Monday, April 4, 2011

What sins lead to spiritual blindness?

If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit.

The Pharisees of last Sunday’s Gospel were lost in profound spiritual blindness. Their minds were utterly darkened and they knew not the light of grace, nor even the light of reason – since, reason alone would have at least kept them silent in the presence of the Lord.
Though the one man had been blind from birth, his blindness was only physical. He suffered from blindness of the eyes. The Pharisees, on the other hand, did not receive their blindness at birth; but, instead, gave themselves over to blindness through their obstinacy. Their blindness was spiritual and intellectual. They suffered from blindness of the mind.
If the intellectual blindness which the Pharisees suffered was not contracted at birth, but rather was gained through a later perversion of the light of reason; what lead to this blindness? Whence proceeds blindness of the mind? If only we can discover what actions led the Pharisees into this spiritual blindness, we will be more able to remain ever in the light.

The gift of understanding
In order to understand what blindness of mind is, we must know the virtue to which it is contrary. In fact, spiritual blindness is contrary not simply to a virtue, but to a gift of the Holy Spirit, namely the gift of understanding.
Understanding is that gift by which we are able to penetrate the revealed mysteries and come to an intimate knowledge of the supernatural truths of the faith. Understanding is a supernatural light in the intellect which allows man to grasp the very essence of revealed truths. This gift (like all the gifts) is bestowed on man by God and is a principle within man by which the Holy Spirit moves us to supernatural actions. As with the other gifts, understanding is in all who are in the state of grace; it is necessary for salvation.
Blindness of mind as contrary to understanding
Blindness of mind is the vice opposed to the gift of understanding. More broadly, we may say that it is opposed to the theological virtue of faith – since, understanding corresponds to faith. However, spiritual blindness is specifically opposed to the gift of understanding; since, this blindness denotes the privation of spiritual light and even the hindering of the light of reason.
Blindness of mind (this profound spiritual blindness) indicates not merely a certain weakness of the mind in relation to the consideration of spiritual things, but implies the complete privation of knowledge of supernatural realities. In this way, blindness of mind is more than a mere dulling of the intellect, but goes further to make a man hate and utterly reject spiritual truths. The one who is spiritual blind (like the Pharisees of John 9) cannot in any way begin to understand, apprehend, or penetrate the inner nature of spiritual realities; but, instead, turns away completely from supernatural truth.
On account of blindness of mind, the spiritual light of grace in a man’s soul is lost and the light in him becomes darkness. How great will that darkness be!
What sins lead to blindness of mind?
Certainly, by any mortal sin, the gift of understanding is lost – since, when a man loses charity, he loses also all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless – though there are many mortal sins which cause the lost of understanding and, therefore, lead to spiritual blindness – there is one sin which is directly opposed to understanding and leads immediately to blindness of mind. It is from this sin that we may most accurately say blindness of mind proceeds.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the sins which directly cause spiritual blindness are all mortal sins pertaining to lust. In this matter, the Angelic Doctor follows Pope St. Gregory the Great. But what is it about sins of the flesh, and lust in particular, which causes spiritual blindness?
The mind comes to understand truth through an abstraction from sensible phantasms or images. Thus, the more a man’s mind is freed from those phantasms, the more thoroughly will it be able to consider intelligible realities. On the other hand, the more a man’s intellect is fixed on the sensible realities, the less he will be able to understand the essence of things – since the essence is invisible and immaterial.
The Common Doctor continues: “Now it is evident that pleasure fixes a man’s attention on that which he takes pleasure in. Now carnal vices, namely gluttony and lust, are concerned with pleasures of touch in matters of food and sex; and these are the most impetuous of all pleasures of the body. For this reason these vices cause man’s attention to be firmly fixed on corporeal things, so that in consequence man’s operation in regard to the intelligible things is weakened; more, however, by lust than by gluttony, forasmuch as sexual pleasures are more vehement than those of the table. Wherefore lust gives rise to blindness of mind, which excludes almost entirely the knowledge of spiritual things.” (ST II-II, q.15, a.3)
Thus, it is precisely sexual sin which leads to this spiritual blindness – for lust directs all our attention to the things of earth and makes us blind to the things of heaven. Hence, we may well conclude that the Pharisees probably were struggling with some sort of sexual perversion, some sort of lust – this impurity made them utterly blind to the supernatural realities that were taking place before their eyes.
How to grow in spiritual sight and supernatural understanding
St. Thomas: “Abstinence and chastity, dispose man very much to the perfection of intellectual operation. Hence it is written (Daniel 1:17) that to these children on account of their abstinence and continency, God gave knowledge and understanding in every book, and wisdom.” (ST II-II, q.15, a.3)
We might further point out that St. Thomas himself – who is most famous as the greatest of all theologians and, quite likely, the most brilliant man to have ever lived, excepting the Savior – was gifted with the virtue of chastity. From his youth, when his family attempted to dissuade him from becoming a Dominican by placing a harlot in his room, St. Thomas was inspired by God with the special gift of purity – and he received a cord from the angels as a sign of his virtue. St. Thomas, who was most pure among the saints, was also gifted with the highest understanding. He is called the Angel of the Schools, since angels are entirely pure and the power of their understanding far exceeds the human mind.


Nick said...

Mary is the most wise and most pure person next to our Savior. She is Mother of the Doctors.

Warren J. Murray said...

It always seemed to me that pride was the principal vice of the Pharisees, not lust.


Sharon said...

This is a great article and should inspire writers and therapists to give us even greater insights. Very little is written on sexual abuse in marriages which is much more damaging then physical abuse. This article will give light to the horrors of pornography, prenatal sex, sodomy, and so on. Very well written. I want to read more on this subject. Make it a series. God bless, Sharon

Anonymous said...

Well Reginaldus, I did get and read the Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist that you recommended a few months ago. It really was an excellent book.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Ok, c'mon Nick -- you know full well that I was not putting St. Thomas above the Blessed Virgin.
My point is that Thomas is rightly recognized as the greatest theologian in the Church's history.

Is he better than Christ? No.
Better than Mary? No.
Better than Paul or John? No and No.

But any charitable reader would have known exactly what I meant...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Warren J. Murray -- I agree that the principal vice of the PHarisees is pride ... indeed, pride is the principium of all sins and vices.

However, when it comes to this particular vice of spiritual blindness, we say it comes most directly from lust.
[their decision to kill Christ, on the other hand, so as to avoid an uprising and the subsequent punishment from the Romans proceeds from the vice of cowardice, and also from envy]

I hope that helps.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous: I'm very glad that you were able to read Vonier's book! Share it with your Catholic (and non-Catholic) friends! Peace. +

@Sharon, yes indeed -- our society is only just beginning to realize the horrors of sexual sin.

Nick said...

"Ok, c'mon Nick -- you know full well that I was not putting St. Thomas above the Blessed Virgin.
My point is that Thomas is rightly recognized as the greatest theologian in the Church's history.

Is he better than Christ? No.
Better than Mary? No.
Better than Paul or John? No and No.

But any charitable reader would have known exactly what I meant... "

You should have pointed it out in the article anyways, lest anyone get the wrong impression. After all, Saint Thomas himself did just that in his Summa Theologia.

Anonymous said...

Not sure about the level of lust of the Pharisees, but I have long thought that the reason our society is quickly turning completely against Christ is because of it's utter slavery to lust. And the refusal to moderate that lust in anyway leads to ever greater blasphemy and sacrilege. Look around...

Anonymous said...

I know quite a few sedevacantists and other traditionals outside the Church who suffer from this "spiritual blindness".

How do you explain that since it doesn't come from lust?


Anonymous said...

Fr. Robt. Barron, in his latest audio/DVD offering--The Seven Deadly Sins: the Seven lively Virtues, proposes that lust is actually the least awful of the awful deadly sins. Dante seems to propose this as well, leaving lust as the last awful and the least weighing down of the awfuls. The last time I had sex, I do not recall desiring the death of another or rulership of the whole world. Pride, Fr. Barron says, is the worst of the lot and the father of the rest. When we humble our intellects to Christ and the Ordinary Magisterium, we conquer our pride. If the Church is telling us to be chaste, let's do it. When has the Church ever told us not to be chaste? Now, in our time, the Church is still telling us to be chaste; but also advising us not to be prudish, sex-averse, misogynist, or self-righteous. Blaming lust for everything is dragging a red herring in front of the real and most grievous problem: Pride. It is also rather like Job's friends to speculate upon another's sins. For example, the SSPX has not been rocked by sexual scandals; but it has had the effrontery to go to Rome to tell the Church it left how to be Catholic. Pride, not lust, is at the root of this spiritual blindness. Pride is 'heavier' than lust; and, so, it is harder to overcome.

Cordelia at Catholic Phoenix said...

I have always thought that lust is interconnected with being overly sensual; in particular, loving good food too much. Isn't the lack of the virtue of temperance also related to lust?

Brad said...

Great post, Reginaldus. Hi.

I enjoyed laetare's readings and still ponder them. They put some fear into me.

The gospel selection impressed me also by Christ's declaration that sin did not cause (in this case, at least) suffering versus the pharisees' declaration that the man was surely guilty of sin and thus suffering. Why are we men so snooty?! So uncharitable by reflex. Original sin, I suppose, of course. But what a shame. Our 'sin remains".

Paganism's superstitious shamanism, hinduism, buddhism etc ad nauseum have all come into the modern West via new age and with it, the bulloney law of attraction aka karma. Karma is cynicism itself and the antithesis of the charitable reflex: the blind man deserves it -- or his parents did! I'm sure Mother Teresa has lots to say about that.

Job's friends wanted him to admit his karmic guilt, known or unknown, correct? But, like John's blind man, Job was without sin that had deservedly and directly caused his sufferings. Sounds like Job's friends were reading too many Oprah book club selections!

As with any time a disaster occurs and man scowls upwards at heaven in non-understanding contempt, everything that happens, good, but usually painful, is an attempt by God to give us an opportunity for (re)conversion, i.e. actual grace trying to help us to (re)attain sanctifying grace.

Our Lady of Akita, pray for us.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Nick, If you honestly think that I hold St. Thomas as greater than the Blessed Virgin Mary, then you are accusing me a serious theological and moral error.
I suspect, rather, that you are simply nit-picking a particular point in order to draw me into a controversy and show how wise you are in comparison with myself.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Veronica (anonymous 7:10pm),
As per the article, any mortal sin results in spiritual blindness -- for any and all mortal sins destroy charity in the soul.
However, some vices are attributed more directly to certain sins -- thus folly and blindness arise from lust, while despair is connected with sloth (for example).

Hence, any in persistent mortal sin (sexual or otherwise) will become spiritually blind -- but we still connect blindness most especially with sins of lust.

Hope that helps! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (7:16pm),
Please do not think that I am claiming that lust is worse than pride! Certainly it is not!

Moreover, spiritual blindness is not the worst of all vices -- apostasy and despair are worse, for example.

As pride is the root of all the other vices, it is also the root of all sins ... however, the most direct cause of spiritual blindness is not pride, but is lust.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are quite right in connecting intemperance with lust. In fact, intemperance is also opposed to the Gift of Wisdom, but not so much as lust is.
Gluttony leads to what is called "Dullness of sense" -- which is a partial loss of taste for heavenly things.

So, yes, gluttony and lust are related insofar as they both encourage each other, and they are both opposed to the same virtues and the same Gift of the Holy Spirit.

Peace to you! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I love the connection between Job and the blind man; Job's friends and the Pharisees.
Peace! +

Anonymous said...

I thought St. Thomas Aquinas was fat...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (10:25pm)
St. Thomas was fat, in fact, he was extremely large.
However, this does not mean he was a glutton -- he could not have been, since the Dominican way of life was very strict at that time. Also, we have testimony to the fact that he ate very moderately and fasted often.

There are many ways a person can become heavy -- it's not always from over-eating. Hence, it is possible that Thomas had a glutton allergy or some other un-diagnosed medical condition that would have adversely affected his metabolism and weight. It is said that he suffered also from dropsy (which would make him heavier).

It is good to know that the saints were real humans. Many of them were not "skinny"...why, even St. Therese of Lisieux was slightly embarrassed when she found herself getting a little plump after she entered the convent!

Finally, to all... please have the good manners to post some name, tag, id, pseudonym to your comment, at least at the so.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

On St. Thomas' weight...take a look at this fun little blog post...

Brad said...

St. Thomas was called the ox. He was not fat per se but was aesthetically too thickly built and was not pleasingly proportioned. I believe he was gingery and balding. Probably he was not dignified to look at and was nerdy. But oh, what was lurking on the inside!

So, brave anonymous can stop insinuating that the "angelic doctor" and great saint was gluttonously sinful. His canonization ruled that out for all time.

Barb said...

I found your post very interesting about the Pharisees and sexual sins because I always wondered how they got ahold of the woman caught in adultery and why the man was not dragged in front of Jesus with her. I've always suspected that since the Pharisees were hypocrites in some things that they were also hypocrites in this instance.

Nick said...

"@Nick, If you honestly think that I hold St. Thomas as greater than the Blessed Virgin Mary, then you are accusing me a serious theological and moral error.
I suspect, rather, that you are simply nit-picking a particular point in order to draw me into a controversy and show how wise you are in comparison with myself."

I suspected you were exaggerating Saint Thomas' honor, which I see among some of his devotees. Just as I see some devotees of Mary raise her to the level of a goddess.

More than that, the Lord corrected me on this post about sanctity, especially as regards Mary's, and I so I wished to correct you too, lest you fall into the same error as I did.

You are free to accuse me of sin, and if I have sinned I pray I be punished by God. If not, I offer up any accusation you might make of me to Him. And if that is also a sin, I pray He correct me again.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You have taken one line and read it entirely out of context. Then after criticizing me, you have presented yourself as a martyr, offering your sufferings up to the Lord...
This isn't the first time you have done this...
It really does get pretty old after a while...

Willa said...

Lust and gluttony are sins of the sensitive appetite according to St Thomas. In the context of the Gospels, where harlots and publicans are treated more leniently than Pharisees, I wonder if it's relevant that Our Savior in this passage is making a distinction between the kind of blindness that can be healed (sins of the flesh?) and the kind that is untreatable because the blind man can't be persuaded that he is blind (the root sin of pride?)

Tangent said...

@ Nick
Not to offend you. But Father Reg is right.Even I was surprised at reading the first comment that how could you misunderstand the essence of the post. Peace out bro.


Regine said...

I was reluctant to say anything because I felt that Fr. Reginaldus could handle this situation with Nick, and he has. But I, too, had no problem understanding Fr. Reginaldus' article, and I am not the scholarly type, except that I give myself a chance to really hear what the author is saying, and not my interpretation of what he is saying. Thanks Fr. Reginaldus for a great post.

Anonymous said...

Fr, Reginald, thank you very much for this great article. The explanation is very clear.

reginaldus, that is also my name.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

If you are still reading the comments to this post...
... I do hope that you don't feel that we (I and Regine as well as Venessa) are beating up on you too much. That is certainly NOT my intention!

You have been a great contributor to the blog and have made many good comments...I just don't want the combox to get unnecessarily controversial and bogged down with silly arguments.
So, please do continue to comment on future posts -- may we all strive for the truth!
Peace to you. +

@Regine and Venessa, thank you for your kind comments.

@Reginaldus (Anonymous, 3:59pm), I take the pen-name "Reginaldus" in honor of three: Reginald of Piperno (disciple and friend of St. Thomas), Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (the greatest Thomist of modern times), and (in a much lesser sense) Reginald Foster (a rambunctious Latinist who worked at the Vatican for years and used to teach Latin courses in Rome).
I'm glad you enjoy the blog! +

Marco da Vinha said...

I recall reading in a book about Evagrius' teachings that lack of ascesis leads to sins of the flesh, which he considered to be essentially gluttony and lust. The pharisees, it seems, for all their fasting were not doing such a good job according to the view expressed in the post. Going back to Evagrius, IIRC he placed spiritual blindness as an effect of pride, and that generally sins of the spirit tended to be a greater problem to those who were a bit along the spiritual path.

Ben said...

Sorry if this is slightly OT and a little late in the game, but I was just wondering what Sharon meant above by "prenatal sex".

Taken at face value it sounds like it could include a husband and wife having marital relations while the wife is pregnant. I had not heard that this was immoral or even that anyone considers it so, which is why I was both surprised to see it listed alongside sodomy et al., and mildly surprised also that no one else asked what Sharon could have meant.

Sorry if I'm misunderstanding something (maybe it was an iPhone autocorrect and Sharon meant to type something else?)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Without getting into too many details, I must admit that your question is a very good one.

I guess that I don't know for sure what Sharon meant either. I presume that she refers to prenatal sex diagnosis -- the practice in China (and perhaps elsewhere) of discerning the gender of the child and then killing the baby based on social status (generally prefering males to females).
Though, perhaps, she refers specifically to marital relation within marriage while the wife is pregnant ... I do not know much about this (being a priest, I cannot speak from experience) ... but I have heard that, in some cases, this can cause serious health problems for the child.
Obviously, we live in a culture where the male libido has driven the women into compromising their health (the PILL would be a good example of this) ... perhaps this is what Sharon means...

In any case, it would be hard to argue that all marital relations during pregnancy are immoral ipso facto ...

Peace! +

Ben said...

Thanks Father. I suppose that some married couples do struggle with problems arising from the husband's lack of self-mastery -- in fact, I'm sure that many if not all couples have at least occasional difficulties in this regard, especially early in marriage.

It might be very helpful to hear and read more (any?) orthodox preaching and writing on this topic, if such can be provided prudently in a public venue. So in that sense I'm in full agreement with Sharon.

With that said, as a married father of three I can attest that a pregnancy without complications offers an opportunity for an abundance of marital joy (qua marital) -- which opportunity, when approached with prudence and sensitivity, can be a particular blessing for faithful Catholic couples who are accustomed to periodic continence at other times.

So it would be sad to know that some couples cut themselves off from this opportunity because of a mistaken understanding of sexual morality. I mean, continence within marriage certainly has its benefits, but 40+ weeks of continence without any objective need for it is getting a bit much!

MichelleP12 said...

This explation is absolutely amazing because it describes something that our family is kind of dealing with and has been dealing with for quite some time. I also like Sharon's post as well because Marriages are suffering unbelievably. It's like when the mind is tuned in to lust, it closes every other door...nothing else exists. I'm trying not to be judgmental here, but the situation above has led to my parents getting a divorce after over 46 years. My father has been excessively cruel to my mother, hateful (physically and verbally abusive too). He even tells me things about their intimate life. I don't think a father should tell a daughter these things. It is nasty. He said that my mom should be grateful for his mistress because she saved my parents marriage in some way. My dad calls her all of the time and is hateful to everyone. Not even his 85-year-old mother can get through to him. In fact, he called his mistress in front of my grandma this week. He has a one-track mind. While my parents aren't Catholic (I am) I live with them. I have had the house blessed, Masses said for each of them, prayers said, including a novena to St. Rita. Nothing works for Dad. Dad only wants one thing and everyone better get out of his way. Problem Sorry to go on, but I could use advice. This is like hell on earth. Thanks. MichelleP12

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Prayer will conquer all things! ... still, there will be much struggle at times and many difficulties -- certainly, there is always the cross ...

Having Masses offered and also offering communions and holy hours will be extremely important .... also, mortifications ... know that all things are at least permitted by the divine providence for the good of those who love God.

Prayers for you and for your parents! +

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