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Sunday, October 27, 2013

QUAERIMUS III, IV, V: The Authority of Thomas Aquinas, The Problem of Evil, and The Nature of Time - Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. Weighs In

Three topics on which I am quite interested in gathering the various thoughts of great Catholic thinkers are the determination of authority in the formulation of Catholic doctrine, the problem of evil, and the nature of time. I was pleased to come across a lecture by Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. in which he speaks on all three of these topics in a span of nine minutes. An audio recording of the complete lecture can be found on this page at therealpresence.org. It is the fourth lecture, entitled Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, in a series on the Catholic Faith.

Two years ago, soon after the founding of the DCMission blog, I had written a post in which I alluded to a question of great interest to me: What weight do the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas hold in the formulation of Catholic doctrines? Given the arguably unparalleled genius of Thomas, does the Church accept everything that he wrote as true?

Fr. Hardon, in the lecture mentioned above, states the following on this subject and its relevance to the Society of Jesus during its early years, around the end of the 16th century:

...a number of our theologians were wondering how literally we must follow Aquinas.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, Lecture 4: Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, 1978-9.

In the context of this passage, he addresses the question of whether everything that Thomas taught is necessarily accepted as true by Church authorities. Fr. Hardon's statements may surprise you. In two specific cases he mentions, he goes so far as to say that Thomas, in spite of his "towering genius," was wrong.

There is a controverted question in theology over the possibility of an eternal creation of the world. First, let's be clear. The world had a beginning. That is an article of the Faith. The world - and not merely the world of space and time - but the world of spirit, too - whether angelic or our own souls - began. That's number one. The world had a beginning. Secondly, it is therefore erroneous to say that the world is de facto eternal. Because if it began in time, it could not have been timeless in having always existed. But thirdly, can we prove from reason alone that the world began? Yes. A fourth question: Can we hold that the world might have existed from all eternity? Among the persons who held this was Thomas Aquinas. At least, he said, you could not disprove from reason the impossibility of an eternal world. This, among other things that Thomas taught, he was wrong in. And, sometime after St. Ignatius prescribed on the Society of Jesus that we follow the teaching of Thomas Aquinas - it is part of our constitution in our teaching - a number of our theologians were wondering how literally we must follow Aquinas. So our then-Father General commissioned Robert Bellarmine, a great Saint and now since a Doctor of the Church, to examine the writings of Thomas Aquinas - who by that time had already been canonized - and which things that Thomas taught, in his judgment, Jesuits would not be bound to hold. He ended up with twenty-four things in Thomas that Jesuits need not folow. This is one. And as I'm sure you all know, another is that Mary was not immaculately conceived. Thomas held it: he was wrong. Which indicates why we need an infallible teaching authority to stand judgment even on a towering genius like Aquinas.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, Lecture 4: Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, 1978-9.

The next question, on the problem of evil, is much more difficult for me personally. St. Augustine in his Confessions famously cast the problem and subsequently addressed it. Here is the problem in simplistic terms: if God is perfectly good and created everything, and evil exists, then how did God create it? Augustine addresses the problem by saying that evil is not itself a created thing. It is, rather, the lack of something: the lack of being. I've heard an analogy given between this proposed model and the familiar phenomena of light and darkness. Darkness is not something in and of itself, the analogy states. It is, rather, our perception of the absence of light. (As a bit of a digression, I recall a series of lectures at Notre Dame in which the late Prof. Michael Sain proposed a compelling case for a correlation between this model of evil and the nature of the Ringwraiths in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.)

While somewhat satisfying at first, this solution seems to create problems with respect to some aspects of the Faith. For example, if Hell entails complete separation from God, and God is necessary for an entity's existence, then how can Hell exist?

Fr. Hardon addresses the problem of evil as follows:

...what God created is good. Why is it good? Because God made it. Well, that's not really maybe answering the question. What is good that God created is such because it corresponds perfectly to what His will wanted to make. And, therefore, in Genesis when we read that God saw what He made and it was not just good but, remember, "very good." Is there evil in the world? You better believe it. Let me ask this: why is there evil in the world? Is it because of God? It must be because of what? Creatures. So whatever is good in the world is the result of God's will. Whatever is evil in the world is the result of created will. And can we ever produce evil things. If I further ask: what makes what man creates - if it's evil - evil? It's because it is contrary to the will of God. The essence of goodness is that it conforms to the divine will. The essence of evil is that it conforms to the created will and contrary to the divine will. And you don't push beyond that. You believe it.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, Lecture 4: Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, 1978-9.

This response is, admittedly, a bit problematic for me. With his mandate, "you don't push beyond that," I gather that Fr. Hardon is suggesting here that we forgo our reason and accept the claims given regarding the nature of evil. However, we've been taught through documents such as Bl. John Paul II's Fides et Ratio and Pope Emeritus Benedict's Regensburg Lecture not to accept the contemporary narrative that faith and reason work contrary to one another. Rather, the Church has proposed in such documents that faith and reason complement one another. They are "like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth." This being the case, why does it seem that we are being asked here on the problem of evil to forgo reason? Should not the use of reason, in general, be commended? I can't say that I understand Fr. Hardon's "you don't push beyond that" against the backdrop of the narrative of the complementary nature of faith and reason given to us by Church authorities in recent decades.

Finally, Fr. Hardon offers some brief thoughts on a topic that is dear to me: the nature of time. My inclusion of this excerpt here entails less of a question for addition to the list of Quaerimus posts, and more of a point of interest to me that I serendipitously found addressed in media res.

Then he created in time. ... Consequently, the world had a beginning in time. Or, more accurately, it began with time. What is time? Somebody? [Change.] ... Change. Well, change is part of time. Time is, rather, the measure of change. You've got to have things changing to have time. That's why God, in an absolute sense, is timeless. And the fewer changes or the less aware you are of those changes, the more swiftly the time passes, right? It's when you're watching that clock - and it never moves more slowly than when you watch it - because you're conscious of the change - whatever you're expecting or looking forward to seems to be so slow in coming. In other words, there was no time before creation. Why? Because the only being that existed was a changeless being. Since time is the measure of change - sometimes called the "measure of motion," which is the more philosophical definition but less intelligible because the word "motion" in philosophy corresponds to "change" in more popular language. Now the motion or the movement may be through space, and that's a change. Or the motion may be inside my head, and that's a change. For example, I hope in the last five minutes, you've learned something ... Whatever change took place - and we can measure the change that took place, whether in body or in spirit - can be measured. Therefore, you have time. The moment God created anything, at that moment, time began.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, Lecture 4: Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, 1978-9.

On the Traditional Calendar, today is Solemnity of Christ the King.

¡Viva Cristo Rey!

Update: I noticed a possible problem in the first excerpt above. Fr. Hardon states that, "At least, [Thomas] said, you could not disprove from reason the impossibility of an eternal world." This is a bit of a difficult statement to parse with all the negatives (i.e. "...could not disprove ... the impossibility..."). However, we understand the intended message: the Church teaching is that the world is not eternal and that we can prove this from reason, but Thomas said otherwise. However, I believe the way in which Fr. Hardon formulates this has one-too-many negatives. I believe what he meant to say was either that Thomas said that "you could not prove from reason the impossibility of an eternal world" or "you could not disprove from reason the possibility of an eternal world." Feel free to check me on this.


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