Monthly Archives: March 2012

Debating Moral Relativists

Below is an excerpt from a discussion with a moral relativist.  His name has been changed to ” Moral Relativist.” The context was whether or not a God and or religion were necessary to morality:

Matthew Menking  –  The main problem with this entire discussion, although I did see Paul bring it up briefly, is that it seems to be a debate about various interpretations of various religions, rather than a discussion of whether or not there needs to be an objective truth behind the world to base an objective morality on. This, the real question, has been mostly lost in this debate.

Utilitarianism, (much referenced in this discussion although I didn’t see it so named) as the basis of morality, simply falls to the same problem. Who says what the “most good” is. The most good would certainly seem, for example, if 90% of the world were cannibalistic in tendency, for them to go ahead and eat the other 10%…for it is not some objective “is it right or wrong to eat other humans” but “doesn’t this cause the most pleasure for the most people” question that is being labeled as the basis of morals. J.S. Mills and his utilitarianist followers certainly hold sway over the secular world in moral theory, but it simply does not stand.

Fr. John Higgins  –  Just looking quickly over the posts here I have to agree with Matthew Menking. It’s simply a diatribe against the actions of humans and a deep misunderstanding of what other people truly think and believe. The idea that concepts held by people in other cultures and other times must be barbaric may be true. But the concepts and actions of people in our own time can be equally as barbaric, and given the efforts of science and technology, what used to take great effort and many years now can be done in the instant flash of a nuclear weapon. Who knows what “progress” might bring.

Moral Relativist  –  First off, +Matthew Menking’s cannibal example doesn’t work. No way a population could become 90% cannibalistic and still work as a “most good” for the most people scenario.

Secondly, I’d need to know that everyone believes in evolution (or at least the heredity of physical and behavioral traits) before human morality can be explained. If you don’t, there’s no point moving forward.

Also, do you guys believe objective morality given by God only applies to humans, or animals too?

Fr. John Higgins  –  Moral Relativist  … Evolution is obvious to those who take a moment to look at reality. We can know from our own experience that nearly everything evolves and can reason that other things have evolved, from rocks to plants and animals. And although I wouldn’t say that I believe IN evolution (it’s not part of my belief system), I believe that evolution has happened, is happening and will continue to happen. Still there are questions that the theory of evolution has not yet answered and may never be able to answer; such as “What is the origin of matter” or “Since evolution occurs over time, what exactly is time?” There is still much to explore. I trust we can all see that.

As for objective morality applying to animals, do you mean all animals or only those with a recognizable brain?

Moral Relativist  –  +Fr. John Higgins I’m worried we are going to have a problem of terms at some point. The evolution I’m refering to can’t be applied to rocks. 🙂 Let’s go with animals with brains. Mammals even.

Fr. John Higgins  –  At some point I’m going to have to learn how to post a reply properly.

Moral Relativist  ,

We are going to have problems with terms. You see, the very essence of communication is understanding what another human being means. Things evolve, whether we’re talking about the entire universe, the solar system, the earth or just living things like plants and animals. Can we apply the term “morality” or “morals” to any of it without running into problems? Probably not. What appears to be “moral” to one person might not be to another. Let’s take a couple of mammals, just for an example. A female bear and her cub are in the forest. A wolf approaches and very carefully eyes the cub. He isn’t thinking with the same rationality that a human has; he’s a wolf. We don’t know what kind of rational thought process a wolf has, if any, because we’ve never been wolves. But he is hungry and somehow he knows that. He also knows, in a wolf way, that a bear cub is food and that a large female bear is dangerous. Can that wolf make a moral decision or is the wolf going to act according to “feelings” (or instinct)? What would be the difference between the way a normal human being would act in the situation and the way the wolf would act in the situation?

Matthew Menking  –  Should a watch keep good time? If it does, is it a good watch? Is it morally a good watch? Well, a watch is made to keep time, and by keeping time, does as it ought to do. Here, what something out to do seems to follow from what it is. And we judge if it is good or not based on how closely is and ought coincide. But do we really say a watch is morally good if it keeps perfect time?

I think we have to make a distinction, when it comes to morality, on a principle of free will. A man who does what he ought to do is a good man; at least in that particular act what he does coincides with what a man ought to do. Is and ought match up. But he can be morally good for having done so, because he could have chosen otherwise, unlike the watch which does not choose to keep good time or not, but simply keeps good time or doesn’t, period.

Can the animate-inanimate distinction be what causes a man to be able to do moral good (or bad) and a watch to only do non-moral good and bad? If this is so, an amoeba is animate and yet not many would say that such and such amoeba is a good, decent, morally upright amoeba for choosing one action over another. So it is more than just “being alive” that makes a moral versus non-moral distinction possible. The problem is, what is this distinction? We can’t just make the claim that “monkeys and dogs” can be moral but “elephants and wasps” cannot. We need an actual distinction to set our boundaries.

Until recently, this distinction was recognized as the free will that man has due to his rational nature. Man, by definition, is “a rational animal,” with rational being the specific difference and animal being the genus. Only man, then, is rational, meaning he can reason (abstract universals from particulars, for example).

If we start from this premise, we can begin the discussion on whether or not:

1. An objective reality must stand being the moral rightness and wrongness of particular actions chosen by rational (aka free) persons

2. Whether or not this objective reality entails, by definition, the existence of a god

But if we do not start from this premise, we need to back up to whatever point we will agree on, and begin the discussion from there. Where do we stand?

Moral Relativist  –  +Fr. John Higgins I’ll get more specific then, do you believe in the scientific Theory of Evolution?

Humans have two sides of their morality. The first are conscious moral decisions. These are based on some perfectly human moral code that may or may not be in the Bible. The Golden Rule is the most popular. It’s unclear that animals make conscious moral decisions.

The second are the moral “feelings” (or instinct)” you mentioned a wolf might have. These are subconscious and don’t require thinking. I feel that this is what theists are referring to when they say God gave us morality, because it doesn’t have to be taught of rationalized. Would you agree?

Matthew Menking  –  Moral Relativist  . This is exactly the opposite of what we believe. Morality entails rational thought. Part of freedom is understanding the choices which are decided between. An animal is not morally culpable for the same thing a human would be for the very reason of its not being able to rationalize. It is my understanding, for example, that to do action X is wrong that makes it morally wrong if I do it.

Moral Relativist  –  Interesting study I heard about recently. Rats in cage 1 saw that rats in cage 2 where randomly shocked when the rats in the cage 1 used the food release mechanism. When the cage 1 rats noticed this, they used the food release much less often. They weren’t willing to starve, but tried to cause the least amount of pain to the cage 2 rats as possible.

Matthew Menking  –  That is interesting. Also interesting is that monkeys will stack boxes like stairs and light fires even. None of these occurrence, however, need be explained by the process of the animal having rational thought, and in fact are still best explained by other processes. No doubt, however, we can learn much from these studies about what it means for us to be animals, as well as about the animals themselves. I would agree with you if you said that too many theists, and a great majority being fundamentalist Christians, these days ignore such things out of a fear of losing their faith. Such a fear is, for one, simply unfounded.

As regarding your final statement about the rats, it is a speculative one: “They weren’t willing to starve, but tried to cause the least amount of pain to the cage 2 rats as possible.” The statement “tried to cause the least amount of pain to the cage 2 rats” is merely a hypothesis to the intent of the cage 1 rats. They may have simply seen “food attempts cause ‘rats’ pain” and only attempted to get food once hungry enough to overcome their own fear of themselves being shocked. I think its important to state this because, too often, the statements made as to “what” an animal did in an experiment are really speculations on “why” they did it. This is poor science.

Moral Relativist  –  +Matthew Menking “This is exactly the opposite of what we believe.” Who is the we, in this case?

Matthew Menking  –  Well, at least Father Higgins and I. At least the doctrine of the Catholic Church, to which we belong. Certainly I cannot speak for “all Christians” and certainly not “all theists.” Of course, this could be said in the agnostic and atheist camps as well. I cannot, I repeat, speak for all.

Faith and reason go together, and one must not be sacrificed for the other. We do not, therefore, deny what is true in any field, be it the empirical sciences, psychology, etc…

So the understanding I present here is both Catholic and Aristotelian, for example.

Fr. John Higgins  –  Moral Relativist  , I believe that the Scientific Theory of Evolution is a theory. It seems, from my limited experience, to rationally explain the existence and development of living beings. It does not, however, answer certain questions, like those I named above and assumes things to be “true” or “factual” without defining certain phenomena or even attempting to explain them. It, like all human theories, is incomplete. But it does seem to be useful as far as it’s limited capacity allows. (My examples above were that it does not attempt to explain or even examine the origin of matter or the concept of time, both on which it depends.

You assert that there moral “feelings” do not require thinking and are subconscious. How do you come to that conclusion? Perhaps your definition of “thinking” does not include all thought, but only rational thought? If that is true, we can eliminate a lot of what rational people call “thinking”. For example, the person who becomes angry at the thought of a woman being subjected to the death penalty might well argue that his or her “feeling” is quite rational. Any attempt to convince that person that they are not thinking and acting rationally might lead to more than an intellectual discussion, but a very strong and perhaps even violent retort. Again, we must always be careful in the use of terms.

“The second are the moral “feelings” (or instinct)” you mentioned a wolf might have. These are subconscious and don’t require thinking. I feel that this is what theists are referring to when they say God gave us morality, because it doesn’t have to be taught of rationalized. Would you agree?”

In a word, no. I would not agree at all. It might be quite normal for a teenage boy to “feel” that he should cheat on an exam in school or get into a fight with a boy over a girl. Most of us would agree that this is not moral behavior. Instincts are not “God given morality”.

Moral Relativist  –  +Fr. John Higgins Yes, the Theory of Evolution doesn’t tackle the origin of matter or the concept of time. Neither does gravity, and at least gravity is in the same field of those questions–physics. Evolution explains the diversity of biology.

Recent posts have thoroughly confused me so I’ll revert to the original question.

If you don’t practice a religion that has well defined moral teachings, how do you determine what is moral and what isn’t? Easy, by my own moral code, which is to treat others how I’d like to be treated and if there are no victims, it’s none of my business.

And as I said before…

I have a personal reason for every moral choice and they are often different for each choice. Give me a situation and I’ll tell you why I would behave the way I would. No one gave me a situation, offer stands.

Fr. John Higgins  –  Moral Relativist  … why would anyone question your personal moral choices?

Matthew Menking  –  I have a couple questions about your answers to how you should behave:

“Easy, by my own moral code”

Is it yours? How so? And why should mine be the same? If it shouldn’t be the same, I have an even bigger question: why would you have a code based on something you believe others should NOT do? How does this not conflict with “treating others as you would be treated”?

Which leads to “which is to treat others how I’d like to be treated.” What if I want to be treated differently than you want to be treated? Like I said earlier, but you didn’t like my cannibal example….let’s use a different one. What does this say about a Sadomasochist? Should they treat you like they want to be treated? If not, why are your morals (you called them “yours”) right and theirs wrong? Shouldn’t you treat people how THEY want to be treated?

“…and if there are no victims.” Well this one is bothersome too. How do we know there are “no victims”? We can see all the second and third order effects of our actions from here to eternity? And on top of that, know whether all those effects are to the liking or at least not the detriment of every various person’s own wants or needs? Is not anything made up of its parts, and thus, society of its particular people and people of their particular actions and dispositions?

My point is, following “our own” morality is meaningless when it comes down to it, apart from our “own morality” having a basis in objective reality. This is the basis of conscience, and the basis of natural law. “Do unto others” is a guide only because it must point to an objective reality that stands beneath it.

If it is argued that I am rejecting the teachings of my own Savior, I say they are being pulled out of context: Jesus Himself said “do unto others” but He also said to act as He acts, and that He is the Truth.

Fr. John Higgins  –  If each of us is left to his own moral code, and want to respect others’ moral codes as we have our own respected, then we are going to have to accept the moral codes of both the white supremacist and the jihadist, the Roman Pontif and the Westboro Baptists, the folks at Planned Parenthood and the owners of Drug Cartels, Mother Teresa and Ghandi and even Hitler and Stalin. I dare say that’s a tall order.

Moral Relativist  –  Sadomasochists, white supremacists and the like are a distinct minorities in the moral arena. Societies adapt the moral codes most used into a larger code usually called the law. Sadomasochists, white supremacists have morals that don’t comply with our law. If there were enough sadomasochists and white supremacists to gather together and form their own society I’d be happy for them as long as they didn’t oppose their morals on other societies or people within the society who don’t have the option to leave.

If you accept that all these groups you list have such opposing morals, how can you hold true to objective morals? There are obviously many who disagree–making morals subjective.

+Matthew Menking Give an example of a situation where you are not sure if there are victims or not, I may be able to shed light.

Matthew Menking  –  “There are obviously many who disagree–making morals subjective.”

There are many who disagree that the world is older than 6000 years, making the truth of the claim “the world is older than 6000 years” subjective. FALSE.

It means people err in regards to the truth. Not that the truth itself is somehow changed. Most 4 year old don’t know that 4^2 is 16. They may indeed believe it is not 16. This has nothing to do with the truth of the proposition 4 squared is 16.” The truth of the claim stands apart from the knowledge the people. Same applies with morality. If rape is wrong, its actually wrong for the habitual rapist, too. Its wrong for the mentally insane. Its wrong, not because of the person doing it, but because of the act done. The fact that one could find many people that think “action X” is OK does not make it so. Morality is not subjective because of the errors of the people…unless you are ok with the FACT that sometimes 4 squared is 13?

Fr. John Higgins  –  Moral Relativist  … ah, but there were white supremacists who imposed their will into law. Some of the remnants of that still exist in the United States today and are vehemently supported by a very large group of very powerful people, including many in the three branches of the Government of the United States.

Matthew Menking  –  Exactly, Father. The law in Germany at one point legalized throwing Jews into ovens and gas chambers. Therefore, it was morally right…at least in Germany.

Moral Relativist  –  +Matthew Menking That reasoning only works after you’ve already been convinced that morality is some kind of greater truth. You must convince me of that before those analogies make sense and at that point you won’t need those analogies.

Fr. John Higgins and Matthew Menking The early US and Germany had laws that, by today’s US standards, are immoral. By pointing out that moral standards change, you are just presenting more evidence against objective morality.

Fr. John Higgins  –  Moral Relativist… No, I am presenting evidence that subjective morality is really not morality at all but only convenience.

Matthew Menking  –  You said “you are just presenting more evidence against objective morality.” Again, this is wrong. In fact, it argues for objective morality. Just as scientific theories change the more we know about the objective world, (moving from Aristotelian to Newtonian to Einsteinian physics, for example) the moves in nations morals show they are moving from what is perceived to be a wrong morality towards one more in conformity to what actually is moral…and this means objective truth!

Moral Relativist  –  +Fr. John Higgins Well, you won’t see me in confession for disagreeing with you. 🙂 I’ve said my peace, hopefully it made sense, if not to you, than to other readers. I respect what you do as a fire captain and expect that what you do for the church comes from the best intentions.Thanks for the conversation.
Matthew Menking  –  Moral Relativist, please don’t take it as anything but good will when I say “God bless you.” While disagreeing with so much you have said, I respect your being a gentleman throughout the discussion. I wish all conversation and debates kept to these standards
2:01 PM
Moral Relativist  –  +Matthew MenkingNice chatting with you too. 🙂

Relations in the Trinity as the Foundation of the Persons


What do we mean when we say there are four internal divine relations of which only three are really distinct relations?

“…those who follow the teaching of the Catholic faith must hold that the relations in God are real…there are in God three Persons of one Essence. Now number results from some kind of distinction — wherefore in God there must be some distinction not only in respect of creatures who differ from him in nature, but also in respect of someone subsisting in the divine nature. But this distinction cannot regard anything absolute, since whatsoever is predicated of God absolutely denotes the divine essence, so that it would follow that the divine Persons differ essentially… It follows then that the divine Persons are distinct only by their relations.” (Aquinas, Disputed Questions on the Power of God)

In seeking to understand the Trinity of three Persons and one God, the subject of relations will be central.  The Persons who share one existence, one being, can only be understood as distinct in this way.

The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.  God is one being, and each of these Persons is this one being.  Each is not a part of this one being, this one God, but fully this one being, this one God. However, the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, for example.

As we see in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, an understanding of the processions must be grasped prior to seeking to unfold the significance of the relations within the Trinity. 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. There are processions in God, then, and these can be understood (but not reasoned to apart from revealed truth) by way of what follows in the pure absolutely simple intelligent being of God.

In the natural world, temporal generation founds two relations; that of son to father and father to son. So likewise does the eternal generation of the Word found the two relations of paternity and filiation.  The procession of love also found two relations, active spiration and “passive” spiration.

A word must be said about the special significance of relations. “Relation is the only predicament that can have a purely logical existence: all other modes of being, St. Thomas says, properly signify something which concretely exists, that is, the substance or the accidents which inhere in a substance. The very nature of relation makes it an exception to this rule.” (Giles Emery, p.87)

Aristotelian categories of being show us that there is substance, in which accidents adhere, and accidents which only exist because of the substance, for example, quality and quantity. A substance exists of itself and is what underlies its accidents.  If we think of “rough” we ask “a rough what?” but when we think of rock we do not think of “a rock what?” for a roughness adheres in another, but a rock is that thing in which something adheres.

Unique, however, among the accidents is that of relation.  For, while it is this column, say, that is to the left of some other thing, it is not that left is really “in” the column.  To see exactly what is meant by this, and in the context of the Trinity, it is best to let St. Thomas explain:

“The attributing of anything to another involves the attribution likewise of whatever is contained in it. So when “man” is attributed to anyone, a rational nature is likewise attributed to him. The idea of relation, however, necessarily means regard of one to another, according as one is relatively opposed to another. So as in God there is a real relation , there must also be a real opposition. The very nature of relative opposition includes distinction. Hence, there must be real distinction in God, not, indeed, according to that which is absolute–namely, essence, wherein there is supreme unity and simplicity–but according to that which is relative.” (ST. 28, a3)

The idea of relation includes the idea of another.  It means there is something besides the substance itself. A column, as we said above, cannot be related except as to something else. A column can be white, and heavy, and long, and round, all without the existence of any other thing whatsoever. But it cannot be left or heavier or smoother without being left of something, smoother than something, or heavier than something else.

Since this is so, whatever the column is heavier than is likewise lighter than the column. Whatever the column is smoother than is rougher than the column. If it is double, that something else is likewise half.  There is, as Thomas said, a real opposition wherever there is a real relation. And when something proceeds from another, or is generated by another, there is, as said above, a real relation.

A conclusion follows from the foregoing discussion. Real relations in God are four: paternity, filiation, active spiration, and passive spiration, as we said above.  It is worth repeating here: The eternal generation of the Word founds the two relations of paternity and filiation.  The procession of love founds two relations, active spiration and passive spiration.

“But the third of these four, active spiration, while it is opposed to passive spiration, is not opposed to, and hence not really distinct from, either paternity or filiation.” (LaGrange, pg.) The relation of the Father to the Son is paternity.  That of the Son to the Father is filiation.  That of the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son is passive spiration.  The relation of the Father and Son to the holy Spirit is active or common spiration.

If the Holy Spirit, we see here, did not proceed from the Father and the Son as one principle, then the Spirit would have a different relation to the Father than He does to the Son.  The principle of the Persons having their foundation in the relations would therefore fall, and there would no longer be a unity of “personhood” in the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we see the importance of the fact that the Holy Spirit proceeds from “the Father and the Son.” And this procession is active spiration and, as termed here, “common” spiration.  This active or common spiration is not, however, mutually opposed to paternity or to filiation.  Again, if it were, there would be more persons than the three we refer to, for there would be a greater quantity of relations.

This problem of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Son can also be approached in another way, and this again is based on the relations. We may look at it as follows:

  1. The Father begets the Son.  We have a mutually opposed relation: paternity to filiation.
  2. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. We have a mutually opposed relation: active spiration and passive spiration
  3. Are, then, the Son and Holy Spirit related? How so?

Unless the spiration that distinguishes the Father and the Holy Spirit is shared by the Son as a common active spiration, the Son and Holy Spirit seem to have no relation at all, which is absurd.  But if they do have a relation, then it must be some additional relation, some additional mutual opposition, and at least a fourth divine person would seem to be produced (of course, this fourth person would have to relate to the Father somehow, and it would only fall to greater absurdity).

But the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one principle, not two. There is no need, therefore, to multiply relations. As St. Thomas says in the Summa Contra Gentiles, “The conclusion, therefore, must be that the divine Persons cannot be distinguished except by relative opposition in origin. Therefore, if the Holy Spirit is distinguished from the Son, He is necessarily from the Son, for we do not say that the Son is from the Holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit is, rather, said to be of the Son and given by the Son.”

It is important to restate the following: The three persons have but one existence. Hence “the divine relations do not enter into composition with the divine essence, since the three persons, constituted by relations mutually opposed, are absolutely equal in perfection.” (LaGrange)

No true understanding of the Persons can be arrived at without understanding first the processions “in” God and the mutually opposed relations that they “cause.” Reflection on the real existence (and not just logical) of the relations is necessary to avoid thinking of the Persons of God in a merely “modal” way, as has often been done in the past.  We may say that the distinction between a Person (in the Godhead) and the Nature of God is only mental: the Father is not part of God but simply is God, for example. But the distinctions between one Person and another are not merely mental but real. And these distinctions, once more, are based on mutually opposed relations.

Thus, by increasing precision, we reach the formula of the Council of Florence: “The Holy Spirit is eternally from Father and Son; He has His nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration . . . . And, since the Father has through generation given to the only begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom He is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.”


Discussion with an Atheist

Below are excerpts from a discussion I and others had regarding atheism. I have changed the names or omitted last names, except mine, as I did not seek permission to post this from those in conversation. I think it may be of some value to read:

Atheist  –  I think that you’re rather missing the point atheism has no doctrines or dogma. It compels nothing. It says only that we lack belief in gods. We are tied together by nothing more than a lack of belief. It has been said that organising atheists is like herding cats precisely because there is no central set of beliefs that we all have in common.I’d also suggest that if you genuinely want to understand why an atheist feels compelled to ridicule and mock your beliefs and attitudes then you ask one. Asking fellow Catholics is not likely to get you an answer close to the trust because your fellow Catholics by definition aren’t atheists.


Matthew Menking –  Well, there are really several “types” of atheists. Many who call themselves atheists are more traditionally what are called agnostics. But due to current popular use, there are generally speaking, the hard atheists and the soft atheists (or implicit vs explicit, positive versus negative, etc). Some atheists simply don’t believe in a god or gods, and others believe that there is certainly no god or gods.However, these aside, we can show at least a unity of action, if not of belief, in the specific atheists that Paul is referring to here. He is clearly referring, not to all atheists, but to those who are militant against those of a deist or theist faith. We can, so to speak, “herd” this group, for they tend to “herd” themselves in a unity of purpose, regardless of their differences of “belief” in the particulars.

9:36 AM  –  Edit


Atheist  –  “Militant” atheism? Honestly “militant atheist” is more than a bit of an oxymoron. Has anyone ever been injured or even threatened in the name of atheism? Not kowtowing to your religious privilege isn’t militant. Not respecting your religion isn’t militant. Ridiculing and mocking your beliefs isn’t even militant. Blowing you up or threatening you is militant. Has that ever happened? LINK


Matthew Menking –  If we want to get into the history of atheism and the movements its led to, then we will see so much more destruction and death than any of the arguments against crusades and Jihad. This is a topic for a different time, and not for Paul’s topic here. But your entire response to my post argued against none of its claims but only against a term which you altered and defined for your own purposes. This is not how reasoned dialogue occurs.Has anyone every blown up or threatened me? Not successfully…I am an American soldier. And even though I’ve been threatened and it has been attempted to “blow me up” by theists, not atheists (to my knowledge), I remain objective about the totality of what history has shown. Nevertheless, let us return to Paul’s point, if we may…


Matthew Menking –  By the way, let’s define terms:Militant – The word militant is both an adjective and a noun, and is usually used to mean vigorously active, combative and aggressive, especially in support of a cause, as in ‘militant reformers’.It comes from the 15th century Latin “militare” meaning “to serve as a soldier”.So militant, by real, not arbitrary, definitions fits perfectly. The Church on earth, to which I belong, is even called the “Church Militant.” It is a description of vigorous activity and obviously need not have the connotation you tried to force upon in it in your above “argument.”

10:03 AM (edited)  –  Edit

Atheist  –  +Matthew Menking I’ve just posted on the topic of “militant” if you think that Paul’s post isn’t the right place for it.(link to address left out since it shows identity of “Atheist”

Person  –  It tells us that atheism promotes freedom of expression. If you don’t like what atheists have to say, don’t google atheist blogs. Simple.

Jeff   –  +Con I don’t think you’ve been privvy to the attacks on religionper se that Paul, Matthew, and other Catholics have been the object of here on Google Plus. We post about things that are important to us, and atheists come to our stories and deride our faith.Rude behavior is not an endorsement of freedom of expression; it’s just rude.

Paul  –  +Atheist – You said:”I think that you’re rather missing the point +Paul . Atheism has no doctrines or dogma.”How is the following statement not doctrine or dogma?

“There are no gods”

I think +Jeff  is onto something. Atheists not only have faith, but it’s a dogmatic faith!


Atheist  –  Ah +Paul  atheism does not say “There are no gods”. It says “I don’t believe in gods”.

1:53 PM

Paul   –  +Atheist – You said:”If you genuinely want to understand why an atheist feels compelled to ridicule and mock your beliefs and attitudes then you ask one. Asking fellow Catholics is not likely to get you an answer close to the trust because your fellow Catholics by definition aren’t atheists.”Did you ever notice that next to my name and the time of this post is the word “Public”? That means that this post can be seen by anyone, not just my Catholic friends. I don’t believe in hiding a lamp under a lamp stand.

1:54 PM

Paul   –  +Atheist – You said:”Ah +Paul  atheism does not say “There are no gods”. It says “I don’t believe in gods”.”Are you saying you’re agnostic, not atheist? Besides, belief implies faith. Are you saying that atheists have faith that there are no gods?


Atheist –  No. Atheism refers to belief. Agnosticism refers to knowledge. They are different questions, not answers on the same scale.


Atheist –  Belief does imply faith which is why not believing implies not having faith.


Paul  –  So, Atheist, an atheist doesn’t believe in gods, but an agnostic doesn’t have knowledge of gods. Are you saying that atheists aren’t sure that there are no gods?

2:07 PM

Michael   –  Ah +Paul Schlenker atheism does not say “There are no gods”. It says “I don’t believe in gods”.Reasonable. So, if you (or other atheists) don’t believe in a god, why is it necessary to attack those who do? I’m not suggesting you do that, but I have certainly seen atheists do this type of behavior…


Atheist-  You’re nearly there +Paul . Let’s start from a neutral position, one where belief and knowledge regarding gods is completely missing. That is agnostic atheism and ignosticism too because the question of gods at this stage is meaningless.Along comes someone, Theo the theist, who claims that gods exist. Theo has arrived at his position through his own faith in a cosmic somethingbut has no repeatable evidence or information to convince others beyond his faith. Theo is an agnostic theist.Gary goes further than Theo and claims to know that there is a single God with a set of rules that everyone must live by as well as a punishment and reward scheme. He claims evidence and knowledge of God exists but is a bit vague on the specifics. Gary is a gnostic theist.

Sally utterly refutes Gary’s claims and says that his evidence is false and that reality actually shows that no gods exist. Sally is a gnostic atheist or a ‘string’ atheist.

Now given that gods remain undefined or at least so nebulous a concept as to be so poorly defined as to be meaningless Ian claims to be ignostic. The questions of belief and knowledge coming after understanding of the question. The question is too vague and so is rejected out of hand.

Personally the lack of evidence for or against gods makes me agnostic, the lack of meaning make me ignostic and my lack of belief make me atheist.

The harm done by religion and the religious make me anti-theist though that’s something of a misnomer considering that it would be strange to be against a god that you don’t believe in but rest assured that it is religion that I oppose rather than a hypothetical god.


Paul –  I think you’re the one that’s almost there, +Atheist, as evidenced by this statement you made:”The harm done by religion and the religious make me anti-theist though that’s something of a misnomer considering that it would be strange to be against a god that you don’t believe in”You’re right, it would be strange to be against a god that you don’t believe in, but that’s exactly what you and many who claim to be atheist are. You’re against a god you don’t believe in. That’s why you spend so much time on social media and elsewhere putting down those who believe, rather than extolling the supposed virtues of atheism.


Atheist  –  :sigh: Back to judging so soon? Oh well.


Paul   –  Not judging, +Atheist. Just making observations. 🙂


Matthew Menking –  “Only reason with reasonable people” – Anthony Flew (the once atheist now deist philosopher who honestly let the evidence lead where it will.)Now, Atheist, you state many things that are true, some that are “this particular Atheist’s” definitions, and some that are verifiably false (I claim in these last only that you are in error, not that you are intentionally deceitful: although a theist I know that god is not me and I don’t know your mind).I do have to say that, these days, “atheists” share one very common thing with protestant Christians: there seem to be as many brands of them as there are individuals (not, however, surprising, since this is at least consistent with the nominalist philosophy that usually underlies both camps). One atheist is a positivist atheist – “there are dogmatically no gods”. The next is a negative atheist – “there is no evidence of god.” Etc, etc.

Each individual human being is, of course, entitled to his own belief (yes, they are beliefs unless you have demonstrative proof of something…this is the definition of faith in a logical context – and so saying lack of faith in a god is lack of any belief is simply false by logical standards. All you can state honestly is the tautology that “lack of belief in a god is lack of belief IN A GOD).

Any logically argument and useful debate generally will go by three things, and in their proper order:

1. Define terms

2. Make statements that include a middle term to link to the conclusion

3. Show the demonstration through the two agreed statements

When an argument is refuted we must either

1. show that a term is used ambiguously

2. Show that at least one of the two statements is false

3. Show a fallacy in reasoning

We have, at least taken some time here to “discuss” terms but not to define them. But then to use that term in the exact same way is necessary to prove your conclusions. You have repeatedly used terms ambigiously throughout this discussion. This is not an attack on you (I certainly see my Christian brethren do it often as well, and, like you, is most likely unintentional). But, still, it serves no one to debate in this way.

Of course, this lesson is for all, not just Jason.

Here is a nice video all should take a few minutes to watch. Not so much for the sake of the arguments themselves (although they are by two very respected and respectable philosophers) but because of the manner in which the discussion takes place:

Fr. Frederick C. Copleston vs Bertrand Russell – Part 1


Atheist  –  +Matthew Menking I find myself largely in agreement with your logic. So, could someone please define ‘god’ (see ignostic earlier).


Paul  –  I’ll take a stab at it, +Atheist. God is the supreme being that existed before everything, and created everything.


Matthew Menking –  Simply put, the god that most people believe in is a single, omnipotent being. Certainly, there are those that believe in “gods,” although I fail to see how one can reasonably hold this unless they call one god the “god of gods” and the rest “lesser gods” and therefore should honestly give them different names.But the “one God” is the necessary being, the cause of all other being, the pure simple being as being. God is not a part of this world, not a part of this universe (rightly defined as the totality of contingent being), but rather stands apart from it.

I do find that almost every atheist and agnostic I have ever debated with I agree with in not believing in the “god” they seem to argue against, which is very similar to the old pagan gods who, while much more powerful than man, are still part of the world of empirical being rather than standing outside it.God is not, therefore, the “greatest” of all beings but the only true “being.” God is being itself. The only “being” that explains its own existence, rather than being explained by another.

I find it strange how many “men of science” spend their lives or at least careers seeking cause and effect, as if its a given, and then deny, somehow, a sufficient cause for being itself.


Paul  –  What +Matthew Menking said. 🙂


Fr. Priest  –  Defining God means that we must do what cannot be done. We can define terms which relate to God and we can define our own concept of God. But one of the concepts that I have of God is that God is “infinite”, ergo, beyond definition.God’s essence is existence, and therefore God’s “being” is not ever subject to the finite in any way. We can know some things about God, but because we are, ourselves, finite beings, dependent in our own existence we cannot possibly come to complete knowledge of infinity, which describes one aspect of God.


Matthew Menking –  true, Fr. Priest. God cannot be defined, since to define means to make finite, aka set limits around, and this cannot be done with the infinite by, ahem, definition. Same with any singular, actually. singulars cannot be defined because they aren’t part of a genus and species.

Ben –  +Atheist has been helpful for developing my apologetic, because I think he’s fair in stating that the null hypothesis is not doctrine, but rather a stance of skepticism towards doctrine. That being said, Atheist, you are really not going to seriously argue that no one has ever been hurt in the name of atheism, are you? I am a bachelor of politics who studied Russian history, and I assure you that there is a fantastic body of proof attesting to the fact that many religious people were killed in the name of atheism.


Atheist  –  +Ben really? I thought they were killed in the name of Stalinism.


Ben   –  Nope. That eventually became true, but the original Soviet motivation for killing the religious under Lenin was the understanding that the notion of God was causing people to suffer. It was politicized New Atheism, long before the so-called New Atheists.


Fr. Priest  –  Anyone can do anything “in the name of” something. I could drink a beer in the name of the Pope or in the name of Barack Obama. Anyone can use a “name” to do things. A man could decide to murder his wife in the name of honor or attack a group of people from another ethnic group in the name of racism or fairness. People can murder other people in the name of Christianity or in the name of Atheism. It doesn’t matter at all in what name someone does something. What matters is that the act is done and why the person actually did it. If a person were to accidentally hit a person it is not the same as intentionally striking the person. And there may be good reasons for intentionally hitting a person. One is self defense. But if one truly believes the teachings of the Christian Church one cannot do violence without moral cause. What, in atheism, either causes or prevents violence? I know of nothing, as it seems to me that atheism has nothing at all to do with morality, but is rather simply a statement of the complete lack of belief in God or the denial that any God or “gods” exist. Atheism is, therefore, amoral. But when an atheist decides that it is either right or wrong to do something, this belief or judgement must be based on something besides atheism. Perhaps it is utilitarianism or emotion or something else. But, by definition, an atheist’s ethics cannot be based on his or her atheism, as “atheism” has no such teaching or guideline in itself.

Both the person of the Christian religion and the atheist is wrong to accuse the other of evil based on doing that evil “in the name of” anything at all.


Fr. Priest  –  Catholics have murdered people, Atheists have murdered people. Catholics would proclaim, based on their morality, that murder is wrong. On what would an atheist base his or her decision that murder is either right or wrong?


Matthew Menking  –  Certainly, if the discussion is “what group has caused no harm in the name of what they believed to be the truth?” I would be willing to bet that the answer is “no group.” But we can ask at least two other questions:

1. What, historically, can we see has caused the largest total loss to the world (and for that matter what currently is doing the same)

2. What belief systems have an inherent tendency toward a lack of value of human life and freedom

While these questions are by no means simple and it would rightly take many hours and thousands of pages to discuss all the points, the real question should be, rather, what is true? We don’t ask about the morality of our math teacher when seeking answers to math questions. And when seeking the answer to ultimate reality (is there a God or not), the history of men’s actions based on one belief here or another are hardly relevant to the actual question at hand.

Augustine on Angels, Free Will, and the Passions

A short reflection on Book XII of The City of God

Angels, I would say, have no passions, since they do not have bodily desires to take care of “in time.” In other words, they do not seek an immediate pleasure or relief of pain, and in this way, are not moved to a lesser good that may be in conflict with a greater good. At least, they do not have physical passions. Of course, the issue goes deeper than this, but that is enough for my point here.

Studying the angels intellect and will, even though unaffected by human passions, is a good exercise in knowing ourselves. After all, our own passions are a good and are designed to be directed by our reason.

Augustine, in much of the first half of Book XII, takes up the problem of the will in the angels, a possibility of a bad will having an efficient cause, and just how the will must always seek good, but not, by necessity, the ultimate good. His discussion reminds us that, true to the Catholic faith and to good philosophy in ethics and in psychology, we are always after the good, at least the apparent good. No one can will evil in a direct sense, but only, in chosing a lesser good over a better, wills what is evil.

Again, Augustine’s discussion of the “two cities” of angels, with all the twists and turns of goodness, will, efficient cause, etc, is also a great reflection on our own powers of intellect and will, and a reminder that our passions are to be under the control of our reason. They, too, are a good thing in themselves, however poorly our passions seem to lead us as a result of original sin. After all, our passions direct us to good things. It is a matter of our intellect to discern if these good things are appropriate to try and achieve (should we “will” them) given the circumstances and what other greater good may be neglected in doing so.

Augustine, City of God, Book XI

“Of This Part of the Work, Wherein We Begin to Explain the Origin and End of the Two Cities.”

“The city of God we speak of is the same to which testimony is borne by that Scripture, which excels all the writings of all nations by its divine authority, and has brought under its influence all kinds of minds, and this not by a casual intellectual movement, but obviously by an express providential arrangement. For there it is written…” As in other works by Augustine on things divine, he immediately makes it clear that faith in the revealed truth of God is a prerequisite for what will be said. It will be reasonable, for it is faith seeking understanding of the God who is Author of both faith and reason, but it is not a logical deduction arrived at by the power of the unaided human mind.

As we turn to book XI of Augustine’s de Civitate Dei, the Bishop of Hippo “will endeavor to treat of the origin, and progress, and deserved destinies of the two cities (the earthly and the heavenly, to wit), which, as we said, are in this present world commingled, and as it were entangled together. And, first, I will explain how the foundations of these two cities were originally laid, in the difference that arose among the angels.”

In Book XI, it seems no subject of the Christian faith and of philosophical thought is barred entry. Time and Space, Matter and Form, Infinite and Finite, and a host of other philosophical issues are brought to the fore almost immediately. Likewise, the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, Creation, and Grace are immediately debated against a would be opponent.  The central doctrine, however, would seem to be that man is created by God and for God, and the two cities, intermixed as they must be in this life, are of those who worship themselves and those who worship the one true God.

Creation of the universe by God and the non-eternal state of this creation are first laid out. Time and space did not exist “before” God created, and it is to this effect that many of the philosophical arguments are brought out and developed.

After setting forth and discussing, in the fashion typical of Augustine (winding ones’ way and neglecting no turn in the arguments), the topics listed above, among others, he turns to the creation of the angels. Augustine has already, by this point, shown that, according to the Scriptures, it seems clear that the angels were created at the very beginning of the “days” we read of in Genesis. The angels, being pure intellectual creatures and immaterial, either immediately fell or were immediately perfected in grace, depending on whether they chose God or self as their object of worship. Satan himself was not created evil, but rather, through pride, lost the sight of God. All angels were, from the moment of their creation, beings of light.

“But angels are not the only rational or intelligent creatures who we think should be called blessed.” Augustine moves here to the creation of man, in the state of original blessedness, original justice.  Man was created with certain gifts from God.  He was created with natural gifts, preternatural gifts, and supernatural gifts. A natural gift is that which is proper to the structure of nature.  A preternatural gift is that which goes beyond the structure of the nature of the material universe (from “praeter naturam”, beyond nature).  A supernatural gift is that which goes beyond any created nature, and belongs only to God, and this is grace.

Even though he has already refuted the pagans (But to the enemies of this city we have replied in the ten preceding books, according to our ability and the help afforded by our Lord and King) he will refer back to them and continue to examine their arguments and errors. Likewise, the errors of the heretics, and especially of the Manicheans, are repeatedly condemned.

The goodness of God and that all good is from God is a central theme in Augustine as a whole, and that all being is good insofar as it is being (contra his early Manichean beliefs). This theme is central to Book XI as well. God is the creator of everything, including the material world. “Since, therefore, what He sees is good would not have been made unless it was good before He made it, we must say: He teaches, He does not learn, that it is good.”

Of course, goodness is what we seek, and we recognize the good in things and then love them.  For the Creator, the “order” is reversed: He loves and therefore it is good. It is often said that “one thing would not be better than another, unless God loved it more,” and it is hard to deny this for, the contrary answer would be that God somehow recognizes goodness in something and is moved to love it. For the immutable God, this is simply absurd.  It would imply a change in God.

“So if we ask ‘who made it?’ the answer is ‘God’; if we ask ‘how?’ the answer is that God said: ‘Let it be. And it was done’; if we ask ‘why?’ the answer is ‘Because it is good.’”

Augustine will return to the Scriptures and expound on their meaning. He will return to “the philosophers” and discuss the truths and errors of their thought; the Platonists, although having error in their doctrine as well, are “the closest to the truth.” He will discuss the writings and teachings of the Fathers of the Church. For if one is, after faith, seeking understanding, no subject, no topic, is out of play. God created all (all that exists; not evil, for example, for it doesn’t ‘exist’ but is rather the lack of existence where existence should rightly be), and all existing things point in some way to God. If we want to know, live, and share the faith, we do not avoid questions of philosophy, of science, of culture. Augustine meets all of these head on in turn. Book XI of The City of God is a perfect example of such an endeavor.

Patristic Theology of Man and Grace

The Fathers of the Church, by reflecting on revealed truth, contributed much to our understanding of the human person.  As created in the image and likeness of God but wounded by original sin, reflecting on man can tell us something of God, and likewise, reflecting on God tells us something of man. Ultimately, we were created by God and for God, and it is this overarching theme that must form the basis of any reflection on the human person.

The first major theme of the Fathers is that of the created human person.  The human person is created, according to revelation, in the image and likeness of God.  All things reflect God in some way, but man (and in this way he is also like the angels) has intellect and will.  He is therefore free in a way other created beings, rather animate or inanimate, are not.  Man, then, is in some way master of his own decisions and, ultimately, his end. But man is made, as we said, not only by God but for God, and because of this, his only rightful end is to choose God. He is not, therefore, free to choose what his end should be, but he is free to choose or reject that which he was created for.

This brings us to the second great theme of the Fathers on this subject; that of the original state of humankind. Man was created in what might be called the state of original justice. He was created with natural gifts, preternatural gifts, and supernatural gifts. A natural gift is that which is proper to the structure of nature.  A preternatural gift is that which goes beyond the structure of the nature of the material universe (from “praeter naturam”, beyond nature).  A supernatural gift is that which goes beyond any created nature, and belongs only to God.

However, original sin, or the Fall, injured but did not erase completely, all of these gifts. But “O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer.” We come to a third theme of the Fathers, that of the Redeemer and of the justification, through grace, of man.

Man lost, through his rejection of God, and this due to pride, his share in the divine life. The supernatural gifts in man were lost through sin, the preternatural gifts erased, and even the natural strengths of man were greatly injured (This is not to be confused with the error of total depravity. Man is wounded in the sense that he lost the preternatural gifts so the natural gifts did not work well together  but they remain in their natural orientation:  the intellect to truth, the will to good and the passions to be obedient to reason.  The preternatural gifts insured they would be used well). The infinite God was rejected by finite man, and only an infinite love could redeem man. Man, however, has no way of such an offer to God, and so grace alone, God’s own gift of self, would be required.

The salvation of man, then, depends on the supernatural grace of God. Through our Redeemer, Christ Jesus, we are made “partakers of the divine nature” and it has been said that “God became man so that man might become God.” This is, of course, meant in no pantheistic way, but is consistent with revealed truth, which tells us that “we will be like God, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Grace, however, does not rule out man’s free will and his participation in his own salvation. As St. Augustine tells us, “God who created you without you, will not save you without you.” God wills that all be saved, but we remain free, and many reject the salvation offered by God through His Son. To those then that are saved, all glory is due to God.  But to those that are damned, the fault is completely their own.

Of course, this teaching, which is that of the Fathers in general and of Augustine, the “Doctor of Grace,” specifically, has always been a controversial one, and because of this, especially in light of the Reformation and its disputes on faith and works, many of the other aspects of the Fathers on the doctrine of Grace has received less attention than they deserve.

The doctrines of the divinization of man and the indwelling of the Trinity in man are key to understanding the Patristic teachings on grace, and again, because of the focus on faith and works for the last several centuries, sadly, much of the Fathers’ teaching on these topics is not well known.

The bestowal of grace and gifts is the work of the Trinity. Grace is a gift that comes from the Father, comes through the Son, and is given in the Holy Spirit. This could lead us into the patristic understanding of the Trinity itself, where the Father has a primacy of origin but not of nature, and into the appropriations within the Trinity, as discussed especially by St. Augustine. But here, we note that, although God is One and in His being works as one toward creation, the Persons do act in their own ways towards creation. This, of course, we only know through revelation, and the Fathers reflect on this at great length.

There is no doubt, however, that the understanding of grace and free will was of great importance in the writings of the earliest Christians, and much was debated and discussed from the earliest times. Controversies certainly arose in reconciling the providence of God with the freedom of man, and the greatest of these controversies was that of Pelagius and Augustine. But even Augustine, who preached so strongly the primacy of grace (Command what you will; give what you command“), tells us that “God does not command impossibilities, but by commanding admonishes you do what you can and to pray for what you cannot.”

The Church Fathers have a deep and rich reflection on man, his creation in the image and likeness of God, and of his salvation through the Grace of God merited through our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Only the slightest introduction, of course, could be offered here in so short an essay, but a lifetime could be spent reflecting on the great patristic contribution that has been left to us as a wonderful gift.

Augustine – Seeking to know God

Why does Augustine discuss the word “metheglin” in book X of De Trinitate?

“What you are absolutely ignorant of you simply cannot love in any sense whatever.” To love something then means to know some aspect of it, at the least. You may love something, of course, without fully comprehending it, and in most cases this is the normal way. Indeed, we will never comprehend God.

However, there has to be something which is the object of our love. This something could even be knowledge itself, and to know there is something unknown that you want to know is to already know “something” is there to know. You may not know the answer to a question, but you, knowing the question, will desire the answer. You cannot desire the answer without knowing there is a question to which an answer belongs.

Here, Augustine uses the unknown word “metheglin,” and the point is that, upon hearing this, one recognizes that this is a word, and that it therefore is a sign that, once known, provides meaning. It is like seeing smoke and knowing there is some cause. We can love fire by loving smoke and loving its cause, without knowing what that cause actually is. Here, we do somewhat the same thing with a conventional sign rather than a natural one.

As a rational animal, we seek to know, and an unknown sign is something we are aware of that in turn makes us aware of something we do not know. Naturally, then, we want to know this. We seek the cause, and eventually, we seek the first cause. We rest in knowing this first cause, and love this resting.

“When we hear of ‘God’ we know we hear a sign that has meaning. That much we know; but the reality of God we are driven to seek.”

This, of course, reminds one of the Ontological argument of St. Anslem and his followers (followers at least in this). And the fool says in his “heart,” not his “mind,” there is no God. So we, by this argument, seem to know God in some way and seek to know him all the more. We don’t think of it like “gobbledy goo” or some made up term, but that there is a real substance to know behind the term. If there was just a sound, but nothing we knew it signified, we wouldn’t seek to know what it meant. So, as Anselm himself intended to extend in some way the thought of Augustine as he interpreted it, in the term God we know something real is there that we want to know more.

‘Enter into the cell of your mind, shut out everything except God and whatever helps you to seek Him once the door is shut. Speak now, my heart, and say to God, “I seek your face; your face, Lord, I seek.”‘ – Proslogion

I am not here trying to affirm or deny the validity of the argument, but merely reflect on it as a development of seeking to know that which we know in some way but not in another…it is certainly different from hearing “metheglin” which we may not know the meaning of at all, or of “unicorn,” of which knowledge of its meaning does not affirm its existence. Yet, we know something of God, and yet we do not comprehend God.

Do we therefore know something of God and not something else, like a percentage of God that we do and do not know? I think not.  We cannot say that we are limited in our knowledge of God because we can only know a certain “amount” of Him (He is infinite; what would “amount” mean?) or a certain “part” of Him (He is simple and not composed of parts and thus, what would this mean either?).

So we may learn that metheglin  is the Greek word for mead (temetum is the Latin word), a sort of wine made with honey. We can even approach “comprehending” it.  But we cannot do this with God. We cannot, then, know God in a univocal way with knowing things of this world, yet we are not agnostic in our knowledge of God either.  Once again, analogy comes into play.

We must “seek His face” always.  Our joy, after all, is in contemplating God, who is (except of Himself) never to be comprehended.

Summa Theologica Q. 36-38: The Holy Spirit

Question 36. The person of the Holy Ghost

  1. Is this name, “Holy Ghost,” the proper name of one divine Person?
  2. Does that divine person Who is called the Holy Ghost, proceed from the Father and the Son?
  3. Does He proceed from the Father through the Son?
  4. Are the Father and the Son one principle of the Holy Ghost?

“While there are two processions in God, one of these, the procession of love, has no proper name of its own…Hence the relations also which follow from this procession are without a name…so to signify the divine Person, Who proceeds by way of love, this name “Holy Ghost” is by the use of scriptural speech accommodated to Him.”

It is true that the terms holy and ghost (old English equivalent of the Latin spiritus) are both used of the nature of God, the term Holy Spirit, used as one word (one term) is proper to the third Person of the Trinity. It is important here to remember that a term, as used in logic, simply denotes some one thing, and we may use two (or more words) to denote one term, and thus one name.  In fact, “that which is greater than anything which can be thought” is simply one term, even if it is ten words. Names and the essential meaning of the words used in them must not be confused or set against one another.

Of great importance is Thomas’ response to the second objection to article 1: “Although this name “Holy Ghost” does not indicate a relation, still it takes the place of a relative term, inasmuch as it is accommodated to signify a Person distinct from the others by relation only. Yet this name may be understood as including a relation, if we understand the Holy Spirit as being breathed [spiratus].

Probably the key question here, at least as it relates to a proper understanding of the Trinity as one of Persons defined by relative opposition, is that of the procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son, rather than from the Father alone. This is often termed the Filoque (Latin “and the Son”) problem, and is still very much debating between the eastern Churches and the West.

Simply put, there must be some real relation between the Son and the Holy Spirit, and if this relation is separate than that of the relation between the Father and the Holy Spirit, one cannot maintain that the Persons can be understood through relative opposition.

“…it cannot be said that the divine Persons are distinguished from each other in any absolute sense; for it would follow that there would not be one essence of the three persons…the divine persons are distinguished from each other only by the relations…If therefore in the Son and the Holy Ghost there were two relations only, whereby each of them were related to the Father, these relations would not be opposite to each other, as neither would be the two relations whereby the Father is related to them. Hence, as the person of the Father is one, it would follow that the person of the Son and of the Holy Ghost would be one, having two relations opposed to the two relations of the Father…the Son and the Holy Ghost must be related to each other by opposite relations. Now there cannot be in God any relations opposed to each other, except relations of origin..opposite relations of origin are to be understood as of a “principle,” and of what is “from the principle.”

Of the Son and the holy Ghost, then, one must be a principle of the other, the the other as from this principle.  No one, of course, says that the Holy Ghost is the principle of the Son.  But the Son is, as one principle with the Father, the Principle of the Holy Ghost.

The topic of the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son was highly discussed in St. Thomas day, and in fact, St. Thomas died in route to a council in which, with representatives of the East present, this certainly would have been discussed. In the Summa he notes that, in the east “they grant that the Holy Ghost is the Spirit ‘of the Son’; and that He is from the Father ‘through the Son.’ Some of them are said also to concede that ‘He is from the Son’; or that ‘He flows from the Son,’ but not that He proceeds…[but] granted that the Holy Ghost originates in any way from the Son, we can conclude that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son.”

Sadly, centuries later, this issue is still among those that divide us.

“…because the Son receives from the Father that the Holy Ghost proceeds from Him, it can be said that the Father spirates the Holy Ghost through the Son, or that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father through the Son, which has the same meaning. ”

So we may grant that the Father is the principle of a principle, inasmuch as the Son is begotten and therefore receives the power to spirate the Holy Spirit from the Father.  Yet this Spiration is one, and “the same spirative power belongs to the Father and to the Son; and therefore the Holy Ghost proceeds equally from both.”

This sums up what is clarified further in Article 4, in that the Father and Son are one principle of the Holy Ghost. The only difference that can be stated as between any Person of the Trinity and another, as is clear by now, is whatever makes the one not to be the other through relative opposition.  For example, the Son is all that the Father is, except father, begettor, unbeggotten, etc. “The Father and the Son are in everything one, wherever there is no distinction between them of opposite relation. Hence since there is no relative opposition between them as the principle of the Holy Ghost it follows that the Father and the Son are one principle of the Holy Ghost.”

Question 37. The name of the Holy Ghost–Love

  1. Is it the proper name of the Holy Ghost?
  2. Do the Father and the Son love each other by the Holy Ghost?

1 John says that “God is Love,” and this refers to the One God in His essence. As an essential term, therefore, it may be argued that the name Love is not a proper name for a Person of the Trinity.  After all, we do not say that God is Word and also that the proper name of the Son is Word.

Aquinas, as always, makes the distinction: “The name Love in God can be taken essentially and personally. If taken personally it is the proper name of the Holy Ghost; as Word is the proper name of the Son.”

So to understand the difference, we must look at a few things. Again, “there are two processions in God, one by way of the intellect, which is the procession of the Word, and another by way of the will, which is the procession of Love.” As we have earlier looked at the processions according to intellect and will, we need not review them here.  But just as before we had no proper name for the second procession (that of the Holy Ghost) but could use the term Spiration, so here “on account of the poverty of our vocabulary, we express these relations [of the love and to love] by the words ‘love’ and ‘dilection’: just as if we were to call the Word ‘intelligence conceived,’ or ‘wisdom begotten.'”

In the replies to the objections, we are further enlightened of the distinctions”…when we say that the Holy Ghost is the Love of the Father for the Son, or for something else; we do not mean anything that passes into another, but only the relation of love to the beloved; as also in the Word is imported the relation of the Word to the thing expressed by the Word…As regards origin, therefore, the Holy Ghost is not the medium, but the third person in the Trinity; whereas as regards the aforesaid relation He is the bond between the two persons, as proceeding from both. ”

When addressing the topic as to whether the Father and the Son love each other by the Holy Ghost, once more a distinction is made, this time between using terms essentially or notionally.

“…we must say that since in God ‘to love’ is taken in two ways, essentially and notionally, when it is taken essentially, it means that the Father and the Son love each other not by the Holy Ghost, but by their essence…But when the term Love is taken in a notional sense it means nothing else than ‘to spirate love’; just as to speak is to produce a word…”

Question 38. The name of the Holy Ghost, as Gift

  1. Can “Gift” be a personal name?
  2. Is it the proper name of the Holy Ghost?

The word gift denotes something that can be given, even before it is given.  Something must belong in some way to the giver before it can be gifted to someone else. Of course, a stolen good could be said to be given to another, but this is to use the term gift in a nominal way.

Here, the gift is the Person Himself.  To give oneself, one must truly belong to oneself.  This is fully true only in God, who belongs in no way to another. Indeed, God as a whole can be said to be gift, but properly speaking, and as backed by Scripture, the Holy Spirit is Gift.

“Now a divine person is said to belong to another, either by origin, as the Son belongs to the Father; or as possessed by another. But we are said to possess what we can freely use or enjoy as we please: and in this way a divine person cannot be possessed, except by a rational creature united to God…the rational person alone can possess the divine person…Thus a divine person can be given, and can be a gift.”

Just as Word and Image are personal and proper names of the Son, as from eternity, so must Gift, if it is to be proper, be a name eternally, apart from and not contingent upon creation. “Gift is not so called from being actually given, but from its aptitude to be given. Hence the divine person is called Gift from eternity, although He is given in time.

As always, there is much we can learn of ourselves from contemplating the Trinity and the divine Persons as such.  The Love of God and the proper name of Love which belongs to the Holy Spirit as Gift are no different.  We are made, after all, in the image and likeness of God, and we are called to “be like Him” if we wish to “see Him as He is.”

But first and foremost our contemplation of the Trinity should be just that; a gazing at God simply to know God. “Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7)





Augustine, de Trinitate, Books VIII-IX: Truth and Love

How Book VIII of De Trinitate represents a shift in Augustine’s method

Augustine has repeatedly stated that we must start with faith in treating of the Trinity, for reason cannot bring us to a knowledge of the Triune God. Any rationalism in treating of the revealed mystery of the Trinity is to be ruled out.  Unless you believe, you will not understand. Yet at the same time, we do not simply acknowledge the statements of our faith without seeking to understand them and certainly avoid Tertullian’s “it is absurd, therefore I believe.” Faith and reason are distinct, but compatible.

In Book XIII, Augustine shifts to a more direct seeking of how we may know God, and in doing this, he must show that we cannot analogously know Him by some sort of image we know on earth.  We know what a virgin is and what a man is, and therefore, without ever seeing a man born of a virgin, we can at least know what this means when we say “He was born of a virgin.” With God, however, we cannot point to anything on this earth, it would seem, and say “this is how I know what it means to believe in a God who is one being and three persons.”

We must, therefore, look and see if we can find a way past this. Augustine’s answer is to look within, not without. We are created in the image and likeness of God, and it is in us that we may find, not a perfect image, but one that at least will give us some understanding of the triune reality that can exist in a single being. Starting in Book VIII, we are no longer asking primarily “what does the Scripture say” but rather “how can we intellectually ponder this reality by comparison with some knowledge we already have.”

The significance of truth in books VIII and IX of De Trinitate

Ontological truth is the truth as located in beings themselves as toward the mind, and epistemological truth is truth as located in the mind towards beings. Truth in the general sense then is conformity of the mind and being.

God, as the “one who is,” is truth in the ontological sense, to its fullest. He is truth itself. If we take the correspondence theory of truth, say, as per Aristotle, for example, then we know the truth when what is in our mind corresponds to what is in reality. The ultimate reality, ultimate being and truth, of course, is God.  If we know the truth, the truth itself in its fullness, we know God.

Augustine warns us that “’He is truth.’ Do not ask what truth is; immediately a fog of bodily images and a cloud of fancies will get in your way and disturb the bright fair weather that burst on you the first instant when I said ‘truth.’ Come, hold it in that first moment in which so to speak you caught a flash from the corner of your eye when the word ‘truth’ was spoken; stay there if you can.”

The only things we know we know from experience, and all knowledge starts with sensation. It is hard for us, and it was certainly hard for Augustine (read his Confessions) to overcome the thought that everything that “is” is material. This, of course, is a very widespread fallacy today, especially in the scientific community, where truth is often limited to what can be empirically observed and verified.

Augustine goes on, however, to show us that to know truth is truly to know God, and to know at least something of truth is to know something of God. In this way we can begin to overcome the limitations mentioned earlier, where while “we cannot point to anything on this earth,” we can look at truth itself, known from within, and gain a starting point in knowing something of God.

The role of love in books VIII and IX of De Trinitate

“This is good and that is good. Take away this and that and see good itself if you can. In this way you will see God, not good with some other good, but the good of every good.” Augustine tells us that this is what we love:  Good.  We love good food and love good people and love good sunsets, because we ultimately love good, and the source of good in anything is Goodness Himself. “…there would be no changeable good things unless there were an unchangeable good.”

Of course, in this way, good is a transcendental of being, for there would be no beings if there were not being itself, nor truths if there were not truth itself, etc.

But as intellect goes out to being and to truth, the will goes out to the good. We love, and we love (or should) ourselves. In this way, we are both the lover and the loved. And further, the lover loves the loved, so there is lover, loved, and the love. Here, we can start to put together an image analogous with God who is, perhaps as Aristotle might say, thought thinking thought or understanding understanding understanding, which means that “Understanding” is understanding Himself.

Love is Augustine’s first internal image, in man, that we can look towards and see something of the relation of the three persons that are the one being of God, and further, the no one of them is greater or lesser than the others, or even of the whole.  That is, the Father is no greater or less than the Son, and likewise, the Father is no less than the Son and Holy Spirit together, or even any less than God as one Being.  Augustine discusses how we can see this in the lover loving the beloved that he has imaged in man, and thus come to some understanding that this is true in God, of course, without any of the imperfections of the image in man.


Grace does not destroy, but rather perfects nature

This article is a revised and expanded version of an earlier post, so much will be familiar to one who has read it, of course.

Gravity, Predestination, and Occasionalism: How God’s grace works

If one where to ask the question “why does a rock fall when released from the hand,” it would, no doubt, be a true yet odd answer to say that “God wills it.”  Yet, we must not argue that indeed, the falling of the rock does not escape God’s providence.  It certainly did not catch Him by surprise.

However, when asking the question, we are usually seeking the more proximate answer.  To say that “the rock falls because of gravity,” that still hardly understood force that draws massive objects toward one another, is to in no way infringe upon God’s power and providence.

In fact, we could not believe in miracles if we did not believe in a normal order of the world, created by God, in which things had proximate causes.  By this, I mean that, if we did not understand it to be that gravity is what caused a thing to fall to the ground, we would make no sense in saying that a levitation of an object is miraculous.  It would simply be “that particular occasion” of God’s will.  We could say that, in our experience, God seems to more often will a rock to fall than to levitate, but we could in no way make a distinction between the one being natural and the other being miraculous.

Miracles, by definition, do not destroy belief in a natural world, as many that reject the faith assume, but rather, presuppose it.  Likewise, grace, that super-immanent power of God, does not destroy nature but perfects it, elevates it.

Once a miracle enters reality, it acts with reality.  Miracles enter the world from without, but behave within it once present.  Take the loaves and the fish.  Once present, the loaves and the fish are “loaves and fish;” they feed hungry human beings and are part of nature.

If we deny that grace works with nature and instead say that it supercedes it, indeed replaces and destroys it, we have an analogous problem with miracles and can no longer assume a God who is not simply arbitrary in His will and design.  One is free, I imagine, to believe in such a God, as is the result of nominalist thinking along the lines of William of Occam, which undoubtedly leads to occasionalism, a close partner.

But once we accept this, we say that things are so merely because God says they are, to the point where, if God commanded murder, if God commanded even idolotry and denial of God by humans, these would by that fact be the right things to do.

This is, indeed, the teaching of Islam, and the teaching of reformed (Calvinist) theology within Christianity. Things happen because of God’s will, but apart from this being in line with His nature as goodness itself. One may look to Plato’s Euthyphro to see an in-depth discussion of whether things are good because God says so or if God says so because they are good.  The Christian answer, for centuries, has always been that it is both, and that it is a false dichotomy to ask the either/or question.

However, in those that fall into the camps of either emphasizing God’s sovereignty to the detriment of man’s freedom (John Calvin) or emphasizing man’s freedom to the detriment of God’s sovereignty (Jacobus Arminius), the old problem has returned.  We need, instead, the clear picture that God’s goodness, His will, His love, and all of the features we apply to God are indeed one and simple in Him, who simply IS.

Why, then, do we struggle to understand the place of our free will and our works in salvation?

St. Thomas teaches us, in the most clear manner, the truth of Predestination and man’s cooperation through God’s grace:

Wherefore we must say otherwise that in predestination two things are to be considered–namely, the divine ordination; and its effect. As regards the former, in no possible way can predestination be furthered by the prayers of the saints. For it is not due to their prayers that anyone is predestined by God. As regards the latter, predestination is said to be helped by the prayers of the saints, and by other good works; because providence, of which predestination is a part, does not do away with secondary causes but so provides effects, that the order of secondary causes falls also under providence. So, as natural effects are provided by God in such a way that natural causes are directed to bring about those natural effects, without which those effects would not happen; so the salvation of a person is predestined by God in such a way, that whatever helps that person towards salvation falls under the order of predestination; whether it be one’s own prayers or those of another; or other good works, and such like, without which one would not attain to salvation. Whence, the predestined must strive after good works and prayer; because through these means predestination is most certainly fulfilled. For this reason it is said: “Labor more that by good works you may make sure your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10).

Man is Created by Nature to See God

What is man, by nature, called to do? Or more correctly put, what is man’s fulfillment? What is it that is the act by which man’s potentiality is perfected? It is to see God.  But “Man is called to an end by nature that he cannot attain by nature, but only by grace because of the exalted character of the end.” (Fr. Mullady, Lecture on Nature and Grace).

Grace is needed because man’s end as an intellectual creature is to know the first cause.  He is to “see God as He is” (1John 3:2). But can we really “be like God?” Of course we cannot be like Him in a univocal way, as no created being can in any way match the uncreated One, Being Himself. Yet, “all created beings, so far as they are beings, are like God; moreover, in many this likeness is in life and intelligence. Not infrequently Holy Scripture speaks of this likeness, even of the likeness according to image, as when it says: ‘Let us make man to our image and likeness.’ (Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The One God, Ch. 4)

Aristotle opens his Metaphysics with the well known phrase that “all men by nature desire to know,” and here he shows the wisdom that our desire for God is fulfilled in the intellect.  We are created by God to know God.  Without knowing of revelation, and seeing man in his fallen state without realizing the existence of a fall from grace, Aristotle had no way of knowing that man could actually attain this knowing of God. But with grace, we can actually know God, and “see Him as He is.” We will never comprehend God, for that is not even possible with grace, and this again because grace does not replace or destroy nature but perfects it.

Saved by Grace Alone, through Faith and Works as Gifts of Grace

St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Fr. Garriogou Lagrange, when speaking on grace and especially on predestination, always emphasis the importance of 1Cor 4:7: “what hast thou that thou hast not received?” But with grace, we receive the faith to believe in God and believe God, and to live according to what He tells us we must do, in order to attain the perfection of our nature, the fulfillment of our natural desire to “know thee, the only true God,” (John 17:3) for “you have created us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” (Confessions)

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” It is this Christ “who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will” and who will “render to every man according to his deeds:  To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.” Certainly, it is by grace we are saved and “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

But do not be fooled; these works are part of how we are judged unto salvation or damnation, when Christ “will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

All these, both sheep and goats, are judged by what they did or did not do.  It is by grace, a pure gift, that I may be saved, but I find no evidence that Christ will say, at the judgement, “come, you who were predestined by grace apart from works” but rather we know from the mouth of the King of Kings that we will hear one of two things:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’


‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

It is God’s will that a rock fall when released from the hand., but it is His will that this be caused by gravity. It is grace that will save us, and by this grace, God wills that what we do or do not do will be the standard by which we are judged.