April 20, 2004

That's What Makes a Horse Race

Alice von Hildebrand received some interesting letters (scroll down if you hit the link) concerning her article warning that we not disregard feelings in the spiritual life:
Alice von Hildebrand delights us with her defense of feelings in our psychic and spiritual lives, yet she inserts one lone paragraph into her article that she doesn’t explain and that appears to be out of context. I quote: “Original sin, however, has not only affected man’s feelings. Both his reason (intelligence) and his free will have also fallen victim to man’s revolt against God.” It is a hair in the ointment.

She is not alone, of course, in assuming that Adam broke something in us that Christ did not fix. Father Kenneth Baker, S.J., for example, wrote that “as a result of original sin man is burdened with concupiscence, which is an innate tendency towards evil and rebellion against God”. We agree, of course, that after Adam and Eve sinned, sin now abounds on the earth. But do we, as individuals, walk as crippled human beings even after Christ restored us to the state of grace in baptism? Pope Saint Leo the Great, on the contrary, tells us to be jubilant because Christ restores what Adam had lost for us: 

Old becomes new. Strangers are adopted and outsiders are made heirs. Rouse yourself, man, and recognize the dignity of your nature. Remember that you were made in God’s image; though corrupted in Adam, that image has been restored in Christ.

There was a time—before we were baptized—when our nature was still fallen. There can be a time when we fall again—by mortal sin. But happy are the adopted children of God who flourish in the state of sanctifying grace, whose souls God enriches lavishly with the infused theological virtues; with faith to be loyal to Him, with hope to expect heaven, with love to adhere to Him and to reject rebellion.

From the baptismal font, we jump up totally restored, as did the crippled man to whom Peter said: “Silver and gold I have not, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6).

Admittedly, a few theologians actually hold that original sin has affected our natural faculties adversely, rendering us less inclined toward good and more disposed toward evil than we would be in the purely natural state. Canon J. M. Herve mentions four of them in a footnote: De Lemes, Contenson, Sylvius, and Schmid...Herve disagrees. He finds that there is no proof in the sources of revelation that the natural powers of will and intellect were diminished by original sin... -Rev. Anthony Zimmerman
Alice von Hildebrand responds:
...St. Benedict prohibited his monks from having private possessions but nevertheless found it necessary to check regularly whether his sons had not hidden some forbidden object in their beds. We can assume that those who enter a monastery aim at holiness, and would therefore abstain from committing an act of disobedience to which teenagers are prone. Does Father Zimmerman imply that this could have taken place before original sin?... Original sin did not deprive man of his ontological freedom but very many men have lost what St. Augustine called their moral freedom. Those hooked on alcohol, drugs, and sex have become slaves to their concupiscence. He who would rather die than ask for forgiveness is a slave of his pride. How things were before original sin, I simply don’t know and feel incompetent to discuss.

...My husband was converted upon discovering that the Church produces saints. It would be strange indeed if his wife challenged his profound conviction that man can “be transformed in Christ” and become a “new man.” But the way to holiness is a very narrow one. Man’s pride remains throughout our lives a re-doubtable enemy. Our self-will constantly tries to assert itself. Our heart can become a heart of stone. That grace can triumph is something that no Catholic can doubt. This triumph implies that our self-will joyfully accepts being defeated by Christ.

No comments: