Vomit the Lukewarm
-The dictionary is an underappreciated philosophical reference. If the way we use our terms can't sqare with the sort of definitions we find there, we need to rethink our terms. No body of knowledge can be better than its definitions.
-One of the fad theological opinions going about these days is that Christianity does not support the idea of individual, immortal souls, but rather it rests its whole belief in an afterlife on the ressurrection of the body. I've always thought that this opinion could be refuted by Christ's words to the good thief "surely, this day you will be with me in paradise", along with the statement in the Nicene Creed that we believe in the communion of saints (and "he decended into hell"). Another proof text would be Ecclesiastes 12: 7 "and the dust returneth to the earth, from whence it came, and the spirit returneth to God, who gave it." The reference here clearly seems to be Genesis, where God both breathes into man a living soul, and condemns him as flesh and dust.
-I am a subsistent spirit that is ordered to existing in matter. I cannot understand what I understand with except by negating matter of the very thing that is positively negating the matter in order to understand itself/myself.
-The soul of man proves the existence of God, for the soul does not come to be from a pre-existing thing, and so it comes to be with nothing presupposed. It requires an act of creation in the strict sense, but this is only possible for the divine nature.
Man cannot doubt the existence of God except by providing an irrefutable middle term for His existence. Man is enough of a proof.
-The above also follows from an existing
pile of dirt: all being proceeds from the first being. There is nothing so vile as it cannot prove the existence of God by moving, being caused, being contingent, being imperfect, being determinite, or existing.
Aristotle vs. the Common Story of Greek Theology
The common story of Greek teaching about God is that it began as pure myth, and then was replaced by Aristotle's Prime Mover. Aristotle, however, views his doctrine of the Prime Mover as traditional, and as a statement of the original thought "of the fathers" about God, a thought which was later made vulgar and popular by myth: Metaphysics
, XII, chap. 8, 1074b.
People desire to make Aristotle's God "rational" because they want to make Aristotle a rationalist, and this is an excuse to read him in as a humanist or secularist thinker. But trying to understand Aristotle apart from God is like trying to understand the road to Athens apart from Athens. Aristotle's whole life was ordered to the contemplation of God, and all the roads of his philosophy lead to such contemplation. Philosophy, even as Aristotle's techer defined it in Theatetus
, is nothing other than attempt to attain the blessed life that is the possession to the divine likeness (See Eth. 1178b 20, cf. with Psalm 17:15.)
Again, the whole order of Greek thought at its best is to the contemplation of God. Even logic is so ordered, for it is ordered to science, and science is ordered to theology. If Aristotle was prepared to study even insects
because he saw they revealed something of the divine (Parts of Animals 465a 7,) how could not see all science as ordered to contemplating God?
I'm profoundly uninterested in whatever historical process lead to the common belief these days that philosophy is (at best) indifferent to theology, and that the thought of the ancients can be understood apart from their theology. This attitude, and this kind of life does not reflect the best tradition in philosophy. We have only come to divorce philosophy from theology because of the hardness of our hearts- but it was not so in the beginning.
The Practical Refutation of All Non-Christianity
Women are drawn to Christianity.
Men are drawn to women.
Christianity promises women babies; a loving, monogamous, husband for life; and perhaps most importantly, the chance to walk down the isle in a white dress on the day you are married and have your huband kiss you when the Priest says "you can kiss the bride" OOOOOOOHHHHH!!!!!!
Do not think for a minute that I am being condescending, insincere, or dismissive.
After all, if anything seems shallow, it would be for a man to choose his religion on the basis of where he could find chicks.
But neither of these motives for being Christian are base, and even if they were, Christianity does not preach a God that was unwilling to abase himself. If the mercy of Christ is to mean anything, it can only mean that God desired to draw us to himself as we are, with all our pettiness, vanity, mixed and pseudo-motives, etc. One chief reason for the Scripture and the Sacraments is that we are the sorts of beings that are more drawn to boobs and sparkly-wedding dresses than to the angelic hierarchy and the contemplation of the divine nature.
Christianity has, from the first, been accused of being an effeminate religion. There is a perverted truth there. How noble and lofty can it be to join a religion to get chicks, or to stick with it for the sake of a bridal fantasy? But again, why does one expect a religion that calls sinners to call the righteous? Christianity calls everyman where he is.
I have absolutely no fear whatsoever that Christianity will vanish from popular consciousness. The church is here to stay. The pathetic and rather half-hearted "culture of death" we find ourselves in will eventually run its course to full-throttled paganism, when only Christian girls will be married in any meaningful sense, while the rest of the world, if they marry at all, will live as sterile as mules, farming out their women to work, and doting on cats. Any one of these couples that may happen to breed will certainly never want to raise a girl (not out of "sexist" motives, but rather simply because in such a culture, women are things to be used
, not to be loved
. We would certainly never desire a women to be born into such a world. In such days, to kill a girl child will be the supreme act of liberation and love
) and so women will become even more scarce. This will lead even more women to join Christian churches, and it will make their joining the church that much more attractive to men.
Again, one might find all these motives petty. Perhaps they are. Thomists, however, insist on giving them a far more lofty sounding name: the law of nature
. Perhaps we stand in a moment of history where things will get much more dark before they become light again. If we all have to go through the dark valley now, let that be. The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want.
If it is true that Christ saw his cross primarily as a way to communicate his love and mercy to the world, then his command to us to take up our cross means primarily that we take up that way in which we can communicate love and mercy to our neighbor.
The Academy as a Paranoid Argument Mid- Night
The middle of the night never seems like a good time to consider how your life is going. Things can seem overwhelming which vanish soon after one wakes up. Argument and dialectic during a three-in-the-morning freakout is never a good idea, and in fact, such argument only adds fuel to the fire and makes things worse. At such a time, we are not disposed to deal with anything well, whether it is our own guilt, fear, disappointment, hope, or concern.
A good deal of the thought in the academy is much like a three-in-the-morning freakout. Most of the arguments presented fly out from one thought to the next, and the listener hardly grasps one thought before it vanishes into another. For some reason, refutation becomes impossible and refuted things recur again and again through groundless "what if's" and "but what about's". Things very small and insignificant loose all right proportion, and are treated as very monumentous and worthy of great thought. One is trained by the academy to think that there is a counter-example to anything, that one cannot stand on any ground that cannot be pulled from under him. Wordless thoughts and attitudes start forming in ones mind: It is best to fall asleep-let yorself be swallowed into the dream... say the spells over yourself... consciousness dualism as a critique of the postmodern concept : an integrated perspective... is experiential consciousness modal? Is self-mediation possible in the context of Wittgenstinian subjectivity? Altruism was an older model but then men played cards for a scientist... Sleep.... Sleep.... Sleeee
The First Thing
The thing Moderns, Medievals, and Ancients call "science" proceeds from the self-evident to the proven. The primary self evident thing is an account corresponding to what a word means. Before we have this account, science is impossible, and it is only to the extent that we have this account that we can have the science. The name for an account corresponding to what a word means is "a definition".
Definitions are first because they are nothing other than articulations of what the name means. Definitions can be more or less perfect, and the sorts of definitions that are most perfect are those that we first give the name "definition" to, but nonetheless, we must start with definition, for we must start with a word that has an intelligible meaning, and this intelligible meaning of a word is definition.
The divergence of sciences, therefore, must happen at the level of definition, for identical accounts of a word cannot lead to divergent properties processing from the posited essence of the thing. In my experience, the contemporary sciences define things in terms of how they are measured- Einstein famously said that for a physicist, to define means to have some measurement that can be empirically verified. This metrical account is closely alled to the "functional account" the definition that best allows for manipulation of something, or its use (this kind of account is most common in mathematics, which defines numbers as things that can be put into an equation). What is common to most all sciences is that they are all to willing to reject how everyday language would define things, in order to glorify "the scientific understanding" of things.
The inevitable consequence of functional definitions and metrical definitions, if they are taken as the best or only kind of definition, is the death of speculative science and the desire to know things for their own sake. The common element of metrical and functional definitions is that they are human artifacts, and no human artifact is more noble than man. But speculative sciences concern things better than man.
-Philosophy must prepare us for death,
by considering what survives death.
-In some time, any testimony to us will be blotted out from the universe, every book, monument, artifact, planet, and star will corrupt and be as though it never was. So what will remain of us? What part of our philosophy is beyond this annihilation?
-We cannot defy death by "living in the now", or doing what most pleases us, or trying to fulfill ourselves. Death asks a question that must be answered directly: "what about you is outside of my power?"
-All will confront the terror of death. Those who hope to survive it will do so on the basis of things not seen; either because they are of faith, or negation, or analogy grounded wholly in the corruptible, or an inference wholly based in the the corruptible. All in our imagination, all we can see or touch will recede from us and be as nothing.
Hegel's Syllogismwhich all must take up, to accept, deny or distinguish.
Freedom has increased over the course of history.
The perfection of Spirit is freedom.
The perfection of Spirit has increased over history.
The major has widespread appeal, and for good reason. There is no question that the recognotion that man as such is free has a universal acceptance now that it has not always enjoyed.
The minor is close enough to truth; either it or something like it would be admitted by all.
Meanings and Equations
Certain contemporary math texts refer to boxes, cubes, and prisms as "cylinders", since the volume of each can be expressed as "area of the base times the height", and it they go on to define pyramids as "cones" since they are one third of the base times the height. So too, physicists define "acceleration" in such a way as to include both speeding up and slowing down. LIkewise "zero velocity", is nothing more than a certain numerical value in an equation. Examples of this sort of thing abound in the metrical sciences.
My suspicion has been for a while that all the paradoxes and oddities of the contemporary sciences are paradoxes of measurement- a confusion between what a thing is and how it is measured. The scientist only allows meaning to measurement, and he is ready to dismiss language at the slightest sign of conflict. There is also the fact that the sciences can call all things the same so long as they are values to be "plugged into" an equation, regardless of how diverse the things might be in ordinary language.
The first division in mathematics is between the sort of math which is done most perfectly when done without thought, and the sort of math that is done most perfectly when thought is fully active. If you have to think about what 9 times 6 is, you have room to perfect your calculation skills. If you're giving a proof in mathematics, any thoughtless presentation is imperfect. To the extent that the sciences are mathematical, this same distinction applies.
Jottings on Romans Seven-Now if I do what I would not, it is not I who do it, but sin who dwells in me
Not I? Notice that there is a proof here: If I do what I don't want to, I
do not do it.
Mathematics as the First Speculative Science.
Mathematics is the body of knowledge which gives us the greatest certainty, and so it is the model for us of what all sciences should be. If we view all Mathematics as a tool, we can do no other than view science as a tool; if we view math as nothing other than the manipulation of its subject matter, we will view all science as manipulation of the subject matter; if we view all math as art, we view all science as an art. Our view of science cannot be higher than our view of math, for mathematics simply is the body of knowledge about which we have the greatest certainty, and we know we are most certain of it.
The loss of liberal mathematics in modern times was a devestation. There is no measure for the things we lost. In a very real sense, we lose all science when we lose mathematics: what remains and calls itself science is really an art that treats nature as pure matter to be informed by the scientist. The only joy or intrinsic worth to such a "science" is the banal fascination of a game or hobby. Mathematics, when taught as a speculative science and liberal art, provides us an irreplaceable grasp of what it means to know something for its own sake, and through this we can know the joy of contemplation- which is the true life of science- the highest and most noble life a man can live, in this life or any other.
Again, mathematics is the indispensible first grasp we have of science, and there is some sense in every man that science ought to be the rule and measure of human life. We use the word "science" to describe the most precise, objective, penetrating, and sure kind of knowledge. But too often this natural respect for science gets contracted and distorted so as to apply only to physical sciences based on disprovable hypotheses and verified by experiment. This leads to the conclusion- commonly heard and experienced by all- that man, when he is most certain about something (having science) in fact has only probability.
The modern mind, having lost the paradigm of mathematics, divides all learning into the sciences and the humanities. The common element in both of these is their uncertainty and groundlessness. A student goes to a science class and learns that nothing can count as a science unless it is disproveable; then he goes to a humanities course and be told that the whole goal of humanities is to "enter into the great conversation" or "learn the various ways that people have struggled with the great questions". Gone is any sense of paideia, of that sense awareness in man that knowledge is the sort of thing that should be sought for its own sake; and that the goal of an educated man was to tell the difference between the things he was certain of, and not certain of. One of the best signs of the educated man is that he knows what needs to be proven, and what doesn't need to be proven. But without mathematics, we can't even be expected to know what proof means.
Jottings on History and Philosophy
-Historians speak for the dead because the living would object too much.
-Imagine you are a historical philosopher, but your prime area of interest is discovering exactly what the causes were that lead you to being a historical philosopher. I can't imagine anyone being certain he could give the causes, or defend his claims if they were contradicted by another philosopher/ psychologist/ novelist, etc. Is there one simple cause, or are there many flowing together? Is the result set from early childhood, and if so, how much? It is not merely that I think one could not give an exact account, but would have to settle for a vague one: I'm not sure that someone could give any account at all, and even if they could, how confident would we be on giving the account of someone else's life?
-The best historian is the one who knows what makes people tick. They are the ones who can "read people". The paradigm example of such a man is NOT a scientist.
-The most well known axiom about history is "If we don't know history we are condemned to repeat it." to the extent that we take this as the chief good of history, then the chief good is a moral good, because morality concerns those things to be done or avoided, the things that we would deserve to be "condemned" for doing (as the axiom states). To the extent that one understands what is condemnable and what is praiseworthy, then, he is able to write better history, and to the extent that he fails to know this (perhaps by a pretense of "objectivity") then he will write bad history.
-History means the ability to give a rational explanation for why events occured as they did. This happens perfectly in the Old and New Testament. If we view this a single book with a plot developing to a fulfillment, then we can explain why almost everthing happened by showing its conformity with the Incarnation. But look at how many trifles and vanities are involved in such a thing! How many acts which seemed to have almost no historical significance at all turned out to make all the difference! (seeing a father naked, sleeping with a supposed whore, not revealing that your fiancee was pregnant, being accused of rape and thrown in prison, eating a bowl of lintels... eating a fruit.)
Hegel one claimed that his history was complete, even if it could give no account of the pen we might use to pen a letter of objection to Hegel with. His response, as I understand it, was to the effect that the small particularities of a system do not matter. But very often history turns on things that are far more trivial than pens. Pascal was right, and he was right to his bones: Alexander would have changed the world forever, but he was bit by a mosquito. The fate of humanity hung on an insect.
-How much of history is determined by what might have been, but was not? In our own lives we can see vaguely how if things had happened only slightly differently, all woul have changed. We see how much what is depended on what was not being not.
-I have heard people compliment certain philosophers because "at least they believe in an objective moral standard and that truth exists". Huh? This is no compliment. It's like complimenting someone who calls himself a doctor because he believes that health exists, or complimenting someone who calls himself a mechanic because he recognizes nothing other than that it is possible to fix certain cars.
-The way most people define the word "science" makes it impossible for geometry or arithmetic to be sciences. Neither of these studies is based on falsifiable hypotheses that are verified by experiment. No one releases his findings on the Pythagorean theorem that they might be independently verified, nor does he need to run many confirming tests to establish that the theorem is a law. The same can be said for Logic and Grammar.
-It is a common complaint that Scholastic Philosophy is too dry, formulaic, and uninspiring. The same charge is leveled against the Apostles Creed. Profound understandings of truth do not usually come from first reads but from contemplation- unless you're reading Euclid.
-What is not known directly by sense is known by analogy, causality, and negation- and negation is the most indispensible of these, for our imagination tends to distort and make dull the things beyond sense. We imagine the angelic hierarchy is a set of glowing points in black space; we imagine heaven is a place where we stare at the sun all day; we imagine the spirit of a man as a vapor shaped like a man. We perfect our knowledge of immaterial things by negating what we imagine them to be. This should be obvious: "immaterial" is a negation.
-Euclid's fifth postulate gives a condition under which a triangle comes to be. By negating this triangle, we prove the existence of parallel lines, which are themselves known by the negation of contact (they will not touch).
- I have never known of an Algebra student who could define Algebra.
-From the second paragraph of an Algebra book: "a line is a straight curve". This was soon followed by a picture of "a straight angle", and an account of a number as "an idea". And we wonder why kids can't get this stuff. This is not just a matter for high school pedagogy- if we have some of these thoughts in our own minds, we need to uproot them.
-I sat in a class on Hegel once and thought: I wish I could trust what the teacher is saying. I had a gut feeling that I could trust some of what he was saying, and not other things. I could foresee the labor of having to sift through all the things he said. Then I imagined what it would be like to hear some class from the mouth of someone who I completely trusted, and whose thought I knew would never let me down. Then I imagined what it would be like to hear sit in a class and listen to an angel, who could not err in any natural knowledge. Last of all, I imagined what it would be like to sit in a class and listen to God, who could not err on any point at all, and whose words would be totally dependable. All of a sudden, I remembered that this is what revelation is.
The Ranking of Philosophers II
There is some truth to the ranking of philosophers, since the same names tend to always show up in the top five, and one expects certain names to surface within the top ten. A certain order is set within limits of the names- as was laid out before. If we saw a list that didn't put Plato*, Aristotle, or Aquinas in the top spot, we'd see something funny, forced, and subjective about the list. It would be awkward if any of these three were bumped to fourth place.
If this is so, we seem able to conclude that Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas hold a privileged place in philosophy: they merit a certain authority over philosophy by the universal approval of reason. This is to say that in spite of the many accounts that people give of philosophy, all agree that Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas hold a certain primacy. We may have a hard time ranking them amongst eachother, but we have no problem ranking all of them before others.
I think we can conclude from all this that if these three men agree on something, that same something should be treated as a settled point. We are usually not disposed to see the many points on which these men agree, since whenever we compare them to eachother, it is usually to oppose them. But if we took all the points they agreed on as being philosophical slam dunks, how different would our view of philosophy be!
Considerthe points of agreement in Logic, or the process of coming to know:
-the words which man speaks reveal the essences of things which are grasped by his mind
-the essence of something is grasped and articulated most perfectly by the one who expresses it in a definition.
-one must carefully distinguish the various meanings of words
-Man grasps certain things immediately, without having to reason, and he knows them with certainty.
-Geometry is a science which provides the greatest certainty and ease of learning for man, and it therefore should be learned first in time- from Euclid.
-The universal cannot be simply reduced to the particulars it contains.
-the highest knowledge is the knowledge which is sought for its own sake, as opposed to for being for the sake of something else.
-Man is capaple of attaining a knowledge that cannot be otherwise.
-Man's most perfect knowledge, or science, can be instansiated in knowledge of Geometry and of what is now called "philosophy" or "metaphysics"
or as regards The knowledge of nature:
-Man comes to know all things he knows by the possession of their form- i.e. knowledge is having the form of another.
-sense knowledge is in some way of indeterminite and unknowable things, because the things we sense are in some way unknowable in themselves.
-Nature is defined in reference to motion, and this motion makes things difficult to understand.
-to exist as a man is to exist through a soul, and this soul is the principle of life.
-The soul is unified to the body at least
as a mover to moved, and it continues to know and to be conscious after death, which is the separation of the soul from the body.
-The human soul is demonstrably immaterial.
-Man is capable of proving the existence of a supernatural being called God on the basis of the existence of moving things (Plato does so in the Laws).
-Goodness has a certain primacy over all, inasmuch as goodness is an end.
-God is supremely good, and as such is the end of all things.
-God is one, supremely living, and benevolent, creator of the world, neither coming to be nor passing away.
-Evil is not a being, but the lack of being.
-Goodness is communicative of itself.
-Virtue can be called the greatest perfection of human life.
-Though many different action can be called good, there are not many moralities that can be called good.
-The goal of human life is union with God, and a certain divinization.
-Adultery, impiety to divinity, sophistry, not helping people in the same way one wishes to be helped, homosexuality, indifference or hatred of the highest things, intemperance, cowardice, and sodomy are wrong, always and in every instance.
-Man will live an eternal, conscious life after this one
-Human nature is weak, and attains to virtue only with struggle.
*When I speak of Plato, I'm including his main protagonist/master, Socrates.
The Ranking of Philosophers.
It is inevitable that someone rank philosophers "in order of greatness". The top three are givens, and can only jockey for order (Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato...etc.) Kant, Descartes and Hegel follow soon after (again, only jockying for order), although one expects them to finish before other names that we expect to make the list: Hume, Marx, Nietzsche, etc.
There must be some truth to such lists, since there is such universal agreement upon them. These Philosophers are all, at least, deemed worthy to be in the canon of great philosophy, and canons are not made haphazardly or without reason. When I search for the reason for the canon, however, I have a hard time finding a compelling one.
I would understand a Hierarchy that was arranged according to being nearest to the truth. There would be disagreement about the criterion here, and there would ceratainly be disagreement over who was to be placed first, but this, at least, seems to be the way that each of the philosophers in the canon understood himself: he was correcting the problems in those who came before him, and perhaps also even explaining more. This way of arranging the philosophers would at least arrange them in the way they desired to arrange themselves, and it would arrange them in an order that was most proper to philosophy.
The downside of such an order is that it would destroy at least the canonical ranking. If we ranked Plato at the Top of our list, we would probably put Fincino or Proclus or Plotinus before Marx and Nietzsche, if these last even made the list at all. Marx and Nietszche can only be included on the list if we- as Platonists, say- were to include some criterion other than the degree of truth contained in the writing; originality, widespread appeal, profundity (even of error), the ability to understand what people call philosophy (rightly or wrongly)...etc.
The canon, then, seems made for the ignorant. Once one has staked a claim of discipleship, canonical writing is less important than authors in accord with truth. Marx is not more worth reading than Plotinus to the man who holds that Platonism is the truth. The only reason to place Marx on a list that is without Plotinus is because we have not yet determined who is worthy of our discipleship.
The Socratic Method
The form of the Socratic method is well known: the question and answer format that strives to manifest "what the student already knows". The proper term of the Socratic method, however, is a definition. To notice this explains some difficult aspects of the Socratic method:
-Definitions are not "proven", for they are not something known in addition to the name, but only clearer grasps of what the name means. We don't prove that a circle is a figure such that all points are equadistant from some point (called a center), nor do we prove that nouns are names, nor that verbs are words that signify with time. For this reason, the Socratic method is best understood as showing what someone "already knows", for we only come to a clearer grasp of what we already had confusedly in the name itself.
-Some definitions are unattainable. This is in fact true of most definitions we seek, and it is definitely true of any search to define God, who is the cause of all causes and the root of all knowability. Hence Socratic skepticism makes sense. If wisdom means comprehending
the very essence of God (i.e. knowing exhaustively), then wisdom is impossible, in this life or any other.
-For the above reason, it makes sense to refer to the philosophical life as a sort of "perpetual questioning" or "endless search". I can't add quickly enough, however, that the Socratic search is the absolute contradiction of the Marxist or revolutionary search. The Socratic search, when it is perpetual, is a perpetual learning, and therefore a perpetual knowing- for learning cannot be understood apart from coming to know. The marxist or revolutionary search is a continual refutation, a rejection and denial. The Socratic search is one that recognizes the essential orientation of the human mind, through words, to the essences of things; the revolutionary search negates the essential orientation of the mind, through words, to the essences of things.
-At some point, the definer using the Soratic method will have to appeal to "something that is known to all". This is why the contrary of the Socratic method is the one who insists that nothing is "known to all"- usually because he will appeal to what is today called "diversity", or "scholarly research"- i.e. anything that emphasises the manyness and diversity of opinion as such and for its own sake. The exaultation in the sheerly many is called "sophistry".
The Argument from evil and a Meaningful Life
I have never heard anyone deny the existence of God on the basis of the death of Socrates, the death of Christ, or the martyrdom of Christians. As far as I can tell, to do so is psychologically impossible- one can utter words like "how can God exist when St. Polycarp is burned, or St. Therese of the Little flower dies from tuberculosis?" But to say so carries no force within the mind- the words are unpursuasive and produce no assent. Such statements, in other words, are absurd. I take this absurdity as a given.
The argument from evil, then, can only produce assent when the evil is not viewed in union to a Christian life, or a virtuous life. No one questions the existence of God when confronted with the great evils that befell Socrates, or Christ, or Cato, or The Little Flower. It is not simply the case that the evils that befell these persons cannot be harmonized with the argument from evil- their deaths even seem to contest or deny
the argument from evil. These evils are too bound up with meaningfulness, with a sense of order, with glory- what are they, even, being both so manifestly evil and so manifestly a cause of glory in the lives in which they occured?
Evil is not a sufficient cause or occasion for the argument from evil. The only sufficient cause is a particular kind of evil: a human life that is viewed apart from meaning. May no evil befalling me give one occasion to doubt the existence of God.
Angels in the Angelic Doctor
St. Thomas is called "the Angelic Doctor" primarily because of the loftiness of his intellect and the purity of his life, but also because he simply wrote quite a lot about angels. St. Thomas clearly saw the world with which we are most familiar- the world of man and family and politics and the stars- as being a very small thing in comparison to the angelic universe.
This angelic universe, so very present to the consciousness of Thomas Aquinas, is a universe that is best understood by us as unknown. We best understand the angelic universe by informed negation because our imagination tends to soil any positive grasp of the angels and their universe with absurd images of toga-clad-long-haired-blonde-girls with wings floating on clouds or in space (ugh); to grasp how absurd this is, imagine if a dog, who had only heard about his master, were to imagine him as a dog walking upright on his hind legs. In truth, there would be far more truth in the dog's imagining than in our imagining angels.
For many reasons, the study of angels has fallen on hard times. This absence of angels from the mind can only be a cause of distortion and corruption of our understanding of the world. Without awareness of the angels, we tend to loose perspective on the smallness of our world, on the inferiority of our intellectual power, on the comparitive lowness of our natural dignity, and on the nature of our own intellectual operation and life. We loose also important aspects of the supernatural order- the doctrine of guardian angels, for example, but also we miss how profound and shocking the incarnation is- how could he possibly choose to die for us
? we barely
(The above argument fails since it assumes that there was some intrinsic goodness in man could compell the incarnation- yet it is not so, for "while we were yet enemies, Christ died for us" yet man is still quite humbled by contemplation of the angels.)
But the greatest thing we miss from failing to contemplate the angels is the very knowledge that we attain by contemplating them, for in this contemplation of natures higher than our own, our mind becomes in a certain sense a friend of the angels, and it enters, as much as possible, into the world of pure intelligence which is both above us, and yet is at the same time the measure of what is most ourselves. Inasmuch as we are bodily, we are measured by time, but inasmuch as we are immaterial, we are measured by sempiternal existence above all passing, lack and corruption- every
person lives in the angelic universe even now. For this reason, contemplation of the angels both humbles us and shows us our highest dignity.
The greatest setback to the study of the angels is that no one has shown how to understand them given newer understandings of the material world. To understand many angelic attributes, St. Thomas would argue by proportion: as corruptible bodies are to incorruptible bodies, so material beings are to angels. An example of this sort of reasoning is found here
. St. Thomas often argues things from the old cosmology, but very often there is a solid argument left if one ignores the argument from the old cosmology, but not so with the angelic arguments. To be clear, one can prove the existence of the angels, and some of their properties, by means of arguments that do not appeal to the old cosmpology, as St. Thomas often does. Bt the loss of the old cosmology caused far more damage to the thomistic study of angels than to any other comparable part of thomistic science. We can only understand the angels by some analogy to things seen (this is the only way we can understand anything unseen-even ourselves) but we have lost the old things which were thought to provide an analogue to angels.
Communio as a Cause of Separation
Ignatius press is well known to all Catholic Contemplatives, Acedemics, and Intellectuals; from the beginner to the advanced. Tracy Rowland speaks to the aim of Ignatius Press here
I find their aims discouraging and disheartening, not in what they accept, but in who they reject.
Ignatius press defines itself by a rejection. Their claim:...the Thomist tradition, although of great value for the Church, had become ossified into rigid categories, principles which were thought to have been formulated by Aquinas were in fact 16th century revisions...
Let's dump the analogy. "The 16th century" didn't write anything. Men write things, and men have names. The particular names are John of St. Thomas, Domingo Banez, and the Carmelites of Salamanca. Ignatius press presumably includes those Thomists who these authors always look to: Capreolus, Cajetan, Sylvester of Ferrara.
Ignatius press is making the sort of claim that only be made in ignorance of what one is saying. Their claim, in a word, is that Capreolus, Cajetan, Sylvester of Ferrara, Banez, And John of St. Thomas all distorted the teaching of Thomas Aquinas.
To which I can only say have you read ANYTHING that they wrote?
Let's go further: have you read anything that comes out of their tradition? Hugon? Gredt? Grenier? Any of the Laval Thomists- many who are dead, but some who are living now; Ralph McInerny or the founders of Thomas Aquinas College?
And once we start scraping the bottom of the barrel of the people Ignatius press is criticizing, I can finally ask- are you claiming that MY thomism isn't based on St. Thomas? Are you claiming that I
have to get back to the sources? Are you claiming I need to start sounding more like DeLubac and Von Balthasar?
Permit me one dumb question. If DeLubac and Von Balthasar are better at being thomists than Banez and John of St. Thomas- Then why do De Lubac and Von B. never sound
like St. Thomas? Why don't they talk about matter, form, privation, act and potency, the definition of nature, motion, the four causes, species and genera and specific difference, universals, the division of the sciences, the procession of creatures from God, abstraction from matter, the agent and passive intellect, the proofs for the existence of God...
...No, there's more! Why don't they ever write commentaries or disputed questions? Why Don't they ever seem to be interested in, say, The Book of Causes
, or the Corpus of Aristotle?
I'm not interested in excluding anyone here. DeLubac and Von Balthasar are brilliant men, and I'd refute anyone who denied this. But to place them in opposition
to the tradition of thomism that can be traced all the way from Thomas himself to this very hour is silly, counterproductive, unnecessary, harmful, petty, misinformed, and simply wrong. Why can't Ignatius press publish both
De Lubac and, say, the Cursus Thomisticus?
Oh yes, I forgot, the Cursus
was written by John of St. Thomas, a man who spent his life meditating on St. Thomas, who never wrote a word
that was not in reference to the very littera
of St. Thomas, who boasted in nothing but the extent to which he conformed his mind to St. Thomas, who took his Dominican name from St. Thomas, and who was renown as the greatest thomist of his age- this man, somehow, inexplicably, is just wrong.
This man, and all his brothers, any of whom can boast a vitae
as formidable as him, are all just wrong
- they are not even men, they are "the 16th century revisions
" (Banez, for example, instructed Teresa of Avila, and so indirectly of John of the Cross... speaking of which, are these 16th century Thomists wrong too?)
It was disheartening to read these comments by anyone, but especially when they speak the opinion of a Catholic Publishing house that has such power over the modern Catholic mind. The sort of exclusion that Ignatius boasts of can only deprive them of a light and joy that they cannot attain anywhere else, and hence cannot give to any of their many readers. Communio
creates separation where there need be none. Any Thomist mentioned in these posts would give his whole purpose as discipleship to St. Thomas for the sake of union with Jesus Christ.