Fides quarens intellectum
Thomas Aquinas College is founded on two traditions: that of the Great Books and that of Catholic Education. Dr. Glen Coughlin, then the College dean, wrote in his 2001 Report on Instruction that the College is “committed to the proposition which animates all of truly Catholic liberal education …“faith seeking understanding.” St. Anselm used this phrase, fides quarens intellectum, in his Proslogion (which Sophomores will read this semester), to describe the relationship between human intellect and divine wisdom, between faith and reason. Theology is an attempt to articulate God’s ways in human words, but it is successful only to the extent that the theologian believes in the Faith. Pope Benedict (who better than most understood the relation of faith to reason) instituted our Year of Faith to underscore that faith is indispensable to the higher acts of the human intellect.
So declares our First Reading from the book of Wisdom. “The deliberations of mortals are timid, … the earthen shelter weighs down the mind.” You may experience this later tonight, in the library, as you try to get through your 80 pages of philosophy for tomorrow’s seminar. You will be tired, and hungry, and distracted, and homesick (some of you), and it will be hard to study. “Scarce do we guess the things on earth,” continues our reading, “and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty”—mathematics, astronomy, physics, and all the natural sciences, which are relatively simple, measurable, sensible—even these we must toil at. “But when things are in heaven, who can search them out … except you had given wisdom?” The highest discoveries of the intellect come only through God’s revelation.
Faith: A superior act of the intellect
Pope Francis in his first encyclical, Lumen fidei, says faith is an act of the intellect superior to that of unaided human reason, because it is illuminated not merely by empirical observation, but by love. Mother Teresa, for example, aided by her faith in the Love of God, understood reality on a grander scale than those who analyze things only in terms of power and economics. She could see the broader connections, the “mega-stories,” the deepest relationships between things and peoples. This kind of understanding is not achieved by men but given by God. And that is why Thomas Aquinas College spends great effort developing the student’s understanding of faith as well their understanding of intellect. Without faith, our intellects are hamstrung.
Only All for Jesus
In the Gospel, Jesus insists on the absolute primacy of God above every other created being. He goes so far as to say that we must “hate” our mother and father in order to love Him, and even hate ourselves. He uses sharp Semitic overstatement to press home his point: nothing must come before the things of God. Should my own mother mean more to me than God, I must “hate” her, that is, crucify my attachment to her. It is not my mother I hate, but my own disordered attachment to her that I hate. My own ways—my own “counsels” apart from God’s counsel—leads only to chaos and disappointment, and ultimately to death. Mother Teresa told her sisters that we must be “only all for Jesus,” and “nothing and nobody” must come between us and God.
This primacy of God’s wisdom over human wisdom bears on the current question of a military strike against Syria. Yesterday our College held a holy hour for the people of Syria, at just the time Pope Francis was holding his prayer vigil in Rome. 100,000 people prayed from 7pm to midnight in St. Peter’s Square, begging God to guide the deliberations of men in this difficult situation. God’s Church teaches that war must be a last resort, after all possible diplomatic negotiations have failed. War is an evil so great that scarcely any other evil justifies it. If men use only their own intellects, however, they will frequently resort to war; if men use their intellects assisted by God’s counsels, war will be a relatively rare occurrence in human history.
In 1991, both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa begged the elder President Bush to refrain from war with Iraq. “War is always a failure,” the Pope wrote. In 2003, John Paul pleaded with the younger President Bush not to attack Bagdad. Three days ago Pope Francis pleaded with President Obama to refrain from attacking Syria. He wrote to the twenty richest nations meeting at the G20 summit in Moscow last week: “please lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.” He went on to say that the leaders of the G20 “cannot remain indifferent to the dramatic situation of the beloved Syrian people.” For a man of faith, the 6 million refugees and 110,000 dead are, each one of them, “beloved.” Only love can see the human faces in war; only faith can illuminate the intellect towards a real solution in difficult conflicts. Human reason must submit itself to the corrective influence of faith in order to succeed. For his part, Syrian President Assad is ready to pit his country against the entire American military, effectively using his own citizens as human shields in a futile and ridiculous attempt to maintain his own petty power.
Syria cannot win this war, but neither can the American Military. Everyone will lose if we depend on mere human intelligence to solve this problem. Only the intellect informed by faith and charity can see the path to a real solution.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace
Today, September 8, is the feast of the Birth of Mary, although because it is Sunday we don’t celebrate it this year. Our Lady is the Queen of Peace, the Mother of the Prince of Peace. Her Immaculate Heart understood what the human mind, crippled by original Sin, can never understand. Let us submit ourselves to her Heart, perfectly in accord with God’s Sacred Heart. Her wisdom is God’s wisdom; her love is his love. Without God, and his Holy Mother, humanity is condemned to destroy itself, as history has repeatedly shown.
The Obama Administration is seeking congressional support for a military strike against Syria. President Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, has said that America’s “credibility” is on the line if we do not attack Syria. But what “credibility” does America have among thoughtful people of good will? I asked some locals in Venezuela last month (definitely not “Chavistas”) how they see America. They spoke of our country in two terms: its invincible military and its global-dominating economy, both of which promote simple American self-interest. America takes what it wants from the world, they seemed to say. The Obama Administration insists it wants to strike Syria in the interest of world peace, but who can believe that?
Virtually every non-political organization in the Middle East is pleading against military intervention. The Orthodox Patriarch of Damascus, the Jesuits in Syria, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Melkite Patriarch in Syria, the Copts (who are facing extermination in Egypt from US-supported regime change), and the Armenians are all saying to President Obama “do not send attack missiles into our country.” In a magazine interview, Trappist nuns in Aleppo describe the real situation in their country: “All has been destroyed: a nation destroyed, generations of young people exterminated, children growing up wielding weapons, women winding up alone and targeted by various types of violence. The people are straining their eyes and ears in front of the television: all they’re waiting for is a word from Obama! … Will they make us breathe the toxic gases of the depots they hit, tomorrow, so as to punish us for the gases we have already breathed in? …It has become too easy to pass lies off as noble gestures, to pass ruthless self-interest off as a search for justice, to pass the need to appear [strong] and to wield power off as a “moral responsibility not to look away…”
Has our military intervention in the Middle East ever
yielded any measure of peace proportionate to the chaos and destruction, and the long-term political instability, of war? I was talking to a group of US Marines on Sunday, who shook their heads when I asked what they thought of a military attack on Syria. “Let’s just hope Congress persuades him against it,” one said.
Few understand the local people and politics better than non-governmental aid agencies, and few have as much experience and credibility as Caritas International. “Scaling up military intervention by foreign powers will simply widen the war and increase the suffering,” Caritas Secretary General Michel Roy recently said. “The last decade bears witness to the tragic consequences of military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Caritas believes that the only humanitarian solution is a negotiated one.”
Pope Francis agrees, and himself is pleading with President Obama to negotiate with rather than to bomb Syria. He has asked us all to fast on Saturday, with heartfelt prayers to God, that our government does the right thing. The American Bishops’ Conference (on their website) has given more specific guidance on Saturday’s day of prayer for peace in Syria.
Must we attack in order to preserve our “credibility?” President Obama said we must attack Syria in response to the Sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of Syrian children. If he were truly concerned about the lives of children, he would sign an executive order tomorrow banning abortion in this country. Then, perhaps, America would begin to regain some of the credibility we once had before God and men.
The Prince of Peace
Jesus is the Prince of Peace, as the prophet Isaiah named him. “Peace I leave with you; peace is my farewell gift to you” Jesus said just before his Passion.
In the United States a Basketball star has named himself “Meta World Peace.” I suppose he took that name in hopes of promoting “world peace.” But, like many rich and famous people, and many of the rest of us, he lives his life mostly as if God did not exist. And therefore his dream of “world peace” is simply illusory: there is no real peace outside of God’s will.
Not as the World gives Peace do I give Peace
So Jesus, the Prince of Peace, declares in today’s Gospel that he has come, not to establish peace, but to bring division (“the sword,” in another translation). He means that he has not come to establish “world peace,” the peace of this world, for he says clearly in another place, “in the world you will have no peace.” And again, as he gives his farewell gift of peace, he says “not as the world gives it do I give you peace.”
When we shake each other’s hands in the Mass and say “peace be with you,” we are not to give worldly peace. In fact, the priest specifically says “the peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all,” not simply “peace be with you.” The ungainly exercise that we see on most Sundays at the “kiss of peace”—people flashing “peace signs” at each other with big grins, chatting noisily in worldly greetings, slapping each other on the back with a loud “peace, Joey!”—this is not what the Holy Spirit has in mind for the sacred liturgy. This kind of glad-handing is less the peace of Christ and more the banal “peace” of this world, more proper to Wal-Mart than the Holy Mass.
Not Peace but the Sword
True peace comes with the growing conviction that God exists and that he loves mankind. Jesus has come to set a fire on the earth, the fire of Divine Love. He burns in anguish to accomplish that baptism of fire, which he will indeed accomplish on the Cross: he will win the peace through a violent death, surrendering to His Father’s will: “It is accomplished.” True peace is accomplished often, in our disordered world, by accepting unavoidable violence with God’s grace. Jeremiah suffers violence in the First Reading because he obeys God rather than men; he speaks the truth that the princes do not want to hear. They throw him into a cistern, and even though he is rescued, Jeremiah will eventually die a martyr’s death for following God. In the second reading, we are told to run the race, to “cast off any encumbrance of sin” that slows us down, to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, pushing through fire and water if necessary to reach the “perfector of our faith.” True peace, true joy, is running toward Jesus, letting nothing and nobody slow us down.
Know Jesus, Know Peace
Yes, Jesus has come to bring peace, but his peace is often purchased at the cost of division. His peace is a conflagration of love, the violence of God’s passion for man. It is quite different from the “world peace” that so many imagine can be attained apart from God’s law. No government has been able to attain “world peace,” and yet every true Christian, even though besieged by adversity and violence, has Christ’s peace in their hearts and homes. The bumper sticker says it quite concisely: “Know Jesus, Know Peace; No Jesus, No Peace.”
Peace is not always peaceful
You’ve heard the phrase “freedom is not free.” This College, for example, is currently engaged in a costly lawsuit with the federal government to preserve our religious liberty. Here below, freedom is not always free, and peace is not always peaceful. The peace Christ gives in today’s Gospel must often be preserved through nerve-wracking confrontation. Peace at any cost is not peace. Consider the carnage Europe bore for not confronting Hitler early on; consider the chaos parents undergo who do not discipline their young children; consider the nervous unrest any man suffers who does not wage unceasing war on his disordered passions.
“Not as the world gives, do I give you peace,” Christ says. Peace of soul comes only after violent battles with the spirits and powers of this world; Christ’s peace reigns only when we have submitted our wills to God’s will, and know we are right with his natural order. In his will is our peace.
The World’s Peace is no Peace
The world seeks its own peace apart from God, and it remains deeply troubled. For example, in the Middle East wishing each other “peace” is the normal form of greeting: shalom in Hebrew, and as-salaam 'alaykum in Arabic. The holy city of Jerusalem itself means “Foundation of Peace,” Yarah-Shalom. But ironically, I would say scandalously, the least peaceful place on the planet has been the Middle East, precisely where God came to earth and offered mankind his peace. Our nation’s most violent day, September 11, 2001, reflected this never-ending conflict (Muslims attacked New York City, the largest Jewish population outside of Israel). Jesus prophesied this, of course: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate.” Jerusalem continues to refuse God’s word, to refuse his prophets, to refuse his Christ, and we are all of us citizens of that City—the City of Man that struggles to become the City of God. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
As America draws farther from God’s law, violence will increase as society unravels. Our country is choosing to forget the words of her own Declaration of Independence, which states that “the law of nature and nature’s God” is the basis for every freedom. Fifty years ago we accepted contraception, and forty years ago we legalized abortion, and thirty years ago we granted divorce, and twenty years ago we exalted single parenthood. Last week an NBA player admits that he engages in perverted sex and our President calls him to praise his “courage.” What our president did—placating perversion—will only bring more violence to America in the long run. We are all familiar with Mother Teresa’s phrase, “the greatest destroyer of peace in the world today is abortion.” The moral infidelity of her citizens jeopardizes America’s peaceful order more than any foreign military threat. We are a people profoundly ill at ease, and ready to erupt at the slightest provocation.
The War for Peace of Heart
Solzhenitsyn famously said that the line separating good and evil passes not through political parties but right through every human heart. Even at Thomas Aquinas College, we must wage war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We cannot imagine our green gate on the Ojai Road keeps the world’s chaos out of our campus. Alcohol is a problem among us; blasphemy and swearing are not uncommon; the use of pornography is endemic at TAC to some degree as well. Do we imagine we can receive Christ’s peace without doing violence to these sins, and violence to ourselves? The Kingdom of God suffers violence, the Lord says, and the violent take it by force. If our friends commit these kinds of sins, we must find a way to wage the battle with them, shoulder to shoulder. With charity and patience, we must fight for peace together.
Your Mission of Peace
Your mission as students and graduates of TAC is to bring Christ’s peace to the world by bringing his truth; and obedience to that truth. This will not be a peaceful task, either personally or publicly in a culture maniacally bent on attaining a worldly peace apart from God. You will have to wield the sword of division at times, even within your own family, even against yourself. But we wield this sword always with charity, and with the goal of reconciliation and sanctification. St. John portrays the New Jerusalem for us in our second reading, from the end of the Book of Revelation. That City needs no sun for light, nor temple for worship, for the Lamb is its light and its temple. It is of that city that we must be citizens. Let us ask Our Lady to help us be good soldiers and good citizens of the New Jerusalem, the true City of Peace. In this month of May, let us dedicate ourselves to praying the rosary for true peace, the fruit of saying yes to God’s perfect will.