In his discussion of the divine names in the Scriptum (at the beginning of book I, d. 22), St. Thomas quotes Dionysius approvingly saying that when we speak of God, we can affirm the same thing we deny. This is particularly striking since St. Thomas defines a contradiction as affirming and denying the same thing. The saving distinction in the divine names is (as it always is in St. Thomas) the distinction between the way of signifying and the thing signified (the modus significandi and the res significativa). When we affirm the thing signified, we still must deny the mode of signifying. When said like this, however, we can easily lose sight of just how close to contradiction our speech about God is. While there is nothing odd or remarkable about our concepts grasping a thing imperfectly (to say “a platypus is an animal” is certainly a very imperfect grasp of what it is), when we affirm something of God, or concepts are so imperfect that we must then also turn around and show how we could deny it.
One of St. Thomas’s preferred objections to the possibility of naming God (and therefore knowing God in this life) is an enumeration of the deficiencies of possible names. Nouns signify a supposit with a formal quality ( a “this” that is such and such) but God is not such that there is some supposit modified by a formal quality; verbs and participles signify with time, but God is not a temporal being; pronouns either stand for something we can point to (“this” or “that”) or for some noun, but the deficiencies of nouns have already been spoken of, and the divine nature is not something one points to. On the one hand, St. Thomas has an easy solution to all these problems: the mode of signifying is not the same as the mode of existing. What the sign requires will not always be the same on the side of the thing. One example that makes this distinction particularly clear occurs when St. Thomas responds to a claim that a noun names “what subsists in itself”. He responds saying that the noun signifies what subsists in itself so far as it is a subject of predication. So taken, logical second intentions or even the noun “nothing” signify something that subsists. Obviously, to subsist in the order of signs does not require subsistence in reality; and so neither does composition in the order of signs, nor temporal existence in the order of signs, nor being pointed to in the order of signs require an identical reality on the side of the thing. St. Thomas will also go through each of the given parts of speech and explain how they can be understood to speak of divine reality: while a noun cannot name a composition of supposit and form composed in God, it can name a supposit with a form so far as form is taken a principle of knowledge. Again, while a pronoun cannot name what is pointed to by the finger, it can name what is pointed to by argument.
That said, composition, temporality, and being pointed to all “come along with” the word we are using. They reflect the sort of existence that our speech is proportioned to. Just as we must reject the sort of existence proportionate to our minds when we think of God, we must negate something that always comes along with the speech we use to speak of him. In this sense, we must always deny what we affirm of God (though we need not always affirm what we deny: if we say “God is not a body”, we don’t have to turn around and look for a way in which he is one.) This happens in a particularly remarkable way when we consider the division of certain words into the concrete and the abstract. A concrete term like “wise” is proportioned to speaking of something that is diverse from and composed with a subject that differs from it. So far as it involves this proportion, we must negate that God is wise; but we must also affirm the simple (and therefore abstract) quality “wisdom”. God is wisdom so far as wisdom bespeaks sheer simplicity- and even so far as wisdom bespeaks something that cannot be pointed out by the finger. One can pray to wisdom, if taken in this way.
Given St. Thomas’s principles, in the measure that we speak about anything that is not proportioned to what we understand first, we will have to make distinctions between what we are led to by the mode of signifying and knowing, and what is really the case for the reality in question. This bandwidth of things we are attuned to is vanishingly small. There is really no proportion at all between the sense-intelligible reality that we are proportioned to and the intelligible reality we are only faintly aware of in this life. We must begin, of course, with sense-intelligible reality, but the more we attain to the principles of this reality, both in natural science and metaphysics, the more we become aware of the need to make distinctions in our speech and thinking in order to accurately describe the principles we attain to. How can God act in time without being temporal? How can a light wave wave though nothing is waving? What is the aether of magnetic fields? All these difficulties are created by the way we think and signify.
The more we want to speak of the principles of things, the more we need to be very wary of what it means for them to be “logical”. Whether we are talking about God, subatomic particles, prime matter, the fourth dimension, or the human intellect, we need to be clear that “to be logical” will involve, at some point, negating what we have just affirmed. If “logical” means “what is proportioned to our intellect”, then the whole point of science (which reaches to profound and foundational causes) is to get to non-logical reality. As science and learning advances, we need to turn to our very tools of knowing and explain precisely how they are not adequate, and how they can be used to speak of and understand what exceeds the bandwidth of reality we are attuned to. Notice that this is the opposite of throwing up our hands and shouting “mystery!” The whole point is to give a precise account of how the conceptswe first form can be used as principles to explain what is not proportioned to them. This is particularly important, since so far as “mystery” means whatever exceeds what our minds are proportioned to, then the portion of reality that is not mysterious is so small that it could be ignored, just as we could ignore the amount of mass that a mountain loses when a bird’s wing brushes against it. If we want to get to what is most of all real, “being logical” will have to involve a negation of what is first of all logical to us. This does not mean we need to start saying random things, or writing poetry, or meditating in order to attain the real, it means that we have to recognize what our concepts are proportioned to in order to see more clearly how they can be used to speak of what exceeds them or falls short of their reality. All that we have said here about “logical” can be equally said of “to be conceivable” or “to be knowable” or “to be coherent” or “to be verifiable”.
So the question of the divine names awakens us to the need to understand how our knowing is first of all proportioned to something, and that this is what we first mean by logical, conceivable, knowable, verifiable. Science advances by breaking outside of these proportionate limits to things that at first blush might be called “illogical” (though this is a poor name, since it bespeaks a lack). The tool by which we mark these breaks is analogous naming. We call time a fourth dimension though it is certainly not what we first mean by a dimension; we say God exists and is intelligent though he does not have what we first call existence or intelligence. The methods of going past what is proportionate to us are not the same in both cases, but our need to mark an advance by analogous naming is the same in both cases.
At the limit of what is disproportionate to our intellect, one finds the mysteries of the faith: the Trinity and Incarnation. It must be stressed that these are limiting cases- they are not the first such cases. Speaking about the mysteries of the faith requires us to make some new distinctions in the tools which we use to know, but they are not the first times we need to make such distinctions. The logical problem of the Trinity, or the problem of its conceivability, is the clearest and most preeminent problem of knowability and conceivability, but it is not the only such problem. Speaking of God existing, or light waving, or the soul knowing presents small-scale versions of the same sort of problem. In all these, the words or concepts themselves will exert a distorting influence on the reality itself, and this distorting influence must be taken into account and corrected against. If we ask whether any of these things are knowable or conceivable without taking this need for correction into account, or as though there was only one concept involved here, we will do a great deal of damage.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
James Chastek, What a consideration of the divine names tells us about what is logical, knowable, conceivable, etc.
Papal Greeting to Lutheran Delegation
"A Spiritual Ecumenism Should Be Grounded in Ardent Prayer"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 10, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is the greeting given by Benedict XVI today to the Lutheran Bishop Mark Hanson and the delegation accompanying him at the general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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I am pleased to greet Bishop Mark Hanson and all of you present here today for this ecumenical visit.
Since the beginning of my Pontificate, I have been encouraged that relations between Catholics and Lutherans have continued to grow, especially at the level of practical collaboration in the service of the Gospel. In his Encyclical Letter "Ut Unum Sint," my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II described our relationship as "brotherhood rediscovered" (No. 41). I deeply hope that the continuing Lutheran-Catholic dialogue both in the United States of America and at the international level will help to build upon the agreements reached so far. An important remaining task will be to harvest the results of the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue that so promisingly started after the Second Vatican Council. To build on what has been achieved together since that time, a spiritual ecumenism should be grounded in ardent prayer and in conversion to Christ, the source of grace and truth. May the Lord help us to treasure what has been accomplished so far, to guard it with care, and to foster its development.
I conclude by renewing the wish expressed by my predecessor, during whose Pontificate so much was accomplished on the road to full visible unity among Christians, when he said to a similar delegation from the Lutheran Church in America: "You are most welcome here. Let us rejoice that an encounter such as this can take place. Let us resolve to be open to the Lord so that he can use this meeting for his purposes, to bring about the unity that he desires. Thank you for the efforts you are making for full unity in faith and charity" (Address to the Bishops of the Lutheran Church in America, 26 September 1985).
Upon you and all those entrusted to your pastoral care, I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Ite ad Thomam: Scholasticism as Modern Philosophy
In general outline, this division of the history of philosophy is convenient insofar as it accurately represents six general trends in doing philosophy. For example, the way in which the 'ancients' did philosophy is quite distinct from that of the medievals, and medieval philosophy is quite different from the philosophy of Descartes, Locke, and Kant.
But this division also has its problems, particularly in its understanding of the relationship between Scholasticism and Modern Philosophy. It gives the impression that Scholasticism lasted only from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It excludes Scholasticism altogether from Modern Philosophy... as if Scholasticism were an obsolete medieval thing that was only revived by some right-wing papists of the Twentieth Century. It makes you believe that the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Jesuits were happily doing their scholastic disputations until they ran out of gas, and then came Descartes and ended the whole thing with his cogito... as if Modern Philosophy got started and Scholasticism completely disappeared. Hence, Modern Philosophy is portrayed as essentially non-scholastic (or anti-scholastic).
This conception of Modern Philosophy is utterly flawed. This is a case where history is completely written by the victors. The philosophy that was taught during this period in the universities was Scholasticism. Hence the name: 'scholas-tic', the philosophy of the schools (of the scholas). Descartes did not end Scholasticism. At no point during his life did Descartes change or even affect the way philosophy was done in the universities. In fact, none of the Empiricists and almost none of the Rationalists (with the sole exception of Wolff, who was himself a Scholastic Leibnitzian) ever taught at a university. They were literally amateurs. What we are being taught today as mainstream Early Modern Philosophy (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, etc.) is really an afterthought of the Early Modern Period, a movement completely peripheral to what the professional scholars of the time were doing. No one at that time saw the thought of these men as being part of the mainstream academic philosophical thinking.
So who were the mainstream, professional scholars--the Scholastics--during the Early Modern Period? There were thousands, but the best known are: Báñez, Molina, John of St. Thomas, Suárez, Contenson, Gonet, De Lugo, the Salmanticenses and Complutenses, etc., etc. Although some of authors place these figures within the Renaissance period, nonetheless John of St. Thomas and Suárez were contemporaries of Descartes; and, in fact, De Lugo, Contenson, Gonet, the Salmanticenses (and the Salamanca school of economics) together with the Complutenses came a generation later. These men rightly belong to Descartes' period but they are typically either completely ignored by historians or dismissed as medieval remnants that do not deserve to be considered 'modern'.
And even much later, after the new philosophy of the Rationalists, Empiricists and Idealists made its way into secular and Protestant academia (Kant was the first to bring this amateur philosophy into the universities), Scholasticism was still being practiced and taught in Catholic universities. Billuart, De Rubeis, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, San Severino, Cornoldi, Kleutgen, etc. were all within a generation of Kant and thus rightly belong to the Later Modern Period.
And Scholasticism kept being taught in Catholic universities throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries. So how do anti-scholastic histories of philosophy deal with this point? They have interpreted the so-called Neo-Scholastic / Neo-Thomist movement as bearing a discontinuity with what they disparagingly call 'Barroque Thomism' (or Second Thomism). They portray it as a resurrection of Thomism, passing strictly from a completely defunct state to a vibrant Catholic trend in the late 19th Century thanks to Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Aeterni Patris, long after Descartes has put the last nail on the coffin of 'Barroque Scholasticism'. But in fact, 'Neo-Scholasticism' (which is really a misnomer because it was not really discontinuous with traditional scholasticism) was a 'revival' in the sense of giving Scholasticism more life, not in the sense of giving life to something that was dead. Pope Leo XIII's Aeterni Patris does not call for a resurrection of something that had been long defunct, but rather, for greater efforts to keep it going. "Neo-Scholasticism," then, is nothing other than Scholasticism as it regained vigor in the 19th-20th centuries. But it is given that name to make us think that it is something new. As the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Thomas Zigliara states, "in some universities and seminaries, the teaching of St. Thomas had never been interrupted...." Even today, Scholasticism is not entirely dead, although we must fight to revive it once again.
It is due time for someone to write a history of philosophy that portrays things the way they really are: Scholasticism as a continuous whole that throughout modern times represented the mainstream mode of Catholic thought and that lasted from the time of St. Anselm up until today.
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Benedict XVI's Address to Pontifical Academies
"Be Vital and Lively Institutions, Able to Grasp the Questions of Society"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 9, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Jan. 28 upon receiving in audience members of the Pontifical Academies who were participating in their 14th annual public session.
The institutions represented included the Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Theological Academy, the Academy of Mary Immaculate, the International Marian Academy, the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature "dei Virtuosi al Pantheon," the Roman Academy of Archaeology and the "Cultorum Martyrum" Academy.
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Venerated Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Presidents and Academicians,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to welcome you and meet with you on the occasion of the Public Session of the Pontifical Academies, the culminating moment of their multiple activities during the year.
I greet Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Coordinating Council of the Pontifical Academies, and I thank him for the kind words he has addressed to me.
I extend my greetings to the Presidents of the Pontifical Academies, to the Academicians and to the Associates present. Today's Public Session, during which the Pontifical Academies' Prize was awarded in my name, touches a theme which, in the context of the Year for Priests, takes on particular significance: The theological formation of the priest.
Today, the memorial of St Thomas Aquinas, great Doctor of the Church, I wish to offer you various reflections on the goal and specific mission of the meritorious cultural institutions of the Holy See that you are part of, and which can claim a varied and rich tradition of research and engagement in different sectors.
In fact, the years 2009-2010, for some of them, are marked by specific anniversaries which constitute yet another reason to give thanks to the Lord. In particular, the Pontifical Roman Academy of Archeology marks its foundation two centuries ago, in 1810, and its promotion to a Pontifical Academy in 1829. The Pontifical Academy of St Thomas Aquinas and the Pontifical Academy Cultorum Martyrum have celebrated their 130th anniversary, both having been established in 1879. The International Pontifical Marian Academy has celebrated its 50th year since it was made into a Pontifical Academy. Finally, the Pontifical Academies of St Thomas Aquinas and of theology marked the 10th anniversary of their institutional renewal which took place in 1999 with the Motu Proprio Inter munera Academiarum, which bears the date of 28 January.
So many occasions, then, to revisit the past, through the attentive reading of the thought and action of the Founders and all those who gave of their best for the progress of these institutions. But a retrospective look at the memory of a glorious past cannot be the only approach to these events, which recall above all the task and the responsibility of the Pontifical Academies to serve the Church and the Holy See faithfully, updating their rich and diverse commitment which has already produced so many precious results, even in the recent past.
In fact, contemporary culture and believers even more continually requires the reflection and action of the Church in the various fields where new problems are emerging, and which also constitute the very sectors in which you work, such as philosophical and theological research; reflection on the figure of the Virgin Mary; the study of history, monuments, of the testimony received as a legacy from the faithful of the first Christian generations, beginning with the Martyrs; the delicate and important dialogue between the Christian faith and artistic creativity, to which I dedicated the meeting with representatives of the world of art and culture in the Sistine Chapel last 21 November.
In these delicate areas of research and commitment, you are called to offer a qualified contribution that is competent and impassioned, so that the whole Church, and particularly the Holy See, can avail themselves of the opportunities, different languages and appropriate means to dialogue with contemporary culture, and respond effectively to the questions and challenges that arise in the various fields of knowledge and human experience.
As I have stated several times, today's culture is strongly influenced both by a vision dominated by relativism and subjectivism, as well as by methods and attitudes that are often superficial and even banal, to the detriment of serious research and reflection, and consequently, of dialogue, confrontation and interpersonal communications.
Therefore, it seems urgent and necessary to recreate the essential conditions for a real capacity for in depth study and research, in order that we can dialogue reasonably and effectively confront each other on various problems, in the perspective of common growth and a formation that promotes the human being in his wholeness and completeness.
The lack of ideal and moral reference points, which particularly penalizes civil coexistence, and above all, the formation of the younger generations, should be met with an ideal and practical proposal of values and truth, of strong reasons for life and hope, which can and should interest everyone, especially the young.
Such a commitment should be especially cogent in the area of forming candidates for the ordained ministry, as the Year for Priests calls for, and as confirmed by your happy decision to dedicate your Annual Public Session to this theme.
One of the Pontifical Academies is named after St Thomas Aquinas, the Doctor Angelicus et Communis, an always relevant model to inspire the activity and dialogue of the Pontifical Academies with the different cultures.
In fact, he succeeded in establishing a fruitful confrontation both with the Arab and the Jewish thinking in his time, and while setting store by the Greek philosophical tradition, he produced an extraordinary theological synthesis, fully harmonizing reason and faith.
He already left his contemporaries a profound and indelible memory, precisely on account of the extraordinary refinement and acuteness of his intelligence and the greatness and originality of his genius, quite apart from the luminous sanctity of his life.
His first biographer, William of Tocco, emphasized the extraordinary and pervasive pedagogical originality of St Thomas, with expressions that could also inspire your activities. He wrote: "Fra Tommaso introduced new articles into his lectures, resolved questions in a new and clearer way with new arguments. Consequently, those who heard him teach new theses, treating them with new methods, could not doubt that God had enlightened him with a new light: indeed, could one ever teach or write new opinions if one had not received new inspiration from God?" (Vita Sancti Thomae Aquinatis, in Fontes Vitae S. Thomae Aquinatis notis historicis et criticis illustrati, ed. D. Prümmer M.-H. Laurent, Tolosa, s.d., fasc. 2, p. 81).
St Thomas Aquinas' thought and witness suggest that we should study emerging problems with great attention in order to offer appropriate and creative responses. Confident in the possibilities of "human reason", in full fidelity to the immutable depositum fidei, we must as the "Doctor Communis" did always draw from the riches of Tradition, in the constant search for "the truth of things".
For this, it is necessary that the Pontifical Academies, today more than ever, be vital and lively institutions, able to grasp the questions of society and of cultures, as well as the needs and expectations of the Church, to offer an adequate and valid contribution, and thus promote, with all the energy and means at their disposal, an authentic Christian humanism.
Therefore, as I thank the Pontifical Academies for their generous dedication and profound commitment, I wish that each one may enrich their individual histories and traditions with new significant projects to carry out their respective missions with new impetus.
I assure you of my remembrance in prayer, and in invoking upon you and your Institutions the intercession of the Mother of God, Seat of Wisdom, and of St Thomas Aquinas, I wholeheartedly impart the Apostolic Blessing.
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana