of his personal union of divinity and humanity. 

Those who left Jesus may have been repulsed by images of manslaughter and the consumption of blood, which were forbidden in Jewish law (Leviticus 7:26-27). Those who remained believed without comprehending. 

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

John 6:56

For the believing disciples, remaining with Jesus at all cost took precedence over unanswered questions and incomprehension.

This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

John 6:58

The authenticity of the person of Christ, stamped with the Father’s seal (John 6:27), bonded his disciples to him. “To whom shall we go?” Peter asked (John 6:68). Outside of Christ, what hope was there for eternal life?

-GMC

1 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, q. 50, a. 2.

Resurrection in a Garden

Icon of the Anastasis (Resurrection)

24th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-49

The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

”For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”1

“For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”2

“The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”3

These pointers beyond our earthly existence to our deified destiny were lifted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (460). The spiritual DNA of Adam and the cosmos finds its origin in the eternally begotten Son of God. Christ, transcendent and “prior” to creation, is the archetype of humankind. The blueprint of humanity, untouched by time, exists in the heart of the Trinity.

Brothers and sisters: Someone may say, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back? ”You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

Fading flowers, seed production, winter dormancy, and springtime renewal point beyond themselves to the ultimate resurrection of Adam and the cosmos. 

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. So, too, it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being,” the last Adam a life-giving spirit. But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.

Through stillness and silence in the midst of our activities, may we allow the Holy Spirit to plant us in the soil of Paradise so that we may germinate and grow in the Son to the Father. 

-GMC

1 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939.
2 St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B.
3 St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57, 1-4.