Saturday, September 23, 2006

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bouyer on Hesychasm

From A History of Christian Spirituality, vol. 2.

The Origins of Hesychasm and the "Jesus Prayer"
There is no doubt that Orthodox piety in the following centuries was chiefly nourished by this liturgy; yet it was not in a liturgical Christianity, a mysticism above all ecclesiastical and hierarchical, that the spirituality of Byzantium was to realize itself in its deepest and most intimate form. This other path, a wholly interior one, was that of hesychasm. Its ultimate expression was a prayer as far removed as possible from the magnificent formulas of the Studites, even from the outbursts of personal lyricism that they succeeded in incorporating into the heart of their most hieratic mysteries. The "Jesus Prayer", in which all hesychasm is concentrated, is in fact simply the unwearying repetition of the invocation, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." It may even consist in the name alone: "Jesus!"
Are those dedicated to this form of Byzantine mysticism opposed to liturgical spirituality? I wonder if there is a connection between an extreme advocacy of hesychasm (and a overly "mystical" understanding of the liturgy) and a rejection of the writings of theologians like Fr. Schmemann (who advocate a certain form of the renewal of liturgical piety or spirituality) as being "modernist."

The Fathers of the desert had already recommended the monologistos prayer, whil eth eemphasis on hesychia (the rest in God which is the aim and end of apatheia itself) was certainly one of their major themes. In the preceding volume are quoted two apophthegms attributed to Macarius the Egyptian by a Coptic collectotion. If they are authentic, Macarius must be recognized as the originator of the Jesus Prayer and of its whole spiritual context. Otherwise, as has been said, the first distinct formulas of this prayer are found in Diadochus of Photike. After him, its use was taught by Barsanuphius and John the Prophet. Barsanuphius did not hesitate to put it on a level with psalmody. He did not draw the conclusion, as was done later, that it could with advantage replace the psalmody, but only siad that the two should be practised equally. John advised using it in time of temptation, opposing it to the "antirrhetic" method advocated by Evagrius, which consisted in confronting the temptations and criticising the sophisms they imply. "Nothing remains for us to do, weak as we are," he said, "but to tkae refuge in the name of Jesus."

Not until St John Climacus, however, does one find the "remembrance of Jesus" made into the monologistos prayer to banish the multiple thoughts (logismoi) that Evagrius excludes from pure prayer. Evagrius certainly never foresaw this interpretation of his thought! But, as has been said, it is chiefly in a text from the Ladder that for the first time, so far as we know, these three terms are directly connected: the remembrance of Jesus, the control of the respiration, and hesychia: "Let the remembrance of Jesus combine with your breathing; then you will understand the use of hesychia."

It has also been pointed out with truth that we find in John the theme of "the eye of the heart", which is able to see the divine "Sun of the intelligence" in a vision in which he who contemplates sees himself filled with light. But in the Ladder these two lines of thought are not yet formally associated. Yet the first spiritual treatise which, though not actually one on the Jesus prayer, still begins to concentrate the whole of spirituality on it, also came from Mount Sinai. This was the centuries ascribed to Hesychius of Jerusalem, though there is general agreement that it is to be attributed to an author, or group of authors, belonging to the monastery of Batos (the Burning Bush) on the slopes of the mountain of the theophany. They derive from St John Climacus, from whom they cite the text quoted above, but after "your breathing" interpolate the phrase "and your whole life". This addition si very characteristic of the all-embracing character which the "remembrance of Jesus" was beginning to take on. (576-7)
Ok, on to Gregory Palams...

St Gregory Palamas and the Hesychast Controversy
At about this time there broke out, in connection with hesychasm, a philosophico-theological controversy whose complexity was equalled only by its violence. It led to the thoroughly theological synthesis, by St Gregory Palamas (1296?-1359), who was first a monk of Athos and later bishop of Thessalonia. Unfortunately, the manner in which this controversy has been prolonged or unhappily revived down to our own times hardly tends to shed light on the exact significance of Gregory's spiritual theology. Not until quite recently has there been a scholarly study, patient and serene in tone. Fr Jean Meyendorff's work at last enables us to see the true origins of the Palamite controversy, and consequently to appreciate objectively the merits of this man who was the last great spiritual writer of medieval Athos, and certainly its most powerful theologian.

(J. Meyendorff, Introduction a l'etude de Gregoire Palamas and Saint Gregoire Palamas et la mystique byzantine)

It is impossible to enter here into the details fo the polemic stirred up by the Calabrian monk Barlaam who called the hesychasts Messalians and omphalopsuchoi (that is, people for whom the soul is situated in the navel). The directly spiritual motives involved were mingled with a concern, at least equally strong, for a humanistic philosophy. In addition, sociological problems--even economic ones--played their part in the background. It is enough to say that the first modern scholar in the West who applied himself to the study of these disputes, Fr Martin Jugie, A.A., contributed not a little to obscure their exact import by supposing that Barlaam was in fact an intrepid defender, in the East, of Aristotelian and Thomistic thought.The most obvious result of this simplification was not only to make Gregory Palamas appear, quite gratuitously, a heretic in the eyes of modern Catholics, but also to give the Eastern Christians the most fantastic misconceptions of what authentic Thomism really is.

Indeed, the greatest merit of Jean Meyendorff's study is to have made it clear that Barlaam, though he was a latinizer, was for all that not in the least a Thomist, but rather a Platonizing humanist, radically nominalist and anti-mystical. By comparison, Gregory Palamas appears as a strong realist and, like most of the later Byzantine theologians (despite the cliche reiterated in the West), much more of an Aristotelian than a Platonist. But what strikes us most about him is his defence--very well informed, and at the same time very conscious of the spiritual values at stake--of a spiritual tradition that was not only Byzantine but patristic. Even if his theological system bristles with difficulties for us, we can at last understand the real import, for the Greeks, of the decisions by which the controversy was closed. Barlaam was condemned at the imperial council of Sancta Sophia in 1341. In 1355, the Palamite doctrine was proclaimed as the official doctrine fo the Byzantine Church. Furthermore, in 1351, the council of the Blachernae had incorporated, in the Synodikon for the Feast of Orthodoxy, anathemas against Gregory's other adversaries, including the archaizer Akindynos and the humanist philosopher Nicephorus Gregoras. In these circumstances, it becomes difficult to see, in the canonization fo Gregory Palamas in 1368 by the patriarch Philotheus, a mere anti-Latin manifestation, schismatical and more or less heretical. The Byzantine church itself certainly saw it as a fresh proclamation and more precise definition of a spiritual tradition whose substance comes from the great Greek Fathers, through the intermediary of what was best in Byzantine spirituality.

In the Tomus hagioreticus, which was also signed by all the hegumenoi of the Holy Mountain in 1340-1, Palamaqs sums up as follows against Barlaam's anti-hesychast accusations the arguments that he had already developed in his Triads in Defence of the Holy Hesychasts:

The doctrines which today are a common heritage, known by all and openly proclaimed, were, under the Mosaic law, but mysteries, accesible in advance only in visions to the prophets. On the other hand, the good things of the world to come, whihc are prophesied by teh saints, constitute the mysteries of the evangelical community, for the Spirit makes the saints worthy of this vision. They receive these good things and behold them in advance, as first-fruits.

Some of them, indeed, have been initiated by actual experience: all those who have abandoned the enjoyment of material goods, human glory, and the sinful pleasures of the body, and have preferred the life of the Gospel, and who have furthermore confirmed that abandonment of the world by embracing obedience to those who have attained maturity in Christ. With no other care than themselves, by rigorous attention and pure prayer, having attained to God by a mystical and supra-intellectual union with him, they have been initiated into that which surpasses understanding.... This deifying grace of God is said by th edivine Maximus, speaking of Melchisedech, to be uncreated and eternal, proceeding from the eternal God.

The doctrine that was more and more firmly adopted by teh Byzantine Church, in the course of the conciliar and patriarchal decisions noted above, was, properly speaking, that of this Tomus. It is important therefore clearly to see its significance. The first point to be emphasized is its general affirmation fo the orthodoxy of hesychast spirituality, without going into the details of the technique which had developed, little by little on Mount Athos. The second is the noteworthy statement that mystical experience is the normal counterpart of a properly oriented ascetical life. The third is the very strong consciousness of the continuity of this experience, in monastic tradition, with prophetic experience, and of its character of a foretaste of that experience of heaven which is promised in the gospels. Finally must be mentioned the emphasis placed by the Tomus on the fact that mystical experience, however mysterious it may be, is (as the Fathers and notably St Maximus bear witness) a direct experience of God in himself, and not merely of his created effects.

As for the theology developed by Palamas to defend and illustrate this doctrine, especially in his homilies on the Transfiguration, only such aspects of it as bear directly upon spirituality will be discussed here.

In the first place, it is interesting to note that, unlike his contemporary St Gregory of Sinai, Gregory is not concerned with the details fo the psycho-physiological technique of Athonite hesychasm. He adopts one element of it, and one alone: the possibility of a vision of God, a vision in which the body is in some way involved. This is what led him systematically to connect the luminous vision of "Macarius", Simeon and the hesychasts with the light of Thabor (that is, with the vision of the transfigured Christ) and, more generally, with all the scriptural visions of God that are expressed in terms of light and fire.

It also led him to re-appraise the expressions used in the Macarian tradition, as opposed to the Evagrian, by which religious anthropology was again centred on the "heart" in the biblical sense of the word, rather than on the nous, that is, pure intelligence. What is more, he drew from it not only a very prudent justification fo the idea that a method of spirituality in which the body has a share is entirely scriptural and Christian, but he also developed the more precise notion that, in the mystical vision, our whole being, body and soul, is associated in a manner mysterious but real, with those first-fruits of the resurrection which are constituted by that experience. This idea, it will be remembered, is already found in more than embryonic form in Diadochus of Photike.

At this point, to reply to Barlaam's accusation tha tthe hesychasts claimed to see the essence of God with their bodily eyes, Palamas put forward the famous distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies. He certainly did not invent this distinction, but he developed it and probably gave it a new precision. According to him, no creature can participate in the essence of God, which is invisible not only to the eyes of the body but also to those of the soul itself--indeed, to any created spirit whatever. On the other hand, the energies of God, although they are uncreated and are inseparable from his essence, can be participated in by the whole man. Thus the light of Thabor can be called "uncreated", even though the apostles saw it shining from the very face of the transfigured Christ, as the first-fruits of his resurrection and their own.

What are we to think of this distinction? It must be admitted it is foreshadowed, at least, by teh Cappadocians, particularly St Gregory Nazianzen, in a text which is quoted in the preceding volume and there commented upon. What is more, it seems to be in direct line with the Jewish conception of God's transcendence and immanence. In that conception, God in himself is distinguished (though never separated) from his Face, his Angel, his Presence, or his Word, through which he enters into contact with his creatures.

This is not to say that such a distinction does not raise the thorniest metaphysical problems. We shall not, however, discuss them here, but it seems difficult to deny, after the work of Jean Meyendorff, that Gregory Palamas himself never emphasized the philosophical aspect of his thought. Still less did the Church of Byzantium when it approved his doctrine and canonized him. Like the Cappadocians, or the rabbis before them, all that he sought to affirm was the possibility of a real and immediate contact between man and God in divine grace, whlie rejecting any sort of pantheism or "divinization" which would make us "gods" in the pagan hellenistic sense. (584-8)

Dr. Michael Liccione believes that the essential points of Gregory Palmas' teachings can be reconciled with Latin theology. See, for example, his comments here, in response to Stephen Todd Kaster and Photios Jones.

I wonder if there is an Orthodox equivalent of Denzinger's Enchiridion Symbolorum.

Quick notes on Miller

Answering the Biochemical Argument from Design:

How does a system arise in the first place?

Comparison between eubacteria flagella and Type III secretory appartus.
formal identity versus materal identity
Is materal identity sufficient for formal identity?
Function--> moved to work by presence of object? What is the efficient cause?

The Flagellum Unspun:
Is homology sufficient to show materal identity? Or is this an inference from DNA sequence? (How do we know that protein folding, etc. is the same--resulting in proteins with the same structure and powers?)

Other links:
Irreducible Complexity and Michael Behe
Is the Complement System Irreducibly Complex?
Darwin's Black Box
Determing the protein responsible for torque generation in E. coli
The Evolution of Vertebrate Blood Clotting

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Michael Behe

Evidently Kenneth Miller was at BC to give a talk about 5 months ago; I vaguely remember that, but I decided not to go... maybe because I could tell what direction he was going to go in, even though I don't think I knew that much about his position. Then again, maybe I had read something by him but just forgot.

I got a chance to take a pic with Dr. Behe; I'll post it over at The New Beginning.

The Lady Downstairs was shocked by some of the rather ignorant questions the undergraduates posed. Some were rather combatative, but what else would one expect on a hot-button issue like this? Attendance was good; mostly undergraduates, plus one or two grad students in philosophy, some grad students in theology, Dr. Kreeft, maybe one other faculty member? But no one introducing himself as a member of the biology faculty at B.C. No interest? Or more important things to do?

In his presentation he didn't address the two articles Dr. Miller has over at his website. (But he did publish a response to one of them last year.)

Afterwards, I asked him about his views on the structuralists and he responded that he was not very familiar with them. I tried to characterized structuralism as the search for laws that govern development (and by extension, evolution), and Dr. Behe did not think that it would be ultimately successful, since he believed that the initial conditions already had design "implanted" in them. (I think I got his response down.) He also thought that an algorithm would not be able to capture the information necessary for the system. (Which presupposes that information can be quantifiable, and a certain understanding of information theory. Does he share the same information theory as William Dembski?)

Dr. Behe said that he has another book coming out this year--I'm looking foward to it. In the meantime, I'll e-mail him for an essay he wrote in response to Dr. Miller last year, as well as for some references to flagellum synthesis.

Some reflections
neo-Darwinists (and scientists in general) must avoid the fallacy of affirming the consequent
evolution --> genetic (or structural) similarities
genetic (or structural) similarities
therefore, evolution

At best, one can argue that it is "probable" that evolution took place. But, in order to make this claim (or even the stronger claim that evolution has taken place), one needs to show that possible explanations have been definitively ruled out.

For example, using a variation of Ockham's razor, one could argue that God as creator keeps things as simple as possible, and hence there are genetic (or structural) similarities.

[Now, this may not be falsifiable (a la Popper).]

If it is the case that a-->b, but x-->b or y-->b, then one needs to show ~x and ~y.
For example, if x-->c or y-->c, then if it can be shown ~c, one might conclude from modus tollens that ~x or ~y. But, is it modus tollens necessary the case for physical causality? Is physical causality necessary, or contingent? (Something else could intervene to prevent the effect from coming to be.) Does modus tollens only apply then to logical necessity or something of the sort?

Is it wise to compare a living thing to a machine? After all, a machine is not a substantial unity, while a living thing is. A machine comes to be purely from an external cause--construction is "received" by the parts. On the other hand, when a living thing reproduces or develops, it itself is a causes of this taking place. (Though how this is so needs to be explained well.) Living things, after all, move themselves, and reproduction of single-celled organisms or development of more complex organisms is a form of self-motion.

Kant apparently compares living things to machines; I recall that W. Carroll and S. Baldner criticized Behe precisely on this point.

If development is a natural motion, and is also natural in the sense that it is not conscious or intelligent, is it not the case that there must be intelligence guiding development? Similarly, for the synthesis or generation of parts like the flagellum? Does the substantial form of a thing provide the plan? It seems not, though development proceeds in accordance with the form or with the nature of a thing and is not counter to it (except "incidentally"(?) if there is a defect in the matter?).

A complex part like a flagellum is not generated simply through a single sequence of DNA being transcribed. (Dr. Behe confirmed this for me.) Hence, my interest in the literature. Rather, different genes are involved, and other proteins come into play as well. I will have to look at the details once I get some articles, but it seems like a good example to use to illustrate my point, so I'll wait until then.

In development, what are the initial conditions? (As determined by the constituents that are first present, or specifically by their virtual powers, or "natures" as it were?) While the First Mover is always "at work," what operations of the organism are first, and which are caused by those? What parts act on other parts to get the ball rolling, as it were? (And I'm not thinking of a domino effect, but at any point in time, if there is some motion taking place, the First Mover is present. The First Mover does not simply push the first domino, with each subsequent domino taking care of the rest of the domino effect by itself...)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How do the Orthodox view Augustine?

Found this on the Medeival Academy calendar:

14-16 June 2007. "Orthodox Readings of Augustine." The First International Conference of the Orthodoxy in America Lecture Series, co-sponsored by the Center for Medieval Studies, Fordham University, at the Rose Hill campus of Fordham University in the Bronx. This conference will bring together prominent Eastern Orthodox theologians and historians to offer their own interpretations of Augustine's place in the Orthodox Church. The conference also includes the perspectives of well-known Roman Catholic and Anglican scholars who are knowledgeable about the reception of Augustine in the East and/or the continued theological dialogue between Eastern and Western Christians. Contact George Demacopoulos ( or Aristotle Papanikolaou (; conference website).

I wonder what will be said about Augustine.

I learned of this today, during the Philosophy block party--there is a posting of news, honors, and other such things.

John Manoussakis was appointed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, chaired by Walter Cardinal Kasper and the Metropolitan of Pergamos John Zizioulas. The first meeting of the Commission will take place in Belgrade this September.

online source

Curious--I have heard that he was a monk for a time, and I've seen him serve as a deacon during the Divine Liturgy in honor of St. Nicholas at BC. Still, I believe he collaborated with Richard Kearney; and he was an editor of the BACAP proceedings. So is he a post-modern who happens to be acquainted with Greek philosophy? And what would Orthodox such as those over at Energetic Procession make of him.

Some clues about morphogenesis

Not sure if this is the article Dr. George mentioned in his talk at BC several years ago about embryos and cloning, but good nonetheless. (One should be able to find more in-depth information about the unequal distribution of materials/early differentiation in the zygote elsewhere.)

source, via The Hermeneutic of Continuity

This article is from the News Features section of the journal "Nature."

"Your Destiny, From Day One"

The mammalian body plan starts being laid down from the moment of conception, it has emerged. Helen Pearson considers the implications of a surprising shift in embryological thinking.

8 July 2002
Helen Pearson

Our body plan is being defined in the first few hours of life.

Your world was shaped in the first 24 hours after conception. Where your head and feet would sprout, and which side would form your back and which your belly, were being defined in the minutes and hours after sperm and egg united.

Just five years ago, this statement would have been heresy. Mammalian embryos were thought to spend their first few days as a featureless orb of cells. Only later, at about the time of implantation into the wall of the uterus, were cells thought to acquire distinct 'fates' determining their positions in the future body.

But by tagging specific points on mammalian eggs shortly after fertilization, researchers have now shown that they come to lie at predictable points in the embryo. Rather than being a naive sphere, it seems that a newly fertilized egg has a defined top-bottom axis that sets up the equivalent axis in the future embryo. Controversially, one group even claims that the spot on the egg at which the sperm enters determines where the first cell division occurs - and that the resulting two cells already have a bias towards different fates.

This new understanding opens fresh avenues of study for developmental biologists. But it also raises the possibility that any technique that meddles with early human development - such as the removal of cells from an early embryo for pre-implantation genetic testing - might potentially be harmful. "It's possible you could be removing a cell with a predictable fate and causing damage," says Alan Handyside, who studies embryo abnormalities at the University of Leeds, UK.

Biologists have long known that the eventual axes of the embryo in most species are laid down either before fertilization, or in the first hours afterwards. In fruit flies, for instance, the egg inherits a molecule that is more concentrated at one end of the egg than the other, and thus defines the head-tail axis.

Heads or tails?

But mammalian embryos were considered to be a special case. First, they have a striking ability to compensate for damage. Split up the first two cells of a mouse embryo and both recover to make two apparently normal mice. Second, only around 15% of cells in the blastocyst - a hollow sphere of cells that forms some five days after conception - contribute towards the body proper, rather than supporting tissues such as the placenta. These cells reside in a structure called the inner cell mass (ICM). Finally, the first visible sign of a distinguishable head or tail takes 6.5 days to appear in mouse embryos. "All that argued against the idea of there being a map on the egg," says developmental biologist John Gurdon of the Wellcome/Cancer Research UK Institute of Cancer and Developmental Biology in Cambridge.

Oil drops place on two-celled embryos (top), are carried into the blastocyst (bottom).
© R.Gardner/Nature

The first hint that the blastocyst was not the unassuming orb it appeared came in the 1980s. Two little-noticed studies from Jean Smith of Queen's College in Flushing, New York, showed that the mouse blastocyst, rather than a being a symmetrical sphere, is slightly distorted and has recognizable axes1, 2. What's more, these axes appeared to match up with those of the fetus, suggesting that the former sets up the latter.

The findings prompted Richard Gardner, an embryologist at the University of Oxford, UK, to repeat the work, drawing similar conclusions3 . But it took another five years before Gardner could make anyone listen. "People were quite hostile," he recalls.

Gardner suspected that the axes present in the blastocyst were there from the moment of conception. But to show that a specific point on the fertilized egg consistently maps to a particular position on the embryo, he needed a way of tagging the egg without disturbing it. He found such a marker in the form of the second polar body, a 'spare' set of chromosomes thrown out of the egg when the sperm enters: it remains glued to the embryo's surface in a set position.

Impossible to ignore

Examining blastocysts, Gardner found that the polar body consistently perched on a line of latitude dividing the upper hemisphere, containing the ICM, from the lower hemisphere4. This suggested that the top and bottom of the egg line up with, and may determine, the left and right sides of the blastocyst. He backed up this idea by using oil drops placed in the jelly-like protein coat of two-cell embryos to trace cell axes more accurately5. "People could no longer ignore that there was patterning information in the egg," says Gardner.

Meanwhile, Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz's team at the Wellcome/Cancer Research UK Institute had found that this pattern is retained by the embryo after implantation. The researchers took unimplanted blastocysts and labelled cells at one or other pole of each with a fluorescent protein before transferring them into female mice and allowing them to implant. After 6.5 days, these cells ended up towards either one end or the other of the embryo6.

Dyeing to know: Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz used different-coloured stains to track the descendants of the first two embryonic cells (top).
© M. Zernicka-Goetz/Nature

But how does the initial pattern get there? Zernicka-Goetz suspected the act of fertilization itself was the key, and injected sticky fluorescent beads under the coat of mouse eggs at the spot where sperm had penetrated. In most cases, the bead's position roughly coincided with the equator of the first cell division, implying that the sperm's entry point determines where the cell first divides7.

In subsequent experiments, Zernicka-Goetz painted the first two cells, one red, one blue, using dyes dissolved in olive oil. She then tracked their descendants into the blastocyst. One cell usually gave rise to the region containing the ICM, the other to the region largely destined to make the placenta and other supporting tissues8.

Zernicka-Goetz's conclusion is that the first division of the egg influences the fate of each cell and ultimately, all the tissues of the body. "There is a memory of the first cleavage in our life," says Zernicka-Goetz.

Gardner disputes the idea that the sperm entry point is critical, arguing that Zernicka-Goetz's fluorescent beads are drifting away from the point of fertilization. In recent work, he used components of the sperm's discarded tail to mark its entry position into the egg, and found no association with the equator of the first cell division9. Zernicka-Goetz has countered with a third way of marking the entry site using fluorescently labelled sperm that transfer their label to the egg - and re-asserted her original conclusion10. She is now working on eggs triggered into developing without sperm. If the first cell division in these embryos produces cells that contribute more equally to each half of the blastocyst, it will boost her theory that the point of sperm entry is the key factor.

Patterns pending

Developmental biologists are now keen to work out the molecular mechanisms underlying the patterning information in early mammalian embryos. As in fruit flies, they may contain an asymmetrically distributed 'determinant', a molecule that influences cell fate and is inherited unequally in the first cell division. Jonathan Van Blerkom of the University of Colorado at Boulder has intriguing evidence that two proteins are distributed in this way in human and mouse eggs11. He does not believe that these molecules are the determinants, but rather that their distribution is determined by the action of a yet-to-be-discovered mechanism.

Other researchers suspect that the sperm's entry on one side triggers a complete re-organization of the egg's internal skeleton that then makes cells at different positions in the embryo divide at slightly different times.

Another mystery is how early mammalian embryos retain the ability to develop normally if damaged or split in two, given the existence of patterning information that appears to narrow down cell fate. Most researchers think that the patterning information is quite weak, so that cells become biased towards producing certain tissues, rather than irrevocably committed. Only later are the biases stabilized and cell fates fixed.

Nevertheless, the existence of patterning information in the early human embryo raises the issue of whether certain assisted-reproduction techniques could disrupt the delicate processes of establishing body axes.

Sperm entry may be an important factor.
© GettyImages

If sperm entry point is an important factor, for instance, that throws up questions about intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection, in which sperm from infertile men are injected directly into the egg. Pre-implantation genetic testing, in which two cells are removed from an eight-cell embryo to test for inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, is another area of concern. "Perhaps we should pay attention to which cells we remove," says Handyside. But other experts believe that the flexibility of human embryos is sufficient to compensate for these manipulations. Damaged embryos may, in any case, spontaneously abort.

What is clear is that developmental biologists will no longer dismiss early mammalian embryos as featureless bundles of cells - and that leaves them with some work to do. "I believe in the new philosophy," says Tom Fleming, a developmental biologist at the University of Southampton, UK, "but there's a lot of detail yet to be understood."

Smith, L. J. J. Embryological Experimental Morphology 55, 257 - 277 (1980).
Smith, L. J. J. Embryol. Exp. Morph 89, 15 - 35 (1985).
Gardner, R. L. , Meredith, M. R. & Altman, D. G. Journal of Experimental Zoology 264, 437 - 443 (2002).
Gardner, R. L. Development 124, 289 - 301 (1997).
Gardner, R. L. Development 128, 839 - 847 (2001).
Weber, R. J. et al.Development 126, 5591 - 5598 (1999).
Piotrowska, K. & Zernicka-Goetz, M. Nature 409, 517 - 521 (2001).
Piotrowska, K. et al. Development 128, 3739 - 3748 (2001).
Davies, T. J. & Gardner, R. L. Human Reproduction, (in the press).
Plusa, P. , Piotrowska, K. & Zernicka-Goetz, M. Genesis 32, 193 - 198 (2002).
Antcsak, M. & Van Blerkom, J. Molecular Human Reproduction 3, 1067 - 1086 (1997).

© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2002

A rehash of casuist controversies?

Conscience as a Stern Monitor, by Alexander Pruss

If either Newman or Socrates is right, then the voice of conscience does not speak of what is permissible but of what is forbidden or obligatory. Someone who says "My conscience permits me to do A" is at worst confused, and at best reporting that her conscience does not speak against doing A. But that is an argument from silence, and hence weak.

Thus, if two people argue about whether something is morally permitted, and both invoke the testimony of their conscience, all other things being equal, the one who claims it is forbidden is more likely to be right. For the same reason, moral progress tends to move primarily in the direction of more being seen as forbidden or, equivalently, more being seen required.

This can be seen as one view opposing probabilism. "For the same reason, moral progress tends to move primarily in the direction of more being seen as forbidden or, equivalently, more being seen required." Moral progress of an individual? I'm not sure if I would agree with this characterization--it certain seems to play upon the voluntarist's fears of losing freedom and being constricted (see Fr. Pinckaer's treatment of the development of moral theology in The Sources of Christian Ethics). If there is sufficient law-imposing during one's youth, then moral progress will be a greater understanding of the reasons why freedom is ordered in the ways that it is, not more imposition of laws. Complains about legalism can be understood in this way then--those who only see the coercive nature of law and an external source of law, and have not really formed in the "spirit" of the law and therefore able to understand its rationale.

And in any case, conscience, or at least our judgment about what conscience says, is only a fallible guide. So the claim that moral progress tends to be from the less restrictive to the more restrictive may have other exceptions. But there is a presumption that those claiming duty or prohibition are right than that those claiming permission are.
But anything can be restricted--such as intercourse with one's spouse because one does not wish to become impure, or because one wishes to observe abstinence the night before Divine Liturgy. There must be a reason given for the restriction that makes the restriction seem compelling to us during moral deliberation.

Pruss admits of two exceptions to this:
(1) "There are exceptions, of course, to the idea that claims about moral prohibition (or obligation) are more likely correct than ones about moral permission. A general class of exceptions is when we realize that an earlier prohibition was based on the conjunction of a true claim of conscience with a false empirical claim. Thus, a prohibition against women taking various roles in society might well have been based at least in part on false empirical claims about women's intellectual abilities."

(Or similarly, a misapplication of a rule or the use of the wrong premise(s) in moral reasoning. The example I am thinking of is the forbidding of women to sing in choir during the liturgy by Pius X--iirc, it was thought that singing was an office proper to the clergy. Later, when it became clear that singing is an office proper to all who participate in the liturgy (without blurring the distinction between liturgicalparts), the ban was lifted. Of course, this is not an example involving conscience, but it is an example of how a conclusion can be wrong because of the premises, and something similar could illustrate how conscience can be mistaken.)

(2) "Another major class of exceptions is when a claim of obligation logically depends on a prior claim of permissibility. These tend to be cases of positive duty. For instance, the claim that embryonic stem cell research is morally obligatory out of duty for the suffering depends on the prior claim that embryonic stem cell research is morally permissible (opponents of such research should also grant the conditional that if it were permissible, it would be obligatory). A prohibition on discrimination against exhibitionists would presumably be based on a presupposition of the permissibility of exhibitionism. In such cases, conscience's sternness cannot be invoked to defend the claim of duty, because what is really at issue is the logically prior permissibility claim."

What Pruss is addressing is a possible is a conflict between two opinions on what can be done/should be avoided--it doesn't matter if the source of both opinions is one's own moral training, or if they originate with others held to be authorities, etc. If one authority permits and another authority forbids, which is to be followed?

I wrote over at Right Reason:
It seems to me that you are advancing one possible response to the casuist controveries, but it is not clear to me what the practical import of your claim is. Doesn't one need to be able to distinguish between a prohibition that contains an authentic moral insight from scrupulosity? If you admit that the scrupulous are not reliable guides for telling us what is permissible and what is not, then are we not already on the path to elaborating norms and rendering them intelligible? 

No response yet, though I'm not sure if one would be needed. I just think the inquiry should be taken into a different direction, as the current discussion is rather pointless. (And I find talk of the voice of conscience and such, rather than the judgment of conscience, rather distracting. If one wishes to use certain terms because one is using the endoxa of accepted authorities, one better have a good reason for adopting those authorities as authorities in the first place. Otherwise, why talk about consicence without at least a nominal or popular definition in place? This was the same question Fr. Madigan brought up in response to Dr. Garcia, since Dr. Garcia did not give a definition of virtue in his talk about virtue based moral theories. Let us first call conscience the act of judging whether an act is forbidden or obligatory or permissible, and then by extension, the power ordered to this act. Of course this power may be identical with another power, say, the intellect.)

CE on probabilism
Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem, Law or Liberty

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dr. Garcia on virtue-based moral theory

Dr. Garcia gave an outline of virtue-based moral theory, harnessing the opinions of others and engaging them through dialectic to present his own account.

(1) He maintains that it is a fundamental characteristic of a virtue ethics (or, a virtues-based moral theory, which he prefers) that the virtues are basic. All other moral claims are justified and explained on the basis of the virtues.

(2) Now, there are different versions of virtue ethics. Dr. Garcia's version is role-centered, in that role-relationships are fundamental in defining the moral life, and explaining the rest of moral claims.

(3) Also, in his virtues-based moral theory, moral reasoning is patient-focused. That is, it is focused on the needs of the other upon whom I act, not mine. There si an objective element to evaluation; it is not purely subjective.

(4) In addition, in examining action we can look at the output (the outcome or effect) and also the input--the desires, intentions that feed into the action. Consequentialism focuses on outputs; VBMT also looks at the intentions.

Now, with respect to moral vocaulary, there are three families of terms.
1. Concepts or claims about what is desirable/valuable (prominent in consequentialism/teleological ethics)
2. Concepts about what is obligatory/forbidden--deontic value notions (prominent in deontological ethics)
3. Concepts about virtuous good-making and vices

In a VBMT, the virtues are fundamental. What is desirable or right/wrong is understood in terms of the virtues.

What is the right thing to do? --> What is virtuous.

Virtue ethics is usually presented as an alternative to deontological and teleological theories. Still, the nature of virtue ethics is unclea and disputed--it seems that any adequate moral theory will have some account of the virtues.

There are two possibilities.
(1) virtues are autonomous/independent from what is desirable or right
(2) virtues are fundamental--that is to say, everything else is understood in terms of the virtues

(contrast with Richard Brandt, and utilitarian virtue ethics)

Virtues are foundational
(1) Focus of the moral agen'ts attention
(2) Focus of the theorist's attention

Dr. Garcia wishes to focus on (2).

One version makes use of value theory -- claims about intrinsic value--what is suitable/appropriate to choose, consent to, endorse, want, favor, etc.

(value theory: Garcia's reference to Scheler, Brentano[SEP], and Winan(?); my links: what is phenomenology; the philosophy of value in the 21st century )

In a virtues ethic, character/being is central, while doing is peripheral. Rules are crude maps, not precise guides or standards.

Then he responded to various ethical theorists (mostly analytics?), including Christine Korsgaaard [publications, interview], Henry Richardson, Judith Thompson, Rosalind Hursthouse [on virtue ethics], Michael Slote.

Virtues/virtuous acts help roles, bring about the good in which the role consists. Virtues make us good, but not in a causal sense; it is not an effect that virtue brings about, but it counts towards it. To be a good friend, for example, is to be trustworthy. It is constitutive, not causal.

One judges actions to be wrong by linking them to the voices or to moral inputs. Even if actions are judged to be right or wrong in terms of the moral laws or rules, laws are a crude way of talking about what is vicious.

Talk of acting from virtue is ambiguous--is one talking about from character or virtuous motivation?
Is a virtuous action would be virtuously motivated? Or generally or likely to be virtuously motivated?

A familiar case/counter-example: certain actions are virtuous, others are vicious. One doesn't need to refer to anything else in the agent's motiviation to make an evaluation.

An example from Judith Thompson, whom Dr. Garcia considers to be an ally rather than an adversary on this point--if someone is drwoning, their life is in danger. If one is passing by and sees a life preserver handy, it is right to toss it to the drowning person. The external action has certain objective characteristics.

Still, one needs to look also at the motivation or intention to evaluate.
M. Slote: right act expresses a virtuous motive (it is what a virtuous agent would do)
R. Hursthouse: right action is what a virtuous agent would do if fully informed (knowledge of circumstances)
(later view: what a virtuous agent would characteristically do)

One does need to look at the concrete aspect of situation--rightness is dependent upon what is actual, not hypothetical features of a situation. Utilitarians also look at counterfactuals; deliberation seems to be about action that has not yet come to be.

I spoke with Dr. Garcia afterwards; he said that if he were to include a discussion of community, it would fall under role-relationships--how the individual relates to the community, etc. He did not have a definition of the common good ready.

Some reflections
It seems that much of what Dr. Garcia is writing can be reconciled with Aristotle and Aquinas, though he is not sure if one needs a robust account of nature and teleology (such as found in Aristotle) to make virtue-based ethics work--but he suspects that it is the case and inevitable.
Aristotle's ethics, after all, is eudaimonistic, and it seems to go against popular understanding of human action and motivation (even if its only implicit and must be drawn out through questioning) to exclude considerations of happiness from ethics.

The focus on input is the same as the Thomistic understanding of the importance of the intention for the evaluation of the morality of human action. It does not suffice for an action to be virtuous if the external act is good--one must look also at the intention. It is virtuous if it is done out of virtue.

On the other hand, the emphasis on the patient reminds of the Thomistic teaching on the morality of the external act--one does not evaluate human action based on intention alone, but must look at the goodness (or lack thereof) intrinsic to the external act. This applies not only to justice, but to all the other virtues which order our relations to others.

One can also agree that rules, being general in nature, can take one only so far in moral reasoning; ultimately one must develop the virtue of prudence to determine what action to take.

It may seem to academics (and Dr. Garcia holds this opinion) that Aristotle and Aquinas do not talk much about roles. (Though Dr. Garcia does recognize that Aristotle wants to say that the virtues will differ among people as their function differs.) I think Aristotle and Aquinas can be read in light of "common-sense" undestandings of role differentiation. Aquinas after all distinguishes between particular justice and the potential parts of justice, and the order of charity--how we are obligated to different people in different ways, based on how they are related to us.

While one can reconcile value with the classical moral tradition's conception of the good (if one is willing to postpone the discussion of the "epistemology" that underlies and justifies the use of the word value--it would seem that there is a divide between phenomenology and Aristotelian or moderate realism on this point), I would not be so quick as to say that virtue is always prior to all notiosn of the "good." I think that some notions of "good" are prior to virtue, as the New Natural Law theorists make explicit in their writings. Which good? Not good as it is predicated of an action, but of an end. Virtues, and the actions which flow from them, are desirable for their own sake, but also for the sake of the end to which they are ordered, and these ends are prior, as final causes.

The following is not directed to Dr. Garcia in particular, but to academic philosophers, especially those of a certain school. It is not clear to me why virtue ethicists are trying to reinvent the wheel, rather than submittingto a tradition. For Catholics, Aeterni Patris can be interpreted in this light, to call Catholic philosophers to immerse themselves in the Thomistic tradition, to making it living so as to be able to engage "modern questions" but more importantly, their contemporaries. Perhaps the overt religious character of the medieval tradition is an obstacle; that's too bad. Certainly those who are turned away from the medievals must read Aristotle as if no one read him in the two millenia who separates him from the moderns.

There is a need among many philosophers to be "original", to discover things on one's own -- is this attributable to a malaise called modernity? Or just to pride? If one is still an inquirer and a learner, what can one pass on to students? The art of thinking? But there is more to philosophy than logic--do we discard what has been left for us by our predecessors? One would expect a teacher to be a little bit more advanced on the road to knowledge and wisdom. Perhaps academic philosophers think they are more advanced, but if they do, many are rather deluded.

If we do not understand what they are saying, then should we not be silent instead of passing judgment? On the other hand, if we disagree with what they are saying, do we have a solid foundation for our own opinions? Now some may recognize that there is a value to studying previous texts, but often they read these texts in light of their philosophical preconceptions, or they are merely looking for proof texts for their own positions, either as a (secondary) argument from authority or to show that others are agreeing with what they are saying. (Or to show that those ancients were not that wrong after all, though still a bit wrong...)

Kenneth R. Miller

According to the flyer:

"Prof. Behe is eager to exchange ideas with students and faculty on his harsh assessment of orthodox Darwinian theory. He plans to make pointed reference to Prof. Ken Miller's recent attempts to discredit his research."

Dr. Ken Miller's homepage
(evolution resources)

He has two articles responding to ID:
"The Flagellum Unspun - The Collapse of Irreducible Complexity."
"Answering the Biochemical Argument from Design"

Dr. Miller appears to be a theistic neo-Darwinian evolutionist. He is also a Catholic, according to wikipedia. In his reactions (1, 2) to Cardinal Schönborn he fails to recognize that what he calls science is actually a set of presuppositions (that are not self-evident) coupled with a certain method of reasoning (which is susceptible to critique according to the canons of logic).

Monday, September 18, 2006

Hans Hoppe

Democracy: The God that Failed (archive at LRC,
Introduction to Democracy, The God That Failed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

His website. wiki.

Google Books: Democracy the God that Failed: The Economics ...
The Economics and Ethics of Private Property ...
A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism ...

Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe: Theory and History

An Interview With Hans-Herman Hoppe

More links:
Hans-Hermann Hoppe: Defying Leviathan

Edit. Interview with Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Does anything follow from a contradiction?

I suspect that logically, this does not hold, and only works because of a certain definition of implication within modern/symbolic logic is adopted. If we set up the accepted truth table for material implication:

p q p-->q

(for more on material implication)

we see that in the case of a & ~a --> b, while a & ~a is F, regardless of whether b is T or F, the implication is T.

(This is already covered in Paedo Socrates' post, but I'm typing out the justification for my own reflection and to keep it simple for the reader.)

Now if this statement is taken rather to be a predicator of human behavior or "psychology," perhaps there is some truth to it. That is to say, if someone consciously rejects the principle of non-contradiction and "reasons" accordingly, then it he will accept as true whatever he wants to accept as true, because he is no longer guided by logic. Truth is arbitrarily determined by the subject, and has no relation to reality.

So the next question would then be: is material implication "strong" enough to explain both logical and real necessity? Or is it merely a devised rule of "calculating" or "reasoning" which does not help us think logically but impedes us from doing so?

Giovanni Reale

author of The Concept of First Philosophy and the Unity of the Metaphysics of Aristotle
(another book taking on the developmental view of Aristotle's Metaphysics)

info page

bio and links (in Italian)
Academia Verlag
Italian wiki

Deuteros Plous

A review of his Toward a New Interpretation of Plato

Janet Smith's review of his volume on Plato and Aristotle

Christopher Gill's report on a colloquium on the dialogues of Plato

Behe speaking on Thursday, 21 September

I received this email today:

September 21at 7pm
in the Robsham Theatre

MICHAEL BEHE Prof. of biochemistry at Lehigh University and best-selling author of DARWIN'S BLACK BOX will lecture and lead a discussion on THE CASE AGAINST DARWIN (a plea for Freethinking in Biology). All faculty and students--especially true believers in the orthodox Darwinian paradigm--are urged to attend and join in an open, free discussion (the sort of discussion that rarely takes place on this topic). Hoping to see you there.

Ronald K Tacelli sj
Boston College Philosophy Association

I was thinking it would be later in the semester, my copy of his revised edition of Darwin's Black Box has not arrived yet. Ah well, maybe he'll be willing to sign a "book plate." Hrm, I suppose on Wednesday I can print out some objections and read them over.

In the meantime, questions to keep in mind:
(1) Is it possible to show that something has no function? One can show that it does not have a certain function (for example, if a protein "normally" catalyzes a certain reaction, but one alters the protein and the reaction is no longer catalyzed, one would suspect that the protein no longer is able to carry out that function). But can one show that it has no function whatsoever? Perhaps, if one knows the structure and constituents of the protein.

(2) On the other hand, even if it can be shown that a protein missing certain amino acids has some sort of function what is the effect of this protein on that of which it is a part? Does the whole still thrive like it did before?

(3) Then there is the developmental question--if we are talking about complex living things and not simple living things (comprised of a single cell), what is the impact of such a change on the living thing as a whole? And how does a change in protein lead to a macroscopic change? (What is the development pathway?)

I should ask him about structuralism...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Holy Work by Aidan Nichols, O.P.

Aidan Nichols, Holy Work

Fr. Nichols responds to Adriano Tilgher, an Italian cultural historian.

What, however, interests the New Testament writers is not everyday human work such as Jesus may have done in Joseph's workshop but rather the unique redeeming work of Christ, and although they are conscious of a range of virtues needing to be brought into play in Christian living and a variety of good works (roughly speaking, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy of later catechesis) that give flesh to the new life of grace, the main human work in which they are interested is the proclamation of the Good News about the Word incarnate and him crucified and risen, redeeming and reconciling, to the rest of the world. St Paul thought it important that an apostle should give good example by not being an economical parasite if he could possibly help it - which is why, so he tells us, he chose to keep up his trade.

Again, the Church of the Word incarnate, as we see her fully formed, with the main lines of her life set forth, in the writings of the Fathers of the post-apostolic age, happened to be, at least in the East, mainly an urban phenomenon (that is why, despite 'East Anglia' and 'Argyll and the Isles', it is so unusual to find bishops named after regions not cities). But like Dorchester in Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, the Church's strongholds were towns that were not only surrounded by the countryside but positively permeated by it through a network of not only close economic ties but actual green spaces for tilling and husbandry, what the Romans called rus in urbe, the 'country in the city'. The Church's liturgical celebration of the great saving events of the Word incarnate's life, death and Resurrection followed a pattern which readily blended with the rhythm of rural work - the cycle of the seasons, and the cycle of the day, from Lauds when the farmer goes out at first light, to Vespers when the lamps are lit for dusk as he returns.
The question then arises, Taking as given the fact that this literature (the books of the biblical Canon) and the particular human community they brought into being in the sub-apostolic period (the Church) are pre-modern in their assumptions about work (as about everything else on which modernity has or had a view of its own), is this fact in and of itself of doctrinal importance? In other words, is this assumption about traditional styles of work of any intrinsic importance for the understanding of Christian revelation and the life which should flow from that understanding for ourselves who as Catholic Christians are privileged to be its recipients?

There could of course be an argument which had it that the linking of biblical revelation and its continuation in Christian tradition to agricultural work and handcrafts is a providential dispensation. That is, I take it, the view of the Christian sect called the Amish who, for precisely this reason, maintain exclusively rural communities of believers. But I think we can say with assurance that Catholics have only ever drawn on such considerations in a prudential way, not a doctrinal one. One can perfectly well maintain that living close to cosmic nature and working collaboratively with that nature through crop-growing, animal husbandry and the like, is a way of life which should be adopted by far more people than presently do so, since it would greatly reduce the stress and sense of artificiality many people find in the distinctively modern workplace, with its severe time-constraints and such physical inconveniences as gazing all day long at a computer screen. One can also perfectly well propose that craftsmen working with their hands in a fashion which requires skill, that is practical reason in the mode adapted to making things, and doing so by inheriting and perpetuating a tradition of fine work, possess a peculiarly paradeigmatic quality as exemplars of what it is to be a worker. But one does not for all that have to 'buy' the argument that there is something innately rebarbative to the Judaeo-Christian revelation and its ethos in forms of work that do not fall under either of these descriptions. As St Thomas, speaking as a philosopher, makes plain, when we talk of the 'matter' with which the labourer co-operates so as to educe from it a form - whether on his or her own, as with the potter or sculptor, or in collaboration with nature as with the market gardener or the grower of grain - we are not using a univocal expression, a word that has only one meaning. We are, rather, using an analogical notion, a word that has a variety of related meanings. What 'matter' means, and, so far as that goes, what 'form' means too is very much context-dependent. A nurse's 'matter' is her patient; a lawyer's is human behaviour; a playwright's is human life itself, and so on. There is no reason why this range of examples cannot be extended so as to take in every legitimate type of human labour.

In his brilliant study The Theology of Work, Father Richard O'Connor points out that there is no philosophical reason why the matter on which the worker works cannot be so extended and every theological reason why it should be. Such clues as we have from the Fathers of the Church, the principal sources, with Scripture, of an evangelical and catholic theology, betray no evidence of Tilgher's assumption that the only work valued in the Christian tradition was manual work in the strict sense. St John Chrysostom, for example, speaks of the value to be found in the complementarity of human skills. Origen remarks that God created man with various needs so that we might exercise our intelligence in providing for them. For St Augustine, through work man co-operates with God in completing the creation. For St Maximus the Confessor, man is a 'living workshop' since through his labour he synthesizes matter with spirit.

It is true that the ascetic tradition, as represented in, for example, the Rule of St Benedict, or the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, concentrates on hard manual toil, but this is, after all, in the context of specifically monastic life, where a rather different set of criteria from the usual may be thought to apply.

In reality, there is nothing in the nature of Christian doctrine which could make us treat as inevitable the development described by Tilgher (assuming it to be correctly described) whereby Renaissance and post-Renaissance forms of work led ineluctably to the desacralisation of the cosmos and the secularisation of the European mind.

So far he is only talking about types of work and attitudes towards work, and now the moral questions of the distribution of property, social justice, and such. The next part I copy with all of the emphases of the original.
The question then arises, If that is so, what needs to be done? How can we put in place new imaginative patterns which allow people and indeed invite them to experience their work, when it is genuinely human - humane - work, work fit for man, in the same way as once was done in the best agrarian commonwealths known to the Church in the past or the present? I add the rider 'when it is genuinely human - humane - work, work fit for man' because that has been, of course, a preoccupation of the moral magisterium of the Papacy in the last hundred and more years. I am not concerned with those ethical aspects of work which need to be attended to for work to be deemed fit for human beings in the first place, but rather with the doctrinal in the sense of dogmatic interpretation of authentically human work in a modern mode. How can we proceed in trying to suggest for non-traditional kinds of work the sort of imaginative theological space in which traditional work modes have been deployed in Christendom?

Following - in large part - O'Connor's analysis: we can say that such traditional ways of work have been given theological sense in three ways. First, they were regarded as enjoying a relation to the divine creative activity. Second, they had a bearing on the divine redemptive activity. And thirdly, they carried implications for the divine transfiguring or consummating activity at the end of time. However their theological meaning was construed, whether on the basis of the original creation, or on that of the act of Incarnation and its redemptive consequences, or on that of the ultimate glorious Parousia, what was in question was some kind of analogy between divine and human working.

St Thomas has no treatise on labour (the issue was not for him the problem it was to become later). Nevertheless, human work, considered as the activity of what he called, after Aristotle, the 'practical intellect', was for him our principal analogue for God's activity in regard to the world. God's understanding, the divine mind, is engaged in action which both makes things and transforms them. That is why Thomas can use the model of artisanal labour to expound the divine mysteries of both creation and salvation. This is for him a true analogy, and not just a metaphor, which means that when we speak of human beings 'making' things or 'salvaging' or 'transforming' them by their labour we should be aware that the principal maker, salvager and transformer - the 'prime analogate' as the Scholastics say of our language in these respects - is God himself. And what that means for us is that our work - whether it be making, repairing or transforming by acting in any of these ways on 'matter' variously understood, is nothing less than a sign of the divine activity itself, the divine action in creation and redemption, Incarnation and salvation.

Fr. Nichols maintains that production is a work imitative of God's own work of creation, and hence is a form of participation in the Divine activity: "Production, in the sense in which we use that word when discussing human work, is a sign of the Trinitarian causal action in making the world."He acknowledges that "Of course no human work is absolutely creative in the way that God?s is. God creates from nothing; that means, his creative activity has no other principle than itself. When we are creative, whether in humble ways by making a plum pudding or grandiose ways like producing a development plan for a third world country or writing an opera, we are only relatively creative, since we depend for our action on many factors beyond ourselves.".

It is also, I suggested, a sign of the mystery of the Incarnation. As we have seen, 'crafting' things in matter is an analogous reality which can be carried out in many ways. As Eric Gill liked to say, every man is a special kind of artist. [13] But in every case a craftsman wants to embody his ideas, to let his idea take on flesh. In work something goes out from us to what is outside us, just as in God, the archteype of human working, the Word took on flesh through union with human nature, which was infinitely 'outside' it, in our Lady's womb. And just as, in the humanity assumed from Mary, the Word had at his disposal an instrument perfectly suited for his purpose in becoming incarnate, so the worker has at the service of his own 'incarnations' extensions of his own powers in the shape of tools which now range from rudimentary implements still in use like brushes and saws, to mechanical instruments that extend the arm, visio instruments like microscopes that extend the eye, audio instruments like transmitters that extend the ear, and finally instruments which extend the brain - computers - and have within them the power to devise more sophisticated computers still. Some would ask whether technology remains an instrument when it reaches this level of independence, but in the Incarnation the fully human mind and will of Christ, as defined at the Councils of Chalcedon and Constantinople III respectively, were what guaranteed the perfect suitability of his humanity for the task given it by the Word. That does not mean that all advanced technology of an innovatory kind must be embraced simply because it exists: for the question always remains open, Does this or that new tool allow us to devote greater time and energy to our spiritual, intellectual, family, social lives without damage to the fabric either of human community or the natural environment in which our lives are set? The human mind and will of the Word worked to realise the Father's plan of love - so how things fit with the total context here can hardly be irrelevant.
A theology of work. Perhaps one that Opus Dei would endorse. While that is all good, I wonder if the question of social justice is not a greater one and whether it is enough to be able to justify some sort of work theologically without a reference to the concrete common good. Is all work really creative? (With form being imposed on matter?) Should this be used to justify modern bureaucratic techniques, centralization, and the economic [and political] dominance of corporations? What can be said of work that dehumanizes? Is acting as a cog in an assembly line really that satisfying? I don't think Fr. Nichols would say so. But is his treatment sufficiently nuanced to prevent it from being exploited by Henry Ford, for example, to defend his economic and production practices? The problem is, given the way the economy is structured, what forms of work are really free from being criticized when the "larger picture" is taken into account? What work does not perpetuate somewhere else further exploitation and degradation, whether it be of human beings or of the environment? Only those who strive to be economically free might be able to defend themselves from this criticism, but they are few, I suspect, since many at the very least are still dependent upon the consumption of fossil fuels and the like for electricity, and so on. Should charity and the host of virtues be exercised in the workplace, and one's labors raised up through prayer? Undoubtedly. But whether much of the work [of modern industrialized societies] itself can be said to participate that much in God's own good creative act, that is what I question. Looking at the natural being of the act from thew viewpoint of metaphysics or theology is not enough--one must also look at the moral component and the activity's consequences to give a full assessment.

A Theology of Work: Work and the New Creation (Paternoster Theological Monographs) (Paperback)
Working Your Way into Heaven: How to Make Work, Stress, and Drudgery a Means to Your Sanctity by Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski
The Theology of Work: An Exploration by M.D. Chenu
On the Theology of Work: Aspects of the Teaching of the Founder of Opus Dei
by Michael Adams (Translator), Josbe Luis Illanes (Author), Jose L. Illanes (Author)
Sanctification of work