The Weblog at The View from the Core - Fri. 08/21/09 08:55:57 PM
On Providence and Secondary Causes
The note "We are God's partners in matters of life and death" at Politico has caused quite a stir (ellipsis in original):
A reader points out that President Obama's call with the rabbis today [Aug. 19] — as recorded in Rabbi Jack Moline's and other clerics' Twitter feeds — freights health care reform with a great deal of religious meaning, and veers into the blend of policy and faith that outraged liberals in the last administration.
"We are God's partners in matters of life and death," Obama said, according to Moline (paging Sarah Palin...), quoting from the Rosh Hashanah prayer that says that in the holiday period, it is decided "who shall live and who shall die."
The president ended the call by wishing the rabbis "shanah tovah," or happy new year — in reference to the High Holidays a month from now.
Obama's words We are God's partners in matters of life and death have sparked outrage everywhere on the Right. If anybody on the Left has been perturbed by his words, it's hard to tell though the Left would surely have greeted with sputtering outrage any such pronouncement from the likes of, say, George W. Bush.
So, was Obama being, as some accuse, blasphemous or otherwise outrageous? Given that we have only a few words out of context to go by, I don't see anything in the remarks that are not compatible with a Catholic understanding of these things; see, for instance Providence and secondary causes in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (footnotes omitted):
306 God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures' co-operation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God's greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan.
307 To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of "subduing" the earth and having dominion over it. God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors. Though often unconscious collaborators with God's will, they can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by their actions, their prayers and their sufferings. They then fully become "God's fellow workers" and co-workers for his kingdom.
308 The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes: "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Far from diminishing the creature's dignity, this truth enhances it. Drawn from nothingness by God's power, wisdom and goodness, it can do nothing if it is cut off from its origin, for "without a Creator the creature vanishes." Still less can a creature attain its ultimate end without the help of God's grace.
Indeed, given the simple facts of human conception, and the life-saving measures rendered by health-care professionals all over the world every day, I must say I am confounded by what seems to be a knee-jerk condemnation of the obvious. Again, though, we have only a few words out of context, and Obama's real meaning may be other than what it would appear as is often, I think, the case.
Here follows the text of the U'Netaneh Tokef, the prayer from which the president drew some of his remarks (emphasis in original).
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The following is
the full translated text of the great prayer, "U'Netaneh Tokef," attributed to
Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, as related to Rabbi Klonimus ben Meshullam
Congregation and chazzan:
So now, the Kedushah prayer shall ascend to You, for
You, our God, are King.
All mankind will pass before You like members of the flock. Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the fixed needs of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.
chazzan [in some congregations this is recited only by the chazzan]:
Remove the Evil of the Decree!
Congregation and chazzan:
It is true that You are their Creator and You know
their inclination, for they are flesh and blood. A man's origin is from dust and his
destiny is back to dust, at risk of his life he earns his bread; he is likened to a broken
shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing
wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream.
But You are the King, the Living and
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