Two Varieties of Saints

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Although he might all-unknowingly be playing his cards right into Nietzsche's hands, TSO has a very interesting post regarding Two Kinds of Saints. What is of interest here is the ring of something substantive just beneath the surface. I looked at the list he compiled and found myself squarely in the "Mercy" camp of things. With the exception of St. Francis, with whom I have enormous difficulty relating--the list TSO compiles accurately represents the Saints who are "accessible" to me. More revealilngly the saints on the "Justice" side of the scales are and always have been either inaccessible (St. Thomas Aquinas) or distasteful (St. Jerome).

The placement of Pascal is an interesting dilemma, for while he was an acute Mathematician, his Pensées seem to fall more directly into the "Mercy literature" than into the more apologetic literature of the many others on the Justice side of the camp. However, that is something worthy of closer inspection and more thought.

At any rate, give yourself a treat and go and see what TSO has thought out. Then e-mail him your thoughts on the matter. This is one of those cases in which I wish he had comments--I would love to see the discussion that would evolve around this very interesting speculation.

And in this line, truer words were never spoken (regardless of my statements above about affinities):

"What of those who have a foot in both camps, who have both right-brain and left-brain tendencies? I think it makes for some unpredictability and a lot of fence-sitting. Steven Riddle maybe? "

Fence-sitting R US! And I sure hope that there is some measure of unpredicatablility--otherwise I might get bored. (TSO, didn't even read that lilne until my third time through!)

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Yes, please email me your comments. I'd rather be told I'm an idiot in an email than a comment box! Ha.

I thought Pascal was a Jansenist?

I guess if I could append something to it I would say that saints "believe" in justice and mercy, it's just which one they emphasize that interests me. And so what is the cast of mind that would emphasize mercy? Well, the sinner, yes. The one who doesn't have things under control. Maybe the one who regularly receives mercy in the form of "gifts of inspiration" in what they like to do?

St. Dominic emphasized justice over mercy? St. Augustine emphasized mercy over justice? St. Thomas tended to see success come through his personal effort rather than through something outside of himself?

I should say that might be the perception of the saint, be it fair or not. Perhaps an interesting question is why Steven finds the first group less accessible than the second. If it's not justice/mercy then what is it? It seems as though the folks who constantly emphasize mercy, like jcecil3 or the late Gerard, or Steven, don't find the saints at the top very accessible.

Dear Tom,

As with any endeavor seeking some sort of correspondences, I think we start with generalizations that we know to be false when we take specific instances and then use the thoughts and comments of others to better shape them. Did Augustine emphasize more mercy or Justice? I honestly don't know, but I have always read him on the merciful side of the scales.

More than merely mercy and justice, we are also looking at approaches. There are problems with the idea as it stands, but there may be merit in the question of approach and why some saints are so intrinsically appealing to certain personalities and some so utterly unappealing. I constantly try to fathom why my reaction to St. Jerome (whose work I admire and whose saintliness I cannot deny) is so utterly antithetical to me and why St. John of the Cross so utterly appealing. Mercy and Justice or some other factors. I don't know, but TSO's post got me to thinking about the matter.



Regardless of how gifted I may or may not be in the right-brained realm, I'm an utter ditz when it comes to logic. On that we can all agree.

As for "inaccessibility", I find St. John of the Cross just as arcane in his distinctions upon distinctions and coined terminology as St. Thomas Aquinas!

Maybe opposites attract! I'm so waffly sometimes that a brisk, zesty judge like Jerome who sees BLACK and WHITE really sparks me! He's a gust of wind to clear out my stale conscience!

Augustine affects me that way, too. Though his mind was much more expansive and analytical than Jerome's--and he pondered all kinds of theological possibilities from every side--he always comes back to the AUSTERE BLACK AND WHITE JUDGMENT--and then checks himself with reminders of God's mercy.

That's why Augustine is so great.

Neither J of C nor TA seem to me to be such activist judges. They are interpreters of the law "as it was written", I think!

I suppose the implication behind my questions is that "mercy vs. justice" is not a useful distinction for many saints. Certainly someone like St. Faustina is associated with Divine Mercy in a way she is not associated with Divine Justice, but I don't think such associations are possible generally -- and, specifically, not with Sts. Augustine, Dominic, and Thomas.

If "mercy vs. justice" is more often a useful distinction for many living Catholics, I think that's because many living Catholics have a very poor conception of Divine Mercy and Divine Justice -- thinking of Divine Mercy as some sort of superhuman clemency, for example. Scripture doesn't, I think, contrast mercy and justice the way we so often do (though mercy is said to triumph over judgment). In fact, they're often paired as mutual aspects of God's governance, with no hint of conflict. One might ask, then, whose scales put mercy on one side and justice on the other?

Bishop Sheen divided everyone into Thomists or Augustinians and said both were fine.

What interests me especially is:

Is there an "Augustinian cast of mind" and a Thomist cast of mind? If so, is the differing cast of a mind a limitation we should seek to remedy or part of the intentional diversity & glory of creation?

Dear Tom,

Point well taken.

Dear TSO,

Wonderful observation. I'm not certain I would so severely limit the field, but assuming that I accept Bishop Sheen's division for the moment--I think they may operate as a yin and yang--producing balance through correcting the excesses possible in either system alone--and as human beings are not remarkably integrated creatures, I do think each person has marked tendencies in one direction or another. Mine, as you have noted does tend to overemphasize mercy, while not discounting justice. This, I think, is because I rely upon my vision of that Mercy to sustain any hope whatsoever. If I truly got what I have merited, I would be in a very sorry place.



"There are saints who personify active love and tenderness and there are saints who personify energetic action and the spirit of eager propagandism. We contrast St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic." wrote Henri Joly a century ago, so I guess he suggests rather than mercy vs. justice it's more tenderness (carrot) versus convert the heathens (stick).

Yeah, I think the problem originates with Henri Joly's false dilemma between "active love" and "energetic action" in the lives of the saints.

Dear Steven, TSO, and others,

I think that there's something to TSO's distinction between saints that seem to be enamored of rationalistic justice and saints that instead seem to emphasize romantic mercy. I wonder if I can reframe this discussion, though. I want to look at a distinction that the (then) Dominican Otto Hermann Pesch made between Luther and Aquinas, or, more specifically, between what Pesch designated as "existential theology" and "sapiential theology." Pesch wrote,

"Existential theology is the way of doing theology from within the self-actuation of our existence in faith, as we submit to God in the obedience of faith. Its affirmations are so formulated that the actual faith and confession of the speaker are not merely necessary presuppositions but are what is thematized. Sapiential theology is the way of doing theology from outside one's self-actuation in the existence in faith, in the sense that in its doctrinal statements the faith and confession of the speaker is the enduring presupposition, but is not thematic within this theology. This theology strives to mirror and recapitulate God's own thoughts about the world, men, and history, insofar as God has disclosed them."

Rather German sounding, no? The Lutheran ecumenist Michael Root has nicely summarized Pesch's distinction - "Luther speaks out the situation of the justified sinner, standing before the judgment and mercy of God," while, for Aquinas, "The self which speaks in theology, however, is the self which is caught up beyond itself into the wisdom fo God and so is able to speak of the divine order, the causes, by which all things are."

Naturally, then, we tend to place St Thomas in the "justice" category and Luther is definitely in the "mercy" category. But this might really be because of their difference in perspective - Luther speaks as the justified sinner, St Thomas speaks as the self participating in divine wisdom. A matter, we might want to say, borrowing the language of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, of "language, theological elaboration, and emphasis." Perhaps this question of perspective can also make sense of more of TSO's very interesting list.

Thank you to all.


I've had plenty of time to examine the life of Luther lately. I know he delighted in God's mercy and understood that nothing but that mercy saved him; but in his personal life and public ministry he was as nasty and hyperbolic as Jerome ever was!

Whoo! Vitriol!

Nothing like that in Thomas Aquinas (at least not the parts I've seen).

And gentle St. Francis (as Fr. Bryce Sibley will attest!) got downright vulgar when it came to telling the devil off!

I wonder which I really am, judgmental or merciful. If I keep filling myself with God's Word, I'll begin to think justly (my mind will be renewed); but it's the conversion of the heart that matters. "They'll know we are Christians by our love [for one another]."

Do I get indignant when I see flaws in brethren? Am I huffy when flaws are pointed out in me? Do I extend the same benefit of the doubt to others as I extend to myself?

It's OK to discuss sin and judgment--it's even merciful!--as long as everybody involved in the discussion is on the same playing field. If we love and give affection to one another, then we'll be more comfortable in confiding our sins and asking for help and prayer.

The practice of "confronting and correcting" sin in others stinks to high heaven, IMHO. Some people, with simpering visage, make a cottage industry of it!

Better to "throw a cloak over your brother's nakedness," pray lovingly, and wait for him to come around again to God's cleansing mercy.

How I digress. Sorry, Left-brainers! ;-)

BTW, I miss you all!

Ephesians 4:32 (RSV)--"and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."

The Greek word which we render "tenderhearted" actually means "HAVING GOOD GUTS." So Paul is telling us, basically, when you look at your brothers, have "good guts" toward one another! In other words, if they offend you, "Don't get your bowels in an uproar!"

Is there an "Augustinian cast of mind" and a Thomist cast of mind? If so, is the differing cast of a mind a limitation we should seek to remedy or part of the intentional diversity & glory of creation?

Yes. Just by reading their writings, you see two entirely different mindsets.

Why? I'd suggest it's the philosophical school that had the most influence on them. Augustine was a Platonist; Aquinas was an Aristotelian. You could also (and perhaps more accurately) say "Bonaventurian cast of mind" and "Thomist cast of mind" because Bonaventure and Aquinas were contemporaries, yet Bonaventure (a Platonist) sounds very much like Augustine, while Aquinas sounds completely different.

That's my explanation for it, anyway.

KTC: I get that "being attracted to the opposite" thing as well. One of the people that I am interested in is Mother Teresa (I know, I know, there are plenty of people who have issues with her.....)

And that is largely because I am an almost completely unmerciful person by nature and instinct. It's not that I don't want to help people. I do. But I run out of patience with people who can't or won't be helped. And that's where I have much to learn from someone who took a completely different approach in her life than I did.

I could never in a million years have done what Mother did. I would have been busy trying to "fix" those people. Sometimes I have to stop and remember that the *first* duty is to LOVE them, not FIX them.

So I find myself drawn to crochety, fiery old St. Jerome AND to Mother Teresa.......Both the one I resemble (in temperament, not knowledge!) and the one I do not resemble at all.


That's an interesting set of thoughts. I don't know yet if I agree, but it would go far toward explaining TSO's point about me at least.

As a scientist, I tend to lean heavily on the Aristotelian side of things--empiricists derive from that philosophical line. However, I deplore existentialism in Religion because I tend to be a profound essentialist. I tend to be of Gould's mindset only even more so--there is definitely a division of the magisteria, but I would say that the division comes from the disparity of the things under consideration. That is, the material world is subject to the laws imposed at creation by the mind of God and these are immutable (barring miracles) and comprehensible--we can learn much more about them. On the other hand, what we know of God is revealed and then speculative. (This is one of the problems I have with "Angelic Studies." Aquinas attempted to use then-known physical laws to study creatures that were formed (so far as we know) before the physical universe and whose activities show clearly that they are not bounded by the laws of this universe. They are, by all evidence, of a completely different "kind" than all other known things. So to propose that two of such a kind cannot occupy the same space is merely speculation without any basis in revelation.) I have no problem with recognizing theology as a science that is outside the realms of what we presently call science and subject to different laws and a different set of rules. (Experiments are rather difficult to conduct in theology, variables being somewhat difficult to control.)

Thus, I find myself approaching the physical world with an empiricists viewpoint and the world of God with a platonic (essentialist) viewpoint. Hence my affinity for the platonist rather than the Aristotelians of the religious world.



Dear Tom,

Yeah, I think the problem originates with Henri Joly's false dilemma between "active love" and "energetic action" in the lives of the saints.

I don't know that Joly so much propose a false dichotomy as he states that there are "predominate" modes of action wherein one half of this dichotomy is more immediately present and noticeable than the other half. The audience can certainly sense whether they are being lectured at, berated, or otherwise verbally manipulated or moved, or whether they are being fed, cared for, and prayed for. These first, still acting out of love, will leave a different impression than the second. I suspect that is Joly's point, not that "active love" is absent from "energetic action" but rather it is the perceiver who notes the difference in modes and is likely to respond to the two different modes in different ways.

Or maybe not. I haven't read enough of Joly to know what he might be thinking. But I can't imagine that anyone who knows and understands the lives of the Saints would see that energetic action was inspired by anything short of active (and all-consuming) love.



The audience can certainly sense whether they are being lectured at, berated, or otherwise verbally manipulated or moved....

Certainly. Are you proposing this as a mode of sanctity? Is this what the "energetic action and the spirit of eager propagandism" St. Dominic personifies is? Is this how a saint who thinks more in terms of justice than mercy behaves?

I completely agree with Jack that Sts. Augustine and Thomas had different casts of mind. I'm not sure, though (pace Abp. Sheen), that the two cover the full range of possible casts; I'm not even sure that Augustinians and Thomists all have the same cast of mind as their respective Doctors.

I wonder which I really am, judgmental or merciful.

Being judgmental is not only not being just, it's a vice.

So again, we can say that two contrasting human temperaments are an inclination toward severity and an inclination toward clemency. But an inclination toward severity is vicious, not a subclass of sanctity.

I probably was more sweeping in my paraphrase of Bishop Sheen than he intended. He said there are followers of Augustine & followers of Thomas and both are good.

By the way, while trying to find the exact quote in my archives I found that Steven said that "Augustine is more 'love, then know' while Aquinas, 'know, then love'.

To all: marvelous comments. It's been very instructive.

Dear TSO,

Thank you. But I would further modify that by acknowledging the truth Tom pointed out that these two are cyclical in that knowing produces love which in turn produces greater desire for knowledge etc.

It is a matter of emphasis.



Dear Tom,

Certainly. Are you proposing this as a mode of sanctity? Is this what the "energetic action and the spirit of eager propagandism" St. Dominic personifies is? Is this how a saint who thinks more in terms of justice than mercy behaves?

I was (and I thought I had made this clear) responding to the implication that Joly was necessarily wrong in substance, when it is enitrely possible that we are incorrect in interpretation.

I used hyperbole to make the point. Unfortunately, some things apparently don't make transition to the internet well. It were best not to read a person with poetic tendencies too literally.



And then where do saints like St Francis deSales fit in?

(PS -- KTC, we miss you too! I knew your comments as soon as I read the first sentences!)

Indeed, KTC has that inimitable voice offering warmth and succor. Good to hear you KTC!

Perhaps related, but during some periods in Church history a majority of Catholics hardly received Communion (now of course, the opposite happens). The Church has always had to draw that tough line between being too severe (inducing despair) and too merciful (inducing presumption). How loose a net such that fish can't slip out while not making it so tight that fish can't get in? Difficult, but Christ gave the Church the power to bind or loosen.

Being judgmental is not only not being just, it's a vice.

Yep--I knew that statement missed the boat as soon as I hit "post"!

So, Tom, you can jolly well stuff your "lecturing, berating" and all of that other classically Dominican unpleasantness. Otherwise we won't let you into the Labyrinth this year!

(BTW, speaking of laxity, I watched some "100 Best" and "100 Worst" music compendium shows on VH1 this past weekend. One of the sponsors was Frangelico liqueur, a hallmark of Dominican austerity :-D)

Back to the point, it's short-sighted to separate God's justice from His mercy. When we see Him as He is, and when His will becomes our will, the manifestations of each will meld into one.

We will really be one body in Christ. I like to hope that perhaps you Platonist thinkers will be the bones and you Aristotelian thinkers will be the muscles--and we ditzes who are incapable of long attaching to either camp will be the connecting tendons.

Uh, in other words--what Tom said above:

Scripture doesn't, I think, contrast mercy and justice the way we so often do (though mercy is said to triumph over judgment). In fact, they're often paired as mutual aspects of God's governance, with no hint of conflict. One might ask, then, whose scales put mercy on one side and justice on the other?

For the record, Frangelico is said to be named after a 17th Century "hermit monk" from Piedmont. The bottle seems to be a stylized Franciscan habit.

And believe me, if I could claim it for the Dominicans, I would.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 1, 2004 8:57 AM.

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