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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sāncta Māter Ecclēsia, Tē Amō.

Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

— Matthew 13:17.

The more discussions I have about Sacred Scripture, the more I realize how much confusion exists regarding it. How often does one read a passage and wonder, "What exactly does this mean? What exactly is God trying to say to us here?"

There are certain moments in which I am granted the gift of a partial realization of how lost I would be without the guiding light of Holy Mother Church. One of these moments came in my discussions with others about the recent decision by the Supreme Court constituting an attempt to alter the unchangeable definition of marriage — a definition which, I should say, is unchangeable even by Holy Mother Church, Herself. In a conversation with someone who was defending the Court's decision, I was taken aback to realize that some are going so far as to make efforts to contort Scripture in such a way that would allow for such alterations:

... from a biblical standpoint, I have been engaged in healthy debates about whether the "homosexuality" Paul may have been railing against had more to do with casual same sex adultery and pederasty than what we see today. ... if [the homosexual act] is a sin (which is debatable), ... stopping the marriage part will not affect the thing some consider to be the sin. ... there is no compelling argument even within the faith community, that justifies the opposition of Gay Marriage.

— An Interlocutor, defending the Court's decision.

It is in moments such as these that my deep appreciation and love for the guiding magisterial light of Holy Mother Church grows deeper. How lost I would be without Her.

I encountered one particular passage in the Gospels a few days ago that caused me some confusion. It was in Luke 19, when Jesus is entering into Jerusalem, and the disciples are rejoicing and praising him, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord!" The Pharisees then tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples, to which He replies,

I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.

— Luke 19:40.

What does Jesus mean by this, "the very stones would cry out"? Well, in such situations when I am confused about a particular passage of Scripture, I've found the commentary from Navarre, under the auspices of Josemaría Escrivá, to be quite helpful. Quoth the Navarre,

The Pharisees, maybe because they fear a riot, criticize Jesus for allowing the demonstration. He replies in a phrase which sounds like a proverb: so obvious is his messiahship that if men refused to recognize it, nature would proclaim it.

— from the Navarre Commentary on Luke 19:28-40.

I must say, yet again: how lost I would be without the guidance of the innumerable well-trained theologians of the Church, lead by the Holy Spirit. I have little doubt that, without them, it is quite possible that I would be among those subscribing to the untenable — to be sure, patently ludicrous — conclusions such as those of my interlocutor above, or even that I would be engaging in snake-handling based on what we read in Mark 16:18. Indeed, we should not take lightly what Jesus tells us in Matthew 13:17. Many great men — even "righteous men" — have lived and died without having heard and understood the words of Jesus. But for the grace of God, working through the teachings and sacraments of Holy Mother Church, there go I.

Quaerimus, "Father, how should we deal more with the Holy Spirit in our ordinary life?"

St. Josemaría Escrivá responds,

In your ordinary life, by seeking -- I am sure that you do so -- the presence of God who is within you. You receive Him in Holy Communion. The gastric juices in the stomach function in their natural way, the sacramental species disappear and with them the presence of Jesus Christ. But then, the Holy Spirit remains behind and continues to act. Together with Him, the Father and the Son also act, because there is only one God. But it is the Holy Spirit who acts in the souls of Christians. And you, who are a tabernacle of God, you go into yourself many times a day and say: "Lord, how can I do this in such a way that it is more pleasing in your sight?; Lord, I am feeling this tempation, and that one, these bad inclinations ... " Don't get frightened, Ok? All of us have a beast inside of us. Even older people. In this regard, we are all the same, and it is one of the marvels of God's goodness, because if we did not know we could fall into all kinds of miseries, we would be very proud. In this way, not being proud, we will tend a little towards humility. If only we could tend a lot more towards humility.

— St. Josemaría Escrivá (✝1975).

St. Josemaría Escrivá, pray for us and our nation, having long faltered.

Etiamsi oportuerit me mori tecum, non te negabo.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

cout << ( (i < 3) ? "Domine non sum dignus" : "Corpus Domini nostri..." );

In the lifelong search for what might have been eternally lost, each of us faces in every moment a tension between two often opposing forces. The tension is found between the moment and the eternal, the pull between the idea and the principle underlying the idea, and in the word and the medium through which the word is expressed. We have heard the tension discussed in philosophical circles since the Presocratics in the discourse on being and becoming.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, this tension is evident to an extreme degree, and it is a curious point that it is quintessentially expressed in two objects whose physical forms are strikingly similar.

In one of these wafers, man concerns himself with things passing. He is quite literally interested - to a degree that could easily be considered obsessive - in nanometer-scale phenomena that come into being and go out of being in a matter of picoseconds. In the other wafer, we find a man who, through his teachings and his life, demonstrates to us how to enter into a relationship with the being who is outside of the spatial and temporal order. One of the wafers provides man the means of turning in on himself through access to a virtually endless supply of indecent material. In the other is a man who, through his teachings and his life, demonstrated that the only way for one to truly live is by laying down his life for others. Through this one, we have learned the traditional principle that "to veil something is to reveal it: it is revelation through veiling." In the other we commonly find application of the principle that holds mystery in contempt and does violence to it by attempting to unveil it whenever encountered.  In this one we find the driving force behind the machinery that underlies economic progress. In the other we find the man who taught us the way to find that which is beyond the value of anything that we can imagine in this life. The other cannot get its function, which is its essence to modern man, without having light shined upon it. And the other is essence itself and the source of all light. In the one we find bits of silicon that provide the foundation for the culture of consumerism but in the near future will be worth only a few cents. In the other we find bits of a man's flesh and blood whose value is beyond measure and that if one does not consume, he does not have life within him.

The tragedy is that it is not necessary that the two worlds be in conflict, as the man who is found in the one has been given power over the other. In fact it is in the Eastern churches that we find the boundary between the secular and the sacred to be much less perceptible than in the West. In spite of this fact, Sheen has noted the following:

... everything that is mysterious tends to be hidden and concealed. The Eastern World is much more aware of this than the Western World. That is why the consecration in the Eastern religions takes place behind a screen, whereas in the Western rite it is more public. The very hiding of the mystery of transubstantiation is a highly developed form of the concealing of anything which has to do with God.

— from Three to Get Married, Ven. Fulton Sheen (†1979).

And is it not common sense to acknowledge that there is something of the eternal hidden within those slivers of shiny material that are sold for thousands today and thrown out tomorrow? Are not those timeless mathematical principles that govern the natural order to be found pervasively present in the hierarchy of the machinery? Were these not part of that for which those great scientists Isidore of Seville, Albert the Great, Duns Scotus, and all the others searching? Do we not see God praised through the many facets of this same world in the prayers of the three men who, after refusing to worship a product of that world, were protected from the fires of Nebuchadnezzar? Are these principles not inextricable from the world through which Francis of Assisi, as expressed through his canticle, saw reflections of the Creator?

I cannot say the answer for certain. It was lost sometime many millennia ago, and it is the task of each individual man to find it again for himself. But it won't be found without the help of many friends.

Of the ‘shining leprosy’ of transitory honour, Baldad the Suhite says in Job:

Shall not the light of the wicked be extinguished,
and the flame of his fire not shine?
The light shall be dark in his tabernacle:
and the lamp that is over him shall be put out.
[Job 18.5-6]

The light of the wicked is extinguished, because the success of a fleeting lifetime ends with it. The flame of his fire does not shine, the burning fire of temporal desire, whose flame is outward dignity and power, arising from its inward heat. It stops shining, because at death all outward show is taken away. The light is dark in his tabernacle, where ‘light’ means joy and ‘darkness’ grief. In the wicked man’s tabernacle, light becomes dark because the joy in his heart that came from temporal things fails. The lamp that is over him is put out. We think of an earthenware lamp: a symbol of joy in the flesh. The lamp over him is put out, because when retribution for his evil deeds comes upon the wicked man, the joy of the flesh is driven from his mind.

— from a sermon on the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, St. Anthony of Padua (†1231).

On the new calendar, June 13, 2015, as the Saturday after the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, is the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. On both calendars, June 13th is the feast of St. Anthony of Padua (†1231), Franciscan friar and Doctor of the Church.

Cor Maríae Immaculátum et Sancte Antoni de Padua, orate pro nobis.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Quaerimus VI: In what sense is the distinction between "the form of a [woman's] life" and "the substance of her virtues"?

In a document entitled Duties of a Wife and Mother, distributed at a recent mission on the topics of Our Lady of Lourdes and piety, the author sets forth one of the principles of motherhood as the following:

The service a woman renders her loved ones will become for her the form of her life, the substance and center of her virtues, the rule of piety set by God for her sanctification.

— From Duties of a Wife and Mother, p.2. (Emphases in context.)

He goes on to explain in what ways the "service to her family becomes the form of her life" and "the substance of her virtues."

The service of her family becomes the form of her life when she surrenders herself to its tasks.

— From Duties of a Wife and Mother, p.2. (Emphases in context.)
The service of her family becomes the substance of her virtues when she recognizes that God has provided the grace and all that is required for the highest perfection in every state of life.

— From Duties of a Wife and Mother, p.2. (Emphases in context.)

To understand the distinction he is making here, it seems to me necessary to understand in what sense he is using the terms "form" and "substance." While it is possible that he is using them informally, I think that, given the fundamental importance of the terms in Aristotelian thought, Thomism, and Catholic teaching in general, it is worth at least entertaining the possibility that he is using them in their formal senses.

As a bit of an aside, even if we are to assume that he is using them informally, the question still remains: what really is the distinction he's making here? It appears to be an important distinction, and therefore an important question.

Since assuming an informal use of the terms does not immediately offer a clear answer, let's consider what he might mean if he is indeed using the terms formally. In any case, what we are looking for are definitions of the terms "form" and "substance" in the context of Catholic teaching.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an article entitled "Substance" which includes a section on "Aristotle's account of substance." This section contains two subsections, "Categories" and "Metaphysics." Given that the entire article is on "Substance" itself, one would hope that each section on the topic might begin with a definition of what it is. So let's begin at the beginning of the section on "Aristotle's account of substance."

Aristotle's account in Categories can, with some oversimplification, be expressed as follows. The primary substances are individual objects, and they can be contrasted with everything else—secondary substances and all other predicables—because they are not predicable of or attributable to anything else. Thus, Fido is a primary substance, and dog—the secondary substance—can be predicated of him. Fat, brown, and taller than Rover are also predicable of him, but in a rather different way from that in which dog is. Aristotle distinguishes between two kinds of predicables, namely those which are ‘said of’ objects and those which are ‘in’ objects. The interpretation of these expressions is, as usually with Aristotelian cruxes, very controversial...

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Aristotle's account of substance".

Although I can't speak for the average reader, this introductory content here is less than reassuring for me. What I set out looking for was a statement looking something like, "Substance is ____," and instead it appears that what I am getting is a discussion on "primary substances" and "secondary substances," with a little bit of controversy in the mix for good measure.

The section on "Metaphysics" offers a little clarification on this point. We read:

The Categories sets out important logical distinctions between different kinds of attribute, but it does not enter into a metaphysical analysis of substance itself. This takes place mainly in Metaphysics, Book Z.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Aristotle's account of substance".

So, at last, what the article seems to be telling us is that, although Aristotle went into a discussion of substance in the Categories, he doesn't really get around to defining it until the Metaphysics. We read on:

In [Metaphysics], the analysis of substances in terms of form and matter is developed, whereas these notions have no place in Categories. The distinction has led some commentators to talk of Aristotle's ‘two systems’, containing two radically different conceptions of substance.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Aristotle's account of substance".

"Two radically different conceptions of substance"? Well, ask a simple question, get a not-so-simple answer.

At this point, I have to take a step back and consider whether there might be a resource on the subject that is a bit more accessible and better-suited for our purposes. Although (good quality) material on the internet appears to be limited, I was able to find a document from a somewhat reputable source.

In Book V, Lesson 10 of the document, entitled Commentary on the Metaphysics, Thomas addresses exactly the question with which we are dealing, namely, "What are the meanings of substance?"

Aristotle now explains the various senses in which the term substance is used; and in regard to this he does two things. First, he gives the various senses in which the term substance is used. Second (903), he reduces all of these to two (“It follows”).

In treating the first part he gives four senses of the term substance.

Commentary on the Metaphysics, "Meanings of Substance", St. Thomas Aquinas.

Although it appears that we are still dealing here with a potentially complex definition, at least we have a trustworthy guide. He begins by quoting the relevant sections from Aristotle's Metaphysics:

440. The term substance (substantia) means the simple bodies, such as earth, fire, water and the like; and in general bodies and the things composed of them, both animals and demons and their parts. All of these are called substances because they are not predicated of a subject, but other things are predicated of them.

441. In another sense substance means that which, being present in such things as are not predicated of a subject, is the cause of their being, as the soul in an animal.

442. Again, substance means those parts which, being present in such things, limit them and designate them as individuals and as a result of whose destruction the whole is destroyed; for example, body is destroyed when surface is, as some say, and surface when line is. And in general it seems to some that number is of this nature; for [according to them] if it is destroyed, nothing will exist, and it limits all things.

443. Again, the quiddity of a thing, whose intelligible expression is the definition, also seems to be the substance of each thing.

444. It follows, then, that the term substance is used in two senses. It means the ultimate subject, which is not further predicated of something else; and it means anything which is a particular being and capable of existing apart. The form and species of each thing is said to be of this nature.

Metaphysics, Book VIII, Aristotle.

He then goes into a not-so-brief discussion of what all this means. Most relevant for our purposes is the concluding part, in which he gives the final definitions of the term, along with a definition of the term "form" and how it is distinct from "essence":

903. It follows (444).

Then he reduces the foregoing senses of substance to two. He says that from the above-mentioned ways in which the term substance is used we can understand that it has two meanings. (1) It means the ultimate subject in propositions, and thus is not predicated of something else. This is first substance, which means a particular thing which exists of itself and is capable of existing apart because it is distinct from everything else and cannot be common to many. (2) And a particular substance differs from universal substance in these three respects: first, a particular substance is not predicated of inferiors, whereas a universal substance is; second, universal substance subsists only by reason of a particular substance, which subsists of itself; and third, universal substance is present in many things, whereas a particular substance is not but is distinct from everything else and capable of existing apart.

904. And the form and species of a thing also “is said to be of this nature,” i.e., substance. In this he includes the second and fourth senses of substance; for essence and form have this note in common that both are said to be that by which something is. However, form, which causes a thing to be actual, is related to matter, whereas quiddity or essence is related to the supposit, which is signified as having such and such an essence. Hence “the form and species” are comprehended under one thing—a being’s essence.

905. He omits the third sense of substance because it is a false one, or because it is reducible to form, which has the character of a limit. And he omits matter, which is called substance, because it is not substance actually. However, it is included in the first sense of substance, because a particular substance is a substance and is individuated in the world of material things only by means of matter.

Commentary on the Metaphysics, "Meanings of Substance", St. Thomas Aquinas.

Clear enough?

I might have to spend an afternoon (or a few afternoons) on that excerpt and get back with you.

In the meantime, I leave the question outstanding as Quaerimus VI.

On the Traditional Calendar, April 26th is the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel. On the New Calendar, it is Good Shepherd Sunday.

Mater Boni Consilii, ora pro nobis.

Lord Jesus, Author and Dispenser of all good, Who in becoming incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin has communicated to her lights above those of all the heavenly intelligences, grant that in honoring her under the title of Our Lady of Good Counsel, we may merit always to receive from her goodness, counsels of wisdom and salvation, which will conduct us to the port of a blessed eternity. Amen.

— From the Our Lady of Good Counsel Litany, courtesy EWTN.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sheen and Pacwa on Angels, the Intellect, and the Body

Although some seem to have suggested otherwise to me, the writing of Ven. Fulton Sheen can be somewhat challenging, in my opinion. In what I've read of his book Three to Get Married, there are a few cases in which he challenges the reader with material that can be fairly deep for one who does not have a solid background in certain subject matters. A case in point is the following passage in which he discusses the relationship between the mind and the body.

It is a basic principle of philosophy that there is nothing in the mind which was not previously in the senses. All our knowledge comes from the body. We have a body, St. Thomas tells us, because of the weakness of our intellect.

— Ven. Fulton Sheen, from Three to Get Married.

While it may be common sense to some that our bodies result from the weakness of our intellects, this is not exactly the most intuitive point for me. Consequently, this passage (along with the encompassing paragraph) has caused me a bit of trouble.

Much to my delight, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. - who, on his program Threshold of Hope, is currently working through the encyclical of Pope St. John Paul II entitled Fides et Ratio - recently had an individual call in to ask about a topic related to the above passage. Although the question does not deal directly with the point regarding the weakness of the intellect being the cause of the body, Fr. Pacwa offers, in his usual way, a clear response to a closely related question with a practical example which most will find accessible. The question and answer can be found in the video below from 39:40-42:26.

Caller: "...on page 290 in the Magnificat, it says that the Devil is God's creature - the very first line. Why don't we pray for the conversion of the Devil like we do for the conversion of Russia and other sinners and people that commit violence?"

Great question, Amy, and what you are dealing with here is the difference between the nature of an angel and the nature of human beings. Let me give you a couple of ways to look at it. First of all, let's take a look at human beings. We are spirit and body, right? Now, have any of you here in the audience ever tried to lose a little weight? All right, I did too. So, as a result, [did] you say, "Ok, I'm going to lose some weight, so I'll stop eating all the bad stuff." Did that work? Not for me! You know, when I see a homemade apple pie, or something like that, I say, "Oh, this can't be that fattening!" And so here's the thing, because we have a body with its different desires as well as a mind and spirit, we can say in our mind, "This is what I want to do," but my body says, "Apple pie! ... With a lard crust!" (Cause those are the good ones.) So we can go back and forth. Angels, on the other hand, don't have bodies that contradict what's in their spirit. They are pure spirit. And when an angel makes a decision, it is permanent. So, you and I, as human beings, are compared in the Bible to clay, and we keep getting molded throughout life. Angels are like fast-setting concrete. They make a decision - boom, that's it. They can't change. That's why we don't pray for the evil angels to change, and that's also why the good angels cannot go back and start over and say, "Maybe I'd like to try being evil." They make their decision, it's permanent. That's the nature of being pure spirit versus body and soul.

— Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., from Threshold of Hope, 22 July 2014.

August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration (both calendars). The Collect for today is discussed on a post at Fr. Z's blog.

O God, who in the glorious Transfiguration
of your Only Begotten Son
confirmed the mysteries of faith by the witness of the Fathers
and wonderfully prefigured our full adoption to sonship,
grant, we pray, to your servants,
that, listening to the voice of your beloved Son,
we may merit to become co-heirs with him.

— Collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Problem of Reconciling Evil as Nothingness and Being in Hell: Fr. John Hardon Answers (Quaerimus IV)

"...seek and you will find..."

— Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9.

An ongoing search has been underway since last October when I posed the question dealing with the notion of evil as nothingness - famously proposed by St. Augustine - and the problem to which this leads given that Hell and the beings in it exist. I posted the original question here and offered some thoughts on a reader's response here. In listening to a series of talks by Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., I have been fortunate enough to come across a lecture in which he addresses this question explicitly, referencing Sacred Scripture as well as teachings from the Church's Sacred Tradition in his response.

He begins with an enumeration of the three senses in which God is omnipresent found in Church teachings:

Before we go into the closer meaning of God's omnipresence, I think we should know something about the world in which God, as we say, is omnipresent. The first way that God is present is called "natural." By the very nature, whatever exists, exists only because God is present to that creature sustaining it in its existence. It is also called "ominipresence." This is called God's "universal presence." In all creatures - both rational and irrational - in Heaven, on Earth, in the center regions, is God - even present in Hell. We must say "yes." If that's the fundamental way in which God is present, we ask, is God also present in a supernatural way? Yes. More properly called, "the divine indwelling." The way that God is present in the souls of those who are in the state of grace. Oh, what a difference between God being present in every creature and God's unique presence in those who possess His grace. Finally as our Faith tells us, God is also present in what we call His "Real Presence," where God is present, not only as God, but as the God who became man. In His Real Presence, God is present, as we say, "corporeally." He is present in the Holy Eucharist for all eternity...

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from Our Spiritual Life – Men’s Retreat, Lecture 23: Omnipresence of God, 1978-9. (Emphasis added.)

The next writings he cites on the topic come from the Old Testament, namely Psalms 139 and Jeremiah 23:24:

What is the revelation of God on His omnipresence? Both Sacred Scripture and what we call "Sacred Tradition": they are filled with professions of faith in God's omnipresence. Just to read one short passage from one of the Psalms: "Where shall I go before your spirit?" the psalmist prays to the Lord. "Where can I flee before your face? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there. If I descend into Hell, you are there. If I take my wings and fly to the outermost parts of the sea..." even there, you, my Lord, are there. You are everywhere. You are always near me with your omnipresence. Then, the Lord says to the prophet Jeremiah, "Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" The answer is, God fills every creature that exists. Unless God were present, nothing else would be there.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from Our Spiritual Life – Men’s Retreat, Lecture 23: Omnipresence of God, 1978-9. (Emphasis added.)

Finally, I think that the post would not be complete without a quotation giving what Fr. Hardon refers to as "the most detailed profession of faith in God's omnipresence from the Scriptures," found in Acts 27:

St. Paul is speaking to the pagan Greeks of Athens. He tells them that the God who created the world is everywhere. This gave St. Paul the occasion for explaining that this "unknown God" - as the pagan Greeks called Him - this "unknown God" is not far from any human being. In fact, unless God were present, there would not be a human being. Says Paul, "In him we live, and move, and have our being." (Acts chapter 17, verses 27 and 28.) Now we ask, how is God present everywhere? Given the revealed fact that God is omnipresent everywhere, the Church has, over the centuries, gone on to explain...

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from Our Spiritual Life – Men’s Retreat, Lecture 23: Omnipresence of God, 1978-9.

Servant of God Fr. John Hardon (†2000), pray for us.

On the traditional calendar, today is the feast of St. Basil the Great (†379), bishop and Doctor of the Church.

Sancte Basili Magne, ora pro nobis.