Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Canticle for Leibowitz and the Dormition

Coincidentally enough, I just found the following passage in A Canticle for Leibowitz which is extremely relevant to my post a few days ago on the Dormition and the Assumption, if only as demonstrative of the nature of the question itself:
New Rome was busy with other matters, such as the petition for a formal definition on the question of the Preternatural Gifts of the Holy Virgin, the Dominicans holding that the Immaculate Conception implied not only indwelling grace, but also that the Blessed Mother had had the preternatural powers which were Eve's before the Fall; some theologians of other Orders, while admitting this to be pious conjecture, denied that it was necessarily the case, and contended that a "creature" might be "originally innocent" but not endowed with preternatural gifts. The Dominicans bowed to this, but contended that the belief had always been implicit in other dogma--such as the Assumption (preternatural immortality) and the preservation from Actual Sin (implying preternatural integrity) and still other examples. While attempting to settle this dispute, New Rome had seemingly left the case for the canonization of Leibowitz to gather dust on the shelf.
Walter M. Miller's hypothetical future Dominicans are flat-out wrong, though the example in the novel certainly shows where the popular Catholic mindset regarding all this was in 1959 (when the book was published)!

As I discussed on the Feast itself, Mary's Dormition before her Assumption is infallible by ordinary and universal magisterium, even if not covered by the solemn extraordinary definition. It does not imply preternatural immortality or impassibility. Yes, she received the gift of being conceived as if already baptized and free from the spiritual effects of original sin, already in a state of grace or divine life from the first moment of her existence. But I do not think her freedom from Actual Sin in life was due to anything like an Edenic gift of preternatural integrity being super-added to the original innocence of that conception.

Some seem to speak sloppily as if the Immaculate Conception made it so that Mary couldn't sin; yet even Eve, who did have the gift of preternatural integrity, was still ultimately able to sin, obviously. Rather, with the Virgin Mary, her sinlessness was from her own free choice to never sin, in cooperation with God's grace, even in the face of a life of sorrow, pain, unknowing, and mortality, even without the preternatural gifts. A singular grace, to be sure, but only because she cooperated with it in a singular way. Such a grace is, I suppose, offered to all of us as sufficient grace; she was singular because she never chose to reject any of that grace as the rest of us do, and thus it all was efficacious and so she was sinless. So, Our Lady cannot be compared to Eve in these ways.

The position held by A Canticle for Leibowitz's hypothetical future Dominicans is, however, indicative of how many Catholics misunderstand or misunderstood the issue. Many seem to be under the impression that Mary's Immaculate Conception was the cause of an infallible freedom from Actual Sin, or would have exempted her from death. Such clumsy theology makes it understandable why the Orthodox similarly often misunderstand our teaching and thus are, understandably, wary of it. In reality, the preternatural gifts are a separate question from the indwelling of divine life from the moment of her creation, and there is no evidence that Mary received the former as she did the latter (in fact, the idea seems to me repugnant to Catholic tradition and good theology).


Anonymous said...

Let's take this a step back: following Ireneus, the Orthodox question, if not outright deny, that our first parents themselves were in possession of "preternatural gifts" prior to the fall (at least with regard to actual, as opposed to potential, possession of such gifts) - Avva Greg

A Sinner said...

Well, Catholics make a big distinction between the preternatural gifts and the state of glorification properly so called.

Just as they would not yet have possessed the heavenly state, the beatific vision of God, unfallen humanity would also not have been glorified, like bodies after their Resurrection, until some future point. The "Franciscan thesis" would probably say that would have been at the Incarnation of God (which, they'd say and I might agree, would happen even without the Fall).

But I think it is clear from many scriptures that, if it hadn't been for sin, Adam and Eve wouldn't have died, wouldn't have felt pain during labor and child bearing, would have had privileged access from God to knowledge, had all the food and drink they needed in the garden, etc. Eden was paradise after all.

In some ways all these things could be seen as, indeed, merely "potential" in the sense that, for example, immortality could have been viewed as a reward to be given eventually for continued sinlessness rather than a trait inherent from the beginning.

But to propose that they were merely like baptized fallen humans seems highly unscriptural.

Catholic Encyclopedia, though I haven't tracked down specifically what they're referring to, refers to patristic sources for them:

"The Fathers look upon them as a glorification of nature, applying the words of Psalm 8:5-9."

"The Fathers look upon this union in the original state of man as an anticipation of his state of final beatitude in the vision of God, so that grace bears to integrity the same relation which the future glory of the soul bears to the future glory of the body. Integrity and grace, when combined, elevate man to the most perfect likeness with God attainable in this life; they dispose and prepare him for the still more complete likeness of eternal life"

Mark said...

It was still a good book though, wasn't it? :D