Introductory Elements

Jesuit Scholastic theologian and cardinal John De Lugo proposes a solution to the problem of the compossibility of extreme sorrow and beatific vision in Christ’s Soul by recourse to the distinction between signs or instants of nature or reason holding a relation of prior and posterior in causality but not in time.

It is a certainty of faith that Christ experienced pain: “Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted”[1]. Whence the Prophet calls him the Man of sorrows. Proof of this is also all the testimonies asserting that Christ suffered: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into his glory?”[2]and elsewhere passim. Now no one is said to suffer who does not feel and ache.

Formal beatitude is essentially neither the object itself of beatitude, nor the act of joy elicited by the will, but knowledge in the intellect of the person perceiving the beatific object; from which knowledge delight arises in the will. Likewise, torment or torture consists essentially in feeling evil. Accordingly, even as a man would be blissful essentially, although not completely, who would see God clearly, no matter God repressed and hindered every act of the will, thus a man would be tortured properly and essentially, although not completely, who suffered the fire and felt the heat and ardor, no matter God hindered every act in his appetitive power. That is why pain is usually placed in the skin, not in the brain or heart, where the appetite resides. The reason a priori is because the appetitive power supposes the good or bad object about which delight or sorrow is had; therefore, prior to the psychic act, evil is supposed about which the soul grieves and aches. Accordingly, man does not suffer chiefly on account of grieving, but on account of having that about which he grieves, even as he is not rendered blissful chiefly on account of rejoicing, but on account of having that about which he rejoices. But even the act of the appetite is usually called pain, for it is vital pain, or the act by which we grieve for present evil. The object and motive for sorrow is the motive apprehended inwardly, either by the intellect or by the imagination, as is the case with someone who grieves for the loss of grace or money.

The Extension of Pain in the Humanity of Christ

Pain in Christ’s Intellective Soul

Christ’s acts of sorrow occurred not only in his sensitive appetite but also in his human will. Thus contend Saint Thomas and other theologians. Vázquez brings forwards Albert the Great, stating that the contrary opinion was condemned to Paris.

Pain in Christ’s Higher Will

The conceptual split of human reason and will in higher and lower was introduced by Augustine[3] and was very common with Catholic Scholastic theologians. Augustine places science in the lower reason necessary for temporal matters, and wisdom, called θεοσέβεια in Greek, i. e., worship of God, in the higher reason. It is a distinction of tasks, not of faculties. Gabriel Biel, Suárez, Vázquez, and others hold that the higher reason operates whenever it is moved by eternal reasons and rules, even about temporal matters, for the formal reason of a power is taken rather from the motive object than from the matter that concerns it. The eternal reason, says Vázquez, consists of any natural law, whether it be positive, divine or human, and it also consists of reason according to virtue, for the very honesty of virtue is said to follow God’s eternal law. Indeed, in all virtue there is some eternal and non-temporal reason: if someone consents against it, he is said to consent to the higher reason, for he gave consent after considering it. The lower reason has only nature, utility and pleasure for criteria. In the Humanity of Christ, both levels of reason and will pertain to the intellective soul; the lower will should not be confused with the appetite of the sensitive soul.

It is the doctrine of Chrysostom, Cyril, Damascene, and Pope Leo I, and common Catholic Scholastic sentence, that there were true acts of sorrow at the lower part of Christ’s will. It is proved by Christ’s own avowal, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death”,[4] which Pope Agathon understands of the sorrow of the will in a letter referred at Act 11 of the Sixth Lateran Synod. Bonaventure, Scotus, Gabriel Biel and Suárez also hold that true acts of sorrow occurred even at the higher part of Christ’s will. This is proved by Saints preferring to explain Christ’s blood sweat as originated from the sins of men and the consequent sorrow, which pertains to the higher reason, as grounded especially on the offence of God, matter for the higher reason.

Many theologians deny sorrow and fear at the higher part of Christ’s will. Their foundation is that it belongs to the higher part of the reason and the will to aim at eternal things, but there was in Christ’s Soul no pain about eternal things, such as God or some eternal perfection of his. Cajetan even excludes all sorrow from either part of Christ’s human will and restricts his sorrow to his sensitive appetite. Many others affirm the contrary, including Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Scotus, Gabriel Biel, Jacques Almain, John Mair, Capreolus, who all teach that pain and sorrow about corporal death were present at the higher part of Christ’s created will. The aim of Christ’s human higher reason is not only God but also created things as judged by God’s eternal rule, which provides Vázquez ground to affirm the presence of pain there. Christ’s sorrow, although referred to morally evil created objects, took them according to the eternal rule, namely, according as they were against the law of God.

Pain in Christ’s Whole Soul

Aquinas teaches: “It is written[5] on behalf of Christ: ‘My soul is filled with evils’: upon which the Gloss adds: ‘Not with vices, but with woes, whereby the soul suffers with the flesh; or with evils, viz. of a perishing people, by compassionating them.’ But His soul would not have been filled with these evils except He had suffered in His whole soul. Therefore Christ suffered in His entire soul”.[6] It should be remarked that Aquinas affirmed that Christ’s higher reason suffered sadness as nature and not as reason. Suárez holds that the will operates rather as reason than as nature, unless it operates from the appetite of the good of nature itself, especially since it happens that someone can draw from the intention of some end an inefficacious act of desiring a means that is useful in itself even if it is not apprehended as possible, or eligible, here and now; and such an act could occur in Christ.

Thesis of the Exclusive Presence of Pain in Christ’s Soul at the Passion

Melchior Canus, the learned Dominican who fathered Fundamental Theology, judges that at the time of his Passion, by divine disposition, Christ lacked the joy that should arise from the clear vision of God. He grounds his opinion on Hb 12:2, “Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross”.

Bossuet, the famous French Royal Preacher and theologian, held a similar view[7]:

“Do not expect me to picture this final ordeal; but do as much as ponder this, that the Son of God must have felt in Himself unusually violent oppression, for Him to exclaim as He did: ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’[8]. In order for this to happen, it was required that the divinity of Jesus Christ somehow withdrew in itself, or that, by restricting the sense of its presence to some part of the soul—which is not impossible to God, who knows how to divide the spirit from the soul, ‘reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit’[9]—, it abandoned all the rest to the blows of divine vengeance; or that by some other secret unknown to men, or by a miracle, even as everything is extraordinary in Jesus Christ, it ground a way to harmonize the most close union of God and man with this extreme desolation where the Man Jesus Christ was plunged under the redoubled and multiplied blows of divine vengeance”.

Problem: Are Intense Sorrow and Intense Joy Somehow Compossible? Two Solutions

The contradiction between clear vision of God and sorrow results from the object of each act due to sadness being impossible when some matter for extraordinary joy is faced, the sorrowful object being tempered and rendered light by its coexistence with the enjoyable object, as experience testifies. Therefore, if the issue is considered diligently, prior to the very act of formal joy the object faced plus the objective joy extinguish or weaken the forces of the sorrowful object and motive, hindering it from awakening a formal act of sorrow by removing the complete motive, namely evil without solace. Indeed, when that objective joy concurs, the evil faced is accompanied by superabundant solace. Thus, objective joy, that is, matter for the most excellent joy, is placed before a soul by the clear vision of God prior to the psychic act of beatific joy, solace vanquishing the matter for sorrow by a nearly infinite excess. It ensues that the very suspension of the psychic act of formal joy would hardly suffice to expel the said contradiction to sorrow if clear vision of God is not suspended as well.

Theologians attempt to answer to this difficulty with various solutions. Two are particularly common.

The first, that joy and sorrow contradict each other when having the same object, not when having diverse objects. This is refuted by Aristotle’s teaching[10], testified by experience: vehement delight about one object expels sorrow about any other object. The reason is that evil accompanied by extraordinary comfort is no sufficient motive for great sorrow, the presence of vehement joy about some good alleviating the evil that would by itself be more grievous and matter for sorrow.

The second common solution is that vehement joy and sorrow repugn each other by nature, yet not by essence; further, that it was divine dispensation that they could coexist in the will of Christ for Him to suffer for us, natural repugnance notwithstanding.

The issue wants further examination. Indeed, the repugnance between beatific joy and sorrow can be attributed to two causes. First, the nature of the beatific state, for beatitude, being the cumulus of all goods, naturally expels all miseries, one of which is sorrow, and therefore naturally repugns beatitude, which repugnance being not essential, but only natural, God can overcome it. The other cause of this repugnance is the peculiar nature of these acts that expel each other, even in us. This repugnance is not only natural, but essential, and it arises from the fact that one act destroys the motive object of the contrary act, to the extent that the object of one act makes the object of the other less bad. Accordingly, even as assent and dissent, love and hatred, and other similar acts, cannot occur at the same time even by God’s absolute power, it is hard to see how highest joy and vehement sorrow are compossible. Assent and dissent, though diversely tending to their object, hold no mutual contradiction unless they aim at the same object; in which case they are contradictory on the part of the object and therefore cannot be made compossible even by God’s absolute power. But joy and sorrow, though aiming at diverse objects, hold some opposition, which does therefore not arise from their diverse mode of tending to the object, but from their proper object, and accordingly such opposition will not be able to be overcome by God’s absolute power.

De Lugo’s Insightful Solution by Reference to Prior and Posterior Signs of Nature

The opposition could be overcome otherwise: joy or matter for joy can only hinder sorrow if it appears at the same sign of nature, otherwise nothing lessens or restrains the motive for sorrow. Indeed, when an enormous evil is proposed at that sign of nature with nothing good being proposed, that motive exerts its whole efficacy and unencumbered virtue to arouse the affection of sorrow. Therefore, an object can be strong to annul a certain affection and fail to do so because it is not proposed at the same sign of nature, but at a posterior one. Thus, if an Angel who doubts on some object were to ask another Angel who would answer at the same instant (which does not seem to be contradictory among Angels, their operation being instantaneous and without succession or resistance), then, the first Angel is understood as doubting and anxious to know at a prior sign of nature; but as knowing and rejoicing at the acquired knowledge at a posterior sign of nature. […] In this way, therefore, there could be maximum sorrow in the will of Christ, assuming that his beatific vision was not present at a prior sign of nature, but at a posterior one, thus leaving free course to the sufficient motive for sorrow. This suggests grounds for Aquinas to affirm that the natural incompossibility of sorrow and joy was overcome in Christ. Beatitude, being naturally repugnant to misery, forbids togetherness with any act of sorrow, and consequently exacts to be given in some manner that would render it totally victorious over any effect of sorrow. Yet God, in order that Christ’s Soul could suffer, could dispense in this natural exigency of beatitude and set that the affection of sorrow at a prior sign of nature, and beatific vision and fruition at a posterior one.

It remains to be explained what priority the affection of sorrow could have to the beatific vision. Indeed, an event’s actualization at a first sign of nature is only understood at its ratio of cause to events actualized at a posterior such sign. Scotus himself explains these philosophical terms:

“I understand ‘prior’ here in the same sense as did Aristotle when in the fifth book of the Metaphysics, [relying] on the testimony of Plato, he shows that the prior according to nature and essence is what may be without the posterior but not conversely. And this I understand thus: that although the prior may cause the posterior necessarily and therefore not be able to be without it, this, however, is not because it needs the posterior to be. Rather the converse, because even if the posterior is held not to be, nonetheless the prior will be without a contradiction. But it is not so conversely because the posterior needs the prior, which need we can call ‘dependence’, so that we may say that every posterior depends essentially on a prior and not conversely, even though the posterior sometimes follows it [the prior] necessarily. Prior and posterior can be said according to substance and species, as they are said by others, but for precise speech are called prior and posterior according to dependence”.[11]

Now sorrow is to beatific vision neither a physical cause—obviously—nor a meritorious cause, since the beatitude of the soul was given to Christ without merits, according to the following passage from Saint Thomas:

“Now since all perfection and greatness must be attributed to Christ, consequently He must have by merit what others have by merit; unless it be of such a nature that its want would detract from Christ’s dignity and perfection more than would accrue to Him by merit. Hence He merited neither grace nor knowledge nor the beatitude of His soul, nor the Godhead, because, since merit regards only what is not yet possessed, it would be necessary that Christ should have been without these at some time; and to be without them would have diminished Christ’s dignity more than His merit would have increased it”.[12]

So how could Christ’s acts of sorrow hold any priority to beatific vision, at least by mode of objects? We answer as follows: by his human intellect, Christ saw in the Word his future acts, including those of sorrow, which somehow made his vision dependent on those affections; accordingly, they terminated at his vision, and not vice versa. Indeed, even the vision that was prior in time to sorrow always presupposed it, at least as future: accordingly, it had to be supposed as present, a fortiori at the very instant of the act of sorrow. Consequently, Christ’s acts of sorrow were prior to his act of vision of God. This can be illustrated by an example. Although God from eternity saw me speaking today, now it is prior for me to speak than for my speech to be seen by God: God sees me speaking because I speak, and not vice versa. [Origen said “A thing will be, not because God knows that it will be, but, because it will be, it is known by God before it exists.] Similarly, at any particular instant, Christ’s being sorrowful was prior to his seeing his own sorrow in the Word, and consequently to his beatific vision, which, being simple in its entity, could not partly precede and partly follow, but had to follow really as a whole at a posterior sign.

Now this answer holds good for the opinion that completes the free decrees of God by a termination entirely intrinsic to God, but not for the opinion that completes those free decrees of God by the extrinsic termination taken from a future object or action. By this opinion, the blessed see future events in the Word not formally, but only causally, since the intrinsic entity of God is entirely indifferent, nor can it be the means where this event is seen as having or lacking reality in the future. This means that Christ’s beatific vision must not be posterior to acts of sorrow nor presuppose them as objects, since such acts are not known through the vision of God formally, but causally, inasmuch as the revelations of futures pertaining to the state of each blessed arise from the vision of God as being due. Whence, if this opinion is held, more is needed to explain the priority of acts of sorrow to beatific vision. This priority is defensible at least by positing that acts of sorrow contributed in fact, as partial merit, to the conservation of the beatific vision in Christ. Indeed, as a rule, we ought not to say that Christ merited for himself those goods already owed to Him for other reasons than merit. But that rule applies when there is no special reason why God may have willed to give on account of merits that which was owed for other reasons, as is the case with Christ’s corporal glory. The special reason also seems to be that Christ should be passible, which required that the beatific vision be a consequence at a posterior sign of nature, lest, if it were prior, it should hinder every act of sorrow.

The above allows us to explain Saint Thomas’s[1] stating the compossibility of acts of extreme joy and acts ofextreme sorrow on account of different objects originating them, if this means that such was possible by God’s absolute power. If the same object originated them, that compossibility could not be effected even by God’s absolute power. For God cannot enable me to will and to refuse to will, by simultaneous efficacious willing and refusal of willing, that Peter lives, because that would be to will an impossible object (which the will cannot absolutely will). Thus, we cannot rejoice and grieve simultaneously at the same object, because this is to will and to refuse to will that the same object be. But when it comes to diverse objects, even though joy and sorrow oppose each other, the power of God could overcome that opposition by disposing that the joy be not actualized at the same sign, but at a posterior one.

[1] Summa th. I-II q. 35 a. 4 co.

[2] De primo princ. 1.8 in Wolter 1966, 4.

[3] Summa th. III, q. 19 art. 3 co.

[4] Summa th. I-II q. 35 a. 4 co.

[1] Summa th. I-II q. 35 a. 4 co.

[2] De primo princ. 1.8 in Wolter 1966, 4.

[3] Summa th. III, q. 19 art. 3 co.

[4] Summa th. I-II q. 35 a. 4 co.

[1] Is 53:4.

[2] Lk 24:26.

[3] On The Trinity, Book XII, ch. 12 & 14.

[4] Mt 16:38.

[5] Ps 87:4.

[6] Summa th. III q. 46 a. 7 s. c.

[7] First Sermon for Good Friday on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Preached to Metz ca. 1656, Third Point, Fragment.

[8] Mt 27:46.

[9] Hb 4:12.

[10] Nicomachean Ethics VII, 1154b11.

[11] De primo princ. 1.8 in Wolter 1966, 4.

[12] Summa th. III, q. 19 art. 3 co.

[13] Summa th. I-II q. 35 a. 4 co.