Category Archives: Philosophy

John Calvin’s total depravity. Why does evil exist?


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

“In John Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, he presents a view of man that is very much like Luther’s but contrary to what we find in the pages of Sacred Scripture. Calvin used texts such as Genesis 6:5—“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”—and Romans 3:10ff—“None is righteous, no not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one ”—to prove that man is utterly depraved through the fall of Adam and Eve.

Calvin’s conclusion from these texts and others was to say, “The will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil” (Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 26).

What say we?

The context of the texts Calvin used actually demonstrates the opposite of his claim. For example, if we read forward just four verses in Genesis 6, we find: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. . . . Noah was a righteous [“just”] man, blameless in his generation” (Gen. 6:8-9). While we Catholics agree that God’s grace or “favor” was essential for Noah to be truly “just” before God, nevertheless Noah was truly just, according to the text.

As far as the quote from Romans is concerned, the greater context of the entire epistle must be understood. One of the central themes of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is the fact that it is through “the goodness of God” that we are led to repent (cf. Romans 2:4), to be justified (Romans 5:1-2), and persevere in the faith (cf. Romans 11:22). It is solely because of God’s grace that we become truly just:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God (Rom. 5:1-2).

Further,

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death . . . in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:2,4).

Notice the emphasis on the fact that man is made truly just so much so that he can fulfill “the just requirement of the law.” It doesn’t get any more just, or righteous, than that!

Thus, Romans 3:10ff simply does not teach total depravity in a Calvinist sense. It cannot when the context is understood.

Moreover, if we examine the verses where St. Paul paints his picture of the wicked who have “turned aside” and “done wrong,” we find he actually quotes Psalm 14:3. The next two verses of this Psalm explain who these “evil ones” are:

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.

The Psalmist clearly refers to both evildoers and the righteous.

These and other passages from Romans tell us that Christ came to make us just, not that there are absolutely none who are just. We must stress again that it is because of the justice of Christ communicated to the faithful that their actions and, indeed, they themselves are truly made just. But they indeed are truly made just.

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right (Gr., ho poion tein dikaiousunein/ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην—“the one doing justice”) is righteous (Gr., dikaios estin/δίκαιός ἐστιν—“is just”) as He is righteous (Gr., kathos ekeinos dikaios estin/καθὼς ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν—“as He is just”). -1 Jn 3:7

Scripture couldn’t be clearer that the faithful are made truly just in their being and in their actions through the grace of Christ.

The problem magnified

More grave problems arise when we begin to follow the path Calvin lays for us with his first principle. Even when considering the unregenerate, Calvin is wrong about total depravity, because Scripture tells us even those outside of the law can “do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15).

Though Catholics agree with Calvinists that grace is necessary even for those who are ignorant of the law in order for them to be just before God—in other words, this text is not saying these pagans can be justified apart from grace—the text does infer that nature is not totally depraved, because man can clearly act justly on a natural level and by nature.

But an even more grave error comes to the fore when we consider his notion of the depravity of the just.

“Depravity of the just?” Yes. That was not a typo. According to John Calvin, even those who have been justified by Christ “cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation” (Institutes, bk. III, ch. 9, para. 9). What a far cry this is from “he that acts justly is just” (I John 3:7) or the plain words of the Psalmist, who uses similar words as found in Genesis with regard to Abraham being justified by faith: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). In the Psalms we read: “Then Phineas stood up and interposed, and the plague was stayed. And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation” (Ps. 106:30-31).

Clearly, Phineas was justified by his works and not only by faith. In other words, Phineas’s works are truly “just as he is just,” to use the words of I John 3:7.

There are a multitude of biblical texts that come to mind at this point, but here are only three:

“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”? (Matt. 12:37).

“By works a man is justified and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24).

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).

These texts do not even come close to saying all of these works were “worthy of condemnation.” They say just the opposite!

We should be clear here: All “good works” man performs that contribute to his salvation are first and foremost God’s gifts, which, along with his cooperation, truly make him just and worthy to “walk with [Christ] in white; for [he is] worthy” (Rev. 3:4) by God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot escape the biblical fact that these works are truly just and they are truly the fruit of the just man himself.

Understanding the strange

When John Calvin says man is utterly dependent upon God for every single just thought in his mind (cf. Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 27), Catholics will happily agree. And they would be correct: We do agree. However, appearances can be deceiving, because there is meaning beneath those words that Catholics cannot agree with.

With Calvin, there is no sense of grace aiding and empowering our wills as St. Augustine taught and the Catholic Church teaches. For Calvin, being “dependent upon God” means our free cooperation or free will has no part to play. God does not merely empower our wills; He operates them.

In the end, this may well be the most disturbing idea stemming from Calvin’s notion of total depravity: Man is essentially God’s puppet, a notion that led to Calvin attributing both the good and the evil actions of man to God.

And mind you, Calvin rejects and ridicules the Catholic notion of God merely permitting evil and working all things together for good. In his words:

Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting, because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that He directs their malice to whatever end He pleases” (Institutes, bk. I, ch. XVIII, para. 1).

Evildoers do not commit acts of depravity in spite of the command of God, but because of the command of God, according to Calvin (ibid., para. 4)!

Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 are used to teach that there is no evil that occurs that is not “impelled” by God’s positive command (ibid., para. 2).

God is the author of all those things that, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. [45:7]); that no evil happens which he hath not done (Amos [3:6]) (ibid., para. 3).

As Catholics we understand, as St. Paul teaches, “[S]ince they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Rom. 1:28). This means God may well remove grace that is rejected. He may also hold back grace as well, but this is, as St. Augustine said, God’s “just judgment.”

But according to Calvin’s unbiblical teaching, God does not give grace in the first place and then “impels” men to act sinfully. As quoted above, according to Calvin, God causes evil. And we are not talking about physical evil here; we are talking about moral evil. That is categorically absurd! God cannot “do” or “impel” moral evil because He is infinitely and absolutely good.

God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:8, Numbers 23:19); “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13) or act contrary to His nature. If God’s nature is one of love and pure being, it is absurd to say that He can “do” evil, which is by nature a lack of some perfection that ought to be present in a given nature. In fact, James 1:13 tells us that God not only cannot cause this kind of evil, He cannot even tempt anyone with evil. That is contrary to His nature.

The bottom line

When Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 say God “creates evil” and “does evil,” this must be seen only in a sense in which it does not contradict God’s nature and what is clearly revealed to us about God in Scripture. God can directly cause physical evil, such as the ten plagues he released against Egypt in Exodus. But this was an act of justice, which was morally upright and justified.

We can also say that God permits evil in view of the fact that He chose to create us with freedom. But even there, God permits evil only in view of His promise to bring good out of that evil, as is most profoundly demonstrated through the greatest evil in the history of the world: the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this greatest evil God brings about the greatest good: the redemption of the world. God did not kill Christ, nor did he “impel” anyone to kill Christ.

But by virtue of His Omnipotence, He brings good out of the evil acts committed.”

Love,
Matthew

Ontology. What is the definition/meaning of being? What is our identity? God decides. NOT us.

God determines our identity.  We respond in grace and free will; either correctly or incorrectly, either in good or evil, either in obedience or disobedience, as God defines them and us.  We do not decide.  God does.  THY WILL be done.  Thy Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven.


-by Fr. Christopher Pietraszko, Ignitum, Fr. Christopher serves in the Diocese of London, Ontario.

“Philosophically there is much attention to the concept of identity. In sacred scripture the same is the case. What constitutes our identity?

In the philosophy that examines “being” or ontology, our identity is rooted in our “whatness.” What you are, determined who you are. This whatness is not merely your essence, but it’s tied intrinsically to your “why-ness” that is a pre-determined purpose that is imposed upon you by your existence. To some this seems oppressive, to others it’s a matter of discovery and humility. In this category one does not determine their own purpose. Psychologically that would be absurd since one is drawing from their nature to determine a preferential purpose, thus at least latently basing their existential self first in their own nature. This is where the notion of dignity stems from, and since it is rooted in our being, personal choices do not dissolve this dignity, nor do states of development.

The second type of identity is sometimes called “moral character.” This, while of itself springs from our nature, nonetheless does carry with it existential notions of self-creation. Here, we are not creating “being” or “what/why we are” but “how” we are. For the Christian, this is what, in part, determines our our salvation, in conjunction with or without our cooperation with grace. We are responsible here for our moral character, and sometimes this is how people identity.

Today, sexual relativism defines identity around sexual attractions, or affective states. The primary focus is not on one’s ontology as a human (male or female), but rather the sexual inclinations and affective-guided self concept. Sexual attraction is often conflated with the tautology “love is love.” Love is not initially defined as to will the good of the other here, otherwise further phrases such as “you don’t choose who you love” would not accompany the movement. This is about desire, since in disinterested friendships love can be chosen and should be as such.

Since Christ, our identity has been rooted in His choice to adopt us as His children, not in one’s sexual disposition, or affective desires in any particular regard, including pleasure, wealth, money or power. In baptism the Church teaches that one is changed “ontologically.” Thus the identity in whatness and whyness has also changed. God extends this call to be changed by His love, which transcends mere sexual desires, but pertains to a concern primarily for the good of the other.

Knowing these distinctions is important as it will help people navigate chronic shame, and be rooted in not something ultimately hedonistic or defined primarily by affective desires, but rather rooted in the Creator Who defines us by the relationship He freely and universally extends to all, that some may be saved.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

St Anselm’s argument for the existence of God


-by Matt Nelson

St. Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence often gets a bad rap, even from many Catholics. For one thing, it can be a difficult argument to understand. Though its premises are rather simple, something about it makes us think we are being tricked. For another thing, we know that eminent authorities like St. Thomas Aquinas have expressed their discontent with the argument.

Nonetheless, I think it is wrong to discard the argument without a second thought. Indeed, I think there is still much of value to be gleaned from it. For simplicity’s sake, here’s a basic sketch of the argument:

  1. God is the greatest conceivable thing.
  2. But if something is only in the mind and not in reality, then a greater thing can be conceived.
  3. So, God cannot only be in the mind.
  4. Therefore, God exists in reality.

In short, the very idea of God necessitates His existence. Thus, the Psalmist is right when he writes, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). Whether or not this is a perfect representation of Anselm’s argument, it should serve our purposes today.

I would like to set aside for now the objections against it as an argument for God’s existence, not because it’s not an important question. It is indeed a very important question! But before defending the argument, we have to understand better what Anselm was saying. In fact, unbelievers who point out what they believe to be its weaknesses tend to miss Anselm’s meaning, and thus end up “defeating” a straw man. Engaging in an argument without clarifying meanings is never a good idea.

Christian apologists have long been frustrated to deal with popular skeptics railing against God as something other than what he truly is. Comparisons of God to the tooth fairy or Santa Claus are often flippantly made, particularly among the New Atheist types. Pathetic as such caricatures are, they betray a conception among non-believers that God is a finite creature. But for St. Anselm, that is precisely what God is not.

In an age when religious indifference is rampant and serious contemplation of spiritual things is scarce, St. Anselm’s argument is valuable because it takes on the form of a spiritual exercise.

In reality, God is not a thing at allthings in the sense of “beings in the world” have limitations. They can always be imagined to be greater in some way. But as Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe writes, “God cannot be a thing, an existent among others. It is not possible that God and the universe should add up to make two.”

What he means is that God’s mode of existence is completely different than everything else. Indeed, God is the creator of everything, and keeps it in being every moment it exists. This is the kind of God St. Anselm has in mind when he imagines “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”

The Anselmian proof invites us to do away with the caricatures—a challenger cannot even begin to refute the proof until he seriously entertains the notion of God presented by Anselm. From that starting point, then, all lesser kinds of “divinities”—from Zeus to the Flying Spaghetti Monster—are necessarily ruled out. We must ask the question soberly: what is the greatest conceivable thing? It is certainly not a beast composed of pasta.

There is more than one way to approach the question. We can think about God as unrestricted existence—that is, existence itself. Or in Aristotelian terms, we can think about God as being pure act and no potency—which just means that God is utterly perfect and lacks all possibility of further perfection. Technically (and as St. Thomas affirmed), to think of God as existence itself is probably the best way to think about “what” God is.

But there is another way to think about what it means for God to be, as Anselm put it, “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” Let’s think about this in concrete terms. What is greater—a God who loves everyone who loves him back, or a God who loves everyone unconditionally? Clearly the latter, for his love is perfect. Now, such “negative theology” can help us understand what God isn’t, but it proves nothing about whether such a thing exists. Still, it can help to clarify the nature of the thing considered—the first step of serious argumentation.

In his influential book, The God of Faith and Reason, philosopher Robert Sokolowski considers another contrast, one that sheds light on St. Anselm’s meaning of God. The first “god” Sokolowski asks us to consider is one who becomes greater as the result of his creation. In this first case, “god + the world” is greater than the god alone. He contrasts this version with another in which God is so great that his creation adds nothing to his perfection. In the latter case, “God + the world” is not greater than God alone. And clearly, argues Sokolowski, this latter God is a greater conception of God than the former. Indeed, no greater God could be conceived. And there are important implications that follow from this.

One implication is that if God creates but gains nothing for himself by doing so, then it follows that God’s act of creation is completely gratuitous and unsolicited. We—the created—have everything to gain by virtue of the gift of our existence.

So, aside from what it contributes to the debate about God’s existence, St. Anselm’s ontological proof helps us to re-establish who God is and what it means for us to exist. It gets us thinking about the big questions again, for we have been created for our own good by a God who is unlimited in perfection. Our lives, then, should be lived in a way that reflects uncompromising gratitude, humility, and trust in God.

If St. Anselm’s argument fails as a proof for God’s existence, it nonetheless does great service in establishing a firm starting point for determining what it is we are trying to prove in the first place. Moreover, it compels us to think seriously about whether such a grand contention could be true.

Love,
Matthew

The responsibility of free will


-by Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem., a convert from Episcopalianism

“Freedom!” To hear contemporary people speak, you would think that this notion gives us the essence of human dignity and happiness. Well, freedom is surely closely related to our human dignity and to our acquiring of happiness but not because it is the most important component of either human nature or human fulfillment. It is a condition of our participation in the good things that we need to receive or accomplish in order to be good or happy, but it is not the best aspect of our goodness or happiness.

Free will, as it is called, is simply a composite effect of the fact that we are knowing, rational beings who thus have the power to choose among several (and “several” can mean a whole lot!) means to accomplish a desired end. [Ed. There is no true, real, honest love w/out free will.]  We can go by foot, by ten-speed, by motorcycle, by skateboard, by bus, by car, or by plane or boat. Our freedom is precisely our rational ability to choose between a number of means to an end. This means that our freedom is not an end in itself—it is itself a kind of means to the end.

The frequent problem with people, at least in our culture, is that they think everything is just fine as long as you get to choose (Ed. w/out truly considering the dramatic responsibility of the power they exercise}. The classical and Catholic view is different. For us, everything is fine if we use our understanding in order to arrive at our true good. How stupid it would be to say, “Well, it doesn’t matter that you decided to go shopping for a new smartphone and so missed your mother’s funeral, because at least you were using your freedom!”

A silly approach like this, which is obviously wrong when we apply it to practical things, often ends up being our excuse for serious defects in our relationship with God and with each other. You even hear people say that that it is a better thing for people to be free to go to hell, since that proves that God made us free. This is nonsense.

Misuse of free will is a defect, not a perfection. It doesn’t prove anything except that we are not God, and so we are capable of not reaching the goal of our existence. We should never speak as though God had no choice but to make us capable of going to hell, otherwise he would not show us the respect due our nature, which is dignified by our free will!

Not at all. God gave us free will in order to reach Him according to our reasonable and loving nature, not to prove a philosophical point. Of course, not even God can make a creature that is radically and totally incapable of falling short of its end and goal, but this ability to suffer so awful a defect does not constitute the dignity of the creature; rather, it is just a natural liability of not being God.

This is so deeply part of the modern view of things, even among Catholics, that they fall into the error of Pelagius, against which Pope Francis is always speaking, the idea that our salvation requires our previous activity and that damnation is a proof of our dignity. This is not Christian thought—it is rationalist, pagan thought.

It would be better for us to esteem the power of divine grace and the ability of God effectively to attract our free will to Himself so that we can persevere in grace and be saved. As St. Augustine, the great doctor of grace and theologian of free will, prays, “Give what You command, and command what You will.”

Our free will is only a snare and a road to inevitable disaster without the grace of God, and we will be very happy one day when, seeing the supreme Good, our end, and, possessing Him eternally, we will unable to choose anyone or anything else. Then freedom will have achieved its perfect goal, and we will be at rest in ecstatic joy all together in the kingdom of God’s grace.”

Love,
Matthew

The Cruelty of Error

Tolerance is NOT a Christian virtue.


-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

“Here’s an open secret: Many young Catholics disagree or struggle with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. Not only do they struggle—as have generations—with the call to chastity, but they also doubt the Church’s basic claims about what sexuality is for. Even among those who wish to be faithful, many simply can’t see how the Church’s teaching about sexuality could ever be something other than an embarrassment. And, from a cultural standpoint, it’s easy to see why.

Consider the experience of teenagers and college students. Every day, they confront a certain set of questions. “You want to be accepting of others, right?” Yes, I’m no bigot. “You want to support people in their pursuit of happiness?” Of course! “Well, these people, perhaps some of them good friends, have discovered that they are attracted romantically to someone of the same sex and, therefore, unless you are bigoted or against people being happy, you will support their seeking to fulfill this desire.” This line of questioning becomes even more acute if one has some uncertainties about one’s own attractions.

Now, more and more, we see the same logic spreading. “You want to be accepting, right?” “You want to support people in their pursuit of happiness?” “Well, these people have discovered that they have to surgically reconfigure their bodies in order to be happy, so you will support them, right?”

Young Catholics find themselves caught between the latest form of self-identification and a Church whose precepts they do not understand. Humans can only live with this cognitive contradiction for so long, before having to jettison either Church teaching or the ideologies of the day.

They have many motivations to reject Church teachings: being on “the right side of history,” acceptance by peers, perceived self-fulfillment, and, increasingly, employability.

What’s the case for staying true to the Church? On this matter, the Church preaches two words of good news: First, although the world has fallen in profound ways, God made the world good and providentially guides it. And second, the Church preaches the truth of Christ crucified.

God’s good ordering shapes the world. How is this good news? Our interior experience does not create the world. Especially in an age in which the young are consumed by anxiety and depression, this truth is great news. We can confront our fears by contemplating the way the world actually is. You will not die if you get a C on one test. Your life won’t be over if you make a fool of yourself in front of friends. God is totally in control.

As our fears can deceive us, so too can our desires. So often we desire what will in reality make us miserable. The Church’s teaching frees us from the tyranny of our often misaimed desires by introducing us to the designs of God.

The goodness of the world does not negate the fact that we suffer. Unfulfilled desires cause us to suffer—this is true whether the desires point us to something contrary to what the Church teaches or not. But by suffering the unfulfillment of desires we know to be misaimed, we allow God to begin to heal us at the deepest level. Christ crucified gives meaning to our suffering. His suffering makes ours a place of profound intimacy with God. He has given us a promise that the suffering we bear for Him is not in vain.

Perhaps these two points don’t immediately seem to sway the balance in favor of choosing God and His Church. To sum up the case: we will suffer if we let God reshape our hearts to accord with the goodness of reality. But, in the long run, we will be much more miserable if we try to reshape the world according to our broken desires. So we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:14), knowing that “the world and its desires are passing away” (1 John 2:17). In the end, it is cruel to affirm otherwise. The choice is becoming starker—in one sense harder, in another sense clearer: God or the world, truth or error, life or death. The Church teaches a freeing truth, and “blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Luke 11:28).”

“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to Him, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” -Dt 30:15-20

Love & truth,
Matthew

Ecce, Res & Objective Truth


-“Ecce homo”, Andrea Mantegna, 1500, tempera on canvas, 72 cm × 54 cm (28 in × 21 in), Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris. In the painting, two messages can be seen in Latin script: Crvcifige evm[.] tolle evm[.] crvcifige crvc[…] (“crucify him, trap him, crucify [in the cross]”) to the left and to the right the similar Crvcifige evm crvcifige tolle eṽ crvcifige (“crucify him, crucify, trap him, crucify”). The text on the left pretends to be pseudo-Hebrew in cursive script.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Br Ephrem Maria Reese, OP

“One thing that frustrates some, and fascinates others, about philosophical study, is that it takes ordinary things and makes them very, very complicated…

One feature of Catholic thinking that now fascinates people goes under the name “objective truth.” For many people, secular and religious alike, our world has been affected by “the turn to the subject,” or the tendency to say that truth mostly lies in the eye of the beholder, or depends on who the person thinking is. For truth to be objective, on the other hand, means that who the thinker is is not as important as what the thing they are thinking about is. The who needs to conform himself or herself to the what, not the other way around.

It is popular nowadays in Catholic theology to point out that Truth, in Jesus, became a person. In other words, Truth became a Subject. Indeed, He did. But a further twist to the story is that Jesus, Who is a Subject, also chose to become, for us and for our salvation, an Object. He became, among other things, a piece of food—a mere Thing. In the Eucharist, God so humbled Himself as to become, mysteriously, both thing and person—in theological language, we might say that He is both res et persona.

The Truth is a Person, a Subject, and is thus in perpetual conversation with us. He speaks interiorly. He comes to us as Word, speaking in our hearts, and even in other persons. But the Truth is also Thing, and as such, comes to us in Objects, called the Sacraments. One complaint that the early Protestant Reformers in England had with the Catholics is that our treatment of God is so thing-like. Their early charter, the 39 Articles, says: “The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about.” Well, yes and no. These most sacred Things are not to be merely thrown around, or treated superstitiously. But God did intend them to be mysterious realities. A “reality” is another word for “thing,” from the Latin res. In the Eucharist, and in the other sacraments (though in different ways), God makes His presence Real, in things. And that is something to be gazed upon, with reverent silence and song and humble prayer.

Before the person Who so humbled Himself as to be gazed upon in His torment, carried about in His death, worshiped and eaten in mystery, a true Christian will say: “yes, truth is objective.” He is more interior than my most interior self; He is more real than the realest exterior object. Ecce, Res.”

He lives,
Matthew

“Quid est veritas?” -Pontius Pilate, Jn 18:38


-by Br Charles Marie Rooney, OP

“Every once in a while, we do well to ask ourselves why we are Catholic. Is it because the community at our local church is kind and welcoming? Because we enjoy the liturgy or like the priest? Or perhaps because we are nostalgic for the customs of our youth?

Though common, each answer puts the cart before the horse. First and foremost, we are Catholic because we know it to be true that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16:16), for He alone has the words of eternal life (cf. Jn 6:68).

And yet, astoundingly, we cannot adjudicate the question on our own power. We believe Christ to be the Savior not because flesh and blood has deduced this but rather because the Father in heaven has made it known, and he has moved us to affirm His truth (cf. Mt 16:17).

This graced acceptance of and confidence in the truth of the Gospel is absolutely primary in the Christian life. Every human person has a visceral sense of what it means for something to be true: that it is. For as long as we can remember, we have instinctively understood that to lie is to tell what is not, what does not exist, what is not in fact real. Lying never ultimately feels good because it is contrary to what is most basic about human experience: that we receive and respond to an ordered reality that exists outside of ourselves. The liar, in taking what is real and recreating it in his own image for his own selfish purposes, commits an offense against the very being of things [Ed. helpful if you know a little, or as in my case very little, philosophy.]  We feel this all the more acutely when we discover that someone has lied to us, for then we have become victims of such a cheapening of reality, and our own natural, inquisitive desire for the truth—and our trust in its knowability—is wounded.

The act of faith heals these wounds because it perfects the human mind, elevating it to know the Way, the Truth, and the Life, who stands above and beyond our mere natural capacities of knowing. We can thus say with Blessed Columba Marmion that “faith is the homage of our intellect to the divine veracity”—a consecration of the mind to Him Who Is and to all that He has spoken. Faith is an expression of total trust that “Truth Himself speaks truly, else there’s nothing true” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Adoro te devote, trans. Gerard Manley Hopkins).

Conversion to Christ must begin with the recognition that we are not artificers but recipients of truth. This always entails the humble realization that my life to this point has, to a greater or lesser degree, been a lie, and that a more fundamental truth exists to which I must conform myself. Indeed, it is this same recognition that enables ongoing conversion, as when Catholics are convicted to go to confession: we see that an act against the truth—an ontological lie—has been committed, that we have done it, and that only the truth Himself can restore us to the eternal end for which we are made.

Pope Saint John Paul II once said that “truth” is the most important word in the Gospels (Witness to Hope, 244). Indeed, the Lord says, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Truth alone liberates because truth alone illumines what we are and hence what is good for us. The light of faith shines upon the mind the brightest beam possible in this life. It communicates certain, saving truth—the knowledge that makes possible intimacy with Christ, Who frees us to turn toward what is and to shun what is not.

Our world, in denying this, sows doubt {Ed. and its own sorrow and destruction by doing so] about divine truth. But we are Catholic because we are convicted by grace that Christ is Who He says He is  [Ed. a difference between God and man is, what God says is] and does what He says He does. On this, everything hangs in the balance. Such, then, is our call: “for this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).”

Love & His truth,
Matthew

Transubstantiation – Natural Philosophy, Accidents & Substance, What the definition of IS is

If you are not familiar with philosophy, as I am not, some things said, some “arguments”, in the pleasant, logical sense, can be difficult to understand, since we do not possess the basic premise, language, or vocabulary from whence the final definition we are handed comes from.  It may be difficulty to understand:

if we have not been trained from the beginning of mathematical training.  In the same way with philosophical and theological “arguments”, it is likely the novice, especially literal ones :), will be lost very quickly in what is meant.

Ancient, at least Greek, philosophers were trying to understanding the world. They sought immutable truths, even in an ever mutable reality. One of the ways they described this knowledge to which they obtained was Plato’s “Theory of Forms”. A tree has “treeness”. A rock has “rockness”. Even though there are a myriad of different things by which we call “tree” or “rock” there is an immutable reality known as “tree” or “rock” which exists outside of these ever changing realities, by which we know their particular instantiations. This area of philosophy is called “ontology”, or the study of being. What does it mean to “be”? It’s quite logical and makes much sense if you follow the bouncing ball in its “ballness”. [Couldn’t help myself! 🙂]

Aristotle was a student of Plato, and a friend. But, famously said he was more a friend of the truth, and so disagreed that the nature of a thing is abstracted from the thing. A rock has “rockness”, a tree has “treeness”, says Aristotle. There is not an abstracted sense of being, but of being itself. The nature of the thing cannot exist without the thing itself.  Whereas Plato believed the concept of “treeness” or “blueness” existed outside human beings as an abstract reality, Aristotle believed the abstract reality existed in the human mind and not independent of physical reality, or the human mind.  Plato said forms are extrinsic to things.  Aristotle said forms are intrinsic to things.  Aristotle said you cannot have the form without the thing.  Plato said you could have the form without the thing.

Substance & Accident – Aristotelian Logic

Aristotle made the distinction between thing and quality of a thing. For instance, a dog is a dog, its substance. A dog may be black or brown, its accidents. Substance is the thing. Accidents are the qualities of things.

Substance and Accidents

Accidents are the modifications that substance undergoes, but that do not change the kind of thing that each substance is. Accidents only exist when they are the accidents of some substance. Examples are colors, weight, motion. For Aristotle there are 10 categories into which things naturally fall. They are

Substance, and
Nine Accidents:

  • Quantity,
  • Quality,
  • Relation,
  • Action,
  • Passion,
  • Time,
  • Place,
  • Disposition (the arrangement of parts), and
  • Rainment (whether a thing is dressed or armed, etc.)

As Fr Dwight Longnecker, a convert from Anglicanism, explains in a a helpful manner, the consecrated Eucharist for Catholics is neither a symbol nor literal flesh and blood, and neither has ever been the teaching of the Catholic Church, although to explain the distinction, less than articulate explanations have been given when you don’t know calculus.

Rev Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England.
Fr Longenecker was brought up in an Evangelical Protestant home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Fundamentalist Protestant Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight. Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, SC.

“Neither position (symbolism nor literality) is the teaching of the Catholic Church. We believe in transubstantiation. The substance of the bread and wine really are transformed into the Body, Blood Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, the transformation is not physical in a literal way. If you took the consecrated host to a laboratory it would be chemically shown to be bread, not human flesh.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches:

1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament.

1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly His body that He was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.

It is therefore not possible for a Catholic to believe that the transaction at Mass is merely a symbolic memorial. But many people who believe in the Eucharistic transformation do not understand transubstantiation.

The word “transubstantiation” means “substance across” and to understand what this means we must first understand what the medieval philosophers like St Thomas Aquinas meant by the word “substance”. They meant by this word almost exactly the opposite of what we mean by it. When we say something is “substantial” we mean it is solid, real, physical and concrete. The medieval philosophers however, used the word “substance” to indicate the invisible and eternal quality of a thing. The physical aspect of a chair, for example, is temporary and mutable. It changes. Eventually, given enough time, the wood of the chair will break, rot and decay into dust. The “chair-ness” of the chair is the eternal, invisible part and this is what is referred to as the “substance.”

With bread and wine the “breadness” of the bread and the “wine-ness” of the wine is the substance and it is this “substance” which is transformed. The physical part of the bread and wine is called the “accident” and the accident of bread and wine remain although the substance of the bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ.

We can think of it like this: I have in a room at my home pictures of myself at the age of two being held in my father’s arms. Then there is a picture of me as a high school student and one of me in my thirties and now in my fifties. Each one is totally different because the “accident” of my physical body has changed. However, there is a “substance” of Dwight that is the eternal part of me that has not changed. It is present in each of the pictures even though my body is very different.

So with the bread and wine at the Eucharist, it is the invisible, eternal “substance” which becomes the Body and Blood of Christ while the “accident” of bread and wine still exist.

However, this philosophical explanation, like all philosophical explanations can only take us so far. In fact, the invisible part of a thing and and the physical part cannot necessarily be separated in this way. The invisible part of me and the physical part seen in the photographs is a unity. The objection to this explanation of transubstantiation that I have just given is that it sounds like the Lord is only “spiritually present” in the Eucharist. If the physical aspect is not transformed in some way, then some Catholics argue, the transformation is just an ethereal or spiritual presence sort of floating about and around the bread and wine. This is to misunderstand the fact that the invisible substance is the most real part of the bread and wine, not the least real. Not only is it the most real, but it is not separate from the physical aspect, nor can it exist separately from the physical aspect. Therefore, inasmuch as the substance is changed there is also some sort of change in the physical aspect.

Furthermore, there is a physicality to the Lord. He is not just a spirit floating around in the air. We say the Eucharist is His body, and that implies some kind of physicality. Therefore we must go a bit further than the medieval philosophical explanation and posit that the real presence of the Lord’s Body Blood Soul and Divinity in the sacrament is also, in some way, physical. We could say the inner quality of the physical Christ is present, but not extended in space. In other words, the reality of Christ’s presence is not just spiritual in an ethereal sense. Through the transubstantiation Christ is also present physically within the substance.

This does not mean that the bread and wine become human flesh and blood, and it is this misapprehension that we need to be careful to correct.

The exception to this would be the unusual examples of Eucharistic miracles, where the Lord, for the encouragement of our faith, allows at certain times for the bread and wine to be transformed not only in their substance but also in their accident.

Finally, transubstantiation is a philosophical explanation for what we believe happens in the mystery of the sacrament of the altar. What happens on the altar is far greater than a philosophical definition just as what happens in a marriage is far greater than a psychological definition of “love”. Instead of trying to explain the mystery of “love” we simply say to the beloved, “I love you.” Likewise, although we attempt to understand and explain the mystery of the Eucharist it is best to hear the Lord say, “This is my Body” and to hear the priest say as we receive the Lord, “The Body of Christ.””

———-

“O my soul, when you receive Holy Communion, try to reanimate your faith, do all you can to detach yourself from exterior things and retire with the Lord into the interior of your being where you know He is abiding. Collect your senses and make them understand the great good they are enjoying, or rather, try to recollect them so that they may not hinder you from understanding it. Imagine yourself at Our Lord’s feet, and weep with Magdalen exactly as if you were seeing Him with your bodily eyes in the house of the Pharisee. These moments are very precious; the Master is teaching you now; listen to Him, kiss His feet in gratitude for all He has condescended to do for you, and beg Him to remain always with you. Even should you be deprived of sensible devotion, faith will not fail to assure you that Our Lord is truly within you.

If I do not want to act like a senseless person who shuts his eyes to the light, I can have no doubt on this point. O my Jesus, this is not a work of the imagination, as when I imagine You on the Cross or in some other mystery of Your Passion, where I picture the scene as it took place. Here, it concerns Your real presence; it is an undeniable truth. O Lord, when I receive Holy Communion, I do not have to go far to find You; as long as the accidents of bread are not consumed, You are within me! And if, during Your mortal life, You healed the sick by a mere touch of Your garments, how, if I have faith, can I doubt that You will work miracles, when You are really present within me? Oh, yes! when You are in my house You will listen to all my requests, for it is not Your custom to pay badly for the lodging given You, if I offer you good hospitality!

O Lord, if a soul receives Communion with good dispositions, and if, wishing to drive out all coldness, it remains for some time with You, great love for You will burn within it and it will retain its warmth for many hours.” (-Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection 34-35).

Love & truth,
Matthew

You may also enjoy:  Truly His Body & His Blood

Aug 29 – Beheading of John the Baptist & free will


-“The Feast of Herod”, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531, oil on panel, Height: 81.3 cm (32 ″); Width: 119.7 cm (47.1″), Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT (please click on the image for greater detail)


-by Br Raymond La Grange, OP

“Today is the memorial of the Passion of John the Baptist, who was killed by the corrupt King Herod for condemning the monarch’s illicit marriage (Mk 6:17-29). For John, this was the culmination of a life of sanctity announced by an angel even before his conception (Lk 1:11-17). (Ed. Freed from sin by the Magnificat, John leapt in his mother’s womb.)  This divine decree presents a curious paradox. God, being all-powerful, was able to determine the course of John’s life before his birth (ST I q. 23, a. 6), but at the same time, God respected John’s free will (ST II-I q. 6, a. 4, ob. 1). How is it that God can determine what we will freely choose?

Modern thinking often seems to suppose that freedom of the will means that our choices have no cause other than the will, as if the will depends on nothing. Thomas explains instead that the will is free because it proceeds from an interior principle, namely knowledge, that allows us to act for an end which we know (ST II-I q. 6, a. 1, 4). God did not ‘force’ John the Baptist to give up his life; rather, by his grace he enlightened John the Baptist so that he would understand the good of preaching the truth even when it endangered him.

As a rather crude analogy, consider how a parent can teach a child to make good choices, not by compulsion, but by education. Keep in mind also that some knowledge is abstract, as when a smoker who is trying to quit knows that his habit is bad for him, but rationalizes that away each time he smokes. John’s knowledge was entirely practical; he knew clearly that in his situation the only thing worth doing was to tell the truth. He saw clearly the disappointment inherent in every other course, and so he was free to act for the sake of the truth.

Furthermore, there is never competition between divine and human causality. Two human agents can operate on the same level, when for example two men pull on a rope. In that case, we can ask who pulls harder, and if the men are pulling in opposite directions, maybe the rope will not move at all. But God operates on a completely different level. He is the one who created humans and ropes and set all things in motion.

As another crude analogy, if I write with a pencil, both I and the pencil are equally truly causes of the writing, but in very different ways. Even though I am “in charge,” I do not force the pencil to do anything unnatural. God has even more causal power, because he created pencil-materials in the first place. In the same way, God created John the Baptist as the kind of person who would give up his life for the sake of the truth. God is the first cause on which all else depends. Nothing escapes his causal power, not even the interior life of John (ST I q. 19, a. 6, ad. 3).

You might have noticed that, left to our own devices, there are actually significant limits on our freedom. Those who struggle with habitual sin will know well the painful cycle of repeatedly making a bad choice. The will continually inclines toward damaging action, misapprehended (deceived) for the moment as a good.

Our choices are rather dependent on our own fallen selves, and so we will not always be able to avoid deceiving ourselves and making poor choices. True freedom, then, can only be found outside ourselves, in grace given freely by God that can break us out of our own self-imposed prison. It is by such grace that John’s interior movements were so perfected that he was able to freely give his life. It is only by such divine grace, and not by some creative act of the will, that we can truly draw closer to God”

Love,
Matthew

The Form of the Good

The Form of the Good is the greatest thing to learn about, and that it is by their relation to it that just things and [other virtuous things] become useful and beneficial. (Republic, 505a) Plato suggests that justice, truth, equality, beauty, and many others ultimately derive from the Form of the Good.

Republic is firstly an argument about the ideal structure of a city. Notoriously, Plato installs philosopher-kings as a benevolent council. If the rulers of the city are to make themselves, their citizens, and their city good, they must first know Goodness itself. This form is the one that allows a philosopher-in-training to advance to a philosopher-king. It cannot be clearly seen or explained, but once it is recognized, it is the form that allows one to realize all the other forms.  Stephen Hawking famously quipped that we should ask not only what the equations governing the universe are, but also “what breathes fire into the equations?” For Plato, both the equations and the fire are the Form of the Good.

Plato’s was the first major metaphysical system in the West, and it dominated Western thought through the middle of the second millennium. Consider the subject of mathematics and geometry. What is a point? It is a location in space with no dimension. In other words, it is not a real object. Points are ideal entities, not space-time particulars. They take up no space. Likewise, lines have length but no breadth. Mathematics is about ideal entities, and some mathematicians today are still “Platonists” about numbers: they hold the view that numbers or other mathematical objects are immaterial things. And they have to be in order for us to be able to know eternal truths about them.

If we live in a rationally ordered cosmos, this helps underwrite a social order that is rigidly hierarchical. It is no surprise then that through the Middle ages humans organize themselves into strict hierarchies. We find a hierarchical church and a stratified social structure, with serfs serving the king and the king serving God.

Consider Plato’s influence on theology: The Form of the Good is the ground of all being, an immaterial object that exists more perfectly than anything else, a thing responsible for the goodness and rationality in the world. This is something like an interpretation of the Christian view of God developed in the Middle Ages, founded in Platonic and Neo-Platonic metaphysics.

Perhaps most importantly, Plato’s arguments in Republic make possible scientific inquiry. Science is only possible if the natural world is intelligible to our rational faculties. Many people credit Plato’s student Aristotle with the initiation of the scientific project of humanity, and many in turn credit the scientific method as the West’s most profound contribution to humanity.

Aristotle along with other scholars sees the Form of the Good as synonymous with the idea of One. Plato claims that Good is the highest Form, and that all objects aspire to be good. Since Plato does not define good things, interpreting Plato’s Form of the Good through the idea of One allows scholars to explain how Plato’s Form of the Good relates to the physical world. According to this philosophy, in order for an object to belong to the Form of the Good, it must be One and have the proper harmony, uniformity, and order to be in its proper form.

Love & truth,
Matthew