Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

7/22/2013 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Bringing the insights of the Roman Catechism, Oscar Wilde, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Hans Urs von Balthasar together, we can see that Christians are graced to have their own picture of Dorian Gray.  The Crucifix.

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

7/22/2013 (1 year ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: crucifix, sin, Dorian Gray, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Oscar Wilde, Repentance, Sense of Sin, Andrew M. Greenwell


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Our sins, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "affect Christ himself."  The "Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus."  CCC 598.

In support of this teaching, the current Catechism refers to the teaching of the Roman Catechism published after the Council of Trent.  The Roman Catechism points out that "sinners," which is to say all of us, "were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured."  It further states that "those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt . . . . and when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him."

What this teaching means is that when we contemplate Jesus in agony, or Jesus scourged, or Jesus crowned with thorns, or Jesus mocked, or Jesus on his via crucis, or Jesus crucified, or Jesus deposed and dead, we are contemplating the real ugliness of our sin.  Christ's sufferings reveal the real-though-unseen hideousness of our sins.

The spiritual horror of our sin is hidden from us.  We have no eyes by which we can see the interior state of our soul.  We cannot see or smell the difference between our soul in sanctifying grace and our soul in a state of mortal sin.  The face of a man in a state of mortal sin looks like the face of a man in a state of grace.  The hideousness of sin is veiled.  The hideousness of sin is something that must therefore be revealed by God.

A conscience properly formed develops a sense of sin, and so, based upon revelation and the use of reason, and prompted by the Holy Spirit, can have some understanding of sin's horror. 

Moderns, however, have misconstrued, and so entirely corrupted, the meaning of conscience.  "In this age," wrote Cardinal Newman in the 19th century, "with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of [false] conscience to dispense with [authentic] conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations."  Authentic conscience "has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of . . . . It is the right of self-will." 

In their self-will, moderns have also rejected God, and this has exacerbated the problem.  If God is dead, wrote Dostoevsky, then everything is possible and nothing is sin.

With man's increasing rejection of God and misunderstanding of conscience, what Blessed John Henry Newman saw as frequent in the 19th century has become even more blatant in the 20th and 21st centuries.  The blindness to the hidden horror of sin continues unabated, and if anything has increased manyfold.  As Pope Pius XII observed in the 1940s, and as has been repeated by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the archetypical modern sin is "the loss of the sense of sin."

What else explains our society's inability to see the viciousness, and indeed to label as goods, the intrinsic evils of contraception, divorce and remarriage, abortion, homosexual activity, same-sex "marriage," and a whole host of other sins?

The state of our souls and our refusal to recognize the effect of sin on it can be compared to the portrait of Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde's only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.  In that Victorian Gothic novel, the artist Basil Hallward paints a beautiful portrait of the handsome young protagonist, the youth named Dorian Gray.  Dorian Gray falls under the spell of the amoral and vicious hedonist Lord Henry Wotton, and begins a life of self-indulgence, which leads to moral dissipation, sexual libertinism, and substance abuse. 

As a result of a Faustian bargain, however, Gray remains externally unaffected by his debauchery: he seems to stay in a state of eternal youth.  He hides the portrait from public view, but though hidden it becomes more and more disfigured with each of Dorian Gray's sins.  The portrait bears the consequence of Dorian Gray's sins. 

The portrait represents the soul of Dorian Gray.  The portrait also may be said to represent Christ, who, though entirely innocent, becomes disfigured as he suffers the effect of human sins. 

Modern man speaks loudly about self-determination, autonomy, freedom, but has not a clue on what it all means.  The words self-determination, autonomy, and freedom are frequently used to justify--even legally protect--sin.  But there is no self-determination, autonomy, or freedom in sin. 

Sin is exactly the opposite of self-determination, autonomy, and freedom.  Sin is not only hideous, but is the shackle of slavery.  "Truly, truly I say to you, that everyone who commits a sin is a slave of sin."  (John 8:34)  Christ frees us from our slavery to sin.  (Rom. 6:15-18)  "It is Christ who sets [our freedom] free: he 'has set us free for freedom' (cf. Gal. 5:1)," wrote Blessed Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor.

In his work The Glory of the Lord, Hans Urs von Balthasar reflects on the poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins's notion of "selving," an insight regarding self-determination surely based upon Hopkins' intensely personal Jesuit spirituality of the Spiritual Exercises coupled with his deep commitment to the philosophy of the Franciscan scholastic Duns Scotus, which lays particular stress on the individual aspect of reality.  Hopkins's notion of self-determination or "selving" is a far cry from modern autonomy.

As Hopkins expressed it in his poem "As Kingfishers Catch Fire":

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves--goes itself; myself it speaks and spells;
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame," so

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is -
Chríst - for Christ plays in ten thousand places . . .

Von Balthasar ties the Hopkinsian notion of "selving" or self-determination to the Church's teaching that our sins--which act against our authentic self-determination, and so make us foul and anti-Christ of soul--also strike against the body of the Redeemer and so are seen on the body of the crucified Christ himself.  They can be seen as contributing to the death of the Lord.

"[B]ecause the refusal of self-determination, which is present in every sin, is potentially a refusal to choose the archetype of the self, conceived and chosen by God, (which rests in God and ultimately is God himself)," von Balthasar points out, "there is hidden in every sin a manifest tendency to develop into the murder of God: whence sin receives its meaning and structure, and to which it is in fact related by the Cross of Christ."

In Gerard Manley Hopkins's words, the "just man justices," which is to say, doesn't sin, but "keeps grace," the sanctifying grace which "keeps all his going graces."  The "being indoors," our soul, "speaks and spells," in other words determines itself, through its external acts.  "What I do is me." 

As a human person, I am meant to act out "in God's eye what in God's eye" I am.  And that which God sees me to be, which is an imitation of Christ (the ideal human), for "Christ plays in ten thousand places."  Sin, therefore, is the very opposite of this.  It is one's unselving, the killing of Christ in our soul, and the victimization even murder of the Jesus Christ of history.

Dorian Gray's moral dissipation finally results in an act of murder: the murder of the painter of the portrait, Basil Hallward who discovers how foul the portrait has become and so realizes the hideousness of Gray's life.  "Does it not say somewhere," the artists pleads before his murder as he recollects the words of the "Fifth Gospel," the Book of Isaiah, "'Come now let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.  Though they are red as crimson, they shall be as white as wool?'"  (Cf. Isaiah 1:18)

In an act of final impenitence, Dorian Gray sees the hideous portrait and recognizes the foulness of his life and the falsity of his external beauty.  Instead of repenting, however, he strikes out at the portrait with a knife.  When faced with the truth of how ugly is his sin (which should have been an epiphany, an actual, prevenient grace to conversion), he fights the truth with a poignard.  But the effort is in vain, as in his effort to destroy the painting to hide the evidence of his sin, he slays and finally disfigures himself, undone by his own Faustian bargain.

Bringing the insights of the Roman Catechism, Oscar Wilde, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Hans Urs von Balthasar together, we can see that Christians are graced to have their own picture of Dorian Gray.  The Crucifix.

Every crucifix or painting of Christ crucified--the more realistic the better--shows us the hideousness of our sins and beckons us to repentance and to healing.  We cannot do much better than contemplate the various crucifixion scenes by Matthias Grünewald to realize the horror of our sins.  It will do us well, not to lash at Christ on the Cross with the knife of self-justification, but to let it pierce our own hearts, and, if we allow, the very Spirit of God will bring out the tears of sorrow and the words of prayer wherein all healing and reconciliation must begin:

Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci. 

Against you only have I sinned, and done evil in your sight.  (Ps. 51:4 [50:6])  I am sorry, Lord, for what I've done to you.

-----

Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2015
Universal:
Scientists: That those involved in scientific research may serve the well-being of the whole human person.
Evangelization: Contribution of women: That the unique contribution of women to the life of the Church may be recognized always.



Comments


More Living Faith

Beating swords into plowshares

Image of

By Tony Magliano

"In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills," writes the prophet Isaiah. "Many peoples shall come and say: Come, let us go up to the Lord's mountain . that he may instruct us in his ... continue reading


Insight from Pope Francis: 'Minimum skills minuimum wages' --What's wrong with that? ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING Watch

Image of Ask yourself, am I judging or am I helping?

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)

"Don't like it? Go home then," Pope Francis remarked on the throwaway culture of our world and how it impacts the lives of millions at the margins. His words are a wake-up call for all of us. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - How many times have we considered the low ... continue reading


ISIS is not the first to persecute Christians, a look at the Roman persecutions of the early Church (PART ONE) Watch

Image of St. James the Greater, one of the first Christian martyrs.

By Robert Mullen (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It is a sad and disheartening fact that many Christians suffer from constant-and often brutal-persecution today, most visibly in places like the Middle East where the Islamic State rules, or in Asian nations like India or China where Christianity is a ... continue reading


God is Green! Come celebrate all of God's creations during March Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

"In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters," Genesis 1:1-2. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - God created the earth we ... continue reading


What Does the Lord Jesus Mean When He Calls us to Be Perfect? Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith Fournier

The character of Jesus Christ is being formed in each one of us as we say yes - and choose to cooperate with the Lord who is making us new, every day.  Perhaps our problem is rooted in understanding - and responding - to this call to be perfect. Perhaps it is ... continue reading


Making a Lenten Retreat with Pope Francis: Learning from Elijah Watch

Image of There is a mystery here, deep and profound, yet as simple as the broom tree encounter of our teacher Elijah. God is searching for men and women who will surrender their lives in love to Him in this hour. Often, it takes the depletion of all of our own efforts and resources before we are willing to give up - and give in - to Him. When we do, the life of true faith begins. It is there we learn to hear the God of surrendered love in the whisper of the wind. It is there that we learn the Faith of Elijah, under the broom tree.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

In many respects, our life on this earth is a classroom of love and a continual invitation to holiness. As we age, we are given the opportunities we need to receive the graces we need to empty ourselves of all that clutters up our life - so that we can be free to ... continue reading


Vatican deeply apologizes for Pope Francis' Argentina 'Mexicanization' comment Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis did not mean any offense - but in a private email about his native land Argentina's drug trafficking issues, the pope expressed concern over Argentina's "Mexicanization." The Vatican is now trying to clarify and apologize to any parties that may ... continue reading


UPDATE: Two years after resignation Pope Emeritus Benedict said to be doing well Watch

Image of Pope Emeritus Benedict is said to be in better health since his resignation.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

With Pope Francis in the spotlight, many wonder what is happening with Pope Emeritus Benedict, who is keeping true to his pledge to remain out of the public eye. For the curious, we have good news, Pope Emeritus Benedict is doing well, if not even better than before. ... continue reading


Andrew M. Greenwell: St. Bonaventure on Counsel Watch

Image of

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

In Bonaventure's analysis of this gift of counsel, there are three steps to sound counsel, which we may also call distinctions.  Counsel relates to whether something is permitted, and, if permitted, whether it is appropriate, and, if permitted and ... continue reading


Pope Francis wants you to pray to end Christian persecution. But will Catholics answer him?

Image of Christians face more than the Islamic State. Destitute, they lack sanitation, privacy, food and water, and their spiritual end educational needs aren't being met. A tremendous effort will be needed to restore these people. Let us pray.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

With the mass kidnapping of over 100 Christians in Syria, it has become painfully clear that the Islamic State thinks nothing of targeting innocent civilians and children, threatening, enslaving and murdering anyone whose faith is different. We need now, more than ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Psalms 79:8, 9, 11, 13
8 Do not count against us the guilt of former ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 79:8, 9, 11, 13
13 And we, your people, the flock that you pasture, ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 6:36-38
36 'Be compassionate just as your Father is ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for March 2nd, 2015 Image

Bl. Charles the Good
March 2: In 1086, St. Canute, King of Denmark and father of Blessed ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter