Wednesday, December 31, 2014

St. Gregory Palamas on Mary as Universal Mediatrix

It is an eternal law in heaven that the lesser shall share by means of the greater in what lies beyond being. So as the Virgin Mother is incomparably greater than all, and as many as will share in God will do so through her, and as many as will know God will acknowledge her as the one who contained Him Who Cannot be contained, and as many as will extol God will hymn her too after Him. She is the reason for everything which preceded her, the protectress of everything which came after, and the cause of eternal blessings. She is the theme of the prophets, the starting-point of the Apostles, the support of the martyrs, the foundation of teachers. She is the glory of those on earth, the delight of those in heaven, the adornment of the whole Creation. She is the beginning, source and root of good things past telling, the summit and fulfillment of everything holy.

O holy Virgin, how can I put everything about you into words? How can I express my desire? How can I glorify you, the treasure of glory? Just remembering you brings hallowing. A mere glance in your direction enlightens the mind, raising it instantly to divine heights. In you the eyes of our understanding become clear. In you our spirit is radiant with the presence of the divine Spirit. For you did not become the keeper and store of graces so as to have them for yourself, but to fill the universe with grace. For the person in charge of inexhaustible treasures oversees their distribution. Why would you shut away your wealth as it never diminishes? Share it abundantly with us, O Lady, and if we cannot contain it, enlarge our capacity, and then lavish it upon us. For you alone did not receive by measure, as all things were given into your hand.


Source: St. Gregory Palamas, Sermon on the Blessed Virgin (?).

Monday, December 29, 2014

Nietzsche on Modern Marriage and Romance

This sounds like bigoted, misogynistic conservatism to modern ears:


The things that make an institution into an institution are despised, hated, rejected: people think that they are in danger of a new sort of slavery when the word 'authority' is so much as spoken out loud. The value-instincts of our politicians, our political parties, are so decadent that they instinctively prefer things that disintegrate, that accelerate the end ... Witness modern marriage. It is clear that modern marriage is completely irrational: but this is an objection to modernity, not to marriage. The rationality of marriage lay in the fact that the husband has sole juridical responsibility: this gave marriage a centre [sic] of balance, while today it limps on both legs. The rationality of marriage lay in its principled indissolubility, which gave it an accent that knew how to be heard above the accidents of feeling, passion, and the distractions of the moment. The rationality also lay in the family's responsibility for choosing the spouse. With the growing indulgence of love matches, the whole basis of marriage has been eliminated, the very thing that made it an institution in the first place. You never, ever base an institution on an idiosyncrasy, and, as I have said, you do not base marriage on 'love',—you base it on the sex drive; on the drive for property (woman and child as property); on the drive to dominate that keeps organizing the family (the smallest unit of domination), that needs children and heirs in order to maintain (even physiologically) the measure of power, influence, and wealth that has been achieved, in order to prepare for long tasks, for a solidarity of instincts between the centuries. Marriage as an institution already affirms the greatest, most enduring form of organization: when society cannot work as a whole to extend an affirmation to the most distant generations, marriage has stopped making sense.—Modern marriage has lost its meaning,—consequently, it is being abolished.


Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, in The Anti-Christ, Ecee Homo, Twilight of the Idols and Other Writings, ed. by Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman, trans. by Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 215.

Alasdair MacIntyre on the Fiction of Human Rights

[81] I take it that both the utilitarianism of the middle and late nineteenth century and the analytical moral philosophy of the middle and late twentieth century are alike unsuccessful attempts to rescue the autonomous moral agent from the predicament in which the failure of the Enlightenment project of providing him with a secular, [82] rational justification for his moral allegiances had left him. I have already characterized that predicament as one in which the price paid for liberation from what appeared to be the external authority of traditional morality was the loss of any authoritative content from the would-be moral utterances of the newly autonomous agent. Each moral agent now spoke unconstrained by the externalities of divine law, natural teleology or hierarchical authority; but why should anyone else now listen to him? It was and is to this question that both utilitarianism and analytical moral philosophy must be understood as attempting to give cogent answers; and if my argument is correct, it is precisely this question which both fail to answer cogently. Nonetheless almost everyone, philosopher and non-philosopher alike, continues to speak and write as if one of these projects had succeeded. And hence derives one of the features of contemporary moral discourse which I noticed at the outset, the gap between the meaning of moral expressions and the ways in which they are put to use. For the meaning is and remains such as would have been warranted only if at least one of the philosophical projects had been successful; but the use, the emotivist use, is precisely what one would expect if the philosophical projects had all failed.

Contemporary moral experience as a consequence has a paradoxical character. For each of us is taught to see himself or herself as an autonomous moral agent; but each of us also becomes engaged by modes of practice, aesthetic or bureaucratic, which involve us in manipulative relationships with others. Seeking to protect the autonomy that we have learned to prize, we aspire ourselves not to be manipulated by others; seeking to incarnate our own principles and stand-point in the world of practice, we find no way open to us to do so except by directing towards others those very manipulative modes of relationship which each of us aspires to resist in our own case. The incoherence of our attitudes and our experience arises from the incoherent conceptual scheme which we have inherited.

Once we have understood this it is possible to understand also the key place that three other concepts have in the distinctively modern moral scheme, that of rights, that of protest, and that of unmasking. By 'rights' I do not mean those rights conferred by positive law or custom on specified classes of persons; I mean those rights which are alleged to belong to human beings as such and which are cited as a person for holding that people ought not to be interfered with in their pursuit [83] of life, liberty and happiness. They are the rights which were spoken of in the eighteenth century as natural rights or as the rights of man. Characteristically in that century they were defined negatively, precisely as rights not to be interfered with. But sometimes in that century and much more often in our own positive rights—rights to due process, to education or to employment are examples—are added to the list. The expression 'human rights' is now commoner than either of the eighteenth-century expressions. But whether negative or positive and however named they are supposed to attach equally to all individuals, whatever their sex, race, religion, talents or deserts, and to provide a ground for a variety of particular moral stances.

It would of course be a little odd that there should be such rights attaching to human beings simply qua human beings in light of the fact, which I alluded to in my discussion of Gewirth's argument, that there is no expression in any ancient or medieval language correctly translated by our expression 'a right' until near the close of the middle ages: the concept lacks any means of expression in Hebrew, Greek, Latin or Arabic, classical or medieval, before about 1400, let alone in Old English, or in Japanese even as late as the mid-nineteenth century. From this it does not of course follow that there are no natural or human rights; it only follows that no one could have known that there were. And this at least raises certain questions. But we do not need to be distracted into answering them, for the truth is plain: there are no such rights, and belief in them is one with belief in witches and unicorns.

The best reason for asserting so bluntly that there are no such rights is indeed of precisely the same type as the best reason which we possess for asserting that there are no witches and the best reason which we possess for asserting that there are no unicorns: every attempt to give good reasons for believing that there are such rights has failed. [There is also a connection here to that form of relative being within the realm of ens rationis, crucial to the possibility of confusing reality with fiction and vice versa, but MacIntyre doesn't bring this up.] The eighteenth-century philosophical defenders of natural rights sometimes suggest that the assertions which state that men possess them are self-evident truths; but we know that there are no self-evident truths. Twentieth-century moral philosophers have sometimes appealed to their and our intuitions; but one of the things that we ought to have learned from the history of moral philosophy is that the introduction of the word 'intuition' by a moral philosopher is always a signal that something has gone badly wrong with an argument. In the United Nations declaration on human rights of 1949 what has since become [84] the normal UN practice of not giving good reasons for any assertions whatsoever is followed with great rigor. And the latest defender of such rights, Ronald Dworkin (Taking Rights Seriously, 1976) concedes that the existence of such rights cannot be demonstrated, but remarks on this point simply that it does not follow from the fact that a statement cannot be demonstrated that it is not true (p. 81). Which is true, but could equally be used to defend claims about unicorns and witches.

Natural or human rights then are fictions—just as is utility—but fictions with highly specific properties.


Source: Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic, 2007), 81–84.

Dr. Rudi te Velde on the Concept of God

There is something in Thomas' conception of God as ipsum esse per se subsistens that does not fit very well into the picture of 'classical theism.' Classical theism, as it is usually understood, tends to view God as an absolute entity existing independently of the world. The theistic God looks more like a being, a 'self-contained substance' above and apart from the world, than the pure actuality of subsistent being itself. From Thomas' perspective, this would mean that the independence of God, as over against the world of finite beings, is conceived wrongly. It is as if the character of subsistence, attributed to a theistically conceived God, is a logical expression by means of which we think of God as separated from the world, as a distinct reality, while Thomas intends to express by subsistence that the being of God is separated through itself from all other beings. The difference is crucial. For Thomas, God is not 'separated' from the world as a subsistent entity conceivable apart from his causal relationship to created beings; it is as cause of all beings that God 'separates' himself from all his effects by distinguishing those effects from himself. In this sense the 'concept' of God is, in truth, the concept of the relationship of God and world, conceived as an ordered plurality of diverse beings, each of which receives its being from the divine source of being. For Thomas there is no way of thinking of God concretely outside this relationship. The independence, or absoluteness, of God characterizes the way He relates as cause to all other things; it is the independence of the perfect goodness of God, who is not under any obligation or necessity to fulfill himself by creating, but who acts out his own goodness, establishing all other things in being by letting them share in his own perfection.


Source: Rudi te Velde, Aquinas on God: The "Divine Science" of the Summa "Theologiæ" (Hants, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006), 85.

Repost: Is Organic Liturgical Growth Still Possible?

It's worth considering that organic growth might no longer be possible in an age of mass media, instant communication, and bureaucratic centralization. As far as I can tell, neither conservatives nor liberals are all that interested in returning to organic growth or to liturgy as a mystery. Both sides accept bureaucratic control and a technological view of liturgy; the argument is just about which side will be in control.


Source: Crusading Philologist, August 09, 2014 (5:58 p.m.), comment on Geremia, "The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development by Jungmann," Fish Eaters Traditional Catholic Forum, August 6, 2014,

Repost: The Trouble with Endless "Discussion"

The trouble with thinking that truth will always win out in open discussion, in my view, is that people in general are not particularly interested in truth. More than that, though, there is no such thing as a universal reason accessible to all human beings. What is rational is so only in a particular time and place and according to criteria that emerge from that context. When modern people fail to be convinced by natural law arguments, this is not because they are irrational or whatever. Rather, it is simply because all of the assumptions that underlie natural law theory make no sense to the modern mind. One might as well argue in favor of some position by referring to the principles of alchemy.

This is part of the reason why the occasional staged argument between Christians and liberals always end with the audience even more firmly on the side of the liberals. Liberals can appeal to the intuitive "common sense" of ordinary people, and they can also appeal to their emotions in ways that Christians cannot. Instead, Christians have to either attempt to justify their positions in liberal terms, which is a pointless endeavor, or waste time describing the alternate paradigm in which their views make sense, but even then, very few Christian apologists are any good at making a case for why this paradigm is superior to the liberal one.

Of course, this is so because, deep down, most Christians don't really believe their own thing anymore. And, even to the extent that they do, most of them still think of their own position in terms completely determined by the modern paradigm. Consider that traditional Catholics now like to pontificate about the naturalness and goodness of homosexuality and the base and disgusting nature of "homophobia." This is a pure transvaluation of values being accepted uncritically by Christianity. However, even Christians who do not go in for this sort of thing are still determined in their beliefs by the modern paradigm, much in the same way that the Romantic revolt against soulless modern technology in the name of pure nature was itself determined completely by modern categories.

So, I do not think open debate will solve much in this situation. As Ernst Juenger says, "A sound opinion finds many advocates, but no martyrs." Or, as Bl. John Henry Newman put it, "Many a man will live and die upon a dogma: no man will be a martyr for a conclusion." The early Church preached Christ crucified, it did not engage in endless, anemic "discussion." We know what the outcome of that strategy was, and we know what the outcome of ours has been.


Source: Crusading Philologist, October 21, 2014 (6:45 p.m.), comment on Vox Clamantis, "The War's Not Over -- Oh Boy!," Fish Eaters Traditional Catholic Forum, October 20, 2014,

Repost: The Link between Politics and Religion in Pre-Modern Christian Communities

In Christian societies of the past, rulers recognized one or another form of Christianity as true in their capacity as representatives of the public reason. A community, if it is to be a community at all, must have some shared values and final commitments, which will always be in some sense theological and mythological, and it only makes sense that the political organization of the community will act on and defend these values and commitments. [... This] is still true today, but we now believe in liberalism and individual autonomy rather than Christianity. With all of this in mind, I think we need to understand that a heresy like, say, Catharism was not simply a matter of private opinion, but was instead a real challenge to the legitimacy of both the religious and political structures of the community and would have sought to establish a new state of affairs in which its own assumptions were normative. In this situation, it is obvious that rulers have a legitimate interest in defending orthodoxy.

So, contrary to the imaginings of some [...], the past was not some age of perpetual night in which sinister inquisitors went around gleefully condemning miserable peasants to be burnt at the stake for their ignorance of some recondite point of doctrine. It is also obvious that most Christian societies in the past were not fascist, though obviously this assumes that "fascist" is being used here as anything more than a meaningless smear, and that people were not one poorly worded statement away from being burnt for heresy.

In fact, if one looks at how Catholic rulers who had to deal with significant numbers of both non-Christians and non-Catholics dealt with these issues, I think one will find many examples of a fair degree of tolerance. For instance, Muslims and Orthodox Christians were treated very well under the Norman rulers of Sicily, and even in the Frankish Levant, Catholic rulers gradually became relatively tolerant and flexible. According to the twelfth-century Syriac Patriarch of Antioch Michael the Great, "although the Franks were in accord with the Greeks concerning the duality of Christ's nature . . . they never sought a single formula for all the Christian people and languages ["Christian people and languages" is in itself a pretty interesting formulation, by the way], but they considered as Christian anyone who worshipped the cross without investigation or examination." Over time, Catholics in the Levant in some cases worshipped together with local Christians or came together with them in devotion to the same saints. Since the local Christian communities, even if heretical from a Catholic perspective, did not represent an inherent threat to the religious and political orders established by the crusaders, they were given a fair degree of toleration and in some cases could do quite well in the new order.

Anyway, all of this is simply to say that I think some [people] are improperly universalizing a thoroughly modern dichotomy of public and private spheres and that this is why they are having such a difficult time understanding Christian societies of the past without caricaturing them. When fulfilling his role properly, a Catholic ruler was not just going around having people burnt for "private" opinions, but was defending the religious and political order of the community from movements that challenged both, as the two were not clearly distinguished. Eventually, religion would, at least nominally, be neutralized as a realm of political struggle while other realms would come to the fore as arenas for conflict, but I don't really see how this represents anything like moral progress. Of course, this isn't to say that heretics in the past were always treated justly or that one must support the death penalty for heretics, which would obviously lack any real meaning in modern society, but I think we should at least try to understand why Christians in the past thought and acted in the way they did without resorting to a lazy narrative of progress.


Source: Crusading Philologist, October 25, 2014 (09:51 p.m.), comment on Melkite, "Is It the Will of the Holy Spirit that Heretics Should Be Burned?," Fish Eaters Traditional Catholic Forum, October 22, 2014,

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Distinction: Cynicism vs. Wisdom

Cynicism is not the same as wisdom.

Both come about from experience, but cynicism is precisely the result of one who has been disillusioned by their experiences, usually of selfishness and evil. Because of this conditioning, the cynic views all activity or tends to reduce all activity to this core motive of selfishness. Wisdom is never disillusioned because it is never surprised. Usually disillusionment carries with it resentment because the cynic feels compelled to give up his original ideals. Wisdom, on the other hand, sees all things move according to their limitations and must be guided by higher actualities and that resentment stems from selfishness itself. Honesty is a cure for resentment.

Wisdom is the intuitive grasp and unity of higher principles and their relation to particulars. It comes about from experience as well but never loses sight of the final goal, which is fundamentally (or ontologically) good because a being is positive in nature rather than negative (a being is rather than is not although there are respects in which a being is not, but these result from the semiosic process and a metaphysical analysis of potentiality, for example).

Hence, wisdom acknowledges the existence of selfishness but is not disturbed by such nor does it reduce all activity to such a principle because it maintains its firm grasp on the actual complexity of particular behaviors, and the unity it brings does not fluster it precisely because peace and unity coincide.

Wisdom is the source of all compassion because wisdom sees the current state of abjection, the final goal to attain, the means to attain it, the current lack, etc. Wisdom also brings love because all being is united by love insofar as all being is created by the Divine Love and held together in relations of mutual fecundation.

Hence, the moment a cynic expresses compassion, the cynic in that moment absolutely ceases to be a cynic, for in cynicism itself, there is no room for compassion, only despair. Despair because it forgets the ideal and the means to achieve the ideal.

Garrigou-Lagrange on Evolution and Inequality in Creatures

This problem of the origin of multitude, discussed by Plato in the dialogue entitled Parmenides, reappears in modern evolution in the following form: How did the distinction of things, mineral, vegetative, animal, and human, arise from the primitive, homogeneous being? How did vegetative life, sensation, and intellection arise? The evolutionists try to conceal the difficulty by saying that the distinction of things appeared only slowly and progressively. But metaphysically speaking it makes little difference whether these distinctions appeared slowly or suddenly, whether they appeared only after a thousand years, or six days, or suddenly. This question of time, as also with regard to creation, is of minor consequence. The important question, abstracting from time, is how a multitude can originate from the primitive unity. This question is similar to that other important question asked in the next article: If God is infinitely good and the cause of all things, what is the cause of evil?

Reply. St. Thomas shows that this problem of the origin of the multitude of things is insoluble without the idea of free creation. His reply is that the distinction of things and multitude are from the intention of the first agent, who is God.

Proof from authority. "In the beginning God created heaven and earth. . . . And He divided the light from the darkness. . . . And God made a firmament, and divided the waters that were under the firmament, from those that were above the firmament." This is a popular expression of the truth, accommodated to the intelligence of the Israelites, who thought of the heavens as a solid firmament. But when it is revealed that the heavens (which you think of as a solid firmament) are created by God, it is not revealed that the heavens are a solid firmament, for in the revealed proposition the verb "is" refers to "created" (the heavens are created) and not to "solid." Hence it may be that some error is mingled in the subject of the proposition without making the proposition erroneous in its formal meaning, that is, with regard to the verb "is" and those things to which "is" refers. On other occasions it is more clearly stated that God created visible and invisible beings and that God "ordered all things in measure and number and weight."

In the body of the article St. Thomas presents and then refutes two theories: the ascending evolution of the materialists and the descending evolution of Avicenna.

The theory of the ancient materialists was that the distinction of things arises by chance according to the movement of matter. This opinion was held by Democritus and later by Epicurus. Modern materialists with their theory of evolution were unable to add anything to this ancient theory; they were unable to explain how the first nebulae, the incandescendent stars, the habitable earth could come from primitive homogeneous matter except by chance or by the activity of some unknown forces, and the appearance of vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual life remained for them an insoluble enigma. They would be forced to admit that more proceeds from less and that the perfect proceeds from the imperfect, and they find themselves at a loss how to explain the multitude and diversity of organisms except by chance. But to say that these things are by chance is no explanation, but rather an absence of explanation, for chance is a cause <per accidens> which presupposes a cause ordered <per se> to one effect, and if there is no cause <per se> there can be no cause <per accidens>. A man digging a grave could not accidentally find a treasure if he were not <per se> digging in the earth and if some one else had not buried the treasure.

St. Thomas points out that Anaxagoras approached a solution of this problem when he admitted an intelligent cause that orders the universe, but at the same time Anaxagoras thought that a distinction pre-existed in eternal matter, that is in the homeomeriae.

Reply. In his reply to the materialists St. Thomas presents two arguments which apply equally to the ascending evolutionism of modern materialists.

1. If there is any distinction from matter, this distinction should be referred to some higher cause. Why? Because matter is created by God, as we have said above, for matter is not a being in itself. Matter is moved and perfected and therefore it is moved and perfected by another; matter does not move or perfect itself, it does not confer on itself vegetative, sensitive, or intellectual life; it is not its own action or its own being. Matter is always in potency to other determinations and it is not related to being, the ultimate actuality of all things, as A is to a. This argument also applies to Plato's dualism.

2. Matter is because of the form, and the form is not because of the matter. But the distinction of things takes place through the specific forms. Therefore the distinction is not on account of matter but conversely matter is on account of the distinction of things. Matter is the principle of individuation and is ordered to the multitude of species.

This second argument applies also to evolutionism, for there can be no evolution with a tendency to something definite and congruous without some finality. Otherwise the direction of such a tendency would be without any reason, and no tendency would ever attain to the constitution of any of our organs, the heart, the head, the eye, etc. John of St. Thomas restates these two arguments against materialism as follows:

1. Act is simply prior to potency, and therefore matter, which is the potency to a higher act, is not uncreated, nor is it therefore the first cause for the distinction of things, for example, the distinctions of vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual life, which matter cannot produce because it is inferior to them. Matter is merely the real capacity for receiving a perfection.

2. Potency is referred to act and is because of act, or matter is because of the form and on account of the diverse forms, and therefore it is not the cause of the specific distinction of the forms. Matter is because of the distinction of these forms.

The first conclusion therefore is that the specific distinction of things cannot be explained by a material cause.

2. The second theory refuted by St. Thomas might be called descending evolutionism. It calls to mind Plotinus' emanatism. This second theory was advanced by Avicenna, who tried to explain the specific distinction of things by efficient causes. Avicenna declared that God in understanding Himself produced the first intelligence (Plotinus' <logos>, the second <<hypostasis>>); then, when the first intelligence understood itself, it produced the soul of the world (Plotinus' third <<hypostasis>>, the god of the Stoics).

Modern pantheists, who support a descending evolution rather than an ascending evolution, try to explain the distinction of things in almost the same way. Spinoza tried to derive two infinite attributes from the divine substance: cogitation and infinite extension, besides the finite modes of cogitation and extension. But because he rejected free creation he was unable to derive the finite modes from an infinite substance, and therefore he simply stated without proof that these finite modes come into being successively from eternity in some necessary way.

In trying to explain the distinction of things Schelling began with the Absolute, but because he rejected the revealed truth of free creation he spoke of a fall of the Absolute by which the Absolute became the world in some kind of descent. Hegel, who supported an ascending evolution, ridiculed Schelling's dream of the fall of the Absolute, but Hegel's position is no less ridiculous, for according to Hegel God is becoming in the world but He does not yet exist and will never properly be, as Renan said.

Reply. To this second theory of the emanatists, St. Thomas replied that creation belongs to God alone and the total being of anything cannot be produced except by creation from nothing, and creation is not emanation, for in creation God is the sole efficient and final cause, but in no sense the material cause. Hence God does not become the world nor is the world made from God. Avicenna's second <hypostasis>, therefore, if it is created, cannot create a third, and the third cannot create something inferior to itself.

Furthermore, St. Thomas replies, according to Avicenna the totality and distinction of things would not derive from the intention of the first agent but from a concourse of many active causes. This concourse of causes, however, must come about by chance if it does not come from the intention of the first cause. But chance, since it is a cause <per accidens>, presupposes a cause ordered <per se> to its effect and therefore it cannot be the first cause of the specific distinction of things. Manifestly the distinction between vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual life in the world does not come from chance. In other words, there would be no finality in the world, and natural agents would tend to something determined and fitting without any reason, the order in things would be derived from an absence of order, more would come from the less, and the more perfect would come from the imperfect. Nor can it be said that the distinction in things comes from the form of secondary causes, for these forms do not exist of themselves and they themselves are distinct from one another and thus their own distinction must be explained.

Nor can it be said that the cause of the distinction in things is God inasmuch as He operates by a necessity of His nature. This argument was answered in the reply to the first difficulty and was refuted above: "It is of the nature of a natural agent that it produces one effect, because a nature (determined to one thing) operates in one and the same way unless it is impeded (for example, the vital principle in a plant operates in the same way in the same circumstances). This is because a natural agent acts according to its specific being, and as long as it is such a being it acts only in this one way. Since the divine being is infinite. . ., it cannot be that it acts by a necessity of nature unless it were to cause something infinite in being, which is impossible. The divine being, therefore, does not act by a necessity of nature, but the effects determined by its infinite perfection proceed according to the determination of its will and intellect."

The second conclusion, therefore, is that the distinction of things does not come from God as acting by a necessity of nature.

Until this point St. Thomas has not considered the opinion that the distinction of things comes from God as operating by a necessity of wisdom, an opinion espoused by the absolute optimism of Plato and by Leibnitz in modern times. Here is an attempt to explain the distinction of things, which is assumed to be necessary, by a final cause. In this instance the necessity of the distinction of things is not metaphysical or physical but moral. St. Thomas says: "Plato supposed that it was due to the goodness of God as understood and loved by God Himself that He should produce the most perfect of worlds. This could, of course, be true if we consider only those things that are and not those things that could be. This universe is the best of those that are, and the fact that it is the best is due to the goodness of God. But the goodness of God is not obligated to this universe in such a way that God could not make a better or worse universe." "Whenever the end is proportionate to the things that are made on account of that end, the wisdom of the maker is limited to some determined order. But the divine goodness is an end disproportionately exceeding created things. Therefore the divine wisdom is not determined to some order of things."

The third conclusion, therefore, is that the distinction of things does not come from God operating by a necessity of wisdom.

By eliminating the material cause, natural efficient causes, and the final cause that implies the necessity of the production of things, we come to the positive conclusion: the distinction of things arises from the free intention of God the Creator.

The proof may be somewhat easier if we join this last section of the article with the reply to the first difficulty, in which the divine liberty is affirmed.

A free agent can produce distinct effects according to whatever distinct forms he understands. But God, as a free agent, wished to manifest His goodness through diverse creatures. Therefore the distinction of things is explained by the intention of God the free Creator. and this distinction can have no other cause.

Explanation of the major. An agent that acts by its nature acts by the form by which it is, and this form is only one for each agent. Therefore such an agent acts only in one way. A free agent, however, acts according to a form received in the intellect.

Explanation of the minor. God is a voluntary and free agent. It does not conflict with God's unity and simplicity that He understands many things, for the multitude of things understood by God do not effect a real distinction in Him. Since God can understand many things, He can also make many things.

God, however, wished freely to manifest His goodness by diverse creatures. Why? St. Thomas explains in the last section: "Because by one creature the divine goodness cannot be adequately represented, God made many different things so that whatever is lacking in one to represent the divine goodness will be supplied by another."

The validity of this solution. This solution is of faith. From the philosophical viewpoint it is necessary, for the ascending evolution of the materialists and even of Hegel is repugnant both to the principle of causality (more cannot be produced by the less) and to the principle of finality (every agent acts according to the end to which it is ordered) and, moreover, ascending evolution does not explain the distinction of things. Similarly, descending evolution fails to explain the distinction of things for, if God operates by a necessity of nature, He will necessarily produce only one effect.

Similarly the absolute optimism of Plato and Leibnitz does not take into account the disproportion between any created universe and the divine goodness, which is to be manifested. We must, therefore, have recourse to the liberty of God the Creator, or we must, with Parmenides, deny all multitude and all distinction in things. In the end the solution is that the most eminent unity of God virtually contains the infinite multitude of possible things, from which God freely chose the things He wished to create.

The higher unity differs from the lower unity in the fact that it virtually contains the multitude; the higher the unity the richer its content, for, as Dionysius said, "those things that are divided in inferior beings are united in the higher beings." This is especially clear when we ascend from one order to another; the vital principle of the plant virtually contains all the acts of agents lower than itself. Similarly, the faculty of vision, which in itself is simple, extends itself to a spreading panorama; the central sense in the common sense unites the objects of the particular senses; the intellect knows the universal, which virtually contains the individual. Great musicians, like Mozart, hear the melody they are composing completely at one time and they often express the whole theme virtually in the prelude of the composition. Great philosophers reduce the whole of philosophy to a few sublime principles. When the saints arrive at the unitive way they unite in this unity various virtues. In a still higher plane, the unity and simplicity of God virtually contain the infinite multitude of possible beings, and from this multitude God chooses those that He wishes to create. By the divine liberty, then, we are able to solve the problem of how a multitude proceeds from the supreme and most simple principle. Plato and Aristotle were not able to offer a solution because they had not attained to the idea of free creation.

Second Article: Whether The Inequality Of Things Is From God

State of the question. Many men cannot understand how the inequality in things can come from God. The Manichaeans tried to explain this inequality by two, opposite principles, and Origen, trying to rectify their error, explained that in the beginning God created only intellectual beings and that all these beings were equal. Some of these sinned and as a punishment they were united to bodies. In modern times some thinkers have declared that that great inequality among animals, whereby the strong devour the weak, cannot come from God. They ask why there should be such a great inequality in the intellectual and moral aptitudes of men. This is the language of egalitarianism. As we shall see in the body of the article, it is a materialistic theory that does not take into account the subordination of the forms of agents and ends.

These unfortunate inequalities, says Schopenhauer, cannot come from a good and omnipotent God, and he concludes that God is not omnipotent and that the principle of all things is some kind of will that is always trying to persevere in being. This attempt is always associated with sorrow and is like an insatiable thirst. Therefore in his pessimism he concluded, that this desire for life must be eradicated so that we may come to that negative bliss which is the ending of all sorrow.

Schopenhauer's difficulties can be reduced to the difficulties proposed at the beginning of the present article: the best God should have made the best things, and therefore all equal, otherwise, according to the third objection, it would be an injustice for God to distribute His gifts unequally to creatures.

Reply. The reply is that the divine wisdom is the cause of the distinction of things for the sake of the perfection of the universe, and therefore the divine wisdom is also the cause of inequality.

1. Proof from authority. "Why doth one day excel another, and one light another, and one year another year, when all come of the Lord? By the knowledge of the Lord they were distinguished." In the canticle, "All ye works of the Lord, bless the Lord," we see the inequality of creatures, each of which in its own way praises the Lord. The description of the creation in the Book of Genesis shows the inequality of creatures, and the Fourth Council of the Lateran declared that "God at one time and in the beginning of time established both creatures, the spiritual and corporeal, and then the human creature, as it were a common being constituted by spirit and body."

2. Proof from reason: a) by the refutation of Origen's theory; b) positively.

a) In opposing the Manichaeans, Origen declared that God in the beginning had created spiritual beings, who were all equal. Those that sinned were bound to bodies, and the greater the sin the closer the union with matter. Some of these beings did not sin, and these now constitute the different grades of angels according to their different merits. In this way Origen combined the doctrine of original sin with the Platonic myths about the pre-existence of souls.

St. Thomas replies: "The totality of corporeal beings would then not be because of the communication of God's goodness to creatures but for the punishment of sin. But this is contrary to the words of Genesis, "And God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good." St. Augustine exclaims: "What could be more stupid than to say that by this sun, as there is but one in the world, God was concerned not with the splendor of beauty or the welfare of corporeal things, but that this sun came to be because one soul sinned?"

What could be more stupid than to say that the stars are in the sky, that the pure air exists, that the rose, the lily, the dove, the lamb were made because someone sinned? St. Augustine is speaking formally when he says, "what could be more stupid," for it is stupidity, opposed to the wisdom which explains the beauty of even the sensible world as a manifestation of God's goodness, while this theory explains all this by sin, not by the highest cause but by something that is less than nothing. Schopenhauer's doctrine is even greater folly when he speaks of a fall of the Absolute or of God. He tries to explain the inequalities and sorrows of the world by a primitive, non-omnipotent, or rather impotent will. The first cause is subsisting being itself and therefore omnipotent, because operation follows being, and anything that is able to possess the nature of being is comprised in the object of divine power, which can effect anything that has no repugnance to being.

b) The positive proof is from the principle of finality, out of which is drawn the corollary of the principle of the subordination of ends, forms, and agents, against materialistic egalitarianism. Leibnitz adopted St. Thomas' argument but exaggerated it, as we shall see. St. Thomas' argument can be reduced to the following: The specific or formal distinction is more important than the material or numerical distinction, because matter is on account of the form and the individuals in any species of corruptible beings are for the conservation of the species. But the formal distinction always requires inequality, since the forms of things are subordinate like numbers, ascending from the elements to mixed beings, to plants, and to animals, and in each instance one species is found more perfect than the others, for example, the diamond or radium among minerals, the rose among the flowers, and man among the animals. Therefore the inequality of beings is required for the perfection of the universe so that in different ways the wisdom of God might make known His goodness.

The major is evident, since matter is because of the form, according to the principle of finality that the imperfect is on account of the perfect. In the same way the many individuals of the same species of corruptible being are for the conservation of the species. Excluding the subsisting spiritual soul, individuals are ordered to the preservation of the species. Thus individuals pass away but the species remains; it is negatively eternal in the sense that it prescinds from the here and now, and thus it is somehow above time, representing the divine idea, the idea of rose, of lily, of lion, etc. Therefore, St. Thomas says, the hen gathers the chicks under her wing and defends them against the hawk because the hen naturally loves the good of its species more than its own good.

The major therefore is certain, namely, the formal or specific distinction is more important than the material or numerical distinction; any material individual of this or that species is of minor importance. This, however, is not true of a person, because the soul of the person is subsisting and immortal and thus is of greater value than the species of lion or horse.

The minor. But the formal distinction requires the inequality or subordination of forms. This is affirmed with a serene mind and not lugubriously as was the case with Origen. On this point St. Thomas differs entirely from the pessimism of Schopenhauer. But it should be noted that the holy doctor is speaking here of the primary distinction and inequality existing prior to sin; he is not now speaking of how after original and actual sin this inequality is often increased and causes that miserable state of servitude in which so many men spent their entire lives before the spread of Christianity.

The primary inequality of things pertains to their natures independently of sin, for, as Aristotle says, "the species of things are subordinate like numbers." For numbers vary by the addition or subtraction of unity and the species of things differ by the addition or subtraction of a specific difference. For example, a substance is incorporeal or corporeal, and here there is inequality; similarly, the corporeal substance is living or inanimate; if living, it is sensitive or not; if sensitive, it is rational or not. Everywhere we find the inequality and subordination of forms as with numbers.

Hence St. Thomas says, "In each of these we find one species more perfect than the others," for example, man among the animals, and the animals that have both internal and external senses are superior to the animals that do not possess all the senses, as the oyster and the sponge, which appear to have only the sense of touch. So there is also a certain subordination among plants and flowers and among minerals; the diamond, or perhaps radium, seems to be the most precious of minerals.

These considerations are valid against materialism and mechanism, which take into consideration only quantity and not quality. If quality is something prior to quantity, the variation of heat from the tenth to the twentieth degree is perhaps greater than between the twentieth and thirtieth degrees. Materialism looks at everything as if it were in the same horizontal plane, as if, for instance, animals were machines and as if the human soul were not essentially superior to the soul of the brute. This is absolute egalitarianism, which reduces everything to the lowest plane.

Spiritualism, on the other hand, considers everything as in a vertical line, inasmuch as the species of things are subordinated in a hierarchy for the splendor of the universe, because those things that are united in God can be only divisively in creatures and because the formal distinction requires inequality. Many modern writers do not understand this subordination, confusing it with coordination, for example, when they compare the first cause and the second cause with two men rowing a boat.

The conclusion is confirmed by the solution of the objections.

Reply to first objection. The most perfect agent produces his perfect total effect, but he produces it with a subordination of parts, for example, with the subordination of organs and functions in the plant and animal organisms. The animal would be less perfect if all its parts were equal, if all, for instance, had the dignity or importance of the eye.

Thus the universe is more perfect with angels, men, animals, plants, minerals than if there were only angels and all the angels were equal. Here was Origen's error. According to St. Thomas the angels could not be equal, for in the angels there is a particular subordination of forms since the angels are pure subsisting forms. Since individuation takes place through matter, there can be only one individual in each angelic species. Michael is the only individual in his species. Hence among the angels we have a perfect hierarchy or subordination.

Reply to second objection. In the Blessed Trinity there is equality according to the processions <ad intra> by which the entire divine nature is communicated. The Word and the Holy Ghost are equal to the Father. On the other hand there must be inequality in the procession <ad extra> because the creature is an inadequate manifestation of the divine goodness and many subordinate creatures are required.

Reply to third objection. The primitive inequality is not unjust since it is because of the perfection of the universe. This Origen was not able to understand.

Thus some are born inclined to fortitude and must acquire meekness, others inclined to meekness must acquire fortitude. Each must ascend the mountain of perfection by traversing the various parts of the mountain. The justice of God is not commutative, regulating the changes among equals, but it is distributive according to the requirements of the common good. God is His own law. Cajetan remarks: "Therefore God is just in condescension in order to manifest His goodness."

Leibnitz exaggerated this doctrine of inequality when he denied matter in his monadology and reduced all substance to spiritual monads which are subordinated as are the angels in St. Thomas' doctrine. Leibnitz held that there could not be in the world two beings absolutely similar because God would have created these perfectly similar beings without reason, just as a man would have two perfectly similar copies of the same edition of Virgil in his library without reason.

Reply. Two perfectly similar individuals can exist, especially in succession, for the preservation of the species and they are distinguished from each other by matter marked by quantity, as in the case of two drops of water or two perfectly identical twins. We concede only that there cannot be two angels perfectly similar in species, and this would also be true of men if they were monads without matter.

St. Thomas does admit a certain individual inequality of souls in the same human species: the soul of Christ is higher even in the natural order than the soul of Judas, but this inequality is not unrelated to the body, although on the other hand a body is better disposed because of a higher individual soul, since causes are mutually causes to each other in different genera of causes.


Source: Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Trinity and God the Creator, EWTN,, ch. 21, articles 1–2.

St. Thomas Aquinas and Jacques Lacan on Desire and Sin

It seems that Lacan is saying in psychoanalytical language precisely what Aquinas showed was the source of sin: an apparent good that isn't truly in accord with reason. When we see things under right reason, we look at them, in Lacan's terms, straight on, directly, for what they really are. An object becomes desirable when seen "anamorphically," distorted by a subtle projection of our subjectivity into the object, a mistake in the intellect's judgment; this is the subtle relation between beings in nature (substances) and beings of reason, as Aquinas puts it, and their very close intermingling in concrete experience; the separation of the two requires a lot of reflexivity usually. It would be interesting to see a semiotic synthesis between these two thinkers because the experience is clearly rooted in the semiosic process.

First, St. Thomas, then Lacan as interpreted by Zizek.


Objection 1. It would seem that the will is not of good only. For the same power regards opposites; for instance, sight regards white and black. But good and evil are opposites. Therefore the will is not only of good, but also of evil.

Objection 2. Further, rational powers can be directed to opposite purposes, according to the Philosopher (Metaph. ix, 2). But the will is a rational power, since it is "in the reason," as is stated in De Anima iii, 9. Therefore the will can be directed to opposites; and consequently its volition is not confined to good, but extends to evil.

Objection 3. Further, good and being are convertible. But volition is directed not only to beings, but also to non-beings. For sometimes we wish "not to walk," or "not to speak"; and again at times we wish for future things, which are not actual beings. Therefore the will is not of good only.

On the contrary, Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) that "evil is outside the scope of the will," and that "all things desire good."

I answer that, The will is a rational appetite. Now every appetite is only of something good. The reason of this is that the appetite is nothing else than an inclination of a person desirous of a thing towards that thing. Now every inclination is to something like and suitable to the thing inclined. Since, therefore, everything, inasmuch as it is being and substance, is a good, it must needs be that every inclination is to something good. And hence it is that the Philosopher says (Ethic. i, 1) that "the good is that which all desire."

But it must be noted that, since every inclination results from a form, the natural appetite results from a form existing in the nature of things: while the sensitive appetite, as also the intellective or rational appetite, which we call the will, follows from an apprehended form. Therefore, just as the natural appetite tends to good existing in a thing; so the animal or voluntary appetite tends to a good which is apprehended. Consequently, in order that the will tend to anything, it is requisite, not that this be good in very truth, but that it be apprehended as good. Wherefore the Philosopher says (Phys. ii, 3) that "the end is a good, or an apparent good."

Reply to Objection 1. The same power regards opposites, but it is not referred to them in the same way. Accordingly, the will is referred both to good and evil: but to good by desiring it: to evil, by shunning it. Wherefore the actual desire of good is called "volition" [In Latin, 'voluntas'. To avoid confusion with "voluntas" (the will) St. Thomas adds a word of explanation, which in the translation may appear superfluous], meaning thereby the act of the will; for it is in this sense that we are now speaking of the will. On the other hand, the shunning of evil is better described as "nolition": wherefore, just as volition is of good, so nolition is of evil.

Reply to Objection 2. A rational power is not to be directed to all opposite purposes, but to those which are contained under its proper object; for no power seeks other than its proper object. Now, the object of the will is good. Wherefore the will can be directed to such opposite purposes as are contained under good, such as to be moved or to be at rest, to speak or to be silent, and such like: for the will can be directed to either under the aspect of good.

Reply to Objection 3. That which is not a being in nature, is considered as a being in the reason, wherefore negations and privations are said to be "beings of reason." In this way, too, future things, in so far as they are apprehended, are beings. Accordingly, in so far as such like are beings, they are apprehended under the aspect of good; and it is thus that the will is directed to them. Wherefore the Philosopher says (Ethic. v, 1) that "to lack evil is considered as a good."


Source: St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, 1a2æ.8.1,


[392] [T]he Lacanian objet a whose status is that of an anamorphosis: a part of a picture which, when the picture is viewed in a direct frontal way, appears as a meaningless stain, but which acquires the contours of a known object when we change our position and look at the picture from the side. Lacan’s point is even more radical: the object-cause of desire is something that, when viewed frontally, is nothing at all, just a void— it acquires the contours of something only when viewed sideways. [...]

This is the objet a: an entity that has no substantial consistency, which is in itself “nothing but confusion,” and which acquires a definite shape only when looked upon from a standpoint distorted by the subject’s desires and fears— as such, as a mere “shadow of what it is not.” As such, the objet a is the strange object which is nothing but the inscription of the subject itself into the field of objects, in the guise of a stain which acquires form only when part of this field is anamorphically distorted by the subject’s desire.1 [...]

[403] The objet a is the point at which the subject encounters itself, its own impossible objectal counterpoint, among objects—“ impossible” means here that a is the obverse of the subject, they can never encounter each other in a direct opposition or mirroring, i.e., there is no relationship between $ and a, they are like the two sides of the same spot on a Möbius band. What this means is that the objet a stands for the “object as such,” the frame of a variable; it is in this sense (Lacan’s version of) the transcendental object, a mark of the “pure” faculty of desire: it has no substantial consistency of its own, it is just a spectral materialization of a certain cut or inadequacy— or, as Lacan put it concisely: “The object a is a cut” (“l’objet a est une coupure”).

[404] [...] the objet a is not the inaccessible ideal object to which no empirical object is adequate—“the object a is this inadequacy itself.” In this sense, the objet a is “the presupposed void in a demand,” the void that sustains the experience of “this is never that”: the universal (“object as such”) comes to exists as a pure gap.


Source: Slavoj Zizek, Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (London: Verso Books, 2014), 392, 403–404.

Distinction: Being and Choosing Reindeer

There is a serious confusion between being and action here. "Being a reindeer" is not a choice but a state of being, which poor Rudolf couldn't change even if he wanted to (and maybe in his abused, depressed state, he pondered at some point whether Santa might be able to change his ontological status to fit his subjective self-constructed identity mush).

Being an atheist and being a Christian are not ontological states but free choices.

Choosing to be an atheist is objectively evil because it rejects truth.

Choosing to do evil after having converted to Christ is an even graver evil than being an atheist because those redeemed by Christ have made a promise at Baptism to renounce sin and Satan.

Shaming religions doesn't make sense because religions have no feelings. Religious believers have feelings, and they can be shamed.

Homophobia, misogyny, racism, and hatred are not states of being—one cannot "be" these things. One can feel homophobic/misogynistic/racist/hateful feelings, and one can act on these through some form of expression of ill will. These are firstly feelings (but without further qualification, these feelings may be sinful or not) and secondly actions, which are sinful because they are rooted in hatred.

Whether an act is truly homophobic/misogynistic/racist or otherwise an actual expression of hatred is not up for a secular meme or secular society to decide because secular society has absolutely no sense of what is actually loving and what is hateful. For example, the assertion that there exists a hierarchy between the sexes, where the man rules the woman even though the two are equal in dignity, is "misogynistic" only from a modernist lens. The assertion that the natural institution of marriage is between a man and woman is "homophobic." Actually, these labels are almost tautological within the modern paradigm. Why must this lens be accepted, and why should they mean anything beyond those who reject such views in the first place? I'm not concerned with being homophobic; I try not to make a point and go out of my way to offend people, but there are truly more important goals to pursue than to worry about if I'm offending someone.

In fact, the entire meme assumes a basically modernist narrative and makes sense only within that narrative. Maybe this narrative finds its epitome in an anthropomorphized reindeer that is a late capitalist ploy for brainwashing mass society into consumeristic conformity and totally incoherent notions of justice and morality, especially in reindeer-to-reindeer relations as well as Santa-to-reindeer relations. At that point, why not label anything as homophobic/misogynistic/racist? Does it really mean anything anymore?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Memo: Semiotics of Vulgarity

It would be interesting to see what may be revealed about the phenomenon of vulgarity through a semiotic analysis.

My initial impression/intuition—the vulgar is distinguished not by the denotation but by the cultural connotation associated with a word; it's a negative phenomenon rather than positive, where the vulgar exists precisely in that space between pure description and connoted association.

Monday, December 15, 2014

St. Alphonsus Liguori on False Appearances of Holiness

[I thought this was funny:]

But some will say, "But this man tutors my daughter; he is a saint." The saints are in Heaven, but the saints that are on earth are flesh, and by proximate occasions, they may become devils.


Source: St. Alphonsus Liguori, "Advice to Parents,"

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Memo: Semiotic Theology

It would be interesting to see theology done in light of semiotics, especially spiritual theology.

The notion of relation with God through grace in my mind takes on a more explicit character; its strength is not only affirmed but clarified.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Zizek on the Illusion of Nature

Humans are becoming a "geological factor," not simply one species among others. Paradoxically, therefore, "nature does not exist," as in the idea of nature that we commonly accept as a "balanced, harmonized circulation, which is then destroyed through excessive human agency," this doesn't exist. Nature itself is "crazy," a "series of mega-catastrophes." Nature isn't a puppy we need to protect to put it another way. It is a lion that could destroy us at any moment. Technology is an extension of nature, of human nature. Zizek therefore questions, "What is the extent of our omnipotence?" We must accept the fact that we live in an irreversibly technological world; well, the only fathomable way that such a condition is irreversible is if "nature" annihilated the entire human population.

David Foster Wallace on Mediated Experience

Time stamp: 28:05-29:59

Those of us who write partly as a subject about popular culture are, I think, doing something important, which is that television and popular culture has become so saturated for people our age that we don't notice it's there. We don't notice that much of our experience is mediated, but it's got an agenda. It's trying to sell us things, that an attempt to—I don't know what you would call it—get behind the scenes, humanize, defamiliarize the experience of a mediated world is I think a good and important thing if nothing else to slap people kind of unpleasantly across the face and say, "There may not be something wrong with 68 hours of television, but it would be very nice for you to remember that you are essentially being offered a sales pitch and a seduction, six to eight hours a day." If we forget that, then for some reason just intuitively, I think we're in huge trouble. At a time in the US when I think it's very hard to find and commit to things that you think are important or good, at least for me, in some elements of fiction, it seems to me, it's a rather high-minded agenda to try to wake people up to the fact that our experience is weird now. There is something weird and thrice removed from the real world about it, and a lot of us don't realize it. What's at stake is in many ways human agency about how we experience the world. Would I rather go muck around in the hot sun by the seashore or watch a marvelously put together documentary about the death of egrets. But by the time I go to the G**d*** seashore and have seen the egrets, I have already experienced this smooth documentary so many times that it becomes quickly incoherent to talk about an extra-mediated or extra-televisual reality. Now that fact in and of itself is frightening, and it's that kind of—almost just sort of shooting flare into the sky and inviting people to say how weird that is. I can go to the ocean that I've never seen before, but I've spent a 1,000 hours... I mean, who would want to live when you can... watch?


Source: Endnotes: David Foster Wallace, BBC Documentary,

Memo: A Philosophy or Theology of "Like"

A memo to think about how people often say we don't need to like people but only to love them. What is meant here by "like"? Is it an affective attraction to a person? Is it how that person makes me feel? These two things (an attraction and how a person makes me feel) are different, yet both are usually associated with "liking" a person.

Does loving a person lead to some sort of attraction to them?

Also, what are the social consequences of "liking" or "upvoting" or "downvoting" as is becoming common on social media websites for a notion of "like"? Does "like" become synonymous with some form of intellectual (social, political, philosophical, theological, etc.) or affective support?

If I don't "like" a person, why does it seem very difficult also to love that person? Is there a strict separation between liking and loving even when loving is defined as willing another person's good? Did our Lord "dislike" anybody?

A. Liege on Cafeteria Faith

"If the faith is essentially a union with the Spirit of God Who reveals Himself, the man who exercises private judgment in matters of faith constitutes himself a judge of the truth of salvation on an equal level with the Holy Spirit. If his rejection of any particular point of faith is formal, this is sufficient to taint his entire faith at its very source of light. O man, who are you to judge the secrets that God delivers to thee?"

-A. Liege, O.P.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Memo: Grace and Nature, Unconscious Affect and Spiritual Emotion

If I could have the opportunity, I would like to study the intersection of unconscious affect and spiritual "emotions."

It would also be interesting to see the extent to which grace depends on nature. For example, if a person very advanced in holiness were to suffer such a brain injury that they lost all sense of morality or self control, what would be the implications for the relationship between grace and nature?

Supernatural Joy and the Folk Music Mass

There are two extremes regarding joy in the spiritual life: one is a forced depression, which St. Teresa of Avila famously warned against. Contrition, while deeply sorrowful, is not overwhelming to the point of despair but rather strengthens the soul to trust more firmly in God, to hope for assistance to rise from sin, and to rejoice in God's love.

The other extreme is an undifferentiated joy, one that lacks discernment. Not every joy is holy, and not every joy is of Christ. A person may smile during Holy Mass for many reasons, and not every reason may be a good one. There are many who are temperamentally excited and happy-go-lucky, and some of these people happen to be Christians. Does that mean that they radiate Christ because they are so constantly joyful? Hardly.

St. John of the Cross distinguishes six kinds of joy: temporal, natural, sensory, moral, supernatural, and spiritual (Ascent of Mount Carmel 3.17.2; trans. K. Kavanaugh).

Temporal joy originates over riches, worldly honor, status, prestige (ibid., 3.18.1).

Natural joy is caused by "beauty, grace, elegance, bodily constitution [i.e. physical looks], and all other corporeal endowments; also, in the soul, good intelligence, discretion, and other talents [....]" (3.21.1).  God grants these latter gifts only so that He may be better known and loved (ibid.). This second joy is the source of lust (cf. 3.22.2).

Sensory joy refers to things of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch as well as images in the imagination (3.24.1). The distinction here between natural and sensory goods is subtle and metaphysical since St. John was trained as a philosopher and theologian. Nevertheless, his point is the same.

Moral goods refer to virtues and the practice of mercy and good works (3.27.1). St. John tells us that "though Christians ought to rejoice in the moral goods and works they perform [...] they ought to rejoice [...] that insofar as they perform these works for the love of God, these works procure eternal life for them" (ibid., §4). Thus we ought not stop to look at our good works and congratulate ourselves, but to look to God and thank Him for the grace to serve Him.

Supernatural goods refer to the"gifts and graces of God" (3.30.1) as well as extraordinary graces, such as healing, miracle working, visions, etc.

Finally, spiritual joy derives from all those things "that are an aid and motivating force in turning the soul to divine things and communion with God" (3.33.2). This can occur in several ways: through goods that motivate us, through goods that provoke or persuade us, through those that direct us, and those that perfect us directly. Holy images are an example of motivating goods (3.35.1), and preaching is an example of a provocative good (3.45.1). St. John gives this advice: "On seeing the image [the faithful] should not allow their senses to become absorbed in it [....] They should pay no attention to these accidents; they should not dwell on the image but immediately raise the mind to what is represented. They should prayerfully and devoutly center the satisfaction and joy of their will in God, or the saint being invoked [....]" (3.37.2).

St. John of the Cross warns against turning even the Church's ceremonies into vain objects that prevent our union with God, such as even Holy Mass:
These people attribute so much efficacy to methods of carrying out their devotions and prayers [....] They put more trust in these methods than they do in the living prayer [....] For example, they demand that the Mass be said with a certain number of candles, no more nor less; or that it be celebrated at a particular hour, no sooner nor later; or that it be said after a certain day, not before; [...] and that the person performing the ceremonies have certain endowments and characteristics. (3.43.2)
He says further on, "The manner of saying Mass should be left to the priest who represents the Church at the altar, for he has received directions from her as to how Mass should be said. [...] And regarding other ceremonies in vocal prayers and other devotions, one should not become attached to any ceremonies or modes of prayer other than those Christ taught us" (3.44.3-4).

In other words, St. John's point repeatedly is that our joy must be in God alone; any attachment to joy in anything other than God will hinder our union with God. His great guiding principle is the following:
I should like to offer a norm for discerning when this gratification of the senses is beneficial and when not. Whenever spiritual persons, on hearing music or other things, seeing agreeable objects, smelling sweet fragrance, or feeling the delight of certain tastes and delicate touches, immediately at the first movement direct their thought and the affection of their will to God, receiving more satisfaction in the thought of God than in the sensible object that caused it, and find no delight in the senses save for this motive, it is a sign that they are profiting by the senses and the sensory part is a help to the spirit. [...]  
Thus they are not solicitous about these sensible goods; and when, as I say, these good are offered to them, the will immediately leaves them aside, passing on to God. [...]
Yet anyone who does not feel this freedom of spirit in these objects and sensible delights, but finds that the will pauses in and feeds on them, suffers harm from them and ought to turn from their use. Though according to reason one may want help from them in order to go to God, nonetheless they assuredly prove more a hindrance than a help. [...] 
Every joy unaccompanied by this negation and annihilation of all other joys—even when these concern something apparently very elevated—is vain, without profit, and a hindrance to union of the will with God. (3.24.5-7)
That being said, what kind of joy does the following tend to provoke? For empirical evidence, check the comments. Most of them focus on the song, on the joyful singers, on the performance, on how fun the song is, on how much the singers are enjoying singing. Even at the end, one girl can be seen shaking her arm in sync with the tambourine. Prima facie, such a movement doesn't indicate joy in God but joy in the tambourine. Hardly any comment goes to the point that the song makes the listener want to love and serve God more deeply. What is said is just as important as what is not said.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fiction Disproves Nominalism

If there is no such thing as a mind-independent relation, i.e. relations that obtain independently of my awareness of them, then there is no such thing as the distinction between fiction and reality.

Fiction is purely objective reality, depending totally on mind-dependent relations. If there are no mind-independent relations, one is left with mind-dependent relations alone, hence total solipsism and hence also fiction. The distinction of fiction from reality would then itself be a fiction.

Distinction: Critical vs. Cynical

Cynicism as we commonly use it refers to the idea that every person is inherently selfish and that all altruism is actually selfishness in disguise; it is the automatic tendency, for whatever reason, towards a negative conception of the other. Criticism historically has been free of this leaning towards negative judgment and simply meant an evaluation of something (usually literary or artistic work) based on a standard of aesthetics (e.g. a movie critic) with the purpose of revealing faults constructively and opening a space for reflective self-consideration. In English, criticism has taken on the denotation of a negative judgment—hence "why do you have to be so critical?" implies almost "why do you have to be so judgmental?"

Some may say that criticism is observing, interpreting, and appropriating the observations into one's framework in order to entrench current viewpoints. I think this is an inherently cynical perspective and actually too generalized (I think the determination of how an observation was appropriated should be evaluated by the case rather than generally; our experiences may however lead us to generalize that most people appropriate their observations uncritically). I'm not satisfied with it; the critical aspect could conceivably fall under only that last stage of appropriation, opening up the twofold possibility: 1) either to challenge one's beliefs, or 2) to confirm one's beliefs (if one views this confirmation as always negative, one might use the connotatively laden word "entrench" as I did above, but I suspect one would agree that sometimes the confirmation of an already held belief is not necessarily negative but simply always possibly dangerous).

Reflecting on criticism, I realize that it is a form of judgment, where judgment is simply, when stripped of its contemporary negative connotations, that function of our intellectual capacity to determine something either to be or not to be the case with respect to some explanatory principle or standard; in other words, to conclude whether something is or is not this or that way. Criticism implies a certain form of judgment. Off the top of my head, I distinguish different qualities a judgment may take on, in the form of binaries, and this list is by no means exhaustive:

A judgment may be:

reflective or not
thought through or not
positive or negative
informed or uninformed
self-oriented, other-oriented, or inclusive

I distinguish between reflective and thought through. Even if someone thinks something through, they may not be in a place of reflectivity, the capacity to see oneself, to bracket one's 1st person viewpoint into a 3rd person viewpoint or even a 2nd person viewpoint; reflectivity leads almost immediately to empathy, whereas simply thinking something through may just be the fodder of a tirade. A reflective criticism is that which opens the space of reflectivity, either towards myself, for others, or for all of us; the space of reflectivity is where we can truly begin to face our strengths and weaknesses in honesty and mutual support. It is a "democratic" space of rational, informed dialogue and public application to put it pragmatically.

I distinguish also between positive/negative and constructive/destructive. By positive/negative I mean something like affirmative/disapproving. We can affirm/praise and be constructive or destructive, destructive if what we affirm really ought not be affirmed. We can disapprove in a way that is constructive or destructive. Usually a destructive form of disapproval is shaming another person. I think shaming is one of the worst things a person can do to another person.

A judgment can be informed about its subject matter or not. We see people talk about things and make judgments based out of ignorance and out of information; we appreciate those judgments made out of information even if we disagree with them because at least the judgment is less likely to be coming from a place of bigotry or in other words non-reflective, unconscious prejudice.

Self-oriented/other-oriented simply refers to the direction of the judgment—is it directed to myself, to others, or to all of us?

I think criticism in its best form should be inclusive, reflective, thought through, informed, and constructive. It may be positive or negative depending on the context, but if negative, at least sensitive to the other. Criticism as it usually is referred to, however, is other-oriented, non-reflective, uninformed, destructive, negative, etc.

The Never-Ending Argument and Service Work

The desire to end the discourse, to have the final say, is the same dynamic that feeds a never-ending argument. A never-ending argument is neither constructive nor dialogical; open, rational discussion, while creating space for voicing disagreement, clarification, and proof, is not argumentative even if it may continue on forever. An argument, on the other hand, misses the point of what was being discussed; it is an act of battering each other with crystalized concepts cut off from their proper referent in reality.

Both of these phenomena are rooted in a form of solipsism, an overemphasis on esse in, the substance itself as an atom, disconnected from those around us.

Personal transformation is a positive manifestation of esse in; it acknowledges and respects the individual and seeks to improve it by admitting its poverty. The admittance of poverty, or in other words, humility, is also the necessary foundation for mutual transformation, the transformation of individuals in a network, a corporate body, a society. The collective transformation of esse in through esse ad, being towards or for another, enriching the other with each of our respective riches.

What, then, becomes of the status of service work when an individual who serves others at the same time treats other individuals with contempt, impatience, condescension, etc.? It's a contradiction. How might it be explained? The service, the movement to enrich another, whether it be an individual or collective, somehow loses its proper referent. Service properly speaking must always acknowledge and respect the other, in spite of disagreements and annoyances. But if service loses its proper referent, the impetus of service, which is esse ad, returns to esse in, or solipsism. Service then becomes an unconscious form of self serving.

In order to avoid the selfishness that creeps into service, it is therefore necessary to always return the referent of service to its proper object, the other in poverty, in need of enriching, and this referent must extend to all without discrimination with respect to the sharing of qualities of mutual support: patience, generosity, gentleness, kindness, consideration, affirmation. Of course, the extent of this support depends on context and circumstances, but the willingness to share and its equal distribution irrespective of persons is the condition by which esse ad refuses to remain esse in. It is the condition required to avoid the never-ending argument. It is the condition required to be willing to have an ongoing discussion, to resist the desire to have the last word.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Circumstance as sign and opportunity

We often view circumstances in a fatalistic way. Circumstances "happen." The famous bumper sticker comes to mind. Circumstances are interpreted as beyond our control, or otherwise they are placed in an evaluative framework of what is in our control and not.

Maybe it is not so. Maybe circumstances are very deliberate processes, deliberate but not deterministic. Maybe circumstances are the expressions of conscious processes, meeting, connecting, bouncing off of and bumping into each other.

If we take it as true that all things are governed by God's Providence, then a thread of intelligibility, of love, of wisdom, runs through all things. All things have a conscious direction even if asymmetrical. Perhaps intelligibility doesn't equate with symmetry and balance, but perhaps reality as intelligible is intelligible precisely as a mixture of symmetry and asymmetry, of order and chaos, of articulate and ineffable.

Maybe, then, circumstances even those circumstances that are not apparently caused by human consciousness are nevertheless not things we can try to control or fall under the control of but rather the sort of possible encounter that reality proposes to us here and now.

I am sick. In the common view of circumstance, my sickness is not under my control, but I do everything I can to alleviate it. I complain of its grasp on my life, my livelihood. Perhaps sickness is something else; perhaps it is a link in a chain of possibility, connection both to God, to myself, to others, to the underlying intelligibility of the universe, an opportunity for transcending myself here and now.

I am late. Therefore I try to speed to work. Maybe there is something else going on here; maybe the circumstance is a symptom, a sign.

If circumstances are signs instead of chance events, then I can dialogue with circumstance and draw it up into a greater conversation, the conversation of my life.

Human Rights as Morally Ambivalent

Human rights strike me as morally ambivalent, i.e. they can both support and undermine the moral dimension of man. How so? Consider that the same rights can be used both to protect the autonomy of an individual while also entrapping that individual's conscience to the requirements of the state. Or else consider that a right might protect what is owed by justice as well as what is harmful to human flourishing; it might protect the necessities of life while at the same time creating the space in which individuals no longer have to consider each others' existence. "We can and will do as we please so long as we don't get in each other's ways."

I don't see anything intrinsic to the notion of a right that suggests protection of what is morally good. It may have been used as such and in such a narrative—we uphold the rights of humans in order to protect their good, but the narrative depends on a notion of the good that may not be shared, that may arise from a consideration of ideology rather than reason or nature. Couldn't rights conceivably be used to protect something evil?

Finally, what happens to the status of man as a moral individual when the state takes away or replaces his rights? Or rather, what is revealed about the condition of man under the state when the state removes these rights by diktat. If the state no longer says that man has rights, and rights are political principles upheld by a state, would not man as citizen be reduced to a slave? But if the state can already do this act, doesn't that mean man is already a slave of the state but likes to go on pretending otherwise simply because his "rights" remain present by decree of the state?

Should not morality rather be grounded in nature itself then rather than a political construct? This issue also raises the question of how humans existed as moral and political beings before the concept of rights existed.

Paul Ricoeur on the Critique of Religion and the Masters of Suspicion

These masters of suspicion have nurtured the modern context to the point that religion and religious interpretation will [...] have to face the challenge they represent. We are hereafter, as modern religious subjects and believing communities that desire mature faith, required to do business with the iconoclastic panoply of interpretation generated in work of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. Ricoeur writes:
What we have appropriated to ourselves is first, the critique of religion as a mask, a mask of fear, a mask of domination, a mask of hate. A Marxist critique of ideology, a Nietzschean critique of resentment and a Freudian critique of infantile distress, are hereafter the views through which any kind of mediation of faith must past.

Source: Paul Ricoeur, "Two Essays by Paul Ricoeur: The Critique of Religion and the Language of Faith," in Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 28, no. 3 (Spring 1973): 209, in Richard R. Topping, Revelation, Scripture and Church: Theological Hermeneutic Thought of James Barr, Paul Ricoeur and Hans Frei (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2007), 178.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

St. Louis de Montfort on Praying the Rosary Slowly and Fervently

41st Rose:

It is not so much the length of a prayer, but the fervor with which it is said which pleases Almighty God and touches His Heart. One single Hail Mary that is said properly is worth more than one hundred and fifty that are badly said. Most Catholics say the Rosary, the whole fifteen mysteries or five of them anyway or, at least a few decades. So why is it then that so few of them give up their sins and go forward in the spiritual life? Surely it must be because they are not saying them as they should. It is a good thing to think over how we should pray if we really want to please God and become more holy.

To say the Holy Rosary to advantage one must be in a state of grace or at the very least be fully determined to give up mortal sin. This we know because all our theology teaches us that good works and prayers are only dead works if they are done in a state of mortal sin. Therefore they can neither be pleasing to God nor help us gain eternal life. This is why Ecclesiastes says: "Praise is not seemly in the mouth of a sinner." [1] Praise of God and the salutation of the Angel and the very Prayer of Jesus Christ are not pleasing to God when they are said by unrepentant sinners.

Our Lord said: "This people honoreth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me." [2] It is as though He was saying: "Those who join My Confraternity and say their Rosary every day (even perhaps the fifteen decades), but without being sorry for their sins offer Me lip service only and their hearts are far from Me." [...]

44th Rose:

[...] Take great care to avoid the two pitfalls that most people fall into during the Rosary. The first is the danger of not asking for any graces at all, so that if some people were asked their Rosary intention they would not know what to say. So, whenever you say your Rosary, be sure to ask for some special grace. Ask God's help in cultivating one of the great Christian virtues or in overcoming one of your sins. 

The second big fault a lot of people make when saying the Holy Rosary is to have no intention other than that of getting it over as quickly as possible! This is because so many of us look upon the Rosary as a burden which is always heavier when we have not said it—especially if it is weighing on our conscience because we have promised to say it regularly or have been told to say it as a penance more or less against our will.

It is really pathetic to see how most people say the Holy Rosary—they say it astonishingly fast and mumble so that the words are not properly pronounced at all. We could not possibly expect anyone, even the most unimportant person, to think that a slipshod address of this kind was a compliment and yet we expect Jesus and Mary to be pleased with it! Small wonder then that the most sacred prayers of our holy religion seem to bear no fruit, and that, after saying thousands of Rosaries, we are still no better than we were before! Dear Confraternity members, I beg of you to temper the speed which comes all too easily to you and pause briefly several times as you say the Our Father and Hail Mary. I have placed a cross at each pause, as you will see:
Our Father Who art in Heaven, † hallowed be Thy name, † Thy kingdom come, † Thy will be done † on earth as it is in Heaven. † Give us this day † our daily bread † and forgive us our trespasses † as we forgive those who trespass against us, † and lead us not into temptation † but deliver us from evil. Amen. 
Hail Mary, full of grace, † the Lord is with Thee, † blessed art thou among women † and blessed is the Fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. †
Holy Mary, Mother of God, † pray for us sinners, now † and at the hour of our death. Amen.
At first, you may find it difficult to make these pauses because of your bad habit of saying prayers in a hurry; but a decade that you say recollectedly in this way will be worth more than thousands of Rosaries said all in a rush—without any pauses or reflection. [...]

47th Rose:

Dear Rosary Confraternity members, if you want to lead a fashionable life and belong to the world—by this I mean if you do not mind falling into mortal sin from time to time and then going to Confession, and if you wish to avoid conspicuous sins which the world considers vile and yet at the same time commit "respectable sins"—then, of course, there is no need for you to say so many prayers and Rosaries. You only need to do very little to be "respectable": a tiny prayer at night and morning, an occasional Rosary which may be given to you for your penance, a few decades of Hail Marys said on your Rosary (but haphazardly and without concentration) when it suits your fancy to say them—this is quite enough. If you did less, you might be branded as a freethinker or a profligate; if you did more, you would be eccentric and a fanatic. But if you want to lead a true Christian life and genuinely want to save your soul and walk in the saints' footsteps and never, never, fall into mortal sin—if you wish to break Satan's traps and divert his flaming darts, you must always pray as Our Lord taught and commanded you to do.

If you really have this wish at heart, then you must at least say your Rosary or the equivalent, every day. I have said "at least" because probably all that you will accomplish through your Rosary will be to avoid mortal sin and to overcome temptation. This is because you are exposed to the strong current of the world's wickedness by which many a strong soul is swept away; you are in the midst of the thick, clinging darkness which often blinds even the most enlightened souls; you are surrounded by evil spirits who being more experienced than ever and knowing that their time is short are more cunning and more effective in tempting you.



1. Eccl. 15:9.
2. Mark 7:6.


Source: St. Louis de Montfort, The Secret of the Rosary, Catholic Tradition,

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Judgment Is the Only Sin

I have heard some people claim that their philosophy is that "judgment is the only sin." They proceed to act as they please and allow others to do likewise so long as the twain shall ne'er harm each other or get in each others' way against their wills.

But what is judgment? The person may reply, "It is to condemn another for their beliefs and their way of life." In other words, it is to say that something that a person is doing or the way a person is—that is wrong. It is to declare something wrong. A judgment in its most simple form is an assertion that something is or ought to be this way. But then to say "judgment is the only sin" is itself a judgment against judgment. Furthermore, to say, "People can do as they please" is also a judgment, a judgment of freedom; it is an apparently positive judgment but still a judgment. To qualify a statement that one can do as one pleases so long as it harms no one else is a restriction imposed by judgment: behavior is good insofar as it isn't harmful. And what is harm? It is up to the judgment of the individual (and practically speaking, the law).

Why is judgment the only judgment prohibited? These same people will then also assert, when pressed, that obviously things such as rape, genocide, pedophilia, etc., are wrong. But who are they to pass judgment? Why can a person do anything they please except those things that harm others? And who determines what it means to harm others? The individual?

This is a morality of solipsism, of individualism. It allows the individual to get away with anything he wants without responsibility for consequences and without regard for others.

Remember, Christ never forbade judgments in Matthew 7; He forbade hypocritical judgments. Christ Himself made many condemnations and was fully justified in doing so.

Judgment is fundamental to human action. Every action presupposes a judgment. Even animals make judgments. This morality of solipsism is simply a justification for sin, and it seeks to alleviate guilt by removing the possibility of judgment, of condemnation for bad behavior. That is why judgment is the only sin: because the presence of judgment means the possibility that I have to own up to my sins, that I can't simply do as I please without regard for consequences, that I am not an isolated individual who schizophrenically has no regard for others and regard for others only when I desire, when I determine.