Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Maritain: types of knowledge

THERE is a multitude of assertions which are, in themselves, reformable: not only the hypothetical or probable assertions, but also the assertions themselves with which explanatory theory (I do not speak of that which is mere verification of fact) constructs itself in the sciences of phenomena, which are a knowledge of the observable as such, and refrain from piercing the crust of the observable. However far indeed one may extend it the observation remains inevitably limited, it is impossible to extend it infinitely far: so that, in itself, every system of rational interpretation of phenomena on the plane itself of phenomena can have to give way to a different system, occasions by new observations and more fully comprehensive. No scientific theory is irreformable or absolutely true; it is true only relatively to the state of science at the different stages of its progress. In the rationalization of the observable effected by the sciences of phenomena, truth is the adequation of the intelligence with that which falls under an observation as complete as possible at a given time of human history.

It is altogether different with knowledges such as philosophy and theology. Philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of nature, moral philosophy…) is capable of emitting irreformable assertions, in other words absolute truths, because it bears on intelligible being itself, or the real attained purely and simply (and not only as to the observable as such). When it says the true, and to the extent that it says the true, that which it says is absolutely true, and true for always. This is that to which the primary and most deep-seated αΊ»lan of the intelligence tends, and that for which it is most fundamentally thirsty.

When we say that truth is the adequation of the intelligence and of that which is, this is understood therefore primarily and above all of the adequation of the intelligence with “that which is” purely and simply, as it is the case for philosophy and theology. And it is understood secondarily (by extension to a type of knowledge enclosed completely in that which appears to the senses) of the adequation of the intelligence with “that which is” under a certain relation only (under the relation of observability), as it is the case for the sciences of phenomena.

Philosophy, which bears on the intimate intelligible structure of that which is, absolutely speaking, and theology, which bears on the intimate superintelligible mystery of Him Who is, absolutely speaking, are types of knowledge exceptionally difficult in themselves. This is why man has so often erred in them.

In science, knowledge less elevated and more narrow, which is a late fruit of human thought (it began only in the sixteenth century to disengage itself in its proper nature), and which bears on the rational interpretation and the rational organization (above all, there where it is possible, mathematization) of that only which appears to the senses, man errs also but does not cease to correct his errors with an inviolable regularity, because the retracing of the intelligence imposed by such a type of knowledge requires particularly rigorous methods and specializations; but the truth which we have then to do is truth only secundum quid, approximate truth.

The Scientists know this; the noninitiated do not know it. Let us turn, in a last remark, to the side of the human community. If the idea that no higher knowledge, neither philosophy, nor theology, is capable of absolute truth became generally accepted, the result would be that the world of culture would find itself, ─not through the fault of science, ─mystified by science. For it is the assertions of science, haloed with its dazzling application, which a multitude of people who are not scientists would take then for “the truth” (absolute) of which by virtue of the very nature of the intelligence they experience unconsciously the need; whereas the scientists would continue to know, and better and better, that, however precious the progresses of science may  be, irreformable assertions and absolute truths are not of the domain of the latter.

~Jacques Maritain: On the Church of Christ, Chap. IV, n. 4.



Sunday, April 27, 2014

Divine Mercy

"Where, if not in the Divine Mercy, can the world find refuge and the light of hope?" ~Pope John Paul II.
"GOD acts mercifully, not indeed by going against His justice, but by doing something more than justice; thus a man who pays another two hundred pieces of money, though owing him only one hundred, does nothing against justice, but acts liberally or mercifully. The case is the same with one who pardons an offence committed against him, for in remitting it he may be said to bestow a gift. Hence the Apostle calls remission a forgiving: "Forgive one another, as Christ has forgiven you" (Eph 4:32). Hence it is clear that mercy does not destroy justice, but in a sense is the fulness thereof. And thus it is said: "Mercy exalteth itself above judgment" (Jas 2:13)."

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae, I, q. 21, art. 3, ad. 2.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

On good will

“A MAN is not called good or bad on account of his capabilities but on account of his actions, that is, not because he is able to act well but because he does in fact act well. When a man understands perfectly he becomes able to act well. Thus one who has the habit of grammar is able to speak correctly, but that he actually speak correctly he must will it. The reason is that a habit is that quality by which a person acts when he wishes, as the Commentator says in the third book De Anima. It is obvious then that good will makes a man act well according to every capability or habit obedient to reason.

“Therefore a man is called good simply because he has a good will. However, from the fact that he has a good intellect he is not good simply but relatively good, for example, a good grammarian or a good musician. Therefore, since choice pertains to the will but opinion to the intellect, we are called good or bad by reason of choice but not by reason of opinion.”

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. III, Lect. VI, 451.

Aristotle, Ethica ad Nicomachum, by Gaspare da Padova.
Manuscript, c. 1470; Biblioteca Historica, Universitat de Valencia, Valencia.

"The Body and Blood of the Lord"

“DOES any unbeliever profess that the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord is impossible? Then let him consider God’s omnipotence. Admit that nature can transform one thing into another, then with greater reason should you admit that God’s almighty power, which brings into existence the whole substance of things, can work, not as nature does, by changing forms in the same matter, but by changing one whole thing into another whole thing.”

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Concerning Reasons of the Faith, 8.

There is a Latin/English version of this short work De rationibus fidei, addressed to the Cantor of Antioch, which can be read online here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

On St. Anselm

St. Anselm (1033-1109): Archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor of the Church.

St. Anselm, an Italian-born theologian and philosopher, is generally styled the “Father of Scholasticism”. As a profound philosopher and theologian, Anselm developed a method of reasoning which prepared the way for the great thinkers of the Middle Ages. St. Thomas Aquinas cites Anselm numerous times in his works.

Learn more about St. Anselm:

The Rise of Scholasticism — St. Anselm (Jacques Maritain Center)

Brief bio page at EWTN

St. Anselm on Facebook

St. Anselm in the Catholic Encyclopedia

St. Anselm (center), by Luca della Robbia (1399/1400–1482).
Terra-cotta altarpiece; Museo Diocesano, Empoli, Italy.
(Source: Encyclopedia Britannica)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"The resurrection of Christ"

"IT IS, then, the effect of the death of Christ in regard to the remission of sin which we achieve in the sacraments, for, it has already been said, the sacraments work in the power of the passion of Christ.

"But the effect of the resurrection of Christ in regard to our liberation from death we shall achieve at the end of the world, when we shall all rise by the power of Christ. Hence, the Apostle says: “If Christ be preached that He arose again from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again. And if Christ be not risen again then is our preaching vain and our faith is vain" (1 Co 15:12-14). It is, then, a necessary tenet of faith to believe that there will be a resurrection of the dead."

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk. IV, Ch. 79.

No. 37 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 21. Resurrection (Noli me tangere),
by Giotto di Bondone. Fresco, 1304-06; Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Christ's descent into hell

"A thing is said to be in a place in two ways. First of all, through its effect, and in this way Christ descended into each of the hells, but in different manner. For going down into the hell of the lost He wrought this effect, that by descending thither He put them to shame for their unbelief and wickedness: but to them who were detained in Purgatory He gave hope of attaining to glory: while upon the holy Fathers detained in hell solely on account of original sin, He shed the light of glory everlasting.

"In another way a thing is said to be in a place through its essence: and in this way Christ's soul descended only into that part of hell wherein the just were detained. so that He visited them "in place," according to His soul, whom He visited "interiorly by grace," according to His Godhead. Accordingly, while remaining in one part of hell, He wrought this effect in a measure in every part of hell, just as while suffering in one part of the earth He delivered the whole world by His Passion."

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae, III, q. 52, a. 2.

Resurrection of Christ and the Harrowing of Hell,
by unknown Russian icon painter.
Egg tempera on wood, 1500-10; Ikonen-Museum, Recklinghausen.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Crucifixion

Whether it was necessary for Christ to suffer for the deliverance of the human race?

"IT IS written (Jn 3:14): "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting."

"...As the Philosopher teaches (Met. v), there are several acceptations of the word "necessary." In one way it means anything which of its nature cannot be otherwise; and in this way it is evident that it was not necessary either on the part of God or on the part of man for Christ to suffer. In another sense a thing may be necessary from some cause quite apart from itself; and should this be either an efficient or a moving cause then it brings about the necessity of compulsion; as, for instance, when a man cannot get away owing to the violence of someone else holding him. But if the external factor which induces necessity be an end, then it will be said to be necessary from presupposing such end—namely, when some particular end cannot exist at all, or not conveniently, except such end be presupposed. It was not necessary, then, for Christ to suffer from necessity of compulsion, either on God's part, who ruled that Christ should suffer, or on Christ's own part, who suffered voluntarily. Yet it was necessary from necessity of the end proposed; and this can be accepted in three ways. First of all, on our part, who have been delivered by His Passion, according to John (3:14): "The Son of man must be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting."

"Secondly, on Christ's part, who merited the glory of being exalted, through the lowliness of His Passion: and to this must be referred Luke 24:26: "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory?"

"Thirdly, on God's part, whose determination regarding the Passion of Christ, foretold in the Scriptures and prefigured in the observances of the Old Testament, had to be fulfilled. And this is what St. Luke says (22:22): "The Son of man indeed goeth, according to that which is determined"; and (Lk 24:44-46): "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was yet with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms concerning Me: for it is thus written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead.""

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae, III, q. 46, a. 1.

• See this and related questions in the Summa here.

Artwork: Crucifixion (detail), by Andrea da Firenze. Fresco, 1366-67; Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Christ's life of poverty

"IT was fitting for Christ to lead a life of poverty in this world. First, because this was in keeping with the duty of preaching, for which purpose He says that He came (Mk 1:38): "Let us go into the neighboring towns and cities, that I may preach there also: for to this purpose am I come." Now in order that the preachers of God's word may be able to give all their time to preaching, they must be wholly free from care of worldly matters: which is impossible for those who are possessed of wealth. Wherefore the Lord Himself, when sending the apostles to preach, said to them (Mt 10:9): "Do not possess gold nor silver." And the apostles (Acts 6:2) say: "It is not reasonable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables."

"Secondly, because just as He took upon Himself the death of the body in order to bestow spiritual life on us, so did He bear bodily poverty, in order to enrich us spiritually, according to 2 Corinthians 8:9: "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: that . . . He became poor for our sakes that through His poverty we might be rich."

"Thirdly, lest if He were rich His preaching might be ascribed to cupidity. Wherefore Jerome says on Matthew 10:9, that if the disciples had been possessed of wealth, "they had seemed to preach for gain, not for the salvation of mankind." And the same reason applies to Christ.

"Fourthly, that the more lowly He seemed by reason of His poverty, the greater might the power of His Godhead be shown to be. Hence in a sermon of the Council of Ephesus (P. iii, c. ix) we read: "He chose all that was poor and despicable, all that was of small account and hidden from the majority, that we might recognize His Godhead to have transformed the terrestrial sphere. For this reason did He choose a poor maid for His Mother, a poorer birthplace; for this reason did He live in want. Learn this from the manger." "

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae, III, q. 40, a. 3. 

 Scenes from the Life of Christ, by Fra Angelico.
Tempera on panel, 1451-52; Museo di San Marco, Florence.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

On Logic

CONCERNING Logic, Stuart Mill has said: “I am persuaded that nothing in modern education tends so much, when properly used, to form exact thinkers, who attach a precise meaning to words and propositions and are not imposed on by vague, loose or ambiguous terms. The boasted influence of mathematical studies is nothing to it, for in a mathematical process none of the real difficulties of correct ratiocination occur (mathematical proposition, for example, are but universal affirmatives; furthermore the two terms are united by the sign, hence the immediate possibility of pure and simple conversion, etc.). For want of some such discipline many otherwise able men are altogether incapable of disentangling the intricacies of confused and self-contradictory thought…”

~Quoted in An Introduction to Logic, by Jacques Maritain.

Logic, by Luca della Robbia.
Stone, c. 1437; Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Aquinas on Theology

• “There are two kinds of theology. One follows the reasonable course of inferring divine truths from meanings governing the physical world: it is thus that philosophers, claiming for fundamental philosophy, or metaphysics, the title of the divine science, have discussed theological truths. The other, while appreciating that at present when we are wayfarers we cannot see for ourselves the supreme evidence of divine truths, already begins through infused faith to take after and share in God’s knowledge by cleaving to His fundamental truth for its own sake.” (Exposition of the De Trinitate, 2, 2.)

• “The purpose of theology is threefold: to refute error, to teach sound morals, and to contemplate truth.” (On the Sentences I, Prol. 1, 5.)

• “Theology deserves to be called the highest wisdom, for everything is viewed in light of the first cause.” (Summa Contra Gentes, 2, 4.)

• “This doctrine is especially based upon arguments from authority, inasmuch as its principles are obtained by revelation: thus we ought to believe on the authority of those to whom the revelation has been made. Nor does this take away from the dignity of this doctrine, for although the argument from authority based on human reason is the weakest, yet the argument from authority based on divine revelation is the strongest. But sacred doctrine makes use even of human reason, not, indeed, to prove faith (for thereby the merit of faith would come to an end), but to make clear other things that are put forward in this doctrine. Since therefore grace does not destroy nature but perfects it, natural reason should minister to faith as the natural bent of the will ministers to charity. Hence the Apostle says: "Bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor 10:5).” (Summa Theologiae, Ia, q. 1, a. 8, ad. 2.)

• “The fact that some happen to doubt about articles of faith is not due to the uncertain nature of the truths, but to the weakness of human intelligence; yet the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things, as is said in de Animalibus xi.” (Summa Theologiae, Ia, q. 1, a. 5, ad 1.)

• “The principles of reason are the foundations of philosophy, the principles of faith are the foundations of Christian theology. The truths of philosophy are more restricted; they cannot be contrary to the truths of faith, but instead offer likenesses and anticipations of them. Nature is the prelude to grace.” (Exposition of the De Trinitate, 2, 3.)

Theology (ceiling tondo), by Raffaello Sanzio.
Fresco, 1509-11; Stanza della Segnatura,
Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican.

"It was necessary that they should be taught divine truths"

"IT WAS necessary for man's salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: "The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee" (Isaiah 64:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man's whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation."

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae, Ia, q. 1, a. 1.

Isaiah (detail), by Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Fresco, 1509; Cappella Sistina, Vatican.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Aristotle: "The most unholy and the most savage of animals"

"FOR man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society."

~Aristotle: Politics, I, 2.

Aristotle: Works, by Girolamo da Cremona.
Manuscript (PML 21194, 2 vol.), 1483;
The Morgan Library and Museum, New York.

John of St. Thomas: "We know God by way of negation"

“FROM the notion of pure act conceived as uncreated being arise five principal and, as it were, radical attributes pertaining to the very existence of God. They remove from the notion of pure act five conditions or defects of created and potential being, namely, composition, imperfection, limitation, change, and division or plurality. By means of the attributes which remove these conditions, we know God by way of negation (remotio). The five attributes are: Simplicity, which is opposed to composition; Perfection which is opposed to imperfection; Infinity, opposed to limitation; Immutability, opposed to change; Unity, opposed to division or plurality.”

~John of St. Thomas (John Poinsot): Introduction to the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas.


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