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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

THE ARK BEING OPEN: 

Congregation and chazzan:

So now, the Kedushah prayer shall ascend to You, for You, our God, are King.

Congregation and chazzan:

Let us now relate the power of this day's holiness, for it is awesome and frightening. On it Your Kingship will be exalted; Your throne will be firmed with kindness and You will sit upon it in truth. It is true that You alone are the One Who judges, proves, knows, and bears witness; Who writes and seats, (counts and calculates); Who remembers all that was forgotten. You will open the Book of Chronicles - it will read itself, and everyone's signature is in it. The great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin sound will be heard. Angels will hasten, a trembling and terror will seize them - and they will say, 'Behold, it is the Day of Judgment, to muster the heavenly host for judgment!'- for they cannot be vindicated in Your eyes in judgment. 

Chazzan:

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.

Congregation then chazzan [in some congregations this is recited only by the chazzan]:

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquillity and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.

Congregation aloud, then chazzan:

But REPENTANCE, PRAYER and CHARITY

Remove the Evil of the Decree!

Congregation and chazzan:

For Your Name signifies Your praise: hard to anger and easy to appease, for You do not wish the death of one deserving death, but that he repent from his way and live. Until the day of his death You await him; if he repents You will accept him immediately.

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.

Congregation aloud, then chazzan:

But You are the King, the Living and Enduring G-d.

THE ARK IS CLOSED

Congregation then chazzan:

There is no set span to Your years and there is no end to the length of Your days. It is impossible to estimate the angelic chariots of Your glory and to elucidate Your Name's inscrutability. Your Name is worthy of You and You are worthy of Your Name, and You have included Your Name in our name.

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Lane Core Jr. CIW P — Fri. 08/21/09 08:55:57 PM
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