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Some Mistaken Foundations

John Kelleher

This is a longer essay, whose purpose is to edge closer to articulating provisional, tentative rules of thumb upon which covenantal moral theologies can found practical moral judgments.

The body of this essay lays out some of the reasons not only why covenantal moral theologies cannot base practical moral inquiries on the same foundations most often assumed by other moral theologies, but also why they must refuse all 'foundations' in the sense of time-less principles; for covenantal moral theologies possess the truth as radically historical Gift in ecclesia.

From the start, however, we hasten to add that covenantal moral theologies are not prevented from deploying -- as provisional -- ideas, concepts, procedures, which they cannot take as foundational.

We also are amused to note that telling covenantal moral theologies, "In your moral reasoning, you can never do thus-and-so," is a kind of principle, though obviously not one of much positive help.

Covenantal moral theologies are certainly allowed to seek more productive principles than those, but it may be that simply avoiding some venerable blind alleys is all that covenantal moral theologies will be able to manage in the short run -- yet that is still a small victory. And so we begin.

Something that covenantal moral theologies must refuse unequivocally, as a matter of method:

Some things that covenantal moral theologies may deploy strictly provisionally, but cannot accept as foundational:

Covenantal moral theologies must refuse all dehistoricized cosmology

Covenantal Theology spends many, many pages demonstrating that any and all dehistoricized cosmologies (time-less explanations, recipes, etc. for the universe) self-generate both contradictions and "the pagan pessimism," and much more importantly, simply cannot be reconciled with the faith of the Church.

Because the Eucharistic Event, the New Covenant, is radically historical, then perforce Time-lessness is not Truth. To seek the Time-less as the foundation of certainty, of truth, is always to remove oneself, even if unknowingly, from Truth speaking truly with His bride in history.

The Greeks considered that the immaterial and the time-less were either substantial reality per se, or at least that they were necessary to it. But the Risen Lord is far from immaterial: He appeared to His Apostles and ate with them; and He is far from time-less: as Risen, He still bears the marks of His Passion. And we know that both He and His mother live in Heaven as bodily, historical beings: both the Ascension and the Assumption refer to concrete historical beings who were "lifted up" into Heaven body and soul.

In short, the notion that "spiritual" means immaterial and time-less, is made ridiculous by the very bodies of Our Lord and our Blessed Mother, who reign in Heaven as distinctly bodied and historical. "Heaven" is a place in which the holes in Our Lord's side not only still exist, but also are no source of shame. Greek ideas about the nature of God cannot be sustained.

We also have the prediction of the Little Flower, declared a Doctor of the Church: "Until the end of the world I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth." [St. Therese of Lisieux, dying of tuberculosis at age 24, in 1897.] For her, Heaven is not the residence of the ineffably remote Unmoved Mover, but a place for great and good activity "upon earth".

We quote now at length from the Appendix included after Vol. II of Covenantal Theology, both to show that Covenantal Theology really does make the point that Greek ideas about the nature of God cannot be sustained, and to note that Fr. Keefe is firm that "moral freedom and responsibility" are "grounded in the sacramental worship of the Church, rather than in the rationalized notion of 'nature' heretofore in common use" -- because grounding moral freedom and responsibility in the sacramental worship of the Church rather than in the rationalized notion of 'nature' heretofore in common use, is an apt summary of the goal of these essays 'towards' a covenantal moral theology.

The view of freedom inherited from the pagan past by way of Greek metaphysics identifies historical freedom with the irrational, with that which is not subsumed to necessary reasons, and which therefore is without intrinsic intelligibility. For the pagan tradition, formal perfection imports finitude, and finitude, necessity: any failure of such necessity is equivalently a failure of intelligibility, to be ascribed to the counter-formal principle which is matter. Material being, qua material, is either denied intrinsic intelligibility, as in the tradition inherited from Pythagoras, and assigned the merely extrinsic rationality of numeration and mathematical integration, as by Plato or, as by Aristotle, is made to be intelligible as a member of a species by its reference to a specific formal intelligibility in itself abstract: underlying this view of the material singular is the supposition that individual variations from the assigned specific formality are without metaphysical significance or intelligibility. From this stance, the evident formal perfection of God imports necessity in God, who is locked within essential immanence, incapable of any relation ad extra which would not diminish or fragment and thereby annul his divinity.

This view of freedom as in opposition to formal perfection is notoriously productive of the insoluble problem of the one and the many. Explored interminably and unprofitably in the dispute de auxiliis, it continues to infect the juridical and moral speculation of the Catholic theological tradition, whose treatment of moral freedom and responsibility offers an ample illustration of this dilemma. Catholic moralists still find themselves choosing between a juridicalism distrustful of free responsibility, and a relativistic denial of moral absolutes. Pope John Paul II has refused this dilemma in his recent encyclical, VERITATIS SPLENDOR; there moral freedom and responsibility are shown to be grounded in the sacramental worship of the Church, rather than in the rationalized notion of "nature" heretofore in common use. This repristination of the moral tradition of the Church has freed moral theology from the cosmological fatalism to which it for far too long paid tribute.

That God is free, in the minimal sense of not being bound to inferences drawn from the formal perfection of the cosmological absolute, is the Good News, for only in the recognition that God is thus free is any part of the revelation of Christ credible: in fact, to affirm that Jesus is the Lord, the Son sent by the Father to give the Spirit, is to affirm the radical mystery of God's free, covenantal immanence in creation as the Son of Man, in whom it is created. In fact, as I Jn 4:8 informs us, God is love: He is not a merely Neoplatonic Bonum, necessarily and impersonally diffusivum sui.

Only from the Christian revelation, not from Greek metaphysics, do we learn the true, historical meaning of omnipotence, of omniscience, of omnipresence, and all the other attributes which form the vocabulary of the Catholic doctrine of God as God. Only from the Revelation do we learn of the unconditioned freedom of God in history. Omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and the rest are not attributes of the timeless immanence of God remote from history; they are theologically comprehensible only as historical and covenantal. As Karl Rahner has insisted, the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity: there is no immanent Trinity "behind" the revelation of God in Christ, no ideal Godhead that would be obscured by rather than revealed by the historicity of Jesus. God is freely revealed in Christ, whose historical freedom is Personal, "one and the same" with the freedom of the eternal Son, whose Personal freedom, omnipotence, omnipresence and so on are Trinitarian, homo-ousios with the Father.

From this stance, God's freedom, his omnipotence, is not absolute in the sense of unrelated to history, but is revealed by the covenant in which the revelation terminates. The divine omnipotence is thus Trinitarian without remainder: it is the substantial freedom by which the Father sends the Son to give the Spirit, by which the Son offers the One Sacrifice, by which the Spirit, poured out upon the Church by the Father through the Son, fills the Church, and thereby the universe of man, with the Glory of God. This Trinitarian immanence of God in history is the revelation of the very reality of God, that reality, ousia, possessed in the fullness of its free Unity, Truth and Goodness by the Son, by the Spirit, homo-ousios with the Father, the source, the Arche, of that unconditioned Freedom.

It is not possible, in consequence, to speak of God in the familiar terms of the Neoplatonizing rationalism which would make divine emanation necessary and creation impossible or, affirming the reality and consequent possibility of creation, are puzzled to avoid its necessity. The Thomist dilemma of a creator unrelated and unrelatable to his creation is similarly dismissed as false, for the a priori of being as being is now the God of the New Covenant, not the One God of the "natural theology" tractates, which affirm a God bound by immanent necessities. These dog contemporary theology in such suppositions as require God to choose one actual creation out of the infinity of "possible objects of creation" which the rationalization of infinite freedom, as if limited rather than expressed by election, ascribes to the divine ideas supposedly underlying divine creative omnipotence.

The ancient equation of Being, or the Good, the Deus Unus, with a necessary unity, necessarily diffusive of a necessary goodness, its truth submitted to necessary reasons, and even endowed with a formally necessary beauty, is overthrown by the metaphysical primacy of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, of the Eucharistic immanence of the risen Christ in history. All that we know of God is consequent upon His freedom; there is nothing in the revelation which permits us to attribute any necessity to Him. Such necessity as our speech cannot avoid affirming must be seen to have its origin not in revelation, but simply in our fallen response to it: the enigma and obscurity, the morphe doulou of fallen humanity, are of our making.

For example, when we think of the Father as generating the Son from all eternity, and of the Father and the Son as the eternal source of the eternal Spirit, we tend to translate as eternally necessary the eternal processions of the Son and the Spirit. However, such a relegation, to the economy merely, of the revelation of the freedom of the Trinity revealed in the Mission of the Son to give the Spirit denies the reality of the revelation itself. Nothing whatever warrants such attempts to transcend by "necessary reasons" the revelation of the freedom of the Missions of the Son and the Spirit from the Father, as though we might be able to capture their mystery in some suppositional prior necessity of our feeble fashioning, which by that supposition would describe the eternal reality of God, the divinity that is the Godhead, as ideal, unblurred by history. The supreme historical freedom of the Lord of the Covenant, the Lord of history, is not grounded in some necessity yet more profound than freedom. Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever, is the full revelation of the Father, the full gift of the Spirit: to seek beyond Christ's revelation of the Father is to deny him.

[ CT Vol. II, Appendix, pp. 655-7 ]

Covenantal Theology thus is a radical critique, not of Catholic faith and worship, but of much of traditional theological speculation upon those. Greek metaphysics is simply incompatible with straightforward truths of the faith, such as "Jesus is Lord," as Covenantal Theology demonstrates in professional theological detail. Indeed, Fr. Keefe shows that "Jesus is Lord" has proved to be a hard saying -- one of the hardest sayings -- in Catholic theology.

Time-less Necessary Truth -- dehistoricized cosmology -- is flatly incompatible with the freedom of God, for "there is nothing in the revelation which permits us to attribute any necessity to Him."

Hence also, the centuries-long theological examination of God's omnipotence, truth, goodness, beauty, etc., by means of dehistoricized cosmology has not improved theology but rather (as Covenantal Theology establishes beyond cavil) made theology blinder, less able to see Jesus, less able to call Him Lord, though the actual worship of the Catholic Church ever continues to profess and proclaim Him Lord every day.

There was a fallen, deformed lens readily available -- dehistoricized cosmology -- "inherited from the pagan past by way of Greek metaphysics." Few theologians have been able to resist picking it up and attempting to peer at 'God' through it.

Covenantal moral theologies find themselves unable to do this. Fr. Keefe says it plainly: "to seek beyond Christ's revelation of the Father is to deny him;" but that is exactly what dehistoricized cosmologies impel us to do: as a matter of course, as what they do for a living, they impel us to seek beyond Christ's revelation of the Father for the time-less ideal 'God' 'behind' Him. Thus covenantal moral theologies must refuse all and any dehistoricized cosmology, root and branch.

The error of dehistoricized cosmology is a kind of fallen sickness in Man, for he seems to return to it again and again; the Good News is that, by the New Covenant, he does not have to. Yet, now far beyond pagan times, it still seems so easy to prefer even markedly inferior versions of the pagan false gold: some ineffable, hence infinitely expedient, Utopia, some Agenda, some Power 'beyond' the Cross, 'behind' Him with her.

Nor is the dehistoricization of reality confined to attempts to flee time for the Time-less. It can just as easily express itself in a loathing of time, a hatred of it, a disgust with it, while ever sensing that there is no escape from it. And again, the liturgical worship of the Catholic Church ever stands athwart and refutes this revulsion.

Before continuing, we make a brief excursus by way of clarification, for in these essays we found that the bride of Christ, upon whom He poured His Spirit, is, unlike any other created being, in a unique, unrepeatable, and unmediated relationship with Him: in the One Sacrifice, she is One Flesh with her Lord, and thus, she, with Him but not as Him, in the sacraments continually, radically in history, breathes the Spiritus Creator on fallen Men.

To resume: Apart from the New Covenant, dehistoricized cosmology might well seem like sanity -- what sanity there is, in fallenness as normative. But when we draw near to the Altar of the Lord, dehistoricized cosmology is unmasked before our eyes.

For there the crucified and Risen Lord with His bride show us that it is Gift, not Law, that reigns -- that creates history instead of a mere succession of events; and that it is not true that evil, chaos, irresponsibility, is the only alternative to agreeing to be bound within time-less laws whether we like it or not.

Worth noting here are two unfortunate side effects of this false choice between time-less necessity, and irresponsibility. The first is -- upon the assumption that irresponsibility becomes the only other possibility -- how easily orthodox Catholic theology can then become diverted to the project of proving who has the 'best' dehistoricized cosmology.

The second is how easy it then is for the wayward and the evil either to argue that they instead have the 'best' dehistoricized cosmology, thus to bind us in even weightier time-less chains of their own devising, or to ridicule even the idea of metaphysics by ridiculing dehistoricized cosmology, in order to make obedience seem as pointless as whim.

They say: since our time-less essences are better and more correct than yours, what you falsely regarded as virtue is now our sin, and your sin our virtue; or they say: since there are no time-less essences, then there is no sin.

And this is the apparently forced alternative. Thus now we spend some time here on free responsibility, the responsibility of God Himself. God's free responsibility was freely gifted to Adam and Eve, but rejected by them.

But now, in the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice, Man's free responsibility has been re-gifted to him, and become even more precious, gifted now in the blood of the Lamb. Now in the Eucharistic Event, each man's free responsibility is ultra-personal to him, it his baptismal name, his history with Him and her, thus, through them, a man's free responsibility is also his name, his history, with all of us.

Even at the beginning of these essays, we have pointed out how little a personal name means under an Aristotelian/Thomist concept of the material singular, for "underlying this view of the material singular is the supposition that individual variations from the assigned specific formality are without metaphysical significance or intelligibility." [ CT Vol. II, Appendix, pp. 655 ]

Eve, then Adam with her, preferred not to continue to live within the Gift within which they were created and within which they had their real names, their integral existence -- their history with God. Instead, they ate of the fruit of the tree of "the knowledge of good and evil."

So, an integral part of the Gift within which they had their personal names, their history with God, was the free responsibility of 'this' not 'that': they could eat, make a part of themselves, everything in the Garden -- but not 'that'.

Here we recall that it was the Father of Lies, not God, who told them that eating that fruit would make them "like gods." The devil presented the 'this' and not 'that' of the Gift as a tyranny, and offered them an alternative. He offered them a 'rationality', a 'knowledge', that was autonomous, ideal, apart from their history of 'this' and not 'that' with God.

The devil's implication was that God was, all along, secretly eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil Himself, while forbidding it to Eve -- God had access to some Power 'behind', 'beyond', Him; and it was God's access to that fruit which made Him "a god." Thus, grasping for that fruit herself would give her also that Power 'behind', 'beyond' God, prior to Him, the 'real' source of His divinity.

And every word the devil said to them -- and left unsaid -- was a lie. For the free responsibility of Jesus the Lord, and hence the free responsibility of men, always involves choosing 'this', and not 'that', within concrete history.

Covenantal moral theologies are simply not allowed any idea of freedom that is not simultaneously free and responsible. For free responsibility is "expressed by election," [ ibid. p. 657 ] not limited by it.

For us men, free responsibility is the taking up of our personal, baptismal name, which just is our history -- all of it -- with Him and her, and with all who honor them, and with all who are created in His grace.

Thus, the causality is not: because your time-less essence is thus-and-so, you have these obligations and do this work and are owed such-and-such by others, and give and are given these particular gifts, but instead, because you exist within the Gift and the giving of these particular historical gifts and this particular work and these particular historical obligations, you have a personal name, you are this named person, you are "you".

Thus, one of our projects in these essays is to insist not only that personal names are intelligible, but also that they are intelligible only if they are baptismal names, only if our names are radically historical: our names as our exquisitely personal history of 'this' and not 'that' within the Covenant.

Which is to say, the sole integrated, substantial, real concrete particular history is the New Covenant, the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, the Eucharistic Event; it alone integrates and unifies the primordial, the historical, and the eschatological: "Lord, to Whom shall we go?"

And our own history of 'this' and not 'that' within that sole substantial history, history that is sacramentally mediated in ecclesia, just is both our personal name and our very being: we exist as that history, we are that history.

It is a simple matter, in the end: life or death. Apart from Him and her is death; and this apart-ness does not exist in some time-less realm but in history, in our concrete historical choices and activity.

After all, His own work, as well as hers, exists there, in concrete history, beginning with the sacraments -- which are not 'examples' of, or emanations from, some time-less realm, but are just themselves; that is, they cause what they signify ex opere operato; they sign, and by signing cause, the union of the primordial, the historical, and the eschatological in the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice.

And the sacraments exist, and work, in the world of 'this' not 'that': only "I baptize you," not "We baptize you;" only good bread and good wine, not dirt and razor blades; and so on. We are free not to take that seriously; but then, the best that can happen is that things are just as they were before; but they are never just as they were before, because our own name, our very being in history, begins to dis-integrate.

The sacraments ever found the free historical responsibility of 'this', not 'that' within which we live; and it is from within the liturgical, thus radically historical, worship of the Church that we most certainly seek and choose the 'this' not 'that' which constitute the free history of free gifts, works, and obligations that is our personal name, which is our life as moral, as historical, as freely responsible.

If we wish, we may in fact choose dis-integration, but still we do that in history. If we make that choice, the time-less is not someday going to hunt us down and make us pay. After all, the time-less is most decidedly not the Person through Whom time is unified, made integral, redeemed.

For we are freely redeemed in history, by the free responsibility of the Lord of history with His bride; or we deny Him, and her with Him, freely, historically, responsibly, in the freedom and even more than the freedom gifted to Adam and Eve. For at the moment of our death we possess the freedom to deny Him and His bride forever: to choose to be apart from His death, the only death that remains, since He has defeated death.

For it is fundamental to covenantal moral theologies that all moral acts exist in history, and that each moral act is unrepeatable, and that moral acts can never be trivial, and that they can be as decisive as baptism, as decisive as the Fall.

And if we deny Him at the solemn 'hour' of our own death, we deny Him then decisively, and He will freely give us what we want -- something, some hideous kind of 'existence' apart from His death, apart from the One Flesh in His death. For mark well: in His Father's house are many rooms, and as Our Lord's last gift to those who want nothing to do with His gifts, He has prepared a place even for those who want to be rid of Him and His bride forever.

Metaphysics is essential to Catholic theological inquiry, but the misapprehension that (at least, one's preferred) dehistoricized cosmology just is metaphysical reality, makes any free responsibility, let alone Our Lord's free responsibility, systematically inconceivable.

The cause of, the basis for, the free responsibility of which we speak is of course the Lord's own "words and deeds, his silences and sufferings, indeed his manner of being and speaking." [CCC 516] The radically historical, continuing, mediated, covenantal, ecclesial, sacramental work of the Lord Jesus with His bride does not wait upon any time-less substance or entity or idea or truth.

There is no time-less 'cause' before, beyond, prior to the New Covenant. The New Covenant is ever in history, and ever transcending it. We do not control God; we have no ability to give God any reason, any rule, any law, any cause, either to love us, or to abide in His love; for there is no such rule, no such law, no such cause.

This we emphasize: the New Covenant that Our Lord makes with His bride, and she with Him, is a responsibility both perfect, constant, and continuous in history, and utterly, entirely free; no law binds their responsibility; no logic pre-determines it; no power controls it.

They love us, and they continue, and ever continue, to love us in concrete practical history, for no reason whatever. They love us, because they do; they continue to love us, because they do; we are and will always be absolutely powerless to make them love us, or to make them stop. What we can do is to freely embrace our baptismal name -- which is not any kind of time-less 'essence', but just is our history of gifts, works, and obligations with them -- or we can freely walk away from that.

Similarly, the particular motions of the particular bodies within time -- 'this' and not 'that' -- that are the sacraments within an ecclesia that is fully historical, ever subject to all of the fragmentations and ravages and dissolutions of 'flesh' (sarx), cause what they signify ex opere operato; that is, out of Our Lord's own free responsibility, and she with His, in the One Sacrifice that makes them One Flesh.

Put differently, the 'cause' of the sacraments working ex opere operato is ex nihilo: the sacraments cause what they signify out of no prior possibility. The sacraments are the historical works of the Risen Christ with His bride, and those works are utterly responsible, intelligible, and entirely free -- there is nothing before, beyond, prior to those particular motions of those particular bodies within the historical Catholic Church that prompts or 'makes' the Lord and His bride continue to love us.

We insist: to make the 'this' and not 'that' of the sacraments unintelligible, or to make it arbitrary, 'true' by imposition, by Power, is to commit dehistoricized cosmology upon the Lord and His bride.

Moreover, the free responsibility, and the free work, of the Bridegroom with His bride, is also not subject to our sin: Our Lady and her Lord are far too stubborn to allow that. They will, with each other but not as each other, continue to breathe out the Spiritus Creator in 'flesh', sarx, not by means of our sin, but despite our sins, by 'routing around' even our sins -- or there are no moral actions at all available to men, even sacramental actions:

... either historical events, in the sense of particular concrete free and morally responsible actions by sinful human beings, are capable of mediating the risen Christ, or they are not.

[ Keefe, Donald J, SJ. "Gender, History and Liturgy in the Church," Review for Religious 46/6 (Nov./Dec. 1987) 866-881, n. 15; (from a paper read at the Thirty-second Meeting of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the United States (ARC-US), Jamaica, N.Y., 7-10 December, 1986.) ]

The pagans were wrong. Dehistoricized cosmology, time-less Necessity, is not the foundation, not a refuge; it is a false reassurance, a trap, an opiate for our fallen morphe doulou, an insanity, for it denies the reign of the Lord of history with His bride from before the outset.

We do not loathe time, we do not hate it, we are not repulsed by it, nor do we live by the time-less, within some Law or Form or Idea or recipe or computational algorithm or Agenda, but instead we live both freely and truly responsibly, radically in history, by a great ongoing Gift, a wondrous continuing love, an everlasting responsibility and invitation that no power whatever can circumscribe or control: the New Covenant, the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, the Eucharistic Event.

Covenantal moral theologies are not founded on any philosophy

"Philosophy" cannot serve as the ground of, or as another name for, the intellectual quaerens that is covenantal moral theology, for two reasons. The first and most general reason is that Covenantal Theology has clarified that the New Covenant, the Eucharistic Event, is both radically historical, and per se is the Prime Analogate; in the end, what reality is, and who we really are, is an understanding available only to those who freely stand as believers, in concrete history, before the altar of the One Sacrifice:

The objective truth of human existence is given in the liturgical freedom of the Church's mediation of her faith, and only if we stand there may we understand. This is a hard saying, but it is ancient in the Church, and Catholic theology exists only in the service of its truth.

[ CT Epilogue, p. 652 ]

Any effort to make any other being, concept, "-ism," prior to the concrete, radically historical One Flesh in the One Sacrifice mediated in ecclesia, is at best misguided; and any effort to take the 'natural' (fallenness as normative) as the ground of objective truth, is at best unavailing.

This is neither secret knowledge, available only to an elite, nor fideism, unavailable to reason; it is instead a flat rejection of autonomous rationality, a 'rationality' that covenantal moral theologies see instead as an insanity, as the refusal to live within a Gift -- as the impulse to commit once again the sin of Eve and Adam.

Clearly there can be no compromise between a faith in the risen Christ and a modernitÚ unable to accept that fundamental affirmation of the faith. Jesus the Christ is in fact the Lord: on this Rock the world divides. There may be peace up to a point between those who affirm and those who deny his dominion, but there can be no common ground in truth, and finally none in praxis. The search for a shared universe of value-free or least-common-denominator existence in history is in vain.

[ CT Epilogue, p. 652 ]

A simplified way to look at this is that the transubstantiation of the bread and wine always seems to become a 'problem' for 'philosophy' -- something that has to be accounted for on some ad hoc basis, so that 'philosophy' can return to its 'real' business.

But what if instead, some sort of intellectual quaerens would begin with, found itself on, the reality of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine, not in isolation but as ever mediated in ecclesia, within the grace of Christ, within the history of the Creation of all that is, within the Incarnation and the Immaculate Conception, within the death of the Lord, within the radically historical nuptiality of the New Covenant, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice? What would that starting point tell us about the nature of Reality, and about who we are?

This is the kind of 'philosophy' that Covenantal Theology urges us to love as (intellectual) wisdom, and to forsake all others for her.

The second reason that covenantal moral theologies cannot ground themselves in philosophy is the history of philosophy itself. Over the centuries, "Philosophy" has clarified itself as an intellectual work concerned with matters prior to, or at least apart from, if not opposed to, the worship of the Church. We note this definition, which appears in (American) "Webster's Dictionaries" from at least 1828 to at least 1913:

When applied to any particular department of knowledge, philosophy denotes the general laws or principles under which all the subordinate phenomena or facts relating to that subject are comprehended. Thus philosophy, when applied to God and the divine government, is called theology; when applied to material objects, it is called physics; when it treats of man, it is called anthropology and psychology, with which are connected logic and ethics; when it treats of the necessary conceptions and relations by which philosophy is possible, it is called metaphysics.

It is difficult to imagine the 1828 Webster's envisaging a PhD in Clownology, but there it is: "Philosophy" is the king of all, the study of "the general laws or principles under which all the subordinate phenomena or facts relating to that subject are comprehended."

And of course, there are more modern visionaries and exponents of philosophy, who fashion philosophy as linguistics; as critique; as both critique and a path towards niceness; and so forth. Such take for granted that the worship of the Catholic church is inconsequential, or irrelevant, or at best, played out; and with all of these "there can be no common ground in truth, and finally none in praxis."

Covenantal moral theologies are unable to make themselves fundamentally dependent on any philosophy or any branch of philosophy, including ethics and logic. Philosophy, of any kind, may be a heuristic, a scaffolding, a tool, always provisional, eminently discardable, of the quaerens of covenantal moral theologies, but covenantal moral theologies are unable to ground their search for truth in philosophy; the ground for their quaerens can only be Truth Himself speaking truly, ever possessed eucharistically, sacramentally, radically in history, through His one-and-only bride, in ecclesia, as gift.

The Greeks, innocently, could not found their search for truth on the Lord Jesus, since they could not know him; nor could the Greeks even conceive of a free responsibility, which they could only regard as a chaos, a pure surd.

And not only modern philosophy but also scholastic philosophy and many others, proceed 'as if' the New Covenant: the radically historical One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, were not the Prime Analogate.

In their assumptions, techniques, problematic, the Eucharistic Event, which is free and freely responsible; multi-personal; not time-less but radically historical; not monadic but trinitarian; covenantal; sacramental; ecclesial; is treated as being at best irrelevant or inconsequential to their enterprise -- to their assumptions, techniques, problematic.

And at worst, the New Covenant is consciously, deliberately, denied. But to fail to found the theological quaerens as firmly as one is able on the radically historical Eucharistic Event is ever to begin in the wrong place.

Over the centuries, the work that philosophers did increasingly took for granted that there were things to be investigated that were more fundamental than, prior to, the liturgical worship of the Catholic Church; a not unfair example is that within the "24 Theses" declared to "clearly contain the principles and more important thoughts of the holy Doctor" (St. Thomas) in Pope Pius X's 1914 decree Postquam sanctissimus, not even once do the words "sacrament," "New Covenant," or even the word "Jesus" appear.

Which is to say, 'philosophy' has only ever had a glancing relation to the New Covenant, the Prime Analogate, which relation has only decreased over the centuries as philosophers continued what they took to be their work.

Put differently, covenantal moral theologies cannot ground their quaerens in philosophy, because the intellectual, communal enterprise, the Philosophy, that can only be done by committed believers in ecclesia, ever subject to the judgment of the Church, and which would take the New Covenant, the radically historical Eucharistic Event, as its Prime Analogate, already has quite another name: Catholic theology.

And in his actual theological practice, Saint Thomas Aquinas himself provided an example of the necessity of treating philosophy as a heuristic device, a tool, rather than as the foundation for theology.

For he did find it necessary to retreat from the 'logic' of his own philosophical priors -- to deny them, in fact -- in favor of the faith of the Church.

It is impossible to overemphasize this: at ST iiia q. 75, a. 4, ad 3, St. Thomas himself recognizes, and says out loud, that Aristotelian metaphysics is antithetical to a central dogma of the Catholic faith, the transubstantiation of the bread. St. Thomas admits that, within the terms of Aristotelian metaphysics, "Form cannot be changed into form, nor matter into matter...."

Here is the relevant excerpt from Summa Theologiae, iiia, question 75, article 4, reply to objection 3:

Article 4. Whether bread can be converted into the body of Christ?


Objection 3. Further, when two things are diverse, one never becomes the other, as whiteness never becomes blackness, as is stated in Phys. i. But since two contrary forms are of themselves diverse, as being the principles of formal difference, so two signate matters are of themselves diverse, as being the principles of material distinction. Consequently, it is not possible for this matter of bread to become this matter whereby Christ's body is individuated, and so it is not possible for this substance of bread to be changed into the substance of Christ's body.


Reply to Objection 3. Form cannot be changed into form, nor matter into matter by the power of any finite agent. Such a change, however, can be made by the power of an infinite agent, which has control over all being, because the nature of being is common to both forms and to both matters; and whatever there is of being in the one, the author of being can change into whatever there is of being in the other, withdrawing that whereby it was distinguished from the other.

[ The Summa TheologiŠ of St. Thomas Aquinas, Second and Revised Edition, 1920. Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Online Edition Copyright ę 2017 by Kevin Knight ]

If St. Thomas knew of any exception to the statement, "Form cannot be changed into form, nor matter into matter" in any of the Philosopher's writings, he would certainly have pointed it out at this critical moment.

The problem confronting Thomas is so dire that one would have to characterize him as a master of irony. For in order to 'answer' the objection, he must now repudiate the entire metaphysics within which he proved the nature of God.

For St. Thomas 'answers' the objection by writing, in effect, that God's nature is quite different not only from anything Aristotle ever argued, but also from what Thomas previously had established was the case.

God is not only inconstant; he is inconstant consistently, He breaks His own rules all the time, at every single Mass until the end of time.

So Thomas's 'answer' to the objection that "Form cannot be changed into form, nor matter into matter" is that God Can Do Anything: "Such a change, however, can be made by the power of an infinite agent...."

Nor can St. Thomas argue that the transubstantiation of the bread is a 'miraculous' event; for, very much different from a miracle, the transubstantiation of the bread at each and every valid Mass to the end of time is perfectly predictable, consistent, and regular. A miracle is scarcely a thing that directly contradicts the most fundamental laws of the universe predictably, consistently. regularly -- and on spec.

God has established the unchangeable, immutable Laws by which He brought the universe into being, and by which He orders and sustains it. God's Laws are built into the very structure of the universe, and they apply, unchangeably, immutably, St. Thomas consistently argues -- except at each and every Mass; and, by a further coincidence, God breaks His own immutable Laws in just the way that Thomas needs in order to 'answer' the objection.

When at a valid Mass a bishop or priest says "This is My body" over the host, then (but only then?) a different 'rule' not only applies, but applies immutably, unchangeably: the "infinite agent" can and does -- what's the word? violate? suspend? ignore? -- one of the most fundamental characteristics of the entire structure of the universe according to the Aristotelian metaphysics, a characteristic that God Himself established, and -- everywhere else -- God scrupulously causes to be observed, to the letter: "Form cannot be changed into form, nor matter into matter."

Of course, St. Thomas provides no account, Aristotelian or otherwise, of why God chooses that particular circumstance, the transubstantiation of the bread, to show that the structure of the entire universe, and God's own nature, is unchangeable and immutable and just as St. Thomas has previously established, except for that particular circumstance, the transubstantiation of the bread.

Nor did St. Thomas provide -- because he could not -- any rule or reason why the response, "God can do anything," could not, should not, be applied to any objection whatever.

No doubt it is always possible to construct ad hoc rules and reasons why the dictum, The Infinite Agent Can Do Anything, is strictly delimited to the particular occasions at which one runs into what would otherwise be a difficulty; but the logic is: In for a penny....

And so on. For covenantal moral theologies, it is absolutely necessary to refuse philosophy as a ground of, foundational for, theological inquiry, in order even to begin theological inquiry that is of any Catholic interest.

Nonetheless, experience has shown that neither scholastics, nor anyone else with a previous similar commitment, are readily convinced, either by the preceding, or by anything else, to imagine -- even to imagine as a possibility -- that philosophy (of some kind) might not be the ground, the starting point, for Catholic theological inquiry. For such as these, it would seem both impossible and inconceivable that there could be some other ground.

For most, then, all that can be shown in this instance is that St. Thomas actually did what he did, actually wrote what he wrote. The lesson, for he who has ears, is that, when push came to shove, a great saint, a towering Doctor of the Church, was of course quite willing to abandon his philosophy, as soon as he recognized that it conflicted with the faith of the Church.

Thomas, equally obviously, did not see and point out the implications of this 'move' for his entire theological project; in almost all of the Summa, he wrote as if there were no implications to it at all. Nevertheless, when St. Thomas did recognize that a choice had to be made between what his philosophy dictated to be utterly and unswervingly and eternally and foundationally true, and the truth of the faith, he unswervingly chose the faith of the Church.

Covenantal moral theologies make a minor but still significant advance here: they too can, probably must, use philosophy as a tool, as a heuristic device, but they refuse 'philosophy' as the ground of their quaerens with their eyes open, as a matter of method.

For what is certain is not any philosophy, but rather the Lord of history with His bride, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice; and one great meta-project of covenantal moral theologies is to take that with utter seriousness, rather than to treat it as mere pious hyperbole:

...the first step toward the conversion of cosmology to a Christian metaphysics was taken by St. Thomas himself, without which no Thomism would exist and no progress in it would be possible. To refuse to proceed further is to hesitate where St. Thomas did not, whose great respect for "the Philosopher" did not prevent his undertaking a theological -- and therefore a historical -- systematic project. If we are to continue what Thomas began, we must recognize that he left unfinished the conversion of the Aristotelian cosmology which constitutes his metaphysics.

[ CT Vol. II, Ch. 5, p. 423 ]

Covenantal moral theologies cannot base themselves on natural science

There are two sides to this: whether the natural sciences are a branch of theology, and whether theology is a branch of the natural sciences.

First, the question of whether the natural sciences must, or even can, be a branch of, found themselves on, Scripture and Tradition, had begun to be addressed rather early in the Catholic Church; for example, by St. Augustine, who wrote, "We do not read in the Gospel that the Lord said, 'I will send the Paraclete to teach you the course of the sun and the moon'; in fact, He wanted to create Christians, not mathematicians." [ De actis contra Felicem manichaeum, bk. I, ch. X ] Centuries later, St. Thomas Aquinas agreed. [ De coelo et mundo, bk. II, lesson 17 ]

By the time of the Galileo controversy, this stance was scarcely definitive in the Church, but it had become so familiar as to be the subject of aphorism: "Non come va il cielo, ma come si va in cielo;" [ the Holy Spirit's intention is to teach us ] "not how the heavens go, but how to go to Heaven;" this was written by Galileo, but perhaps he had first heard it in conversation with Venerable Cesare Cardinal Baronio, Church historian and long-time librarian of the Roman Oratory, whose own writings support the thought, if not the exact wording.

But despite the fact that St. Thomas himself had left the door ajar, accepting the New Physics of Galileo and Newton was decidedly easier for churchmen of that day who grounded their theology more in Augustine than in Aristotle.

This might not have been a coincidence; for what is not so readily remembered is how closely integrated Aristotle's physics is with his metaphysics. According to the Philosopher, we learn the differing motion of bodies by examining the nature of each body, given its substantial form. Thus, e.g., a biscuit and a bowling ball will fall at different rates.

The language of motion deployed in Aristotelian physics is strikingly similar, practically identical, to the language deployed within Aristotelian metaphysics and ethics and thus within scholastic moral theology. In scholastic moral theology we examine the nature of each being, given its substantial form, and from that learn the object of that being -- what that being is meant to move towards, in other words.

"Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus?" (false in one, false in all)? Would not the conceptual fragility of Aristotle's physics also call into question the conceptual solidity of his metaphysics? Since it proved to be not very accurate to determine the motion of a physical body by examining its specific nature -- and in fact within the New Physics that whole approach was simply abandoned -- why should we be able to deploy similar principles and methods to examine the nature of a being and determine its metaphysical 'motion' -- its end or object?

Simply as a matter of fact, the linkage between Aristotle's physics and his metaphysics, and hence his ethics, was much easier to relax for those whose philosophical and theological commitments to the Philosopher were not so strong in the first place.

But regarding the relationship of the Faith to natural science, if the Faith cannot directly teach the natural sciences, is the reverse true? Can the natural sciences prove or ground the truths of the Catholic faith? The answer of traditional theology was a qualified No: in order to answer, traditional theology first established a dichotomy between the 'nature' that natural science can inquire about, and 'super-natural' truths, which must be revealed by God, and that therefore natural science may or may not indirectly support, but certainly cannot prove.

Nonetheless, in his 1951 address to members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pius XII was far from the first pontiff to edge close to saying that natural science can (for example) prove the existence of God; in the particular case, that the scientific theory of the Big Bang was at very least consonant with the Catholic dogma of Creation ex nihilo.

As Covenantal Theology shows, by the close of the thirteenth century it was already known that the radical contradiction at the heart of the analogy of being proves, not merely by scientific inference but philosophically, logically, that man's investigations of 'nature' -- whether those be scientific or philosophical -- cannot establish the existence of the Thomistic God, for of the transcendent Absolute, the monadic, time-less Deus Unus, "precisely nothing is or can be known, as a matter of definition: of the ineffable, nothing is said." [CT Vol.I, Ch. II, n. 37, p. 278]

Moreover, the Big Bang is not literally consonant with Creation ex nihilo; it may rhyme a bit (or not), but that's all. And, of course, the famous Five Proofs -- for example, of contingency and finality -- may or may not prove the existence of the inapproachable, monadic Deus Unus, but they are not literally consonant with "Jesus is Lord," let alone with Our Lord's free responsibility even to death on a Cross, or with His bride's similar free responsibility.

The quest for such 'proofs', whether these be scientific or philosophical, must fail, for the real question, as ever, is "Who do you say that I am?" As Covenantal Theology notes, even something like the Five Proofs only 'worked' "[w]hile the influence of Plato's Timaeus was still effective in the Thomist metaphysics, by way of the tradition stemming from Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, coloring the notion of the natural with a religious significance and value," but "this nostalgia was irreconcilable with the dogmatic rationalism of the Aristotelian act-potency analysis." [ibid. Vol.I, Ch. II, n. 37, p. 278]

This is an ultra-polite way of saying that the Thomistic Five Proofs rely on begging the question. Once 'nature' automatically has/(is colored with) a religious significance and value, it is a simple matter to find a 'natural' proof that nature has a religious significance and value.

No: at best, in 'nature' (fallenness as normative) investigated whether scientifically or philosophically, one may find consonances with the truths of the Faith, but not actual support, in the sense that the worship of the Catholic Church waits upon the truth of these supports, or that one might literally found one's own worship on them.

At a certain point, one might as well say that the smile of some cute baby is 'consonant' with the dogma of a loving God, or with Creation ex nihilo, or with any truth of the faith whatever.

Yes, the smile of a child passes out of being -- but so does a consecrated Host. As was shown earlier, the time-less is no refuge. And since we have to do only with consonances, never proofs, whether scientific or philosophical, from 'nature', then -- once the false support of 'time-lessness' is removed -- Why is the smile of a child less conducive to, less consonant with, the faith of the Church than 'order' or 'contingency'?

The natural sciences cannot prove or ground the Faith. They can, at best, have provisional, heuristic value to covenantal moral theologies.

On the other hand, the New Covenant is the ground of the natural sciences, in this sense: the natural sciences are a personal, moral work of men. Science is not the same as the quest for power and control. There are costs to saying, "Let Reality matter more than I." If a man refuses to say that -- to do that -- then whatever he is doing, it is no longer science.

Covenantal moral theologies cannot base themselves on any anthropology, psychology, sociology, economics, etc. of Man, a theory of cognition or of 'Mind' or of 'Reason', a theory of the 'spiritual', 'the good', 'evil', etc.

Since covenantal moral theologies must refuse, as a matter of method, any foundation in any dehistoricized cosmology, or in either philosophy or natural science, then obviously any subsidiaries or tributaries or developments of those are perforce also refused as foundational.

This refusal is not grounded in any praise or blame of any particular instance of these. To the contrary, covenantal moral theologies do not a priori dismiss any particular past or future theory of (for example) Mind, 'community', 'the person', 'intellection', 'will', 'emotion', etc., nor any future category or idea, not yet conceived.

What covenantal moral theologies must refuse absolutely, as a strict matter of method, is any attempt to enshrine any particular instance of these as coterminous with the faith, or -- even worse -- as indispensable to the faith.

For example, while there is no a priori reason for covenantal moral theologies to dismiss out of hand an understanding of human acts as object, intent, and circumstances -- to the contrary, that has been and still is a fabulous tool -- there is also every reason to regard such a framework as possibly worthwhile, but inevitably provisional.

For at the very least, that framework for moral activity is incomplete; here we take note of something developed earlier: covenantal moral theologies refuse a fundamentally amoral universe, into which 'moral acts' are occasionally interjected:

... here we propose: everything created in the grace of Christ -- which is everything -- has at least the quintessential inherent, intrinsic moral capacity, which is the capacity to worship.

Therefore, we may say that sun and moon can, and do, bless the Lord, without the least cognition or volition on their part. They make no Morning Offering, even once, to dedicate what they do to the blessing of the Lord; and yet, they bless the Lord, because He created them, He created them in the grace of Christ.

Thus also we may rightly say that every breath we take, is a moral act. If sun and moon bless the Lord, so also may each one of our breaths. Without the least cognition or volition on our part, still we bless the Lord. Within the grace of Christ, within the death of Christ, within the One Sacrifice and the One Flesh of the Bridegroom and His bride, we are able to bless the Lord, just by breathing.

To further and still more briefly reprise that previous argument: worship is a moral act, the quintessential moral act, in fact; "sun and moon" (for example), are asked to "bless the Lord" [ Dan 3:40 ff. ] -- to worship; followed by the briefest nod to a theological history in which that idea came to seem ridiculous, 'poetic' only.

And having arrived there, we find that we no longer live in a fundamentally moral universe, but instead inhabit a universe that is 'good' but nearly universally amoral, 'moral' extrinsically, moral only in its use -- very much including our own 'vegetative' and 'animal' activity -- into which an occasional conscious 'moral act' of men may impinge.

But a more comprehensively moral universe admits also a more comprehensive understanding of the "urgency" of infant baptism; for when an infant receives his baptismal name, his real history -- his real being -- begins. His fallen, stony heart is in signo immersed in the death of the Lord, and the Lord Jesus, in the unity of the Holy Spirit and the glory of God the Father, removes his stony heart from him and replaces it with a living heart.

Thus is he welcomed into his history, into his personal name, into his being in ecclesia. His history now joins the history of Him with her, and opens to a history with us and with all the angels and saints. He receives his personal name, his personal history, not as our history, not as our name, but now with ours, exquisitely, ineradicably personal, yet connected now with ours.

Thus even then, at that very moment of his baptism, that little baby begins to worship in spirit and in truth; for his merest breath is now held and sheltered and enlivened in ecclesia, within the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice in history, and hence is a worship of the Most High in spirit and in truth: this is what he is born to do, but his 'stony heart', sadly, unwittingly, altogether tragically, had made that impossible, because of the Fall.

Eve and Adam, in a free act, refused their personal names, cut out their living hearts -- walked away from their free history of free gifts, works, and obligations with He Who is mighty, who could have continued to do great things for them -- and made a Gift into something that was to be grasped at.

And what was left? A heart of stone. Sin has consequences. Eve and Adam, like all of us in our punier ways, had the ability to refuse the world that is gifted to us and break it instead.

This is horrible and earth-shattering. We cannot imagine how awful their sin was; that is literal truth, as we have no ability to 'see' before the Fall, which was a primordial Event that happened at the beginning of time. All we can say is that their sin was so horrible and earth-shattering that Our Lord had to pass through all its consequences, give even His own death, in order now to send the Spiritus Creator into the world.

Hence an unbaptized little baby is -- not at all through his fault -- bereft of a part of himself, a part that makes all the difference; and only his immersion in the death of the Lord, whether at the little child's baptism or at the 'hour' of his death, can cure that, and give him back a living heart, a part of himself that is his birthright, robbed from him by Adam and Eve's free personal earth-shattering sin.

May we point out that this very worship, from the littlest baptized baby, is at least akin to the worship given by Jesus Himself to the Father in the manger? For, being untouched by the Fall and born of His most Immaculate Mother, His true and living heart was already and always capable of this worship: His every breath, His burps, His poops, His feedings, His cries, His sleep, His smiles. Yet even the Infant Jesus Himself would seem incapable of such worship, if cast into a world in which even His own 'vegetative' and 'animal' activity could never be moral.

Thus: it was not always ridiculous to ask the sun and moon to bless the Lord; and we lose something when we find it ridiculous. The project and the problematic of covenantal moral theologies is not to find the 'best', the 'perfect' dehistoricized cosmology, by which even the drops of Blood that fell from Our Lord on the Cross may be properly rationalized.

And the project and the problematic of covenantal moral theologies is certainly not to find, by way of deduction and inference from that 'best' dehistoricized cosmology, the 'perfect' theory of Man, Mind, moral action, etc. For within that mistaken quest, even the activity of the Lord Himself becomes only occasionally moral.

The Church professes that Our Lord's own "silences and sufferings, indeed his manner of being and speaking" are "Revelation of the Father," [CCC 516, emphasis in the original] but an ill-founded theology unconcernedly, matter-of-factly, makes even His "silences and sufferings" moral only extrinsically, not moral because they are His in His very Person -- not moral in themselves.

Even his silences cannot simply be themselves, and be moral; to be moral, they must be placed within the calculus of object, intention, and circumstances -- they must have a point, a goal, beyond themselves. Too many moral theologies have found it impossible to simply let Jesus alone to be silent, once in awhile.

Finding the very notion of a free and historical responsibility absurd, such theology must make time-less Law prior to the Lord Himself, for like the pagans, such theology cannot even imagine any alternative to time-less Law, other than unintelligibility, irresponsibility, chaos. This being 'obvious', it also becomes 'obvious' that the sun and moon -- that the world -- is amoral, since incapable of the calculus of object, intent, and circumstances.

Such theology perforce must find even Our Lord's silences and sufferings -- let alone His 'vegetative' and 'animal' activity -- moral only extrinsically, moral only as perfect 'examples' of submission of the intellect and will to the Eternal Rulebook In the Sky.

The Pole Star of covenantal moral theologies must be the Eucharistic Event, the New Covenant, the sacraments possessed in ecclesia, radically historically, as gift; there can be no other. We choose to live, radically in history, within that gift, or we die. Gifts: intellectual gifts, yet always partial, always subject to a better question, will emerge, covenantally, in history, from that radically historical Gift of the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice; this is basic covenantal theology.

Covenantal moral theologies found themselves, not upon any theory, but upon the seven particular concrete free and morally responsible actions by sinful human beings that infallibly mediate the risen Christ: these are the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church -- and foundationally, the Eucharist.

The sacraments are the free, responsible, thus moral, continuing historical acts of the Risen Lord with His bride. They are infallibly good, and not for any 'reason' that is 'behind' or 'beyond' or prior to them: they are bonum in se, they cause what they signify ex opere operato. The Lord with His bride, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, love us ex nihilo, out of no necessity, nor even out of any prior possbility, logical or otherwise,.

These seven facta, these seven deeds, events, acts continuing in history, are bonum in se; their goodness does not wait upon any prior theory or law or idea, they are Gift, possessed as gift historically and in ecclsia. They are not judged, but rather judge: "who do you say that I am?" Standing within them, and only there, we may understand. From within our free and responsible historical appropriation of the reality of these seven sacraments, we may begin to craft all manner of thoughts and theories and logics about them.

But the goodness of the sacraments does not depend in any way on our pretty theories about them, for the sacraments, not our theories, are bonum in se. The sacraments found covenantal moral theologies, not any of our theories, whether about the sacraments or about anything at all.

We begin to discover our standard of goodness from our historical reflection on the seven acts that are infallibly bonum in se; for there is no standard, no 'truth', prior to, 'beyond', 'behind', these seven facta ever continuing in our history. We live within a Gift, or we die: that is ever our choice, now that the only death that remains for any of us is the Lord's own.

From no prior theory, but solely from our personal free and historical continuing appropriation of these seven sacraments that are bonum in se, we begin our appropriation of covenantal -- free and historical -- responsibility.

Similarly, from no prior theory on any subject whatever, but strictly from the reality that seven particular acts by sinful human beings are bonum in se, in and through Him with her, in ecclesia, we can begin our apperception that some particular historical acts by sinful human beings are malum in se, they are automatically de-constitutional, dis-integrative, of the historical free gifts, works, and obligations within which we have our baptismal Name, by which we are.

This not out of any abstract or ideal symmetry dictating that there be both bonum and malum, but as a consequence of freedom; the consequence is proved not by any principle but by the factual existence of the Fall and of Hell.

The standard against which certain historical acts by human beings are malum in se is not 'nature', or any idea, recipe, algorithm, etc. Substantial reality is the New Covenant, a continuing and radically historical Event, the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, and this as a matter of the strictest theological method. No theory of acts, nor any theory of anything whatever, found, ground, are the basis of, a covenantal moral theologian's worship qua theologian.

The Catholic theologian's intellectual effort is entirely to understand and appropriate in history the consequences and ramifications of sheer radically historical concrete facta, deeds, which he, just as any baptized believer, possesses not in a flight from time but ever in it, and not by his doing but as sheer gift in ecclesia.

Thus the theologian's brief is not Scripture and Tradition, but rather these, as a result of the seven sacraments; for neither Scripture nor Tradition are holy, or mean anything, absent the death of the Lord and the Eucharistic One Flesh that is its effect.

Catholic realism is Catholic sacramental realism; no other 'realism' will do. This Covenantal Theology reminds us -- only reminds us, only removes our blinders, for who can remain Catholic and deny it?

For these seven facta are bonum in se, they are the continuing infallible work of the Risen Lord with His bride, they are a free gift, which thus can be refused but cannot be gainsaid, and which ceaselessly and freely unite, and thus never subsume, the primordial, the radically historical, and the eschatological in the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice.

What we fly to add here is an implication of the creativity of covenantal life, which is always radically historical: we have what we have. That does not mean that we cannot lose what we have now, nor that we cannot hope for better.

There can be intellectual principles of covenantal moral theology, which we apply to particular moral acts, but these intellectual principles are never foundational. They can come into being, and come not to be.

We can forget better principles, and embrace worse ones, preserve worse principles, and abandon better ones -- and we can make better principles than the ones we have now. But none of these are authoritative in the Church; for the sole authority in the Church is sacramental: the realm of power -- even of intellectual power -- belongs to Caesar, not God, for Our Lord's Kingdom is not of "this world."

Two implications: first, covenantal moral theologies can only make moral judgments on the basis of 'better' or 'worse' intellectual principles, not on time-less 'best' intellectual principles; second, judgments of 'better' or 'worse' are also radically historical -- it is impossible to compare principles with reference to a time-less 'best'.

This is no doubt troubling talk for many moral theologies, but it is untroubling to covenantal moral theologies for two reasons. The first reason is not a proof but merely an analogy from the history of science: early twentieth-century quantum physics did not arise from an elaboration of previously-accepted time-less principles.

To the contrary, physicists proved themselves willing to say that they had been mistaken not merely about how the laws of physics should be applied, but also about what the laws of physics were. At least some of these new ideas contradicted what had previously been thought to be immutable principles of physical reality.

These physicists behaved as if their object of study had priority over the methods they employed to study it. They did not assume that their scientific investigations had to obey a previously-ascertained 'right reason' -- time-less Laws of Thought.

Instead, they behaved as if their methods -- their very thoughts regarding what is "reasonable" -- could change, be even drastically transformed as the result of a mysterious interaction in time between the reality of their object and their current questions, such that their methods were always and continually emerging in time as a set of even more intelligible and coherent questions. In a word, they had a kind of faith, not in their previous definitions of "reasonable," but in the reality, truth, and intelligibility of their object.

It may be difficult to reconcile what actually happened in early twentieth century physics with theories of man's 'searching' which begin with the belief that the inerrancy upon which the 'searching' is founded is available in time-less truths that must 'in principle' be already known, or even with ideas of what is 'obviously' 'reasonable' and 'logical'; but it seems rather more easy to reconcile that history with a free reality, one that is available to man as "a concretely presented knowable unknown:"

An experimental discipline such as physics requires, just as does theology, an a priori inerrancy in its subject matter. The intrinsic truth of the experimentally encountered world, like the intrinsic truth of the ecclesial tradition, must be presented inerrantly, as a source of truth which, because it transcends the inquiry, is able to justify inquiry: it offers to the quaerens of the mind a concretely presented knowable unknown. That historical physical reality is in fact so presented cannot be proven, in the sense of being reduced to a rational necessity--for as free it is gift, not necessity--but it can be experienced continually in that existential optimism which is integral to a truly historical consciousness: "the experience of order in the present under God."

[ CT, Introduction, pp. 13-14 ]

But this is mere example. The primary and the certain reason why covenantal moral theologies are untroubled by a lack of time-less foundational principles is that the Eucharistic Event is after all a radically historical Event, not a principle, not a law, and thus covenantal moral theologies are far from bereft of foundations.

Are we really required to observe that Scripture and Tradition are not time-less foundational 'principles'? Instead they are concrete particular historical facta founded on the radically historical One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, without which they mean nothing, and are nothing.

Do we really need to point out that the seven sacraments are free concrete particular historical facta by sinful human beings, which continually mediate the work of the Risen Christ with His bride, radically in history, and are thus the radically historical deeds that are quintessentially, foundationally, bonum in se?

Is it truly necessary to point out that Hell exists, that the Fall happened, both of which prove that certain free concrete historical actions by human beings so dis-integrate our personal names, our history within the history of obligations, works and gifts that is the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, as to be malum in se?

Covenantal moral theologies have a powerful lot of Reality to count on. But such intellectual gifts as emerge in history within that Reality, from the fundamental and radically historical continuing Gift of the New Covenant -- and such gifts will emerge -- will not be foundational, not absolutely reliable. Nor will they be accessed or available automatically, at will, or even at need.

Time does not 'interfere' with the truth. The Sacred Host that we eat at Communion is not an 'instance' of a supposedly time-less One Sacrifice; for that matter, the Last Supper celebrated by Our Lord Himself is also not an 'instance' of a time-less truth, nor, to inflate this error to its ultimate absurdity, is Our Lord's death on the Cross a 'material cause', formally insignificant, a mere individuation in space and time of the 'real' reality -- as if stubbing His toe would otherwise have sufficed.

This is one more way to underscore how abjectly vulnerable covenantal moral theologies are, and will always be -- and how abjectly vulnerable covenantal moral theologies say that we men are, and will always be.

We are always able to understand more by kneeling at the one altar of the One Sacrifice -- more about reality, more about ourselves; but that understanding will always be partial -- and we can forget a lot, too.

But whatever we do in history, the Reality of the Altar, the reality of the full Catholic sacramental life, remains in history, with us. Our theories of reality, and of ourselves and our histories, remain both inspired by, and measured by, the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice.

The Eucharist, the New Covenant, from which the sacraments flow as blood and water from His side, is His concrete, historical, unflagging love of her, and their concrete, historical, unflagging mediation in sacramento -- and in sacramento not only means 'veiled' but also 'with our free concrete historical cooperation' -- of their continuous and continuing love of us.

Covenantal moral theologies cannot found themselves on classic teleology

Teleology is the investigation of what things are for, and in particular, what people are for. It is far from unfair to use this definition, but from the standpoint of covenantal moral theologies it does lay bare that the inquiry called teleology is neither autonomous nor foundational; rather, it must flow from the quaerens -- a quaerens not at all merely theological or even intellectual, we hasten to add -- of believing Catholics in ecclesia subject to the judgment of the Church.

To the extent that 'teleology' makes itself prior to the Lord with His bride, or is a dehistoricized cosmology, a philosophy, a natural science, or some branch or combination of these, it cannot be a foundation for covenantal moral theologies. Teleology as both historically and presently conceived and practiced must be more firmly converted to the New Covenant before covenantal moral theologies can make better use of it.

For example, the "teleological and proportionalist theories" condemned by Veritatis Splendor [79] prey upon a neuralgic point within classic teleological moral theories, that "material substantiality" is incoherent within classic Thomism.

Which is to say, one might charitably see these "teleological and proportionalist theories" condemned by Veritatis Splendor as attempts to resolve what is seen as a philosophical or theological difficulty.

In other words, these moralists not only have noticed the indisputable weakness of the Aristotelian/Thomistic account of "material substantiality," but also have noticed that this incoherence must at least in part ground the Thomist discussion of intrinsically moral acts (and hence of intrinsically evil acts).

Having noticed this defect in the Thomistic account, these 'new moralists' must then either make the Aristotelian/Thomistic account itself an article of faith (which Thomists have often been happy to do), or seek a better account of intrinsically moral and intrinsically evil acts.

However, in order to do this, they choose the wrong priors. (For example) they make a "teleological" theory in which the morality of an act can only be ascertained with reference to 'ends' that exist in the future; in other words, with reference to time that hasn't even happened yet.

Yet as we have noted previously, it is completely unnecessary to 'refute' these theories on the ground they have chosen (and given the incoherence of "material substantiality" within classic Thomism, it may even be impossible to refute them on that false ground).

For the sacraments of the Catholic Church by their very existence are the continuing living refutation of the sorts of teleological and proportionalist theories condemned by Veritatis Splendor.

In other words, that the sacraments cause what they signify, that they work ex opere operato, is a kind of 'existence dis-proof' of the 'difficulty' such teleological and proportionalist theories detect -- which difficulty should accordingly be seen as generated by the wrong priors, not as an issue intrinsic to substantial reality.

The sacraments are particular concrete radically historical moral acts of sinful men that are moral per se, bonum in se. Much does -- ought to -- follow from this fact.

And this fact is unshakable, indefectible, not able to be lost. How could there be a firmer foundation that that? On the other hand, since "God is free, in the minimal sense of not being bound to inferences drawn from the formal perfection of the cosmological absolute," [CT Vol. II, Appendix, p. 656] then -- following the logic of the classical tractates -- if our end is God, then our end is also free; it is not imposed on us, it is not presented to the intellect as necessarily true, it neither demands nor requires our submission, intellectual or otherwise.

In a word, Christ's end, and perforce also the end of all who are His brothers in His death, all who are His brothers in ecclesia, is not subject to nor the product of necessary reasons at all.

A Catholic teleology simply is not "bound to inferences drawn from the formal perfection of the cosmological absolute." For it is impossible to make "Jesus is Lord" credible under those inferences.

To say it again, Catholic theology may not ask an sit verum?, or "Why be good?", or any number of other dehistoricized questions; to the contrary, Catholic theology is unable even to begin to formulate questions until it first answers, radically in history, the question put to it by its Lord: "Who do you say that I am?"

Any teleology not thoroughly founded on Catholic sacramental realism cannot be very useful to covenantal moral theologies. Men do have an 'end' or 'object' -- a point, a purpose, a mission, a munus, a telos -- but Man's true telos is offered to him, not imposed on him; it is offered not from time-lessness, but ever within history; it is offered in ecclesia, not in 'pure nature'; nor is it offered with reference merely to primordial or to eschatological 'time'; and it is a surprise.

Man's telos is intelligible, but it is a surprise -- it is not any kind of implication, direct or indirect, of Man's fallen 'nature'. Grace can truly be said to perfect 'nature'; but it is a drastic mistake to imagine that grace perfects 'nature' in any manner even conceivable within 'nature'.

St. Thomas was flat wrong when he imagined that grace is an 'accident' of nature -- any kind of implication of 'nature'. The Fall was too real for that; the re-creation of substantial reality required "so great a Redeemer;" by the blood of the Lamb, our stony hearts are not 'improved', they are removed and replaced.

Our true telos cannot be anything but a surprise, not least for being personal: it is the New Covenant, Him with her, the Bridegroom with His bride, the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, radically in history. Nor is Man's telos 'emergent', in the sense of merely not being predictable, but still able to be traced back retrospectively to the processes, properties, and laws of 'nature' (fallenness as normative).

It therefore goes without saying that Man's telos is not to be found by an examination of his fallen nature, nor within necessary Law, whether 'natural' or 'supernatural'.

The sin of Adam and Eve has their names on it, it was personal sin, and, though their sin did not annihilate the Good Creation, it was still earth-shattering, and the Lord's personal sacrificial death, in and through the One Flesh, really does send the Spiritus Creator, really does change everything, really does re-gift men with real, personal names, which names just are their freedom to make real history; that is, to worship in spirit and in truth in concrete historical time. For in the death of the Lord time itself is holy, it mediates the redemption of the world by the Lord of history with His bride.

Christ, yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega; his are the seasons and the ages.

Thus, Man's telos flows from the New Covenant as a free gift radically in history, which may be freely refused, and there is no other: we freely live within that Gift, or we freely die.

Any telos of Man available to philosophy is thus not merely insufficient; it is irreparably insufficient. The Fall was real; our Lord's death on the Cross is not icing on a fundamentally sound cake. Saint Thomas's attempted remedy, of a double telos of Man, the latter telos revealed only supernaturally, at least recognizes that there is a problem.

For the wages of original sin is death; there is just no getting around that. Nor can we, as fallen, ever go 'behind' the Fall to view or reason to Man's 'real' telos in terms of some primordial original justice. We cannot find, in fallenness, what it is like to be unFallen; a flaming sword [Gen 3:24] bars our way.

Nor can the venerable assumption that the immaterial is immune to the Fall be sustained, for the immaterial is part of the Good Creation in the grace of Christ, and thus was subject to Adam and Eve's sin. A corollary to this obviosity is that even the goodness, truth, beauty, regularity, etc. that we do experience in our fallen world must be degraded at the level of substance; nor will we ever have in this life any way even to imagine, let alone extrapolate, what either Edenic or heavenly versions of these are like.

What we have are the Transfiguration, the Resurrection accounts, and the sacramental facts, such as the effective signing of the transubstantiation of the species, the effective signing of the baptismal character, the effective signing of the forgiveness of sin, etc.; viz., reality as somehow the same, but also as somehow quite different, from fallenness.

The alternatives to noticing (for that is all it is) that fallen immateriality is after all fallen, are (a) that the 'immaterial' is prior to the Christ (so Jesus is not the Lord; there is something 'immaterial' more lordly than He), or (b) that the 'real' Christ is Himself immaterial, dehistoricized -- another venerable assumption that Covenantal Theology does not merely contest but refutes extensively and con brio:

Volumes III and IV of COVENANTAL THEOLOGY continue to develop the radical criticism, proposed in volumes I and II, of Catholic systematic theology as it has existed since the Council of Chalcedon. The criticism is focused upon that theology's methodological dehistoricization of the Catholic tradition, an effect rendered inevitable by the dehistoricization of the Mission of the Son to give the Holy Spirit. This basic error arises out of the uncritical supposition, effectively universal in Catholic theology since the twelfth century, that the Son sent by the Father is not Jesus the Lord but the eternal Son, sensu negante, understood as immanent in the Trinity, thus as nonhistorical. The historicity of the Father's mission of the Son is consequently precluded.

[ CT III (Forward) ]

For that matter, the resurrected body of Our Lord, and that of His bride, make ridiculous the very notion that "spiritual" means immaterial and time-less.

No god of the philosophers, whether of the neo-Nietzscheans or of the neo-Aristotelians (etc.), can reveal Man's telos to him. Only Jesus, the Lord of history, One Flesh with His bride in the One Sacrifice, can do that, only the radically historical liturgical worship of the Catholic Church can do that.

For instance, right from the beginning of Holy Mass, we learn that part of our munus is to sing with the saints in procession (Entrance Antiphon); that all we do is "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit;" that we are Greeted by the priest, who prays that the Lord be with us, and we respond in kind to him; that we have grievously sinned and must confess this and seek prayers to the Lord our God from blessed Mary, ever Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and our brothers and sisters here with us; and that the priest then asks Almighty God to have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life; and we cannot but be reminded that Christ's prayer from the Cross is much the same as that just offered by a priest of His Church who acts in His person.

This is imprecision, of course: the Mass is not a lesson plan; but the sacramental, liturgical worship of the Catholic Church is the font of wisdom, the foundational Event. And the Eucharist is an Event, not a Thing; it cannot be rationalized, made time-less, or dissolved into 'elements'. By participation in the Holy Eucharist and all that flows from it and all that is revealed by it, we are able to learn, radically in history, what we truly are for, and what the world is truly for.

The flight from time being inveterate in Man apart from the Eucharistic Event, it is necessary to reiterate:

... either historical events, in the sense of particular concrete free and morally responsible actions by sinful human beings, are capable of mediating the risen Christ, or they are not.

[ Keefe, Donald J, SJ. "Gender, History and Liturgy in the Church," Review for Religious 46/6 (Nov./Dec. 1987) 866-881, n. 15; (from a paper read at the Thirty-second Meeting of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the United States (ARC-US), Jamaica, N.Y., 7-10 December, 1986.) ]

Apart from the Eucharistic Event, there is no foundational unity, whether of Man or of the universe. To insist: the Fall was real; apart from the New Covenant, what we are 'for', is death. Only the Lord of history with His bride redeems us; otherwise, the pagans were right: time devours everyone's children:

The pagans mourned that time devours its children; we rejoice that the Lord of history redeems them.

[Keefe, "Faith, Science, and Sacramental Realism," ITEST: A Seminar With Fr. Stanley Jaki (St. Louis: ITEST Faith/Science Press, 1991) 1-17; p. 10.]

For the pagans, Time of its nature devours. Man's 'end' -- what he is meant for, what he is for -- hence is out of time, whether in an ecstasy of repetition, or within a motionless time-less Ideal.

But as Covenantal Theology recalls over and again, this setup is notorious for generating the problem of the one and the many, and restricts intelligibility -- thus responsibility -- to necessary reasons. A free responsibility becomes a contradiction in terms, and the idea that man's end is gifted, offered, to him, rather than imposed, is incomprehensible, a thought that cannot even be thought.

Some elements of the Reform sought to edge away from the doctrine of total depravity, and by maneuver to make somewhat historical the concept of predestination, thus providing man with at least some actual moral agency with regard to his end. Yet the difficulty of making predestination at least partly historical is hardly original with the Reform, for once God's 'nature' is dehistoricized, so also is each individual man's telos; his personal 'end' already exists out of history, in the time-less mind of God.

Moreover, the Calvinist obsession with predestination -- with taking a dehistoricized version of 'teleology' with complete seriousness -- is merely a more straightforward version of a theological error ancient in the Church, expressed most radically in the assumption "that the Son sent by the Father is not Jesus the Lord but the eternal Son, sensu negante, understood as immanent in the Trinity, thus as nonhistorical," [CT III (Forward)] whose root is both a deep suspicion of time and a decided intellectual preference for the supposed safety of the time-less.

After all, theologians from Augustine to Aquinas, and far beyond, have taken predestination for granted, and for all the old familiar 'reasons': 'God' is time-less because what else could He be, etc. Some of the implications to Catholic sacramental realism of a radically dehistoricized teleology having immediately been evident, Catholic theologians even from before Augustine have attempted to deal with them. Calvinists, on the other hand, finding themselves freed from Catholic sacramental realism, had no qualms about taking the matter to a more logical conclusion.

For the Reform, as for all for whom Catholic sacramental realism is a bridge too far, the one thing necessary is thus the one thing inconceivable, the one thing that must be denied: particular concrete free and morally responsible radically historical actions by sinful human beings that -- every day -- infallibly mediate the risen Christ.

The source of Catholic sacramental realism and thus of a teleology founded on it, is no time-less Thing or recipe or Substance ('universally available' in that sense), but is a sheer personal Gift of Him with her, particular in history, as particular and personal as His begetting from the Father, as particular and personal as the one Covenant of the one Bridegroom and His one-and-only bride, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, with each other but not as each other, radically in history "breathing" the Spiritus Creator to the furthest reaches of the world.

This Gift is mediated sacramentally, in "particular concrete free and morally responsible actions by sinful human beings;" [ibid. "Gender, History and Liturgy in the Church"] that is, in signs that cause what they signify, mediated in ecclesia, in her ever with Him, ex opere operato, ex nihilo.

This Gift is perfectly real, true, responsible, and intelligible (though never comprehensible, never rationalizable), and it Gifts us with a telos ever freely offered to us in history but never imposed on us, as sweet in history as honey, yet as relentlessly in history as the Hound of Heaven, confronting us, making it impossible for us to flee to the time-less and idly ask, an sit verum?

The Gift is free, and radically in history; thus our response also is free, and radically in history: Yes or No.

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