Monthly Archives: February 2012

Jesus, Primary Education, and a Return to the Liberal Arts

The following is not my own (but truth belongs to no one except by participation, except truth Himself, which “just so happens” to be the point of my sharing this).  It is from an old work no longer in print (if I am wrong about this, please let me know, and I will purchase a new physical copy) by Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P., on the Liberal Arts:

After giving an account of learning, the practical and recreational arts from Genesis and from ancient cultures:



The attempts of savage people to restore paradise on earth by their corrupt arts had ended in such disasters as the flood. The attempts of the great ancient cities to restore paradise on earth had ended in warfare and vain schemes like the Tower of Babel. The search of the Greeks after wisdom seemed at first to succeed, but it too came to an end when the Romans established a world empire in which wisdom became only a tool to gain power and wealth. In Rome the emperor was made a god, and Rome began to go down to the same destruction that had followed all the foolish pride of previous civilizations.

Of all the people in the world only the Jews had kept the true idea of God, of his law, of the relation of man to nature; but they kept themselves pure only by remaining narrow. The fate of their great wise man Solomon had shown them the danger of mixing with foreign nations, and they knew no way to combine the wisdom of the Greeks with the truth contained in their own Bible. This truth that the whole world needed was stored up in Jerusalem, and, like grain that is kept too long in storage, it had begun to mildew. Who would open the granaries of truth and feed the famished nations?
Mankind had proved that by itself it could not restore paradise. Then from a most unlikely place the true teacher of mankind, the second Adam of the human race, appeared. He seemed to be only a poor young workman, a carpenter of the Jewish nation. He was not a student of the philosophy of the Greeks. Nor was he a king like Solomon. He was the Son of God, who had become a man like us to save us and to teach all men by his example and his preaching.

Jesus Christ was not a student of the philosophers. He was the supreme philosopher and teacher who required no one to teach him. He gave an example to those who practice the useful arts by himself working for years as a carpenter. He gave an example also of fitting recreation, for he did not hesitate to come to the banquets of the people. In his teaching he used stories which are masterpieces of poetics and of rhetoric. He corrected our understanding of nature when he showed how all things in the world follow the law of God’s providence and how man has a dignity above all other visible creatures. He also corrected our understanding of life and society by teaching that all law, is summed up in the love of God and neighbor. Finally, he revealed to us the supreme secret about God himself, that he is one God in three divine Persons, a truth hidden (except in shadowy outlines) from all ancient thinkers.

Now that Jesus Christ has shown us the true way we need never be in any doubt as to where to find the truth. He taught us all the great truths we will ever need. Until he comes again, we have only to remain faithful to that truth, strive to understand it better, and use it as a guide in our search for the lesser truths that will complete the picture. Our Lord has even provided the Church and the help of his grace to guide us in remaining faithful to his teaching. When he ascended into heaven he left this Church, headed by his apostles and their successors, the bishops, to educate the whole human race.

He warned his apostles, however, that this work of educating the world would be a difficult task which would not be completed before he comes again. Many would not understand what the Church was trying to do and would claim that the bishops were trying to suppress the truth, because they were correcting teachings which were only partly true.
Jesus promised that gradually the Church would go on gathering together the fragments of truth wherever they were to be found, cleansing them of error, and fitting them into the broad framework of his own teaching.


In order to bring the truth of Christ to the world, the Church had to overcome three great efforts of the forces of darkness to put out the light which she held so high.

The first threat was the effort of pagan Rome to absorb the Christians, when it found that it could not destroy them by persecution. The pagan philosophers tried to water down the truth of Christ’s teaching and turn it into a mere form of pagan philosophy. The great Fathers of the Church — teachers like St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus, St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome — defeated this threat by showing how much greater was the teaching of Christ than that of the philosophers, although whatever was true in philosophy might be used in Christian education.

The second great threat was the period of disorder called the Dark Ages. The Roman government, weakened by its failure to accept Christianity wholeheartedly, collapsed under the onrush of Germanic barbarians from the north and Mohammedan barbarians from the south. During this dark time of war and confusion the Church kept patiently at work building the foundations of a new civilization. It was in the monastery schools, especially those of the Order of St. Benedict, that the ancient education was not only kept alive, but purified of its paganism and given a new and truer form based on the study of the Sacred Scriptures.

Gradually peace was restored in Europe; many of the barbarians were converted, others were driven back. The Church at last was able to establish the great schools called the universities. Here the wisdom of the Lyceum and the Museum was restored, except that now on the throne of wisdom sat a new queen, no longer natural theology, but Sacred Theology based on the teaching of Christ. In the beautiful cathedrals of the Middle Ages we see Sacred Theology portrayed in stone, surrounded by all the arts and sciences which made up medieval education. They are symbolized as follows:


A. The Trivium or three ways to knowledge:

1. Grammar (and with it poetics), symbolized by the figure of Donatus, a Roman teacher who wrote the Latin grammar book used in all medieval schools.

2. Rhetoric, symbolized by the figure of Cicero, the great Roman orator.

3. Logic (including both demonstrative and dialectical logic), symbolized by the figure of Aristotle.

B. The Quadrivium or four ways to knowledge:

1. Arithmetic or algebra, symbolized by the figure of Pythagoras.

2. Geometry, symbolized by the figure of Euclid.

3. Music, symbolized by the figure of Tubalcain (rather than his brother Jubal, because in the Middle Ages bells were a favorite musical instrument and Tubalcain was the inventor of metal work).

4. Astronomy, symbolized by the figure of Ptolemy.

II. PHILOSOPHY (science), symbolized by a noble woman with her head in the clouds and her feet on the earth:

A. Natural science and with it medicine, sometimes symbolized by the figure of Galen, the great Greek doctor and disciple of Aristotle.

B. Social or moral science and with it law, sometimes symbolized by the figure of Justinian, the Christian Emperor who codified the Roman law.

C. Metaphysics or natural theology, represented by Plato, who was regarded by the earlier Middle Ages as the great pagan theologian.

III.SACRED THEOLOGY, symbolized by a queen holding the Sacred Scriptures, or later by St. Thomas Aquinas, the Common Doctor of the Church.

This system of education was perfected by the great Doctors of the Church (of whom St. Thomas Aquinas was the chief, along with St. Bonaventure and St. Anthony of Padua, St. Albert the Great, and later St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Peter Canisius) and by educators like St. Ignatius Loyola, St. John Baptist de la Salle, and St. Angela Merici. It remains the foundation of all education today, even of that given in non-Catholic schools.


Faith in Christ does not excuse us from learning, but rather compels us to seek Wisdom, and to have confidence that, guided and corrected by Christ and His Church, we may find it, on earth through prayer and study, enjoying a taste of eternity, when we will contemplate Truth face to face.

The progress in art, in science, in invention, and in geographical exploration were all achievements which had their roots in the education given Europe by the Church, but men forgot this and began to attack the Church as the enemy of progress.

When teaching our children (which we all must do) and monitoring what they are learning in the schools we send them to for EXTRA education (parents are responsible to be the PRIMARY educators of their children, Canon 226-2) we should ask ourselves where we stand on such a statement as this:

Those who conceive of the high school program in terms of a body of information to be inculcated and who make high school education into a pocket edition of college education. emphasizing surveys of facts or the acquisition of some particular vocational skill do not understand the needs and opportunities of our times. The chief task of the high school is, on the contrary, to equip the student with a developed ability to learn on his own.



Processions in the Trinity

Here, we take a short look at what St. Thomas tells us about the processions in Question 27 of the First Part of the Summa. Quotes not labeled otherwise are from this treatise.

Our faith in the One but Triune God rests on the notion of persons, of which, in One God, we recognize three. To have any grasp of these Persons, we must first understand relations, and in order to do this, we must inquire as to the processions in the Trinity. “The role which the study of processions plays is propaedeutic: it prepares the way for the study of relations, which in its turn, prepares the way for us to think about the persons” (Giles Emery, pg. 51).

In the Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, we read that “Sacred Scripture, then, hands on to us the names of “paternity” and “sonship” in the divinity, insisting that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Scripture has not been silent about the very name of “divine generation.” For in the Psalm (2:7), as was said, one reads: “This day have I begotten You” (Ch. 2). We certainly do not reason our way to the divine processions, but rather, present them as the teaching of revealed truth.

We must first ask then, whether there can be any processions in God, for “It would seem that there cannot be…procession signifies outward movement. But in God there is nothing mobile, nor anything extraneous.” What we must do is recognize that here, the processions are immanent, within the one God. “This objection comes from the idea of procession in the sense of local motion, or of an action tending to external matter, or to an exterior effect…This procession has been differently understood. Some have understood it in the sense of an effect, proceeding from its cause; so Arius took it…Others take this procession to mean the cause proceeding to the effect, as moving it, or impressing its own likeness on it; in which sense it was understood by Sabellius.”

Of course, these errors are easy to fall into, as this is our experience in the world around us.  Actions tend to terminate in other objects, or in other locations, or in other times. But we can, as Augustine showed us, and Thomas refined so well, see an analogous procession in ourselves in our intellect and in our will, allowing us to have some understanding of what immanent (internal) processions might be.

“As God is above all things, we should understand what is said of God, not according to the mode of the lowest creatures, namely bodies, but from the similitude of the highest creatures, the intellectual substances… Procession, therefore, is not to be understood from what it is in bodies, either according to local movement or by way of a cause proceeding forth to its exterior effect, as, for instance, like heat from the agent to the thing made hot. Rather it is to be understood by way of an intelligible emanation.”

After showing that, within God who is pure simplicity, there can still be processions, we move to the question of generation. “Generation has a twofold meaning: one common to everything subject to generation and corruption…for this kind of generation requires that there should be a procession by way of similitude in the same specific nature; as a man proceeds from a man, and a horse from a horse…In another sense it is proper and belongs to living things; in which sense it signifies the origin of a living being from a conjoined living principle.”

Now, in God, what is generated does not have its terminus in another subject, as it would in creatures.  When a human begets a human, the nature is shared, but the subject is a different human, in different matter and with its own form. It is this creaturely part of generation we must let go of when thinking of God.

“But if there is a being whose life does not proceed from potentiality to act, procession (if found in such a being) excludes entirely the first kind of generation; whereas it may have that kind of generation which belongs to living things [but] by way of similitude, inasmuch as the concept of the intellect is a likeness of the object conceived:–and exists in the same nature, because in God the act of understanding and His existence are the same.”

As St. Thomas says elsewhere, “That, then, is the supreme and perfect grade of life which is in the intellect, for the intellect reflects upon itself and the intellect can understand itself… God, because He understands Himself, the intellect, the thing understood, and the intention understood are all identical. God, therefore, must be in Himself as the thing understood in him who understands… The divine intellect, of course, since it does not pass from potency to act, but is always actually existent (which was proved in Book I), must necessarily have always understood itself and is co-eternal with God, and is not acquired by Him in time, as our intellect acquires in time its interiorly conceived word which is the intention understood” (SCG, IV, 11) As Fr. Lagrange puts it, “the Word, conceived from eternity by the Father, has no other nature than that of the Father. And the Word is not like our word, accidental, but substantial, because God’s act of knowledge is not an accident, but self-subsisting substance” (Reality).  We touched on this when asking if there were any procession in God, and what kind of procession (immanent) that might be.

But an objection may be placed here, if one has not grasped what was said above. It would seem that “anything that is generated derives existence from its generator. Therefore such existence is a derived existence.” Thomas reply is that “…what is generated in God receives its existence from the generator, not as though that existence were received into matter or into a subject…but… He Who proceeds receives divine existence from another; not, however, as if He were other from the divine nature.” This had been recently defined by the Church: The Fourth Lateran Council…declared…(The Divine Substance) does not generate, nor is it generated, nor does it proceed; it is the Father that generates, the Son who is generated, and the Holy Ghost that proceeds (Dogma, pg. 61)

We have spoken of generation, and this applies to the Word of God, whom we generally refer to as the Second Person of the Trinity. But can any other procession exist? As stated earlier, we can have some understanding of the answer to this by looking within ourselves, for we were created in the image and likeness of God. “We must observe that procession exists in God, only according to an action which does not tend to anything external, but remains in the agent itself. Such an action in an intellectual nature is that of the intellect, and of the will.”

The first procession, that of the generation of the Word, refers to the intellect.  When we turn to the procession of the Holy Ghost, we will speak analogously of the will. We might ask what difference there is in the procession of the Word and of the Holy Ghost, and why, if we call the first generation, we do not likewise call the procession of the Holy Ghost generation.

Fr. Lagrange puts it succinctly. “Further, this procession of the only-begotten Son is rightly called generation. The living thing, born of a living thing, receives a nature like that of its begetter, its generator. In the Deity, the Son receives that same divine nature, not caused, but communicated…But this second procession is not a generation, because love, in contrast with knowledge, does not make itself like its object, but rather goes out to its object…The second procession, spiration, presupposes the first, generation, since love derives from knowledge.”

Thomas tells us, as far as using the word procession and generation for the Son, but only the word procession for the Spirit, “As in creatures generation is the only principle of communication of nature, procession in God has no proper or special name, except that of generation. Hence the procession which is not generation has remained without a special name; but it can be called spiration, as it is the procession of the Spirit.”

There are, besides intellect and will, other perfections on God, such as power, goodness, and others.  Are there, then, other processions in God? “It would seem to some that… there are more than two processions in God, for goodness seems to be the greatest principle of procession, since goodness is diffusive of itself. Therefore there must be a procession of goodness in God. But, As Boethius says (De Hebdom.), goodness belongs to the essence and not to the operation, unless considered as the object of the will.”

In other words, “The divine processions can be derived only from the actions which remain within the agent. In a nature which is intellectual, and in the divine nature these actions are two, the acts [are] of intelligence and of will.”

In summary, we may reflect on the processions in the following way:

  1. Our intellectual ideas are accidental, not substantial. God’s are substantial; it does not develop in time, as though it was discursive.  He has but one idea, one Word, that of Himself.
  2. This Word is begotten, generated, for knowledge makes itself like its object.
  3. The Holy Ghost proceeds as love, which does not make itself like its object, and thus in God is not by generation, but rather, love goes out to its object, and this, we may call spiration.
  4. To again quote LaGrange, “The second procession, spiration, presupposes the first, generation, since love derives from knowledge.” From this, we can know the Father as first principle, but also that the Holy Ghost proceeds from both the Father and the Son as from one principle.

The Principle Problem of Christology and the Chalcedonian Solution

The Christological heresies and the Chalcedonian solution to them focus on the problem of their being two natures and one Person in Christ.  “First, Jesus Christ is only one person, the divine Person, or the Hypostasis of the Son of God or of the Word. Second, this one divine Person subsists or exists in two natures, the Divine nature and the human nature, each of which is perfect as a nature, lacking no perfection of the nature. Thus His human nature has a human soul as well as a human body.”1

“The reason pagans could not conceive of anything like the incarnation is that their gods are part of this world, and the union of any two natures in this world is bound to be unnatural, because of the otherness that lets one thing be itself only by not being the other…The Christological heresies are a reflection of tendencies to make pagan the Christian sense of the divine.”2 Here, however, we are not dealing with pagans, but with Christians who are trying to understand the same problem.  Nowhere in the world of our experience is there anything like one existent with two different natures.  Likewise, within the world of created things, for a thing to be one thing necessarily entails it not being another. Part of the definition (if singulars could have definitions) of Matt, for example, would be that Matt is not John, or a rock, etc.

The problem, then, is how to understand Jesus Incarnate. Is He man with God related to Him in a close way, such as that of the saints? Are there actually two persons here, a human person and a divine person? Does the divinity of Christ replace the rational soul of the otherwise fully human man Jesus? Or are the two natures, somehow beyond our understanding, somehow mixed? All of these solutions and more have been proposed by men of faith seeking to understand the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.

In 431 A.D., the Council of Ephesus decreed that the Virgin Mary is Theotokos, the God bearer, for her son Jesus is one person who is both God and man, divine and human. “Now, it was proved that the body of that man is the body of the natural Son of God, that is, of the Word of God. So it becomes us to say that the Blessed Virgin is ‘the Mother of the Word of God,’ and even ‘of God’.”3  Objection to the title “Mother of God” arose, due to confusion concerning the mystery of the incarnation. Nestorius stated that Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, a regular human person. As such, Mary is not “Mother of God,” but simply the “Mother of Christ” or even the “Mother of Christ’s humanity.”

Another position, also heretical and indeed contrary to even reason alone, that was taken in opposition to the previous heresy of Nestorius is that of Eutyches. “Eutyches…says there is one nature, also. He says that, although before the union there were two distinct natures, the divine and human, they came together, nevertheless, in the union into one nature.”4 St. Thomas, among others, would demonstrate that this is both repugnant to Scripture and to reason.

“If…the human nature and the divine were two before the union, but from those in the union one nature was breathed together, this should take place in one of the ways in which it is natural that one comes to be from many.”5 In the next few articles, Thomas goes through the various ways this can be said to take place in nature, and demonstrates that all are untenable. The most important of these is the idea of a “mixture,” which can result in a single nature only through the destruction of both of the joined natures.

These two primary position, one of the Incarnate Christ being on person and one nature, and the other of Him being two distinct persons, one divine and one human, reflected the tendencies and arguments of the two primary “schools” of thought at Alexandria and Antioch.

With the 4th century debates between the Arians and the orthodox, especially Athanasius, we have “the emergence and development of two main types of Christology…: the so-called ‘Word-Flesh type, with its concentration on the Word as subject in the God-man and its lack of interest in the human soul, and the ‘Word-man’ type, alive to the reality and completeness of the humanity, but more hesitant about the position of the Word as a metaphysical subject…as it turned out, it was their head-on collision in these critical decades which precipitated the required synthesis.”6

Although most of the debate came in the East, primarily from the leading proponents of the Antiochene and Alexandrian schools, a key factor in the final confession was the Tome of Pope Leo.  At the Council of Chalcedon, in which more than 500 bishops took part, with the Pope represented by his legates, the Nicene Creed was upheld, and a formal confession of the doctrine of Christ’s two natures and one Person followed.  It can be summarized as follows:

“Jesus Christ is one and the same Son, the same perfect in Godhead and the same perfect in manhood…consubstantial with the Father in Godhead, and the same consubstantial with us in manhood..; begotten from the Father before the ages as regards His Godhead, and in the last days, the same, because of us and because of our salvation begotten from the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, as regards His manhood;…in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the difference in the natures being by no means removed because of the union,…coalescing in one prosopon and one hypostasis…”





  1. ICU, Patristics Course, Lecture 3: Christ’s Saving Work
  2. Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason, p. 36
  3. SCG Bk IV, 34, 15
  4. Ibid, 35, 2
  5. Ibid, 35, 6
  6. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 310

My Formation Process

Here I will simply keep a sort of journal of my formation process, separately than the other material on the blog which, for a Dominican, is all part of formation, for we see prayer and study in a unity as we are, after all, intellectual beings who seek to know Being itself and thus, all of reality.


Early Witnesses to the Trinity in Christian Thought

St. Justin Martyr was a Christian apologist, born at Flavia Neapolis around A.D. 100 and a convert to Christianity about A.D. 130.  He is known as the first philosopher apologist, well instructed in the various Greek philosophical systems, as he switched from one school to another, always seeking the truth and never satisfied, until he came to know Truth Himself in the Person of Christ.

Among the mostly pagan Romans, he was therefore often accused of atheism.  No doubt one sees the similarities of St. Justin to Socrates, who, by proclaiming one true great god, was considered and tried as an atheist for now professing the gods of his common people.

Justin answers these charges thus:

“In our case, who pledge ourselves to do no wickedness, nor to hold these atheistic opinions, you do not examine the charges made against us; but, yielding to unreasoning passion, and to the instigation of evil demons, you punish us without consideration or judgment…And when Socrates endeavoured, by true reason and examination, to bring these things to light, and deliver men from the demons, then the demons themselves, by means of men who rejoiced in iniquity, compassed his death, as an atheist and a profane person, on the charge that he was introducing new divinities; and in our case they display a similar activity…Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God.” (First Apology, Ch.5 and 6)

Turning our attention to St. Justin’s contribution to Trinitarian thought, we find that it is scarcely developed, yet it is there.  The focus is primarily on the equality of the Son and the Holy Spirit with the Father, but most especially of the Son. In interpreting the Old Testament texts, for example,

“The Jews, accordingly, being throughout of opinion that it was the Father of the universe who spoke to Moses, though He who spoke to him was indeed the Son of God, who is called both Angel and Apostle, are justly charged, both by the Spirit of prophecy and by Christ Himself, with knowing neither the Father nor the Son. For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.” (First Apology, Ch. 63)

Turning to his work Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, we see strong evidence of the beginnings of the “God from God, light from light” understanding that we are familiar with from the Creeds.

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will; just as we see happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word [which remains] in us, when we give it out: and just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled” (Dialogue, Ch 61).

Of course, we must see this for what it is; the beginning of speculative thought on the Trinity. The orthodox teaching today, of course, would not use such terms as to lead one to the false opinion that to be begotten means being somehow created.  The Son and the Spirit are co-eternal with the Father, something that is unclear at best in St. Justin. Likewise, the Son is not rightly said to be “begotten of the Father by an act of will.” This could make one think that the Father could have chosen not to will the begetting of the Son, which is false.  The Trinity is the essence of the one God, and just as necessary as the necessary being of God as first cause and existence itself. Nevertheless, St. Justin clearly demonstrates the early thought of the Church in its faith in one God and three Persons and a struggle to prayerfully understand it, explain it, and defend it.

Irenaeus of Lyon was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, (now Lyon, France) during the last part of the second century. He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. His writings Against Heresies are a wealth of early apologetics (defense of the faith) and of the thought of the early Church.

“The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father to gather all things in one,  and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess (Against Heresies, BK I, Ch. 10)

St. Irenaeus writes about the heresy of Marcion and refutes it in great detail.  For our purposes, I will quote only a few lines to give an outline.

Marcion of Pontus…mutilates the Gospel which is according to Luke, removing all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most dearly confessing that the Maker of this universe is His Father…” (Against Heresies, I, 27)

But correct are those who “carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent.” (Against Heresies, III, 3)

Deep reflection on the truths of the Trinity would take a back seat to the attacks on the Church that would soon follow on the true nature of Jesus the Incarnate Word of God.  But once these were more or less resolved, the Church would turn her attention again to more speculative thought on the inner life and metaphysical reality of the Triune God.  However, as all things that involve such things as transcend our finite minds, St. Irenaeus gives warning:

“If any one, therefore, says to us, How then was the Son produced by the Father? we reply to him, that no man understands that production, or generation, or calling, or revelation, or by whatever name one may describe His generation, which is in fact altogether indescribable. Neither Valentinus, nor Marcion, nor Saturninus, nor Basilides, nor angels, nor archangels, nor principalities, nor powers [possess this knowledge], but the Father only who begot, and the Son who was begotten. Since therefore His generation is unspeakable, those who strive to set forth generations and productions cannot be in their right mind, inasmuch as they undertake to describe things which are indescribable.” (Against Heresies, II, 28)

Faith and Reason: Bad Metaphysics and the Divorce Between Faith and Science

Metaphysical thought inquires beyond our sense experience, but is derived from it.  We can understand something about the world beyond our immediate perceptions, and “come to a knowledge of the truth.”  Philosophical reasoning, rightly employed, will bring us to many of the same truths as divine revelation, as truth, by its nature, is one.  But likewise, a bad metaphysics, or a doubt of the possibility of doing metaphysics at all, can lead to a view that doubts revealed truth as well.

The problem of modern philosophical trends is not merely limited to the secular world, but has in many places crept into the writings and teachings of Catholic philosophers and theologians as well.  While the Church doesn’t have an official philosophical position, she must guide and sometimes reel in those who wonder into dangerous territory.  The problem has been addressed in different times and in different ways by the Church in the past and, more recently, by the encyclical Fides et Ratio.  Certainly this work of Pope John Paul II contains other insights and addresses other issues, but we will here look at the problem of modern philosophy in a broad sense, and how the church document addresses it.

The two directions of rationalism and empiricism that developed in the modern period of philosophy, as emphasized by Descartes and Hume, respectively, contributed to a divorce between faith and science.  Kant later attempted to reconcile the divergent views, but he also had to deny the ability to prove the existence of God, and many other metaphysical possibilities fell by the wayside in his system as well.

Fides et Ratio, or Faith and Reason, presented to the church in 1998, addressed the apparent divorce between faith and reason, and suggested the remedy to it. Faith and reason are not contrary to one another, and so faith will never be irrational, although it can be supra-rational, for certain.  Likewise, reason, if not in line with the revealed truths of God, must therefore have an error in reasoning or otherwise.  Truth is one, and although seeking it can certainly come through different means and explain the truth in different ways, it must always coincide.

As said in the forty fifth paragraph of Fides et Ratio, “Although they insisted upon the organic link between theology and philosophy, Saint Albert the Great and Saint Thomas were the first to recognize the autonomy which philosophy and the sciences needed if they were to perform well in their respective fields of research.”  These two learned Dominicans understood that philosophy, by definition, had to come from human reasoning alone.  Indeed, many articles of the faith that others tried to prove through philosophy were rejected by St. Thomas as being philosophically demonstrable.  For example, St. Thomas argued that the eternity of the universe could not be disproved by reason alone.  He also understood that the eternity of the world could not be proved positively either, and as a believing Catholic, believed in the worlds beginning as a free act of creation by God.  What this example shows is that some truths are known only by revelation and through faith in that revelation, but while these truths are not philosophically provable, they are likewise never contrary to reason either.  They simply transcend it.

Fides et Ratio continues “As a result of the exaggerated rationalism of certain thinkers, positions grew more radical and there emerged eventually a philosophy which was separate from and absolutely independent of the contents of faith. Another of the many consequences of this separation was an ever deeper mistrust with regard to reason itself.”  This rationalism began with Rene Descartes.

Descartes was a believing Catholic, and there is no substantial evidence that he denied aspects of the Catholic faith.  In fact, he states often that it is his intent to prove things such as the existence of God, but through reason, since our senses can be deceived.  However, it is hard to understand what his position would be on such things as Transubstantiation and similar dogmas of the faith, given his views in other areas of metaphysics and the material world as well.

Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P.  lectures that “what Descartes is primarily saying is that we must for the moment turn away from the world of the object (the world of the senses) to the interior truth of the thinker.”  Descartes does this because he doubts his sense perceptions can lead to any certain truths, since they often deceive us, such as when we are dreaming.  In other words, only that which we can have no doubt of can be certain, and this cannot come from what we attain through our senses.

As stated above, Descartes aggressive change from the Aristotelian and generally Scholastic epistemology and metaphysics began a split in philosophical thought from his day forward.  As Benedict Ashley says “On the continent of Europe it went in the direction of ‘Idealism’ saying that actually the material world does not exist, or if it exists, it is somehow a projection of the human mind.  That a world outside the human mind, a reality outside the human mind is inaccessible.”  This, to me, develops most faithfully the philosophy of Descartes himself.

However, across the English Channel, the dualism of spirit and material reality showed its emphasis in the latter.  As. Fr. Ashley again states, “It begins [also] with the cogito ergo sum.  What I really know is my own thinking.  But it then says when I look at my thinking, what I find are sense impressions, and from the sense impressions, I have some idea that there is a material world other than my own mind.  And yet, Empiricism, because it confuses the sense data and the power of the intelligence to analyze that data tends to say that intelligence, and its abstract ideas, are simply faint versions of our sensations. They do not give us the essence of things.” So once again, we cannot know the essence of things; we cannot know them as they really are.  And without this, we certainly cannot know things beyond them (beyond the material, that is) or even confirm that anything at all exists beyond the physical.

What we have additionally with Hume, who stands as a giant in this empirical reasoning, is a denial of the ability to truly know causes.  Just because we have always seen that every time “X” happens, “Y” has followed, does not, for Hume, demonstrate that “X” causes “Y,” or that when “Y” happens, we can be assured that “X” just took place.  Hume would tell us that we must live practically as if these cause-effect relationships we perceive were real, but that we can by no means know that they are in fact a certainty.  Of course, without a way to understand “cause,” even between two material objects, there is certainly no way to prove causes beyond them, such as a first mover.  We cannot prove or disprove God, in other words, and all our knowledge of the world must be based on what we experience in what we now would call scientific method, although with Hume, even this gives us no certainty of knowledge.  In the end, the main point for us here is that God and all revealed truth must be completely disregarded in our seeking to know the physical world, and therefore, can never be a corrective for it, keeping us from certain errors that, with a faith in God’s revealed truth, we might avoid.

Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, tried to reconcile, to some degree, the diverging paths of the empirical and rational philosophies.  His emphasis came to be placed on the “limits of knowledge which have been set by the nature of the human reason.” (Kant, Dreams of a Ghost-seer I, 2,)  For Kant, our capacity to know is limited by categories of ideas into which we place things, and these prevent us from truly knowing the things-in-themselves.  The end result is a lack of ability to know things metaphysical.  We can try to describe them in their possibilities, and that mostly by negation, but we cannot demonstrate them to truly exist, or have any certain knowledge of them if they do.

Well, metaphysics is not in the realm of ideas for Kant but in the realm of subjective needs, a postulate of practical reason which makes it completely subjective.

All of this, of course, has led to a doubt of the possibility of metaphysics at all, and therefore doubt of any ability to have knowledge of anything beyond the physical world around us in a material way.  This has led to the divorce we see between faith and reason, pouring over most especially into the field of the physical sciences.  A return to a moderate realism in metaphysics seems to be the answer to the problem of modern philosophy and faith.

John Paul II, in Fides et Ratio, says that “[There is then] the need for a philosophy of genuinely metaphysical range, capable, that is, of transcending empirical data in order to attain something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for truth. This requirement is implicit in sapiential and analytical knowledge alike; and in particular it is a requirement for knowing the moral good, which has its ultimate foundation in the Supreme Good, God himself.”(Fides et Ratio, 83)

When we limit ourselves to an idealist or materialist philosophy, we have no way to attain to the higher truths that man must seek, especially as they pertain to our moral life on earth, and our knowing our own “ends” beyond this earth.

Pope John Paul II’s answer to the philosopher is exemplified in his statement in Fides et Ratio: “I believe that those philosophers who wish to respond today to the demands which the word of God makes on human thinking should develop their thought on the basis of these postulates and in organic continuity with the great tradition which, beginning with the ancients, passes through the Fathers of the Church and the masters of Scholasticism and includes the fundamental achievements of modern and contemporary thought. If philosophers can take their place within this tradition and draw their inspiration from it, they will certainly not fail to respect philosophy’s demand for autonomy.

Chaplet of St. Michael the Archangel

The prayer starts:

O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me. Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Then one ‘Our Father’ and three ‘Hail Marys’ are to be prayed after each of the following nine salutations

1. By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Seraphim may the Lord make us worthy to burn with the fire of perfect charity. Amen.

2. By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Cherubim may the Lord grant us the grace to leave the ways of sin and run in the paths of Christian perfection. Amen.

3. By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Thrones may the Lord infuse into our hearts a true and sincere spirit of humility. Amen.

4. By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Dominions may the Lord give us grace to govern our senses and overcome any unruly passions. Amen.

5. By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Powers may the Lord protect our souls against the snares and temptations of the devil. Amen.

6. By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Virtues may the Lord preserve us from evil and falling into temptation. Amen.

7. By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Principalities may God fill our souls with a true spirit of obedience. Amen.

8. By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Archangels may the Lord give us perseverance in faith and in all good works in order that we may attain the glory of Heaven. Amen.

9. By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Angels may the Lord grant us to be protected by them in this mortal life and conducted in the life to come to Heaven. Amen.

Next, one Our Father is to be said in honour of each of the following leading Angels: St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael and our Guardian Angel.

Concluding prayers

A Saint Michael rosary.O glorious prince St. Michael, chief and commander of the heavenly hosts, guardian of souls, vanquisher of rebel spirits, servant in the house of the Divine King and our admirable conductor, thou who dost shine with excellence and superhuman virtue deliver us from all evil, who turn to thee with confidence and enable us by your gracious protection to serve God more and more faithfully every day.

Pray for us, O glorious St. Michael, Prince of the Church of Jesus Christ, that we may be made worthy of His promises.

Almighty and Everlasting God, Who, by a prodigy of goodness and a merciful desire for the salvation of all men, has appointed the most glorious Archangel St. Michael Prince of Thy Church, make us worthy, we beseech Thee, to be delivered from all our enemies, that none of them may harass us at the hour of death, but that we may be conducted by him into the August Presence of Thy Divine Majesty. This we beg through the merits of Jesus Christ Our Lord.


Life in Christ: The Beatitudes

“Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt 25:34). Certainly, our entire goal and purpose in life is to hear these words at our judgment. This blessed state, the beatific vision, is only given by the pure grace of God, and we are told throughout the Scriptures in what kind of life this blessedness is prefigured and what kind of life, likewise, leads to the fulfillment of our end.

“Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence. But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night” (Psalm 1).

It is well that we meditate on the law of Christ, and there is no place we find this more profoundly written than in the Sermon on the Mount, especially as given in Matthew’s Gospel in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters.  “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him. And opening his mouth, he taught them…” (Matt 5:1-2)

In Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth Volume I, he says, reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount, that “In a word, the true morality of Christianity is Love.” (p.99) “The law of the Lord” is therefore none other than the law of Christ, which is why the pope can say just before this that “…the Sermon on the Mount is a hidden Christology.” (p.99)

While it is true that there are certainly objective “dos and don’ts in the way we should live, these are a means, and not the end.  The end is love, for the end is God, and “God is love” (1John4:8). In fact, the verse stated in full says that “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  “…in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12).

Let us focus here on that first part of the Sermon, the beatitudes.

“Each beatitude contains two parts; the first part refers to a meritorious act, and the second part refers to a reward. The reward applies primarily to the life to come, and yet there is likewise the promise of happiness even in this life.” (Spiritual Theology, Jordan Aumann)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3-10).

Many deep and profound works have been composed on the beatitudes, and it probably compares with John’s prologue in the depth of not only what it can say to us but, and for this reason, the available material written on it.

St. Augustine showed brilliantly that, being no mere list of platitudes, each beatitude leads to the next. St. Thomas Aquinas links them with the three types of life in which we hope to find happiness: the life of pleasure, the active life, and the contemplative life, moving from one to the next as we grow. Servias Pinckaers, in his little book, The Pursuit of Happiness God’s Way, tells us that “We can literally say that the Gospel teaches us a morality of beatitude or blessedness.”

To truly understand any of this, we must make it our primary task in life to know Christ. As Thomas a Kempis says in The Imitation of Christ, “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, saith the Lord. These are the words of Christ; and they teach us how far we must imitate His life and character, if we seek true illumination, and deliverance from all blindness of heart. Let it be our most earnest study, therefore, to dwell upon the life of Jesus Christ.” (The Imitation of Christ, Bk I, Ch 1)

This in fact could be seen as a commentary on the first Psalm; “Blessed is the man who, on his law, shall meditate day and night” This is the way of those that love God and neighbor, and live in Christ, seeing Christ in others and loving them.

We are told, in the Sermon, something that should sound alarming, even shocking, to us, if we take it seriously.  “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”(Matt 5:20) He goes on to command us to “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:28)

“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him. And opening his mouth, he taught them…” (Matt 5:1-2) This is the way we are introduced to the Sermon on the Mount, which has often been called a summary of the Gospel.  And the beatitudes, first in the Sermon, have been called a summary of the Sermon on the Mount.  We could easily devote our entire study to them, and in fact, several of the major religious orders see them as the primary subject of meditation and contemplation, both at the beginning of the religious life and throughout.

Of course, upon first reading the beatitudes, we may find it difficult to make sense of them, seeing them as perhaps nothing more than pious platitudes. “Blessed are the poor? Blessed are those who mourn?”

The first thing we must see is that these are not a random list of “blesseds.” When we read the commentary of such saints as Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, we see a remarkable unity and order to the beatitudes.  As Fr. Pinkaers says in reflecting on Augustine’s commentary, “St. Augustine establishes an ascending order of beatitudes…The journey begins with humility, taught in the first beatitude, and gradually mounts, passing through a loving and docile openness to the Word of God, …to wisdom or the contemplation of truth which gives peace to man and makes him like God” (p.189-190).

In other words, the entire spiritual life can be seen to be contained in the beatitudes.  Likewise, all of Christian morality can be found in the beatitudes.  The rest of the Sermon on the Mount, in fact, is an exposition of particulars and application of that which is contained in the beatitudes.  Thus, before Jesus goes on to give us examples of living out this spirituality, He says, “Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17)

What follows the beatitudes, although we will hear the words “You have heard it said…but I say to you,” are not intended to abolish, but to fulfill, what is said in the Old Law, in the Torah, in the Ten Commandments.  The heart, reflecting upon the beatitudes, and conforming itself with them, will understand the entire Sermon on the Mount as showing forth what the Old Law always intended; a heart formed by love, and not a list of rules to be followed merely out of fear.”

As the first Psalm says, we are blessed when we meditate on the law of the Lord. The beatitudes likewise tell us we are blessed, because, conforming our hearts to Christ, we begin to live with, through, and in Him, and this is the goal of our striving. “Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven.”

The first Psalm has often been my prayer when I do not have time to read and pray the entire Sermon on the Mount.  I have found it to contain what the Didache, a very early Christian writing from the first century (or at the latest, the early second century,) calls “the two ways.”

“There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy.” (The Didache, opening sentences)

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

This is the “first way, the one of life.” We said earlier that “The law of the Lord” is therefore none other than the law of Christ, and that “In a word, the true morality of Christianity is Love.” Therefore the Didache tells us that “The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself.”

No one is more blessed than Christ, for He, as man, was graced in a way no other, could be. Grace reaches its full limit in the incarnate Christ both intensively and extensively.The grace of Christ can be looked at in two ways. As the son of God and the person of a divine nature His grace is infinite because the word himself is infinite and is the source of that grace. But as existing in a created subject which is Christ soul, and humanity in total, it is finite, although it is given the most perfect way possible to any human being. As perfect it can in some way be called infinite even here.

To live a life of the beatitudes means to live a life in Christ. Like the apparent contradiction of the beatitudes (blessed are the poor, the hungry, the mourning), our life is only truly fulfilled when we die to self. “Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God: Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you also shall appear with him in glory” (Col 3:1-4).

Humanae Vitae and America Today

Many a theologian argued with the Church over the teachings that, although nothing new, were affirmed in the encyclical Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI.  When the Catholic Church teaches, it teaches truths that are easy and truths that are difficult.  It does not teach based on the ease of which its doctrines will be accepted, nor does it teach based on the “wisdom of the times.” Rather, like Christ, and indeed from Him, it teaches the eternal truths that are “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8). And many Catholics at the time were like those who followed Jesus until His teaching in John chapter six, and “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?'” (John 6:60). Sadly, among clergy and laity, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:66).

But for all the “wisdom” of the dissenting theologians and layman, who decided that they knew better, I wonder what they must think upon reading it anew. At a minimum, the encyclical is a show of great wisdom and insight.  Perhaps, its as close to prophecy as one can get.

Straight from Humane Vitae:

Consequences of Artificial Methods

17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

One could hardly believe that this was written BEFORE all these came to pass rather than after, given their extreme accuracy reflected in the last 40 years since it was ignored. It almost seems like a report of the events rather than a prediction of them.

Augustine on Faith and Works

Augustine’s Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love is a work written to a Roman layman to be a brief but comprehensive exposition of the Christian faith. It can be viewed as a sort of early Catechism, an overview of the beliefs of the Church at the end of the 4th century.

When one reads Augustine, it should be no surprise at how “Catholic” his writings are. This short book alone is filled with such passages, and we will merely take one as an example.

Chapter 67 starts out: “It is believed, moreover, by some, that men who do not abandon the name of Christ, and who have been baptized in the Church by His baptism, and who have never been cut off from the Church by any schism or heresy, though they should live in the grossest sin and never either wash it away in penitence nor redeem it by almsgiving, but persevere in it persistently to the last day of their lives, shall be saved by fire; that is, that although they shall suffer a punishment by fire, lasting for a time proportionate to the magnitude of their crimes and misdeeds, they shall not be punished with everlasting fire. But those who believe this, and yet are Catholics, seem to me to be led astray by a kind of benevolent feeling natural to humanity. For Holy Scripture, when consulted, gives a very different answer.”

I have always been amazed at the protestant apologists who use Augustine as an adherent of “faith alone” theology.  Augustine is, I think rightly, called the Doctor of Grace, by both Catholic and non-Catholic believers.  But he shows here, and in so many other places, that his doctrine of grace never excluded our cooperation from a place in salvation.  Of course, Luther loved Augustine, was an Augustinian monk, and one would think that he was well read in Augustine’s writings, this one being, of course, one of the more popular works and very accessible.

One starts to see the “selection process” that must have taken place.  Those people who shorten the Scriptures or somehow write off certain of its passages seem to show at least this consistency: they do likewise with non-Biblical writings when supporting many of their doctrines as well.