De Koninck on mercy

In preparing our post on the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we had cause to review Charles De Koninck’s wonderful book on Our Lady, Ego Sapientia. Given some of the discussions in the Catholic world over the past couple of weeks, we were struck by this passage (from no. XXIV, Ubi Humilitas, Ibi Sapientia):

Humility touches the very cause of mercy. Mercy, in effect, looks at the inferior as such. Now, God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble—Deus superbis resistit, humilibus autem dat gratiam (James IV, 6; Prov. III, 34). Mercy only lavishes its bounty over the inferior who recognizes himself as such, and the more inferior he will be, the more he will have reason to humble himself. But, this humility will only be productive if it is rooted in a knowledge wherein we see at the same time how we are not, and how powerful is the one who is Lord over us. The very great humility of the Blessed Virgin must rest on faith in the omnipotence of God. Et beata, quae crededisti, quoniam perficienter ea, quae dicta sunt tibi a Domino—Happy is she who believed! cries St. Elizabeth, “for the promises made her by the Lord will be fulfilled” (Luke I, 45).

De Koninck goes on to observe, in no. XXVI, Felix Culpa!:

Nigra sum, sed formosa. In fact, mercy manifested itself even beyond the assumption of human nature by means of birth. Man, whom God had established in a state of original justice infinitely superior to all that could belong to him by nature, had succumbed to the temptation of being himself the origin of the dignity to which God deigned to elevate him. Et homo cum in honore esset, non intellixit: comparatus est jumentis insipientibus, et similis factus est illis—And man, while he was in his splendor, did not understand: he became comparable to the stupid beasts, and he became like them (Ps. XLVIII, 13,21). By original sin, human nature became vulnerable. We are born in a state of misery properly speaking. Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum: et in peccatis concepit me mater mea—Behold I was born in iniquity and my mother conceived me in sin (Ps. L, 7).

Now sin is not just any kind of fault: it is that fault which is furthest from God. Evil properly speaking is not simple privation, it is opposed to good as a contrary. Consequently, the mercy which will come face to face with evil, which will be victorious over evil, will also be, in a sense, the greatest possible. The manifestation of the divine omnipotence will make here, within the universe itself, a sort of return to itself: it will be like the plentitude of mercy. Evil (malus poenae) was ordered to the greatest manifestation of mercy conceivable. O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem—O happy fault which merited for us such and so great a Redeemer (Office of Holy Saturday).

If, according to the ordinary power of God, man alone could be redeemed, is this not due to the very imperfection of our intelligence, which is also the root of the contrariety of the two natures? The fallen angel, on the contrary, was immediately obstinate and confirmed in evil. This is because angelic intelligence is so perfect that it grasps without composition and division and without discourse all that we know by simple apprehension, by the understanding of principles and by a science very difficult to acquire: it grasps its object in an immutable manner, and the adhesion of the will is also fixed and immutable. Man is as a consequence more open to mercy by his very imperfection. The free will of man remains as flexible after choice as it was before this choice; on the contrary, the free will of the angel, flexible before the choice, becomes, after this choice, immutably fixed.

(Emphasis supplied.) There is, we think, much to digest in De Koninck’s treatment of mercy, to say nothing of his discussion of the excellence of Our Lady.

Perhaps one of the bright young Catholic writers today could discuss certain interventions of the recent magisterium in the context of De Koninck’s treatment of mercy in Ego Sapientia.