The Blessed Sacrament is Truly Emmanuel | Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap. | IgnatiusInsight.comThe Blessed Sacrament is Truly Emmanuel | Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap.

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Paul VI stated in his encyclical, Mysterium Fidei, that, after the consecration of the Mass, "Christ is present whole and entire in His physical 'reality,' corporeally present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a place (totus et integer Christus adest in sua physica 'realitate' etiam corporaliter praesens, licet non eo modo quo corpora adsunt in loco)." [1]

How a "physical 'reality"' can be "corporeally" present and not be limited or restricted to one place, like all miracles, will be an apparent contradiction to our modern scientific mentality. Paul VI recognized this when he said "how can something like this exist when it seems to contradict the known laws of physics and biology?" [2] The solution for Paul VI was quite simple: "And so we must approach this mystery in particular with humility and reverence, not relying on human reasoning, which ought to hold its peace, but rather adhering firmly to divine Revelation." [3]

Some theologians are scandalized by Paul VI's statement in Mysterium Fidei. They cannot accept that this physical Thing (the Blessed Sacrament) is the "physical 'reality'" of Christ "corporeally present." Perhaps they cannot accept miracles. There may also be another reason. They know that the Church teaches that the act of "latria (act of adoration)" is to be given to the Blessed Sacrament. They also know that "true latria according to our faith http://ignatiusinsight.com. is proper to divine nature alone." [4] So, they ask: How can something divine be physical? How can we say that something "physical" can be adored? Is not this adoring something created? Is not this adoring created being?

Most likely, it was for the above reasons that Tad W. Guzie, S. J. of Marquette University inferred that the physical thing that is present after the consecration of the Mass is just physical bread, not the physical body of Jesus Christ. He described the change that takes place in the bread and wine at the consecration in the following manner:
The "change" in the bread and wine can be understood as a change at the second level of looking at reality (Symbol): as a very real change, but not one that has to do with the physical order http://ignatiusinsight.com. [5] In recent years theologians have brought into play concepts like "transignification" which strive to emphasize that the change is not a physical one. [6]

This is also probably why Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., stated in his book, The Eucharist, that "I kneel, not before a Christ who is, as it were, condensed in the host, but before the Lord himself who is offering his reality, his body, to me through the host." [7] And, it is probably why Anthony J. Wilhelm, the author of Christ Among Us (which boasts of "2 million copies sold"), stated about the change in the bread and wine after the consecration:

When we say that the bread and wine "become Christ" we are not saying that bread and wine are Christ, nor are we practicing some form of cannibalism when we take this in communion. What we mean is that the bread and wine are a sign of Christ present, here and now, in a special way -not in a mere physical way, as if condensed into a wafer. Somehow his presence has "taken over" the bread and wine, so that, for us who believe, it is no longer merely bread that is present, but Christ himself. [8]But the question about the possible idolatry involved in adoring the "physical" reality of Jesus Christ primarily arises when one considers the Incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ. Did St. Peter, St. Thomas, and the other apostles commit idolatry by adoring something created when they adored Jesus Christ who was certainly "physical" (Mt 16:16; Jn 20:28)? Were the Apostles adoring a human person and created being when they adored Jesus Christ? Perhaps others will say all of this is just semantics. If we adore Jesus Christ, that is all that is important. But, during the early centuries of Christianity some churchmen and theologians made apparently slight and irrelevant changes in the concepts and terms used to describe the nature of Jesus Christ and these gradually developed into noxious heresies (e.g, the Arian and Nestorian heresies). [9]

Thus, a clear and correct grasp of the Church's understanding of being, and the difference between nature and person in Jesus Christ, can have an effect upon people's belief in the mystery of the Incarnation and the Eucharist. The Church's understanding of these subjects is best obtained by examining the philosophy and theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. The teachings of St. Thomas have been tested for hundreds of years and have been found most reliable for grasping the truths of the Catholic Faith. In fact, the Second Vatican Council states that the Church uses a "method" in education in which "the convergence of faith and reason in the one truth may be seen more clearly." [10] And the Council says, "This method follows the tradition of the doctors of the Church and especially St. Thomas Aquinas." [11]

St. Thomas's theology and philosophy, is quite different from the fluffy pop-theology which is so prevalent today. While many avoid the writings of St. Thomas because of his abstract concepts, taxing terms, demanding distinctions, and rigorous logic, there is no more precise and safer way to come to the truth. Sometimes learning is challenging work. There are passages in St. Thomas's writings which require re-reading to grasp them.
Let us use the writings of St. Thomas to examine the Church's teachings on the being, nature, and Person of Jesus Christ.

St. Thomas's Principles of Being

The Church teaches that Jesus Christ has a full human nature and a full divine nature, which are united in the "Person" [12] or "hypostasis" [13] of Jesus Christ. This union, therefore, is called a "hypostatic" union. [14] The Church also teaches that our Lord Jesus Christ is "consubstantial with the Father according to divine nature, consubstantial with us according to the human nature." [15] Two good questions to help guide our thoughts in the task of understanding the being, nature, and Person of Jesus Christ would be: "Can Christ be called a human person?" and "Can Christ be called a human being?" But first, one must understand the meaning of substance and how substance differs from accident according to St. Thomas Aquinas.
St. Thomas teaches that a "substance" is something which has "being through itself (per se) because it is not in another." [16] He says that "A substance is a thing to which it belongs to be not in a subject." [17] In other words, a substance stands on its own. But, an "accident" is a "being in another (in alio)." [18] For St. Thomas, "accidents" "do not have being in themselves, independent of a subject." [19]

Secondly, St. Thomas says that the term substance has two meanings:

According to the Philosopher (Metaph. v), substance is twofold. In one sense it means the quiddity (whatness) of a thing signified by its definition, and thus we say that the definition means the substance of a thing; in which sense substance is called by the Greeks ousia, which we may call essence (or nature). In another sense substance means a subject or suppositum, which subsists in the genus of substance. To this, taken in a general sense, can be applied a name expressive of an intention; and thus it is called the suppositum. It is also called by three names signifying a reality - that is, a thing of nature, subsistence, and hypostasis, according to a threefold consideration of the substance thus named. For, as it exists in itself and not in another, it is called subsistence; as we say that those things subsist which exist in themselves, and not in another. As it underlies some common nature it is called a thing of nature; as, for instance, this particular man is a human natural thing. As it underlies the accidents, it is called hypostasis, or substance. What these three names signify in common to the whole genus of substances, this name person signifies in the genus of rational substances. [20]

So, for St. Thomas, the term "substance" can mean "essence" (which also means nature) or it can mean "hypostasis" (which is also called a "suppositum," "subject," "subsistence" or "thing of nature"). In a rational or intelligent substance this "hypostasis" is called a "person."
It is important to be able to distinguish the "nature" (or "essence") from the "suppositum" ("hypostasis" or "person") in things composed of matter and form like the human being. St. Thomas says:

Hence in such as these the nature and the suppositum really differ; not indeed as if they were wholly separate, but because the suppositum includes the nature, and in addition certain other things outside the notion of the species. Hence the suppositum is taken to be a whole which has the nature as its formal part to perfect it; and consequently in such as are composed of matter and form the nature is not predicated of the suppositum, for we do not say that this man is his manhood. But, if there is a thing in which there is nothing outside the species or its nature (as in God), the suppositum and the nature are not really distinct in it, but only in our way of thinking, inasmuch it is called nature as it is an essence and a suppositium as it is subsisting. And, what is said of the suppositum is to be applied to a person in rational or intellectual creatures; for person is nothing else than an individual substance of rational nature, according to Boethius. Therefore, whatever adheres to a person is united to it in person, whether it belongs to its nature or not. [21]Thus, while St. Thomas speaks of the undividedness of the act of existence (the suppositium) from that which is (the nature or essence) in a created substance, he says that we can make a logical or theoretical distinction between them. And, when distinguishing them we must remember that "the suppositum includes the nature," and "the suppositum is taken to be a whole which has the nature as its formal part to perfect it." So, the suppositum is the act of being of the substance and the essence or nature is the formal expression of the substance. Therefore, in a human being, human denotes a nature or essence and a being denotes a "suppositum," but the composite term, human being, denotes an individual created rational being.

Can We Call Christ a Human Person?

When the Church teaches that Jesus is "consubstantial with us according to the human nature" she means substance in the sense of "essence" or "nature," but not substance in the sense of "suppositum," "hypostasis," or "person." Jesus does not have a human "suppositum," human "hypostasis" or human "person" in common with us. The Council of Toledo XI officially taught that "God the Word has not received the person of man, but the nature, and to the eternal person of divinity He has united the temporal substance of flesh." [22] And Church councils have defined that Jesus Christ is a divine Person. [23] This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Christ's humanity has no other subject than the divine person of the son of God, who assumed it and made it his own, from conception. [24] John Paul II also states:

There is no Gospel text which indicates that Christ spoke of himself as a human person, even when he frequently referred to himself as "Son of Man." This term is rich with meaning. Under the veil of the biblical and messianic expression, it seems to imply that he who applies it to himself belongs to a different and higher order than that of ordinary mortals as far as the reality of his "I" is concerned. It is a term which bears witness to his intimate awareness of his own divine identity. [25]


Furthermore, the Pope says that the new terminology used by theologians, applying "human person" to Christ, is due to the fact that "the divine personality has been reduced to Jesus' self awareness of the 'divine' in himself, without truly understanding the Incarnation as the assuming of human nature by a transcendent and pre-existing divine 'I'." [26] Clearly, then, it is incorrect to call Christ a human person!

Some have tried to say that Jesus Christ is a "human and divine Person." This would imply either a dual hypostasis (a created person and an uncreated person) or a blended hypostasis (a created/uncreated person) in Jesus Christ. But, the teachings of Nestorius were condemned during the 5th and 6th centuries because Nestorius taught that there were "two persons" in Christ. [27]

According to St. Thomas, some have held that this Nestorian "error" also included the notion that in Christ "there is one person of the Word of God and that of man" such that "in Christ the hypostasis and supposit of that man is one and that of the Word of God another, but that there is one person of each of the two." [28] While this idea ultimately collapses into the Nestorian "error" of "two persons" in Christ," here this idea could be suggesting that the Person of Christ was a blend or a mixture of a human hypostasis and a divine hypostasis. However, to say that Jesus Christ is a "human and divine Person" in the sense of a blended Person would be to say that He is a hybrid of God and man, rather than fully God and fully Man. But, the Church has already defined that in the hypostatic union the divinity and humanity are in Christ "without mingling"[30] or "confusion"[31] of natures and "not because the distinctions of the natures was destroyed by the union."[32] Thus, the Church also defined that Jesus Christ is "whole God" and "whole man" and not part God and part Man. So, one cannot call Christ a "human and divine Person" for any reason whatsoever. The question then follows: "Can we call Christ a human being?"

Can We Call Christ a Human Being?

One must also understand that, for St. Thomas Aquinas, unless we are speaking about God, essence (substance, nature, or form) does not necessarily include being (esse or existence). When St. Thomas discusses the composition of a thing other than God, he says that "being is other than essence" [34] and "being must be other than its quiddity, nature, or form." [35] Even "the being of the intelligences must be in addition to their form" - except for the "pure being" which is "God." [36]

It has already been pointed out that, when the Church teaches that Jesus is "consubstantial with us according to the human nature," she means this in the sense of "essence," but not in the sense of "hypostasis" or "person." Jesus does not have a human "hypostasis" or human "person" in common with us. This is why St. Thomas says "That Christ must not be called a creature." [37] While Christ has a full human nature or essence, this essence does not include created being or a created hypostasis (person). The Angelic Doctor of the Church says:

But in Christ there is no other hypostasis or person save that of God's Word, and this person is uncreated as is clear from the foregoing. Therefore, one cannot say without qualification: "Christ is a creature," although one may say it with an addition, so as to say a creature "so far as man" or "in His human nature. [38]Someone might object and say that if Christ's human nature did not have created being then Christ took on less than what we are, for our human nature has created being. But, Pius XI quoted St. Thomas Aquinas in his Encyclical Letter, Lux Veritatis saying:
Personality belongs to the dignity and perfection of any being insofar as the dignity and perfection of any being require that it should have its own existence as is understood by the term person. It is, however, a greater dignity for anyone to exist in someone of greater dignity than to have one's own existence. Therefore, human nature is more dignified in Christ than in us, because in us with our own existence it has its own personality, whereas in Christ it exists in the person of the Word. [39]

Thus, Pius XI teaches that "human nature" in Jesus Christ does not have its own being or "existence," but rather "it exists in the person of the Word." While the Son of God assumes the essence or nature of created man (i.e., humanity), He does not assume the being of created man. The Son of God, therefore, does not assume human or created being. So, Jesus Christ is not a human being except in a qualified sense. Rather, He is a divine Being.
If one were to try to say that Jesus Christ is both a human and divine being, one would imply that Jesus Christ is both two beings (one divine and one human) or that He was a blend of a human being and a divine being. But, to say that Jesus Christ is two beings is to clearly fall into the Nestorian trap. For it does not matter whether you call the supposit of the man a person or a being and the supposit of the God a person or being, the result is still the same - two separate individuals. Salvation and the Catholic Faith would entirely collapse. For, as St. Thomas says, "Hence, if the human nature is not united to God the Word in person, it is nowise united to Him; and thus belief in the Incarnation is altogether done away with, and Christian faith wholly overturned." [40]

And an attempt to mix divine being and human being into one blended created and uncreated being would also be disastrous for the Faith. The early Fathers of the Church found it necessary to explicitly reject any intrusion into the Deity by created being. In his First Letter to Serapion, probably written between the years 359-360 A.D. from the Libyan Desert, St. Athanasius taught: "We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being." [41]

Finally, it is clear that Jesus Christ cannot be a human being or created being because we are called upon by the Church to adore Jesus Christ with "the worship known as 'latria' (act of adoration) which may be given to God alone." [42] But, it is idolatry to adore anything created. Jesus Christ, therefore, can only be a divine Being. St. Thomas says: "the adoration of latria is not given to Christ's humanity in respect of itself, but in respect of the Godhead to which it is united, by reason of which Christ is not less than the Father." [43] Similarly, Pius VI taught in "Auctorem fidei," August 28, 1794 that the "humanity and the very living flesh of Christ is adored, not indeed on account of itself as mere flesh, but because it is united to the divinity." [44]
Thus, while it is correct to say that Jesus is fully human because He has an essence or full human nature in common with us, we should not say that Jesus is a human being. The "a" in the "a human being" particularly indicates an individually existing created human substantial form or nature. It will be most likely be understood as human substance or human nature in the sense of a "hypostasis," "suppositum," or "subject," i.e., "person." And then it would be incorrect.

The hypostatic union in Jesus Christ is a mystery beyond all telling. We will never completely understand how a fully human nature or substantial form can be joined to a divine Person without destroying itself or substantially altering the being of the divine Person. We cannot even understand how a substantial form can have the divine Person as its suppositum or being. We only know that this is not contradictory. While Jesus Christ has a full human nature and a full divine nature, these natures subsist in His divine Person (hypostasis or suppositum). So, we should not call Christ a human being, for He is a Divine Being. Jesus Christ is truly Emmanuel. He is a divine Person and Being in human form. When we touch the hands and fingers of Jesus Christ we are touching his divine Person. Thus, St. John refers to the "Word of Life" as that which "our hands have handled" (I Jn 1:1). Let us now turn our attention to the Blessed Sacrament.

The Blessed Sacrament is a Living Physical Divine Person and Being

The Council of Trent has defined that there is no difference between the reality of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Sacrament, except for the appearance. The Council stated: "First of all the holy Synod teaches and openly and simply professes that in the nourishing sacrament of the Holy Eucharist after the consecration of the bread and wine our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species (appearance [45]) of those sensible things." [46] Similarly, in his encyclical, Mysterium Fidei, Paul VI stated about the effect of the consecration at the Mass that "once the substance or nature of the bread and wine has been changed into the body and blood of Christ, nothing remains of the bread and wine except for the species ("appearance" [47]) - beneath which Christ is present whole and entire in His physical 'reality,' corporeally present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a place." [48]

Because the Blessed Sacrament is the same "Thing" as Jesus Christ, one might also ask whether or not one can call the Blessed Sacrament a human person or a human being? No doubt, one might think that, if Christ's "physical 'reality"' is "corporeally present" in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, then the Blessed Sacrament must be a human person or human being. But, we have previously stated that, for St. Thomas, substantial being is "being through itself (per se) because it is not in another" and "accidents" "do not have being in themselves, independent of a subject." But, "physical" is a quality and therefore only represents accidental being or "being in another (in alio)." And, the "Other" or "Subject" in which this physical quality subsists is the divine Being who is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "everything in Christ's human nature is to be attributed to his divine person as its proper subject." [49] This includes Jesus Christ's "physical, 'reality'." [50]

So, when our tongues touch the Host, we are not coming into bodily contact with a human person and a human being. Rather, we are coming into bodily contact with a living physical divine Person and Being as directly and immediately as did St. Thomas the Apostle when he put his finger into the nail-marks of Jesus' wounds and his hand into Jesus' side and exclaimed: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn. 20:27-28). The Blessed Sacrament is Emmanuel!

(This article originally appeared in the May/June 1997 issue of The Catholic Faith magazine.)

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End Notes:

1. Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, Acta Apostolica Sedis, Vol. LVII (1965),766. Partially my emphasis; Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, No. 46, The Pope Speaks, Vol. 10, No. I (Summer-Autumn 1965), p. 321. Partially my emphasis.

2. Paul VI, Siamo lietissimi in The Pope Speaks, 10 (First Quarter 1964), 10.

3. Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, No. 16, p. 312.

4. Enchiridion Symbolorum (Denzinger), No. 888, 30th edition. Hence all citations of the Enchiridion symbolorum will be taken from this source, unless otherwise indicated, and will be abbreviated as "Denz."

5. Denz., No. 302.

6. Tad W. Guzie, S. J., Jesus and the Eucharist (New York: Paulist Press, 1974), pp. 67-68. My parenthesis and partially my emphasis.

7. Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., The Eucharist, (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1968), p. 120.

8. Anthony Wilhelm, Christ Among Us, 5th revised edition (San Francisco: Harper Collins Pub., 1990), the cover and p. 216. My emphasis.

9. Denz., No. 61,113 ff., 125.

10. Second Vatican Council, Gravissimum Educationis, No. 10.

11. Second Vatican Council, Gravissimum Educationis, No. 10.

12. Denz., No. 148 & 283.

13. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1 a, q29, art. 2.

14. Denz., No. 710.

15. Denz. No. 148.

16. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book One: God, Ch. 25, No. 10, trans. Anton C. Pegis, F.R.S.C. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), p. 128.

17. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book One: God, Ch. 25, No. 10, p. 128.

18. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book One: God, Ch. 65, No. 3, p. 214.

19. St. Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, Ch. 6, No. 1, trans. by Armand Maurer, C.S.B. (Toronto: The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1968), p. 66.

20. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, la, q29, art. 2. Partially my parenthesis.

21. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, q2, art. 2. Partially my emphasis.

22. Denz., No. 283.

23. Denz., No. 148, 283, 312.

24. John Paul II, Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 466, p. 117. My emphasis.

25. John Paul II, General Audience of March 23, 1988, found in John Paul II, Jesus, Son and Savior: A Catechesis on the Creed, Vol. 2 (Boston MA.: Pauline Bks. and Media, 1996, p. 334).

26. John Paul II, General Audience of April 13, 1988, found in John Paul II, Jesus, Son and Savior, Vol. 2, pp. 337-338.

27. Denz., No. 216-217, 30th edition.

28. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Four: Salvation, Ch. 38, No. 1-2, trans. by Charles J. O'Neil (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), pp. 185-186.

29. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Four: Salvation, Ch. 38, No. 2, p. 186.

30. Denz. No. 148.

31. Denz., No. 168.

32. Denz., No. 111a.

33. Denz., No. 168.

34. St. Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, Ch. 4, No. 6, p. 55.

35. St. Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, Ch. 4, No. 6, p. 56.

36. St. Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, Ch. 4, No. 6 & 7, pp. 56 & 57.

37. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Four: Salvation, Ch. 48, pp. 207-208.

38. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Four: Salvation, Ch. 48, No. 2, p. 207.

39. Pius XI, Lux Veritatis, in Act Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. 23 (December 26, 1931), 507-508, St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, q2, art. 2, reply to obj. 2. English translation from Michael O' Carroll, C.S.Sp., "Lux Veritatis," Verbum Caro: An Encyclopedia on Jesus, the Christ (Vol. 1), (Collegeville, MN.: Liturgical Press, 1992), p. 105. The Latin of Pius XI's Encyclical, Lux Veritatis, reads: "personalitas intantum pertinet ad dignitatem alicuius rei et perfectionem, inquantum ad dignitatem alicuius rei et perfectionem eius pertinet, quod per se exsistat; quod in nomine personae intelligitur: dignius autem est alicui, quod exsistat in aliquo se digniore, quam quod exsistat per se; et ideo ex hoc ipso humana natura dignior est in Christo, quam in nobis, quod in nobis quasi per se exsistens propriam personalitatem habet, in Christo autem exsistit in persona Verbi."

40. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, q 2. art. 2.

41. St. Athanasius, "Ep. I ad Serapionem," 28-30: pp. 26, 594-595, 599, found in The Liturgy of the Hours," Vol. III, (New York: Catholic Book Pub. Co., 1975), p. 584. Partially my emphasis, F. Chiovaro, "St. Athanasius," New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 997-998.

42. Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, No. 55; Denz., No. 878, 120, 221, 1561.

43. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, la, q 25, art. 2, reply to obj. 1.

44. Denz., No. 1561.

45. Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, No. 45.

46. Denz., No. 874.

47. Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, No. 45.

48. Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, No. 46, p. 321. My emphasis.

49. John Paul II, Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 468 (Washington D.C., Vatican City: United States Catholic Conference, Inc. - Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994), p. 118.

50. St. Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, Ch. 6, No. 2, p. 67.



Father Regis Scanlon has contributed to numerous Catholic periodicals.


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