Monthly Archives: April 2013

Paradiso Canto XXXIII

“Within the depthless deep and clear existence of that abyss of light three circles shone – three in color, one in circumference: the second from the first, rainbow from rainbow; the third, an exhalation of pure fire equally breathed forth by the other two.” (Canto XXXIII)

Who dares to say what we will see when we see God “face to face.” Dante dared; should he have?

“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.” -St. Irenaeus of Lyons

Certainly, many a Father and Doctor of the Church would qualify, by St. Irenaeus’ standards, as not in their right mind. But as Aristotle and St. Thomas say, to achieve even a little knowledge of the highest things is far better than to know almost everything about worldly things.

The extreme difficulty of finding words to describe the vision in heaven is hardly made any easier by Revelation. How will, indeed, we “see” the threeness and oneness of God? We cannot do such here, not through creation.

God is One, and He acts as one.  We can know that God exists through reason alone, but this is reasoning from cause to effect, and in this case, we recognize a “necessary cause” for all that is contingent. We can only reason to the one cause, which is the one nature, the one essence that is the one God.  There is no way to know (through reason) that there is a Trinity.

In heaven, of course, we will see God not through some other medium, but directly. This must be the key to seeing God, three and one. But still, to describe it in human terms must truly be impossible. Yet we should not fault Dante, but rather praise him, for saying what he can. After all, many things we try to describe here on earth fall short (I hope) of what we actually conceive. One’s love of a spouse and children, for example; I may try to express to my wife my love for her, but human language falls short.

In the prologue to Book II of St. Augustine’s de Trinitate it is written, “men seek to know God, and bend their minds according to the capacity of human weakness to the understanding of the Trinity; learning, as they must, by experience, the wearisome difficulties of the task, whether from the sight itself of the mind striving to gaze upon light unapproachable.”

But at the end of the Divine Comedy, indeed, what makes it a comedy (a story with a happy ending) is what will make all of our lives a comedy; we will see God face to face, as He is. He will call us friends.

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Morals, Family, and Subsidiarity

The Loss of Culture

 

I would like to comment on two important and interrelated themes; tradition and education. The purpose of this series is to confront a few of the major issues facing our culture today, especially as regards the faith and the family. The method I will use will simply be that of commenting on some excellent quotes from a book on natural law.

 

Most of the quotes expounded upon will be from the book What We Can’t Not Know, by Budziszewski. His excellent comments provide the necessary base from which to expand.

 

In doing this, I am not being lazy, although I hope that I am indeed being, for the most part, unoriginal. This method alone should be a lesson in itself. For there may be new methods, for instance, in mathematics, but 2+2 will always be 4, and there is no need to try and be “original” in our findings here. Just so, the natural law is unchanging, and even if we come upon new details of its practical use, we must never try and teach a new ethic for the sake of originality. With that in mind, we turn to our first of three topics; that of tradition.

 

On Tradition:

 

The first quote, however, comes from G.K. Chesterton’s book, Orthodoxy.

 

“Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” Chesterton goes on to say: “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”

 

It is often said that one of the keys that sets humans apart from all other animals is language. I certainly do not deny this. But language does this in several ways. Two of them I would like to address here. The first is that language gives us a way to communicate our ideas with one another, especially the kinds of ideas that only humans can have; those of abstracted universals. But only temporally posterior to this is the second use of language, and that is to hand on knowledge from one generation to the next. This can be done orally through memorization, or in written form.

 

This means that each generation does not have to reinvent everything or rediscover everything.  We have, instead, a collected body of knowledge that we pass down, and this enables us to further and further develop our culture and the human race. We could not possibly have the understanding of nature, and yes, the power over much of it, that we have today, were it not for all the collected knowledge and wisdom of those of the past.

 

However, many today, in the name of progress, individuality, and other such ideologies, seem to have forgotten this. What we need, rather, is to get the young generation out of the “outmoded” ways of their unenlightened parents, and teach them to “think for themselves. Budziszewski tells us,

 

To some people in our day the word “tradition” suggests merely a repeated action that is hallowed by sentimental associations, like wearing a certain tartan or eating turkey on a certain day. I mean a good deal more than that—a shared way of life that molds the mind, character, and imagination of those who practice it, for better or for worse. It is a sort of apprenticeship in living, with all of the previous generations as masters, and includes not only ways of doing things, but ways of raising questions about things that matter…Traditionlessness, then, is not the absence of traditions so much as a particular, unsound sort of tradition that does not recognize itself as tradition, disbelieves whatever it does recognize as tradition, and is traditionally smug about its disbelief. It is the absence, not of traditions as such, but of sound ones…

 

Those that teach against tradition, whatever they may mean by that, do so to instill a “new tradition” of there own. The goal, simply, is to create a void, which will then be filled with their “better way.” Tradition, in this case, seems to be “wrong” no matter the content, and this for the sake of telling one to “think for oneself.” Of course, once the student/child/citizen is told to “think for himself,” the new teaching is immediately preached as being enlightened and correct.

 

But if this new teaching is indeed enlightened and correct, it ought to stand on its own merits. Usually it does not, and it is for this reason, first, that “tradition” as a whole must be broken down. The individual arguments, if they were worthy, ought to be able to replace or improve old errors. This, indeed, is a good and necessary thing.

 

In general, a person who has been raised in a sound tradition is far better prepared to change his mind, should his beliefs prove faulty in some particular respect, than a person who has been raised “to make up his own mind” about them. While the former has at least acquired some equipment—the habit of taking important things seriously, and a body of inherited reflections about what some of these things are—the latter is weighed down with different baggage: the habit of not taking important things seriously, and the habit of considering the way things really are as less important than what he thinks of them at the moment…

 

Those, for instance, who have a great knowledge of Newtonian physics will be more prepared to understand newer ways of looking at the world, such as the theory of relativity. Indeed, Einstein did not discover such principles in spite of being learned in the old traditions of Newtonian science, but because of that very education.

 

The vigor of sound traditions requires a way of life in which the generations live in close proximity and have discourse with each other. It requires that people in general live in communities in which they know each other and can hold each other accountable. It requires that in relations among the various cultural institutions— parents, churches, schools, government, and so forth—the agents higher on the totem pole regard themselves merely as servants of the lower, and not as their masters or competitors. Unfortunately, the lines along which our own society is organized are diametrically  opposed to these. The generations say little to each other, and may be hundreds of miles apart.

 

Certainly, the principle of subsidiarity has been subverted and all but destroyed in most modern governments. The fact that people move around often due to ease of travel and the location of universities and employment hasn’t helped families and thus small communities form the same sort of cultures and traditions as in days of old. Certainly there are benefits to a “smaller world” as we seem to have today, but with the demise of the family community seems to have come the family of the big government. With people moving around and families distant from one another, the state has become, often, the closest common factor. When this happens, “the higher agents on the totem pole” no longer regard themselves as “servants of the lower“ but “as their masters or competitors.”

 

On modern education:

 

Modern education is really more focused on expertise in certain fields than it is on forming persons who can seek truth. After all, in our competitive markets, we need computer experts and doctors and scientists, and not well formed human beings.

 

With the destruction of tradition and of close knit families, this liberal arts education would hopefully be found in the schools…it is not. Instead, and especially in the public school systems, the students are trained (yes trained) mostly in a pragmatic and utilitarian way: they are built to be useful to society. The will become these experts in their particular fields, and those fields that they are not trained in are best left for the other experts to decide.

Strategic sophism is the outcome. We learn to listen to “the experts,” and often the “experts” are chosen because of their agreement with a certain ideology. They are the expert, it seems, because they already agree and can sound convincing, in teaching what the ideologues wish to be heard.

 

In our own polity this strategy is well advanced, especially in the courts. When the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”, it was expressing the Sophist charter… If Sophists are to run the courts and the civil service, they need plenty of help. From somewhere there must come a steady stream of people who think as they do, to fill vacancies as they open up. Universities fill this need. Ordinary people who have not spent time on college campuses find it difficult to believe just how thoroughly they subvert the mind and how little they train it…

 

The mind is not trained, at least not so much to think and understand as to do and execute. The collectivism of society requires a certain number of technicians (in the broad sense of the word) to do the various jobs, of which parts make the whole function correctly. The human, who is a seeker of truth and a willer of good, is secondary in such a society. Wisdom is secondary (if desired at all) to production. The university is no longer designed to advance the wisdom of man and culture, but the output. This is not limited to the classes alone, but the entire project of modern education, often right from the elementary level.

 

The curriculum of the university is but a tithe of what it teaches. It is a total-immersion counterculture whose methods of indoctrination include classroom style, freshman orientation, speech codes, mandatory diversity training, dormitory policies, guidelines for registered student organizations, mental health counseling, and peer pressure… if the modern university is not theoretically Sophist, it is operationally Sophist, and the extremists hold the high ground…

 

There is, of course, an oft used circular argument to what is required to be a tenured university professor these days. One should be an “intellectual elite,” and to be so means to follow a certain ideology. How do we know one is actually qualified to teach at the university? They are smart enough to understand why the university teaches the way it does.

 

We see the same circularity in supposed arguments against those who would say there is a God. “Only fools believe in God” But what about Tom? He believes in God. Well, Tom is a fool. How do you know? Because he believes in God; obviously he isn’t very bright.”

 

Speaking of arguments, we live in a culture that uses the phrase “I feel that” way more often than it uses the phrase “reason shows that.” In a culture of subjective “truth” (whatever that oxy moron means), we talk a lot about how we feel and little about what we can actually reason about.

 

When I ask my graduating college students to “formulate an argument”, I have to tell them what I mean. Many of them have never heard the expression; the idea of persuading someone by reasoning is new to them. They conceive an opinion as a kind of taste, like a partiality for one brand of soft drink over another. Many of my colleagues will tell them that they are right…

 

Morals and the Family:

 

 The bottom line is this. Our culture has achieved the perfect conditions for bringing about the ideologies of a “new morality.” The family is hardly as close as it once was, and traditions are seen as meaningless sentimental actions. The sophistical operating standards of the public education system, aided by these former conditions in the family’s own influence (or lack thereof) on the young mind, is conditioning the youth to easily accept whatever the talking heads are preaching. The only way to prevent this is for parents and communities to reverse this trend at their own level, by taking responsibility as the primary educators, once again, of their own children, first, and then of the communities in which they live. Simply put, the principle of subsidiarity must be reestablished, and it will only be reestablished by the “smaller agents on the totem pole” enforcing it themselves. It will not be willfully handed back by “their masters or competitors” at the top of the totem pole.

On Tradition, Education, Adolescence, and Marriage

The following are not my thoughts (although I tend to not only agree with them but feel compelled to share them). They are from Budziszewski’s What We Cant Not Know, Chapter 8, and deserve reflection.

On Tradition:

 

To some people in our day the word “tradition” suggests merely a repeated action that is hallowed by sentimental associations, like wearing a certain tartan or eating turkey on a certain day. I mean a good deal more than that—a shared way of life that molds the mind, character, and imagination of those who practice it, for better or for worse. It is a sort of apprenticeship in living, with all of the previous generations as masters, and includes not only ways of doing things, but ways of raising questions about things that matter…Traditionlessness, then, is not the absence of traditions so much as a particular, unsound sort of tradition that does not recognize itself as tradition, disbelieves whatever it does recognize as tradition, and is traditionally smug about its disbelief. It is the absence, not of traditions as such, but of sound ones…

 

In general, a person who has been raised in a sound tradition is far better prepared to change his mind, should his beliefs prove faulty in some particular respect, than a person who has been raised “to make up his own mind” about them. While the former has at least acquired some equipment—the habit of taking important things seriously, and a body of inherited reflections about what some of these things are—the latter is weighed down with different baggage: the habit of not taking important things seriously, and the habit of considering the way things really are as less important than what he thinks of them at the moment…

 

The vigor of sound traditions requires a way of life in which the generations live in close proximity and have discourse with each other. It requires that people in general live in communities in which they know each other and can hold each other accountable. It requires that in relations among the various cultural institutions— parents, churches, schools, government, and so forth—the agents higher on the totem pole regard themselves merely as servants of the lower, and not as their masters or competitors. Unfortunately, the lines along which our own society is organized are diametrically

opposed to these. The generations say little to each other, and may be hundreds of miles apart.

 

On Modern Education:

 

Sophism has always been a corrupter of democracies, and the difference between ancient and modern Sophism corresponds to the difference between ancient and modern democracy. Ancient democracy was radical democracy, so in order to win power through the sophistical arts, one had to win over the Assemblies of the People. Modern democracy is constitutional democracy, full of checks and balances, so there are other possibilities. The Sophists might seize power, not in the assemblies, but in the courts and the civil service; in this case the assemblies might not have to be wholly corrupted, but only confused enough to go along…

 

In our own polity this strategy is well advanced, especially in the courts. When the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”, it was expressing the Sophist charter… If Sophists are to run the courts and the civil service, they need plenty of help. From somewhere there must come a steady stream of people who think as they do, to fill vacancies as they open up. Universities fill this need. Ordinary people who have not spent time on college campuses find it difficult to believe just how thoroughly they subvert the mind and how little they train it…

 

The curriculum of the university is but a tithe of what it teaches. It is a total-immersion counterculture whose methods of indoctrination include classroom style, freshman orientation, speech codes, mandatory diversity training, dormitory policies, guidelines for registered student organizations, mental health counseling, and peer pressure… if the modern university is not theoretically Sophist, it is operationally Sophist, and the extremists hold the high ground…

 

When I ask my graduating college students to “formulate an argument”, I have to tell them what I mean. Many of them have never heard the expression; the idea of persuading someone by reasoning is new to them. They conceive an opinion as a kind of taste, like a partiality for one brand of soft drink over another. Many of my colleagues will tell them that they are right…

 

Many lines of work require more training than of old; that is plain enough… Schools, in the meantime, have become incompetent, so that the time necessary to learn anything is much longer. What once was taught in secondary school now waits for college; what once was taught in college now waits for postgraduate school. The result is a long period of economic dependence.

 

Prolongation of Adolescence and Later Marriage:

 

Apologists for late marriage consider it good because human beings do not reach maturity until their mid-twenties… Certainly people should not marry until they are mature. But the age at which people are mature enough to
take on the responsibilities of marriage is not a human constant; it depends in part on when we marry. For centuries, most people married and began families in their teens. If today they are not ready until twenty-five—or thirty or thirty-five—then our first question ought to be “Why aren’t they?” We should also pause to remember how maturity is attained. Men and women do not first become mature and then accept responsibilities; it is through accepting responsibilities that they become mature. Responsibility itself is what transforms them, the marital responsibility above most others…

 

The unnatural prolongation of adolescence poses a variety of moral problems. Normal erotic desire is transmuted from a spur to marriage to an incentive for promiscuity. Promiscuity thwarts the attainment of moral wisdom and makes conjugal love itself seem unattractive. Furthermore, prolonged irresponsibility is itself a sort of training, and a bad one. Before long the entire culture is caught up in a Peter Pan syndrome, terrified of leaving childhood.

 

 

 
Budziszewski, J, What We Cant Not Know 

Paradiso, Canto XXIV

“As a bachelor arms himself for disquisition in silence till the master sets the terms for defending, not deciding, the proposition; so did I arm myself…”

 

When one has the pleasure of meeting the first Vicar of Christ, one knows it is time to learn and not to teach. But if the teacher asks, one must answer. Dante prepares himself for the questions on faith, hope, and charity, the three theological virtues, of which the great apostles in heaven will ask of him an explanation. One of the primary roles of a teacher is not only to teach the content, but to know what content is worth teaching. Therefore, it is not for Dante to answer the questions he deems appropriate, to answer those of the master, who not only knows the answer to the question, but the importance of the question.

 

“Therefore my pen leaps and I do not write; not words nor fantasy can paint the truth: the folds of heaven’s draperies are too bright.”

 

St. Thomas, a master of the Sacred Page himself – he wrote, besides his more well known works, countless Quaestiones  Disputatae,  – spoke similar words when it was begged of him to complete the writing of his Summa Theologica.  Just as “not words nor fantasy can paint the truth,” as Dante must admit more and more often as he nears the vision of God, just so, all that St. Thomas had written seemed to him “as so much straw.”

 

Luckily for us, it was well before this point that St. Thomas began his Summa. In the first question, we learned the nature of sacred doctrine. Certainly this influenced Dante’s account in Canto XXIV:

 

“Faith is the substance of what we hope to see and the argument for what we have not seen. This is the quiddity as it seems to me…Starting with this belief, it is evident, we must reason without further visible proofs. And so it partakes, by nature, an argument.”

 

The two most important points, I believe, of this first Question, as it relates to theology being a true science, are from the 2nd and 8th Articles respectively:

 

“We must bear in mind that there are two kinds of sciences. There are some which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of intelligence…There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science… So it is that sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God…sacred science is established on principles revealed by God.” (Article 2)

 

“…it is to be borne in mind, in regard to the philosophical sciences, that the inferior sciences neither prove their principles nor dispute with those who deny them, but leave this to a higher science…Sacred Scripture, since it has no science above itself, can dispute with one who denies its principles only if the opponent admits some at least of the truths obtained through divine revelation… Since faith rests upon infallible truth, and since the contrary of a truth can never be demonstrated, it is clear that the arguments brought against faith cannot be demonstrations, but are difficulties that can be answered.” (Article 8)

 

Understanding of these two articles underlies much of what Dante says here and in the following Cantos (and, in fact, in the entire Commedia).

The Purgatorio as Spiritual Exercise, Afterward

In an earlier post, I proposed that:

 

“Dante’s Divine Comedy is a wonderful work of poetry and a reflection upon the philosophy and theology of the Church in the High Middle Ages. But, like the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, often missed is its value as a spiritual exercise. Much like St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and St. Francis de Sale’s Introduction to the Devout Life, the Purgatorio especially functions as a spiritual exercise that, approached with prayer, is a great aid toward removing vices and instilling virtues so that one may more easily cooperate with the grace of God.”

 

In a comment as a rebuttal of a negative review of the Divine Comedy via Amazon.com, the following was stated:

 

“Read it for the symbolism behind the characters, and the problems, political and otherwise that Italy was having at the time. Read it to appreciate the genius that one must posses to write a story in such a fashion, ie terza rima, try looking at the Italian Version, and the way that it is written. Religion is the last thing that should be on one’s mind when reading this book.”

 

Certainly much of what is said here is correct. But far be it from me to approve the final sentence. Dante certainly, in his genius, fit into the story the situation, both personal and political, of his time. What good author ignores it? But Dante understands that time, place, (and all the other accidents of reality) have their existence in the One Who Is. In a way we would be correct to say that religion should be kept in mind in everything we read (or hear, or do, or otherwise). In the Commedia, the primary point is that of the soul seeking God; what else is religion, properly defined, than man’s attitude towards his Creator?

 

The great poem speaks of politics in the Italian Peninsula, of Beatrice, or Virgil, and, as I stated, of ‘the philosophy and theology of the Church in the High Middle Ages.’ But what it is “about” is God, and man’s seeking God. It certainly is just as much about God seeking man, by way of calling Him with His grace.

 

In fact, what the Comedy is about is that one point, that one fixed point from where all else comes.

 

“I saw within Its depth how It conceives all things in a single volume bound by Love, of which the universe is the scattered leaves; substance, accident, and relation so fused that all I say could do no more than yield a glimpse of that bright revelation.” (Paradiso, Canto XXXIII)

 

 

I chose the project because the Middle Ages are too often represented as a time when religious thought was simply vain argument about needless distinctions and pointless debates. Certainly, there was some of this, and Dante himself complains of it. Because there is truth mixed with error, so much of the truth gets missed (is not this so often the case in many things?).

 

Followers, for instance, of the method used by Peter Lombard, St. Albert the Great, St. Bonaventura, and St. Thomas Aquinas, often used the scholastic method to useless ends. In doing so, in fact, did they not ignore the teachings of such writers? St. Thomas himself states in the beginning of his Summa Theologica that one of his purposes in writing it is so that students would not be “hampered by what they have found written by other authors, partly on account of the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments…”

 

The Summa Theologica, rather, is not only a great manual of instruction on the truths of the faith, but it is at least as much a work of profound spiritual depth. What else, for one, do we call “spiritual” except that which the spirit does: seek truth? But even so, the Summa Theologica should be prayed, not just read.

 

I stated in my thesis that “like the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, often missed is its [the Divine Comedy] value as a spiritual exercise.” Even the above quoted rebuttal of a poor review of the Comedy missed this, in fact, rejected it.

 

Yes, “Read it for the symbolism behind the characters, and the problems, political and otherwise” as the reviewer says. But these and all the many other elements of the story are bound up in one; rather, bound up in the One:

 

“Consider then how lofty and how wide is the excellence of the Eternal Worth which in so many mirrors can divide Its power and majesty forevermore, Itself remaining One, as It was before.” (Paradiso, Canto XXIX)

 

“Religion is the last thing that should be on one’s mind when reading this book”? On the contrary, our relation with God is what is primary, and it is what makes everything else in the Divine Comedy (or in anything else in the universe) truly great.

Paradiso, Canto XIX

Canto XIX

As an American now living in Scotland, I am compelled to address a line that would probably receive little attention elsewhere.

“There shall be seen the pride whose greed confounds the mad Scot and the foolish Englishman who cannot stay within their proper bounds.” (Canto XIX)

Of course, here is spoken of the Wars of Independence between Scotland and England, of which Edward the Longshanks, Robert the Bruce, and William Wallace hold such fame.

It is notable that it was likely just around the time of the writing of this part of the Commedia that the famous Declaration of Arbroath was written and sent to the Papacy then residing in Avignon.

It is generally accepted that it served in many ways as an inspiration and a guide for the Declaration of Independence of what is now the United States, who also, of course, broke away from English rule. The Declaration of Arbroath’s most famous passage is as follows:

“For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

 

My last fifteen years, that is, all of my adult life until 2 months ago, were spent serving the cause of freedom as a soldier. Today, as always, there is much talk of freedom, and whether or not Americans will hold on to the liberties that the founder fathers risked so much to obtain. But rather than speak on the current debates in American politics, to which I no doubt have chosen my sides on the issues, there is a more fundamental point to make here.

Without elaborating at all here (although it would be worth elaborating at some point), that it “is not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom” that a man is willing to give his life. St. Thomas speaks to the fact that glory and riches and honors are not what makes man happy (Q. 2, Things in Which Man’s Happiness Consists)…and we know that the one thing that will make man happy is the vision of God; it is to make that vision possible that the man Jesus Christ did indeed die, setting us free: free from sin.

We are thus made free. We are prepared to give up our lives if need be. And in one way, perhaps the most important, we already have (or if we have not, we should not delay in doing so). In baptism, we died with Christ, and then, like Christ, rise to new life.

As Blessed Columba Marmion says in his Christ, the Life of the Soul, “The Christian life is nothing other than the progressive and continued development, the application in practice, throughout the whole of our human existence, of the twofold initial act put into us in seed form at baptism, of the twofold super-natural result of ‘death’ and of ‘life’ produced by this sacrament. In that is to be found the whole program of Christianity.”

Paradiso Canto XVII

Canto XVII

 

Contingency and God’s foreknowledge, contingency and necessity.

 

Aristotle discusses the question in his On Interpretation when he states that “A sea-fight must either take place to-morrow or not, but it is not necessary that it should take place to-morrow, neither is it necessary that it should not take place, yet it is necessary that it either should or should not take place to-morrow. Since propositions correspond with facts, it is evident that when in future events there is a real alternative, and a potentiality in contrary directions, the corresponding affirmation and denial have the same character. This is the case with regard to that which is not always existent or not always nonexistent. One of the two propositions in such instances must be true and the other false, but we cannot say determinately that this or that is false, but must leave the alternative undecided.”

 

It is, in this case, necessary that one of two contraries happen, but neither is necessary as it is in itself. It is simply the law of contradiction (or of non-contradiction, if you prefer) at work in time.

 

We read in the Paradiso that “Contingency, whose action is confined to the few pages of the world of matter, is fully drawn in the Eternal Mind; but it no more derives necessity from being so drawn than a ship dropping down the water derives its motion from a watcher’s eye.”

 

At first I am unsure of how to take this verse. There are, after all, not just contingency and foreknowledge, but predestination separately. Of course, we do not say that God’s knowledge of something forces it, in the same way that my having already watched a movie or read a book makes me suddenly it’s author just because I know beforehand what will happen the second time I watch or read it. It is, of course, merely that I have seen the story already. God, of course, sees the story all at once, and this, on its own, in no way makes Him its cause.

 

God has seen already a much broader picture.  We know that there will either be or not be a battle tomorrow. Guessing correctly doesn’t necessitate it. In fact, if the battle happens today, it wasn’t necessary yesterday that it happen. God, of course, knew it would, but that did not necessitate it. And, of course, I dare not limit God’s foreknowledge to merely future contraries, but His knowledge extends to all events whatsoever.

 

However, there is also the fact that everything receives its being from God, to include the being of its very acts (and, if rational, the being of its thoughts and its willing). So while the foreknowledge of God certainly is not causal, understood AS foreknowledge, the fact that God is the prime mover certainly is causal.

 

This, to me, has always been the more difficult question. It is, however, a question that can be deeply pondered but must remain a mystery. What we must not do (and it has led to many heresies) is attempt to remove the mystery by emphasizing one aspect of this mystery and removing the other.

 

There is free will, and God is the ultimate prime mover of “all that is.” There is no sin in seeking to understand this; the sin is in thinking we have arrived at understanding this.

 

That is, as made clear in Canto XVII, God’s business.

Paradiso, Canto VII (On the Passion and Resurrection)

Why did God Become Man?

 

St. Anselm takes up the problem (and what theologian has not?):

 

“Would it be proper for God to cancel sins by compassion alone, without any payment of the honor taken from him?

 

How would one go about putting away sins in this way? Simply by not punishing? But it is not right to cancel sin without compensation or punishment — if it is not punished, then is it passed by and not dealt with.

 

But it is not fitting for God to pass over anything in his kingdom without dealing with it.

 

It is therefore not proper for God to pass over sin unpunished.

 

There is also another thing which follows if sin is passed by unpunished, — that with God there will be no difference between the guilty and the not guilty. That would be inappropriate for God.” (Anselm, Why did God Become Man?)

 

St. Anselm is usually interpreted as having concluded that the Incarnation, and thus the Passion, death, and resurrection of Christ was the only way for man to be saved; a sort of necessity that differs from that of St. Thomas Aquinas’ understanding. When Aquinas speaks on the necessity of Christ’s Incarnation and passion, he is much more careful to qualify “necessity.”

 

“As the Philosopher teaches (Metaph. v), there are several acceptations of the word “necessary.” In one way it means anything which of its nature cannot be otherwise; and in this way it is evident that it was not necessary either on the part of God or on the part of man for Christ to suffer. In another sense a thing may be necessary from some cause quite apart from itself; and should this be either an efficient or a moving cause then it brings about the necessity of compulsion; as, for instance, when a man cannot get away owing to the violence of someone else holding him.” (STh III, 46, art. 1)

 

“”Limited man, by subsequent obedience, could never make amends; he could not go as low in his humility as once, rebellious, he had sought to rise in his pride…For God, in giving Himself that man might be able to raise himself, gave even more than if he had forgiven him in mercy.” (Paradiso, Canto VII)

 

We see Dante’s understanding of the Incarnation reflects that of St. Anselm, but goes beyond, as does St. Thomas Aquinas, who states that it was not necessary, as St. Anselm says, for God to become man to forgive men (God could indeed forgive by a mere mercy alone) but that it was however the most appropriate means.

 

“It was not necessary, then, for Christ to suffer from necessity of compulsion, either on God’s part, who ruled that Christ should suffer, or on Christ’s own part, who suffered voluntarily. Yet it was necessary from necessity of the end proposed;…Among means to an end that one is the more suitable whereby the various concurring means employed are themselves helpful to such end. But in this that man was delivered by Christ’s Passion, many other things besides deliverance from sin concurred for man’s salvation.” (STh III, Q. 46, various articles)

 

St. Thomas then lists many of the particular ways in which the Passion was most suitable as the means for man’s salvation, because:

 

  1. Man knows how much God loves him, and is thereby stirred to love Him in return

 

  1. Thereby He set us an example of obedience, humility, constancy, justice, and the other virtues displayed in the Passion, which are requisite for man’s salvation.

 

  1. Christ by His Passion not only delivered man from sin, but also merited justifying grace for him.

 

  1. By this man is all the more bound to refrain from sin, “You are bought with a great price: glorify and bear God in your body.”

 

  1. It redounded to man’s greater dignity, that as man was overcome and deceived by the devil, so also it should be a man that should overthrow the devil;

 

He concludes, therefore, by stating “It was accordingly more fitting that we should be delivered by Christ’s Passion than simply by God’s good-will.”

Pro-choice Arguments and Simple Refutations

A few quick notes:

I present here some of the stronger pro-choice arguments. The weak ones arent worthy, and it is not helpful to argue against weak arguments anyway. However, I cannot, without writing a book, present every nuance of every argument, and don’t pretend to do so here. Also, I do not intend here to present complete refutations of the arguments. Here, I present some decent attempts of the pro-choice crowd to support their position and skeleton answers (or questions, etc) to these attempts. Therefore, if you feel I don’t present the argument completely or refute it completely, you may be correct. I’ll be glad to address these and others in more depth in another forum or in another post here. In fact, likely I will write more on each of those presented below. Certainly, at some point, an entire blog on each argument will be necessary.

 

Pregnancy is explicitly a condition associated with women, and so policies about abortion affect women uniquely.

 

(uniquely? Perhaps. But even so, how does uniqueness transfer to authority to decide? And is it really a condition “explicitly” associated with women? Hardly, for when Christy became pregnant with Andrew, I became a father at exactly the same moment as she. In fact, my father became a grandfather at that moment, and my daughter Ava became a sister. It hardly seems that my wife’s state of pregnancy was “explicitly” associated with her)

 

In short, the value that women ascribe to individual fetuses varies dramatically from case to case, and may well change over the course of any particular pregnancy.

 

(ok. And why does the value ascribed to a fetus by a particular woman have an objective say in the reality of the value of that fetus? No reason is given for this leap from subjective value to objective value)

 

According to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), neglecting to provide health services that only women need is a form of discrimination against women.

 

a number of philosophers have argued that banning abortion selects women for forms of service that are not required of others. . .

 

(of course this seems to forget that it is females who are far and away the ones selected “for a form of service,” that is, being aborted, that is much less required of others, i.e., males)

 

Siegel argues that restrictions on abortion offend U.S. constitutional guarantees of equal protection because they inflict status-based injuries on women, such as compromising their opportunities for education and employment. . . . Given existing systems of social arrangements, gender equality is impossible without abortion rights.

 

(well, all kinds of “equalities” can be said to be associated with “rights to kill another.” After all, If I have 5 children and my neighbor has none, we both make the same salary, but he can afford a mid-life crisis car and I cannot, it seems that there is a missing “equality of opportunities” based on my having to feed my kids and he having no kids to feed. No one would say I have the right to cut off support to my children to have an “equal opportunity)

 

Because unwanted children often suffer neglect and feel unloved, it would be better to spare them that pain by ending their lives through abortion. In the words of Margaret Sanger, “The first right of every child is to be wanted, to be desired, to be planned with an intensity of love that gives it its title to being.”

 

(the first right of a child is to be wanted? Fine, then “want them.” Killing them is NOT the only option, as this argument tries to assume)

 

The only life in an embryo is the woman’s life within it. Until it can live a separate life,  it is not a separate life.

 

(the only life of those on welfare is the life of the state and of the taxpayers on which it feeds. Until they can live separate lives, off of the umbilical cord of the U.S. Taxpayer, they are not real separate lives; separate persons. Can we really justify such an absurd claim?)

 

…to prevent the threat of overpopulation. In a utilitarian spirit, abortion is defended by saying that we need to consider the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people,

 

(ignoring the absurdity of the overpopulation argument, why don’t those who are so opposed to overpopulation volunteer themselves? I have never heard of an “overpopulation theorist” committing suicide; they always are fine to volunteer others.)

 

The Not-a-Person Argument

 

…what is morally significant for the wrongness of killing is the question of personhood, whether or not the being that is killed is a person. It claims that the fetus is not a real person, but only a biological organism (like bacteria),  …merely a potential person.

 

Continuing with Susan Sherwin, the reason a fetus has no absolute value is that it is not a person. Fetuses are not persons because they have not yet developed sufficiently to be capable of social relationships with others, and their entire existence is defined in terms of their relationship to the woman in whom they exist.

 

(that being the case,  liberals, especially those on welfare, are “defined” in terms of their dependency on government, which, of course, therefore gets to decide if they get to continue to exist, a la Margaret Sanger)

 

…has no desire to continue existing. It cannot communicate intentionally by talking or any other means. Therefore it does not have the right to life proper to the being of a person.

 

(how dare we offer suicide prevention, since the suicidal likewise has “no desire to live” and in fact affirms the opposite desire. Again, if overpopulation is a concern, let the volunteers go first, right?)

 

Michael Tooley states “The fact that an entity will, if not destroyed, come to have properties that would give it a right to life does not in itself make it seriously wrong to destroy it.”

 

And in defense of infanticide, he states “In the first place, the behavior of newborn humans provides no ground for attributing higher mental capacities to them. In particular, it provides no reason at all for believing that newborn humans possess a capacity for thought, or for self-consciousness, or for rational deliberation. All the behavioural evidence indicates that such capacities emerge only later in the individual’s development.”

 

…the fact that a being has a capacity to do person-like things in the future does not grant it the moral standing to be treated as a person now.

 

 

there are also theories that make being a person relative to social acceptance… Personhood is a concept that is incapable of empirical proof. It is not a biological judgment. It is a value judgment our society makes about a being. When we say a being is a person, we are saying it is a being like us, deserving of the rights, privileges, and respect to which we are entitled as members of the human community.

 

It is when she treats the biological reality within her as a Thou, that it becomes a Thou rather than an It. And it is when she treats it as a Thou, that society also has an obligation to treat it as a Thou.

 

(funny if this is about “women’s equality” that women get to decide when a person is a person, but men do not. For instance, the father of the unborn is not even argued by most pro-choice advocates to be equally able to decide if the unborn is a child. In fact, when, for example, Scott Peterson murders his pregnant wife, he is [rightfully] charged with two counts, not one, of homicide)

 

 

 

The medical student cannot legally practice medicine; being a potential doctor is not enough. Just as the medical student lacks the right to practice medicine, the fetus as a potential person lacks the moral right to life of an actual person.

(once again a complete failure to see a difference in something someone DOES and something someone IS. Perhaps our culture asks to often what someone IS expecting a description of their day job, but when did we decide that a persons occupation was what a person IS?)

 

No-Duty-to-Sustain Argument

 

I have a right to reproductive freedom, to decide whether or not, or when, to become a mother. I may even grant that the fetus is or might be a person, a small child. But if there is a child in my body and I do not want him there I have the right to remove him.

 

(A similar argument to the “famous violinist” argument offered below is that of a thief hoping through your window, and one’s obligation to let him stay. It is often portrayed as an example of what happens in rape. However, it is clearly false. Instead, lets assume a thief, or whomever, breaks into your house and drops off a baby. Thief equal bad person; granted. Does anyone think that the homeowner whose house was broken into is entitled to kill the baby? Or even set the baby out on the front porch since it is not theirs? Perhaps some do think this is ok, and agree that there should be no “Good Samaritan law.” But it is still proven to be erroneous to equate the baby in the womb with the thief that broke into a house. It is obviously rather the thief who has left the house and a different person altogether that remains. The logic is simply faulty. Therefore, stating, even in cases of rape, that “if there is a child in my body and I do not want him there I have the right to remove him” is far from being an obvious truth)

 

Abortion is thus seen as essentially the exercise of the right of the pregnant woman to withdraw her support for the child, a support that the child is not entitled to.

 

You wake up one morning and find that another person, a famous violinist, is “plugged into” you so that he can stay alive. You are attached to him, thereby sustaining his life. You did not agree to this; it was forced on you. But if you unplug yourself from him, he will die. It would not be proper to argue, Thomson says, in the following way: “All persons have a right to life, this violinist is a person, therefore he has a right to life, and so you may not detach yourself from him.” On the contrary, you have no duty to sustain him, and therefore you may detach yourself from him. You have the right to do this, even though you foresee that the violinist will die as a result. This follows from the fact that the violinist has no right to be sustained by you. A pregnant woman is in essentially the same situation;

 

(wrong. The violinist could be removed, perhaps, but the baby is never simply removed. It is killed. There is a huge difference between cutting off sustainment from the violinist and shooting the violinist in the head)

 

 

Method Arguments

 

In short, the evidence indicates that fetuses do not feel pain until after the start of the third trimester—and even that evidence remains uncertain because it’s impossible to know for sure that fetuses consciously experience pain in the same way that a person does.

 

(First, an obvious fallacy is made here. It assumes what it tries to prove: this argument takes for granted that person and fetus are different, which is not established within the argument. The argument states that one cannot know if fetuses experience differs from persons, implying without proving it that fetuses aren’t persons. Its as if I said that evidence is not clear on whether blacks experience pain in the same way that humans do

 

We can add to this that no one knows if ANYONE else experiences things the same. Am I tougher than my neighbor, or do I simply feel less pain when exposed to the same trauma? Who knows? When I see green object, and you also call it green, do we actually see the same color? Who knows? But this cannot be used to decide that, since there exists doubt, we may see others as less worthy of life.)

Paradiso, Canto V

We see in this sphere what we may call magnanimous souls. St. Thomas dedicates several articles in his Summa to magnanimity.

 

Magnanimity by its very name denotes stretching forth of the mind to great things…Now a man is said to be magnanimous in respect of things that are great absolutely and simply, just as a man is said to be brave in respect of things that are difficult simply. It follows therefore that magnanimity is about honors. (STh. II, II, 129, art. 1)

 

“I do indeed see that you make your nest in your own light, and beam it through yours eyes that dazzle when you smile, o spirit blessed. But I know not who you are, nor why you are assigned here, to this sphere that hides itself far more resplendent yet upon my sight.” (Canto V)

 

These souls were indeed great souled, but struggled to truly understand from whence the honor they sought has its source. They were not necessarily proud, certainly not in the way of our primary source of original sin. But they may be able to be said to have been proud in the way that magnanimity is sometimes translated as “pride” in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics.

 

In St. Thomas’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics, he states that “[Aristotle] draws two conclusions from the premises. The first is that magnanimity seems to be an ornament of all the virtues because they are made more excellent by magnanimity, which seeks to perform a great work in all the virtues. In this way the virtues increase. Likewise, magnanimity accompanies the other virtues and so seems to be added to them as their ornament. The second conclusion is that it is difficult to be magnanimous because magnanimity cannot exist without the goodness of virtue, and even without great virtue to which honor is due. But it is difficult to attain this. Consequently, it is difficult for a man to be magnanimous.” (Book IV, Lecture 8)

 

It is difficult, but not impossible. Aristotle, knowing nothing of grace, still understands the difficulty yet attainability of magnanimity, but he certainly couldn’t have an identical understanding of the concept. Great-souled-ness is certainly different in a Christian context.

 

A little later, St. Thomas comments on the vices opposed to magnanimity: “If the smallsouled man knew himself, he would strive for the things he deserves because they are good and desirable, since one’s own good is desirable to everyone. Ignorance of this kind does not come from stupidity-for the stupid are not worthy of great things -but rather from a certain laziness by reason of which they are unwilling to engage in great things according to their dignity.” (Book IV, Lecture 11)

 

Basically, our gifts are our gifts, but they are from God. We therefore recognize where our gifts come from but, at the same time, call them what they are. A bright and healthy man should never, for the sake of being lazy, decide he isn’t as bright and capable as he actually is and set lower goals, especially lower goals in the preaching of and working towards the Kingdom of Heaven. To whom much is given, much is to be expected. Pretending you were given less than you were and calling it humility is a double lie. But when you go do “great things,” be careful never to forget that you are reflecting the light and not its source.

 

We may say that the most magnanimous of all was Mary, who said “my soul doth magnify the Lord.” Only she could say with perfect and true humility that “all generations will call me blessed” for she knew that it was only by him who “has done great things for me.”