Saturday, June 21, 2014

On Original Sin

"THE whole order of original justice consists in man's will being subject to God: which subjection, first and chiefly, was in the will, whose function it is to move all the other parts to the end, as stated above (Q. 9, A. 1), so that the will being turned away from God, all the other powers of the soul become inordinate. Accordingly the privation of original justice, whereby the will was made subject to God, is the formal element in original sin; while every other disorder of the soul's powers, is a kind of material element in respect of original sin. Now the inordinateness of the other powers of the soul consists chiefly in their turning inordinately to mutable good; which inordinateness may be called by the general name of concupiscence. Hence original sin is concupiscence, materially, but privation of original justice, formally."

~St. Thomas Aquinas: S.T. I-II, Q. 82, A. 3.

"Divine help"

"MAN cannot even know truth without Divine help, as stated above (A. 1). And yet human nature is more corrupt by sin in regard to the desire for good, than in regard to the knowledge of truth."

~St. Thomas Aquinas: S.T. I-II, Q. 109, A. 2, ad. 3.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Charles Rice on Natural Law

Recommended reading:
50 Questions on the Natural Law: What It Is and Why We Need It, by Charles Rice.

Monday, June 16, 2014

F.C. Copleston vs Bertrand Russell

Fr. Frederick C. Copleston vs Bertrand Russell - Part 1
A debate between historian of philosophy, F.C. Copleston, and
the well-known atheist philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell,
on the existence of God.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Faith and reason

"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). Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason, as Paul quotes a saying of Aratus: "As some also of your own poets said: For we are also His offspring" (Acts 17:28). Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): "Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning." "

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae, I, q. 1, a. 8, ad. 2.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Approach to Thomism

By G.K. Chesterton

THE FACT that Thomism is the philosophy of common sense is itself a matter of common sense. Yet it wants a word of explanation, because we have so long taken such matters in a very uncommon sense. For good or evil, Europe since the Reformation, and most especially England since the Reformation, has been in a peculiar sense the home of paradox. I mean in the very peculiar sense that paradox was at home, and that men were at home with it. The most familiar example is the English boasting that they are practical because they are not logical. To an ancient Greek or a Chinaman this would seem exactly like saying that London clerks excel in adding up their ledgers, because they are not accurate in their arithmetic. But the point is not that it is a paradox; it is that paradoxy has become orthodoxy; that men repose in a paradox as placidly as in a platitude. It is not that the practical man stands on his head, which may sometimes be a stimulating if startling gymnastic; it is that he rests on his head; and even sleeps on his head. This is an important point, because the use of paradox is to awaken the mind. Take a good paradox, like that of Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Give us the luxuries of life and we will dispense with the necessities.” It is amusing and therefore arresting; it has a fine air of defiance; it contains a real if romantic truth. It is all part of the fun that it is stated almost in the form of a contradiction in terms. But most people would agree that there would be considerable danger in basing the whole social system on the notion that necessaries are not necessary; as some have based the whole British Constitution on the notion that nonsense will always work out as common sense. Yet even here, it might be said that the invidious example has spread, and that the modern industrial system does really say, "Give us luxuries like coal-tar soap, and we will dispense with necessities like corn."

So much is familiar; but what is not even now realised is that not only the practical politics, but the abstract philosophies of the modern world have had this queer twist. Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody’s system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody’s sense of reality; to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense. Each started with a paradox; a peculiar point of view demanding the sacrifice of what they would call a sane point of view. That is the one thing common to Hobbes and Hegel, to Kant and Bergson, to Berkeley and William James. A man had to believe something that no normal man would believe, if it were suddenly propounded to his simplicity; as that law is above right, or right is outside reason, or things are only as we think them, or everything is relative to a reality that is not there. The modern philosopher claims, like a sort of confidence man, that if once we will grant him this, the rest will be easy; he will straighten out the world, if once he is allowed to give this one twist to the mind.

It will be understood that in these matters I speak as a fool; or, as our democratic cousins would say, a moron; anyhow as a man in the street; and the only object of this chapter is to show that the Thomist philosophy is nearer than most philosophies to the mind of the man in the street. I am not, like Father D’Arcy, whose admirable book on St. Thomas has illuminated many problems for me, a trained philosopher, acquainted with the technique of the trade. But I hope Father D’Arcy will forgive me if I take one example from his book, which exactly illustrates what I mean. He, being a trained philosopher, is naturally trained to put up with philosophers. Also, being a trained priest, he is naturally accustomed, not only to suffer fools gladly, but (what is sometimes even harder) to suffer clever people gladly. Above all, his wide reading in metaphysics has made him patient with clever people when they indulge in folly. The consequence is that he can write calmly and even blandly sentences like these. “A certain likeness can be detected between the aim and method of St. Thomas and those of Hegel. There are, however, also remarkable differences. For St. Thomas it is impossible that contradictories should exist together, and again reality and intelligibility correspond, but a thing must first be, to be intelligible.”

Let the man in the street be forgiven, if he adds that the “remarkable difference” seems to him to be that St. Thomas was sane and Hegel was mad. The moron refuses to admit that Hegel can both exist and not exist; or that it can be possible to understand Hegel, if there is no Hegel to understand. Yet Father D’Arcy mentions this Hegelian paradox as if it were all in the day’s work; and of course it is, if the work is reading all the modern philosophers as searchingly and sympathetically as he has done. And this is what I mean by saying that a modern philosophy starts with a stumbling-block. It is surely not too much to say that there seems to be a twist, in saying that contraries are not incompatible; or that a thing can “be” intelligible and not as yet “be” at all.

Against all this the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkeleian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists; since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled egos by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs. The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God.

Thus, even those who appreciate the metaphysical depth of Thomism in other matters have expressed surprise that he does not deal at all with what many now think the main metaphysical question; whether we can prove that the primary act of recognition of any reality is real. The answer is that St. Thomas recognised instantly, what so many modern sceptics have begun to suspect rather laboriously; that a man must either answer that question in the affirmative, or else never answer any question, never ask any question, never even exist intellectually, to answer or to ask. I suppose it is true in a sense that a man can be a fundamental sceptic, but he cannot be anything else; certainly not even a defender of fundamental scepticism. If a man feels that all the movements of his own mind are meaningless, then his mind is meaningless, and he is meaningless; and it does not mean anything to attempt to discover his meaning. Most fundamental sceptics appear to survive, because they are not consistently sceptical and not at all fundamental. They will first deny everything and then admit something, if for the sake of argument or often rather of attack without argument. I saw an almost startling example of this essential frivolity in the professor of final scepticism, in a paper the other day. A man wrote to say that he accepted nothing but Solipsism, and added that he had often wondered it was not a more common philosophy. Now Solipsism simply means that a man believes in his own existence, but not in anybody or anything else. And it never struck this simple sophist, that if his philosophy was true, there obviously were no other philosophers to profess it.

To this question “Is there anything?” St. Thomas begins by answering “Yes”; if he began by answering “No”, it would not be the beginning, but the end. That is what some of us call common sense. Either there is no philosophy, no philosophers, no thinkers, no thought, no anything; or else there is a real bridge between the mind and reality. But he is actually less exacting than many thinkers, much less so than most rationalist and materialist thinkers, as to what that first step involves; he is content, as we shall see, to say that it involves the recognition of Ens or Being as something definitely beyond ourselves. Ens is Ens: Eggs are eggs, and it is not tenable that all eggs were found in a mare’s nest.

Needless to say, I am not so silly as to suggest that all the writings of St. Thomas are simple and straightforward; in the sense of being easy to understand. There are passages I do not in the least understand myself; there are passages that puzzle much more learned and logical philosophers than I am; there are passages about which the greatest Thomists still differ and dispute. But that is a question of a thing being hard to read or understand: not hard to accept when understood. That is a mere matter of "The Cat sat on the Mat” being written in Chinese characters; or "Mary had a Little Lamb” in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The only point I am stressing here is that Aquinas is almost always on the side of simplicity, and supports the ordinary man’s acceptance of ordinary truism. For instance, one of the most obscure passages, in my very inadequate judgment, is that in which he explains how the mind is certain of an external object and not merely of an impression of that object; and yet apparently reaches it through a concept, though not merely through an impression. But the only point here is that he does explain that the mind is certain of an external object. It is enough for this purpose that his conclusion is what is called the conclusion of common sense; that it is his purpose to justify common sense; even though he justifies it in a passage which happens to be one of rather uncommon subtlety. The problem of later philosophers is that their conclusion is as dark as their demonstration; or that they bring out a result of which the result is chaos.

Unfortunately, between the man in the street and the Angel of the Schools, there stands at this moment a very high brick wall, with spikes on the top, separating two men who in many ways stand for the same thing. The wall is almost a historical accident; at least it was built a very long time ago, for reasons that need not affect the needs of normal men today; least of all the greatest need of normal men; which is for a normal philosophy. The first difficulty is merely a difference of form; not in the medieval but in the modern sense. There is first a simple obstacle of language; there is then a rather more subtle obstacle of logical method. But the language itself counts for a great deal; even when it is translated, it is still a foreign language; and it is, like other foreign languages, very often translated wrong. As with every other literature from another age or country, it carried with it an atmosphere which is beyond the mere translation of words, as they are translated in a traveller’s phrase-book. For instance, the whole system of St. Thomas hangs on one huge and yet simple idea; which does actually cover everything there is, and even everything that could possibly be. He represented this cosmic conception by the word Ens; [Latin: "being" etc., etc.] and anybody who can read any Latin at all, however rudely, feels it to be the apt and fitting word; exactly as he feels it in a French word in a piece of good French prose. It ought only to be a matter of logic; but it is also a matter of language.

Unfortunately there is no satisfying translation of the word Ens. The difficulty is rather verbal than logical, but it is practical. I mean that when the translator says in English ‘being’, we are aware of a rather different atmosphere. Atmosphere ought not to effect these absolutes of the intellect; but it does. The new psychologists, who are almost eagerly at war with reason, never tire of telling us that the very terms we use are coloured by our subconsciousness, with something we meant to exclude from our consciousness. And one need not be so idealistically irrational as a modern psychologist, in order to admit that the very shape and sound of words do make a difference, even in the baldest prose, as they do in the most beautiful poetry. We can not quite prevent the imagination from remembering irrelevant associations even in the abstract sciences like mathematics. Jones Minimus, hustled from history to geometry, may for an instant connect the Angles of the isosceles triangle with the Angles of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; and even the mature mathematician, if he is as mad as the psychoanalyst hopes, may have in the roots of his subconscious mind something material in his idea of a root. Now it unfortunately happens that the word ‘being’, as it comes to a modern Englishman, through modern associations, has a sort of hazy atmosphere that is not in the short and sharp Latin word. Perhaps it reminds him of fantastic professors in fiction, who wave their hands and say, “Thus do we mount to the ineffable heights of pure and radiant Being: or, worse still, of actual professors in real life, who say, “All Being is Becoming; and is but the evolution of Not-Being by the law of its Being.” Perhaps it only reminds him of romantic rhapsodies in old love stories; “Beautiful and adorable being, light and breath of my very being”. Anyhow it has a wild and woolly sort of sound; as if only very vague people used it; or as if it might mean all sorts of different things.

Now the Latin word Ens has a sound like the English word End. It is final and even abrupt; it is nothing except itself. There was once a silly gibe against Scholastics like Aquinas, that they discussed whether angels could stand on the point of a needle. It is at least certain that this first word of Aquinas is as sharp as the point of a pin. For that also is, in an almost ideal sense, an End. But when we say that St. Thomas Aquinas is concerned fundamentally with the idea of Being, we must not admit any of the cloudier generalisations that we may have grown used to, or even grown tired of, in the sort of idealistic writing that is rather rhetoric than philosophy. Rhetoric is a very fine thing in its place, as a medieval scholar would have willingly agreed, as he taught it along with logic in the schools; but St. Thomas Aquinas himself is not at all rhetorical. Perhaps he is hardly even sufficiently rhetorical. There are any number of purple patches in Augustine; but there are no purple patches in Aquinas. He did on certain definite occasions drop into poetry; but he very seldom dropped into oratory. And so little was he in touch with some modern tendencies, that whenever he did write poetry, he actually put it into poems. There is another side to this, to be noted later. He very specially possessed the philosophy that inspires poetry; as he did so largely inspire Dante’s poetry. And poetry without philosophy has only inspiration, or, in vulgar language, only wind. He had, so to speak, the imagination without the imagery. And even this is perhaps too sweeping. There is an image of his, that is true poetry as well as true philosophy; about the tree of life bowing down with a huge humility, because of the very load of its living fruitfulness; a thing Dante might have described so as to overwhelm us with the tremendous twilight and almost drug us with the divine fruit. But normally, we may say that his words are brief even when his books are long. I have taken the example of the word Ens, precisely because it is one of the cases in which Latin is plainer than plain English. And his style, unlike that of St. Augustine and many Catholic Doctors, is always a penny plain rather than twopence coloured. It is often difficult to understand, simply because the subjects are so difficult that hardly any mind, except one like his own, can fully understand them. But he never darkens it by using words without knowledge, or even more legitimately, by using words belonging only to imagination or intuition. So far as his method is concerned, he is perhaps the one real Rationalist among all the children of men.

This brings us to the other difficulty; that of logical method. I have never understood why there is supposed to be something crabbed or antique about a syllogism; still less can I understand what anybody means by talking as if induction had somehow taken the place of deduction. The whole point of deduction is that true premises produce a true conclusion. What is called induction seems simply to mean collecting a larger number of true premises, or perhaps, in some physical matters, taking rather more trouble to see that they are true. It may be a fact that a modern man can get more out of a great many premises, concerning microbes or asteroids than a medieval man could get out of a very few premises about salamanders and unicorns. But the process of deduction from the data is the same for the modern mind as for the medieval mind; and what is pompously called induction is simply collecting more of the data. And Aristotle or Aquinas, or anybody in his five wits, would of course agree that the conclusion could only be true if the premises were true; and that the more true premises there were the better. It was the misfortune of medieval culture that there were not enough true premises, owing to the rather ruder conditions of travel or experiment. But however perfect were the conditions of travel or experiment, they could only produce premises; it would still be necessary to deduce conclusions. But many modern people talk as if what they call induction were some magic way of reaching a conclusion, without using any of those horrid old syllogisms. But induction does not lead us to a conclusion. Induction only leads us to a deduction. Unless the last three syllogistic steps are all right, the conclusion is all wrong. Thus, the great nineteenth century men of science, whom I was brought up to revere (“accepting the conclusions of science,” it was always called), went out and closely inspected the air and the earth, the chemicals and the gases, doubtless more closely than Aristotle or Aquinas, and then came back and embodied their final conclusion in a syllogism. “All matter is made of microscopic little knobs which are indivisible. My body is made of matter. Therefore my body is made of microscopic little knobs which are indivisible.” They were not wrong in the form of their reasoning; because it is the only way to reason. In this world there is nothing except a syllogism – and a fallacy. But of course these modern men knew, as the medieval men knew, that their conclusions would not be true unless their premises were true. And that is where the trouble began. For the men of science, or their sons and nephews, went out and took another look at the knobby nature of matter; and were surprised to find that it was not knobby at all. So they came back and completed the process with their syllogism; "All matter is made of whirling protons and electrons. My body is made of matter. Therefore my body is made of whirling protons and electrons." And that again is a good syllogism; though they may have to look at matter once or twice more, before we know whether it is a true premise and a true conclusion. But in the final process of truth there is nothing else except a good syllogism. The only other thing is a bad syllogism; as in the familiar fashionable shape; "All matter is made of protons and electrons. I should very much like to think that mind is much the same as matter. So I will announce through the microphone or the megaphone, that my mind is made of protons and electrons." But that is not induction; it is only a very bad blunder in deduction. That is not another or new way of thinking; it is only ceasing to think.

What is really meant, and what is much more reasonable, is that the old syllogists sometimes set out the syllogism at length; and certainly that is not always necessary. A man can run down the three steps much more quickly than that; but a man cannot run down the three steps if they are not there. If he does, he will break his neck, as if he walked out of a fourth-story window. The truth about this false antithesis of induction and deduction is simply this; that as premises or data accumulated, the emphasis and detail was shifted to them, from the final deduction to which they lead. But they did lead to a final deduction; or else they led to nothing. The logician had so much to say about electrons or microbes that he dwelt most on these data and shortened or assumed his ultimate syllogism. But if he reasoned rightly, however rapidly, he reasoned syllogistically.

As a matter of fact, Aquinas does not usually argue in syllogism; though he always argues syllogistically. I mean he does not set out all the steps of the logic in each case; the legend that he does so is part of that loose and largely unverified legend of the Renaissance; that the Schoolmen were all crabbed and mechanical medieval bores. But he does argue with a certain austerity, and disdain of ornament, which may make him seem monotonous to anyone specially seeking the modern forms of wit or fancy. But all this has nothing to do with the question asked at the beginning of this chapter and needing to be answered at the end of it; the question of what he is arguing for. In that respect it can be repeated, most emphatically, that he is arguing for common sense. He is arguing for a common sense which would even now commend itself to most of the common people. He is arguing for the popular proverbs that seeing is believing; that the proof of the pudding is in the eating; that a man cannot jump down his own throat or deny the fact of his own existence. He often maintains the view by the use of abstractions; but the abstractions are no more abstract than Energy or Evolution or Space-Time; and they do not land us, as the others often do, in hopeless contradictions about common life. The Pragmatist sets out to be practical, but his practicality turns out to be entirely theoretical. The Thomist begins by being theoretical, but his theory turns out to be entirely practical. That is why a great part of the world is returning to it today.

Finally, there is some real difficulty in the fact of a foreign language; apart from the ordinary fact of the Latin language. Modern philosophical terminology is not always exactly identical with plain English; and medieval philosophical terminology is not at all identical even with modern philosophical terminology. It is not really very difficult to learn the meaning of the main terms; but their medieval meaning is sometimes the exact opposite of their modern meaning. The obvious example is in the pivotal word “form”. We say nowadays, “I wrote a formal apology to the Dean”, or “The proceedings when we wound up the Tip-Cat Club were purely formal.” But we mean that they were purely fictitious; and St. Thomas, had he been a member of the Tip-Cat Club, would have meant just the opposite. He would have meant that the proceedings dealt with the very heart and soul and secret of the whole being of the Tip-Cat Club; and that the apology to the Dean was so essentially apologetic that it tore the very heart out in tears of true contrition.

For “formal” in Thomist language means actual, or possessing the real decisive quality that makes a thing itself. Roughly when he describes a thing as made out of Form and Matter, he very rightly recognises that Matter is the more mysterious and indefinite and featureless element; and that what stamps anything with its own identity is its Form. Matter, so to speak, is not so much the solid as the liquid or gaseous thing in the cosmos; and in this most modern scientists are beginning to agree with him. But the form is the fact; it is that which makes a brick a brick, and a bust a bust, and not the shapeless and trampled clay of which either may be made. The stone that broke a statuette, in some Gothic niche, might have been itself a statuette; and under chemical analysis, the statuette is only a stone. But such a chemical analysis is entirely false as a philosophical analysis. The reality, the thing that makes the two things real, is in the idea of the image and in the idea of the image-breaker. This is only a passing example of the mere idiom of the Thomist terminology; but it is not a bad prefatory specimen of the truth of Thomist thought. Every artist knows that the form is not superficial but fundamental; that the form is the foundation. Every sculptor knows that the form of the statue is not the outside of the statue, but rather the inside of the statue; even in the sense of the inside of the sculptor. Every poet knows that the sonnet-form is not only the form of the poem; but the poem. No modern critic who does not understand what the medieval Schoolman meant by form can meet the Schoolman as an intellectual equal.

~G.K. Chesterton: St. Thomas Aquinas, Chap VI.

St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi:
With Introductions by Ralph McInerny and Joseph Pearce

"The good life"

“THE good life does not consist in renouncing wealth, though that is one method of finding it. Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven—the impossibility is not alleged but the rarity is emphasized.”

~St. Thomas Aquinas: de Perfectione Vitae Spiritualis, 7.

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann.
1889; Riverside Church, New York.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Maritain: Faith vs. Atheism

By Jacques Maritain
The Range of Reason: Chap. VII, Section  III. Faith vs. Atheism.

The Dialectic of Anthropocentric Humanism

The dialectics of anthropocentric humanism developed within three centuries. Man's approach to God changed accordingly. For the notion of God ─ to the extent that it ceases to be encompassed and kept pure by revelation ─ is connected with the general state of culture, and its fate then conforms to that of culture.

At the first moment of humanistic dialectics, God, as we noted above, became the guarantor of man's domination over matter. He was a transcendent God, but imprisoned in his transcendence and forbidden to interfere in human affairs. He became a decorative God, the God of the classical rationalist world.

At the second moment, with Romanticist philosophy and the great Idealist metaphysicians, God became an idea. He was an immanent God engulfed in the dialectical progress of the self-asserting Idea and the evolving world. This God of pantheism and of the romanticist world was but the ideal borderline to which tended the development of mankind. He was also the absolute, total and unbending justification of good and evil ─ of evil fully as much as of good ─ of all the crimes, oppressions and iniquities of history as well as of its conquests and progress, particularly its progress in taking hold of material goods and power.

At a third moment, Feuerbach was to discover that God ─ such a God ─ alienated man from himself; Marx, that He was but an ideological mirror of the alienation or dehumanization of man accomplished, he thought, by private property. And Nietzsche was to become exhilarated by the mission with which he felt himself endowed, namely, to proclaim the death of God. How could God still live in a world from which His image, that is, the free and spiritual personality of man, seemed definitely destined to disappear? God as dead, God in the grave, was the God of the final agony and self-destruction of an age of civilization which had proclaimed the self-sufficiency of man. Atheism is the final end of the inner dialectics of anthropocentric humanism.

Practical Atheism and Absolute Atheism

Thus, we are confronted with the problem of atheism, the significance of which I shall discuss in the following chapter. There are several kinds of atheism. With respect to the first act of freedom I have distinguished between pseudo-atheism and true or absolute atheism. Let us say now that in point of fact the division is threefold. There are Pseudo-atheists who believe that they do not believe in God and who in reality unconsciously believe in Him, because the God whose existence they deny is not God but something else. There are practical atheists who believe that they believe in God (and who perhaps believe in Him in their brains) but who in reality deny His existence by each one of their deeds. Out of the living God they have made an idol. There are absolute atheists who actually deny the existence of the very God in Whom the believers believe and who are bound to change entirely their own scale of values and to destroy in themselves everything that connotes His name.

What is the meaning of this absolute atheism? Practical atheism does not pose any special problem for the philosopher, except the problem of the possibility of a deluded conscience and of the disagreement or cleavage between the intellect and the will, theoretical belief and actual behavior, or, in theological terms, between faith (dead faith) and charity. Dead faith is faith without love. The practical atheist accepts the fact that God exists ─ and forgets it on all occasions. His case is a case of voluntary, stubborn forgetting.

Quite different is the case of the absolute atheist. He does not forget God, he steadily thinks of Him ─ in order to free himself from Him. When he has acquired the intellectual persuasion that God does not exist, his task and endeavor is not finished; this very negation delivers him over to an inner dialectic which obliges him ceaselessly to destroy any resurgence in himself of what he has buried. For in denying God he has explicitly denied Transcendence. But in actual fact the good which every being desires, even without knowing it, is in the last analysis self-subsisting Good; and thus, in actual fact, the dynamism of human life, because it tends toward good and happiness, even if their true countenance is not recognized, tends implicitly, willy-nilly, toward Transcendence. Doubtless the absolute atheist may ascribe to superstition, or to human stupidity, or to human "alienation," every vestige or trace of Transcendence he contemplates in the common behavior and beliefs, and the individual or social life, of men. Yet within himself is the real drama. In proportion as the dialectic of atheism develops in his mind  ─  each time he is confronted with the natural notion of and natural tendency to an ultimate End, or with the natural notion of and natural attention to absolute values or unconditioned standards, or with any metaphysical anxiety ─ he will discover in himself vestiges of Transcendence which have not yet been abolished. He must get rid of them. God is a perpetual threat to him. His case is not a case of practical forgetting, but a case of deeper and deeper commitment to refusal and fight.

Thus absolute atheism is in no way a mere absence of belief in God. It is rather a refusal of God, a fight against God, a challenge to God. And when it achieves victory it changes man in his own inner behavior, it gives man a kind of stolid solidity, as if the spirit of man had been stuffed with dead substance, and his organic tissues turned into stone. As I shall try to point out in the next chapter, atheism begins with a kind of new start in moral activity, a determination to confront good and evil in an absolutely free experience, by casting aside any ultimate end ─ a determination which is mistaken for enfranchisement and moral maturity and boils down in reality to the complete giving of self to some earthly "Great Being": either Mankind as for Auguste Comte, or, as for others, a Work to be done or a Party to serve. At the same time the relation to the absolute Good which the moral good essentially implies is abolished, and as a result the very nature of the moral good is changed and is replaced by an idol. As I noted a while ago, the appearance of absolute atheism in human thought ─ with that violence which manifested itself at first in the philosophers of the "Hegelian Left" ─ was the conclusion of a progressive degradation of the idea of God. It heralded the beginning of a new age in which the process of death and the process of resurrection will develop together, confronting each other and struggling against each other.

With regard to culture, atheism is a mirror of the state to which the human being has been reduced. For since man is the image of God, it is but natural that he thinks of God according to the state in which that image presents itself at a given moment of culture. Absolute atheism means that the personality of man is definitely endangered; and that all the masks, the words, the shams, the facades, the palliatives, the plasters and cosmetics with which human conscience tries to deceive itself and to give us the appearance of men are henceforth useless and will be cast away. Picasso's art, in its present character, is the true art of atheism; I mean of that thorough defacement of contemporary man, which is mirrored in atheism. We are no more persons than the distorted, imbecile faces of those ferocious females are true human faces.

Absolute atheism is also a translation into crude and inescapable terms, a ruthless Counterpart, an avenging mirror, of the practical atheism of too many believers who betray their belief ─ Christians who keep in their minds the settings of religion, for the sake of appearances or outward show, or because of the class or family advantages that religion seems to them to protect, but who deny the gospel and despise the poor, pass through the tragedy of their time only with resentment against anything that endangers their interests and fear for their own prestige or possessions, contemplate without flinching every kind of injustice if it does not threaten their own way of life. Only concerned with power and success, they are either anxious to have means of external coercion enforce what they term the "moral order," or else they turn with the wind and are ready to comply with any requirement of so-called historical necessity. They sport a clear conscience, and live and act as if God did not exist. Such men and women invoke the name of God and do not believe in Him in their hearts. They live on empty formulas and stereotyped phrases, on mental clichés. They cherish every kind of sham that will flatter and deceive them. They await the deceivers. They are famished for deception, because first they themselves are trying to deceive God.

In their own existence absolute atheists have substituted the cosmic dynamism of nature for the supratemporal life of the soul. Spiritually they are the walking dead, wagging powerful hands. At least they appear as they are. In some of them, moreover, the process of death is not yet complete; there still remains a hidden germ of life, a living thirst. And this subsisting germ, thwarted, denudated, stripped of every rational support, calls for an inner transformation all the more desperately as it resists the destruction and havoc which atheism has brought everywhere else into the spiritual substance of man. Such errant persons, if they receive the grace of faith, may become Christians for whom nothing is of account except God and the gospel. For them atheism will have been a sort of hellish purification.

Practical atheists also have buried their souls. But they have the appearance and color of life although they are dust within. The gospel terms them whited sepulchers. It would be too optimistic to pretend that their time has passed. Yet to say that they will be of no great use in the coming struggles and hazards of civilization seems to be an understatement.

The Requirements of Living Faith

Atheists and believers are crossing together the threshold of the future. They will travel a long way, each asserting his own position against the other, each endeavoring to inculcate the human mind and civilization with his particular philosophy. Under penalty of death civilization will have to overcome atheism and free itself of its inspiration. This cannot be done by external means of pressure, nor will the finest propaganda serve to achieve it. The workings of reason ─ deep and thorough intellectual enlightenment ─ are necessary. But first of all the testimony of love is needed. If it is true that absolute atheism is primarily the fruit and condemnation of practical atheism, and its reflected image in the mirror of divine wrath, then it must be said that the cardinal prerequisite for getting rid of absolute atheism is first to get rid of practical atheism. A decorative Christianity is henceforth not enough. A living Christianity is necessary to the world. Faith must be actual, practical, existential faith. To believe in God must mean to live in such a manner that life could not possibly be lived if God did not exist. For the practical believer, gospel justice, gospel attentiveness to everything human must inspire not only the deeds of the saints, but the structure and institutions of common life, and must penetrate to the depths of terrestrial existence.

This is not conceivable, even in the imperfect ways of humanity and amid the hard conflicts of the coming age, if in those who believe in God the true sources are not alive, and if the life they must give to the world does not flow down into them from the heights of God-given wisdom. A great deal of wisdom, a great deal of contemplation will be required in order to make the immense technological developments of our day truly human and liberating. At this point one should recall Henri Bergson's observations on the mutual need which "mystics" and "mechanics" have of each other, and on the supplément d'âme, the "increase in soul" that must vivify the body of our civilization, a body now become too large. Contemplative life, perhaps in new forms, and made available not only to the chosen few but to the common man if he actually believes in God, will be the prerequisite of that very activity which tries to make the leaven of the gospel penetrate every portion of the world.

As I pointed out many years ago, the deepest requirement of a new age of civilization, to the extent to which Christianity inspires it, will be the sanctification of secular life. For pagan antiquity, holy was synonymous with sacred; that is, with what had been set apart to be physically, visibly, socially assigned to the service of God. But the gospel has made moral life and sanctity retire into the inner world of the hearts of men, into the secrecy of the invisible relations between the divine Personality and the human personality. Both, the men involved in the secular or temporal order and those involved in the sacred order, must tend to the perfection of human life; that is, to the perfection of love, and to inner sanctity.

In these perspectives we may understand that a new "style" of sanctity (I do not speak of a new "type" of sanctity, for sanctity has its eternal type in the person of Christ), a new step in the sanctification of secular life, is needed for the rejuvenation of the world. Not only will the spirit of Christ overflow into secular life, and seek for witnesses among those who labor in yards and factories, in social work, politics or poetry, as well as among monks dedicated to the search for perfection; but a kind of divine simplification will help people to realize that the perfection of human life does not consist in a stoic athleticism of virtue or in a humanly calculated application of holy recipes, but rather in a ceaselessly increasing love, despite our mistakes and weaknesses, between the Uncreated Self and the created Self. There will be a growing consciousness that everything depends on that descent of the divine plenitude into the human being of which I spoke above, and which performs in man death and resurrection. There will be a growing consciousness that man's sanctification has its touchstone in the love of his fellow man, which requires him to be always ready to give what he has ─ and himself ─ and finally to die in some manner for those he loves.


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Friday, June 6, 2014

Maritain: Cubism

"When on visiting an art gallery one passes from the rooms of the primitives to those in which the glories of oil painting and of a much more considerable material science are displayed, the foot takes a step on the floor but the soul takes a steep fall. It had been taking the air on the everlasting hills: it now finds itself on the floor of a theatre ─ a magnificent theatre. With the sixteenth century the lie installed itself in painting, which began to love science for its own sake, endeavoring to give the illusion of nature and to make us believe that in the presence of a painting we are in the presence of the scene or the subject painted, not in the presence of a painting.

"The great classicists from Raphael to Greco, to Zurbaran, Lorrain, and Watteau, succeeded in purifying art of this lie; realism, and, in a sense, impressionism, delighted in it. Does Cubism in our day, despite its enormous deficiencies, represent the still groping and noisy childhood of an art once again pure? The barbarous dogmatism of its theorists compels one to doubt this very much, and to fear that the new school may be endeavoring to free itself radically from naturalist imitation only to immobilize itself in stultae quaestiones, by denying the primary conditions which essentially distinguish Painting from the other arts, from Poetry, for instance, or from Logic."

~Jacques Maritain: from Art and Scholasticism, Chap. VII.

"That thorough defacement of contemporary man"

"PICASSO'S art, in its present character, is the true art of atheism; I mean of that thorough defacement of contemporary man, which is mirrored in atheism. We are no more persons than the distorted, imbecile faces of those ferocious females are true human faces."

~Jacques Maritain: The Range of Reason.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


"The Philosopher says (Ethic. v, 5): "We should repay those who are gracious to us, by being gracious to them return," and this is done by repaying more than we have received. Therefore gratitude should incline to do something greater.

"...Gratitude regards the favor received according the intention of the benefactor; who seems be deserving of praise, chiefly for having conferred the favor gratis without being bound to do so. Wherefore the beneficiary is under a moral obligation to bestow something gratis in return. Now he does not seem to bestow something gratis, unless he exceeds the quantity of the favor received: because so long as he repays less or an equivalent, he would seem to do nothing gratis, but only to return what he has received. Therefore gratitude always inclines, as far as possible, to pay back something more."

~St. Thomas Aquinas: ST II-II, Q. 106, A. 6.

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