Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wielockx on Aquinas on the role of the senses in the beatific vision

"When Thomas refers to the beatific vision in verse 28 [of the Adore te deuote], he does not do so merely in terms of formal beatitude, which is the intuitive intellection of God. Rather, he refers to the beatific vision under a particular aspect, which he clearly and repeatedly expresses in his commentary on the Sentences: after the resurrection of the body, the beatific vision will be accompanied by an act of sense perception by which one sees Jesus. In verse 5, the sense of sight (as well as touch and taste) is said to fail in perceiving Jesus under the sacramental species. It is significant that the term uisus is not discarded but appears at the culmination of the poem, indicating the place of sight in the eschatological fulfillment of the economy of salvation.
     "According to Thomas, sense perception and the beatific vision particularly are linked. The act of sense perception whereby one sees Jesus in beatitude is not just an exercise of sense experience, nor is it a more or less gratuitous act, which, should it be lacking, the blessed intellect would nonetheless experience an equal beatitude. Thomas is clear about this in his commentary on the Sentences: blessedness is the achievement of the whole human being, soul and body. Although blessedness is essentially an act of the soul, the body will possess some kind of blessedness, insofar as the beatified person will see God in his visible creatures and, above all, in the body of Christ. So, not only is sense perception an integral part of the beatific vision, it is itself a kind of blessedness. In another text, Thomas states clearly that the beatified intellect will not be engaged only in contemplation of the divine essence as such, but that it will also perceive God in the corporeal realities it sees, just as one perceives life in perceiving language. Here lies the significance of the formulation that concludes the poem, Adoro te deuote: uisu sim beatus tue glorie, 'that at the sight of your glory I may be blessed.'
     "In short, without the specific integration of sense perception, faith proves impossible, and the beatific vision unreal."

     Robert Wielockx, "Poetry and theology in the Adore te deuote: Thomas Aquinas on the Eucharist and Christ's uniqueness," in Christ among the medieval Dominicans: representations of Christ in the texts and images of the Order of Preachers, Notre Dame conferences in medieval studies 7, ed. Kent Emery, Jr., and Joseph Wawrykow (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998), 169-170.