HRISTIANITY LIBERATES the intellect through revealing what is true about God, Christ, man, the world. As such, Christian revelation enables the mind to know absolute truth, even if incompletely, and enables the mind to express these truths propositionally, as all the Councils from Nicea to Trent succeeded in doing.
Credal or conciliar statements are icons that reveal and conceal, signposts that cannot signify the fullness of what they target but are, for all that, in no way deceptive or false. Theology certainly has a propositional and therefore a “scientific” side to it, which must not be allowed to become totally dominant but which cannot be suppressed without damaging the fabric of revealed doctrine. As a modern theologian notes, the intention of proclaiming a dogmatic definition “aims at protecting the mystery which is the object of faith, which is not totally accessible to reason. This is possible because human reason can always see if some assertion curtails the totality or catholicity of the mystery. Thus the definitions surround the mystery like cherubs armed with swords of flame.” Theology cannot be a true spiritual exercise unless it is also episteme, that is, certain knowledge that can be grasped but not ever exhausted by the intellect. St. Thomas’s distinction between apprehension and comprehension, or Gabriel Marcel’s distinction between “problem” and “mystery,” are germane here.
In her formal and systematic theology the Catholic Church is not detracting from or ossifying a living faith but, on the contrary, drawing further riches from its inner mysteries, in order that faith may put its roots still more deeply into revelation and shield itself from the narrowness of error. In this way, dogmatic theology or the dogmatic impulse undergirds the life of prayer, mystical ascent, and communion; without it, these other things could not prosper, or prospering, would begin to deviate like a plant untended by the gardener. Each age seems to spawn its own diseases that bid fair to overtake and kill the garden; no age finds the Church unprepared to extirpate them.
Formulas intensify and clarify just what the mystery is. The mystery is amplified in its very character as mystery when it is defined, because it is no longer “floating out there” but is tied to a definite affirmation about glorified reality as revealed to us by God, even though we can never reach the bottom of this affirmation. The difference between “Christ is somehow present here in the Eucharist” and the definite idea that “the glorified Christ is truly and really present here, body, blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine which are no longer substantially bread and wine,” is worthy of consideration. The former is a vague, though nicely suggestive, idea. The latter is definite, a strong triumphant proclamation of a supernatural truth that we can never comprehend but can definitely and clearly believe.
From this follow many consequences for liturgy, worship, and prayer. The Scholastics were able to be ultraconceptual because of their transconceptual love of God, their great love of His glory and honor and sublimity. This is how they could work so superhumanly hard and accomplish so much. Because we moderns, in contrast, have such an anemic spiritual life, afflicted by Cartesian intellectualism, we project this cold-bloodedness back onto the medievals. But the spiritual life of the medievals was ecstatic, mystical, enveloped in prayer and liturgy. The great scholastics, such as Bonaventure, Albert, and Thomas, were holy fools, knight-errants of crucified eros. That is the only explanation of their almost divine concentration, comprehension, and devotion. Where did Albert get the strength and apostolic fervor to visit every diocese of Germany on foot, in addition to writing what will occupy some 40 folio volumes in the critical edition of his works, in addition to his constant preaching, teaching, and praying? If one reads about the life of Thomas the accomplishments are no less miraculous. The pope who said Tot miracula, quot articula―as many articles as he wrote, so many miracles did he perform―was not merely engaging in verbal wit.
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