Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

The Father William Most Collection

Holiness of God

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

Holy, Holy, Holy called out the Seraphim to each other in Isaiah's inaugural vision. The holiness of God is the aspect especially stressed by Isaiah. Yet so many today seem to have only a vague notion of the meaning of Holy.

A thorough linguistic study is needed. In The Thought of St. Paul by Wm. Most there is a lengthy study of Hebrew sedaqah. The study shows sedaqah means God's concern for all that is objectively right, right in itself, so much that if the order is put out of balance by evil, the Holiness of God wants most earnestly to have it restored.

Hence, after the first sin, the Father, looking ahead to all future sins, still willed to restore our race.

But how? He, being the absolute master could have forgiven without any make-up or satisfaction at all, but that would not have satisfied His love of the objective moral order, nor would it have been so rich for us.

He always wills to tie together the two: objective goodness, and benefit to us. Hence Vatican I, though it defined that God creates for His own glory, explained that it did not mean He was seeking to gain - he could not again - rather glory to Him was to be and is the natural result of His giving good things to us. In this vein, St. Irenaeus wrote that He created, not being in need of anything, but so He might have someone to give His benefits to.

His purpose then in giving commands is not to gain, but to tell us how to be open and disposed to receive His benefits.

These two, His glory, and giving benefits to us are inseparably tied together.

There was a second option open to Him: Employing any mere human to do anything religious--that, though far less in weight than the infinity of the mass of sin, He would have accepted.

If he willed, and He did, to have perfect rectification of the objective order, He could have provided it by an incarnation in a palace, a palace with every possible luxury. That incarnate Son would not have needed to die at all: the mere fact of a Divine Person becoming incarnate would be infinite in merit, infinite too in satisfaction to the objective order.

The Greek Fathers saw this with their speaking of Physical Mystical Solidarity. It meant this: all humanity formed one unit, a solidarity. But the humanity of Jesus became part of this solidarity. Then a force, as it were, spread out from the divinity, over His humanity, and then healed all the rest of humanity.

Therefore any and every act of the Word made Flesh was of infinite merit, enough to redeem countless worlds.

So this third option would be infinite. Yet we know that the Father was not willing to stop there: He wanted His Son to go beyond the palace to the stable, and even to the cross. In other words: He went beyond infinity to infinity! Or we could say He wanted to make the infinite even richer. From this we can gather a principle the Father has chosen to follow: As long as anything can be made still richer; I will not stop there.

This realization leads us still further: it is as though the Father recalled that in the second option He could have used the action, not infinite, but of wondrous value, for the whole of redemption!

This means that He saw He could add the work of a mere human to infinity beyond infinity, namely the immeasurable work of the mother of His Son. The worth of her action would be how great? Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus wrote that even at the start of her life, her holiness, which He had given, was so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God could comprehend it!"

We saw that by going beyond the palace to the stable and the cross, all would be richer, in a sense, infinity beyond infinity. So to add the immeasurable worth of the work of His Mother would not add to infinity, but would make all richer.

What was there that she could do and did do at Calvary? The redemption has three aspects: First, it is a sacrifice. Now the essential value of a sacrifice comes from the interior heart of the one who offers: obedience. Hence God complained through Isaih 29. 13: "This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me."

At the annunciation, though she knew from the words of the Archangel that her Son would reign over the house of Jacob forever" and knew from many prophecies, especially Isaiah 53 how He would suffer, she unhesitatingly said: fiat. He accepted, she obeyed.

Of course she never went back on her pledge of obedience, even in the blackness that hung over Calvary. Further, any soul that knows what God positively wills is obliged not just to say: Let it go, but must positively will what the Father wills! The consequences for her then were literally beyond calculation, for her holiness even at the start had been so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it." Hence she was called on to positively will that her Son die, die then, die so horribily--and this in a clash with her love which was so great that "no one but God can comprehend it!" Vatican II, in Lumen Gentium 56 wrote that (citing St. Irenaeus) "thus then the knot of the disobedience of Eve was untied through the obedience of Mary"! And in LG 61: "in suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope and burning love to restore the salvation of souls."

Suffering beyond our comprehension, in spite of incomprehensible love, joined to His obedience which brought about redemption! " LG:3.

Another aspect of the redemption is satisfaction. Pope Paul VI in the doctrinal introduction to his Constitution on Indulgences of Jan. 1, 1967 explained that the right order of things is disturbed by sin: that must restored, by reparation. Simeon Ben Eleazar, a Rabbi of about 170 AD gave us a most helpful comparison. He was thinking of a two-pan scale: "He [any sinner] has committed a transgression? Woe to him. He has tipped the scale to the side of debt for himself and for the world." In passing we note any sin affects all; cf 1 Cor 12:26. So the sinner takes from the one pan something to which he has no right- the scale is out of balance. The Infinite Holiness of God, loving all good, wants that put back.

If the sinner stole property, he must give it back. But if he stole a pleasure --the far more common case-- he begins to rebalance by giving up a pleasure of equal weight. But we said only that he begins to rebalance. For the imbalance from even one mortal sin is infinite: only God made man could fully rebalance. This is what Jesus did by his measureless suffering. He put back more than all sinners had taken. He did this by suffering in obedience. But His Mother joined, in suffering beyond our comprehension - because of the magnitude of her suffering: having to positively will that her Son die, die then, die so horribly. She did this in obedience, continuing her fiat. Surely the Father who required her to take on such measureless suffering -- against her love, so great that "no one but God could comprehend it"-- surely He would not order this and then refuse to accept it as part of the rebalance.

Thirdly and finally the redemption is a new covenant, as foretold by Jeremiah 31. 31ff. Now a covenant is a kind of pact or agreement, in which one party says to the other; if you do this, I will do that. In the new covenant the Father accepted the infinite price of redemption. So He bound Himself to offer forgiveness and graces without limit, except for our rejection. He does permit us to reject. He could forestall or cut through our resistance by His transcendent action. But to do that routinely would be self-contradiction. For when He acts that way, the first decision on the outcome is His, not ours-- a reduction in the free will He had granted, in which normally it is ours to decide whether or not we will resist.

It is important to note too that if we ask why He gives something under the covenant there are two answers. On the most basic level, no creature could move Him, or generate a claim, a merit on Him. So all He gives is really unmerited, unmeritable generosity. But, on a secondary level, i.e. given the fact that He freely set up a covenant, then if creatures fulfill the condition, He owes it to Himself not to go back on His word: He can be said to repay. [in passing, this distinction explains the words of St. Paul in Romans 2. 6: "He will repay each man according to His works." We get the indication or clue from noting that Paul is really quoting the last line of Psalm 62 which opens: You have hesed for your will repay. Hesed of course is the covenant bond or condition: God observes it.]

Hence the astounding thought: even the infinite offering of Jesus did not move the Father. It was not that the Father was in a rage against us until Jesus came. No, Jesus came because the Father always loved us.

Further, it is important to note that the one who sets up a covenant is free to set any condition he wishes to be obeyed. The Sovereign freedom and power of the Father could set up the covenant in any way He chose. A remarkable example will illustrate. My Mother's Father was a generous old man. The day before New Years he used to tell me: Tomorrow morning, phone me. If you say Happy New Year before I do, you will get a dollar.

The objection often used to be made: Mary needed redemption: so she could not cooperate in redeeming. -- But the Church has repeatedly taught that she did cooperate: there are 17 texts from every pope starting with Leo XIII, and including John Paul II, and including Vatican II. This fact shows us that we need not be concerned about the objection. But there is a direct solution: Just as the Grandfather could make a pact for less than full value: so too Our Father could and did will to accept her cooperation -- a cooperation of worth beyond our ability to calculate, since it was given with holiness/love so great that "no one but God can comprehend it."

In passing, we can note how beautifully all the above fits with a principle of St. Thomas in I. 19. 5. c: God in His love of goodness, likes to have one thing in place to serve as a reason or title for granting the second thing, even though that first thing did not move Him.

We have seen the interior logic of the theology of Marian cooperation on Calvary. This was the objective redemption, the once-for-all earning of a title or reason for the grant of forgiveness infinitely.

But there is an subjective redemption: the process, still running, of giving out the fruits of the objective redemption.

At once a fascinating problem meets us: all graces were bought and paid for in the objective redemption: what need or reason for the subjective redemption, especially for the Mass?

The first reason, an obvious one, was that He Himself at the Last Supper commanded: Do this in commemoration of me. So in offering Mass, we are simply carrying out His own command.

Why did He give that command? Two reasons: First, as St. Paul wrote in Romans 8. 17 that we are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are not only His members, but are like Him in all things, especially in suffering: "If we suffer with Him, we will also be glorified with Him." This is the heart of the great syn Christo theme. It is a theme that is developed at intervals in the Epistles, e.g. in the first few lines of Romans 6, in Romans 8:9 and 17, in Col 3:1-4, and in Eph 2:4-7.

What a distorted picture would it be if the Head were suffering, but the members in delights.

In this vein Paul told the Colossians in 1. 24 that he was filling up what was lacking to the sufferings of Christ, in his own flesh, for His Body which is the Church.

Really His members would not be capable of receiving His benefits if they were unlike Him by sin.

There is a second reason for the Mass. We already saw it: St. Thomas I. 19. 5. c: God in His love of good order likes to have one thing in place to serve as a reason for granting the second, even though that first did not move Him. So He likes to provide in the Mass a title or claim for giving out graces already earned.

That reason appears in the fact that the Mass is a sacrifice. How can this be? In a sacrifice there are two elements; Outward sign, interior disposition. In the Mass the outward sign is the same as that which He used on Holy Thursday: the seeming separation of His Body and Blood in the separation of the two species of bread and wine. In that way on Thursday He as, it were, said to the Father: Father I know the command you have given me. I am to die tomorrow. Very good. I turn myself over to death - as expressed in the seeming separation of the two species. I accept. I obey. In the Mass on the altar He is still present with the identical disposition of obedience in which He died. For death makes permanent the disposition with which one left the world. Of course He is not called on to die again. No. But He expresses that same interior obedient willingness. He expresses it by the same sign He used in that first Mass.

Hence Mass is a sacrifice, one of infinite value. It serves as the reason for giving out the graces once earned.

We might ask: Is there any place for Our Lady in the Mass? Very much so. Pope John Paul II said :"Every liturgical action... is an occasion of communion with Mary... . Mary is present in the memorial... because she was present at the saving event... . faithful with her whole being to the Father's plan... ." In other words, if we think of the two components of a sacrifice, the body and blood on the altar still came from her. And her interior disposition of obedience to the Father's plan is still as perfect as it was on Calvary. So she still shares at the heart of the subjective redemption in producing the titles for distribution of all graces. So already in this sense she is Mediatrix of all graces. Further, her intercession asks for each grace. We are indeed so numerous, our needs so numerous. But her mind, illuminated by a light of glory in proportion to her holiness, so great that "no one but God can comprehend it", lets her see all that pertains to us, her children.

What is the role of others in the Mass? Pius XII in His great Mediator Dei explains that it is not a liturgical role: "even though the priest at the altar in the name of all His members, does so in the Person of Christ the Head... ... it is based on the fact that the People join their hearts in praise, petition, expiation and thanksgiving." Hence Vatican II, in Lumen gentium ยง10 said that the ordained Priest alone acts "in the Person of Christ."

Again, the Father loves to have a title or reason for giving: I. 19. 5. c.

It is in view of that same principle that there is room for the intercession of ordinary Saints.

What a glorious and harmonious picture we have seen: the Father does all to make things as rich as possible out of a love of objective goodness, and out of love for us!



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