Thursday, February 28, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Knowledge of the Physical World

I'm not sure that I can do this topic justice, owing to the inadequacy of my education in philosophy. However, it's important enough that I want to try.

St. Thomas insists that we do have real knowledge of the physical world.
Some have asserted that our intellectual faculties know only the impression made on them; as, for example, that sense is cognizant only of the impression made on its own organ. According to this theory, the intellect understands only its own impression, namely, the intelligible species which it has received, so that this species is what is understood.

This is, however, manifestly false for two reasons.

First, because the things we understand are the objects of science; therefore if what we understand is merely the intelligible species in the soul, it would follow that every science would not be concerned with objects outside the soul, but only with the intelligible species within the soul; thus, according to the teaching of the Platonists all science is about ideas, which they held to be actually understood.

Secondly, it is untrue, because it would lead to the opinion of the ancients who maintained that "whatever seems, is true" [Aristotle, Metaph. iii. 5], and that consequently contradictories are true simultaneously. For if the faculty knows its own impression only, it can judge of that only. Now a thing seems according to the impression made on the cognitive faculty. Consequently the cognitive faculty will always judge of its own impression as such; and so every judgment will be true: for instance, if taste perceived only its own impression, when anyone with a healthy taste perceives that honey is sweet, he would judge truly; and if anyone with a corrupt taste perceives that honey is bitter, this would be equally true; for each would judge according to the impression on his taste. Thus every opinion would be equally true; in fact, every sort of apprehension (ST I Q85 A2).
It's not too hard to see here an obvious rejection of what eventually became the stumbling block of modernity: that is, skepticism. Contrary to this, St. Thomas says that we do know the real world:
Therefore it must be said that the intelligible species is related to the intellect as that by which it understands: which is proved thus. There is a twofold action (Metaph. ix, Did. viii, 8), one which remains in the agent; for instance, to see and to understand; and another which passes into an external object; for instance, to heat and to cut; and each of these actions proceeds in virtue of some form. And as the form from which proceeds an act tending to something external is the likeness of the object of the action, as heat in the heater is a likeness of the thing heated; so the form from which proceeds an action remaining in the agent is the likeness of the object. Hence that by which the sight sees is the likeness of the visible thing; and the likeness of the thing understood, that is, the intelligible species, is the form by which the intellect understands. But since the intellect reflects upon itself, by such reflection it understands both its own act of intelligence, and the species by which it understands. Thus the intelligible species is that which is understood secondarily; but that which is primarily understood is the object, of which the species is the likeness. This also appears from the opinion of the ancient philosophers, who said that "like is known by like." For they said that the soul knows the earth outside itself, by the earth within itself; and so of the rest. If, therefore, we take the species of the earth instead of the earth, according to Aristotle (De Anima iii, 8), who says "that a stone is not in the soul, but only the likeness of the stone"; it follows that the soul knows external things by means of its intelligible species (ibid.)
Something similar is said by Pope Benedict in Jesus of Nazareth:
Knowing always involves some sort of equality. "If the eye were not sunlike, it could never see the sun," as Goethe said, alluding to an idea of Plotinus. Every process of coming to know something includes in one form or another a process of assimilation, a sort of inner unification of the knower with the known (p. 340).
To try and put these two together: the equality of which the Pope speaks is - for purposes of our knowledge of our world - accomplished through the mediation of the senses, by which we form "phantasms" (mental images or representations of real objects) and arrive at intelligible species - by means of which we know external things.

What is an "intelligible species"?
Intelligible species are the intellect's versions of the forms which give those extramental things their nature or quiddity (source, towards the bottom of the page).
Well this whole post seems pretty convoluted to me, unfortunately, so I have to apologize for the lack of clarity. The point, however, is that by means of our senses we achieve real knowledge of the world. I have written about this more than once, but I do so because it's important. There has to be a correspondence between the world and what we know about the world, or we would be unable to live in it. Furthermore, as Aquinas points out, it's fundamentally irrational to suggest otherwise: it means that two people could say contradictory things about the world ("honey is sweet"/"honey is bitter") and both could be "true". But this is impossible.

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Immortality of the Body

What Adam lost at the Fall was not an immortality of the body that he possessed by nature; rather, it was an immortality of the body that he possessed by the grace of God.

St. Thomas says this as part of a discussion of the fact that our bodies are corruptible by nature in ST I Q76.
Perhaps someone might attempt to answer this by saying that before sin the human body was incorruptible. This answer does not seem sufficient; because before sin the human body was immortal not by nature, but by a gift of Divine grace; otherwise its immortality would not be forfeited through sin, as neither was the immortality of the devil (ibid., A5 ad 1).
Satan does not lose his immortality by his sin because he is immortal by his nature. We do not possess immortality by nature, or else we could not lose it either (because we would cease to have a human nature if our nature lost one of its essential characteristics). Rather, by Adam's sin his fellowship with God was broken, and he lost the grace by which he was preserved incorruptible (or by which he would have been incorruptible).

Monday, February 25, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Chesterton

I bumped into this great passage from Chesterton's biography of St. Thomas elsewhere and simply had to blog it here, too :-)
Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody's system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody's sense of reality; to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense (p. 134).
Against all this the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkeleian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists; since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled eggs by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs. The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God (p. 135-136; emphasis added).
I am going to have to read this book again. :-)

Wading Through the Reading List

I finally finished the Pope's Jesus of Nazareth. I breathe a sigh of relief: for some reason this book was incredibly tedious to me. I had to force my way through it. To be sure, I found it to be full of insights on the life of our Lord, but inexplicably it did not hold my interest.

Not so the next book on my list: Mary: The Church at the Source. Already I find it much more engaging. There is some interesting material here on the history of Vatican II, an introduction by (then Cardinal) Ratzinger to Pope JPII's encyclical Redemptoris Mater, and more. I'm planning at least one or two posts already.

After this I've got two more books by Ratzinger on my shelves, and then I'll be moving on to other stuff again for a while. Perhaps after Rice and Gambero (see the sidebar) I'll read some more Chesterton.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Evil Part 2

In part 1, I looked at St. Thomas' view that evil is a privation, which follows from the fact that the good and being are the same thing. One question that might reasonably follow from this position is whether evil can possibly be found in a thing if evil is a privation?
Objection 2. Further, "being" and "thing" are convertible. If therefore evil is a being in things, it follows that evil is a thing, which is contrary to what has been said.

Objection 3. Further, "the white unmixed with black is the most white," as the Philosopher says (Topic. iii, 4). Therefore also the good unmixed with evil is the greater good. But God makes always what is best, much more than nature does. Therefore in things made by God there is no evil (ST I Q48 A2).
St. Thomas replies that since the perfection of the universe requires inequality in things, and since differences of goodness imply privations of one sort or another, there are necessarily evils of various sorts in creation.
As, therefore, the perfection of the universe requires that there should be not only beings incorruptible, but also corruptible beings; so the perfection of the universe requires that there should be some which can fail in goodness, and thence it follows that sometimes they do fail. Now it is in this that evil consists, namely, in the fact that a thing fails in goodness. Hence it is clear that evil is found in things, as corruption also is found; for corruption is itself an evil (ibid.; emphasis added).
An incorruptible being in Aquinas' reckoning is one that does not change, because corruption is a species of change: hence, by incorruptible beings, he means angels.

St. Thomas' reply to Objection 3 above is worth including here:
God and nature and any other agent make what is best in the whole, but not what is best in every single part, except in order to the whole, as was said above. And the whole itself, which is the universe of creatures, is all the better and more perfect if some things in it can fail in goodness, and do sometimes fail, God not preventing this. This happens, firstly, because "it belongs to Providence not to destroy, but to save nature," as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv); but it belongs to nature that what may fail should sometimes fail; secondly, because, as Augustine says (Enchir. 11), "God is so powerful that He can even make good out of evil." Hence many good things would be taken away if God permitted no evil to exist; for fire would not be generated if air was not corrupted, nor would the life of a lion be preserved unless the ass were killed. Neither would avenging justice nor the patience of a sufferer be praised if there were no injustice (ibid., ad 3).
There is no getting around the fact that in some sense there is "evil" in the world as created by God. The perfection of the whole is what must be in view when God says in Genesis that the creation was "very good", since there are different degrees of perfection among creatures.

I think what St. Thomas says about God not "destroying" but "saving" nature is very powerful. We are not puppets on a string, which would be contrary to our nature as God's image-bearers and moral agents. It's this sort of thing that highlights the figurative language of Isaiah 65:25:
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together; the lion and the ox shall eat straw; and dust shall be the serpent's food: they shall not hurt nor kill in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.
It's contrary to a lion's nature to eat straw; Isaiah does not mean to say that carnivores will become herbivores, but rather he is saying something about the radically different sort of peace and harmony that will characterize the new heavens and the new earth (v. 1). As the editors of the CCD Bible say about Isaiah 11:6-9:
This picture of the idyllic harmony of paradise is a dramatic symbol of the universal piece and justice of Messianic times.
Until then - until there is a new heavens and a new earth - we find imperfection in this world, and corruption that is a feature of how God made the world. That's why we have maggots and worms and buzzards: to clean up the corruption. The world works, and it is very good.

I do not see the point

I don't understand the usefulness of stuff like this.

In my opinion it's long, long, long past time to leave this personal stuff behind. If the subject of the post is so objectionable, it seems to me that he can easily be ignored: any arguments he makes against the Church are unlikely to be uniquely his, after 500 years of Protestantism. There is simply no need for the personal stuff.

I mean no offense to Dave, whose work I respect and from which I have benefited personally.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Rotini, Lent, and Canon Law

Turretinfan asks:
[I]s my consumption of Rotini with meat sauce on Friday during Lent a mortal sin for me, or only for my Catholic neighbors? Is Lent more like Ramadan or the Jewish Sabbath?
Lent is not exactly like Ramadan nor the Jewish Sabbath.

Lenten observance is governed by Canon Law. Catholics are obliged to observe Lent in accordance with Canon Law because Catholics are obliged to obey the Church. Because non-Catholics are not subject to Canon Law, they are not bound to the observance of Lent (although they certainly might profit from such an observance if done with proper intent):
Merely ecclesiastical laws bind those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, possess the efficient use of reason, and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, have completed seven years of age (Code of Canon Law, Title I, Canon 11).
Hence non-Catholics are not bound to observe Lent (although the case is different, as far as I know, for Catholics who leave the Church; they would still be bound to this (among other things) unless canon law says otherwise someplace).

Canon Law says this about days of penance:
Can. 1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.

Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.
Note that canon 1253 grants a conference of bishops (as, for example, the USCCB) the authority to modify these obligations somewhat. The USCCB has done so:
Fridays During Lent—In the United States, the tradition of abstaining from meat on each Friday during Lent is maintained.

Fridays Throughout the Year—In memory of Christ's suffering and death, the Church prescribes making each Friday throughout the year a penitential day. All of us are urged to prepare appropriately for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday.
That same page goes on to describe a variety of penitential practices which may be substituted for abstaining from meat on Fridays outside of Lent.

Anyway, there are two points here: first, in canon law the Church has ordained that Catholics must abstain from meat during Lent, subject to amendment by the regional conference of bishops; second, the USCCB has modified this so that abstinence from meat during Lent is only obligatory on Fridays. The reason I make the second point is to identify the reason for the difference between the American observance of Lent and what is specified in canon law.

Violation of canon law is not a mortal sin per se, if by that it is meant that it would necessarily be a sin to do something forbidden by canon law if the Church had not made a law concerning it. Hence if there were no laws concerning observance of Lent, failure to observe it would not be a mortal sin; on the other hand, the fact that there are canons regarding the sacraments is not why we have sacraments, which were ordained by the Lord. What makes deliberate, willful, knowing violation of canon law a mortal sin is the duty that Catholics have to obey the Church. So if your Catholic neighbor fails to observe Lent properly, this might not be a mortal sin if he does so in ignorance of his duty (due to poor catechesis, for example) or if he does so without deliberately, willfully, and knowingly intending to disobey the Church. In any case, it could not be a mortal sin for a non-Catholic to ignore Lenten observance, since he is not bound by canon law.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Funny. I do not recall being asked

Turretinfan waxes hyperbolic in his scorn for a certain Catholic apologist:
Not even his Catholic supporters buy it any more.
Really? I don't recall being asked my opinion. In fact, I seriously doubt that any of us were questioned about it - but maybe my unimportance has led to my being excluded. After all, who am I? No one of consequence. But if Dave is so contemptible in the eyes of Turretinfan and others, I can't help wondering why they don't just ignore him. It's not like there aren't other well-qualified Catholic apologists. Jimmy Akin comes to mind, or Karl Keating (or Catholic Answers generally), if they want a sparring partner.

As for me: scorn heaped upon someone that I respect is a lost cause if its purpose is to persuade me that I ought to return to the Protestant fold. I seriously doubt that I'm alone in feeling that way.

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Evil Part 1

Before we can properly understand what St. Thomas has to say about evil, we have to understand what he says about good.
One opposite is known through the other, as darkness is known through light. Hence also what evil is must be known from the nature of good (ST I Q48 A1).
By all means feel free to go to the source for this subject; otherwise, you can take a look at my modest attempt to understand what he says about it here.

Since (as St. Thomas says) "goodness and being are really the same," it follows that evil cannot be a being, since this would make good and evil the same thing - which is irrational. Hence we must conclude that evil is really privation, or "the absence of good:"
Now, we have said above that good is everything appetible; and thus, since every nature desires its own being and its own perfection, it must be said also that the being and the perfection of any nature is good. Hence it cannot be that evil signifies being, or any form or nature. Therefore it must be that by the name of evil is signified the absence of good. And this is what is meant by saying that "evil is neither a being nor a good." For since being, as such, is good, the absence of one implies the absence of the other (ST I Q48 A1; emphasis added).
Aquinas goes on to explains this a bit more in the same article, and I think what he has to say is instructive for understanding his philosophy on this point. With respect to good and evil in morality, he says:
Good and evil are not constitutive differences except in morals, which receive their species from the end, which is the object of the will, the source of all morality. And because good has the nature of an end, therefore good and evil are specific differences in moral things; good in itself, but evil as the absence of the due end. Yet neither does the absence of the due end by itself constitute a moral species, except as it is joined to the undue end; just as we do not find the privation of the substantial form in natural things, unless it is joined to another form. Thus, therefore, the evil which is a constitutive difference in morals is a certain good joined to the privation of another good; as the end proposed by the intemperate man is not the privation of the good of reason, but the delight of sense without the order of reason. Hence evil is not a constitutive difference as such, but by reason of the good that is annexed (emphasis added).
I'm not sure I know a way to put this into other words that will make sense, explain it, and accurately reflect what he says here, but if I understand him correctly the point is that evil in morality isn't simply defined by the absence of the due end, but rather by that deprivation in association with some other "good" in place of the due end: as when we prefer some pleasure or other in the place of the good that reason rightly identifies. The evil in stealing isn't simply that I steal, but rather that I put my own craving for another man's goods ahead of the other man himself, irrationally supposing that I "deserve" or "have a right" to his things, or (even more irrationally) ignoring such questions entirely and just taking his stuff "because I want it" - as though it is good to be ruled by our desires rather than by the reason that God has given us. In the latter case especially, it seems pretty easy to see that I would have put another thing that I perceive as "good" - the irrational, immoderate satisfaction of my desires - ahead of the real goods of contentment with my own possessions and respect for my neighbor's goods as his. The privations I can see here are my discontent with my lot, my lack of respect for my fellow man's right to private property, and a lack of self control with respect to my desires for his things.

It might be worth pointing out here one implication of this doctrine: it is not possible to will to do evil. Because evil is a privation of good or being, it makes no sense to think of doing evil as something that we want to do. Rather, what we do is substitute some other thing we perceive as good for the good we ought to want to do.
A thing is said to act in a threefold sense...[I]t is said in the sense of the final cause, as the end is said to effect by moving the efficient cause. But ... evil does not effect anything of itself, that is, as a privation, but by virtue of the good annexed to it. For every action comes from some form; and everything which is desired as an end, is a perfection. And therefore, as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv): "Evil does not act, nor is it desired, except by virtue of some good joined to it: while of itself it is nothing definite, and beside the scope of our will and intention."
What we will to do is something that we desire. Our desires may be disordered, so that we identify as a good thing that which is not really, but we don't really say, "This is evil, and I want to do it." Even Satan himself does not do so: what he has done is decide that fulfillment of his own desires is more important than obeying God, and so he refuses to do what God commands. Now we may, if we step back and consider things from a rational perspective, identify these things as evil; but to the man who is sinning, what he is actually doing is not choosing to do evil per se but rather to pursue something that he has decided is good to pursue - even better, in his own eyes, than the good he ought to be pursuing. The privation is the lack of the due end in what we have chosen to do.

Lastly for this post (I hope to have more to say about St. Thomas' views on evil), it's interesting to me that the Reformed Protestant Westminster Shorter Catechism has echoes of this formulation of evil in its answer to the question, "What is sin?"
Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God (WSC Question 14; emphasis added).
Sin here is defined (at least partly) as a failure to conform to God's law: in other words, as a privation. The Reformers owed more to Aquinas and the Scholastics than they would probably ever have been willing to concede. :-)

It's easy (and in some contexts reasonable) to think about good and evil as contraries or opposites. But St. Thomas shows us that we need to be more cautious in our thinking about this. Evil isn't a contrary per se, because that would suggest that it has some existence; but as we have seen, good and being are really the same (says St. Thomas), and so evil really doesn't have any existence.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Theology of St. Thomas - Inequality

American society is being transformed (or maybe the transformation is already complete) by a perverse notion of "equality". We get a one-size-fits-all structure in which individual differences are downplayed or even denied. We see this in foolish corporate security policies, in which departing trustworthy employees are treated the same as those who are not so honest: the one is immediately shown the door just as the other, even though the corporation itself stands to benefit from whatever knowledge transfer the trustworthy employee might be able to do prior to his departure. In this way the corporation punishes itself for its stupidity in insisting that no departing employee is trustworthy.

There are other ways in which this insistence upon pseudo-equality manifests itself; we can find them (for example) in many aspects of modern education: as when competitive games are forbidden (so that everyone can be a "winner"), or when grading standards are undermined or abolished. We can even see it in the words of a movie villain: Syndrome says, in The Incredibles, "When everyone's super , then no one will be."

This is not to say that there is no such thing as equality among men. That equality is grounded in the fact that we are all created in the image of God. But the fact that we are created in God's image in no way implies that there are no differences among us. Some folks are smarter; others are taller. Some are more handsome or beautiful; others are stronger or faster. It is madness to pretend that these things are not so. With respect to children, it is a disservice to them not to teach them such things: they are going to have to reckon with the fact that there will always be people who are better than they are themselves in some ways or other, and we must all be prepared to accept our own weaknesses with humility and to honor the good things that God has given to others (as well as to us).

St. Thomas insists that there is in fact inequality among men: "Therefore it must be said that as the wisdom of God is the cause of the distinction of things, so the same wisdom is the cause of their inequality" (ST I Q47 A2).
This may be explained as follows. A twofold distinction is found in things; one is a formal distinction as regards things differing specifically; the other is a material distinction as regards things differing numerically only. And as the matter is on account of the form, material distinction exists for the sake of the formal distinction. Hence we see that in incorruptible things there is only one individual of each species, forasmuch as the species is sufficiently preserved in the one; whereas in things generated and corruptible there are many individuals of one species for the preservation of the species. Whence it appears that formal distinction is of greater consequence than material. Now, formal distinction always requires inequality, because as the Philosopher says (Metaph. viii, 10), the forms of things are like numbers in which species vary by addition or subtraction of unity. Hence in natural things species seem to be arranged in degrees; as the mixed things are more perfect than the elements, and plants than minerals, and animals than plants, and men than other animals; and in each of these one species is more perfect than others. Therefore, as the divine wisdom is the cause of the distinction of things for the sake of the perfection of the universe, so it is the cause of inequality. For the universe would not be perfect if only one grade of goodness were found in things (ibid.; emphasis added).
As St. Thomas sees it, the fact of inequality does not detract from the perfection of creation, but actually completes it. The upshot is that to deny that there are differences among men is to deny the perfection of the universe.

This is not to say that these material distinctions between us mean that any man is a superior man per se: we are human because we are made in the image of God, and that is something that we all share. Hence it would be horribly wicked to suggest that some man or race of men is somehow sub-human. Formally speaking, we are all men; materially speaking, we all have varying strengths and weaknesses.

Theology of St. Thomas - More on the Limits of Reason

In ST Q46 A2, St. Thomas shows himself no friend of the creation science movement. This is not to say that he denies the creation of the earth and everything else: only God is eternal, and consequently everything else has been created by him. So it is not a question of whether or not the earth has been created; rather, the question is whether this can be demonstrated, or whether this is an article of faith (and so not subject to demonstration).
By faith alone do we hold, and by no demonstration can it be proved, that the world did not always exist, as was said above of the mystery of the Trinity. The reason of this is that the newness of the world cannot be demonstrated on the part of the world itself. For the principle of demonstration is the essence of a thing. Now everything according to its species is abstracted from "here" and "now"; whence it is said that universals are everywhere and always. Hence it cannot be demonstrated that man, or heaven, or a stone were not always. Likewise neither can it be demonstrated on the part of the efficient cause, which acts by will. For the will of God cannot be investigated by reason, except as regards those things which God must will of necessity; and what He wills about creatures is not among these... But the divine will can be manifested by revelation, on which faith rests. Hence that the world began to exist is an object of faith, but not of demonstration or science. And it is useful to consider this, lest anyone, presuming to demonstrate what is of faith, should bring forward reasons that are not cogent, so as to give occasion to unbelievers to laugh, thinking that on such grounds we believe things that are of faith (ST I Q46 A2).
In St. Thomas' day, the question was whether the world is eternal. Aristotle affirmed it, as did the Averroists of Aquinas' time (McInerny, Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings, p. 710f) St. Thomas insisted that the world must have had a beginning, because this is what Genesis 1:1 tells us. But he argues that this is not something that can be known from creation itself. It is interesting to note the last sentence in the quotation above, in terms of its applicability today. Unfortunately unbelieving scientists and others have been given reason to scoff at the Christian faith thanks to those folks suppose that a young earth can be scientifically proven. This gives us a good example as to why it's important to be cautious about what we claim is demonstrable, and what must be accepted on faith. Reason has its limits, and we Christians must accept them no less than others.

[Disclaimer: as a Protestant I was in the creation science camp myself]

Theology of St. Thomas - Knowledge of God and Limits of Reason

St. Thomas firmly states that we can know some things about God by means of reason. Thus, from the creation we may learn that God exists, that he is our Creator, that he is good, etc. But because God is infinite and we are not, we can never know all there is to know about God, and because he is infinitely greater than we are, there are things about him that we cannot know by reason at all - but rather, only by faith; and to know all that we are able to know about him, we need his help: we need his grace in order to see him, for example. And if we are to know the Trinity (for example), we can only do so by faith.
It is impossible to attain to the knowledge of the Trinity by natural reason. cannot obtain the knowledge of God by natural reason except from creatures. Now creatures lead us to the knowledge of God, as effects do to their cause. Accordingly, by natural reason we can know of God that only which of necessity belongs to Him as the principle of things, and we have cited this fundamental principle in treating of God.... Now, the creative power of God is common to the whole Trinity; and hence it belongs to the unity of the essence, and not to the distinction of the persons. Therefore, by natural reason we can know what belongs to the unity of the essence, but not what belongs to the distinction of the persons (ST I Q32 A1).
Since some things can only be known by faith, St. Thomas says that to attempt to prove them by means of reason detracts from "the dignity of faith" (ibid.), is ultimately futile, and actually dishonors the faith. It detracts from the faith by reducing it to a matter of reason; it is futile in that such efforts can never be successful precisely because matters of faith are above the capacity of reason; and it dishonors the faith,
[f]or when anyone in the endeavor to prove the faith brings forward reasons which are not cogent, he falls under the ridicule of the unbelievers: since they suppose that we stand upon such reasons, and that we believe on such grounds (ibid).
Thus, although the effort may be well-meaning, the effect is exactly contrary to was intended. Rather than attempting to prove such things, St. Thomas recommends two courses of action: with those who accept the authority of Sacred Tradition, Scripture, and the Church, we need do no more than appeal to that authority; with others, the most that we can do is to show that what we believe by faith is not impossible.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Falsity in the Senses

The question of whether we may trust our senses is a fundamental one. I am not a historian of philosophy, but it seems that the whole course of modern philosophy beginning with Descartes is one long exercise in trying to justify human knowledge after having rejected the reliability of our senses to tell us about the world in which we live. But Aristotle, and following him St. Thomas, affirmed that we can (and indeed must) trust them.

Before we can consider whether the senses are reliable, we first have to have an idea of what truth is. St. Thomas says that truth consists in the conformity of the intellect to the thing known (ST I Q16 A1). What this means is that our thoughts about a thing are only true if they conform to how that thing really is. Truth, therefore, is anchored in the world as it really is. To say something like "Well, that may be true for you, but it's not true for me" is to say something irrational. Truth is not subjective.

It might be worth clarifying that this is not precisely how things stand with respect to God's knowledge: it's backwards.
Now, in things, neither truth nor falsity exists, except in relation to the intellect. And since every thing is denominated simply by what belongs to it "per se," but is denominated relatively by what belongs to it accidentally; a thing indeed may be called false simply when compared with the intellect on which it depends, and to which it is compared "per se" but may be called false relatively as directed to another intellect, to which it is compared accidentally. Now natural things depend on the divine intellect, as artificial things on the human. Wherefore artificial things are said to be false simply and in themselves, in so far as they fall short of the form of the art; whence a craftsman is said to produce a false work, if it falls short of the proper operation of his art.

In things that depend on God, falseness cannot be found, in so far as they are compared with the divine intellect; since whatever takes place in things proceeds from the ordinance of that intellect, unless perhaps in the case of voluntary agents only, who have it in their power to withdraw themselves from what is so ordained; wherein consists the evil of sin. Thus sins themselves are called untruths and lies in the Scriptures, according to the words of the text, "Why do you love vanity, and seek after lying?" (Psalm 4:3): as on the other hand virtuous deeds are called the "truth of life" as being obedient to the order of the divine intellect. Thus it is said, "He that doth truth, cometh to the light" (John 3:21) (ST I 17 A1; emphasis added).
All things conform with the divine intellect, and in that respect they are true (excepting the sinful acts of voluntary agents, which are false). With relation to us, though: since truth is found in the intellect (in its conformity to the thing), then falsity also must be found there.
Since true and false are opposed, and since opposites stand in relation to the same thing, we must needs seek falsity, where primarily we find truth; that is to say, in the intellect (ibid).
Well, do the senses "know truth"? St. Thomas says that they do not.
As stated before, truth resides, in its primary aspect, in the intellect. Now since everything is true according as it has the form proper to its nature, the intellect, in so far as it is knowing, must be true, so far as it has the likeness of the thing known, this being its form, as knowing. For this reason truth is defined by the conformity of intellect and thing; and hence to know this conformity is to know truth. But in no way can sense know this. For although sight has the likeness of a visible thing, yet it does not know the comparison which exists between the thing seen and that which itself apprehends concerning it. But the intellect can know its own conformity with the intelligible thing; yet it does not apprehend it by knowing of a thing "what a thing is." When, however, it judges that a thing corresponds to the form which it apprehends about that thing, then first it knows and expresses truth. This it does by composing and dividing: for in every proposition it either applies to, or removes from the thing signified by the subject, some form signified by the predicate: and this clearly shows that the sense is true of any thing, as is also the intellect, when it knows "what a thing is"; but it does not thereby know or affirm truth. This is in like manner the case with complex or non-complex words. Truth therefore may be in the senses, or in the intellect knowing "what a thing is," as in anything that is true; yet not as the thing known in the knower, which is implied by the word "truth"; for the perfection of the intellect is truth as known. Therefore, properly speaking, truth resides in the intellect composing and dividing; and not in the senses; nor in the intellect knowing "what a thing is" (I Q16 A2).
But we could say that the senses "know truth" in another sense - that is, in whether they apprehend sensible things truly.
Now truth is not in them in such a way as that the senses know truth, but in so far as they apprehend sensible things truly, as said above (16, 2), and this takes place through the senses apprehending things as they are, and hence it happens that falsity exists in the senses through their apprehending or judging things to be otherwise than they really are (I Q17 A2).
But this is something rare or unusual, he says, or a consequence of our attention being directed elsewhere (for example).

The upshot is that our senses are in fact reliable. And we all take this reliability for granted: we trust them all the time. We do not falter upon approaching a green light, suspicious whether it might actually be red (unless we already know that, being color blind, our sight is defective in this respect). We know that it is green. Our senses reliably report the world to us. Even those who dispute this in theory do not really question it when it comes to really living, and this ought to tell us something about how seriously we should take their theories.

And really, it ought to ... make sense ... to us that our eyes and ears are trustworthy for telling us about creation. Because God made the world, and made us to live in the world. He is all good, and he loves us, and having made us to live in this world, we are actually equipped to do so.

The problem when it comes to our senses isn't our senses themselves but rather what we do with what they report to us. We misinterpret things. We draw conclusions on insufficient evidence. We reason badly in other ways. Making right use of reason is hard work, and in our intellectual laziness we are often careless about understanding the world around us. Sometimes we don't even try to reason about such things, and instead try to wedge them into some preconceived notions we have about how we think the world is. In consequence we are found to be in error - but these errors cannot be blamed upon our senses.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Theology of St. Thomas - On the Nature of God's Knowledge

There is no sense in which there is sequence or succession in God's knowledge.
In the divine knowledge there is no discursion; the proof of which is as follows. In our knowledge there is a twofold discursion: one is according to succession only, as when we have actually understood anything, we turn ourselves to understand something else; while the other mode of discursion is according to causality, as when through principles we arrive at the knowledge of conclusions. The first kind of discursion cannot belong to God. For many things, which we understand in succession if each is considered in itself, we understand simultaneously if we see them in some one thing; if, for instance, we understand the parts in the whole, or see different things in a mirror. Now God sees all things in one (thing), which is Himself. Therefore God sees all things together, and not successively. Likewise the second mode of discursion cannot be applied to God.

First, because this second mode of discursion presupposes the first mode; for whosoever proceeds from principles to conclusions does not consider both at once; secondly, because to discourse thus is to proceed from the known to the unknown. Hence it is manifest that when the first is known, the second is still unknown; and thus the second is known not in the first, but from the first. Now the term discursive reasoning is attained when the second is seen in the first, by resolving the effects into their causes; and then the discursion ceases. Hence as God sees His effects in Himself as their cause, His knowledge is not discursive (ST I Q14 A7).
God's knowledge is perfect and complete. It is immutable just as he is himself. In another post [get link to the post on perfection] I said that there is no way that we can cause a reaction in God, as (for example) to anger him; this is a consequence of the fact that he is perfect. Related to this is that his knowledge is as immutable as he is himself, so that he knows from before creation all our actions. Consequently those passages of the Bible - like, for example, Gen. 22:12 - which seem to show God "learning" something ("I know now that you fear God...") can only be anthropomorphisms. The Lord God knew exactly how Abraham would respond to the command to sacrifice Isaac from all eternity. In the same way, he knows us completely. There is nothing hidden from him; he knows our inmost thoughts and our "secret" sins.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Theology of St. Thomas - Development of Doctrine

I have seen certain Protestants say that the idea of doctrinal development is a novelty devised by the Church relatively recently to justify the fact that certain things which are de fide today were not always de fide. See here for some representative examples (especially in the comments of the posts listed there). Apart from its other defects, this claim fails unless "relatively recently" means a span of time going back at least 1500 years (note: you may not find the exact phrase "relatively recently" at the link above, but it seems clear - to me at any rate - that this is the prevailing opinion amongst the Protestant commenters there).

St. Thomas addresses the question of doctrinal development in the Summa Theologica, II-II Q1 A7 ("Whether the articles of faith have increased in course of time?"). Before getting to the quotation from ST, it might be helpful for some of my readers to quickly review the structure of the book. St. Thomas addresses theological topics by first presenting a series of objections to the position that he intends to defend. This is followed by the sed contra ("on the contrary" in the translation below) in which he briefly states his view, supporting it with a quotation from some Scriptural or theological authority. After this, he explains his view to some degree, and then answers each of the objections.

(As an aside, this structure is one reason why I love ST: it's clear and methodical, and St. Thomas does his best (which is pretty devastating) to deal with every objection he either knows of or can imagine. It's an incredible performance. His consistency through 3000+ pages is staggering. But I digress.)

Hopefully this summary of the structure of the book will make the following snippet a bit more clear; if you visit the source you can see the whole thing in context.
Objection 1. It would seem that the articles of faith have not increased in course of time. Because, as the Apostle says (Hebrews 11:1), "faith is the substance of things to be hoped for." Now the same things are to be hoped for at all times. Therefore, at all times, the same things are to be believed.

Objection 2. [Etc.]


On the contrary, Gregory says (Hom. xvi in Ezech.) that "the knowledge of the holy fathers increased as time went on . . . and the nearer they were to Our Savior's coming, the more fully did they received the mysteries of salvation"...[A]ll the articles are contained implicitly in certain primary matters of faith, such as God's existence, and His providence over the salvation of man, according to Heb. 11: "He that cometh to God, must believe that He is, and is a rewarder to them that seek Him." For the existence of God includes all that we believe to exist in God eternally, and in these our happiness consists; while belief in His providence includes all those things which God dispenses in time, for man's salvation, and which are the way to that happiness: and in this way, again, some of those articles which follow from these are contained in others: thus faith in the Redemption of mankind includes belief in the Incarnation of Christ, His Passion and so forth.

Accordingly we must conclude that, as regards the substance of the articles of faith, they have not received any increase as time went on: since whatever those who lived later have believed, was contained, albeit implicitly, in the faith of those Fathers who preceded them. But there was an increase in the number of articles believed explicitly, since to those who lived in later times some were known explicitly which were not known explicitly by those who lived before them. Hence the Lord said to Moses (Exodus 6:2-3): "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob [Vulg.: 'I am the Lord that appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob'] . . . and My name Adonai I did not show them": David also said (Psalm 118:100): "I have had understanding above ancients": and the Apostle says (Ephesians 3:5) that the mystery of Christ, "in other generations was not known, as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets" (emphasis added).
It seems pretty clear to me that there is nothing substantively different in what St. Thomas says here from Newman's formulation of the matter in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

Getting back to St. Thomas, though, we can see that there is an acknowledgment of doctrinal development as far back as St. Gregory the Great in the sixth century, and (of course) a consideration of it by Aquinas in the 13th century. So it's just plain wrong to say that the idea of doctrinal development is something new, and pointless to try and beat Catholics over the head with it as though it were a "novelty." It's not.

It's probably worth pointing out, too, that this ought to be entirely non-controversial. Any reasonable-minded Protestant is going to have to concede that there are things even in the Bible that are implicit first and then explicit later: acorn to tree, as it were. See St. Thomas' examples above, but the doctrine of the Trinity is a great example too. In the OT, the singular focus with respect to the Godhead is pre-eminently on display in Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is one!" Sure, there are some obscure hints at more than this, but it doesn't become explicit until the New Testament. In short, doctrinal development is an inevitable and healthy consequence of human interaction with God's revelation. The Church has come to understand it better over the millennia.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mark Shea - Catholicism and Islam

Mark Shea wrote a valuable two-part essay last year on the relationship of the Catholic Church and Islam - specifically in relation to the teaching of the Catechism that Muslims "profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day" (CCC 841).

I will concede that this was something of a stumbling block on my way into the Catholic Church, but upon further reflection I don't really see the scandal anymore. No Christian is going to pretend that Muslims have a complete doctrine of God, since they deny the Trinity. But Muslims aren't the only ones doing that: Judaism denies it as well. If you're going to say that Muslims don't worship the same God that we do, it seems to me that you're going to be obliged to say the same thing about Jewish folks, and for the same reasons. And I can't imagine that there's anything controversial about saying that Jews worship the same God as we do. "For I bear them witness that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10:2).

So anyway, I eventually figured out that there is nothing "modernist" about this portion of the Catechism. But Mr. Shea goes a bit further and (among other things) points out that this perspective is nothing new in the Catholic Church but rather dates back as far as the 11th century.

The essay is worth reading. It starts here and concludes here.

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Time and Eternity

Back in 11th grade a friend and I thought it would be clever to try and stump our physics teacher by asking him, "What is time?" The joke was on us; he was (being a physics instructor) quite brilliant, and turned the tables on us by giving us a straight answer - none of which I remember anymore (beyond the visceral response that what he was saying was way over my head, and that I had no intention of ever asking that question ever again).

Well, St. Thomas gives me a lesson, and I think it's a great lesson. He answers the question in a way that, while perhaps not as technical as some folks these days might like, still provides just the sort of answer that I need. Time, he says, is the number of motion or change.
For since succession occurs in every movement, and one part comes after another, the fact that we reckon before and after in movement, makes us apprehend time, which is nothing else but the measure of before and after in movement (ST I Q10 A1).
This makes sense when thinking of ourselves, but not with respect to God. God doesn't move because he's omnipresent (there is no place where he is not, so it's not possible for him to "go" anywhere), and he does not change.
Thus eternity is known from two sources: first, because what is eternal is interminable--that is, has no beginning nor end (that is, no term either way); secondly, because eternity has no succession, being simultaneously whole (ibid.)

The idea of eternity follows immutability, as the idea of time follows movement, as appears from the preceding article. Hence, as God is supremely immutable, it supremely belongs to Him to be eternal. Nor is He eternal only; but He is His own eternity; whereas, no other being is its own duration, as no other is its own being. Now God is His own uniform being; and hence as He is His own essence, so He is His own eternity (ST I Q10 A2).
Every moment of our existence is one great "now" for God. He knows the end from the beginning precisely because there is no beginning or end for him. Contrast this truth with the error of the so-called "open theists" who deny God's omniscience. Such a god as they imagine must be trapped in time, subject to change like the rest of us. But this is not the God of the Bible, nor yet even the God we may know by reason.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Creaturely Infinity

Can anything besides God be infinite? Absolutely speaking, no; relatively speaking, yes.
The infinite cannot have a beginning, as said in Phys. iii. But everything outside God is from God as from its first principle. Therefore besides God nothing can be infinite (ST I Q7 A2).
This means that the universe is not infinite, because it was created by God: it had a beginning. However mind-boggling its dimensions are, it is not limitless.

On the other hand, there is a relative sense in which creatures may be said to be infinite.
[F]or example, wood is finite according to its own form, but still it is relatively infinite, inasmuch as it is in potentiality to an infinite number of shapes (ibid.).
This could be said to be an infinity of potentiality, but that which is in potentiality does not exist really. Hence we do not say that a block of wood is infinite in any actual sense, because once it is given a certain shape, it ceases to be in potentiality to all others (of course, in the sense that it could be re-shaped, we could say that it retains a certain relative infinity of potentiality; but with respect to its actual state, it possesses no such infinity at all).

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Goodness and Being

The first thing that must be understood before we can understand what St. Thomas has to say about this subject is what he means by "good":
The essence of goodness consists in this, that it is in some way desirable. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. i): 'Goodness is what all desire' (ST I Q5 A1).
When he says this, he doesn't mean that the simple fact that a thing is desired by someone makes it good as such. For example, the fact that a man loves a certain sinful activity doesn't make that activity good as such. But what it means in this case is that he thinks it to be a good (and therefore desirable) thing.

No one wants something that he thinks is evil. We all shun what we think is evil. The problem with respect to sin is that we wrongly think that something wicked is good.
Now it is clear that a thing is desirable only in so far as it is perfect; for all desire their own perfection. But everything is perfect so far as it is actual [for more on this, see here - RdP]. Therefore it is clear that a thing is perfect so far as it exists; for it is existence that makes all things actual...Hence it is clear that goodness and being are the same really. But goodness presents the aspect of desirableness, which being does not present (ibid.).
This doesn't mean that the two terms are interchangeable in every sense:
Although goodness and being are the same really, nevertheless since they differ in thought, they are not predicated of a thing absolutely in the same way. Since being properly signifies that something actually is, and actuality properly correlates to potentiality; a thing is, in consequence, said simply to have being, accordingly as it is primarily distinguished from that which is only in potentiality; and this is precisely each thing's substantial being. ... But goodness signifies perfection which is desirable; and consequently of ultimate perfection. Hence that which has ultimate perfection is said to be simply good; but that which has not the ultimate perfection it ought to have (although, in so far as it is at all actual, it has some perfection), is not said to be perfect simply nor good simply, but only relatively. In this way, therefore, viewed in its primal (i.e. substantial) being a thing is said to be simply, and to be good relatively (i.e. in so far as it has being) but viewed in its complete actuality, a thing is said to be relatively, and to be good simply (ibid., ad 1).
In this reckoning we see that God's goodness cannot be distinguished from his being. It has to be this way because God is absolutely simple (ST I Q3; for a vagueish attempt at understanding this, see my effort here), so that his goodness is not something added to him or somehow distinct from who he is. God is good because he is God. Hence those who ask whether God might really be evil are not just saying something foolish or wicked, but irrational.

In the same way, there is a measure of goodness in every creature precisely because it exists. God says "all those who hate me love death;" to hate him who is goodness itself is to hate existence itself; consequently, to hate God is the same as to despise one's own life.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - The Perfection of God

God's perfection may not seem exactly like a philosophical question, but to St. Thomas it is. He addresses it in ST, but he also addresses it in the Summa Contra Gentiles (Book I, Chapter 28; sorry, but I know of no online resource for the SCG in English) - a primarily philosophical work.

What does it mean to say that God is perfect? St. Thomas says that God is perfect because there is no potentiality in him: we may not say, for example, that God's justice is lacking, nor that he does not love us fully, nor that his goodness has limits.
God is the first principle, not material, but in the order of efficient cause, which must be most perfect. For just as matter, as such, is merely potential, an agent, as such, is in the state of actuality. Hence, the first active principle must needs be most actual, and therefore most perfect; for a thing is perfect in proportion to its state of actuality, because we call that perfect which lacks nothing of the mode of its perfection (ST I Q4 A1).
Because there is no potentiality in God, he is perfect. This is a bit hard for me to wrap my brain around, because it is so very unlike us creatures.
But just as every excellence and perfection is found in a thing according as that thing is, so every defect is found in it according as in some way it is not. Now, just as God has being wholly, so non-being is wholly absent from Him. For as a thing has being, in that way it is removed from non-being. Hence, all defect is absent from God. He is, therefore, universally perfect. ...

Again, each thing is perfect according as it is in act, and imperfect according as it is in potency and lacking act. Hence, that which is in no way in potency, but is pure act, must be most perfect. Such, however, is God. God is, therefore, most perfect. (SCG I, 28, 3 & 6).
Since there is no sense in which God lacks being, there is no sense in which he could be said to be lacking something. Consequently he must be perfect. And since God is pure act, without potency to be actuated by any outside cause, he is also perfect in this sense as well.

It seems to me that one consequence of this has to do with our understanding of the way that the Bible speaks to us of God's interaction with men. We see that it says in places that God became angry with certain people because of their sins, or that he was pleased with them because of some good thing that they had done, but these expressions must of necessity be exactly that: expressions. Because there is no sense in which we can rationally say that we can cause a change in God by anything that we do. We can say of ourselves that we had a really lousy day because the kids were a constant pain, or because our employees were lazy bums all afternoon, but we can't give God a lousy day. So it seems to me that such expressions must be understood as accommodations to our limited comprehension: God is said to "react" in these ways - becoming angry, for example - not because it really happens that way but because it's the best we can do even to try and understand what is happening. God is perfect, and part of that means that there is no potency to wrath in him that could be actuated by us. He is perfect, and consequently there is no defect in his perfect bliss and joy that can be corrected by any good thing that we might do. So the best we can hope for is some figure by which we might understand God - hence, his wrath with sin, his pleasure with holiness.

Note on Medieval Astronomy

This post is primarily a note for myself, not something I'd expect to be of general interest.

St. Thomas demonstrates that the (apparently) prevailing scientific judgment of his day was that the earth was round, not flat (of course, that doesn't mean that the Ptolemaic system was generally correct, obviously):
Sciences are differentiated according to the various means through which knowledge is obtained. For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e. abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself (ST Q1 A1 ad 2).
And also:
Those who say that paradise was on the equinoctial line are of opinion that such a situation is most temperate, on account of the unvarying equality of day and night; that it is never too cold there, because the sun is never too far off; and never too hot, because, although the sun passes over the heads of the inhabitants, it does not remain long in that position. However, Aristotle distinctly says (Meteor. ii, 5) that such a region is uninhabitable on account of the heat. This seems to be more probable; because, even those regions where the sun does not pass vertically overhead, are extremely hot on account of the mere proximity of the sun. But whatever be the truth of the matter, we must hold that paradise was situated in a most temperate situation, whether on the equator or elsewhere (ST Q102 A2 ad 4).

Excellent "Rules" for Discussion

The Pontificator suggests some "rules" for conversation. I think that they're great. Summary:
  • Presumption that both parties are speaking in good faith (trust vs. hostility)
  • Know what you believe, and don't demand that any participant compromise his views
  • Try to understand the other person's views accurately
  • Charitable interpretation of other's views: understanding them in the best light, rather than the worst
  • "The search for Christian unity is ultimately a gift of the Spirit."
Bravo! He identifies these as guidelines for ecumenical conversation, but (excepting the last one) they're really essential for discussion about almost any subject. They seem to me to be a concrete expression of the law of charity.

Turretinfan on Trent and Sola Gratia

It is most gratifying to see a post from Turretinfan on the topic of whether the Council of Trent affirmed sola gratia or not. In particular it is gratifying to see that he denies the silly claim some have made that Trent was Pelagian.

Unfortunately, it appears that he could have done better had he addressed the entirety of the Decree on Justification, rather than cherry-picking quotations that seem to better suit his purpose. I've already addressed this problem in another post or two (and, to be fair, Turretinfan isn't making an uncommon error in this respect: many Protestants do so). As I said then, we can't understand the decree apart from chapter 7: What the justification of the impious is, and what are the causes thereof. But Turretinfan has omitted any discussion of this fundamental part of the decree.

It seems reasonable to me - given the title of that chapter, that it ought to be of paramount importance in any consideration of the meaning of the decree as a whole. It seems to me that if we're going to talk about what Trent's views were on how we are justified, then perhaps the most important stuff to consider would be those passages wherein they discuss the causes of our justification. And if we do that, we will see that chapter 7, in which the causes of our justication are declared, gives no place whatsoever to human works or merits as a cause of our salvation. Read it yourself. See my discussion of it here.

Now, that being the case, an inescapable conclusion is that for Trent, any human activity with respect to our justification is not actually a cause of it, but rather an effect of God's grace. Yes? No? If Trent specifies the causes of our justification, and none of them are human merit or action, then how on earth can it reasonably be said that Trent denies sola gratia? This makes no sense.

If all this is the case, then what must we conclude about passages in Trent that address human merits or activity with respect to our justification? Well, as I just said, we must accept the fact that such things are and can only be effects of God's grace and consequently not causes of our justification. We must realize then that in rewarding these merits, which we receive from Christ, God is only blessing his own good gifts. See here.

So - with all due respect to Turretinfan - I do not think he has adequately addressed the substance of what Trent teaches about our justification. He has ignored the fundamental context, and consequently has misunderstood the Decree.

Perhaps a bit more ought to be said. It's my understanding that the Fathers at Trent brought with them two things to the Council: Scripture and the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. It's rather more than I would like to put into a single post here, but it simply cannot be denied that St. Thomas affirmed the necessity of grace from start to finish for us. If, as he taught, neither Adam in his unfallen state nor even the holy angels themselves could see God apart from his grace, then it is flatly absurd to suggest that fallen man could ever do anything in any way to merit any good thing from God. Indeed, since St. Thomas understands God as the First Cause, it's irrational even to suggest. Now I certainly don't mean to say that the Fathers at Trent would have held his works to be on the same level as the Scriptures or Sacred Tradition, but if his work - as an explanation of Catholic teaching - was considered to be so valuable to them, I would suggest that his views would be an indispensable tool in understanding what the Council taught. In this case the consistency is clear: St. Thomas affirmed sola gratia, and so does the Council of Trent.

With respect to the two Catholic scholars mentioned by Turretinfan in defense of his view of Trent: I'm not so sure that they demonstrate what Turentinfan wants. Dr. Seifert doesn't even mention Trent. What he does do is contrast the Protestant notions of sola fide and sola gratia with the Catholic position. But I have done the same: I say that Turretinfan is simply mistaken when he claims the only legitimate construction of sola gratia is the Protestant one, in which there is no place for human action as an effect of God's grace. But to deny a Protestant construction is not the same as to deny any formulation of the idea whatsoever.

The same may be said with respect to the article by Dr. Marshner. At the very outset he identifies and distinguishes a Protestant notion of sola gratia as different from a Catholic one, thanks to a different understanding of what exactly grace is:
neither the apparent agreements nor the apparent disagreements can be understood without looking at certain metaphysical quarrels, the chief of which is over the very existence of what Catholics call "grace."
Dr. Marshner concludes his article thus:
Living faith: our quality but God’s instrument; good works: our deeds but God’s handiwork; our deeds as men living in Christ, not the motions of "graced" zombies still dead in sin—these are the possibilities overlooked by Luther and Calvin but preached by Paul and defined by Trent.
I'd have to say that this sounds suspiciously like what I've been saying above (and elsewhere), not like (pace Turretinfan) a flat denial of sola gratia. Our good deeds are an effect of God's grace: they are his handiwork, to use Dr. Marshner's word drawn from Ephesians 2.

Far from having demonstrated that Trent denied sola gratia, all Turretinfan has really done is show that Trent rejects a Protestant construction of the idea. That should be unsurprising :-) Either he has not read the whole of the Decree, or else he has misunderstood the significance of the 7th chapter for one's understanding of the whole, and instead views the Decree through his Protestant lenses. He sees the Protestant idea rejected, and concludes that the entire thing must be. But this is not a necessary conclusion at all, and given the context of the whole Decree it seems not just unnecessary but invalid.

[Update] Turretinfan has added a qualification to his post clarifying what he means by sola gratia. This is a welcome amendment, and I thank him for it. I would still be interested in how he thinks chapter 7 of the decree affects his presentation of what Trent says on the subject.

Why It Is Best to Avoid Some Blogs

By the title I mean posting on them, not reading them.
you have misfired on that one.
"Misfire"...the image of weaponry. Of course it doesn't have to be this way, but in this case the use of such an expression really does expose something, I think, of the attitude of the author. Such blogs are not places where conversation or discussion take place; they are battlefields. If you go to such a place and attempt to counter what appears at first to be a poor argument, you will quickly discover that what you are countering is not actually an argument but a broadside, and anything you say will inevitably be understood to be counterfire - no matter what you intend.

On the battlefield, there is no question of "right" or "wrong" - there is only winning or losing, living or dying. This is why - even when "the enemy" is flatly shown to have used lousy arguments, or has been soundly refuted, the humility to admit it is never manifested. No defeat! Never surrender!

But pursuit of the truth is not a military exercise, the "enemy" is another human being created in the image of God and sincerely seeking the truth, and our goal ought to be not victory at any cost, but attainment of the truth. Those who frame things as "battles" (or sometimes even "contests", if they do not have the humility and good grace to accept occasional defeat in one) cannot afford (so it seems to them) to suffer "defeat". One obvious consequence in the present context is that such folks cannot admit error, and consequently wind up looking like arrogant know-it-alls (at least to those who mistakenly view the "battle" as a discussion). Of course, they may not really think that they are (and in reality perhaps they aren't know-it-alls), but the damage is done in terms of how they are perceived.

We ought to avoid commenting at blogs (or other places) where the conversation (if there ever was one) has degenerated into a revolting militarism. We only contribute to the problem, and the likelihood of undoing the damage is small.

The first casualty of real war has been said to be the truth. In blogs and conversations that have degenerated into combat, the first casualty of the "war" is the pursuit of truth. Skip these places: life is too short to be diverted by them from what matters.