Weekly Series on the Soul, Part 15

Welcome to part 15 of the weekly series on the soul. I’ve been sharing parts of books, videos, podcasts and what-have-you on the human soul according to the teachings of the Church. We’ve looked at two classic works, Cistercian Dom Wiesinger’s Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology, and Benedictine Dom Vonier’s The Human Soul and its Relations with Other Spirits. We watched videos by The Thomistic Institute in the Aquinas 101 series, and we’ve heard episodes from the Catholic Culture podcast talking with Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University, James Matthew Wilson and his book, The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness and Beauty in the Western Tradition. This week we’ll look at another classic text, this one by Dominican Fr. Antonio Marín Royo and his Theology of Christian Perfection, translated by Fr. Jordan Aumann. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange is said to have preferred this book to his own.

“Fr. Garrigou considered this manual to better than his own The Three Ages of the Interior Life and…he recommended it more highly. 

The Ite ad Thomam Institute.

I read that massive two-volume tome by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange when I was beginning to fall in love with the Church and for him to prefer Fr. Royo’s is high praise, indeed. So I thought we would look at Fr. Royo’s book and specifically at Part 2, Chapter 2: Causes of Mystical Phenomena, beginning on page 561. (Note: Fr. Garrigou read the Spanish original but I can’t read Spanish so I have to use the English abridgement translated by Fr. Aumann. So that’s what we’ll use here.) Notes and links are at the end of the post.

“It is basic principle in philosophy and science that we do not possess truly scien­tific knowledge of any fact or phenomenon unless we know the causes. Unless we go beyond the field of particulars we cannot have scientific knowledge. Now the extraordinary mystical phenomena can be attributed to one of three causes: natu­ral, supernatural or preternatural. There is no other possible origin for any extraor­dinary phenomenon because these three causes embrace all the possible explanations. If the given phenomenon proceeds from God, it is supernatural in origin; if it pro­ceeds from the devil, it is produced by a preternatural cause; if it is the result of a psychosomatic condition in the patient or some external physical power, it is clas­sified under a natural cause.”

Fundamental Concepts

“It is necessary, therefore, to investigate these three types of causality before we treat of the extraordinary mystical phenomena in particular. First, however, it will be helpful to clarify the three notions: natural, supernatural and preternatural.”

“1) Natural. The word “ nature” may be used in various senses: 1) to designate the essence of a concrete or particular thing (individual sense); 2) to signify all things in the visible created universe (collective sense); 3) to specify the essence of a thing as the radical principle of all its actions and passions (dynamic sense). As we use the word, it may have any one of the foregoing meanings, but especially the second and third. Accordingly, natural causes will include the following elements: that which constitutes the essence of a visible created thing; the powers or energies which nat­urally emanate from the essence of the concrete thing, including occult natural pow­ers; whatever the created essence can produce by its own powers; the various effects which one natural agent can produce on another; whatever a concrete created in­dividual thing requires for the full development of its perfection in the natural order.”

“2) Supernatural. In general, the supernatural signifies that which transcends the natural in any of the accepted meanings of nature and natural. Thus the supernatural transcends the essence of the individual created being, all the laws of nature taken collectively, and the particular powers of an individual being as well. The super­ natural can never be an exigency of the natural, but it can perfect the natural and complement it if gratuitously granted by God. In other words, the supernatural does ot contradict or destroy the natural, but the natural has what the philosophers call an obediential potency or non-repugnance as regards the supernatural.”“The supernatural is exactly what its name indicates: above the natural; it should never be understood as contra naturam. Hence the supernatural is never a matter of violence, since God works in creatures according to the natures which He implanted in them or according to that ontological necessity of creatures to obey their crea­tor. Neither should the supernatural be confused with the free, the artificial or the fortuitous. While it is true that the latter differ from the natural in the sense that they are not necessitated to one thing, they are nevertheless contained within the order of natural causality and, therefore, are essentially distinct from the supernatural.”

“The basic division of the supernatural is that of absolutely supernatural and rela­tively supernatural, and the former is again divided into the substantially supernat­ural and the modally supernatural. The absolutely supernatural (simpliciter) signifies that which surpasses the power of any creature that does or could exist. The rela­tively supernatural (secundum quid) is that which exceeds the powers of a particu­lar creature but not of all creation. Thus what surpasses human power could well be connatural to an angel, and yet it would be supernatural in relation to the human being. This sense of the supernatural also includes the preternatural, as we shall see.”

“The division of the supernatural into substantial (quoad substantiam) and mo­ dal (quoad modum) was established by the theologians to explain the distinction between the supernaturality of miracles and the supernaturality of mysteries. Supernatural quoad substantiam does not refer to a supernatural substance only; it may apply to that which is substantial and uncreated, such as the Trinity, or to that which is accidental (see video below) and created, such as grace; rather, it refers to that which is essentially supernatural, in the sense that it exceeds the causality and the essence of every being that is or could be created. It refers either to the divine nature in itself or to a participation in the divine nature precisely as divine.”

Video from Aquinas 101: Difference between substance and accidents. (I tried to put the video in here but the new WordPress editor went crazy and made the page re-set while I was working on it and lost all the formatting I had done, not once but twice. So I removed it.)

“The supernatural quoad modum, on the other hand, is essentially and entitatively natural, but it has been produced in a supernatural manner or is directed to the supernatural end in a supernatural way. An example of the first would be the gift of prophecy; an example of the second would be a natural act ordained by charity to a supernatural end.”

“Following John of St. Thomas we offer the following schema of the absolutely supernatural:

Image 1 Supernatural quoad substantiam

Supernatural quoad substantiam

Image 2 Supernatural quoad modum

Image 2 Supernatural quoad modum

“3) Preternatural. Theologians generally refer to the preternatural as the super­natural secundum quid or the relatively supernatural. It is outside the visible natu­ral order, but it does not transcend the natural order absolutely or simpliciter. To put it another way, it transcends the powers of a given creature but not the powers of all creation, as does the absolutely supernatural.”

“Consequently, there is a great difference between the truly supernatural and the preternatural, and it would be better for reasons of clarity not to use the expression “relatively supernatural” when speaking, for example, of diabolical influence. More­ over, one must be careful not to confuse the preternatural with the supernatural quoad modum, for although they are both entitatively natural, the mode or manner in which an effect is produced in the case of the supernatural quoad modum is something which surpasses the powers of all creatures that do or could exist. For this reason the supernatural quoad modum is placed as a division of the absolutely supernatural. Hence the supernatural quoad modum is always a true miracle, whereas the preternatural phenomenon, although it may surpass the powers of a human be­ing, is nevertheless within the power of an angel or a devil. It does not surpass the entire order of creation. On the other hand, we do not refer to telepathy, extrasen­sory perception or the phenomena of spiritualism as preternatural but as paranor­mal, since these phenomena lie even within the visible natural order.”

That right there is something that bears repeating. And we’ve come across it elsewhere in this series and we may again.

“On the other hand, we do not refer to telepathy, extrasen­sory perception or the phenomena of spiritualism as preternatural but as paranor­mal, since these phenomena lie even within the visible natural order.”

Fr. Antonio Marín Royo

As our culture moves further and further away from Catholic teaching and truth, even the language is affected and the use of the word “supernatural” becomes more and more imprecise. One thing I’m trying to do in this series is to work against that. Reading these books and sharing them here helps me better understand philosophy and theology in the Catholic tradition, and share what I’m learning with others, too, others like you. I suspect that anyone who already knows this stuff is probably not reading this. I, on the other hand, seem to need to pound it into my brain. It does seem to be helping. I hope you find it helpful, too.

That’s it for this week’s intallment. Thanks for reading. I hope you’re enjoying your visit and staying safe and well out there. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, may the Lord bless you and keep you and your loved ones, and may the peace of Christ be always with you and yours. +JMJ+

Notes and Links

  • Dom Wiesinger’s Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology, free PDF at archive.org.
  • Dom Vonier’s The Human Soul and its Relations with Other Spirits, free PDF at archive.org.
  • Aquinas 101 videos in the weekly series on the soul, part 9 and part 10.
  • James Matthew Wilson’s, The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness and Beauty in the Western Tradition. Amazon affiliate links: Paperback, Kindle. See also the Catholic Culture podcasts in the weekly series on the soul, part 6, part 7, and part 8.
  • Fr. Antonio Royo Marín’s Theology of Christian Perfection, free PDF at archive.org.

Image credit: Adoration of the Trinity, by Albrecht Durer, public domain.

Part 1, Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23

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Entries for the Triple Anniversary Giveaway ended on April 9, 2020, at 11:59pm CDT. I’ll be announcing the winners on April 15, 2020, at 8pm CDT.

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