Saint Thomas Aquinas

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cardinal Manning on Atheism

If you have a digital reader there is a great book available online titled, 'The Fourfold Sovereignty of God.' It was written by the great Henry Cardinal Manning. He presents the Church's teaching on atheism very clearly. As you may know, the great archbishop was a studied Thomist, so he presents his theological thoughts in a well ordered and clear way. This is quite contrary to most of the "theologians" today.

"They, then, who, amidst the lights of nature, do not know God, or the distinctions of right and wrong, or that they have a soul which is immortal and responsible, are guilty for that ignorance. To be ignorant of these things is sin, because such ignorance is vincible."

First, God exercises His sovereignty over the human intellect, even by the lights of nature. There is in the natural world a manifestation of God which lays all men under the obligation of knowing Him. They who,with the lights of nature before them, remain in ignorance of God, are not only intellectually in error, they are also morally in error, and they are responsible for that moral error. Not to know God is sin.

The Apostle says to the Romans; The invisible things of Him; that is, of God; from the creation of the world, are clearly seen,being understood by the things that are made, His eternal power also and divinity; so that they are inexcusable. Because that, when they had known God, they have not glorified Him as God, nor gave thanks; but became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened. For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man. Here, then, is an express declaration,that the lights of nature are sufficient to prove to us the existence of God, His power, His Divinity, and, therefore, (Rom, i. 20-23.) his perfections; so that they are inexcusable who do not know God, and, therefore, do not believe and make an act of faith in Him, and of submission to His sovereignty, as their Maker and Lord...

They, then, who, amidst the lights of nature, do not know God,or the distinctions of right and wrong, or that they have a soul which is immortal and responsible, are guilty for that ignorance. To be ignorant of these things is sin, because such ignorance is vincible. The lights of nature are sufficient to prove these things, and they who are ignorant of them are willingly ignorant of them; that is, ignorant through their own will, and therefore culpable before God; and for that culpable ignorance will have to give account at the last day. (Henry Cardinal Manning, ‘The Fourfold Sovereignty of God’)

16 comments:

ronconte said...

The existence of God can be known by natural law. Any adult with sufficient use of his faculties can and should be able to conclude that God exists. But to a fallen sinner, living in a very sinful world where contrary opinions abound, perhaps living in a culture where Christianity and Judaism are not prevalent, ignorance of God may well be invincible to some extent. If the extent of the invincibility is sufficient to reduce the mortal sin of rejecting God to a venial sin, the person might be saved despite being an atheist. So vincibility and invincibility admit of degrees.

Matthew Bellisario said...

It seems that is not possible to to hold to an atheist position without an act of the will. This means that the person who holds to the position which claims that God does not exist, is always going to be in mortal sin, unless of course his mental faculties are damaged in some way where is intellect cannot function properly. Manning points out that Scripture as well attests to this fact. No man is innocently ingorant of not realizing that God exists. It has nothing to do with whether or not a person lives in an area that professes Christianity, or Judaism. That is beside the point as I see it. I see no way that an professed atheist, that is, one who willfully says "there is no God", to be saved. Ss long as the person lives on the face of the earth, they are going to be vincibly ignorant. That is, the light that God shines in His very creation makes the person able to at least come to the conclusion that God exists. I see no way around this fact.

ronconte said...

The choice to hold an atheist position is an objective mortal sin, but not necessarily an actual mortal sin. The latter requires more than a knowing choice of the will. It requires full knowledge, in this case, that holding an atheist position is gravely immoral -- because God does exist.

Your assertions imply that every adult (with sufficient use of his faculties) has full knowledge that God exists, that there are no sincere atheists. This conclusion is not proven by what Scripture says about the ability of reason to know that God exists. What reason can know is obscured by original sin and personal sin and a sinful world, thereby reducing knowledge and reducing culpability, possibly from actual mortal sin to actual venial sin.

Matthew Bellisario said...

It seems that Original Sin does not destroy the ability of man to know that God exists. Man still has the ability to know this fact. The Church has long held that man can only be saved by cooperating with God's grace. That is they must try and do His will as best they can, and they must also have perfect charity as well. The Church documents prove this fact. Someone who says, "there is no God" it seems that this is not possible. Therefore I do not see your position as being a tenable one.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Let me be clear. The Chhurch teaches that those who remain outside the visible Church must have perfect charity. That is they must be actively seeking to do God's will in perfect charity. For those in the Church it is different. So an atheist, who is not in the Church, first of all is not invicncibly ignoarnt of the fact that God exists. At least it seems that this is the case. Secondly, a person outside the CHurch still has to have the desire to do God's will. I fail to see how an atheist can do this, because his will is set against it.

ronconte said...

An act of love is sufficient for an unbaptized adult to obtain sanctifying grace. This act must be done in full cooperation with grace. This love must be a true selfless spiritual love of God and neighbor. However, any selfless act of love toward one's neighbor is implicitly an act of love for God also. And so even an atheist or an agnostic might receive sanctifying grace by an implicit Baptism of desire -- but only by full cooperation with actual grace in a truly substantially selfless act of spiritual love for neighbor.

Matthew Bellisario said...

"An act of love is sufficient for an unbaptized adult to obtain sanctifying grace."

This is not true. That would not be the case for an atheist. Only the unbaptized in a state of invincible ignorance who at least acknowledge God's existence, and then attempts to do His will can be saved. And that person must have perfect charity. The Church teaches, "But it must not be thought that any kind of desire of entering the Church suffices that one may be saved. It is necessary that the desire by which one is related to the Church be animated by perfect charity. Nor can an implicit desire produce its effect, unless a person has supernatural faith:..." An atheist has no supernatural faith, period. He rejects that idea entirely. I fail to see how your argument holds true. Without supernatural faith, a person cannot be saved. Just "loving" your neighbor from a worldly standpoint is not a sufficient means for salvation.

Matthew Bellisario said...

I think it is important at this time to make sure we understand what charity is. It is not just a human love for another person.

"Charity is that infused theological virtue by which, first, I love God the author of grace, for His own sake, more than I love myself, more than His gifts, more than all else; by which, secondly, I love myself, and then my neighbor because he like myself is loved by God and is called to glorify God both here and in eternity."

This description of charity is not fundamentally possible for one who says, "there is no God."

ronconte said...

"An act of love is sufficient for the adult to obtain sanctifying grace and to supply the lack of baptism" Pope Pius XII, Address to Midwives, 29 October 1951.

Yes, the act of love must not be mere human love or love of self, but love of God (at least implicitly) and true selfless love of neighbor, which is also called perfect charity.

How can the atheist choose an act of perfect charity, if he is not in a state of grace? He cooperates with actual grace to some extent while not in a state of grace. And then, by the unmerited mercy of God, he enters the state of grace in choosing that act of perfect charity.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Thanks Ron. I will have to look at that quote in context to see if it applies to someone not in invincible ignorance. Again, I do not believe a person who holds to a true atheist position to be in invincible ignorance as to God's existence. This would change things a bit.

Matthew Bellisario said...

I looked into that quote Ron. It seems to me that the Pope there is addressing baptism of infants and comparing with adults who have not received baptism, which are able with an act charity to receive sanctifying grace. It does not address a person who's will is set against knowing God. It was general statement regarding those who have not been baptized. Therefore I personally do not think that quote really supports what you are trying to substantiate here.

Matthew Bellisario said...

It seems to me that the crucial point here for the atheist is his will. If his will is determined to reject any idea of the existence of God, then his will is set against doing the will of God. For one cannot assent to something he has his will set against. Without faith one cannot please God. Therefore he cannot perform an act of charity in the true sense. If he does perform an act of charity which could somehow put him in the state of grace, then in my opinion he would have to cease being an atheist. In other words, his will would have to change in order for him to enter into a state of grace.

So in the case of a Protestant who is invincibly ignorant of the Catholic faith, if that is even possible these days, has his or her will turned towards God in an effort to do God's will, then they can possibly be saved and enter into a state of grace. Likewise for a man who has not been baptized and yet has an intention of turning towards God in an act of charity can possibly enter into a state of grace. But a person who has his will set against the very God who allows the idea of charity to exist, it would seem that he would never be able to enter into a state of grace without changing his or her will. In other words, if a person is able to perform a true act of charity it must be by supernatural grace, which of course is a gift from God first, but also depends on a person's will. I still fail to see how a person who's will is dead set against belief in God can be saved.

ronconte said...

Certainly some atheists are guilty of actual mortal sin by being, as you put is, dead set against accepting any idea of the existence of God. They would have to give up such a sin in order to obtain a state of grace. But you have not proven that all atheists are guilty of actual mortal sin. There is no reason why an atheist, being fallen and influenced by a sinful world, cannot be sincerely mistaken about the existence of God.

CCC 37 In the historical conditions in which he finds himself, however, man experiences many difficulties in coming to know God by the light of reason alone: Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by his providence, and of the natural law written in our hearts by the Creator; yet there are many obstacles which prevent reason from the effective and fruitful use of this inborn faculty. For the truths that concern the relations between God and man wholly transcend the visible order of things, and, if they are translated into human action and influence it, they call for self-surrender and abnegation. the human mind, in its turn, is hampered in the attaining of such truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful.

Matthew Bellisario said...

The quote however does not say that the person is not responsible for their disbelief. All it says is that there are many reasons why they do not believe. I still do not not see how this proves that an atheist can be saved. That is if we are going by the proper definition of atheism. Which is one who by his own will denies the existence of God. Why do you doubt the words of the good Cardinal, who has made it clear that the no one is innocent and invincibly ignorant of God's existence? This quote from the CCC does not say that those who fall into disbelief by the many reasons stated in the quote are invincible in nature. In other words, there are many reasons given by people for their atheist disbelief. But they are still able to come to believe in God. Therefore it still seems that the good Cardinal has it right in saying that such people's ignorance is indeed vincible in nature. Therefore they are still culpable despite the many reasons the may fall into atheism.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Saint Thomas also seems to corroborate what Manning says about men reaching heaven, “for all those who can exercise free will, the act of faith, as well as habitual faith, is necessary” (In 3 sent 25.2.1.1) An act of faith would in my thought change a person from being an atheist.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Ron, I think what we should focus on first is if we can determine whether or not one can be invincibly ignorant of the existence of God, and then move on from that point. Invincible ignorance as I understand it means that not only is a man ignorant of the information needed to give an assent of the intellect and will, but also that he has no possible way of attaining that information. Perhaps we can investigate and see if we can find any exact statements by the Church or reputable theologians who address this subject directly. After determining that, we can then move on and see how that applies to someone who professes atheism. Manning seems to state that all men are vincible in their rejection of belief in the existence of God.