Theology and Sanity Book Summary

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Title: Theology and Sanity
Author: Frank J. Sheed

TLDR: This book argues that a robust understanding of Catholic theology is essential for a sane and fulfilling life. It explores fundamental doctrines like the Trinity, creation, the Fall, redemption, the Church, and the afterlife, demonstrating their profound relevance for understanding ourselves, the world, and our ultimate destiny. It also emphasizes the ongoing struggle between grace and our fallen nature, offering practical guidance for navigating the challenges of living a Christian life in a secular world.

Part I: Preliminary

Chapter 1: Religion and the Mind

This chapter establishes the foundation for Sheed’s exploration of theology, emphasizing the role of intellect alongside will in leading a truly Catholic life. He argues that salvation, while dependent on loving God (a function of the will), is incomplete without a robust understanding of God and His creation (a function of the intellect). Sheed defines this understanding as “seeing what the Church sees”, which is synonymous with seeing reality as it truly is, a state he terms “sanity”. He laments the prevalence of “worldly minds with Catholic patches”, minds shaped by secular influences rather than a deep comprehension of Catholic doctrines.

Sheed then delves into the distinct perspective offered by the Catholic intellect. He begins with the profound truth of creation ex nihilo, highlighting its implications for our understanding of God’s continuous presence and power. The mind must grasp that everything, from the smallest particle to the loftiest angel, is held in existence solely by God’s will. Failing to recognize this fundamental reality leads to a distorted perception of ourselves and the universe, a state akin to “insanity” where we are blind to God’s pervasive presence.

The chapter continues by examining how the Church views the universe not as a random collection of things but as a meticulously ordered structure with God as its source and center. This view necessitates understanding the interconnectedness of all things, recognizing their relationships to each other through their relationship to God. Sheed uses the analogy of a human eye: beautiful in itself, but gaining true meaning and function only when seen in the context of the whole face. Similarly, he argues, we cannot truly grasp the meaning of any element of reality without understanding its place in the grand scheme designed by God. This scheme includes the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, the Fall and Redemption, the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, the role of angels and demons, and the ultimate destiny of humanity.

Sheed concludes by emphasizing that “seeing what the Church sees” isn’t merely adding Catholic doctrines to our existing worldview, but fundamentally transforming our perspective. It’s seeing the entire landscape of reality “God-bathed”, recognizing His presence and influence in every aspect of existence.

Chapter 2: Examination of Intellect

This chapter explores the human intellect’s capabilities and limitations in its quest to comprehend theological truths. Sheed identifies the pervasive influence of imagination as a primary obstacle. Imagination, the ability to form mental pictures of the material world, is a valuable tool but limited to the realm of physical experience.

He argues that imagination often acts as a censor, rejecting concepts beyond its grasp, leading to pronouncements like “unimaginable” being equated with “inconceivable”. Sheed meticulously differentiates these terms, highlighting the inherent limitations of imagination in grasping spiritual realities. He delves into the distinct nature of spirit (angels, human souls, God) as opposed to matter, underscoring the permanence, indivisibility, and lack of spatial properties inherent in spirit.

Furthermore, Sheed exposes the deceptive tactics of imagination in offering simplistic material analogies (like a shamrock for the Trinity) that obfuscate rather than illuminate theological mysteries. He emphasizes the necessity of disciplining imagination, allowing the intellect to engage directly with complex doctrines, leading to a more robust and fruitful understanding of God.

The chapter continues by acknowledging the limitations inherent in the finite human mind grappling with infinite mysteries. Sheed contends that mysteries, while not fully comprehensible, are invitations to explore ever-deeper layers of truth. He proposes engaging with the apparent contradictions within each mystery, steadfastly contemplating both poles until a deeper, experiential understanding emerges.

Sheed concludes by highlighting the inherent tension within human life, itself a combination of opposites (nothingness worked upon by omnipotence). This, he argues, equips us to grapple with the apparent contradictions within theological mysteries, leading to an experiential understanding that transcends intellectual reconciliation. He emphasizes the ongoing need to cleanse the intellect, vigilantly guarding against the seductive influence of imagination in our theological explorations.

Part II: God

Chapter 3: He Who Is

This chapter delves into the nature of God, beginning by critiquing common misconceptions that hinder true understanding. Sheed analyzes the lingering influence of outdated mental images, particularly that of God as a “venerable man with a beard”. This image, he argues, fuels tendencies to treat God as an equal (offering unsolicited advice on running the universe) or as an irrelevant extra (confining religion to a private sphere with no bearing on real-world affairs).

Sheed dismantles these misconceptions, demonstrating the profound impact of our beliefs about God on every aspect of life. He emphasizes that God’s will is the bedrock of reality, and any misapprehension of His nature inevitably leads to a distorted and impoverished existence. He then outlines the two paths to knowing God: philosophy (reason) and revelation (God’s self-disclosure).

The chapter proceeds by exploring the philosophical approach, focusing on the argument from Contingency as presented by St. Thomas Aquinas. This argument posits that the existence of contingent beings (things that rely on other things for their existence) necessitates the existence of a non-contingent being, a being who simply is, the source of all existence – God.

Sheed unpacks the implications of God as “Infinite Existence”, highlighting His utter lack of limitations, both external and internal. God, unlike contingent beings, does not receive existence but is existence itself. He then addresses the question of God’s personality, critiquing modern tendencies to reject this concept as limiting or anthropomorphic. He argues that knowledge and love, while limited in us, are inherently expansive qualities and achieve infinite expression in God.

The chapter concludes by urging readers to embrace the challenging concept of God as Infinite Existence and Personal Being. This conceptual shift, initially disorienting, ultimately leads to a deeper and more fruitful relationship with God.

Chapter 4: The Mind Works on Infinity

This chapter guides readers in grappling with the concept of God’s infinity, urging them to transcend the limitations of imagination and engage intellectually with the profound implications of this attribute. Sheed begins by addressing the common question, “Where was God before the universe was created?”, highlighting its flawed assumptions about space and time.

He then systematically dismantles the limitations of space, demonstrating that its necessity arises from the inherent division of matter into parts. God, as infinite, lacks such division, possessing His being in one simple, undivided reality. Consequently, God transcends space, existing outside its confines, not due to diminutiveness but because of His overwhelming greatness.

The chapter continues by exploring the concept of God’s immanence, His presence “everywhere” in the universe. Sheed clarifies that this presence isn’t spatial but operational, stemming from God’s power continuously sustaining all things in existence.

The chapter then shifts to God’s relationship with time, demonstrating how time, like space, is a consequence of the finite nature of the universe, specifically its inherent changefulness. God, as infinite, is utterly changeless, possessing His being in one eternal “now” rather than a succession of moments. Consequently, the concept of “before” creation is meaningless as time itself began with the universe.

Sheed further contrasts the limitations of temporal existence (possessing being successively, never wholly present) with the fullness of God’s eternity (possessing the totality of being in one act). He dismantles the misconception of eternity as an extended timeline preceding creation, emphasizing the indivisibility of eternity and God’s unchanging existence.

The chapter concludes by addressing the potential misconception of God’s infinity as implying stagnation. Sheed clarifies that God, as a living being, is infinitely active, His life a timeless and changeless expression of infinite knowledge and love. He urges readers to engage in the challenging but rewarding exercise of stripping away the limitations of their finite experience to glimpse the limitless nature of God’s activity.

Chapter 5: God Tells Man

This chapter delves into the unique knowledge of God made possible by the Incarnation. Sheed argues that, while reason can lead to a true but distant understanding of God, seeing God “being and doing and suffering in our nature” through Jesus Christ offers a far more intimate and relatable perspective.

He addresses the apparent mystery surrounding Jesus’ gradual self-revelation as God, contending that His Jewish audience, with their deep awareness of God’s majesty, would have been overwhelmed by an immediate declaration. Sheed highlights the pedagogical approach of Jesus, gradually leading His followers to the truth through His actions and words, culminating in Peter’s confession of faith.

The chapter then explores the profound impact of the Incarnation on our understanding of God’s love. Sheed argues that, while the Old Testament reveals God’s compassion and care for humanity, it’s only through Jesus, the “friend of sinners”, that we truly grasp the depth and intimacy of His love. He urges readers to engage with the Gospels, allowing their own experience of Jesus to transform their understanding of God.

Sheed then examines the specific teachings of Jesus about God, noting that many echo the truths revealed in the Old Testament and confirmed by philosophy. However, he highlights a new element: Jesus’ consistent emphasis on both the oneness and plurality within God, pointing directly to the doctrine of the Trinity. He challenges readers to move beyond polite acceptance of this doctrine and actively engage with its implications for understanding the inner life of God.

Chapter 6: Three Persons in One Nature

This chapter tackles the often-misunderstood doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, debunking simplistic mathematical interpretations and offering a framework for deeper comprehension. Sheed laments the common tendency to reduce the Trinity to the nonsensical equation “one equals three”, resulting in explanations that offer neither clarity nor spiritual nourishment.

He emphasizes the importance of this doctrine, highlighting its centrality to the Catholic faith and its revelation of God’s innermost life and love for humanity. Sheed then guides readers through a meticulous analysis of the doctrine’s key terms, “person” and “nature”.

Beginning with the human experience, he differentiates “nature” (what we are) from “person” (who we are), emphasizing that while nature defines our capabilities, it’s the person who acts. Applying this understanding to God, Sheed clarifies that the Trinity doesn’t imply three Gods because each Person possesses the same infinite divine nature, not three separate natures. He emphasizes that each Person, while distinct, is not separate, possessing the entirety of the divine nature in a manner beyond our full comprehension.

Chapter 7: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

This chapter builds upon the foundation laid in the previous chapter, exploring the specific relationships within the Blessed Trinity and how they illuminate God’s inner life. Sheed reminds readers that the Trinity isn’t merely a theological puzzle but a revelation of God’s eternal activity of knowing and loving.

He begins by analyzing the relationship between the First and Second Persons, drawing on the scriptural designations “Son” and “Word”. He unpacks the philosophical definition of “sonship”, highlighting the likeness of nature and communication of substance between Father and Son, concluding that the Son, like the Father, is infinitely perfect and eternal. Sheed clarifies that the concept of temporal precedence in human fatherhood doesn’t apply to the divine relationship, emphasizing the co-eternity of Father and Son.

The chapter then addresses the potential misconception of two Infinities arising from the Father-Son relationship. Sheed leverages the concept of “Word” to bridge the gap between likeness of nature and oneness of nature. God’s Word, he argues, is not a vocal utterance but an eternal Idea, a perfect mental image of Himself, possessing the entirety of the divine nature in its fullness as a distinct Person.

Sheed then turns to the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, highlighting His procession from the Father and Son through love. He explains the appropriateness of the term “Spirit”, emphasizing its association with movement and breath, evocative of the dynamic nature of love. He carefully clarifies the distinction between “generation” (reserved for the Son’s procession) and “spiration” (describing the procession of the Holy Spirit), emphasizing that both result in the full possession of the divine nature, ensuring perfect equality between the Persons.

The chapter concludes by contemplating the profound implications of the Trinity for understanding God’s inner life. He describes a dynamic interplay of knowledge, love, and self-giving within the Godhead, a perfect communion of infinite Persons sharing the same divine nature in eternal and changeless bliss.

Chapter 8: Some Further Precisions

This chapter delves deeper into the nuances of the Trinity doctrine, addressing potential conceptual stumbling blocks and offering further clarifications. Sheed re-examines the relationship between “nature” and “person”, acknowledging the inherent limitations of human experience in comprehending how one nature can be possessed by multiple persons. He emphasizes the unique nature of the infinite, suggesting that the one-to-one relationship between nature and person observed in the finite realm might not apply to God.

The chapter then tackles the question of equality within the Trinity, asking how distinct Persons can be truly equal if each possesses something the others lack. Sheed acknowledges the mind’s inability to fully grasp the reconciliation of these seemingly contradictory truths, emphasizing the inherent limitations of our finite perspective when grappling with the Infinite.

However, he offers a glimpse into the possible resolution, suggesting that the Son and Holy Spirit, while possessing the same infinite knowledge and love as the Father, don’t generate or spirate because the Divine Nature is already fully expressed as Knowledge in the Son and Love in the Holy Spirit. This reinforces the equality of the Persons while acknowledging their distinct modes of possessing the Divine Nature.

Sheed concludes by reminding readers that, while intellectual exploration of the Trinity is fruitful, our acceptance of this doctrine ultimately rests on God’s revelation, not on our complete comprehension. The truths revealed about the Trinity, he argues, offer profound insight into God’s nature and invite us to a deeper relationship with Him, even if our understanding remains incomplete.

Chapter 9: Concluding This Part

This chapter summarizes the key teachings of Jesus about the Trinity, urging readers to engage with His words in light of the Church’s developed doctrine. Sheed analyzes specific texts from the Gospels, illuminating the following aspects of the Trinity:

  • Revelation: The Trinity is knowable only through God’s self-disclosure.
  • Self-existence: God eternally exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • Equality of Nature: Each Person possesses the same infinite divine nature.
  • Distinction of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct yet inseparable.
  • Circuminsession: Each Person dwells within the others in a perfect communion.
  • Identity of Operation: The divine nature operates through all three Persons as one.
  • The Son’s Reception: The Son receives His nature from the Father, not as a contingent act but by the same necessity by which the Father exists.
  • The Holy Spirit’s Reception: The Holy Spirit receives the Divine Nature from both Father and Son, ensuring perfect equality.

Sheed then introduces the concept of “appropriation”, explaining how specific external actions of God are attributed to particular Persons based on their corresponding roles within the Trinity (e.g., creation to the Father, sanctification to the Holy Spirit). He emphasizes that this practice, while highlighting the distinct roles of the Persons, shouldn’t obscure the reality of their unified action.

The chapter concludes by inviting readers to contemplate the beauty and richness of the Trinity doctrine, recognizing its implications for understanding God’s infinite love. He argues that the Trinity ensures an eternal and perfect communion of love within the Godhead, offering a model for human relationships and a source of profound joy and consolation.

Part III: Creation

Chapter 10: God as Creator

This chapter explores the profound mystery of creation, beginning by posing the fundamental question: Why did God create the universe if He lacked nothing and gained nothing from it? Sheed acknowledges the inadequacy of the simple answer, “for His own honor and glory”, arguing that created beings, while glorifying God by their existence, don’t add to His inherent perfection.

He then proposes a more profound answer rooted in God’s love, specifically His love for humanity. God, in His infinite goodness, created the universe because He knew we would enjoy it. This act, motivated by pure altruism, reveals a depth and abundance of love that transcends our limited understanding.

The chapter then shifts to the question of how God created, contrasting the theological approach with the scientific quest for origins. Science, Sheed argues, can trace back the chain of causes within the existing universe but can’t explain the origin of existence itself. Theology, on the other hand, addresses this fundamental question, asserting that God, as Infinite Existence, brought the universe into being from nothing by a sheer act of will.

Sheed emphasizes the mind-boggling nature of creation ex nihilo, urging readers to engage intellectually with the concept rather than attempting to visualize it. He clarifies that God didn’t use “nothing” as a material but created without any pre-existing substance, a feat possible only for a being with limitless power.

The chapter then explores the crucial implication of creation ex nihilo: the continuous dependence of all created beings on God for their existence. Sheed uses the analogy of a mirror reflecting an image: the image exists only as long as the object is present. Similarly, he argues, the universe is sustained in existence from moment to moment solely by God’s will. He concludes by emphasizing the profound truth that this sustaining power emanates from the Blessed Trinity, placing the Godhead at the very heart of all creation.

Chapter 11: The Created Universe

This chapter examines the created universe, highlighting its diversity and its mirroring of God’s nature. Sheed argues that, while God could have created a single perfect being, His love led Him to bring into being a multitude of creatures, each reflecting His power and goodness in unique ways.

He emphasizes that this diverse universe, far from being chaotic, is meticulously ordered, reflecting the unifying design of God. He introduces the fundamental distinction between spirit (made in God’s likeness) and matter (bearing God’s imprint), highlighting the superior “being” of spirit, its capacity for knowledge and love, and its permanence in contrast to the transience and changefulness of matter.

Sheed delves into the concept of “being”, suggesting that creatures can be graded based on their capacity to reflect God, with spirit possessing more “being” than matter. He links this hierarchy of being to their relationship with time, proposing three distinct modes of duration:

  • Eternity: God’s unchanging and indivisible “now”.
  • Aeviternity: The duration of created spirit, characterized by permanence but not excluding change.
  • Time: The duration of matter, characterized by continuous change.

Sheed clarifies that, while created spirit is immortal, it remains contingent on God for its existence, unlike God who is self-existent. He concludes by asserting the reality of the created universe, rejecting both pantheism (equating creation with God) and the notion of creation as mere illusion. He emphasizes the goodness and value of created beings, even in their finite limitations, as reflections of God’s love and power.

Chapter 12: Angels, Matter, Men

This chapter delves into the specific categories of created beings, beginning with angels, pure spirits existing outside space and time. Sheed defends the belief in angels against accusations of being unscientific, arguing that science, with its focus on the material world, is ill-equipped to prove or disprove their existence.

He then explores the scriptural accounts of angels, highlighting their primary function as adorers and servants of God. He also examines their role as messengers and executors of God’s will, emphasizing their involvement in natural and supernatural processes, including the guardianship of individuals and nations.

Sheed delves into the hierarchy of angels, outlining the nine choirs of angels based on their intellectual perfection and proximity to God. He acknowledges the diverse theological interpretations regarding the specific functions of each choir, emphasizing the Church’s lack of definitive pronouncements on this subject.

The chapter then shifts to matter, highlighting its inherent changefulness and division into parts, contrasting its precarious hold on being with the permanence of spirit. Sheed introduces the distinction between living and non-living matter, defining life as possessing an internal principle of operation that facilitates growth, nutrition, and reproduction. He clarifies that the “soul” of a living being is the principle that animates its body, distinguishing the material souls of plants and animals from the spiritual soul of man.

Sheed then focuses on man as the unique union of spirit and matter, belonging to both the material and spiritual realms. He emphasizes the crucial role of man in bridging these two worlds, highlighting the significance of our spiritual soul which enables us to know and love as spirits do, while our material body anchors us to the physical world.

He explores the challenges of comprehending the union of soul and body, rejecting simplistic spatial analogies. He proposes instead understanding the soul’s presence as analogous to God’s presence in the universe, a presence rooted in power and activity rather than spatial occupation. Sheed concludes by highlighting the mutual dependence and partnership between soul and body in constituting the fullness of human existence.

Chapter 13: The Testing of Angels and Men

This chapter explores the purpose of creation, highlighting the distinction between spiritual beings (ends in themselves) and matter (existing for the sake of spiritual beings). Sheed emphasizes that, while all things are ultimately ordered towards God, angels and humans hold a special place as beings created in His likeness and destined for a supernatural relationship with Him. He discusses God’s original plan for humanity, emphasizing our dominion over the material world and our role as stewards of creation.

Sheed then delves into the ultimate destiny of spiritual beings: the Beatific Vision, a direct and unmediated experience of God’s glory, a state beyond the natural capabilities of angels and humans. He introduces the concept of supernatural life, a gift from God that elevates us beyond our natural limitations and empowers us for this extraordinary encounter.

The chapter then examines the testing of angels, highlighting their rebellion against God motivated by a desire for independence. Sheed defines sin as any act aimed at gaining something against God’s will, emphasizing its inherent absurdity given our complete dependence on God. He explores the mystery of free will, suggesting that, while limited by our finite nature, it allows us to choose between nothingness (self apart from God) and the Infinite (God).

Sheed then discusses the fall of Satan and his angels, highlighting their loss of grace, the damage to their nature, and their eternal separation from God in hell. He contrasts this with the reward of the loyal angels who, having passed their test, experience the Beatific Vision and achieve perfect union with God.

The chapter concludes by examining the testing of humanity in Adam, highlighting his initial perfection, including supernatural life, preternatural gifts like impassibility and immortality, and an intimate relationship with God. He emphasizes the crucial role of Adam as the representative of the entire human race, suggesting that his success or failure would determine the fate of all his descendants.

Chapter 14: The Fall of Man

This chapter recounts the tragic consequences of Adam’s sin, beginning with the immediate loss of innocence, shame, and fear that accompanied the Fall. Sheed then unpacks the deeper ramifications, highlighting the loss of supernatural life (death to grace), the damage to human nature, and the broken relationship between humanity and God.

He explains the loss of supernatural life as stemming from the annihilation of charity (love of God) within Adam’s soul. This resulted in the loss of sanctifying grace and its accompanying virtues, leaving humanity spiritually dead and unable to achieve the Beatific Vision.

The chapter then delves into the damage inflicted on human nature, describing the rebellion of the body against the soul, the internal conflict within the soul’s faculties, the undue influence of imagination, and the overwhelming power of passions. Sheed emphasizes the universality of this disordered state, arguing that even those who reject the doctrine of the Fall must acknowledge the inherent brokenness of human nature.

He then examines the most profound consequence: the breach between humanity and God, a separation that closed heaven to the human race. Sheed clarifies that this rupture wasn’t a punitive act by God but a natural consequence of humanity’s self-imposed exile, a choice for self-sufficiency over union with God. He highlights the profound helplessness of fallen humanity, unable to bridge this chasm by its own efforts.

Sheed concludes by discussing the role of the Devil in the Fall, drawing on scriptural references to Satan’s envy and seduction of humanity. He suggests that, while Satan gained no rightful claim over humanity, his victory gave him a powerful influence over our fallen nature, a dominion manifested in the prevalence of sin and the allure of evil.

Chapter 15: Between the Fall and the Redemption

This chapter explores the long period between Adam’s sin and the coming of Christ, examining the state of religion and God’s providential dealings with humanity during this era. Sheed begins by reflecting on the concept of “the fullness of times”, arguing that God didn’t arbitrarily choose the moment for redemption but allowed humanity to experience the full consequences of its fallen state, both to demonstrate the futility of self-sufficiency and to prepare us for Christ’s arrival.

He then analyzes the remarkable persistence of religion across cultures and time periods, suggesting that while the original revelation given to Adam inevitably became distorted and diluted, human nature, even in its wounded state, retained an inherent longing for God and a capacity to grasp fundamental religious truths. Sheed explores various theories about the origins of religion, emphasizing the human intellect’s ability to deduce the existence of God from creation and the natural impulse to seek connection with Him through prayer and sacrifice.

He acknowledges the prevalence of idolatry, polytheism, and corrupt religious practices, attributing these distortions to human weakness and the influence of Satan, who exploited our fallen nature to lead us astray. Sheed highlights the negative impact of these distorted forms of religion, citing scriptural condemnations of idol worship and its association with violence, immorality, and spiritual degradation.

However, he also emphasizes the positive aspects of pagan religions, recognizing their yearning for God, their glimpses of truth, and their role as imperfect preparations for Christ’s arrival. He points to the emergence of monotheistic ideas, ethical teachings, and spiritual practices within various pagan traditions, suggesting that God’s providence continued to work in subtle ways, preparing humanity for redemption.

Sheed then examines God’s special relationship with the Jewish people, analyzing their unique role in preserving the truth of the one God and anticipating the coming Messiah. He highlights the covenant God established with Abraham and its promise that through his descendants all nations would be blessed.

The chapter concludes by suggesting that, by the time of Christ’s birth, both Jews and Gentiles were, in different ways, ready for His arrival. The Jews, having been trained by the Law and purified from idolatry, were filled with hope and anticipation. The Gentiles, having experienced the limitations of human efforts and the futility of their religious systems, were ripe for a new source of life and meaning.

Chapter 16: The Mission of Christ

This chapter examines the purpose and meaning of Jesus’ incarnation, beginning with the historical context of His birth during the reign of Augustus Caesar. Sheed highlights the meticulous preparation God made for this momentous event, focusing on the Immaculate Conception and sinless life of Mary, His mother.

He then analyzes the various pronouncements about Jesus’ mission, drawing on the words of angels, John the Baptist, and Jesus Himself. These statements reveal a multifaceted mission:

  • Salvation: Jesus came to “search out and save what was lost”, to rescue humanity from sin and its consequences.
  • Revelation of Truth: He came to “bear witness to the truth”, to reveal God’s nature and His plan for humanity.
  • Call to Repentance: He came to “call sinners to repentance”, urging a change of heart and a return to God.
  • Establishment of the Kingdom: He came to “proclaim the Kingdom of God”, inaugurating a new era of grace and salvation.
  • Sacrifice and Ransom: He came to “give His life as a ransom for the lives of many”, offering Himself as a sacrifice to atone for sin.
  • Abundant Life: He came so that we “may have life and have it more abundantly”, offering a new and transformative existence rooted in union with God.

Sheed then explores St. Paul’s rich elaboration of Jesus’ mission, highlighting the key concepts of “redemption” (buying back what was lost), “reconciliation” (restoring harmony between God and humanity), and “justification” (making us right with God).

He emphasizes that, while Jesus came to save individuals, His mission primarily focused on the redemption of the entire human race. This involved both satisfying God’s justice through His atoning sacrifice and restoring humanity to its rightful relationship with God as His children.

Chapter 17: The Redeemer

This chapter delves into the unique nature of Jesus as the God-man, explaining how His two natures (divine and human) enabled Him to accomplish redemption. Sheed reiterates the appropriateness of the Second Person of the Trinity becoming incarnate, given His role in creation and His embodiment of God’s perfect image.

He emphasizes the reality of Jesus’ human nature, clarifying that He didn’t merely “wear” humanity as a disguise but truly became man, possessing a complete human nature like ours, with a body and soul, intellect and will, and even emotions.

Sheed clarifies that Jesus’ human nature, while real, was unique in its sinlessness, conceived without a human father but through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. This ensured His connection to the human race while preserving Him from the taint of Original Sin.

The chapter then explores the challenging concept of two intellects (divine and human) coexisting within the one Person of Christ. Sheed explains that, while Jesus possessed infinite knowledge through His divinity, His human intellect could still grow and learn, engaging with the world through His senses and forming concepts like any other human being.

He then discusses the necessity of supernatural life for Jesus’ human nature, arguing that even the God-man needed sanctifying grace to achieve the Beatific Vision and to receive the specific guidance and strength required for His redemptive mission. Sheed emphasizes that Jesus’ love for God, manifested in His constant prayer and obedience to the Father’s will, was central to His mission and offers a powerful example for our own spiritual lives.

The chapter concludes by highlighting the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus, urging readers to engage deeply with the Gospels and to develop their own intimate relationship with Him. He cautions against imposing preconceived notions on Jesus, encouraging instead a willingness to learn from Him and to see Him as He truly is, in all His complexity and fullness.

Chapter 18: The Redeeming Sacrifice

This chapter focuses on Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, examining its necessity and its effects on humanity. Sheed begins by summarizing Jesus’ threefold mission: He opened the Way to salvation, He gave the Truth to guide us on that Way, and He offered the Life to empower us for the journey.

He then highlights the central importance of Jesus’ sacrifice, arguing that without the reopening of the Way to Heaven, His teachings and the sacraments He instituted would be meaningless. He analyzes the various ways Jesus foreshadowed His passion and death, both through veiled language to outsiders and explicit pronouncements to His Apostles.

Sheed delves into the events of the Last Supper, highlighting the institution of the Eucharist and Jesus’ final teachings about the Kingdom, the role of the Apostles, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the unity of His followers. He emphasizes the two key elements of Jesus’ mission: expiation for sin through His sacrifice and reconciliation with God through His death and resurrection.

The chapter then recounts the agony of Gethsemane, where Jesus, burdened with the sins of humanity, prayed for the chalice to pass from Him. Sheed emphasizes that, while shrinking from the immensity of this suffering, Jesus freely embraced His Father’s will, offering Himself as a willing sacrifice for our sake.

Sheed then recounts the events leading to the Crucifixion, highlighting Jesus’ unjust trials, His physical and emotional torment, and His steadfast love for humanity even in His final moments. He analyzes the seven sayings of Jesus from the Cross, emphasizing their theological significance and their revelation of His enduring love.

The chapter concludes by exploring the significance of Jesus’ descent into hell, His resurrection, and His ascension. He argues that these events, while often misunderstood, are integral parts of His redemptive sacrifice, demonstrating God’s acceptance of His offering and inaugurating a new era of grace and salvation.

Chapter 19: Redemption

This chapter unpacks the meaning and implications of Redemption, focusing on the efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice and its impact on humanity’s relationship with God. Sheed begins by emphasizing that the redemptive power of Jesus’ actions stems from the union of His human nature with His divine Person. It’s because God Himself suffered and died that humanity could be reconciled with God.

He then addresses the question of why Jesus’ death was necessary for Redemption, arguing that while any act of Christ would have infinite value due to His divinity, it was fitting for human nature to offer its uttermost in atoning for sin. Furthermore, Scripture reveals that through His suffering, Jesus Himself achieved a new dimension of obedience and was “made perfect”, becoming the source of salvation for all who obey Him.

Sheed clarifies the distinction between redemption (achieved once for all by Christ) and salvation (dependent on individual cooperation with grace). While Christ’s sacrifice made salvation possible for all, individuals must actively embrace His gift through faith and obedience to enter into the fullness of Redemption.

The chapter then explores the twofold effect of Redemption: the overthrow of Satan’s dominion over humanity and the healing of the breach between God and the human race. Sheed emphasizes that Jesus’ victory over Satan, foretold in Genesis, restored humanity’s rightful place as God’s children, opening the way to Heaven.

He addresses the potential objection that the concept of representative figures (Adam and Christ) acting on behalf of humanity seems arbitrary. Sheed clarifies that both figures are legitimate representatives due to our real relationship with them. We are physically descended from Adam, inheriting his fallen nature; and Christ, as the perfect man and the God-man, embodies the fullness of humanity, making His act of redemption available to all.

Sheed concludes by emphasizing that, while Redemption is a gift from God, our salvation depends on our active participation. We must be “reborn” in Christ through baptism, incorporated into His Mystical Body, to experience the full benefits of His sacrifice.

Chapter 20: The Kingdom

This chapter explores the nature and structure of the Kingdom founded by Jesus, highlighting the vital role of the Apostles in its establishment and ongoing mission. Sheed criticizes the tendency to diminish the significance of the Apostles, arguing that their role in continuing Jesus’ work is essential to understanding His plan for humanity.

He analyzes Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom, emphasizing its unique nature as a spiritual reality “not of this world” yet impacting every aspect of human existence. Sheed clarifies that the Kingdom is both a present reality within the hearts of believers and a future fulfillment to be realized at the end of time.

The chapter then examines the specific functions entrusted to the Apostles, highlighting their role as:

  • Dispensers of Truth: They were to continue Jesus’ teaching, proclaiming the Gospel and safeguarding the deposit of faith.
  • Dispensers of Life: They were to administer the sacraments, conveying the grace of Christ to His followers.
  • Priests Offering Sacrifice: They were to continue the offering of sacrifice in the Kingdom, prefigured in the Eucharist and fulfilled in the Mass.

Sheed emphasizes that Jesus equipped the Apostles for this mission through His teachings, His commissioning, and the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. He argues that the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost empowered the Apostles to carry out their mission, ensuring the ongoing presence and power of Christ within His Church.

The chapter then explores the characteristics of the Kingdom, highlighting its universality (“all nations”, “all things”, “all days”), its unity as one Church, and its hierarchical structure with Peter as the rock on whom the Church is built. Sheed analyzes the significance of Peter’s unique role, emphasizing his authority to teach, govern, and sanctify the Church, ensuring the preservation of truth, the integrity of the sacraments, and the unity of believers.

He concludes by summarizing the essential features of the Kingdom established by Christ: a visible and organized society with a hierarchical structure, endowed with the gifts of truth and life, and guided by the Holy Spirit to continue His mission until the end of time.

Chapter 21: Dispensing the Gifts

This chapter examines the Church’s role in dispensing the gifts of truth and life, highlighting the correspondence between its structure and the nature of man. Sheed begins by emphasizing the social nature of humanity, arguing that a true religion must acknowledge and incorporate this aspect. He critiques individualistic approaches to faith, arguing that complete independence from human intermediaries is impossible given our inherent need for community and our dependence on others for knowledge and spiritual nourishment.

Sheed then explores the Church’s hierarchical structure, arguing that its divinely appointed officials, with their authority to teach, govern, and sanctify, serve as Christ’s instruments in dispensing His gifts. He emphasizes that the efficacy of these gifts rests on Christ’s guarantee, not on the personal holiness of the officials, and cautions against judging the Church based on the failings of individual members.

The chapter then analyzes the Church’s two primary gifts: truth and life. Regarding truth, Sheed emphasizes the Church’s role in preserving and transmitting the fullness of God’s revelation, safeguarding it from error through its divinely bestowed infallibility. He argues that this gift, while not requiring less intellectual effort from believers, ensures the integrity of the deposit of faith, allowing the mind to explore theological truths without falling into destructive error.

Regarding life, Sheed examines the sacramental system, highlighting its role in conveying the grace of Christ to believers. He emphasizes the appropriateness of sacraments as a union of spirit and matter, reflecting the dual nature of man. He analyzes the significance of each sacrament, demonstrating how they correspond to the key stages and needs of human life, offering grace for rebirth, growth, healing, nourishment, and union with God.

Sheed highlights the centrality of the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian life, offering not merely an increase of grace but a direct encounter with the living Christ. He emphasizes the importance of frequent reception of the Eucharist as essential nourishment for the soul, enabling us to grow in union with Christ and with each other.

The chapter concludes by examining the Church’s role in continuing the offering of sacrifice through the Mass. Sheed explains how the priest, acting in the person of Christ, consecrates bread and wine, transforming them into the Body and Blood of Christ, and offers this sacrifice to the Father for the forgiveness of sins and the sanctification of believers. He emphasizes the unity of the Mystical Body in this offering, clarifying that all members participate in the sacrifice through the priest, uniting their own lives and sufferings to Christ’s offering.

Chapter 22: The Mystical Body of Christ

This chapter explores the profound concept of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, moving beyond its institutional aspects to reveal a deeper level of union with Christ. Sheed begins by unpacking the significance of Jesus’ statements, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. He argues that these declarations, far from being mere metaphors, point to an intimate and organic union between Christ and His followers.

He highlights the reciprocal indwelling between Christ and believers, analyzing Jesus’ teachings about abiding in Him and He in us, particularly the parable of the Vine and the Branches. Sheed argues that this reciprocal indwelling is possible only within a living body, suggesting that the Church is not merely an organization but an organism, animated by the life of Christ.

The chapter then explores the implications of this concept for understanding the fullness of Redemption. Baptism, he argues, isn’t simply joining an institution but being reborn into Christ, incorporated into His Body and sharing in His death and resurrection. Through this incorporation, we receive the fruits of His sacrifice and are empowered to live a new life in union with Him.

Sheed examines St. Paul’s rich development of the Mystical Body doctrine, highlighting the apostle’s own experience of persecution as evidence of the inseparable union between Christ and His Church. He emphasizes the transformation of identity that occurs through baptism, where distinctions of race, social status, and even gender are superseded by our shared identity as members of Christ’s Body.

The chapter then delves into the implications of this union for our relationships with Christ and with each other. Sheed argues that our connection to Christ as members of His Body surpasses even the natural bond between mother and child, as we share in His very life through the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, he suggests that our relationship to fellow believers within the Mystical Body transcends even the closest natural bonds, creating a profound unity that has the potential to transform human society.

Sheed analyzes the ways in which the Church relives the life of Christ, reflecting His teachings, His ministry, His suffering, and His victory over sin and death. He highlights the Church’s enduring opposition from the world, mirroring the rejection Jesus Himself faced, and emphasizes the vital role of the Holy Spirit in animating and guiding the Mystical Body, just as He empowered Jesus’ human nature.

The chapter concludes by examining the co-redemptive suffering of the Church, focusing on the unique role of Mary as a perfect model of membership in the Mystical Body. He analyzes the com-passion of Mary, suggesting that she suffered not merely in sympathy with Jesus but in her own right, offering her own unique contribution to the work of Redemption. He extends this concept to all believers, arguing that our sufferings, united to Christ’s sacrifice, play a part in the ongoing redemption of the world.

Chapter 23: Life in the Body

This chapter examines the practical implications of living as members of Christ’s Mystical Body, focusing on the dynamics of grace and our cooperation with God’s transforming power. Sheed begins by emphasizing that the supernatural life we receive through grace isn’t a passive endowment but a dynamic participation in the life of Christ, who is the source of all spiritual vitality.

He clarifies that this life is ours only insofar as we willingly embrace it, arguing that our free will remains even within the Mystical Body. God’s grace solicits but doesn’t coerce our cooperation. He describes three possible responses to grace: full surrender, partial surrender, and outright rejection through mortal sin. Each response, he argues, has profound consequences for our spiritual growth and our ultimate destiny.

Sheed then examines the process of growth within the Mystical Body, highlighting the transformation into the image of Christ as our ultimate goal. He analyzes St. Paul’s image of the Church as a body growing towards maturity, emphasizing the interconnectedness of its members and the diverse roles played by each in contributing to the well-being of the whole. He stresses that this growth isn’t merely quantitative but qualitative, involving a continual deepening of our union with Christ and a progressive transformation into His likeness.

The chapter then explores the various “habits” infused into the soul through grace, explaining their role in empowering us for a supernatural life. Sheed emphasizes that these habits, while received as a gift from God, function like natural habits, requiring practice and cooperation to achieve their full potential. He analyzes the specific function of each theological virtue (Faith, Hope, and Charity) and each moral virtue (Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude), highlighting their role in guiding our intellect and will towards God.

He then discusses the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, describing them as “sails” catching the “wind” of God’s grace, empowering us to respond readily and effectively to His promptings. Sheed analyzes the seven Gifts (Understanding, Wisdom, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety, and Fear of the Lord), highlighting their specific roles in illuminating our minds and strengthening our wills.

He concludes by emphasizing the ongoing challenge of harmonizing our natural inclinations with the supernatural life we receive through grace. This involves a lifelong process of battling bad habits, cultivating virtues, and deepening our relationship with Christ through prayer and the sacraments. Sheed reminds readers that while grace empowers us for this struggle, ultimate victory depends on our active cooperation with God’s transforming power.

Chapter 24: Life After Death

This chapter examines the fate of the soul after death, highlighting the finality of our choices made during this life. Sheed begins by emphasizing that death, while separating the soul from the body, isn’t the end of existence but a decisive moment that determines our eternal destiny.

He describes the three possible states of the soul at death: those who die united to Christ, those who die partially united to Him, and those who die separated from Him through mortal sin. He clarifies that those who die in a state of grace will be saved, either entering immediately into the Beatific Vision in Heaven or undergoing purification in Purgatory to be cleansed of remaining imperfections. Those who die separated from God, however, will experience eternal separation from Him in hell.

Sheed explores the reality of Hell, emphasizing that it’s not a place of arbitrary punishment but a natural consequence of choosing self over God, a state of perpetual alienation from the source of all life and happiness. He describes the suffering of hell as stemming from unsatisfied longing for God, a torment amplified by the soul’s realization of its self-imposed exile.

He then examines the doctrine of Purgatory, explaining it as a place of purification for those who die in God’s friendship but with imperfections still clinging to their souls. He describes the suffering of Purgatory as a loving purgation, willingly embraced by the soul to be cleansed and made ready for the fullness of union with God in Heaven.

The chapter then culminates in a description of Heaven, the ultimate goal of human existence, where the soul experiences the Beatific Vision, a direct and unmediated encounter with the glory of God. Sheed emphasizes the indescribable bliss of this state, where intellect and will are perfectly fulfilled in their knowledge and love of God, experiencing a fullness of joy and peace that transcends human comprehension.

He clarifies that while Heaven is a state of perfect happiness, the degree of glory experienced by each soul will vary based on its capacity for union with God, cultivated through its cooperation with grace during its earthly life. Sheed concludes by reminding readers that the hope of Heaven isn’t merely a passive consolation but a powerful stimulus for striving towards holiness, embracing the challenges and sufferings of this life as opportunities for growth and purification in preparation for our eternal destiny.

Chapter 25: The End of the World

This chapter explores the ultimate destiny of the world and humanity, outlining the events leading up to the Second Coming of Christ and the final judgment. Sheed begins by acknowledging the ongoing struggle between good and evil in the world, highlighting the reality of sin and suffering even after Christ’s victory over death. He emphasizes that this struggle is a necessary part of our earthly pilgrimage, a testing ground where we freely choose to cooperate with grace or to resist it, shaping our souls for eternity.

He then describes the growth and maturation of the Mystical Body of Christ, clarifying that the Church isn’t merely accumulating members but moving towards a completion, a fullness of unity and holiness that will culminate in the establishment of God’s Kingdom in its fullness.

The chapter then shifts to the signs of the end times, focusing on the Apostasy, a widespread rejection of faith, and the emergence of the Anti-Christ, a figure who will embody the ultimate rebellion against God. Sheed analyzes St. Paul’s description of the Anti-Christ as one who will “enthrone himself in God’s temple and proclaim himself as God”, highlighting the figure’s deceptive power and his ability to perform false signs and wonders to lead people astray.

He then explores the moral and spiritual decline that will precede the Apostasy, drawing on St. Paul and St. Peter’s descriptions of increasing selfishness, greed, pride, blasphemy, immorality, and apostasy. He emphasizes that the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit and preserving the truth of Christ’s revelation, will offer a refuge for those who remain faithful during this time of trial.

Sheed describes the dramatic events accompanying the Second Coming: the darkening of the sun and moon, the falling of stars, the sounding of a trumpet, and the resurrection of the dead. He clarifies that both the just and the unjust will be judged based on their actions during their earthly lives, emphasizing the eternal consequences of our choices made in time.

The chapter culminates in a vision of the new heavens and new earth, where God’s Kingdom will be fully established and humanity, reunited with glorified bodies, will dwell in perfect communion with God and with each other. Sheed emphasizes that matter itself will be transformed and redeemed, reflecting the glory of God and participating in the eternal bliss of the redeemed.

Part IV: Oneself

Chapter 26: Habituation to Reality

This chapter shifts the focus from the grand narrative of salvation history to the individual’s responsibility for embracing and living within the context of revealed reality. Sheed urges readers to move beyond merely knowing about God and His plan to actively habituating their minds and lives to this truth, achieving a state of “sanity” where they see and act in accordance with the “landscape of reality”.

He argues that we face three choices regarding this reality: harmonize ourselves with it, rebel against it, or ignore it. He emphasizes that maturity lies in the first choice, embracing the truth of our existence as creatures dependent on God, fallen in Adam, redeemed by Christ, and destined for eternal life. Failing to acknowledge this reality leads to a distorted and ultimately destructive understanding of ourselves and the world.

Sheed critiques the tendency to compartmentalize religion, relegating it to a private sphere with no bearing on other aspects of life, particularly in fields like sociology and literature. He argues that ignoring the fundamental realities of God, sin, and redemption leads to an incomplete and ultimately flawed understanding of human nature and social dynamics. He uses the analogy of a novelist constructing characters in a fictional world: no matter how well-developed the characters, their actions will seem arbitrary and meaningless if they operate within a flawed or incomplete understanding of the universe they inhabit.

The chapter then examines the potential pitfalls facing those who engage deeply with theological truths, highlighting the danger of treating them as mere abstractions rather than lived realities. Sheed urges readers to balance intellectual exploration with an experiential engagement with the created universe, cultivating a sense of wonder and awe at the beauty and complexity of God’s handiwork. He encourages reading poetry and engaging with the natural sciences as ways to deepen our appreciation for the richness and depth of created reality.

He concludes by emphasizing the ongoing need to study and reflect on the nature of man, both through observation of others and introspection into our own hearts. This, he argues, is essential for attaining a mature and realistic understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe, a knowledge that forms the foundation for a truly integrated and fulfilling life.

Chapter 27: Habituation to Man

This chapter focuses on the unique nature of man, exploring the profound implications of our existence as rational animals, creatures endowed with both spirit and matter, individuality and sociality. Sheed begins by addressing the common feeling of inadequacy when confronted with the concept of the Mystical Body, the idea that we are intimately united to Christ and share in His very life. He acknowledges the mind-boggling nature of this truth, but argues that we must embrace the reality of our own extraordinariness as creatures made in God’s image, redeemed by Christ, and destined for eternal life.

He then dismantles the tendency to view human existence as prosaic, highlighting the unique paradoxes and tensions that characterize our nature: our mortality and immortality, our capacity for both greatness and depravity, our conflicting desires for both God and self. Sheed argues that these tensions, far from being signs of weakness or absurdity, are evidence of our unique role in the universe as creatures endowed with free will, capable of choosing our destiny and shaping our eternal fate.

The chapter then examines the harmonious fit between the Church’s teachings and the complex nature of man. Sheed argues that the Church alone fully acknowledges and addresses both our spiritual and material needs, our individuality and our sociality. He contrasts this with the reductionistic approaches of Protestantism (overemphasizing the soul and the individual) and Secularism (overemphasizing the body and the collective), arguing that both fail to grasp the fullness of human nature.

He then delves into the specific challenges of understanding man as a union of spirit and matter, urging readers to move beyond simplistic definitions and engage with the lived reality of this complex union. He revisits the analogy of the flame and the water, highlighting the transformative impact of the soul on the body and the reciprocal influence of the body on the soul’s activities, particularly in the realm of knowledge.

Sheed then explores the equally challenging union of rationality and animality within human nature, highlighting the inherent tensions between these seemingly incompatible elements. He argues that, while animality often exerts a powerful pull, we cannot find ultimate fulfillment in merely satisfying our bodily desires. Our spiritual needs, though often less clamorous, must be addressed to achieve true happiness and peace. He concludes by emphasizing the importance of humility and self-knowledge, acknowledging our own limitations and recognizing the inherent “incalculability” of human nature.

Chapter 28: The Insufficiency of Man

This chapter explores the inherent insufficiency of man apart from God, arguing that our limitations extend beyond our failings to the very core of our being. Sheed begins by emphasizing our absolute dependence on God for our existence, asserting that any attempt to achieve autonomy or self-sufficiency is ultimately futile and self-destructive. He reminds readers that our actions are meaningful only within the context of God’s will, and any attempt to defy His laws ultimately leads to frustration and despair.

He then analyzes the insufficiency of our minds and wills when separated from God, highlighting the inevitable sense of futility and meaninglessness that pervades a purely secular existence. He argues that, without God, we lack a coherent framework for understanding our own nature, the purpose of life, or our ultimate destiny. This, he contends, leads to a profound sense of hopelessness and devitalization, as we are deprived of both a meaningful goal and a clear path to reach it.

Sheed then critiques attempts to construct secular systems of meaning, hope, and morality, arguing that they inevitably fail to address the deepest human needs. Secular meaning, he argues, lacks a foundation without a belief in God as the author of the universe and the source of all purpose. Secular hope, he contends, rings hollow in the face of death and the prospect of personal extinction. And secular ethics, he argues, lack a compelling basis for obligation and ultimately collapse under the weight of human weakness and self-interest.

He then explores the practical consequences of this insufficiency, highlighting the prevalence of apathy, despair, and escapism in a world that has largely forgotten God. Sheed argues that, without a clear understanding of the moral law grounded in God’s will, individuals become increasingly susceptible to the allure of instant gratification and the path of least resistance. This, he argues, leads to a weakening of the will, a loss of vitality, and a general decline in social and moral coherence.

The chapter concludes by highlighting the unique ability of the Catholic Church to address these fundamental human needs. Only the Church, he argues, offers a comprehensive and coherent vision of reality that provides meaning, hope, and a solid foundation for morality. Through its teachings, sacraments, and community of faith, the Church empowers individuals to live lives of purpose and fulfillment, offering a path to true happiness and lasting peace.

Chapter 29: Sufficiency in the Church

This chapter contrasts the insufficiency of man apart from God with the fullness and sufficiency found within the Catholic Church. Sheed begins by reiterating the key elements missing from a purely secular existence: a coherent meaning for life, a lasting hope that transcends death, and a clear and compelling moral law. He argues that only religion can address these fundamental human needs, and that the Catholic Church, with its divinely revealed truths, its sacraments dispensing grace, and its infallible teaching authority, offers the most complete and effective response.

He then analyzes the specific ways in which the Church fulfills these needs. Sheed emphasizes the Church’s role in revealing the ultimate purpose of human existence: union with God, a state of perfect happiness and fulfillment achievable through a life of grace. He highlights the Church’s promise of eternal life, a hope grounded not on wishful thinking but on the resurrection of Christ and the promise of a glorious future in Heaven. And he emphasizes the clarity and immutability of the Church’s moral teachings, offering a sure guide for navigating the complexities of life and achieving true freedom within the framework of God’s will.

Sheed then addresses common criticisms leveled against the Church, focusing on the perceived hypocrisy of its members and its supposed indifference to social justice. He argues that judging the Church based on the failings of individuals is misguided, emphasizing that its efficacy as a channel of God’s grace doesn’t depend on the personal holiness of its members. He clarifies that the Church’s primary mission is the salvation of souls, a goal far more profound and lasting than any earthly social or political reform.

He acknowledges the struggles faced by those who embrace the Catholic faith, emphasizing the ongoing challenge of harmonizing our natural inclinations with the demands of the Gospel. However, he argues that this struggle, while difficult, is ultimately liberating, leading to a deeper understanding of ourselves, a stronger will, and a more profound experience of joy and peace.

Sheed concludes by urging readers to overcome their fears and embrace the fullness of life offered by the Church. He challenges them to look beyond superficial appearances and recognize the Church as their true home, a place where their deepest needs are met, their weaknesses are healed, and their potential for greatness is nurtured.

Chapter 30: The Life of Grace

This chapter delves into the transformative power of grace, explaining how it elevates and perfects human nature, enabling us to live a supernatural life in union with God. Sheed begins by distinguishing between God’s presence within us by nature (sustaining us in existence) and His indwelling in us by grace (a free gift received through faith and baptism). He emphasizes that grace isn’t forced upon us but offered as an invitation, requiring our willing cooperation to take root and flourish.

He then describes the profound impact of sanctifying grace on the soul, explaining how it renews us “in our essence and our operations”, making us “new creatures” capable of acting at a supernatural level. He emphasizes that grace doesn’t replace our natural faculties but elevates them, infusing them with new powers and directing them towards God. He uses the analogy of an electric wire, which remains the same wire even when illuminated by electricity, to illustrate how grace transforms the soul without destroying its inherent nature.

Sheed then analyzes the various “habits” infused into the soul through grace, explaining their role in guiding our intellect and will towards God. He differentiates the theological virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity), which relate directly to God as their object, from the moral virtues (Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude), which guide our actions in the created world. He emphasizes that these virtues are real and objective modifications of our souls, empowering us to act in ways that were previously impossible.

He then discusses the interplay of nature and grace, acknowledging the ongoing challenges faced by those seeking to live a holy life. Sheed clarifies that grace doesn’t automatically eliminate our natural weaknesses or inclinations towards sin, but equips us with new desires and supernatural powers to combat them. He emphasizes the importance of cooperating with grace, cultivating virtues through repeated acts, and seeking God’s help through prayer and the sacraments to overcome our sinful tendencies.

The chapter concludes by highlighting the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit in the life of grace, describing His work as a “supernatural impulsion” that empowers us to act above our natural capabilities. He discusses the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, explaining their role in illuminating our minds, strengthening our wills, and guiding us towards a deeper union with God.

Chapter 31: The Landscape of Reality

This chapter summarizes the comprehensive vision of reality offered by the Catholic faith, highlighting its transformative impact on our understanding of ourselves, the world, and our place within it. Sheed argues that this vision, accessible through faith and illuminated by the gift of Understanding, expands our awareness beyond the narrow confines of our immediate experience, opening our minds to the vastness and complexity of God’s creation.

He outlines the key elements of this expanded worldview:

  • Awareness of God: We recognize God as Infinite and Eternal, the source and sustainer of all things, a loving Father who desires our happiness and draws us towards Himself.
  • Awareness of the Spiritual World: We acknowledge the reality of angels and the souls of the departed, realizing that the spiritual realm is as real and influential as the material world we perceive through our senses.
  • Awareness of the Human Race: We understand our interconnectedness within the human family, recognizing our shared origin in Adam, our redemption in Christ, and our common destiny as members of His Mystical Body.
  • Self-Awareness: We gain a deeper understanding of our own nature, recognizing both the grandeur of our creation in God’s image and the woundedness we inherit from the Fall. We see our lives as a journey towards God, filled with opportunities for growth, purification, and union with Him.
  • Appreciation for Matter: We recognize the goodness and value of the material world, understanding it as God’s creation and a reflection of His glory. We see work and physical reality not as obstacles to spiritual growth but as opportunities to cooperate with God’s creative power and to serve our neighbor.

Sheed then addresses the common objection that this worldview is overly complicated and difficult to grasp. He argues that the apparent complexity of Catholic teaching actually leads to a deeper simplicity, as it reveals the underlying unity and order within God’s creation. He compares this to the complexity of the human body, which, while intricate in its structure, functions harmoniously as a whole, enabling us to live and move with ease.

He concludes by highlighting the liberating power of this vision, freeing us from the anxieties and frustrations of a purely secular existence. The Catholic worldview, he argues, offers a coherent framework for understanding suffering, making sense of evil, and navigating the moral challenges of life. It provides a secure foundation for hope, a compelling motivation for virtue, and a path to genuine and lasting peace.

Chapter 32: Idyll and Fact

This concluding chapter addresses the apparent discrepancy between the lofty ideals of the Catholic faith and the often-mediocre reality of Catholic life. Sheed acknowledges the common criticism that Catholics, despite their belief in profound truths and their access to abundant grace, often fail to live up to the high standards of their faith.

He examines the reasons for this discrepancy, emphasizing the ongoing struggle between grace and our fallen nature. He reminds readers that grace, while transformative, doesn’t erase our natural weaknesses or automatically produce holiness. It requires our active cooperation, our willingness to cultivate virtues, and our persistent efforts to overcome our sinful tendencies.

Sheed then analyzes the three levels of intellectual deficiency that hinder our full comprehension and embodiment of the Catholic vision:

  • Ignorance: Many Catholics lack a deep understanding of their faith, having failed to engage with its teachings or to appreciate their practical implications for daily life.
  • Inattention: Even those who possess knowledge often fail to apply it consistently, distracted by the immediate demands of life and the allure of worldly distractions.
  • Incomprehension: Even when we grasp the truths of our faith intellectually, we may struggle to fully comprehend their implications or to live them out consistently.

He then explores the challenges posed by our wounded wills, highlighting the power of sin and the difficulty of aligning our desires with God’s will. He analyzes the seven capital sins, demonstrating how each represents a form of self-assertion against God and a turning away from the true source of happiness. He emphasizes that sin, while offering the illusion of autonomy and immediate gratification, ultimately leads to frustration, emptiness, and a diminished life.

Sheed examines the subtle and pervasive influence of the Devil, highlighting his ability to exploit our weaknesses and to tempt us towards sin. He clarifies that, while Satan has no direct power over our souls, he can influence our thoughts and actions through his mastery of the material world and his cunning manipulation of our bodily desires.

He concludes by reminding readers that, despite our failings, the power of grace is always available to heal and transform us. He encourages perseverance in the struggle for holiness, emphasizing that even small victories over sin and gradual progress in virtue are significant steps towards achieving our full potential as children of God. He reminds us that the saint is simply the “successful man”, one who has fully harmonized his nature with grace, achieving a state of peace and fulfillment that points the way for all of us. Sanctity, he argues, isn’t a distant ideal but a reachable goal, the ultimate fulfillment of our humanity and the true measure of a life well-lived.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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