Quid Quid Recepitur

Many years ago on Connecticut Avenue near Washington DC, I would drive by a small, elderly man standing on the sidewalk outside a medical building. On Saturday mornings he held a sandwich-board sign almost as large as he. I don’t remember its exact words, but it accused the medical group of dangerous medical practices. I didn’t think much about the medical group anyway so didn’t question his proclamation. Later, I found out his wife had died as a result of a botched medical procedure. I wondered how many people saw that sign and decided to go elsewhere – I know I would.

Lately, a small group of pro-lifers have a similar sign up in front of a “health clinic” in a small town in Maryland that performs both surgical and chemical abortion as well as providing other “services’. The sign and the literature they hand out proclaim the two abortionists who work there have been responsible for the deaths at least two women due to botched abortions and in one case, improper use of anesthesia. They even have a very large photo of a young woman who was killed by one of the abortionists. Their literature verifies the authenticity of the claim.

The amazing results of the sign and literature are that viewers for the most part ignore the information. They ignore the sign, refuse the information and continue in to have major surgery performed by someone who has killed another woman (along with her child) during the same type of operation. Girlfriends, boyfriends, and husbands (who are supposed to be protectors of their spouses) escort their friends and wives past the sign, ignoring all information. Mothers and fathers even push their daughters past the sign and through the door, ignoring the information. If these same people brought their pet to a veterinary hospital with a similar warning sign in front, they would clutch their kitten or puppy, turn away and go elsewhere.

With the recent visit of our Pope and the celebration of the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, several ideas came together. First, there are the words of Benedict XVI: “Some today argue that respect for freedom of the individual makes it wrong to seek truth, including the truth about what is good. In some circles to speak of truth is seen as controversial or divisive, and consequently best kept in the private sphere. And in truth's place -- or better said its absence -- an idea has spread which, in giving value to everything indiscriminately, claims to assure freedom and to liberate conscience. This we call relativism. But what purpose has a "freedom" which, in disregarding truth, pursues what is false or wrong?

How many young people have been offered a hand which in the name of freedom or experience has led them to addiction, to moral or intellectual confusion, to hurt, to a loss of self-respect, even to despair and so tragically and sadly to the taking of their own life?”

In analyzing this in relation to those heading for the door to the abortion facility, we see that they know they are doing evil and do not want to hear the truth. One arrives at truth and the knowledge of good and evil in a black-and-white way. The relativists refuse to accept the existence of good and evil and do not consider any activity in itself as either or right or wrong. They do not want to hear the truth.

If you are free to do whatever you wish, then anyone who condemns you speaks out of turn. Again, those who enter an abortion facility hearing the truth from sidewalk counselors will sometimes denounce those who speak the truth in the vilest of language. This is a false concept of freedom.

The Pope is talking here about the moral relativism which considers nothing wrong or evil. Within the framework of moral relativism, if you choose to do it, it's okay. Then the Pope proceeds to spell out the destruction that lies ahead for people who choose this path or who are taught this path. "But what purpose has a 'freedom' which, in disregarding truth, pursues what is false or wrong?”

Because nothing has meaning; because there was no truth; there was no good or evil. This leaves people desperately seeking for meaning and they will not find it if they are unwilling to be open to truth; if they are taught to reject it because it is someone’s discrimination against them or someone’s judgment against them.

The Pope further states, “Truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. It is a discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. In seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately truth is a person: Jesus Christ. That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ's very being for others.”

Now we have the election!

The same people who refuse to hear the truth about abortionists swoon over politicians spouting lies and distortions. What is going on?

I like to quote author, Joan Swirsky, who pulls up some characters from the past: “Handsome, intelligent, charismatic, blessed with a golden tongue, and irresistible to his besotted followers, Elmer Gantry – the title character of Sinclair Lewis’s 1927 novel – inspired his supporters to swoon, indeed faint, at his seductive oratory.” “[Gantry was] a character that resonated with the reading public because he was instantly recognizable as so many of the frauds in their lives. Just like Svengali, the fictional character in George du Maurier’s novel, Trilby. To this day, a “Svengali” is known as someone who manipulates others into doing his bidding.

”Let’s turn to Grigori Rasputin, the Russian mystic known to have held hypnotic influence over Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, after he “healed” their son Alexei. Alexandra came to believe that God spoke to her through Rasputin. Ultimately, Rasputin was thought to be responsible for discrediting the tsarist government he pretended to defend and bringing about the fall of the Romanov dynasty in 1917. He was murdered in 1916 and history has by-and-large recorded him as the very embodiment of a charlatan.”

”Who can forget Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple (of doom)? Using his rugged good looks, powers of persuasion, and faux-messianic message, which included “apostolic socialism,” he convinced his followers to move from San Francisco to Guyana, where, upon being investigated by the U.S. for human-rights abuses, he urged his 900 infatuated followers to imbibe a cyanide-laced drink (the famous Kool Aid) that resulted in their ghastly deaths.”

All of these men – the fictional Elmer Gantry and Svengali and the very real Ted Bundy, Rasputin, and Jim Jones share startling and disturbing similarities with some of today’s politicians. They all had charm, eloquence and a “message” that was irresistible to their listeners.

How do we analyze this? Why do people want to believe the ridiculous? Let’s look at Saint Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas is probably the greatest theologian of all time and one of the church’s greatest teachers. He taught the strength of reason.

Unfortunately, the teaching of reason has disappeared from our churches. To quote from an article by Michael Dorner in The Ramblings of an Old Curmudgeon, he stated,” Aquinas’ seamless wedding of Revelation and the beauty of human reason is the measuring stick and the antidote for the twin follies of the age of ours:

On the one hand, the irrational obsession with scientific methodology that enshrines modern science as the only valid knowledge, and the excessive emotionalism that runs rampant in all churches today, from the “feel it” of evangelical fundamentalism and
charismatic “whoop dee doo,” and where faith is reduced to “feeling good” and sticky pietistic pap. More than ever, this oh-so-sophisticated age needs the red meat of Aquinas.”

Dorner had a solution to those who expressed opinions he thought stupid or invalid. He would throw at them, “quid quid recepitur,” the first three words of the Latin from St. Thomas’ “Whatever is received is received in the manner of the vessel receiving it.”

Michael Dorner emphasizes the need for all of us to purchase a copy of St. Thomas’ Shorter Summa: Saint Thomas’s Own Concise Version of His Summa Theologica and read it with great reward.

Jim Fritz



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