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Emile Mersch - The Scholastics and the Indwelling of Christ July 23, 2021 23:39

We continue our series on Emile Mersch's The Whole Christ by guest contributor Andrew Kuiper. This is the third of five posts.

Fr. Mersch’s four chapters on Scholastic theology are broad and balanced, focusing in particular on the intellectual giants of the 13th and 16th centuries. Beyond these, his knowledge and taste extend to the Thomistic commentary tradition in all of its branches, including Suarez and the school of Salamanca. For Mersch, this long age of Scholasticism brought many benefits: dialectical rigor, logical clarity, and the achievement of a coherent synthesis based in the patristic heritage, especially the writings of St. Augustine. In addition to these gifts, the Latin “synthesis reached by the Scholastics is in substance exactly the same as that formulated eight hundred years earlier by St. Cyril of Alexandria, in which he summed up his own teaching and completed that of the Greek fathers in general.”[1]This constitutes something of a minor miracle considering the vast differences—theological, cultural, and intellectual—that separate their milieux. Mersch even considers this convergence to be a probabilistic proof for the efficacy of doctrinal development.

Nevertheless, Mersch is not blind to the fundamental shifts of emphasis that also occurred during the Scholastic period, some with dubious results. Juridical analogies and formulae were increasingly prominent. While certainly not per se illegitimate, to his mind these tended to express the mysteries of salvation in less-than-adequate terms. So too, the very gifts of dialectical and logical rigor, especially deployed according to a strictly defined schema of causalities, was too crude and awkward a toolset to apply to the doctrine of the Mystical Body. “It was only natural that these men of precision should devote little study to a truth so mysterious as our incorporation in Christ. The doctrine always and necessarily retains a certain vagueness which, to judge from the mentality of many of the Scholastics, was scarcely calculated to win their sympathy.”[2] As a result of Latin theology subtly shifting its philosophical and theological vocabulary away from an Augustinian and Pseudo-Dionysian inflection of Neoplatonism, “it was no easy matter to define the Mystical Body in the precise formulas required for syllogistic argumentation.”[3]

The presence of these both affirmative and negative judgements demonstrates Fr. Mersch’s essentially even-handed approach, grateful for every genuine gift of development from the Scholastics (whom he calls our “masters”) without ignoring areas of deficiency. These he attributes, for the most part, to second- or third-tier figures. As for Albertus Magnus, Bonaventure, and Aquinas—in his eyes, “the greatest of the Schoolmen”—he admires not only their intellectual prowess but also their proper reverence before the mysteries of salvation. With many others, they express the reality of Christ’s self-communication to the Church with the technical, but somewhat indefinite, Influit. “He diffuses, causes to flow, communicates life. Let us note the word. It is traditional: it was in embryo in the Church from the beginning. It is a consecrated word: the Schoolmen have made it the technical expression of our relation to Christ.”[4] In these masters at the pinnacle of Scholastic theology, Mersch finds this word as brimming with a personal intimacy beyond any merely Aristotelian concept of instrumental causality. Christ abides in us and we abide in Him. The influence or effluence of Christ the Head into His Mystical Body, the Church, is the same life-giving power of deification described in the Pauline language of adoption and the preceding patristic tradition.

Significantly, it is this metaphysical term—influit—that early modern philosophers and proponents of the New Science objected to most strenuously. In the markedly anti-Catholic work of political theology Leviathan, under the heading “Insignificant Speech,” Thomas Hobbes writes:

What is the meaning of these words. “The first cause does not necessarily inflow any thing into the second, by force of the Essential subordination of the second causes, by which it may help it to worke”? They are the Translation of the Title of the sixth chapter of Suarez first Booke, Of The Concourse, Motion, And Help Of God. When men write whole volumes of such stuffe, are they not Mad, or intend [they not] to make others so?[5]

An abyssal difference lies between even the most supposedly “rationalistic” of the Baroque Scholastics, Francisco Suarez, and the disenchanted landscape of early modern philosophy. As Mersch indicates to us, the mystery of Christ’s divine self-communication made Christian philosophy (in Gilson’s sense) of all ages more enchanted, more imaginative, and more true.


[1] p. 483-484.

[2] p. 452.

[3] Ibid.

[4] p. 462.

[5] Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 8 (emphasis mine).

Emile Mersch - John the Mystic Apostle July 9, 2021 13:01

Light, life, and unity, invoked by Mersch from the prologue to the Gospel of John, are the fullest expressions of the work of the Incarnate Christ when by means of His historical, ecclesial, and mystical body “things of heaven are wedded to the things of earth and divine to the human.”

Emile Mersch - A Theological Introduction July 2, 2021 22:01 1 Comment

As Mersch excavates sources from within Church history, we encounter his own notion of history as a providential mystery from which theological insight is drawn forth by perpetual meditation.