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.