Biblical Stages in the Christian Life
November 24, 2008
Father Paul Quay died in Chicago at Loyola University on October 10, 1994. He was 70 years old. Although his formal academic doctorate was in Theoretical Physics, his secondary area of interest was theology. He wrote on both morals and spirituality. When he died, he held the position of Research Professor of Philosophy at the same university. His mother preceded him in death by five months. This posthumous book of 438 pages was first conceived as a project in 1964 through conversation with Winoc De Broucker, SJ, and then again in 1969 as a result of further investigation at Fourvière (Lyons) with Henri de Lubac, SJ. The book is really the exploration of the thought of de Lubac, and was distilled into its present form after being presented first as a university course, then as symposium lectures, then as essays. The book is therefore the result of thirty years of meditation upon the theme of “Recapitulation”, that is, how the individual Christian goes through “biblical stages” of gradual transformation into the likeness of Christ. Father Quay’s concern is practical and concrete through the vehicle of his massive and refined erudition. Some of the motivation to ponder these things came from Prof. Alfred Shatkin of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology–convinced atheist who forced Quay to answer hard questions about why Catholics or Christians in general might at times be no better or worse than atheists. Why is there this phenomenon of “baptized pagans”? The book deserves a wider appreciation. Hopefully it will find a translation into other European languages in the near future. There are three major parts: I. Adam and Christ: Original Sin; II. Recapitulation in Christ; III. The Church, the New Israel. The goal of the Christian life is maturity, and maturity in Christ is charity or love, as St. Ignatius says in the Contemplation on Love. Sacrificial love is not sentimentality. So how do we make progress in the Lord, and how do we go beyond “infancy” to “adulthood”? Father Quay explains in great detail the steps that are inherent in Sacred Scripture’s presentation of spiritual development. The hermeneutical difficulties experienced by various generations of Christian thinkers and writers are outlined for us in a clear and direct style. The author is painstakingly precise. His definition of “the spiritual sense of Scripture” is particularly well-defined and exact. It seems that, for the West, a disaster began with the detachment of learning from faith in divine revelation. Faith and reason were separated by a divorce, although very gradually and often not intentionally. We have arrived at the end of the present millennium with no faith at all, either in God or in man. The substitutes have all been found wanting, if not murderous. Father Quay explains the progressive spiritual decline of the West between the Renaissance and our own time. And Catholics need not boast–they have lost the spiritual sense of Scripture just as Protestants have. What we have here is the loss of the Christian sense of dependence upon God and his revelation. The literal sense alone constricts the source itself and prevents us from really understanding what is intended by the Bible, especially the Old Testament. It has become a body of texts for mere technicians, not a vision of history and the explanation of human existence itself. Quay calls this “Marcion’s Revenge: the Disappearance of the Old Testament” (Chapter 20, pp. 396-422). Moreover, since the Enlightenment even the literal sense of Scripture has been under attack by the savants, referred to by Paul Johnson as “intellectuals”. As he says on page 414, “Now, the damage done by an academic approach to the faith through the growth of Western university culture seems to have come in large measure from the late scholasticism that increasingly ignored or misunderstood the spiritual senses of the Bible.” Our contemporary fascination with cultural analysis is the symptom, not the cause, of a prior phenomenon in the loss of the transcendent. Love of God has been replaced with self-preoccupation. Incidentally, Quay is clear that St. Thomas Aquinas is not to be classified among the rationalists. Thomas had not lost or bypassed the spiritual sense of Scripture (pp. 414-415). After some comments on Christianity outside the West, and its future in those places, the book ends with some reflections on the future more generally, and an epilogue. He says, “It is essential, however, to remember that recapitulation is a sharing in the inner life of Jesus.” (p. 421) Evil in the world is only overcome by love, and that love is ultimately seen in the Trinity. We grow in Christ by suffering and learning to love as He loves us already. While it sounds so trite, what Father Quay has done for us is clarify the steps along the way, especially to show how the alternatives have produced the present state of affairs in our Western world. This book is about structures. It is about the structure of charity, the structures of growth, and the structure of the Christian life. It is about the structure of the human person, that is, of ourselves, how we are structurally in sin, and how we can achieve by God’s grace a transformation that makes us like Christ. While we take for granted the “what” in our thoughts about the Christian life, what Father Quay does is demonstrate that the “how” is both coherent and imperative today. Sacred Scripture is more relevant than ever, but only if it is fully grasped in all its senses.