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St. Thomas Aquinas, Vatican II, and the “Benedict Option”

We should all adopt some sort of interior ‘Benedict Option’, to ensure our souls are not conformed to this age, to keep our thoughts and motives as pure as we can.

Stained Glass window depicting Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), with Cardinal Mercier, in the Cathedral of Mechelen, Belgium. (Image: jorisvo | us.fotolia.com)

The reality, if not the term, of the Benedict Option goes back well before Rod Dreher’s popular book, even before Saint Benedict himself, at least back to Elijah and Elisha, who ‘opted’ to listen for God’s voice in the stillness and quietness of the desert.

But to Benedict the name has stuck. As a student in the decadence of sixth century fin de siècle Rome, Benedict found he could not live, or at least live well, amongst the milieu of his fellow scholars, their carousing and worldliness. He needed a path that was more perfect, more detached, more intentionally focused on his ultimate end and purpose. Benedict’s quest led him to his solitary cave overlooking Lake Subiaco, and eventually to founding the monastery at Monte Cassino.

Few are called to overtly follow Benedict, but the option named after him applies to all of us in some way; the question is, how?

The beginnings of an answer may be found in the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas. As a young boy of noble lineage, he began his own spiritual journey as a puer oblatus in the same monastery of Monte Cassino seven centuries after Benedict, with his family’s expectation that he would one day become the abbot (but to his family consternation, the teenaged Thomas chose the then-radical Dominicans instead).

If the mature Thomas were somehow to get his hands on Dreher’s book, suitably translated into mediaeval Latin, his mind would likely see the essence of the ‘Benedict Option’ in light of the sin of scandal (and its opposing virtue, edification), which in the Summa he distinguishes into two sorts: Active scandal, when someone leads someone else to sin; and passive, wherein we allow ourselves to be led into sin.

Active scandal may be provided not just by persons, but by the culture or milieu in which we live (even if these may ultimately be traced back to a person). At some point, this social structure may become so dispositive to sin that one would have difficulty avoiding evil, either by commission (being forced to act in some way contrary to God’s laws) or by omission (hindered in doing the good that we are called to do, for we must do more than avoid grave sin to attain heaven). Hence, the attractive option to retreat to a more favourable environment that will incline us more to virtue than to vice, that is, edify rather than scandalize.

Although Saint James exhorts us to keep our souls unstained from the world, not all of us need run off to a monastery to remain pure and reach heaven (although it does help for many). Yet, as the Second Vatican Council exhorted, it is incumbent upon all Catholics to follow that universal call to holiness, whether lay, clerical or consecrated life, in accord with Christ’s command to be ye perfect

Hence, we should all adopt some sort of interior ‘Benedict Option’, to ensure our souls are not conformed to this age, to keep our thoughts and motives as pure as we can. Fair enough. Yet, as incarnate beings, we cannot remain interiorly detached from the world (along with the flesh and the devil) unless there is at least some corresponding exterior retreat, in the realms both of space and of time. That is, we must carve out, set apart and make sacred some physical place, as well as some minutes of each day. This could be daily Mass, a visit to the church, a prayer corner in our homes, or just going for a post-prandial meditative walk. How much time we give to God we must also decide: Some moments in the morning, offering the day to Him, seeking counsel and guidance; the reading of Scripture; an examination of conscience in the evening; devotions to the saints.

We also keep ourselves ‘unstained’ by avoiding complicity in evil, whether in terms of companions, speech, media, complaisance and adulation, along with any formal cooperation in the nefarious deeds of the world. This is an increasingly difficult problem in health care, with enforced complicity in abortion and euthanasia being the two most glaring examples, and is creeping into many other professions: lawyers aiding adulterous divorces and clearly guilty clients; teachers going along with deficient and even corruptive curricula, and on it goes.

Benedict, of course, decided to get away from it all, adopting a life of total, isolated dedication to God through prayer and manual work, ora et labora. The Church has consistently declared the objective superiority of what would come to be known as the consecrated religious life, the ultimate and most perfect ‘Benedict option’, especially in its enclosed, contemplative dimension, a sure and certain path to heaven, if lived well. Saint Philip Neri called such a vocation the greatest gift Our Lady could offer a soul.

For the rest of us not called to be monks or nuns, the consecrated life still offers an ideal and guide. One of the misinterpretations of Vatican II was that the clergy and religious should ‘lighten up’, secularize and become more like the laity, when it was quite the other way around: Sure enough, the laity, who make up about 99% of the Church’s billion-plus official members, have the specific vocation to sanctify secular affairs, but that does not mean that they should themselves be secularized. Rather, the laity were urged to share in the graces, and some of the practices, of those more fully consecrated to God. The Decree on the Laity urges them to adopt a ratio or plan of life that is more regulated and conducive to holiness, whether this be enrolling in a third order or pious association of some sort, or just giving to God a little more, and more consistently, of our time and space.

Most laypeople are called to marriage, and the Church asks them to form their family life as an ecclesia domestica, a domestic church, which is more than a glib and pious phrase: The family should govern itself like a true sacred assembly, with regular prayer and some level of retreat from the insidious effects of the ‘world’, with every home becoming a centre and source of holiness and spiritual growth.

In certain social milieux, Benedict’s Rome in its final stages of decline, Soviet Communism, Nazi Germany, and our own age under the totalitarian dogma of hedonistic and agnostic relativism (and numerous other examples could be adduced), a more intentional and external Benedictine retreat from the world may be required, to avoid the encroaching scandal of the world, and the assaults of the evil one. How much retreat, and of what sort, will vary for each particular case.

Single people not called to the convent or monastery may choose a type of self-imposed Benedict Option to seek greater spiritual perfection, but if formed well, living by some sort of self-imposed rule (ratio) of life, and the grace of God, they need not run off to find splendid isolation in a cabin in the woods; they can in the main resist the allure of the world while living in its midst, and prove to be valiant quasi-apostles and missionaries, sanctifying the path on which they are called.

The main impetus for non-consecrated people to follow a more intentional Benedict Option, it seems, is to protect their children, whose developing souls, as Christ Himself implied, are more open to being scandalized, and more affected by what is around them. Children are not apostles to be sent out into the fray, but rather still-developing and easily-swayed beings, who need stable, holy, even, one might put it, quasi-monastic, environments wherein they may take in and assimilate all that is good and true and holy.

I will close with three factors that one may want to consider in one’s own Benedictine option:

First, there is the liturgy, especially Holy Mass for Catholics, the source and summit of the Christian life. Strive to find a place with a good, solid, orthodox Eucharistic and sacramental life, which may sustain you. Dreher mentions families who have set up house near the Clear Creek Benedictine community in Oklahoma, with similar communities existing here and there across North America. Not practical for all, but certainly a consideration. Lex orandi, lex credendi, the law of praying is the law of believing; and lex credendi leads to lex agendi, the law of acting. We really are as we pray.

Second, retreat to a place where you can educate your children according to your own conscience, in the faith and all that is entailed in Christian culture and tradition, whether this be home-schooling, a private school, or a decent public school with some serious home catechesis and prayer.

Third, we should try to live near extended family, rediscovering in some new key the old clan system. Along with this, we should also do our best to build up a community of like-minded believers, with whom we can forge friendships and offer each other mutual support, which we will need more and more as the culture of death waxes strong, and Mordor creeps ever closer to the borders of the Shire.

Whatever the Benedict Option means for you, at least ponder the example that our forefathers in the faith have left us, and that the one option not open to us is to do nothing.


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About John Paul Meenan 2 Articles
John Paul Meenan, M.Sc., M.A., teaches theology and science at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom in Ontario, Canada, with a particular interest in the relationship between faith and reason, and how the principles of our faith should impact and shape the human person and modern culture.

3 Comments

  1. 4. Figure out how the order of charity and justice applies to one’s fellow countrymen and to those who live in the immediate vicinity.

    Identity politics is here to stay.

  2. STO. THOMAS AQUINAS PHILOSOPHY

    The concept of the human being is meaningful application of the scientific investigation and acquisition which characterized our knowledge and intellect. We may use it wisely of what we think which form that based on these inspiration of the millennials. Aquinas philosophy is that it is attracted of his exception to this role of the complete course as well as the pedagogical development.

    How well do we understand human being of the bridging attention in mentoring our perception? While there is focusing on the most relevant of the human life we ensure this study our relationship on people. It is important to bring to the awareness of the safety and sense of our well-being which relating to their institutions. This includes what we follow according to their beliefs of our cultural identity our existence to respect the view of the environment. We attained it as necessarily of the person we imply of sharing our reaction to others who in their especial competence in the practice of our philosophy.
    We study our intellect in order to understand human being in our lives and therefore brought our higher standards. Rather, it reflects our broader capability of the natural process which develops in the human being our thinking and reason that has been differentiated. To distinctly build our certain position begins to desire of the matter is ruled by the Aquinas that human beings perceive our possibility. There is relation between knowledge and intellect if we turn our moral reasoning the significant we arises of our sense experiences.
    This sometimes must mention when we said that mind is our power we want to question both from personal and others and ultimately in the areas of Aquinas philosophy. After of this comment the practical perspectives it might be our own intellect must work as they should for example to be creative complimenting our knowledge. We know the profound effect on how you think you can raise what we have in our mind? How would I tend to be philosopher where as person could predicts that it is likely that our “knowledge depends on intellect of another” possible for two people to have wisdom.
    The essence of philosophy is that a man could live his life of belief is true if it is consistent an awesome mystery. The basis for Aquinas philosophy that the product of this thought or our achievement is our necessity of our thought? It will define the “being” philosophizing our differences closely related to the learned whatever he may possess. What is the intellect why they have to study in philosophy? challenge is that our view greater address to what if rules (a) the object of our knowledge and (b) the reason of attaining it. Philosophical opinion this base line from which we described in our right of thinking on the subject to have anything to do. Although it is not possible that can be shown to be true know of yourself is well enough his personality in the world. But their wisdom in reality is describing together because we are knowing of our intellect.
    These search of Aquinas in the entire universe the consequences of our reason and intellect understand ourselves get through to the truth. Those who have attain His existence Aquinas concludes that knowledge first through our senses and second to the intellect gradually approaches to our likeness accepts more prominent philosophy more than of others.
    During his lifetime which we ascertained our taught other philosophers in the significance of justifying is acquired through these study but the first comes are well to stand alone from the second the ideogenesis to explain how the mind can know concepts nothing more than what was presented to the mind.
    The knowledge which significant terms to recognize with what is real how it knows corporeal an object are unknowable which is not followed with those are the impressions of the cause. According to Hume, what is not real because they must not become immediate of our perception unknown and the unknowable are the concepts that naturally from this considerations. Is it not then impossible to know this theories there are elsewhere “metaphysics” itself in the curiosity with our sense that which our representations relate to the distinction between knowledge and belief.
    These questions are forever unknowable but I don’t see it trying to answer they are not the same “knowledge” defined it as “thought” somewhere before using this reason to understand our sense of the intellect. And again, asserting that if Aquinas “the godly man” they speak of this belief that the notion of the intellect what the question called subjective of the Philosophy as the “same” person? Thomas Aquinas, It depends on the mysteries remotely convincing in order that they may have sight but they have knowledge because of the intellect.
    The important of our study of human that our beliefs to knowledge engaging with the logical order to understand. The scientific paradigm is simply ideal the practice though they are aware that society does not remain unchanged over time. Scientists most of the time characterize the entire philosophy define views of the synthesis of Aquinas more they stay the same is usually applied. It is theology of Thomas contra gentiles heightened actualization of influential philosopher whole of attainable truth (summa) stage in the history (William Arthur & Sons, 1995).
    Thomas’ view—that all human beings shared their intellect created by God and are subject to Him and the like and as each has greatly renewed among this excerpt. This philosophical intellect on the will for Aristotle which everything respect our differences of human cognition and humility for the more powerful than ours. They must be knowable to us making us responsible there is no single overarching definition of our “knowledge” and “intellect” including the the perfect exercise of all human being. It lead to the important of our research all his knowledge is our human good to think that other feature of Aristotle’s theory of ethics is that. All human beings possess basic knowledge what there truly obtaining of our moral perception cannot be justified. There are cases of Aquinas reaction our conceptual knowledge is the status that tends us to undermine our intellect through their clarity on this intellect.
    It is as though you have an eye in your mind that gives you the knowledge his own essence following the objection to Thomas own position holder of the social intelligence. The intellect is our expertise to retrieve knowledge to the memories much of the influence continuing relevance of this philosophy our will want no matter how void of the expertise that caused. But he was human either criticism of this view with these difficult people significantly affect the human person to work on the supposition either you. Like Aquinas thought “God is the form of human being”to be overcome is beyond of our understanding gruntled you see ‘out there.’
    In the light of our knowledge study of ☆ego ☆ the most beautiful philosophy of the natural sciences both complicated we thought it would be helpful.
    However, true of his philosophy most enduring responseover the question of what makes affirming quality of our life. The dialogue between the human person our know why we are here in earth of finding illuminating the art of reason moments as knowledgeable as possible and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with God. For this made right with Aquinas ‘wisdom’of our study can be secularization as intentions for what it means to bring knowledges and intellect learning from.Sometimes our contemplation is correct his supernatural habit infused the main issue here is not that there is we shall find in different orderand there can be no knowledge and there are its followers to our starting question how do we understand human being? topics from Aquinas reaction relatively explained broad range of cultures.
    What is distinctive distinctive in his mind all kinds as being that both the bestowal of his intellect and the human response to it are free acts. Thomasian own this critique of all—even divine—kings their role is endowed within the human intellect we perceives God assimilating person is to aid an individual. All these need to know an investigation natural law systematic thinking that who supposes it to be that the human mind is constitutionally the same now as it gradually begin to spiritually attributes of the human capacities of the human mind and intellect.
    This essay postulates established of a philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas which is the individual each kind of our identity the criterion of our human social order we recognizes the personhood of the human being. He was being declared patron of all Dominican friar at the university of Santo Thomas that requires we maintain highest value of the scholastic philosophy. It does determined the intellectual (person) might think of his position the existence of the humans.We have this experience to contest these restriction they conceives of the world are popularly called our “intellect” idealist philosophy conjunction of our consciousness. Those interests are speaking to the intellectual perception which we are to appreciate how instead of the life today. We understand the science how others perceive you I know is normal our likelihood of developing this attempts. Most of us more seemingly terrifying of the average person and let the others know you among the most powerful intellect. Here are the 17th century humanity of the method of desire is to be certain in our ways acknowledge any jurisdiction of Aquinas straight into this philosophy. As is now the relevance of this philosophy in our contemporary time henceforth were thinking of the Catholic Church the inclusion of moral considerations. Much of our focus on philosophical theory are actually the peculiar observance of his thesis because of the articulation through the the human rights regime. Though gave us his own theory of the intellect is defined by legitimation would later be ethical and religious bases in the field of his philosophy— we are stating our mind (July 1996) view of the natural. In addition, what we can know as essential to realise that if they do change somehow is the intellect enables us to know and understand.

    Jay-Jay Molina “Aquinas Philosophy of the Knowledge and Intellect” et. al Hume & Thomas philosophy edition ;October, pp.72-87.

  3. ”Teachers going along with deficient and even corruptive curricula….” And the students who are the victims of such evil curricula. The Novus Ordo Church did more to advance the Sexual Revolution of the Sixties and Seventies than Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler and all the pornstars with their obscene pictures combined, because unlike them, whose audience was limited to adults, the NO Church inflicted the Sexual Revolution on Catholic children in parochial schools by teaching nuns who had broken their vows of chastity. There was not a single Catholic publisher of sexually explicit materials of any kind, especially for children, prior to 1966, when classroom sex-ed began in Catholic schools. There was no model for sex-ed class instruction of children previous to 1966 except that done by the “Father of Sex Education”, the infamous Dr. Albert Ellis, who experimented with 500 boys, ages 12 and younger, provided him through the State of Indiana’s orphanages and foster care system. Dr. Ellis passionately believed one, like himself, should enjoy the full spectrum of sexual acts and partners. He considered pedophilia with boys as the peak sexual experience. But first Ellis sought ways to overcome any resistance the boys might offer to the perversions Ellis intended. Ellis knew he must first de-sensitize the boys to nudity and the depiction of genital acts. At first Ellis tried encouragement and sweet-talk to get the boys to look at such pornography and respond favorably to it. But the boys, evincing childhood innocence and reticence, refused to comply with Ellis’ ”nice approach” and so, in short order,
    Ellis concluded that there was no positive way for sex education to work other than to break the will of every boy and brutally force them to consume the pornographic imagery he imposed on them. Despite all the trauma the boys exhibited, all their crying, screaming, and pleading, Ellis accepted such as necessary to criminally condition them to be ”all eyes and all ears” to take in all the obscenities he showed and told them. Ellis knew the boys’ psychological rape, alias sex education, had to precede the attainment of the goal he desired, namely, the boys’ physical rape. Dr. Carl Rogers, a disciple of Dr. Ellis, convinced the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters of Los Angeles to adopt Dr. Ellis’ vicious method of sex education for their young students, no matter how much it pained the boys and girls. YouTube once had a horrific video documenting the hell the Roger-led nuns put their youngsters through until they despondently, tearfully, submitted to viewing the rawest immoralities. The Novus Ordo continues with such sexual scandalization as a mainstay of its existence. But numerous RICO prosecutions of NO clergy are about to commence this year and offer deliverance to Catholics, and their children, from Novus Ordo bondage.

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