Tag Archives: Saint Catherine of Siena

Amoris laetitia: Epistemology of love: Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, Catherine of Siena

saint catherine of siena

Jesus Himself fulfilled the vocation of Isaiah, to blind eyes, stop up ears, harden hearts, and remove all understanding lest people turn to the Lord to be saved. Good! We are not to pretend that just because we have eyes and ears and hearts we can turn to the Lord under our own power like some Pelagian work-your-own-way-to-God knucklehead. We must allow ourselves, by God’s grace, to be turned to the Lord, to be brought up into His mercy.

We hate any demand to give up control over ourselves, even of our spiritual lives, even to the Lord Himself. This is our fallen human condition. It is a crucifixion of our fallen spirits simply to watch the Lord bringing us to Himself. If people want to have a work to do in the spiritual life, it is this, to be crucified by watching the Lord bring us to Himself. When we have our eyes fixed on Him, our ears listening in obedience, our hearts able to love whatever the cost of a pierced heart, this will then be our greatest joy, a proof of the resurrection of the Lord in our lives, for we cannot be led by a dead god in this way, but only in friendship with the Living God.

There is a passage of The Divine Doctrine in which Christ’s words are particularly incisive and ironic. Catherine is relating her report of what our Lord is dictating to her. Jesus is speaking about Saint Paul’s interpretation of the key of knowledge, by which we see what the eye cannot see, hear what the ear cannot hear, and understand in our hearts what otherwise cannot arise in the heart of man. We cannot do this, but the Holy Spirit can effect this in us.

Saint Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2:9, does interpret Isaiah 6:4-10 – cited in Matthew 13:15, Acts 28:27, et al. – by saying it is by way of the love of God, by way of the crucified Lord of glory, that we see and hear and understand. Paul is accurate, says our Lord – as Saint Catherine relates – so much so that “questo parbe che volesse dire Paulo,” so much so that “this seems to be what Paul wanted to say,” that is, as if it were Paul’s revelation, Paul’s knowledge, Paul’s very own desire. In other words, Paul was so transformed by grace, that it was as if Paul spoke on his own authority. Yet, in this passage, the most erudite of all academic Pharisees himself happily admits that he is speaking by the power of God and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was not conjecturing about what it seems to Him that Paul wanted to say, as if Jesus were Paul’s student: “In my opinion it seems to me that Paul wanted to say this…” Jesus was rather confirming just how correct Paul’s words were, for they were actualized in Paul’s life with the grace of Jesus, the power of God, and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Paul was perfectly attuned to the grace of God that opened his eyes, unstopped his ears, pierced open his heart.

It is a sign of the times that the Spiritual Theology guru of our day, a consultor for multiple episcopal conferences on the spiritual formation of seminarians, called me into his office one day (some time ago in a far distant land), in order to mock this passage of Saint Catherine, laughing at her “revelations”, saying how stupid it is that she would think that Jesus could only have a personal opinion as to what Paul might possible mean, his eyes and ears and heart ironically entirely closed off to the meaning of this passage about how eyes and ears and heart can be entirely closed off to the revelation of God’s grace. I told him that I was going to publish my take on all this, that instead Paul was the perfect teacher of the power of grace, that is, in his very person. I was told that I was never to do this, that this would be the worst possible thing to say. He followed this up with threats of vindictive revenge (he has a lot to say about who does or doesn’t get published). He so much wanted to be (breathlessly) the first to publish about this with his mockery. Nevertheless, every year or two after that, I would again gently tell him my intention and he would again forbid me with his threats. This dispute became quite public and others would ask him why he was so severe with me, stunned at this out-of-character pretense to control the free speech of others. He would simply become speechless with anger.

Jumping forward until today, looking at Amoris laetitia, I see this same closing off of the eyes and years and heart to what should otherwise be the clear love of Jesus for His Bride the Church. The infamous chapter eight provides eyes and ears and heart closed off to the transforming love of Jesus, replacing His love with mere expediency, mere casuistry, mere rewarding of people who say they are in a difficult situation with the Eucharist, mere self-absorbed Promethean neo-Pelagianism, all self-referential, all self-congratulatory: We’re turning to the Lord under our own power! Well, one might think so, but that doesn’t make it true. This is about God’s love, not fierce individualism.

Either sanctifying grace shines through us as much as it did in Paul, or it doesn’t shine through us at all. There is a difference between mortal sin and grace, between adultery and faith filled matrimony, between ignoring Jesus and being in awestruck reverence before Him. Either our eyes and ears and hearts are closed or they are open. Either we are against Isaiah and Jesus and Paul and Catherine, or we are with them. Either our epistemology of love is merely the imposition of ourselves on reality, making it ideology, or the epistemology of love that we embrace inasmuch as it is given to us is the love given by God. He will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.

Post script: Is all this an attack on the Holy Father, something that Catherine would severely condemn? No. Being a faithful son in not abandoning him, just trying to provide some insight, is not an attack. I love the Holy Father to pieces.

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