Friday, August 31, 2018

"An educated man"

“EVERY systematic science, the humblest and the noblest alike, seems to admit of two kinds of proficiency; one of which may be properly called scientific knowledge of the subject, while the other is a kind of educational acquaintance with it. For an educated man should be able to form a fair off-hand judgement as to the goodness or badness of the method used by a professor in his exposition. To be educated is in fact to be able to do this; and even the man of universal education we deem to be such in virtue of his having this ability. It will, however, of course, be understood that we only ascribe universal education to one who in his own individual person is thus critical in all or nearly all branches of knowledge, and not to one who has a like ability merely in some special subject. For it is possible for a man to have this competence in some one branch of knowledge without having it in all.”

~Aristotle: On the Parts of Animals, Book I. (639a)

Aristotle, by Enea Vico.
Engraving, 1546; British Museum, London.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The problem of evil

“NO EVIL as such can be desirable, either by natural appetite or by conscious will. It is sought indirectly, namely because it is a consequence of some good. This is the rule for every type of appetite. A natural force works for a form, not the absence of form. Yet one form may extrude another. A lion kills for food, that means the death of the deer; a fornicator wants pleasure, and incurs the deformity of sin.”

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, I, q. 19, a. 9.

(Thomas Gilby's translation)

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


“NOT every love has the quality of friendship. In the first place it is reserved to that love for another which wills his well-being. When what we will is not the other’s good for his sake, but the desire of it as it affects us, that is not friendship, but self-regarding love and some sort of concupiscence. Neither does benevolence suffice for friendship; in addition a mutual loving is required, for a friend is friend to friend. This interplay of well-wishing is founded on companionship.”

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 23, a. 4.

(Thomas Gilby's translation)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Maritain: The Rights of the Person

“EVERY human person has the right to make his own decisions with regard to his personal destiny, whether it be a question of choosing one’s work, of marrying the man or woman of one’s choice, or of pursuing a religious vocation. In the case of extreme peril and for the safety of the community, the State can forcibly requisition the services of each of us and demand that each risk his life in a just war; it can also deprive criminals of certain of their rights (or rather sanction the fact that they themselves forfeited them); for example, men judged unworthy of exercising parental authority. But the State becomes iniquitous and tyrannical if it claims to base the functioning of civil life on forced labor, or if it tries to violate the rights of the family in order to become master of men’s souls. For just as man is constituted a person, made for God and for a life superior to time, before being constituted a part of the political community, so too man is constituted a part of family society before being constituted a part of political society. The end for which the family exists is to produce and bring up human persons and prepare them to fulfill their total destiny. And if the State too has an educative function, if education is not outside its sphere, this function is to help the family fulfill its mission and to complement this mission, not to efface in the child his vocation as a human person and replace it by that of a living tool and material for the State. 

To sum up, the fundamental rights, like the right to existence and life; the right to personal freedom or to conduct one’s own life as master of oneself and of one’s acts, responsible for them before God and the law of the community; the right to the pursuit of the perfection of moral and rational life;* the right to keeps one’s body whole; the right to private ownership of material goods, which is the safeguard of the liberties of the individual; the right to marry according to one’s choice and to raise a family which will be assured of the liberties due it; the right of association, the respect for human dignity in each individual, whether or not he represents an economic value for society—all these rights are rooted in the vocation of the person (a spiritual and free agent) to the order of absolute values and a destiny superior to time. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man framed these rights in the altogether rationalist point of view of the Enlightenment and the Encyclopedists and to that extent enveloped them in ambiguity. The American Declaration of Independence, however marked by the influence of Locke and “natural religion”, adhered more closely to the originally Christian character of human rights.

~Jacques Maritain: Christianity and Democracy & The Rights of Man and Natural Law. 

* In this above all consists the pursuit of happiness: the pursuit of happiness here on earth in the pursuit, not of material advantages, but of moral righteousness, of the strength and perfection of the soul, with the material and social conditions thereby implied.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Structure of the Summa

The structure of the Summa theologiae is beautifully described by the Cambridge theologian Nicholas Lash, who writes:

“We might almost say that, for Aquinas, the ‘soundness’ of his ‘educational method’ depended upon the extent to which the movement of his exposition reflected the rhythm of God’s own act and movement: that self-movement ‘outwards’ from divine simplicity to the utterance of the Word and breathing of the Gift which God is, to the ‘overflowing’ of God’s goodness in the work of his creation (‘Prima pars’); the ‘return’ to God along that one way of the world’s healing which is Christ (‘Tertia pars’); and, because there lies across this movement the shadow of the mystery of sin, we find, between his treatment of the whence and whither, the ‘outgoing’ and ‘return’ of creaturely existence, the drama of conversion, of sin and virtue, of rejection or acceptance of God’s grace (‘Secunda pars’). And this by way of explanation of how in a summary of Christian theology, Christ can make a central appearance only towards the end.”

The Beginning and End of Religion. (Quoted by Aidan Nichols in Discovering Aquinas)

Faith, Hope & Charity

“ST. PAUL instructs us that our entire perfection is contained at present under three concise headings: and now there remain faith, hope, charity, these three (1 Cor. 13, 13). Such is the apostle’s order, such the order of reason, for we cannot love unless we have good reason to hope, and we cannot hope unless we have knowledge.”

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Compendium of Theology, 1.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The enduring originality of the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas

43. A quite special place in this long development belongs to Saint Thomas, not only because of what he taught but also because of the dialogue which he undertook with the Arab and Jewish thought of his time. In an age when Christian thinkers were rediscovering the treasures of ancient philosophy, and more particularly of Aristotle, Thomas had the great merit of giving pride of place to the harmony which exists between faith and reason. Both the light of reason and the light of faith come from God, he argued; hence there can be no contradiction between them.[44]

More radically, Thomas recognized that nature, philosophy's proper concern, could contribute to the understanding of divine Revelation. Faith therefore has no fear of reason, but seeks it out and has trust in it. Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfilment,[45] so faith builds upon and perfects reason. Illumined by faith, reason is set free from the fragility and limitations deriving from the disobedience of sin and finds the strength required to rise to the knowledge of the Triune God. Although he made much of the supernatural character of faith, the Angelic Doctor did not overlook the importance of its reasonableness; indeed he was able to plumb the depths and explain the meaning of this reasonableness. Faith is in a sense an “exercise of thought”; and human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice.[46]

This is why the Church has been justified in consistently proposing Saint Thomas as a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology. In this connection, I would recall what my Predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI, wrote on the occasion of the seventh centenary of the death of the Angelic Doctor: “Without doubt, Thomas possessed supremely the courage of the truth, a freedom of spirit in confronting new problems, the intellectual honesty of those who allow Christianity to be contaminated neither by secular philosophy nor by a prejudiced rejection of it. He passed therefore into the history of Christian thought as a pioneer of the new path of philosophy and universal culture. The key point and almost the kernel of the solution which, with all the brilliance of his prophetic intuition, he gave to the new encounter of faith and reason was a reconciliation between the secularity of the world and the radicality of the Gospel, thus avoiding the unnatural tendency to negate the world and its values while at the same time keeping faith with the supreme and inexorable demands of the supernatural order”.[47]

44. Another of the great insights of Saint Thomas was his perception of the role of the Holy Spirit in the process by which knowledge matures into wisdom. From the first pages of his Summa Theologiae,[48] Aquinas was keen to show the primacy of the wisdom which is the gift of the Holy Spirit and which opens the way to a knowledge of divine realities. His theology allows us to understand what is distinctive of wisdom in its close link with faith and knowledge of the divine. This wisdom comes to know by way of connaturality; it presupposes faith and eventually formulates its right judgement on the basis of the truth of faith itself: “The wisdom named among the gifts of the Holy Spirit is distinct from the wisdom found among the intellectual virtues. This second wisdom is acquired through study, but the first 'comes from on high', as Saint James puts it. This also distinguishes it from faith, since faith accepts divine truth as it is. But the gift of wisdom enables judgement according to divine truth”.[49]

Yet the priority accorded this wisdom does not lead the Angelic Doctor to overlook the presence of two other complementary forms of wisdom—philosophical wisdom, which is based upon the capacity of the intellect, for all its natural limitations, to explore reality, and theological wisdom, which is based upon Revelation and which explores the contents of faith, entering the very mystery of God.

Profoundly convinced that “whatever its source, truth is of the Holy Spirit” (omne verum a quocumque dicatur a Spiritu Sancto est)[50] Saint Thomas was impartial in his love of truth. He sought truth wherever it might be found and gave consummate demonstration of its universality. In him, the Church's Magisterium has seen and recognized the passion for truth; and, precisely because it stays consistently within the horizon of universal, objective and transcendent truth, his thought scales “heights unthinkable to human intelligence”.[51] Rightly, then, he may be called an “apostle of the truth”.[52] Looking unreservedly to truth, the realism of Thomas could recognize the objectivity of truth and produce not merely a philosophy of “what seems to be” but a philosophy of “what is”.

—Excerpt from Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, by Pope John Paul II.

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