A fragmentary reading on emergent notions: seraphic love and affectio iustitiae

Recently I submitted an article to a journal on eco-phenomenology and how eco-phenomenology satisfies the intentions of ecological concern. For this blog post, I thought it would be good to establish a reference point for developing my thoughts on a slightly different subject: eco-theology. On that note, it seems appropriate to discuss two notions—seraphic love and affectio iustitiae—emerging from my eco-phenomenology.

Not to give too much background, but my eco-phenomenology presents Francis of Assisi as the prime mediator (or intermediator) in service of new imagination vis cogitativa, whose actions afford us with satisfaction of ecological concern—i.e., satisfaction of the estimative power. (In this context, the estimative power is that which, by the limitation of its very nature, oppresses creatures). The visionary-love of the seraphic[1] that Francis underwent was, and is, that from which one acts-in-care for the integral good of creation. Indeed, an application of the principle of seraphic love is demonstration of care [fürsorge][2]–a hospitalization—of the souls of all creatures. And applying this principle to the appropriate degree results in satisfaction of the needs of the estimative power.

Pope Francis describes (romantically though not naively so), what an application of the principle of seraphic love looks like:

Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, [S. Francis] burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them ‘to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason.’ His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’” Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour.[3]

In this passage, Pope Francis issues forth a specific sense of what seraphic love is as an important principle of eco-phenomenology: i.e., “[A]n integral ecology…for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human.”[4] Somewhat paradoxically, “categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology” are not categories of transcendental phenomenology, “the unknowable,” or something else. They are, rather, categories of openness in an intermediary form of life. By virtue of its openness, the actions of the intermediary send-forth an image of right-relationship that governs other forms of life, and it does this through application of particular matters toward universal notions—for example, the particular matter of gratitude toward the universal notion of social love. Enlivened by the splendor shining-forth from particular acts of gratitude unique to its own essence, the light of the intermediary illumines thus small and great things like; intelligent and dumb things, alike.

How do we attain to such light?

Seraphic love manifests via complete reception of stigmata. “Stigmata” refers, theologically, to the five crucifixion points, or wounds, of Christ’s passion: hands, feet, and side pierced by the lancea (cf. John 19:34). More specifically, it refers to a recipient taking-onthe crucifixion wounds of Christ through a process of stigmatization. Sander Vloebergs’ exploration of stigmatization presents an “inclusive” Dominican definition of stigmata as “evidence of suffering undergone in the attempt to follow Christ.”[5] According to Vloebergs, some consider S. Francis’s stigmatization as “the most famous and influential case” of serving as “the exemplar model [of] the Stigmatized, the alter Christus,” but not everyone thinks so.[6] According to Vloebergs, skepticism concerning the stigmata of Francis deals with whether the physical wounds of the stigmata were present well before his death, or not. Vloebergs presents his findings within the context of the “ambiguity between outer miracle and inner mysticism.” What is relevant here is the reception of stigmata as importantly involving the invisible nature of seraphic love, and this I term a seraphic spirit of mind.

Seraphic love as seraphic spirit of mind originates from Bonaventure’s account of S. Francis’s seraphic vision atop a Mt. Alvernia. A fragment of it reads:

This [seraphic] vision had been presented to his eyes by Divine Providence, that the friend of Christ might know that he was to be transformed into Christ crucified, not by the martyrdom of the flesh, but by the fire of the spirit.[7]

Francis is said to have received a complete reception of stigmata, visible and invisible. And in accounting for the invisible nature of it, we look to the spiritual degrees of Francis’s seraphic vision, represented by the apparition of living angelic beings, having “six wings, all on fire.” In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the role of “the seraphim” is parallel to the role of the cherubim, who are depicted as sword-bearers of God’s fiery-justice (cf. Genesis 3:24). As to what the identity of the seraphim most closely resembles,Jewish scholarship suggests “the flying fiery serpent” in the Book of Isaiah (14:29-30), which reads as follows:

Do not rejoice…that the rod that struck you is broken, for from the root of the snake will come forth an adder, and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent. The firstborn of the poor will graze, and the needy lie down in safety; but I will make your root die of famine, and your remnant I will kill.[8]

The mythos of this passage is peculiar, particularly the seraphic spiritas “the fruit of the adder.” What could this mean? Perhaps seraphic spiritis a biting-spirit of love through which one’s passions are melded to conform to Christ-crucified, “not by the martyrdom of the flesh, but by the fire of the spirit.” The seraphic adjoining a host (in this case, S. Francis) inflames its user with a “complete conflagration of mind.”[9] The process of conflagration (i.e., the process of the fire of the spirit) is likened unto a wildfire burning and destroying the impurities of a person (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7; Psalm 66:10). The wildfire stokes an affection for justice as it indwells the will to act righteously, in purity. The signs of wildfire in the mind of a person, or as Vloebergs might say the signs of “eternal desire” in the mind of a person, fashions an individual in virtue. In other words, the perfection of virtue results from an indwelling process of seraphic spirit. Moreover, the intention of Christ’s passion is an arming of the mind and body to “no longer [be] bound by human desires but by the will of God” (cf. 1 Peter 4:1-2). Arriving at the intentions of this passion begins with the burning away of human desire, marked by impressions of mind. When the invisible nature of stigmata is fully present in the mind, the visible nature of it may begin to manifest; for, as “God is spirit,” the spirit incarnates (cf. John 4:24). So, the invisible nature of stigmata is the presence of mental signs of God’s intention toward us in our passion, and this culminates in a complete reception, a complete incarnation, of the love of God. But we must exercise cooperation with the seraphic spirit of mind to get there.

The will’s exercise of the signs of wildfire are an exercise of what Duns Scotus calls affectio iustitiae (i.e., “affection for justice”). The affectio iustitiae is a moderatrix “restraining or moderating” the lesser passions of the intellective (or sensitive) appetites in a free will.[10] The will without this moderatrix is a will engrossed in lower passions (i.e., the “affection for advantage” or the affectio commodi); or, perhaps engrossed too much in higher passions (e.g., intellectualism). Such a will is not totally free according. According to Duns Scotus:

If, along the lines of Anselm’s thought experiment in On the Fall of the Devil, one imagines an angel that had the affectio commodi and not the affectio iustitiae—i.e., one that had intellective appetite merely as that sort of appetite and not as free—such an angel could not refrain from willing advantageous things or from willing them in the highest [detrimental] degree…that affectio iustitiae…is the innate liberty of the will.[11]

The affection for justice serves the objective of justice. “Justice,” as Duns Scotus and others have it, is “rectitude of will for its own sake [and] has to do with another.”[12] As justice is desired, an “affection for justice” (affectio iustitiae) is required to develop rectitude of will necessary for the carrying-out of justice. Undergoing the complete conflagration of mind is likened unto practicing or exercising the affectio iustitiae. One possible way to practice moderating the passions, then, is to exercise the vis cogitativa with respect to moderation. According to theologian James Keating, exercising it to moderation involves a union of intellect and heart in holiness that abnegates popular imagination for new imagination.[13] One thing seems clear about the usefulness of the abnegation of popular imagination, and that is that an act of holy union might well be contrary to political activism. This would be beneficial for eco-theology because, unlike forms of political activism, exercise of affectio iustitiae restrains the will in order to act in-rectitude for its own sake and, at the same time, for another’s ultimate, immediate good.[14] The suggestion here is that acting-for the intentions of ecological concern should not be relegated to the political sphere but to some divine sphere. By “divine sphere” we mean that which one is habituated to practice, recognize, and discern the charisms of one’s life to deeper revelation and mystery. The charisms of one’s life may include evangelical poverty, penance, charity, grace, peace, humility, and others. Such a divine sphere would emanate from one’s detachment of earthly things to “things above” (Colossians 3:2). The practitioner, by being disposed the mind set on things above, would become a seraphic practitioner, through which social love is enacted, in justice, for the integral good of creation.

So much then for thoughts on eco-theology.

REFERENCES

Bonaventure (1868). The Life of St. Francis of Assisi. Edward, Henry (ed.). London. [Online]. Available: http://www.saintsbooks.net/books/St.%20Bonaventure%20-%20The%20Life%20of%20St.%20Francis%20of%20Assisi.pdf. (June 2020).

Duns Scotus, John (1997). “God’s Justice,” in Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality. Part IV, 183-194. Frank, William (ed.). D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. Print.

Heidegger, Martin (2008). Being and Time. Macquarrie & Robinson (trans.). US: Harper & Row Publishers. Translated from the German Sein und Zeit (7th ed.) Neomarius Verlag, Tūbingen. Print.

Hirsch & Benzinger (2011). “Seraphim” in Jewish Encyclopedia,Available: jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13437-seraphim. (Spring 2020).

Keating, James (2015). The Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ. NY: Paulist Press. Print.

Mcginn, Bernard (2006). The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. NY: Modern Library. Print.

Pope Francis (2015). “Ecological Education and Spirituality” in Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Vatican City. [Online]. Available: w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.pdf#page=58. (Spring 2020).

Williams, Thomas (2003). “From Metaethics to Action Theory” in The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus. Williams (ed.). UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 332-351, print.

Vloebergs, Sander (2016). “Wounding love: a mystical-theological exploration of stigmatization,” in the International Journal of Philosophy and Theology,vol. 2: 1-2. Doi: 10.1080/21692327.2016.1199968.


[1] cf. Bonaventure, The Biography of St. Francis, 163-165. The “visionary-love of the seraphic” is another way of considering the integrated product, the singular act, of S. Francis’s “seraphic vision” atop Mt. La Verna.

[2] Heidegger, Being and Time, I.2, ¶12:57. “Being towards the world [Sein zur Welt] is essentially concern” (84).

[3] Francis, Laudato si’, no. 11

[4] Ibid.

[5] Vloebergs, “Wounding love,” 3-5

[6] Ibid.

[7] Bonaventure, The Life of St. Francis of Assisi, 162-164.

[8] cf. Hirsch and Benzinger, “Seraphim.”

[9] Mcginn, Christian Mysticism, 249

[10] Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus, 343-346

[11] Ibid., 346

[12] Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality, 183-184

[13] Keating, Heart of the Diaconate, 40-42

[14] cf. Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality, 183-184

Leave a charitable reply!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s