Sunday, March 13, 2011

Love me, I Bet You Can't Help Yourself! - sez God

We are in the midst of my favourite topic in Thomistic Thought - his doctrine of grace. I wait all year for this opportunity to convince the class that we are all Protestants after all, more or less. Or something along those lines.

Even most believing Catholics do not much distinguish themselves from their secular peers by their Pelagian presuppositions. The best of them are only 'Semi-Pelagian'. I don't want to get into all the finer details of the doctrine of grace. I just want to talk about one point which preoccupied us at some length this morning: the truth that loving God is not something we cannot do when God shows Himself to us.

Oh, the horror, not being able to do both X and Y!! The horror!

I asked the class to imagine being so in love that the mere presence of your beloved moved you to behave in a certain way. Multiply that by a million times. Take all the addictions that are destructive to human freedom and multiply the intensity of those by a million times. Do you get freedom out of that? Of course not. So how can it be so when it is God who is attracting you?

But it is so! For the one reason that He draws you to your good, your end, your true heart's desire. Just a quick comparison between God and heroine: heroine stimulates parts of you to the detriment of the whole. God stimulates the whole of you to the good of the whole. Nor is the word 'stimulate' appropriate in this case. Various words have been tried: attract, draw, etc. Whatever word we use we must maintain a few things. For one, the attraction is wholesale, which is to say that it draws your body, your mind, and your soul: your sensitive and intellectual appetites. In other words, there is no conflict in terms of what your body craves, what your soul recognizes as beautiful and what your mind recognizes as utterly true, fascinating, intriguing, etc. Secondly, it is an unmixed good. Heroine is pleasant for a time (to part of you) and then becomes repugnant to the whole. Thirdly, because of points (1) and (2) the will is utterly free to do what it likes, for once, finally. This is, existentially speaking, an abnormality, an abnormality within our threshold of experience. Thus, it is philosophically unusual: we have been accustomed to define freedom as the ability to chose either/or, the goodness of the relative choices aside. But this is, in fact, a loss of freedom. Think about it. If you observed children doing something detrimental to their health would you consider them free? Why then an adult? Because the adult understands what he is doing? Yeah, right! He is identifying an evil as something he wants for himself, when he smokes, drinks too much, maligns another, etc.

You are free when, and only when, God reveals Himself and He is all you want. Mad love is freedom's closest analogue.


  1. Dear Dr. Kerr-
    Thoroughly enjoying your blog! We did visit your beautiful college last week to see our daughter in The Comedian, thrilled with what we saw and heard. Rumor has it one of your roles is to intimidate the first years? Blessings, PM

  2. Dear PM,

    Hope you are enjoying the blog! Since I do not teach "first years" I can only guess what they make of me. A great deal would depend upon the reports they get from the upper-level students, I'm sure. My goal as a teacher is to skirt somewhere between challenging and tough. But I'm a work in progress...

  3. Nostrovia! Keep up your excellent work...our little pocket of home schooling families here on Vancouver Island keep OLSWA staff and students in our prayers.