Category Archives: Philosophy

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

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

Modern Thomism

…we will come under the final judgment of God and are subject to the constraints and possibilities of that judgment. We’re invited to avoid hell and find heaven, a view that isn’t typically welcome among our secular contemporaries, but which has implications for them as well as us. The “gentlemen’s agreement” of secular liberalism is that we ought not attempt to find public consensus upon questions of life after death or the dogmatic truth content of revealed religion. In some ways dogma is considered impolite in a secular context because it could be seen as politically or socially divisive. Although the opposite is true in some real sense because dogma tends to outlive many passing cultures and is a force of unity, vitality, and the renewal of intellectual life. Thinking through traditional dogmas invites us as modern people to think about the longstanding vitality of those doctrines—why they’re pertinent to persons throughout time and history and a stimulus for the intellectual life. Knowledge of what was profound wisdom in a forgone era is typically the best source of illumination for anyone who wishes to re-articulate the conditions of meaning for the future. The temptation in our own age is to think the opposite, as if we need to be in some kind of radical rupture with the past in order to articulate the conditions of meaning for the future. This is a pattern you find in Descartes or in the opening pages of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason or in Nietzsche in a more radical way. But you have people who tend to be both novel and preserve the past; I think this is true of Plato. Plato was very radical, but he also wanted to preserve the heritage of the past Greek religious traditions that came before him. Aristotle, too, is typically very careful in the first book of most of his works to show the insights that come before him and then he introduces a new order of learning and thinking. In general the great medievals like Bonaventure and Aquinas show how the past has contributed to the ongoing project of what they’re undertaking. In our own era Alasdair MacIntyre has been exemplary in showing how this kind of recovery and articulation of principles allows renewed engagement with the contemporary world around oneself.

I think Thomism functions best as an identification of principles and an engagement with contemporary intellectual questions.

I may be optimistic, but I think there are many modern questions Thomism addresses and answers. Thomism helps provide a realistic philosophy of nature, what it means that there are changing substances around us that have identifiable properties by which we can provide taxonomies for the natures of things and understand the ways in which they act upon each other. Aquinas is a phenomenal student of human nature, so he takes very seriously man’s physicality and animality, but also shows his emergent rational properties and freedom in their distinctiveness. He shows there are immaterial features to human knowledge and freedom that denote the presence of an immaterial form or spiritual soul. There’s also the whole architecture of virtue ethics Aquinas provides that is increasingly having an influence in the circles of analytical ethics. His study of the cardinal virtues—justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude—provides terrific insight into the nature of a person. We’re longing for that in a culture in which there’s a great deal of intellectual instability and nostalgia for consensus. Often people want to impose consensus artificially through politics, which is a very superficial way to gain unity. That politics pervades the university, which is in crisis because there is deep absence of consensus about reality. Aquinas’s general anthropology and moral theory can give us the basis for a much deeper agreement about what human beings are and the structure of moral life than can any identity politics.

Religion doesn’t go away when you banish it from the university. It comes back in other forms, some of which are perfectly innocuous, but others of which are very dangerous. Aquinas is very realistic about the possibilities of pathological religious behavior; he calls it superstitio, the vice of disordered religion. The human being can become, very easily, irrationally religious, as, for example, in the cases of a banal religious emotivism or religiously motivated terrorism. The great conflicts we have between religionists and secularists, it seems to me, are very helpfully addressed by the harmony of reason and revelation in Aquinas, which allows the soul to flourish because the soul is meant for transcendence. Modern secular culture is asphyxiating. The soul needs to be open to the transcendent mystery of God to really experience the full freedom of its own intellectual life, its own voluntary life, its aspiration to the good, and its deepest desires for transcendence and meaning. A culture without an intellectual religious horizon is a truncated culture, but a culture that’s religious at the expense of the intellectual life is also a very unhealthy culture—so how do you get that right? I think Aquinas really helps us understand our natural religious aspirations in a balanced way.

-George, Robert P.. “Mind, Heart, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome” (Kindle Location 1115-1153). TAN Books. Kindle Edition.

Love & Thomism,
Matthew

Know Thyself – γνῶθι σεαυτόν

Know Thyself


-by Jason Craig

Often, the difference between a man that believes in virtue and a man who doesn’t comes down to one distinction: is truth true or is truth relative? Most reading this know that “moral relativism” is a plague easily diagnosed and dismissed by sane men, but not truly believing in truth has more manifestations than we might think. Many of us are relativists by a different name by our attempt to create false images of ourselves and ask the world to believe in what we have created. Our screen time fuels this error.

Descartes is famous for saying, “I think, therefore, I am.” (Cogito ergo sum.Cartesian thought stems from stripping all other forms of knowledge away, being instinctively skeptical of all received so-called “truths” and being sure only of one’s own thinking. All knowledge in this mode comes from what can be proven by empirical evidence, but really what we end up with is just thinking that whatever we think is right. “I think, therefore whatever I think is what is.” Moral relativism flows easily from here, since morality needs philosophy and theology, not just empiricism.

Mix relativism with a little narcissism, and it’s not hard to picture the thousands of uploaded images, comments, etc. that we post on the internet and hear ourselves say clearly – by our actions – “I post, therefore I am.” We think what we slap on the wall is what we are, because we don’t actually care to know what we are. That can be ugly and hard.

Few of us want to do the work of really knowing ourselves, yet this is the true path to virtue and wisdom. Socrates expanded the Greek maxim “know thyself” saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Gazing at ourselves online – adoring what we have marketed – is not self-examination. It’s looking at the self as we have created it, not as God has. Holiness, which is the graced reality of virtue, must be found in asking God to show us to ourselves. Few of us have the courage and humility to see our self as it is, let alone the courage to persevere in correcting its faults. Seeing and correcting the faults of others is much easier, especially done through our created persona. To understand the self, we have to look away from it, especially by looking away from our screens, and look to God:

“We shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God: let us think of His greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble.” (St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle)”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Natural law? Being Human


-“The School of Athens”, Raphael, 1509–1511, Fresco, 500 cm × 770 cm (200 in × 300 in), Apostolic Palace, Vatican City, please click on the image for greater detail

-Jacob Kohlhaas
This article also appears in the July 2018 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 83, No. 7, page 49).

“Broadly understood, natural law refers to a range of moral theories that rely on rational discernment of the natural order as a means of telling good from evil. Within Catholic moral teaching, natural law arguments are commonly invoked to denounce “unnatural” and therefore immoral acts: contraception, same-sex sexual relations, euthanasia, genetic experimentation not in keeping with the God-given dignity of human beings, and many assisted reproductive technologies, for example. But where does natural law reasoning come from and just how does it connect nature to morality?

Despite its robust history within Christianity, natural law morality was initially developed by the Greek Stoic philosophers. Their commitment to living reasonably within nature’s designs produced a universally accessible moral theory based upon the ordinary human powers of observation and rational reflection. Christians appropriated natural law reasoning through the premise that observations of creation ought to reveal aspects of God the Creator’s will. In other words, what is natural is what God intends.

Yet some Christian beliefs challenged this union, particularly the Christian teachings that humans are limited and prone to sin. As such our understanding is always partial and likely to be distorted. While human finitude is natural, Christianity claims that sin is “unnatural” in the sense that it is a distortion of our nature and therefore does not point back to the will of God the Creator. Therefore, to understand nature as it was intended to be, some interpretation is necessary.

Classically the Bible served in this interpretive role as a sort of handbook to understanding reality. However, modern biblical scholarship and modern science have seriously displaced the Bible’s credibility on the factual details of human and cosmic history, if read as history book, which it is not, primarily. While scripture still provides an essential reference point for discerning the will of God, its reliability as a resource for understanding the natural world has diminished while the moral questions we pose to natural law have become increasingly complex. This is the context for the present diversity of natural law theories both within Catholicism and beyond.

All forms of natural law basically agree that the question “What ought I do?” is best answered in reference to the question “What is natural?” But theories diverge in how they discern that second question. Catholic natural law thinkers today tend to fall into two broad camps with significant diversity in each.

The first approach draws more from authority and deductive reasoning and is characteristic of Vatican documents that tend to conserve traditional teachings through appeals to God’s will as rationally discerned.

The second approach leans on contemporary experience and inductive reasoning and has been utilized by a number of Catholic scholars in order to argue for revisions to official Catholic teaching in light of contemporary knowledge.

Numerous current debates within Catholic morality rest at least partially on these differences. While God’s will for us as persons remains the fundamental concern of Christian morality, thoughtful moral discernment within a complex world remains a challenging process.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Language of the Body

“In a recent debate on my Facebook page, a woman stated her view on sex: “There is no universal purpose, beauty, or reason to sex—that is up to the individuals to decide for themselves.” Trent has also seen this attitude in a recent documentary he filmed that asked college students, “What is sex for?” The most popular answer was: “That’s up to each person to decide for themselves.”

This is a common belief of millions who claim that sex isn’t “for anything” in particular. Sex can be for pleasure, or recreation, or stress relief, or even a cure for boredom. It can be no more significant or meaningful than eating ice cream!

The best way to get past this “feelings-based” approach to sex is by applying the natural law principles we learned in chapter two.

Remind your teens that they should ask what sex “is for” and use the answer to that question to guide their moral decisions.

Designed for Marital Love

If sex is “just for pleasure,” then why do so many people become distraught when their “significant other” has sex with someone else? This pain—universally understood and documented in literature, songs, and poems throughout millennia—is a huge hint that sex isn’t as casual or meaningless as some people claim it is.

Others say that sex is the way we express a deep emotional connection with another person. But we can have a deep emotional connection to many different people (friends, siblings, parents, children) with whom it would be wrong to have a sexual connection.

So, what distinguishes sexual relationships from all other kinds of human intimacy?

The answer is found in the design of the body.

When we look at the body, including the sexual faculty itself, we see that sex is ordered toward a life-long consequence, i.e., the conception of a child. This truth is like a signpost that men and women should not engage in sex before they’ve made the life-long commitment (marriage) that provides the foundation for the fruit of that act (a baby!).

Of course, many people will say that these consequences can be avoided by contraceptive use (which we will address later), rendering sex outside of marriage “no big deal.” But even if contraception didn’t fail often (and boy, it does), pre-marital sex would still be morally wrong with grave consequences. Why? Because it turns people into liars of the highest order.

Let me explain.

Deceptive Body Language

Your teen will probably agree that, in general, the words we speak should be honest and truthful. But we can also “speak” with our bodies to express ideas. For example, a handshake can mean “pleased to meet you” and a hug can mean “I am here for you.” When people use their bodies to communicate what is not true, they often experience discomfort.

Think about the uneasiness you feel when you’re forced to stand too close to a stranger on a bus or subway. Your bodies are expressing the language of social intimacy because they are so close together, but that intimacy is a lie—you don’t even know each other!

Similarly, sex outside of marriage expresses the intimacy of a permanent one-flesh union, but in a relationship (no matter how long it’s been going on) that has no such commitment.

It is a lie, told through the body, that speaks louder than words.

So, when it comes to sex, a teen girl may feel this discomfort when she doesn’t want the guy to see her naked. She may want to “get it over with” in hopes that sex will lead to a fulfilling relationship. Or, she may be sexually willing, but feel crushed when the boy does not contact her again. Boys, on the other hand, may resist being affectionate after sex or even refuse to talk to the girl they’ve slept with, because they don’t want to express with their hearts the deep, marital love they expressed with their bodies.

This discomfort is not some culturally induced guilt from a bygone era; it’s a strong signal that this type of vulnerable intimacy is only appropriate in the safety of a life-long, exclusive commitment. Sex outside of marriage is wrong because the body turns a beautiful truth (“I reveal and give my whole self to you in an irrevocable gift”) into a selfish and harmful lie. When your teens ask, you can give them a simple, reasonable answer:

Sex exists for the expression of marital love. Sex outside of marriage uses the body to express a permanent, fruitful union of love that doesn’t exist between unmarried couples. Sex outside of marriage is a lie, and we must never lie to the people we claim to love.”

Love & truth,
Matthew