Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More with Apolonio - Part 1

I'm not going to toil any more about this over at Philosophia Perennis. Like I said in my post, I'm out of my league there, and it's better if they don't have to waste their time on the likes of me; it's also better for me if I don't invest unnatural amounts of time in trying to get into their league.

Nevertheless, that doesn't mean I don't have some more to say, and it doesn't mean that I'm convinced that I'm mistaken about what I've said. Sometimes the Big Boys are wrong. :-) On those occasions, it may not be appropriate for us little guys to try and tell them so. It's better to know your place. But even Sam Gamgee can see things more clearly than others sometimes, and while it may be too much to hope that I'd be in Sam's shoes (so to speak...!) I can still go back to the pub and have my say :-)

It would probably be a good idea - in terms of what I'm going to say here - to review his post more carefully. The first paragraph can probably be summarized thus:
It is very easy to simply let the Magisterium tell you what to believe. ... The Magisterium is not a substitute for critical thinking. It is not a substitute for the heart.
I guess the only things I'd say here is "of course." But that is because that is not its function, and speaking as a convert who came to the Church because he found what she teaches to be the Truth, I'd say that this is hardly controversial. I also don't think that it's solely converts who wonder about why the Church doesn't address things like ensoulment or frozen embryos. I'd also say it's a bit ridiculous to respond to such a concern with a "who cares?" The one asking the question - you know, the fellow Catholic who really wants to believe the truth, not just formally, but materially - obviously does care.

Maybe more to the point, the Church consists of all sorts of people. Some are Augustines. Some are Aquinases. But some are Joe Sixpacks - guys who are the salt of the earth, working hard to provide for their families, faithful Catholics who nevertheless just aren't gifted for theology. They need help to know how they ought to think about such things. So who cares? Joe Sixpack, for one. He doesn't read the best theological and philosophical journals, and he doesn't read Philosophia Perennis, and all he wants to do is to be faithful to the Church's teaching.

So is it brainless for such a man to ask these questions? Is he childish or foolish for doing so? Absolutely Not. He cares about the answers, and for a very good reason, and he deserves better than to be told that the Magisterium isn't a substitute for critical thinking. He deserves to get the help he needs so that he can believe what the Church teaches. And if Apolonio doesn't think that such folks exist...I can introduce him to them. LOTS of them.

Now I'm going to jump ahead, because later Apolonio will suggest that Joe is asking the wrong question. That, it seems to me, is at least part of the point of his conclusion:
If you are to become Catholic because of a theology, get yourself a book and do not waste your time in the Church.
Well, no, it's not a waste of time for the convert, and it's not a waste of time for Joe Sixpack. The heart has to be guided by the brain.
The heart is perverse above all things, and unsearchable, who can know it? (Jer. 17:9)
That's why we've got to use our heads. And that's why Joe is 100% right when he wants to know the truth about ensoulment or frozen embryos. That's why the convert is completely correct to want (like any devout Catholic) to be faithful to the teaching of the Magisterium. Please note: I'm not saying that Joe is necessarily right to expect the Church to answer his questions in the form of a dogmatic pronouncement, but he's certainly within his rights to want help in answering an important moral question of our day. And it's not going to do to dump on him for that. So Apolonio is simply mistaken to the extent that he downplays the importance of such things. He may have his ducks in a row, but others don't, and sometimes they need to have them in a row. And just so you don't get the idea that I'm making this up :-)
It is this Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals (CCC §890).
Now if that is the Magisterium's task - its pastoral duty - it's just crazy to suggest that it's foolish or immature to expect it to fulfill that duty.

Yes, there is more to the Faith than this...but not at the expense of this.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reply to Apolonio Latar

My comment awaits moderation at Philosophia Perennis, so it's at least possible that it will be rejected (and I wouldn't blame them, since I didn't exactly model scholarly detachment in my remarks). Here it is, lest it be blown away into the ether.
I am totally out of my league in commenting on this blog. Let’s get that out of the way now. And I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, and my philosophical/theological education leaves plenty to be desired, too. But I take exception to a couple things here.

If you are to become Catholic because of a theology, get yourself a book and do not waste your time in the Church.

That remark strikes this convert as smug, although I’m sure Mr. Latar didn’t mean it this way. So my spiritual life must be a shining example of mature, full-orbed Catholic faith before I even bother seeking conversion? Well I guess I’ll just crawl back into the little hole of Reformed private judgment whence I came then.

Or maybe not.

The fact is that people come to the Church on all sorts of paths, and for all sorts of reasons. Far more important than how we come to be Catholic is that we remain faithful Catholics, no? Of course I totally agree that being Catholic is much more than dotting a few theological i’s and crossing a few dogmatic t’s. I’ve spent years now learning just how true this is, and I’ve got a long road ahead of me before it will be really true in my life as I’d like it to be. But the fact is I wouldn’t have bothered with the full-orbed and mature Catholic life of faith if I had not first been convinced of the truth of what the Church teaches. And I daresay I’m not the only one for whom this is true. So I think it unfair to wave a Dogbert-esque paw of “Bah!” in our direction because of the path God laid before us. :-)

I don’t think theology does not have any value, but I do not think it is sufficient for certainty. What gives us certainty is an encounter.

An encounter with what? Or whom? Does not the Mormon have an “encounter” in his “burning bosom” experience? Do not believers of all sorts of religious traditions have “encounters” to which they point as fundamental to their certainty about what they believe? Of course they do. And of course the point is that “encounter” is inherently subjective. That’s not necessarily to say it’s all bad, but it’s not sufficient, either. The Protestant no doubt argues that he has an “encounter” with the Word of God in Scripture, and Pentecostals certainly say that they have daily “encounters” with the Holy Spirit. But I wouldn’t want to be Protestant anymore, and I don’t think it’s doing justice to the Catholic Faith to say that it’s better for them to remain Protestant or Pentecostal if God uses the Truth to draw them closer to himself.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that are not seen.” Certainty is something that follows from the supernatural gift of faith, not from an “encounter” (however that may be defined).

Now back to the twilight of those who converted for the Truth (but who are seeking the Lord’s Face nevertheless).



Saturday, September 27, 2008

Convert Go Home?

Maybe he doesn't mean precisely what the words say, but it's pretty disappointing that he said this anyway. Apolonio Latar writes:
If you are to become Catholic because of a theology, get yourself a book and do not waste your time in the Church.
Hmm...well, thanks for the warm welcome, Apolonio.

The fact is that people become Catholic for lots of reasons. Some do so because they want to marry a Catholic. Some do so because of years of life with a Catholic husband or wife. Others do so because they are drawn by aesthetics. Some folks are so impressed by the lives of Catholics that they want to be just like them. And, yes, some of us actually become Catholic because we are pursuing the truth.

I happen to agree with him that the Church is more than just the Magisterium. Mystical saints like St. Teresa can't be boxed up quite like that. The fact is, though, that people become Catholic for many reasons. Who cares what their reasons are, as long as they are faithful Catholics now? Who cares if they don't have all their theological, philosophical, aesthetical, mystical ducks in a row if they are actively striving to be true to their Lord? Nobody has "arrived" in this life.

Hmm...I didn't think I was grumpy today, but Apolonio's remarks obviously rubbed me the wrong way.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Paul Hoffer - The Catholic View of Islam

Paul has done a great job of addressing the Church's teaching about Islam. He pulls together elements from a variety of resources that make clear the fact that Islam is no path to redemption. Read for yourself. Thanks to Paul for such fine work.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Summa Contra Gentiles - God Owes Us Nothing

We have no claim on God so as to be able to expect anything from him on our own merits; if we have any "claim" at all, it is solely to ask him to fulfill his promises.

Aquinas argues that we can conclude this without recourse to revelation.
[I]t must also be shown that in the creation of things God did not work of necessity, as though He brought things into being as a debt of justice (SCG II-28, 1; p. 79ff).
God did not owe anything to his creatures when he made us.
As Aristotle points out, justice involves a relationship to another, to whom it renders what is due. But, for the universal production of things, nothing is presupposed to which anything may be due. It follows that the universal production of things could not result from a debt of justice (II-28, 2).
That seems pretty obvious once it's brought to your attention: you can't "owe" anything to what doesn't exist, because there is nothing "there" to which something could be due.

There is also, more specifically, the question of being in debt to another.
Furthermore, no one owes anything to another except because he depends on him in some way, or receives something either from him or from someone else, on whose account he is indebted to that other person; a son is a debtor to his father, because he receives being from him; a master to his servant, because he receives from him the services he requires; and every man is a debtor to his neighbor, on God’s account, from whom we have received all good things. God, however, depends on nothing, nor does He stand in need of anything that He may receive from another, as things previously said make perfectly clear. Hence, it was from no debt of justice that God brought things into being (II-28, 4).
There is no possible way that God can become indebted to us, since (in the first place) he lacks nothing, and there is nothing that we could provide to him that he in any way requires.

And these conclusions are consistent with the Bible. "Who hath first given to him, and recompense shall be made him? For of Him, and by Him, and in Him, are all things" (Rom. 13:35-36). "Who has given me before that I should repay him? All things that are under heaven are mine" (Job 41:2).

These things being the case, it ought to be obvious that God does not owe us anything. More to the point, we cannot earn salvation; hence those who claim that we hope to do so are mistaken (or, if they know the truth of what we believe, then they slander us). "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights" (James 1:17). But that which is merited is not a gift, but rather something that is due. Hence we do not merit salvation, but rather it is a gift from God.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Still More On Councils

Perhaps the best way to address the so-called "inconvenient" posts on councils that have been composed by Turretinfan is to address the particulars of what Catholics believe about them, because it seems pretty clear for the most part that there's some confusion if he genuinely believes these brief posts to be in any way inconvenient. Along the way we may also be able to dispel the apparent misapprehension he has about Catholic perspectives on Church Councils.
But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church ... A council is never ecumenical unless it is confirmed or at least accepted as such by the successor of Peter; and it is prerogative of the Roman Pontiff to convoke these councils, to preside over them and to confirm them.[LG 22; emphasis added]
The authority of a council can never be divorced from the the authority of the Pope.
the infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an Ecumenical Council [CCC §891; emphasis added].
So let's step back and think about some conclusions we may infer from this. First: it is entirely possible for a council to err - but not an Ecumenical Council. No Catholic will find any "comfort," as it has been put, in a non-ecumenical council when it errs (though of course we approve truth wherever it may be found). Is it disappointing when a council errs? Of course it is. It's a tragedy. We may rightly consider it to be a scandal, inasmuch as it may lead Christians into error who do not carefully weigh its pronouncements against the teaching of the Church, or who ignore the warnings of the Magisterium with respect to such a council's errors. But the fact that this may happen is hardly a matter of "inconvenience," if by that is meant some notion that it poses difficulties for Catholic doctrine. It doesn't.

So, for example, when the Council of Constance claimed for itself an authority superior to the Pope's, it erred - and no Catholic is bound by such nonsense (and no such claims were ever approved by a Pope). In fact, as the Catholic Encyclopedia mentions, "From the fourteenth session, in which he convoked the council, it is considered by many with Phillips (Kirchenrecht, I, 256) a legitimate general council," but that which occurred beforehand is invalid; "in a papal consistory (10 March, 1418), Martin V rejected any right of appeal from the Apostolic See to a future council, and asserted the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff as Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth in all questions of Catholic Faith...In particular the famous five articles of the fifth session, establishing the supremacy of the council, never received papal confirmation" (ibid; see also Hughes, The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325-1870, pp. 290-305).

Secondly, it's impossible for one Ecumenical Council to contradict another, precisely because Ecumenical Councils enjoy the charism of infallibility by virtue of their union with the Pope, the Vicar of Christ.
It is this Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. the exercise of this charism takes several forms: "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.... the infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed," and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith." This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself [CCC §890-891]
It ought to be obvious from what I've said that Catholics don't "trust" in councils per se. Rather, our confidence is in the goodness of God, that he will in fact preserve his Church from error by the means he has provided - the gift of infallibility working in the Pope and in the Bishops in communion with him. It's a ridiculous slander to say that our trust is in men. No. Our confidence is in God, and his goodness is expressed in the Church so that we may trust him through her.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More on Councils

Continuing for a while where I left off yesterday/earlier today...

Yet another such post deals again with the Council in Trullo/Quinisext Council. This is supposed to be "inconvenient" because of questions whether it was recognized by the Pope. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that the Church never accepted this council; this would seem to be borne out by the fact that Doctor of the Church St. Bede the Venerable (d. 735) described it as "a reprobate synod" (ibid). Turretinfan suggests that it was "allegedly endorsed" by a few popes, but this seems unlikely given the fact that some of the canons overturn established Catholic practice. Unfortunately (as seems to be his habit with these "council" posts) at least part of the "inconvenience" is that he hasn't documented all of his sources for the material, so it's impossible to say much about it.

At any rate, given that canon law is not a matter of dogma and is certainly subject to revision, there doesn't appear to be any inconvenience here whether this council was ever approved by the popes or not (as seems more likely).

Another inconvenience is supposed to be found in the fact that Vatican I never formally closed. Given the political circumstances (described in the Catholic Encyclopedia article he quotes) it's obviously understandable why it was suspended, but once again I can't think of a reason why the absence of formal closure ought to be regarded as some sort of inconvenience. Does the authority of a council rest in its closure? Or does the validity of the papal recognition it receives only stand upon proper form in its conclusion? Of course not.

More on the way, hopefully...

Observations about Church Councils

Turretinfan has been running a series of posts in which he pulls chunks out of various councils that he seems to think present problems for Catholics and/or Orthodox. Let's take a look at some of these.

The most recent (as of this writing) such post is about Constantinople in 754. Right out of the box the first observation I have is that it is not reckoned an ecumenical council by Catholics, and consequently it may (and certainly did) err. So if there is something "inconvenient" about C-754, it wouldn't be for Catholics. This was an iconoclast council, rejected by Catholics and by Orthodox alike. Secondly, Turretinfan suggests that the snippet he quotes (oddly enough, without any documentation, which is out of character for him) contradicts the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Now such a thing wouldn't particularly surprise me, given that it was an Iconoclast council to start with; what's one more error in the heap? But the peculiar thing is that his quotation includes this, said about the bread:
...this figure of the body of Christ, the bread, is made divine by the descent of the Holy Spirit; it becomes the divine body of Christ by the mediation of the priest who, separating the oblation from that which is common, sanctifies it [emphasis added].
So where is the denial of Transubstantiation in this sentence? To the contrary, it's an explicit affirmation of it.

So I don't know what is supposed to be "inconvenient" here. It's an invalid council, rejected by Catholic and Orthodox alike, but which apparently (from the snippet here) nevertheless managed to get something right concerning the Eucharist.

Another such post has to do with the council of Jerusalem in 1672 - apparently an Orthodox one, not a Catholic one. Hence its decisions are not binding upon Catholics, and this isn't particularly relevant to me. But on the whole, and given the historical circumstances with respect to rise of Protestantism at the time, I can't say that I find anything particularly scandalous in it - viewed in its historical context. Uninformed and ill-educated folk ought not to pretend that their ideas about the Bible have any particular authority at all. And in any case such proscriptions are not a question of faith or morals. I can't speak for the Orthodox today, but the CCC affirms the value of reading the Scripture, so long as one understands it in keeping with the teaching of the Church.

A third (and probably the last one for now) such post addresses a single canon (out of at least 64) from the "Quinisext" council (also known as the Council in Trullo) - an Orthodox council of 691. Turretinfan seems to think that canon law ought to be treated as binding forever, and so he appears to think that Orthodox who don't act in accord with it are somehow contradicting the claims of their Church. I don't know for a fact about this, but I would be really really surprised if a canon law like this one (dealing with who may teach and where) is supposed to be treated as valid for all time. That's certainly not how canon law is treated in the Catholic Church. Judging from commenters at his blog, it appears that the Orthodox do not treat canon law as dogmatic, either.

In short: I don't see how these posts represent anything "inconvenient" at all. They don't amount to that for Catholics, and I'd be tremendously surprised if they were for Orthodox, either.

It appears that Turretinfan would do well to familiarize himself with the Catholic teaching on the authority of councils in (for example) CCC §880-892 and Lumen Gentium 25.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - God Hates Nothing He Has Made

Preliminary note: The only decent online source for the Summa Contra Gentiles appears to be a copyright violation. I've removed the reference to it from my previous post, and will be omitting links to SCG references in my posts from it until/unless I find a better site to use. Instead, I'll be referencing the 1950s Image 5-volume edition, which you can find (one volume at a time) at Amazon; here's a seller with the full set. It's worth pointing out that most editions I've seen are abridged, but the Image one is complete (and also excellent).

Aquinas begins SCG with God. Someday (waaaaay in the future) maybe I'll go over the full argument that he makes, but for now it's sufficient to say that after going through his proofs for the existence of God, he turns to an extended discussion of the things that we may know about God by means of reason.

In SCG I-96 (p. 292), St. Thomas demonstrates that God hates nothing. This follows from what he said in I-95 (p. 290f) about the fact that God cannot will evil:
For the virtue of a being is that by which he operates well. Now every operation of God is an operation of virtue, since His virtue is His essence, as was shown above. Therefore, God cannot will evil.
If God cannot will evil, then certain other conclusions follow.
[1] From this it appears that the hatred of something does not befit God.

[2] For as love is to the good, so hatred is to evil; for to those we love we will good, and to those we hate, evil. If, then, the will of God cannot be inclined to evil, as has been shown, it is impossible that He should hate anything.
But this is not all. Aquinas does not restrict himself to any single argument where he can help it (and he is rarely if ever limited to a single argument, thanks to his monumental intellectual powers):
[3] Again, the will of God is directed to things other than Himself, as has been shown, in so far as, by willing and loving His own being and His own goodness, God wills it to be diffused as much as possible through the communication of likeness. This, then, is what God wills in other things, that there be in them the likeness of His goodness. But this is the good of each thing, namely, to participate in the likeness of God; for every other goodness is nothing other than a certain likeness of the first goodness. Therefore, God wills good to each thing. Hence, He hates nothing.
This conclusion is consistent with Scripture: "For thou lovest all things that are, and hatest none of the things which thou hast made: for thou didst not appoint, or make any thing hating it" (Wis. 11:25); "The Lord is good to all, and compassionate toward all his works" (Ps. 144/145:9).

Well, then what about passages in the Bible that seem to contradict this?
[7] However, God is said by similitude to hate some things, and this in a twofold way. In the first way, because God, in loving things and by willing the existence of their good, wills the non-existence of the contrary evil. Hence, He is said to have a hatred of evils, for we are said to hate what we will not to exist. In the words of Zechariah (8:17): "And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his friend and love not a false oath. For all these are the things that I hate, saith the Lord." These, however, are not effects in the manner of subsisting things, to which properly love and hate refer.

[8] The second way arises from the fact that God wills some greater good that cannot be without the loss of some lesser good. And thus He is said to hate, although this is rather to love. For thus, inasmuch as He wills the good of justice or of the order of the universe, which cannot exist without the punishment or corruption of some things, God is said to hate the things whose punishment or corruption He wills. In the words of Malachi (1:3): "I have hated Esau"; and the Psalms (5:7): "You hate all workers of iniquity: You destroy all who speak a lie. The bloody and the deceitful man the Lord will abhor."
So we see that the best that may be said for those Protestants who claim that God literally hates unbelievers is that they have misunderstood Scripture. The God who is love does not hate his creatures.

That Took A While (But it Was Worth It)

I just finished volume I of Previté-Orton. It was at times tedious, but often very instructive - which, admittedly, wasn't too hard to achieve given my near-total ignorance of the subject matter.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book was the overview of the Byzantine Empire, and particularly its remarkable stand for a century against Muslim invaders at a time when it was subject to attack literally from all sides. But the material relating to the period from 1000-1200 in Europe was also good.

One of the difficulties for me - as a total neophyte on the topic - is judging whether the author is a partisan. On balance, I guess I'd have to say that I'm inclined to say that P-O made a good effort to be fair to his subject matter, an opinion I hold on the basis of his coverage of things about which I knew at least something.

It seemed at times that the focus of the book was almost entirely upon military and political stuff, but an author has to make choices (particularly when the book is really a distillation of an eight-volume work on the same subject!). And to be fair, he did invest more space on other topics later in the book.

On the whole I'd say that this seems to be a good introduction to medieval history, and I commend it to you if you're looking for one.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Preliminaries on the Summa Contra Gentiles

Before getting into SCG a few things ought to be said about the book itself, so that we do not misunderstand it or its purpose.

It's not exactly the same sort of work as the Summa Theologica, of which Aquinas says, "we purpose in this book to treat of whatever belongs to the Christian religion, in such a way as may tend to the instruction of beginners." Setting aside the question of what sort of "beginner" he had in mind (probably the equivalent of a well-read graduate student today, I suppose), he sets out to explain Christian doctrine to fellow believers.

SCG is different.
I have set myself the task of making known, as far as my limited powers will allow, the truth that the Catholic faith professes, and of setting aside the errors that are opposed to it. To use the words of Hilary: “I am aware that I owe this to God as the chief duty of my life, that my every word and sense may speak of Him” [I-2]
In other words, SCG is intended as a work of apologetics, and so he does not presume that his audience is Christian. That might seem to be mere posturing at first to some of us today, because we might have the idea that 13th century Europe was so completely Christian as to make an apologetic work for non-Christians nothing more than a purely academic exercise. In fact, however, it was only during Aquinas' lifetime that Muslim rule over much of Spain was overturned, and there were of course others who could likewise profit from his labors (to say nothing of the benefit that Christians might enjoy).

A word ought to be said about the nature of the argument he presents. The Catholic Faith is rational, but it is not rationalistic. That is, nothing that we believe is irrational, or contrary to reason, although there are certainly things that we believe which we could not apprehend solely on the basis of reason. Some things must be revealed, and we must simply believe them. In SCG, Aquinas sticks to presenting a rational argument for the Faith. He does not try to present arguments for things that must simply be believed as though he can prove them to be true. So when he discusses the Trinity, or the Eucharist, he doesn't pretend to present arguments that "prove" them. Rather, he presents arguments that demonstrate them to be reasonable rather than irrational. On the other hand, he is convinced that there are also many things about God and Christian truth that certainly may be rationally demonstrated, and in these cases that is precisely what he attempts, along with showing that the conclusions of his arguments are consistent with the teaching of Scripture and the Church.

I guess another thing worth saying - and I'm not the first to say it by a country mile, and others say it much better than I will - is that there is a ridiculous conceit in our day that true things are empirically verifiable - that the only "real" truths are those of math or science. This is total malarkey. There are many things that we understand to be true by use of reason that may not be subject to empirical observation but which are nonetheless true. St. Thomas does not suffer from the burden of having to deal with this empiricist delusion, and we would do well to shake it off ourselves.

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Meaning of 'Passion'

In ST Supp. Q82 A1, St. Thomas speaks of a passion in two senses.
First in a broad sense, and thus every reception is called a passion, whether the thing received be fitting to the receiver and perfect it, or contrary to it and corrupt it.
In this broad sense we can understand better perhaps the etymology of the English word 'patient' (in reference to one subject to medical treatment) as being one who receives something. So too the man who is patient (in the sense of longsuffering): he receives things, and bears them. The same goes also for the "Passion of the Lord," which refers to his suffering and death for our salvation.

There is another sense of the word as well, when we refer to the "passions of the soul:
In another way we use the word "passive" properly, and thus the Damascene defines passion (De Fide Orth. ii, 22) as being "a movement contrary to nature." Hence an immoderate movement of the heart is called its passion, but a moderate movement is called its operation.
Now in this sense, for example, one may be justly angry in accord with a moderate movement of the heart, or may fly off the handle in a passion of rage, according to an immoderate movement of his heart.


And this wraps up my posts based upon notes I took while reading the Summa Theologica a year or two ago. My main purpose in doing them was to get them into a more permanent and hopefully useful form than the 3x5 cards where they first wound up, but I hope that you, my reader, have perhaps found them to be useful or interesting as well.

Next up will be a (much shorter) series of posts based upon similar notes taken while reading the Summa Contra Gentiles. I'm pretty fond of SCG because it struck me as more accessible than ST did, for whatever reason. I think that SCG is a valuable book because in it Aquinas presents what seems to my small brain to be a solid argument for the reasonableness of the Christian Faith. This is not to say that the Faith is rationalistic, but it is to say that nothing in it is contrary to reason. Anyway, I hope my notes will be fruitful for some interesting posts.

On a completely different front, I've been slogging through the first volume of Previte-Orton's Medieval History for what seems like an eternity. Shoo. It's fairly interesting, but for some reason I have a more difficult time keeping my attention focused on it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Humpty Dumbty

So here is a "lexicographer" who is going to define for us how we ought to use words. She haughtily informs us why we ought not to worry too much about using non-words as words.
So, please, leave off the "not a real word" apologia. A far better (and dare I say, funner) technique is to jump in with both feet and use whatever word strikes your fancy. Instead of being defensive, demand that any who dare to quibble over your use prove that your word is, in fact, not a word.
Well, Miss Expert, some of us haven't forgotten that the purpose of words is communication, and communication requires rules that are agreed upon by the participants. Humpty Dumpty might have been satisfied with his usage, but the rest of the world finds him a bit ridiculous.

Now of course, we have more flexibility when we are speaking casually: we are able to clarify what we mean in response to a question or a quizzical look from the listener, and we may communicate additional meaning by way of intonation, facial expressions, gestures, and so forth. But the greater the distance between our audiences and us, the more important it becomes to adhere to rules if we want to be correctly understood.

That's why Miss Lexicographer has it all wrong. Dictionaries absolutely must not be treated as or designed to be primarily descriptive if they are to be useful for their purpose of facilitating communication. If I can take what Webster says and do what I want with it as the mood strikes me, or as the fit seizes me, then heaven help my readers.

In my opinion this attitude of modern lexicographers (Miss Expert is merely representative of many in her guild, I'm afraid) is a monstrous wart on the nose of modernity. We have been so eager to throw off rules of any sort that we have actually stumbled into the same delusion in our approach to language.

Ironically, Miss Lexicographer seems not to realize that she is undermining her chosen profession with remarks like this:
What do they imagine the penalty is for using an "unreal" word? A ticket from the Dictionary Police?
Ha. Ha.

No, the penalty is an increased likelihood of failing to communicate. But if she's right about all this, why on earth would I want a dictionary at all? Why not just make up some gibberish and assign it the meaning I choose? And if you dare to complain, well, I'll just say, "You poor benighted thing. Prove my words aren't words!" Well, I'll feel so good about myself...as you walk away and decide to ignore me. Oh, wait...

Sadly, I fear that the author's argument has far more appeal in an age of just plain lousy education, where the average man's working vocabularly is dwindling. He can't come up with the right word for what he wants to say, so he resorts to making it up. But a vocabulary deficit isn't going to be solved by ignoring it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Necessity and God

In ST Supp Q79 A2, St. Thomas tells us that the resurrection is "necessary." He doesn't mean that there is some exterior force that compels God to raise us up.
The necessity of holding the resurrection arises from this--that man may obtain the last end for which he was made; for this cannot be accomplished in this life, nor in the life of the separated soul, as stated above (75, 1,2): otherwise man would have been made in vain, if he were unable to obtain the end for which he was made. And since it behooves the end to be obtained by the selfsame thing that was made for that end, lest it appear to be made without purpose, it is necessary for the selfsame man to rise again; and this is effected by the selfsame soul being united to the selfsame body. For otherwise there would be no resurrection properly speaking, if the same man were not reformed. Hence to maintain that he who rises again is not the selfsame man is heretical, since it is contrary to the truth of Scripture which proclaims the resurrection.
The necessity is one that arises from the purpose for which God made us. It was not necessary for God to have made Eve, as though he were compelled to it; but having made Adam, it was not good for him to be alone and so out of a sort of necessity God made woman as well.

So we see that the only real necessity upon God is that which arises from himself. Once he begins to create, he must complete the work of creation. When he sends out his Word, it does not return to him void but completes the work he intends by it (Is. 55:11). And with respect to the resurrection (getting back again to the subject of our quotation for this post), since we cannot attain our last end apart from God's grace (as I mentioned briefly in my last post), it is "necessary" that God gives it to us. Now this is a slightly different order of things, because - though he gives us grace - we have free wills and may choose to reject him. But our freedom is also from God, and so his purposes are fulfilled in it, too.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Discussion of Natural Law

Maybe he discussed it earlier in the Summa Theologica and I missed it, or perhaps it's something that he intended to do later but didn't. Or maybe he primarily discusses it in the Summa Contra Gentiles - I can't remember. In any case, it seems to be an unexpected thing that something like this discussion of the Natural Law must be left to the middle of the Supplement collated by (presumably) my namesake. In any case, it's an excellent overview, though somewhat difficult and perhaps densely populated.

In Supp. Q65 A1, on polygamy, St. Thomas says:
All natural things are imbued with certain principles whereby they are enabled not only to exercise their proper actions, but also to render those actions proportionate to their end, whether such actions belong to a thing by virtue of its generic nature, or by virtue of its specific nature: thus it belongs to a magnet to be borne downwards by virtue of its generic nature, and to attract iron by virtue of its specific nature.
In other words, God made his creatures such that they are able to fulfill their natural ends. But man has unique traits that distinguish him from the rest of creation:
Now just as in those things which act from natural necessity the principle of action is the form itself, whence their proper actions proceed proportionately to their end, so in things which are endowed with knowledge the principles of action are knowledge and appetite. Hence in the cognitive power there needs to be a natural concept, and in the appetitive power a natural inclination, whereby the action befitting the genus or species is rendered proportionate to the end. Now since man, of all animals, knows the aspect of the end, and the proportion of the action to the end, it follows that he is imbued with a natural concept, whereby he is directed to act in a befitting manner, and this is called "the natural law" or "the natural right," but in other animals "the natural instinct." For brutes are rather impelled by the force of nature to do befitting actions, than guided to act on their own judgment.
Okay, now the sledding is getting a bit more heavy. I think that a reasonable summary for this is that man's fulfillment of his ends are guided by knowledge and appetite - or, better, by reason and will. This is in contrast to other animals, which are directed to fulfill their ends by instinct.
Therefore the natural law is nothing else than a concept naturally instilled into man, whereby he is guided to act in a befitting manner in his proper actions, whether they are competent to him by virtue of his generic nature, as, for instance, to beget, to eat, and so on, or belong to him by virtue of his specific nature, as, for instance, to reason and so forth [emphasis added].
So by the natural law we are guided to eat, and to drink, and to reproduce - things which belong to us by our generic nature - and to do fulfill these ends in a proportionate manner, we are guided by by reason (which is part of our specific nature).

Now none of this has to do directly with the question of man's chief end, which is God. But that's because God is above nature, and we cannot attain to him by purely natural means. This is one fundamental reason - even apart from our sins - that we cannot attain to God on the basis of our natural acts, but only by his grace (as an aside, it's this sort of rather foundational principle that completely demolishes the ridiculous claim that Catholic teaching is Pelagian in any way: grace is the only possible means by which we can attain to God). But it has plenty to do with how we understand our lives here on earth.

Know Your Latin

Ignorance of one thing can lead to errors about other things. I'm an ignorant little twerp when it comes to Latin (though I hope to remedy this twerpishness), and consequently misunderstood the meaning of the word "host" in reference to the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.

It's not "host" in the sense of "I'm Jay Leno, your host tonight." It's not that the Host receives a guest or entertains us.

I'm happy to be able to say that I never made this particular mistake, although I was confused by the use of the word "Host" with reference to the Body.

Rather, it comes from the Latin word hostia - which means victim. At last things make sense. :-) Christ is indeed the sacrificial victim by whose death our sins are forgiven.

This Latin moment brought to you by the English translators of the Summa Theologica, who helpfully included a note explaining this at ST III Q73 A4 obj. 3 (or vol. IV, p. 2430, if you want to see it in the actual book).