Links

  • A blog post about when Wittgenstein left his professorship to work at a hospital pharmacy. More information is available in chapter 21 of Ray Monk’s biography. Here is one page from that chapter.
  • Here is an entertaining lecture by William Dunham about Leonhard Euler. If you can’t watch the whole hour, at the very least watch the genius proof shown from 32:31 onward.
  • Carlo Rovelli considers the accuracy of Aristotle’s physics. Valuable because its conclusion is so contrary to what is commonly believed: “Aristotelian physics lasted long not because it became dogma, but because it is a very good empirically grounded theory.”
  • At Commonweal, David Bentley Hart has written an article called Christ’s Rabble, about how the New Testament views wealth. It’s nice to hear that he’s finally done his NT translation.
  • A captivating article by John Stamps over at Fr. Aidan’s blog, about finding the ‘original’ Jesus. My favorite part is when he points out how, during a time of deistic anti-miracle rhetoric, the Jansenists were able to work miracles in Paris, the center of the Enlightenment (almost as if God was being cheeky about the whole thing). And near the end you can find a good summary of the whole article: “If we eschew the distractions of a theoretical pursuit of a historical Jesus, we’d see faith in the living Lord was never a matter of poring over learned tomes in a divinity school library. Whether in 1st century Corinth, 11th century Byzantium, 18th century Germany, or 21st century San Jose, we always encounter the living Jesus in very specific ways—catechesis, prayer, Eucharist, almsgiving, proclamation, obedience, Bible study, the experience of active love, just to name a few.”
  • An interview with Met. Hilarion (h/t Laudator Temporis Acti). Very interesting to know that as a teen he became a fan of Federico García Lorca.

  • A Divine Liturgy in sign language, with a quote from Patriarch Kirill about not excluding those with disabilities from the Church.

The Sexual Revolution

Depending on who you ask, the response to the question “when did the sexual revolution begin?” will probably be one of two eras: either the 1960s, or, more rarely, around the 1920s or 1930s. Fr. Benedict Ashley takes the latter view in his autobiography (see p. 125 here). Illustrating this view, the Cambridge Apostles society of the 1910s and 1920s never made much of a secret of the promiscuous sexual relationships between some of its male members. And of course, it should be noted that the highly controversial Marriage and Morals by Bertrand Russell was published in 1929.

On the other hand, just look at the contrast from two excerpts from The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, one from one era, the other from the other era.

The first is from 1934 (source):

1934

The second is from 1972 (source). It is noteworthy that the article begins with the author saying “not only is this the era of sexual enlightenment, but it is also the age of contraception, legalized abortion, early sterilization, and great concern about population control … We are told we are living in a sexual revolution.” Then he adds:

1972

This would seem to support the view that the sexual revolution really began in the 1960s. It is remarkable to see the change in attitude about the matter. In the first article, it is promiscuity that is the social menace, whereas in the second article, it is over-population. In the article from the 1930s, it is taken as a matter of fact that promiscuity is an evil, whereas by the 1970s, such a view seems antiquated (as it is still seen now). Overall, it is best to say that the sexual revolution occurred over a longer period of time than usually allowed, and it was more prominent in certain areas (e.g., England) earlier than in others (e.g., America, especially the more conservative parts).

It would be wrong to end a post about contraception and the sexual revolution without linking to a famous article from that period about that subject: Contraception and Chastity by Elizabeth Anscombe.

May he hate himself, may he love himself…

It is extremely dangerous to make man see how similar he is to the beasts, without showing him his greatness. It is again dangerous to make him see his greatness, without his baseness. It is again more dangerous to leave him ignorant of both. But it is very beneficial to show him both.
May man, then, know his worth. May he love himself; for he has in himself a nature capable of good; but may he not love on this account the base things he uses it for. May he despise himself because this capacity is void, but may he not hate on this account this natural capacity. May he hate himself; may he love himself: he has in himself the capacity of knowing the truth and of being happy; but he has no truth, either constant or satisfactory. I would like then to bring this man to desire to find it, to be ready and remove his passions to follow where he will find it; and knowing how much his knowledge is obscured by the passions, I would like for him to hate in himself the concupiscence which determines it of itself; so that it will not blind him when he makes his choice and will not stop him once he has chosen.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, roughly translated from pp. 69-70 (174-175) of this edition.

Links

  • Jeff Mirus provides (with good commentary) some of Henri de Lubac’s notes from before and during Vatican II. One comment still relevant for today: “It must be confessed that our exegetes, in commission or outside, withdraw into a philological and critical role; they are pure specialists; they do not know how to bring out the doctrines that stem from the Bible or to show its spirit.”
  • Divna Ljubojević chants Agni Parthene and Kyrie Eleison. What a voice!
  • Fr. Christiaan Kappes has two documents about reconciling Orthodoxy and Catholicism through St. Mark of Ephesus and medieval ecclesiology: part 1 and part 2. What I found most interesting was his remark that in the Middle Ages, a considerable number of theologians held the view that churches out of communion with their own could still be part of the church, “in partial communion,” like a hand that has lost blood circulation but is still part of the body (albeit perilously). This is a far cry from what we usually hear these days (from both Catholic and Orthodox apologists alike). Fr. Kappes has great knowledge of and love for Byzantine theology, all while being a faithful Catholic priest. Hopefully one day his talents and efforts will lead to the reunification of East and West.
  • Talks from a book launch for Unlocking Divine Action by Fr. Michael Dodds, OP. There is an excellent talk by Fr. Mariusz Tabaczek, OP from 10:48-23:53 about “emergence” and formal causality and using philosophy of nature as a bridge between science and theology. Extremely well done!
  • A report from PPRI about why Americans are leaving religion for good (h/t Gregory Stackpole’s twitter, @ThePalamite).
  • An article from Scientific American about creationism in Europe. It makes some fair points, but misses key issues for why people prefer creationism. Evolution is very often presented materialistically (sometimes unwittingly), even though it can be just as well understood in other ways. It’s no wonder then that religious people oppose it. Perhaps scientists should look at themselves first before assuming everything is due to creationist obstinacy.
  • The last three links here are all related, of course, to the relationship between science and religion in popular culture. Modern theologians have done a poor job, it seems to me, at actually explaining how natural science fits with theology: often it’s just a confused attempt at reconciling the two in a way that can make it come across as desperation (e.g., “God could have been behind evolution”). No wonder religious claims seem unconvincing to many modern people. Works by Thomists like the River Forest Thomists (e.g., Ashley and Wallace), as well as Fr. Mariusz above, have been very well done in this regard, but are sadly too little known.

Sapientia Avis Magni

Traveller, do you not know how a poet can live beyond the grave? You stand and read this verse: it is I, then, who am speaking. Reading this work aloud, your living voice is mine.
– St. Possidius, Life of St. Augustine, 31.8, citing an unknown pagan poet

A note, it’s like leaving a little piece of you behind to talk to people when you can’t be there.
– Big Bird, Sesame Street, episode 3325

Links

  • Many remark on the supposed irreconcilability between the philosopher’s alleged duty to follow the evidence wherever it leads and the believer’s commitment to his faith. Pater Edmund Waldstein addresses this in a great post on how it is possible for believers to honestly consider arguments that contradict their faith. A glimpse at his take: “Aristotle in the Physics certainly takes the arguments of Melissus and Parmenides on the unity and immobility of being seriously in the sense that he carefully examines their evidence, and tries to see what led them to think thus. But … he is not open to being persuaded by their conclusion. And the reason is that the reality of plurality and motion in the world is more known to us than any of the abstract premises from which Parmenides and Melissus are working. There is nothing unserious about Aristotle’s approach. On the contrary there would be something unserious about approaching the question with an agnostic attitude toward the reality of plurality and motion.”
    [Apologies to Pater Edmund if this notifies him twice. A couple days ago I accidentally posted the draft of this part before I should have, which I then deleted.]
  • Over at The Smithy, Michael Sullivan wrote a post on the same subject.
  • Of course, Concerning Faith of Things Not Seen by St. Augustine should always be mentioned as a very brief but powerful argument on the necessity of faith. (This reminds of the very insightful point C. S. Lewis makes at the start of this article, that using one’s reason is not always the rational thing to do).
  • The entire text of Ivan Illich’s Medical Nemesis is available online here. It must be kept in mind that Illich was a social critic, not a doctor. Some of his information is dated now, and while I certainly do not want to endorse everything he says regarding medical science, I feel he makes some valuable comments about society’s abuse of medicine.
  • Bekkos has posted an amazing resource: the entire Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique available freely online. There is an extremely valuable entry on Georgios Scholarios written by Jugie that details not only his life, but also summarizes his works.
  • What did Manhattan look like in 1609? This is pretty cool, since from time to time I’ve always wondered what my neighborhood looked like 500, or 1000, or 2000 years ago.
  • Another article from the same source on personifying inanimate objects. One reason for why even scientists tend to anthropomorphize (e.g., ‘fluorine wants to have a full outer shell of electrons’) is that there is a likeness between how humans naturally tend to certain goods and how inanimate objects tend to certain states (e.g., fluorine by its nature tends to have a full outer shell of electrons, particles by their nature tend to move to a region of lower concentration, etc.).

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity

Not too long ago on a post on Fr. Aidan Kimel’s blog, there was a dispute in the comments about whether or not it is irrationalist to claim that the Trinity is an unspeakable mystery or “fundamentally unthinkable.”

My own opinion is that it depends on what one means by “fundamentally unthinkable.” I certainly agree that it is wrong and irrationalist when it is practically given as a concession to those arguing the Trinity is contradictory. However, “fundamentally unthinkable” can also be used to mean that, while the doctrine can be shown to be not logically contradictory, nobody can fully understand it in this life. This is certainly not irrationalist, because it requires arguments that the doctrine is not a contradiction, and arguments that our minds cannot perfectly comprehend God as he is. This position, and these two groups of arguments, are found abundantly in tradition, as I will try to show below.

To start with the first group of arguments, as far as I know, no Church Father ever conceded that the Trinity was contradictory. Rather, it was very common to give analogies for it to help people see that it was not absurd. The most effective of these, in my view, is the psychological analogy. It is found in St. Augustine’s De Trinitate (book IX). Thomas Aquinas frequently used a more developed form of it. He states it most concisely in chapters 3-4 of De Rationibus Fidei. Here he likens the Father to an intellect, and the Son to a thought/concept in the intellect. Even this far, one can sort of gets the idea: I am me, but my thoughts are also me, yet I am not my thoughts, but still there are not two of me, only one. But Aquinas points out that in us humans, our thoughts are accidentally part of us, but “in God understanding is not different from his being. Consequently the word which is conceived in his intellect is not something accidental to him or alien from his nature but, by the very fact that it is a word, it must be coming forth from another and must be a likeness of its source.” In chapter 4, Aquinas argues similarly concerning the Holy Spirit, likening it to God’s love. Quite similar arguments are found in St. John of Damascus, St. Symeon the New Theologian, and St. Gregory Palamas. St. Gregory’s version I’ve posted before. St. Symeon the New Theologian’s version I found today in the library:

Just as, when the intellect begets speech, the will of the soul makes it known to listeners either by voice or in writing, like something common to these two parties – and it is clear that these parties are neither confused nor divided into three, but the three are seen or conceived together in each oher, in the one essence and one will -, likewise, regarding the holy, consubstantial, and indivisible Trinity, conceive and profess with piety that the Father begets without speaking God the Word, whom he had in him in the beginning, whom he keeps begotten without division and above all speech, that the Son is begotten all while being always inseparably near the Father who begets him without departing from him, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father all while being of the same nature as the consubstantial Father and Son, one with them, adored and glorified with them by all living.
(Traités théologiques, II, lines 191-205, rough translation by me from Sources Chrétiennes 122)

And St. John of Damascus’s arguments in On the Orthodox Faith, chapters 6-7, is very similar to the summary I gave above of Aquinas’s argument. With these examples alone (not to mention other traditional analogies for the Trinity), I think it is clear that defending the reasonableness of the doctrine of the Trinity is a common tradition found in both East and West.

It is also clear that tradition has also defended the incomprehensibility of God. Augustine, the Cappadocian Fathers, John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor, Dionysius the Areopagite, Thomas Aquinas, Gregory Palamas – all agree in supporting so-called apophatic theology. Aquinas is known for saying in the Summa, “We cannot know what God is, but only what He is not.” In the 150 Chapters, chapter 123, St. Gregory Palamas clarifies what it means to say that we can only make negative statements about God:

Apophatic theology does not contradict nor does it deny cataphatic theology; rather, with respect to cataphatic statements about God, it shows that they are true and are made in an orthodox manner, and that God does not possess these things as we do. For example, God possesses knowledge of beings and we too possess this in some cases, but our knowledge refers to things in the present and in the past, whereas God’s does not, for he knows these no less even prior to their coming to be. Thus, the man who says that God does not know beings as such does not contradict one who says that God does know beings and knows them as such. There is a cataphatic theology which has the force of apophatic theology; as when someone says all knowledge is applied to some object, namely, the thing known, but God’s knowledge is not applied to any object, for in that very regard he says that God does not know beings as such and he does not possess knowledge of beings, that is, as we do. In this way God is referred to as non-being in a transcendent sense. But one who says this for the purpose of showing that those who say God exists are not speaking correctly is clearly not using apophatic theology in a transcendent sense but rather in the sense of deficiency to the effect that God does not exist at all. This is the acme of impiety, suffered alas by those who attempt through apophatic theology to deny that God possess both an uncreated substance and energy.

In other words, we are not wrong to make positive statements about God, but these positive statements are analogical. It is rightly said that God possesses knowledge, but it is also rightly said that God does not possess knowledge, since although God does possess knowledge, he possesses it in a different way than we do. St. Augustine has a nice passage relating to analogy in one of his letters (Ep., 7.3.6):

Therefore it is possible for the mind, by taking away, as has been said, some things from objects which the senses have brought within its knowledge, and by adding some things, to produce in the exercise of imagination that which, as a whole, was never within the observation of any of the senses; but the parts of it had all been within such observation, though found in a variety of different things: e.g., when we were boys, born and brought up in an inland district, we could already form some idea of the sea, after we had seen water even in a small cup; but the flavour of strawberries and of cherries could in no wise enter our conceptions before we tasted these fruits in Italy.

It seems to me that God’s understanding is more like the example given of the cup of water and the sea: since we ourselves have understanding, we can easily form a (very rough) notion of what God’s understanding is like. God’s simplicity, however, is a bit more like the example of the fruits: since, unlike God, our human nature is materially divided into different hypostases, we have much greater difficulty of imagining God’s simplicity, where the divine nature is in three undivided hypostases. This helps us understand why we have a harder time grasping God’s oneness despite his various real distinctions than we do when grasping the notion that God has ideas. Therefore the Christian is fully justified in saying that, although we can show that the Trinity is not contradictory, we still should expect not to grasp it fully in this life.

Returning, finally, to the dispute mentioned at the beginning of this post, I would have to answer that it is only right to say that the Trinity is “fundamentally unthinkable” if by that phrase we mean only that us humans in our current state cannot think of the Trinity. Anything more I think would be irrationalist. After having taken a brief look at the book that started the debate, I think the author’s position generally agrees with what I have said above, although I think he greatly exaggerates John of Damascus’s apophaticism.