Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The nature of God

“THOUGH GOD is wholly simple we must still address him with a multitude of names. Our mind is not able to grasp his essence. We have to start from the things about us, which have diverse perfections though their root and origin in God is one. Because we cannot name objects except in the way we understand them, for words are signs of concepts, we can name God only from the terms employed elsewhere. These are manifold, therefore we must make use of many terms. Were we to see God in himself we would not call on a multitude of words; our knowledge would be as simple as his nature is simple. We look forward to this in the day of our glory; in that day there shall be one Lord and his name one (Zach. xiv, 9).”

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Compendium of Theology, 24.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Maritain: "The sanctity of truth"

“IT WAS the Scholastic doctors who, by distinguishing in most rigorous fashion the order of knowledge from that of affectivity, by regulating their thoughts exclusively in accordance with the objective exigencies of being, taught Western civilization the value of truth and what speculative purity, or chastity, ought to be—a complete detachment from every biological consideration and all urging of the appetites, a sheer disinterest, even in those concerns which man holds most sacred….

“It was not only at the cost of rigorous discipline that the thought schooled in the Middle Ages learned to train its sights on the sole and immaculate truth: it was thanks as well to a distinctively Christian love of the sanctity of truth….

“It is because , at a certain moment in history, men knew that God was Subsisting Truth; and because they loved above all One who said: “The truth will set you free,” and “I am come into the world to give testimony to the truth,” and “I am the truth;” it is for all this that despite every obstacle, a religious respect for truth has—or had—developed in the heart of our culture, and that all truth even the most obscure, the most importunate, or the most dangerous, has become sacred, simply because it is truth. 

“When we declare that the Christian state of philosophy is a superior and privileged one, it is first and above all because in this state alone philosophy can fully recognize that truth is holy insofar as it is truth, and approach holy truth with a respect that is plenary and universal—with a respect that is so human in the highest sense of this word that its supra-human origin must be acknowledged.” 

~Jacques Maritain: from An Essay on Christian Philosophy


“When the original version of An Essay on Christian Philosophy appeared in France, it was accepted in many quarters as the definitive statement of the Thomistic position on the subject. Some questions were raised, however, regarding certain theses upheld by Mr. Maritain in that study, and this led to further elucidations by him in another work, which was translated into English under the title Science and Wisdom.” ~from the Translator’s Foreword (1955).


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Adler: The Dignity of Man and the 21st Century

The Dignity of Man and the 21st Century
By Mortimer J. Adler
(A speech delivered to members of The Commonwealth Club, Oct. 10, 1952)

President White, members of The Commonwealth Club, my pleasure in addressing The Commonwealth Club today is exceeded only by my even greater pleasure in now being a resident member and very soon, I hope, a voting citizen of the commonwealth itself. At the moment, I am disfranchised. This is something that I think should be taken care of by constitutional amendment; it should be possible to move from state to state and still vote in presidential elections. 

The announcement that I was to talk to you today on the 21st century, I think had its origin in the fact that last May and June, the time that I was trying to explain the work of the Institute of Philosophical Research to the press, I did say, I did mean, more than say, I meant that this work would probably take something around 50 years to do and its effect might be felt in the 21st century, if not the 20th. But I am not going to engage today with you in large-scale prophecies. It would be too much of a strain, I think, upon your patience and your attention to indulge in guessing about things- what things would be like on October 10, 2052 when what all of you are interested in is in guessing about or betting what they're going to be like on November 4, 1952. 

Let me only say in passing, at this point, that has something been made of, the work the Institute is engaging in is a long-term project ─ that is, if the money lasts ─ a long-term project that may go on for many years. This 50-year point is not the only thing that's perplexing about the House on the Hill. I find from all sorts of quarters that the phrase, "philosophical research" is not generally intelligible. People know what it means to be philosophical, and they know what it means for scientists and others to do research, but when the words philosophical and research get put together, this becomes mysterious. I'm not going to tell you all the indications of this and all my recent experiences, but I would like to mention three very quickly. 

We've had quite a large number of phone calls at the Institute asking us when we are going to begin to conduct services. Last week, I was at the Hotel Huntington in Pasadena, and a manuscript came down to me there with the mailing label of the Institute on it. And, the bellboy that delivered to me at my room said, he said, "Doctor, this thing says philosophical research. What's that, what's that?" And I said, "Oh" ─ it was about a quarter to eight in the morning and I was in no mood to explain ─ I said, "Oh, that's just thinking, just thinking." And he said, "Oh, I'm very sorry." Obviously very disappointed. And he said, "Oh, I thought it had something to do with mental telepathy." And the third and most recent experience is this telegram I have in my hands from the head of the Speakers Bureau from one of the two national parties, I will let you guess which, asking me to go on tour and stump for one of the two candidates. That isn't the important fact. The important fact is that it's addressed to me as Mortimer J. Adler, Institute of Philanthropical Research. I think if I did what I was asked to do I would be the head of the Institute of Philanthropical Research. 

Now to explain to you today, at least indirectly, the work of the Institute and its relation to the 21st century, I want to talk to you directly and immediately about an issue that I think is much deeper than all the issues in the present campaign ─ one on which our future depends much more than these that are being discussed, precisely because it is a matter of how our people as a whole, not just our leaders, think about human life and human society. This issue, which I shall elaborate on in some detail, this issue we tend to think of as an issue between East and West; as an issue between democracy and communism, the issue which involves on our side respect for the dignity of man as the very basis of a free society versus the degradation of man under one or another form of totalitarianism. A week or more ago, General Eisenhower, in a speech in Milwaukee, said precisely this. He said, "Communism and freedom signify two titanic ideas; two ways of life, two totally irreconcilable beliefs about the nature and destiny of man. The one, freedom knows man as a creature of God blessed with a free and individual destiny, governed by eternal, moral, and natural laws. The second, communism, claims man to be an animal creature of the state, curses him for his stubborn instinct for independence, governs him with a tyranny that makes its subjects wither away." 

On this, I think we can all be sure that Governor Stevenson would also agree. On this, there can be no, I think, real difference of opinion by anyone who could even begin to run for the presidency of the United States. Now, you may say, of course, that these two men would not agree about what they would do about it in the face of the issue. That may be true. What I want to say is that I think that it's more important, more important than this agreement about what to do about it is what we, as a people, now in this year and in the years to come, do about understanding the issue because the immediate practical steps we take are not wisely taken or well-advised unless they are taken upon a better understanding of what it means to affirm before, espouse the dignity of man. 

It often seems to me that when we talk about this issue as being one between East and West, we fail to realize that it's a deep issue within our own national boundaries. It seems to me, or in some sense, more important for us to realize that this issue concerning the dignity of man, his nature and his destiny, is an issue in the very heart of American life itself. I do not mean that most of us, if asked the point-blank question, would not affirm in words like this respect for the dignity of the human person, his rights and liberties. I think we would all do that. But I mean that for many of us, and particularly for individual leaders, that affirmation might prove, in many cases, to be lip service. And the evidence for this point, which is, I think, a damaging one if true, the evidence for this point lies in the fact that there's so many aspects of American life, both in action and in speech and in thought, that stand in direct conflict with a genuine and understanding belief in the dignity of man. 

It is not new to you, would be new to you to hear me say, it is not infrequently said, that American life is through and through materialistic. Not only materialistic in its preoccupation with the multiplication of things in productivity, in the comforts and conveniences of life, but materialistic even more deeply in the things we honor and respect. And, if this is true or to whatever extent it is true, this prevalent materialism in our view of things is in deep conflict with a genuine respect for the dignity of man, which is inseparable from some attribution to him of a spiritual nature. 

There is also widespread in American life, a relativism about morals. The notion that good and bad, right and wrong are, for the most part, matters of opinion, subject to taste and individual preference, but not subject to universal principle and law. And here, again, this attitude, this relativism in morals, is in deep conflict with notions that are connected with the conception of man's personal dignity, conceptions that General Eisenhower mentioned of the natural moral law, the objective standards of right and wrong. And even more deeply than those two is, I think, for most of us in school or out, college graduates or not, a skepticism which is somehow widespread in the 20th century, a skepticism about the power of reason itself, either as a faculty for inquiring into the truth or as a faculty for guiding human life wisely and well. 

One could go even more deeply, but to do so, I think, would have to go beyond philosophy and into religion. Because wherever there is ─ and, with respect to the dignity of man, these two things are not quite separable ─ wherever there is among us, doubt about man as created in the image of God, doubt about man's immortal soul and eternal destiny wherever there is a thoroughgoing naturalism, a reduction of man to the same natural plane that all other creatures are on; there again, I think, you have beliefs and doctrines that are fundamentally inconsistent with respect for the dignity of man. 

Well, if this issue is our issue, it's not merely an issue of America versus Russia or East versus West, it's an issue right in America today. Then let's look at the issue a little more closely and examine what is involved in the two sides of it. Let me just state the issue first, then examine why it became the issue of the 20th century, and not of previous centuries, and face it both as a theoretical and a practical issue. 

I think I would say that in order consistently and coherently and with full understanding of the grounds, in order to affirm the dignity of man and to affirm in addition that man and man alone of all terrestrial beings has this special dignity, one would have to affirm the following propositions: that man and man alone is a rational animal with free will; that all the other creatures on earth from stones up to apes, have no reason and no freedom, no choice, in the course of their behavior; that the kind of reason man has is, in the conduct of human affairs, able to direct his free decisions, of the decisions that we make individually and as societies; that man is a person, not a thing, and that we understand that this distinction between being a person or being a thing is a distinction that is radically one of kind, not of degree: you can't be more or less of a person or more or less of a thing. All the objects in the world divide absolutely into persons and things, and man, on earth at least, man and man alone is a person, that as such, that as such, he is created, created in God's image and that, as a person with reason and free will, he had only as a person with reason and free will, does he have inalienable natural rights, especially those of citizenship and all the basic civil rights and liberties. And that, as a person, with reason and free will, he is innately imbued with the natural moral law, which is the guide of his conduct and the source of his obligations and which finally appoints to him a good or end or goal that transcends this temporal life and the welfare of the state as such. This is a body of notions that hang together, no one of which, I think, can be torn apart from the others. If anyone is affirming, really affirming the dignity of man, he's affirming all these things together. 

Now, on the opposite side, these are the denials which I think are involved in denying the dignity of man, any one of which involve the denial of man's dignity: that man differs from all the other things around him, from apes, all brute animals in general, or animals in general, and plants and stones, only in degree; that he differs only in degree, in consequence of his having an origin on earth by a natural evolution from these other things, particularly the higher forms of animal life; that he's not rational, but that he has a much greater power of intelligence, the same kind of intelligence, but much greater in degree than other animals, an intelligence useful to him in the struggle for existence and survival, an intelligence which so used gives him a rule of expediency. And since the Bible is the ultimate biological criterion here, it is a measure of expediency that judges what the intelligent decision is. 

He is a creature like other creatures of instinct, though he has the power to rationalize. Not to direct by reason his conduct, but to give reasons for conduct that arises from deep irrational or unrational instinctive impulses. That he has no free will or free choice, but like all other things, is like a machine subject to the simple deterministic laws or even in the indeterministic laws of physics. And that, like other animals, particularly other social animals, he is subordinate to the life of the group and the life of the species of which he is a member. There are no universal moral principles that bind all men and oblige them and no man has, beyond this temporal sphere, a good or an end beyond the welfare of the state. Any one of these things, any one of these things would I think involve the denial of man's dignity. 

Now, this issue that I've sort of set up for you in terms of opposite affirmations and denials, I think, has come to the boiling point or has come into full focus only in our own century. I don't mean that it doesn't have its roots before, one can see it rising towards the end of the 18th coming even nearer, clearer into view, in the middle of the 19th with Darwin, but I think it is only in our century that a real confrontation of these two sides of the issue has occurred. Let me document that just a little in the time. And the reason why I think that this is important to recognize is that this is not an ancient issue. At least it wasn't an ancient issue that had the insistence it has today, and if I'm right about this, then this is an issue which what we do about one which our thinking about in the 20th century may have deep significance for the 21st. 

If one went back through 25 centuries of the Western tradition ─ I want to stay with the West for a while ─ and, looked at it in terms of its Hebrew roots and development, its Greek and Roman, its Christian development, looked at all the major strains in that tradition, one would find ancient, medieval and modern down to the end of the 18th century, what I would like to call the great traditional view of man, which affirms his dignity in terms of the character of his reason and his freedom, the nature of his soul, the manner in which he was created, and the manner in which his destiny is appointed. It often seemed to me that though one could cite this philosopher or that philosopher to document the point ─ I don't mean to say that there isn't disagreement among philosophers on minor points there ─ nevertheless, in that famous speech which Hamlet gives in the second act, there is in the magnificent language of Shakespeare, an eloquent summary of the great traditional view that for almost 25 centuries, Western man had upped man's nature and his place on earth. The lines that Hamlet speaks are these: "What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties. In form and moving, how express and admirable. In action, how like an angel. In apprehension, how like a god. The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals." 

That, I say, was how man looked at himself and understood himself for almost the whole of the Western tradition. Only in the 20th century does the opposite view become widely prevalent, especially, I would say, in our learned circles, in our colleges and universities. I don't mean that it began there, it begins with some dissenting voices on the part of Machiavelli and Montaine. It begins with some dissent from Hume, but I think that Freud, who was one of the great dissenters here, has really hit the nail on the head, when in a famous lecture recently, with one of the last lectures he gave in his life, he said that in the course of modern history, with the development of modern science, I quote him now, "Humanity, in recent times, has had to endure from the hands of science, three great outrages, three great outrages, upon its naïve self-love".

Science, he says, has dealt three cruel blows to man's self-esteem. What are they? One, Copernicus, the Copernican revolution that took man from being the inhabitant of the Earth which was the center of the universe, and put him out at the far edges of space, a speck upon a small planet, in a small solar system, in a small galaxy, moving at almost infinite speed away from other galaxies in an enormous universe which dwarfed him completely. This changed man's estimation of himself. 

Secondly, says Freud, the second great attack on man's self-esteem came from Darwin. Not with the beginning of the negation of the notion that man was specially created in God's image and a substitution, therefore, of the notion that he is like other things, a descendant from other creatures, in this case, a descendant from a common ancestor with the anthropoid apes. 

And then the third great blow dealt to man's self-esteem and his conception of himself, Freud says, quite modestly, "I, myself, delivered." "When, through my work, through the work of modern psychology," meaning himself, of course, "we learned that it was not through reason and free will that man was a master of his own conduct, but rather that man was subject to instinctive drives, unconscious impulses and emotions which, at best, he can only rationalize and not really control." And, since Freud wrote this, there's even a fourth, not so much on this continent as in Western Europe, a fourth great blow to man's self-esteem, an attack upon the traditional conception of man which comes from all varieties of 20th century existentialism. 

This, I say, Freud is right. This issue has come to focus in our time because, slowly, slowly, the results of modern astronomy, modern biology, and modern psychology have made us feel that man is not what once man thought he was. This is our issue more than any other because, as we decided, we decided about a great many other things, about man's moral responsibilities, about man in relation to the state, about the very nature of government. And I say it is not merely an issue between East and West, but one we must decide for ourselves because I do not think that most Americans have understood this issue or know what they mean or are even consistent in the way they take one side or the other of it. 

Let's go back to the issue again. Let me see if I can state the issue in its essence, purely theoretically, and then state it practically for you. Because there's theoretical questions here and then there are deep, practical questions that flow in consequence from these theoretical issues. On the theoretical side, purely a matter of pure speculation, science or philosophy, either one, makes no difference now for the moment. The question is, when one looks at the whole of nature, looks at the whole of nature, whether that nature, the whole of nature, the world, the things, is constituted as a hierarchy of kinds with real steps up in grades of being, one thing really higher in being, in value than another. Or whether the whole of nature represents a continuum from the least particle to the most complex organization of matter, nevertheless, a continuum of degrees of the same kind of thing. And whichever one of those divisions you take, you look at man differently. 

Again, it's a basic theoretical question as to whether or not the laws of natural evolution, which do apply to the kind of species the botanists and zoologists deal with, also apply to the great distinctions among the forms of life and especially the man, the question whether man, in fact, originated on Earth by natural evolution ─ the Darwinian theory of man's descent ─ or by God creating him. This is an issue you can't take both sides on. It either happened one way or the other. And, accordingly, as you take one side or the other, you look at man differently and judge the question of his dignity differently. And the third is an issue, theoretically now, between all forms of materialism and mechanism on the one hand, and on the other, the notion that the world is not constituted of matter only, it does not always operate in the form of mechanical laws or mechanical procedures. For, as against the claims of the thoroughgoing materialist or mechanist, there would be on the opposite side the claim that though man has a body and his body obeys the laws of mechanics, in part, man also has a soul, which is a spiritual soul that has other laws and grounds. 

Now, as you face this theoretical issue, practical consequences flow as follows: four, let me take just three to illustrate this. Let's think of our whole system of laws in Western Europe ─ Greek, Roman, Germanic, Anglo-American common law, the common jurisprudence of the Western world. If there is any fundamental distinction upon which that jurisprudence rests, it is the distinction between person and thing. The law of the person, the law of the thing. Persons have rights that things do not. Just think of the words, "kill" and "murder." You can destroy a thing, you cannot murder a thing, and I mean by the word "thing" now to include all the forms of animal life and plant life. You can't murder a rose, you can't murder a dog, you can kill a dog, but you can only murder a man, as we understand these terms because the thing we're involved here in the notion of murder is the violation of something sacred and only, by the distinction of persons and things, is a life of a person sacred, not the existence of a thing. Mr. Schweitzer disagrees with this, and many in the East disagree with this, but all I want to do is draw the lines here for you. 

Nor can you enslave a thing, you cannot exploit. You can misuse an animal wantonly, but you can't exploit a domesticated animal. You can't enslave an animal. Why can't you? Because the animal is a thing and is, therefore, of such a sort that it can be a means used. It is just, it is just and right to use things as means, but if men are persons, it is neither just nor right to ever use, ever to use them as means or merely as means for what a person is, is that which must be treated as an end. Always regard it as an end to be served and never as a mere means to be used. So, I say if man is not a person, if man is merely a higher grade or degree of thing, then all of our fundamental jurisprudence in the West should be revised. Or, we must go on saying, well, even though man isn't really a person, we will, for some practical reasons, treat him as if he were, which, I think is utterly unsound and unsteady. 

Well, let's look at democracy for a moment. The essence of democracy is not liberty. The essence of constitutional government is liberty, but democracy goes beyond liberty to equality. The essence of democracy is equality, the equality of all men, the equality of all men as men and as citizens. Now, you know, every time anyone examines the Declaration of Independence and reads the line, "We hold these true to be self-evident" that God created all men equal, all men were created equal, there usually can be a great deal of sophistry about it. Everyone says, "Well, it's perfectly obvious it isn't true. All men are not equal." The most obvious thing about any thousand men you can collect in one place is their great inequality in almost every human trait. Some are more intelligent, some are taller, some are stronger, some have better stances, some have better health, unequal in every respect. 

If this is true, if men differ in degree from one another, as men as a whole ─ the opposite position says, differ in degree from their nearest animal kin, the apes ─ then I say to you, there is no equality of men, there are only approximate equalizations of a degree. And, if we are justified by our superiority in degree over the other animals, in treating them as we do, killing them without calling it murder, using them without calling it slavery, then I say the superior man or the superior race of men is just as much entitled to take inferior men in degree and enslave them or kill them for his needs or purposes. 

The only way to protect intellectually, to save yourself from this position, is to say no: Men differ in degree, but only within a fundamental equality which is theirs because they are all persons and differ radically in kind from all other things, which are things. In other words, the proposition that all men were created equal means equal as persons, not equal as individuals. Equal in that they all are persons and have the rights of persons. Without this affirmation, democracy doesn't stand. For upon the equality of human rights, in virtue of personality, also from that flows the equality of men as citizens and all the other democratic propositions about equal, social, political and economic opportunity and right. 

Finally, let's go from the legal to the political to the religious aspect of our lives. And you will react to this in proportion as you think that religion is an important part of a culture or an important part of Western culture in the fight that exists in the world today. If you do, then what I'm saying is serious because the validity of all the Western religions; Judaism, Mohammedism, and Christianity in all its forms, I think depends upon the proposition that man and man alone is created in God's image. 

If this proposition is not true, then I think certainly Christianity, and I think with it Judaism and the Mohammedism as well, have no genuine basis for all the things that they recommend for men to do, for the salvation they promise, for the moral and spiritual life they exhort men to undertake. And here at this point, by the way, you have the deepest rift between East and West, a rift that may take centuries, way past the 21st century, to overcome, because in any culture, such as that of India, in which there are sacred animals ─ let me make this one point ─ in which there are any sacred animals and in which those sacred animals take precedence, have priority over human life, you've got a totally different picture of what man is and of human society and human life. The Western religions and the Western religions alone, I think, make man the sacred animal and no other. This is not true, I think, for other religions and, particularly, for the great religions or philosophies of the East. And this difference between East and West on the dignity, sacredness of man, is one much deeper than all the political issues that we face in the world today and affects the problem we face when we consider the unity of the world, politically and culturally. 

Now, in terms of this issue, let me take one moment more at the end of this half hour to explain the work of the Institute and its relation to the 21st century. We have chosen this problem, the nature, origin, and destiny of man as the first subject on which we want to do, what we call, philosophical research. Let me say it once what we are not going to do. We are not going to argue or develop arguments for one side of this set of issues against the other. That would be to no avail, the arguments exist pretty well developed, as a matter of fact. There are many forceful exponents of both sides of these issues. And to argue some more on one side or the other, I think, for the most part, would not produce the result we are looking for. Instead, what we want to do is to take this issue and many others after it ─ this is merely the first ─ and try to clarify it by stating the questions, the questions that all sides of the controversy are engaging in, facing, undertaking to answer as precisely as possible and more than that, connecting those questions with one another so inexorably that the basic either/ors become inescapable choices for everyone. 

I can make the importance of this clear to you by addressing myself to you personally, I hope with no injustice done to anyone. In this audience, for example, right now, it would be my guess that there are many persons whose minds are on both sides of this basic issue, whose minds are really ─ there are logic- type compartments who affirm one thing when they think about that and then quite inconsistently, incoherently even, affirm something incompatible with it over here, and don't know it because, I think, no one of decent intellectual self-respect really, really embraces inconsistencies and contradictions gladly. 

There are people in this audience, most of you, for example, I'm sure affirm the dignity of man with a goodness of a free society and the rightness, the justice of democratic government. But I'm also sure that many of you affirming that would accept the Darwinian hypothesis as to man's origin or of Freudian or behavioristic psychology concerning his nature and actions: that many of the persons who would affirm man's dignity would also deny, that man had free will or deny that man has a spiritual or immortal soul and would certainly doubt, if not deny that there's anything supernatural about man in origin or destiny. 

Now, if the work you want to do can achieve this, if the basic either/ors ─ either this or that, either this or that ─ were made clear and all of them, either this or that, either this or that, so far as we could divide in twos or threes or fours, not necessarily always in twos, were seen in their inseparable connections with one another, then everyone who could think and would desire to think might realize that on many of these questions there is no middle ground, no compromise, no refuge from clarity or coherence or consistency. 

This is what we're going to try to do with respect to this first subject, and after that, with a succession of other fundamental issues both theoretical and practical that have occupied the attention, the thought, the concern of the whole Western tradition. It is my own faith that when issues become clear to people and when all the basic choices involved in those issues become connected for them, that the truth prevails. I personally think the truth lies on one side of this issue. I'm not being open-minded about this, but I'm saying that much stronger than arguing for the side I personally adhere to is making everyone realize themselves what the issues are and what the choices are and let them choose. It is my firm faith in human reason that when the issues are made clear enough and all the connections are put on the table, the human mind is itself a good instrument, and if it is of goodwill, it chooses a right. And, in addition to this faith, I have the hope, I have the hope that the 21st century, not so far off anymore, will find the planet still spinning with atomic energy used for good rather than evil purposes, will find democracy and freedom triumphant against all its enemies, but I hope for much more than that, because I personally do not think that democracy in America today has a firm foundation. I think it has a firm foundation in our political tradition. I think we are rapidly losing the ideas, the basic principles, which are its lifeblood. And unless we manage somehow in this country and elsewhere to find its fundamental bases in truth, democracy may be defended by the sword, but it will not long survive or flourish in fact. 

So that my hope is more than that by the power of might, democracy and freedom will triumph. More than that, that the traditional view of man, which as I see at least, has been the very heart of the Western tradition, that that traditional view will once more become the dominant and prevalent view, not only throughout the West, but everywhere in the world. Thank you.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Kevin Vost: "The One-Minute Aquinas"

Recommended reading:
The One-Minute Aquinas, by Kevin Vost (Sophia Institute Press)

Originally, I was not attracted to this book because of the title. I assumed the subject matter would be “over-simplified.” However, I’m now reading The One-Minute Aquinas; I am impressed with how clearly Vost explains Aquinas’ thought. Vost explains Aquinas’ thought simply, but without the distortions that can come from over-simplification. This title may even serve as a good starting point for high-schoolers, especially home-schoolers.

Regarding The One-Minute Aquinas, Peter Kreeft says, “It takes the reader by the hand, step by step, from confusion to clarity, from chaos to order, and from our simplest beginning, our search for happiness, to our final end, eternal union with God. You don't need a philosophy degree or an I.Q. of 165 to profit from this book. You need only an open mind and an honest, searching heart.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pius XI: On St. Thomas Aquinas

Studiorum Ducem

Encyclical of Pope Pius XI promulgated on June 29, 1923

To Our Venerable Brethren, the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops and other Ordinaries in Grace and Communion with the Apostolic See.

Venerable Brethren, Greeting and the Apostolic Benediction.

In a recent apostolic letter confirming the statutes of Canon Law, We declared that the guide to be followed in the higher studies by young men training for the priesthood was Thomas Aquinas. The approaching anniversary of the day when he was duly enrolled, six hundred years ago, in the calendar of the Saints, offers Us an admirable opportunity of inculcating this more and more firmly in the minds of Our students and explaining to them what advantage they may most usefully derive from the teaching of so illustrious a Doctor. For science truly deserving of the name and piety, the companion of all the virtues, are related in a marvelous bond of affinity, and, as God is very Truth and very Goodness, it would assuredly not be sufficient to procure the glory of God by the salvation of souls-the chief task and peculiar mission of the Church-if ministers of religion were well disciplined in knowledge and not also abundantly provided at the same time with the appropriate virtues.

2. Such a combination of doctrine and piety, of erudition and virtue, of truth and charity, is to be found in an eminent degree in the angelic Doctor and it is not without reason that he has been given the sun for a device; for he both brings the light of learning into the minds of men and fires their hearts and wills with the virtues. God, the Source of all sanctity and wisdom would, therefore, seem to have desired to show in the case of Thomas how each of these qualities assists the other, how the practice of the virtues disposes to the contemplation of truth, and the profound consideration of truth in turn gives luster and perfection to the virtues. For the man of pure and upright life, whose passions are controlled by virtue, is delivered as it were of a heavy burden and can much more easily raise his mind to heavenly things and penetrate more profoundly into the secrets of God, according to the maxim of Thomas himself: "Life comes before learning: for life leads to the knowledge of truth" (Comment. in Matth., v); and if such a man devotes himself to the investigation of the supernatural, he will find a powerful incentive in such a pursuit to lead a perfect life; for the learning of such sublime things, the beauty of which is a ravishing ecstasy, so far from being a solitary or sterile occupation, must be said to be on the contrary most practical.

3. These are among the first lessons, Venerable Brethren, which may be learned from the commemoration of this centenary; but that they may be the more clearly apparent, We propose to comment briefly in this Letter on the sanctity and doctrine of Thomas Aquinas and to show what profitable instruction may be derived therefrom by priests, by seminarians especially, and, not least, by all Christian people.

4. Thomas possessed all the moral virtues to a very high degree and so closely bound together that, as he himself insists should be the case, they formed one whole in charity "which informs the acts of all the virtues" (II-II, xxiii, 8; I-II, Ixv). If, however, we seek to discover the peculiar and specific characteristics of his sanctity, there occurs to Us in the first place that virtue which gives Thomas a certain likeness to the angelic natures, and that is chastity; he preserved it unsullied in a crisis of the most pressing danger and was therefore considered worthy to be surrounded by the angels with a mystic girdle. This perfect regard for purity was accompanied at the same time by an equal aversion for fleeting possessions and a contempt for honors; it is recorded that his firmness of purpose overcame the obstinate persistence of relatives who strove their utmost to induce him to accept a lucrative situation in the world and that later, when the Supreme Pontiff would have offered him a mitre, his prayers were successful in securing that such a dread burden should not be laid upon him. The most distinctive feature, however, of the sanctity of Thomas is what St. Paul describes as the "word of wisdom" (I Cor. xii, 8) and that combination of the two forms of wisdom, the acquired and the infused, as they are termed, with which nothing accords so well as humility, devotion to prayer, and the love of God.

5. That humility was the foundation upon which the other virtues of Thomas were based is clear to anyone who considers how submissively he obeyed a lay brother in the course of their communal life; and it is no less patent to anyone reading his writings which manifest such respect for the Fathers of the Church that "because he had the utmost reverence for the doctors of antiquity, he seems to have inherited in a way the intellect of all" (Leo XIII, ex Card. Caietano, litt. Encycl. Aeterni Patris, 4th August, 1879); but the most magnificent illustration of it is to be found in the fact that he devoted the faculties of his divine intellect not in the least to gain glory for himself, but to the advancement of truth. Most philosophers as a rule are eager to establish their own reputations, but Thomas strove to efface himself completely in the teaching of his philosophy so that the light of heavenly truth might shine with its own effulgence.

6. This humility, therefore, combined with the purity of heart We have mentioned, and sedulous devotion to prayer, disposed the mind of Thomas to docility in receiving the inspirations of the Holy Ghost and following His illuminations, which are the first principles of contemplation. To obtain them from above, he would frequently fast, spend whole nights in prayer, lean his head in the fervor of his unaffected piety against the tabernacle containing the august Sacrament, constantly turn his eyes and mind in sorrow to the image of the crucified Jesus; and he confessed to his intimate friend St. Bonaventura that it was from that Book especially that he derived all his learning. It may, therefore, be truly said of Thomas what is commonly reported of St. Dominic, Father and Lawgiver, that in his conversation he never spoke but about God or with God.

7. But as he was accustomed to contemplate all things in God, the first Cause and ultimate End of all things, it was easy for him to follow in his Summa Theologica no less than in his life the two kinds of wisdom before referred to. He himself describes them as follows: "The wisdom which is acquired by human effort . . . gives a man a sound judgment with regard to divine things according as he makes a perfect use of reason. . . But there is another kind of wisdom which comes down from above . . . and judges divine things in virtue of a certain connaturality with them. This wisdom is the gift of the Holy Ghost . . . and through it a man becomes perfect in divine things, not only by learning but also by experiencing divine things" (II-II, xlv, 1, ad 2; 2).

8. This wisdom, therefore, which comes down from, or is infused by, God, accompanied by the other gifts of the Holy Ghost, continually grew and increased in Thomas, along with charity, the mistress and queen of all the virtues. Indeed it was an absolutely certain doctrine of his that the love of God should ever continually increase "in accordance with the very words of the commandment: 'Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with thy whole heart'; for the whole and the perfect are one same thing. . . Now the end of the commandment is charity from a pure heart, and a good conscience and an unfeigned faith, as the Apostle says (I Tim. i, 5), but no standard of measure is applicable to the end, but only to such things as conduce to the end (II-II, clxxxiv, 3)." This is the very reason why the perfection of charity falls under the commandment as the end to which we ought all to strive, each according to his degree. Moreover, as "it is the characteristic of charity to make man tend to God by uniting the affections of man to God in such a way that man ceases to live for himself and lives only for God" (II-II, xvii, 6, ad 3), so the love of God, continually increasing in Thomas along with that double wisdom, induced in him in the end such absolute forgetfulness of self that when Jesus spoke to him from the cross, saying: "Thomas, thou hast written well about me," and asked him: "What reward shall I give thee for all thy labor?" the saint made answer: "None but Thyself, O Lord!" Instinct with charity, therefore, he unceasingly continued to serve the convenience of others, not counting the cost, by writing admirable books, helping his brethren in their labors, depriving himself of his own garments to give them to the poor, even restoring the sick to health as, for example, when preaching in the Vatican Basilica on the occasion of the Easter celebrations, he suddenly cured a woman who had touched the hem of his habit of a chronic hemorrhage.

9. In what other Doctor was this "word of wisdom" mentioned by St. Paul more remarkable and abundant than in the Angelic Doctor? He was not satisfied with enlightening the minds of men by his teaching: he exerted himself strenuously to rouse their hearts to make a return of His love to God, the Creator of all things. "The love of God is the source and origin of goodness in things" he magnificently declares (1, xx, 2), and he ceaselessly illustrates this diffusion of the divine goodness in his discussion of every several mystery. "Hence it is of the nature of perfect good to communicate itself in a perfect way and this is done in a supreme degree by God . . . in the Incarnation" (III, i, I). Nothing, however, shows the force of his genius and charity so clearly as the Office which he himself composed for the august Sacrament. The words he uttered on his deathbed, as he was about to receive the holy Viaticum, are the measure of his devotion to that Sacrament throughout his life: "I receive Thee, Price of the redemption of my soul, for the love of Whom I have studied, kept vigil and toiled."

10. After this slight sketch of the great virtues of Thomas, it is easy to understand the preeminence of his doctrine and the marvelous authority it enjoys in the Church. Our Predecessors, indeed, have always unanimously extolled it. Even during the lifetime of the saint, Alexander IV had no hesitation in addressing him in these terms: "To Our beloved son, Thomas Aquinas, distinguished alike for nobility of blood and integrity of character, who has acquired by the grace of God the treasure of divine and human learning." After his death, again, John XXII seemed to consecrate both his virtues and his doctrine when, addressing the Cardinals, he uttered in full Consistory the memorable sentence: "He alone enlightened the Church more than all other doctors; a man can derive more profit in a year from his books than from pondering all his life the teaching of others."

11. He enjoyed a more than human reputation for intellect and learning and Pius V was therefore moved to enroll him officially among the holy Doctors with the title of Angelic. Again, could there be any more manifest indication of the very high esteem in which this Doctor is held by the Church than the fact that the Fathers of Trent resolved that two volumes only, Holy Scripture and the Summa Theologica, should be reverently laid open on the altar during their deliberations? And in this order of ideas, to avoid recapitulating the innumerable testimonies of the Apostolic See, We are happy to recall that the philosophy of Aquinas was revived by the authority and at the instance of Leo XIII; the merit of Our illustrious Predecessor in so doing is such, as We have said elsewhere, that if he had not been the author of many acts and decrees of surpassing wisdom, this alone would be sufficient to establish his undying glory. Pope Pius X of saintly memory followed shortly afterwards in his footsteps, more particularly in his Motu Proprio Doctoris Angelici, in which this memorable phrase occurs: "For ever since the happy death of the Doctor, the Church has not held a single Council but he has been present at it with all the wealth of his doctrine." Closer to Us, Our greatly regretted Predecessor Benedict XV repeatedly declared that he was entirely of the same opinion and he is to be praised for having promulgated the Code of Canon Law in which "the system, philosophy and principles of the Angelic Doctor" are unreservedly sanctioned. We so heartily approve the magnificent tribute of praise bestowed upon this most divine genius that We consider that Thomas should be called not only the Angelic, but also the Common or Universal Doctor of the Church; for the Church has adopted his philosophy for her own, as innumerable documents of every kind attest. It would be an endless task to explain here all the reasons which moved Our Predecessors in this respect, and it will be sufficient perhaps to point out that Thomas wrote under the inspiration of the supernatural spirit which animated his life and that his writings, which contain the principles of, and the laws governing, all sacred studies, must be said to possess a universal character.

12. In dealing orally or in writing with divine things, he provides theologians with a striking example of the intimate connection which should exist between the spiritual and the intellectual life. For just as a man cannot really be said to know some distant country, if his acquaintance is confined merely to a description of it, however accurate, but must have dwelt in it for some time; so nobody can attain to an intimate knowledge of God by mere scientific investigation, unless he also dwells in the most intimate association with God. The aim of the whole theology of St. Thomas is to bring us into close living intimacy with God. For even as in his childhood at Monte Cassino he unceasingly put the question: "What is God?"; so all the books he wrote concerning the creation of the world, the nature of man, laws, the virtues, and the sacraments, are all concerned with God, the Author of eternal salvation.

13. Again, discussing the causes of the sterility of such studies, namely curiosity, that is to say the unbridled desire for knowledge, indolence of mind, aversion from effort and lack of perseverance, he insists that there is no other remedy than zeal in work with the fervor of piety which derives from the life of the spirit. Sacred studies, therefore, being directed by a triple light, undeviating reason, infused faith and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, by which the mind is brought to perfection, no one ever was more generously endowed with these than Our Saint. After spending all the riches of his intellect on some matter of exceptional difficulty, he would seek the solution of his problem from God by the most humble prayer and fasting; and God was wont to listen to His suppliant so kindly that He dispatched the Princes of the Apostles at times to instruct him. It is not therefore surprising that towards the end of his life he had risen to such a degree of contemplation as to declare that all he had written seemed to him mere chaff and that he was incapable of dictating another word; his eyes even then were fixed on eternity alone, his one desire was to see God. For, according to Thomas, by far the most important benefit to be derived from sacred studies, is that they inspire a man with a great love for God and a great longing for eternal things.

14. He not only instructs us by his example how to pursue such a diversity of studies, but also teaches us firm and enduring principles of each single science. For, in the first place, who has provided a better explanation than he of the nature and character of philosophy, its various divisions and the relative importance of each? Consider how clearly he demonstrates the congruence and harmony between all the various sections which go to make up the body as it were of this science. "It is the function of the wise man," he declares, "to put things in order, because wisdom is primarily the perfection of reason and it is the characteristic of reason to know order; for although the sensitive faculties know some things absolutely, only the intellect or reason can know the relation one thing bears to another. The sciences, therefore, vary according to the various forms of order which reason perceives to be peculiar to each. The order which the consideration of reason establishes in its own peculiar activity pertains to rational philosophy or logic, whose function is to consider the order of the parts of speech in their mutual relations and in relation to the conclusions which may be drawn from them. It is for natural philosophy or physics to consider the order in things which human reason considers but does not itself institute, so that under natural philosophy we include also metaphysics. But the order of voluntary acts is for the consideration of moral philosophy which is divided into three sections: the first considers the activities of the individual man in relation to their end and is called 'monastics'; the second considers the activities of the family group or community and is called economics; the third considers the activities of the State and is called politics" (Ethics, I, I). Thomas dealt thoroughly with all these several divisions of philosophy, each according to its appropriate method, and, beginning with things nearest to our human reason, rose step by step to things more remote until he stood in the end on "the topmost peak of all things" (Contra Gentes, II, lvi; IV, i).

15. His teaching with regard to the power or value of the human mind is irrefragable. "The human mind has a natural knowledge of being and the things which are in themselves part of being as such, and this knowledge is the foundation of our knowledge of first principles" (Contra Gentes, II, 1xxxiii). Such a doctrine goes to the root of the errors and opinions of those modern philosophers who maintain that it is not being itself which is perceived in the act of intellection, but some modification of the percipient; the logical consequence of such errors is agnosticism, which was so vigorously condemned in the Encyclical Pascendi.

16. The arguments adduced by St. Thomas to prove the existence of God and that God alone is subsisting Being Itself are still to-day, as they were in the Middle Ages, the most cogent of all arguments and clearly confirm that dogma of the Church which was solemnly proclaimed at the Vatican Council and succinctly expressed by Pius X as follows: "The certain knowledge of God as the first principle of creation and its end and demonstrable proof of His existence can be inferred, like the knowledge of a cause from its effect, by the light of the natural reason, from creation, that is to say the visible works of creation" (Motu Proprio Sacrorum Antistitum of the 1st September, 1910). The metaphysical philosophy of St. Thomas, although exposed to this day to the bitter onslaughts of prejudiced critics, yet still retains, like gold which no acid can dissolve, its full force and splendor unimpaired. Our Predecessor therefore rightly observed: "To deviate from Aquinas, in metaphysics especially, is to run grave risk" (Encycl. Pascendi of the 8th September, 1907).

17. Philosophy is undoubtedly a most noble science, but as things are not constituted by divine Providence, it must not be said to excel all others, because it does not embrace the whole universality of things. Indeed, in the introduction to his Summa Contra Gentes, as also to his Summa Theologica, the saintly Doctor describes another order of things set above nature and eluding the grasp of reason, an order which man would never have suspected unless the divine goodness had revealed it to him. This is the region in which faith is supreme, and the science of faith is called Theology. Science of this kind will be all the more perfect in man in proportion as he is the better acquainted with the evidence for faith and has at the same time a more fully developed and trained faculty of philosophizing. There can be no doubt that Aquinas raised Theology to the highest eminence, for his knowledge of divine things was absolutely perfect and the power of his mind made him a marvelously capable philosopher. Thomas is therefore considered the Prince of teachers in our schools, not so much on account of his philosophical system as because of his theological studies. There is no branch of theology in which he did not exercise the incredible fecundity of his genius.

18. For in the first place he established apologetics on a sound and genuine basis by defining exactly the difference between the province of reason and the province of faith and carefully distinguishing the natural and the supernatural orders. When the sacred Vatican Council, therefore, in determining what natural knowledge of religion was possible, affirmed the relative necessity of some divine revelation for sure and certain knowledge and the absolute necessity of divine revelation for knowledge of the mysteries, it employed arguments which were borrowed precisely from St. Thomas. He insists that all who undertake to defend the Christian faith shall hold sacrosanct the principle that: "It is not mere folly to assent to the things of faith although they are beyond reason" (Contra Gentes, I, vi). He shows that, although the articles of belief are mysterious and obscure, the reasons which persuade us to believe are nevertheless clear and perspicuous, for, says he, "a man would not believe unless he saw that there were things to be believed" (II-II, i, 4); and he adds that, so far from being considered a hindrance or a servile yoke imposed upon men, faith should, on the contrary, be reckoned a very great blessing, because "faith in us is a sort of beginning of eternal life" (Qq. disp. de Veritate, xiv, 2).

19. The other branch of Theology, which is concerned with the interpretation of dogmas, also found in St. Thomas by far the richest of all commentators; for nobody ever more profoundly penetrated or expounded with greater subtlety all the august mysteries, as, for example, the intimate life of God, the obscurity of eternal predestination, the supernatural government of the world, the faculty granted to rational creatures of attaining their end, the redemption of the human race achieved by Jesus Christ and continued by the Church and the sacraments, both of which the Angelic Doctor describes as "relics, so to speak, of the divine Incarnation."

20. He also composed a substantial moral theology, capable of directing all human acts in accordance with the supernatural last end of man. And as he is, as We have said, the perfect theologian, so he gives infallible rules and precepts of life not only for individuals, but also for civil and domestic society which is the object also of moral science, both economic and politic. Hence those superb chapters in the second part of the Summa Theologica on paternal or domestic government, the lawful power of the State or the nation, natural and international law, peace and war, justice and property, laws and the obedience they command, the duty of helping individual citizens in their need and co-operating with all to secure the prosperity of the State, both in the natural and the supernatural order. If these precepts were religiously and inviolably observed in private life and public affairs, and in the duties of mutual obligation between nations, nothing else would be required to secure mankind that "peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ" which the world so ardently longs for. It is therefore to be wished that the teachings of Aquinas, more particularly his exposition of international law and the laws governing the mutual relations of peoples, became more and more studied, for it contains the foundations of a genuine "League of Nations."

21. His eminence in the learning of asceticism and mysticism is no less remarkable; for he brought the whole science of morals back to the theory of the virtues and gifts, and marvelously defined both the science and the theory in relation to the various conditions of men, both those who strive to attain Christian perfection and fullness of spirit, in the active no less than in the contemplative life. If anyone, therefore, desires to understand fully all the implications of the commandment to love God, the growth of charity and the conjoined gifts of the Holy Ghost, the differences between the various states of life, such as the state of perfection, the religious life and the apostolate, and the nature and value of each, all these and other articles of ascetical and mystical theology, he must have recourse in the first place to the Angelic Doctor.

22. Everything he wrote was securely based upon Holy Scripture and that was the foundation upon which he built. For as he was convinced that Scripture was entirely and in every particular the true word of God, he carefully submitted the interpretation of it to those very rules which Our recent Predecessors have sanctioned, Leo XIII in his Encyclical Providentissimus Deus and Benedict XV in his Encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus. He laid down the principle "The chief Author of Sacred Scripture is the Holy Ghost. . . But man was the instrumental author" (Quodlib., vii, 14, ad 5), and would not allow the absolute historicity of the Bible to be doubted; but on the basis of the meaning of the words or literal sense he established the fecundity and riches of the spiritual sense, the triple nature of which, allegorical, tropological and anagogical, he expounded with the most ingenious commentary.

23. Lastly, our Doctor possessed the exceptional and highly privileged gift of being able to convert his precepts into liturgical prayers and hymns and so became the poet and panegyrist of the Divine Eucharist. For wherever the Catholic Church is to be found in the world among whatsoever nations, there she zealously uses and ever will continue to use in her sacred services the hymns composed by St. Thomas. They are the expression of the ardent supplications of a soul in prayer and at the same time a perfect statement of the doctrine of the august Sacrament transmitted by the Apostles, which is pre-eminently described as the Mystery of Faith. If these considerations are borne in mind as well as the praise bestowed by Christ Himself to which We have already referred, nobody will be surprised that St. Thomas should also have received the title of the Doctor of the Eucharist.

24. The following very relevant conclusions may be drawn from all that has gone before. Let Our young men especially consider the example of St. Thomas and strive diligently to imitate the eminent virtues which adorn his character, his humility above all, which is the foundation of the spiritual life, and his chastity. Let them learn from this man of supreme intellect and consummate learning to abhor all pride of mind and to obtain by humble prayer a flood of divine light upon their studies; let them learn from his teaching to shun nothing so sedulously as the blandishments of sensual pleasure, so that they may bring the eyes of the mind undimmed to the contemplation of wisdom. For he confirmed by his precept, as We have said, his own practice in life: "To abstain from the pleasures of the Body so as to be certain of greater leisure and liberty for the contemplation of truth is to act in conformity with the dictates of reason" (II-II, clvii, 2).

Wherefore we are warned in Holy Scripture: ". . . wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins" (Wisdom, i, 4). If the purity of Thomas therefore had failed in the extreme peril into which, as we have seen, it had fallen, it is very probable that the Church would never have had her Angelic Doctor.

25. Inasmuch, therefore, as We see the majority of young men, caught in the quicksands of passion, rapidly jettisoning holy purity and abandoning themselves to sensual pleasures, We instantly exhort you, Venerable Brethren, to propagate everywhere, and particularly among seminarians, the society of the Angelic Militia founded under the patronage of Thomas for the preservation and maintenance of holy chastity and We confirm the privileges of pontifical indulgences heaped upon it by Benedict XIII and others of Our Predecessors. And that the Faithful may be persuaded the more eagerly to enroll in this Militia, We grant members of it the privilege of wearing instead of a cord a medal round the neck impressed on the obverse with a picture of St. Thomas and the angels surrounding him with a girdle and on the reverse a picture of Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary.

26. But inasmuch as St. Thomas has been duly proclaimed patron of all Catholic schools because he marvelously combined both forms of wisdom, the rational and the divinely inspired, because he had recourse to prayer and fasting to solve the most difficult problems, because he used the image of Christ crucified in place of all books, let him be a model also for seminarians, so that they may learn how to pursue their studies to the best advantage and with the greatest profit to themselves. Members of religious communities should look upon the life of St. Thomas as upon a mirror; he refused even the highest dignities offered to him in order to live in the practice of the most perfect obedience and to die in the sanctity of his profession. Let all the Faithful of Christ take the Angelic Doctor as a model of devotion to the august Queen of Heaven, for it was his custom often to repeat the "Hail Mary" and to inscribe the sweet Name upon his pages, and let them ask the Doctor of the Eucharist himself to inspire them with love for the divine Sacrament. Priests above all will be zealous in so doing, as is only proper.

"For Thomas was accustomed, unless prevented by illness, to say Mass daily and heard another Mass said by his socius or some other friar which he very often served," declares the careful historian of his life. But could anyone find words to express the spiritual fervor with which he said Mass himself, the anxious care with which he made his preparation, the thanksgivings he offered to the divine Majesty after he had said it?

27. Again, if we are to avoid the errors which are the source and fountain-head of all the miseries of our time, the teaching of Aquinas must be adhered to more religiously than ever. For Thomas refutes the theories propounded by Modernists in every sphere, in philosophy, by protecting, as We have reminded you, the force and power of the human mind and by demonstrating the existence of God by the most cogent arguments; in dogmatic theology, by distinguishing the supernatural from the natural order and explaining the reasons for belief and the dogmas themselves; in theology, by showing that the articles of faith are not based upon mere opinion but upon truth and therefore cannot possibly change; in exegesis, by transmitting the true conception of divine inspiration; in the science of morals, in sociology and law, by laying down sound principles of legal and social, commutative and distributive, justice and explaining the relations between justice and charity; in the theory of asceticism, by his precepts concerning the perfection of the Christian life and his confutation of the enemies of the religious orders in his own day. Lastly, against the much vaunted liberty of the human reason and its independence in regard to God he asserts the rights of primary Truth and the authority over us of the Supreme Master. It is therefore clear why Modernists are so amply justified in fearing no Doctor of the Church so much as Thomas Aquinas.

28. Accordingly, just as it was said to the Egyptians of old in time of famine: "Go to Joseph," so that they should receive a supply of corn from him to nourish their bodies, so We now say to all such as are desirous of the truth: "Go to Thomas," and ask him to give you from his ample store the food of substantial doctrine wherewith to nourish your souls unto eternal life. Evidence that such food is ready to hand and accessible to all men was given on oath at the hearing of the case for the canonization of Thomas himself, in the following words: "Innumerable secular and religious masters flourished under the lucid and limpid teaching of this Doctor, because his method was concise, clear and easily followed . . . even laymen and persons of little instruction are eager to possess his writings."

29. We desire those especially who are engaged in teaching the higher studies in seminaries sedulously to observe and inviolably to maintain the decrees of Our Predecessors, more particularly those of Leo XIII (the Encyclical Aeterni Patris), and Pius X (the Motu Proprio Doctoris Angelici) and the instructions We Ourselves issued last year. Let them be persuaded that they will discharge their duty and fulfill Our expectation when, after long and diligent perusal of his writings, they begin to feel an intense devotion for the Doctor Aquinas and by their exposition of him succeed in inspiring their pupils with like fervor and train them to kindle a similar zeal in others.

30. We desire that lovers of St. Thomas-and all sons of the Church who devote themselves to higher studies should be so-be incited by an honorable rivalry in a just and proper freedom which is the life-blood of studies, but let no spirit of malevolent disparagement prevail among them, for any such, so far from helping truth, serves only to loosen the bonds of charity. Let everyone therefore inviolably observe the prescription contained in the Code of Canon Law that "teachers shall deal with the studies of mental philosophy and theology and the education of their pupils in such sciences according to the method, doctrine and principles of the Angelic Doctor and religiously adhere thereto"; and may they conform to this rule so faithfully as to be able to describe him in very truth as their master. Let none require from another more than the Church, the mistress and mother of all, requires from each: and in questions, which in Catholic schools are matter of controversy between the most reputable authorities, let none be prevented from adhering to whatever opinion seems to him the more probable.

31. Therefore, as it behooves the whole of Christendom worthily to celebrate this centenary-because in honoring St. Thomas something greater is involved than the reputation of St. Thomas and that is the authority of the teaching Church-We desire that such celebration shall take place throughout the world from the 18th July until the end of next year wherever seminarians are in regular course of instruction, that is to say not only among the Preaching Friars, an Order which, in the words of Benedict XV, "must be praised, not so much for having been the family of the Angelic Doctor, as for having never afterwards departed so much as a hair's breadth from his teaching" (Acta Ap. Sedis, viii, 1916, p. 397), but among other religious communities also, and in all seminaries and Catholic colleges and schools to which he has been appointed for heavenly patron. It is only proper that this Eternal City in which Aquinas was once master of the Sacred Palace should take the lead in holding such celebrations and that the Pontifical Angelical College, where St. Thomas may be said to be at home, and the other academies in Rome for the education of priests set the example in these holy rejoicings.

32. In virtue of Our Apostolic power and for the purpose of increasing the splendor and profit to be derived from this celebration, We grant the following privileges:

1) That in all churches belonging to the Order of Preachers and in all other churches or chapels to which the public has or may have access, more particularly in seminaries, colleges or other institutions for the education of priests, prayers may be said for three or eight or nine days with the pontifical indulgences attaching to them which customarily attach to prayers said in honor of the saints and the blessed;

2) That in the churches of the Friars and the Sisters of St. Dominic the faithful may once on any day they choose in the course of the centenary celebrations, after duly confessing their sins and receiving Holy Communion, obtain a plenary indulgence toties quoties they pray before the altar of St. Thomas;

3) That in churches of the Order of St. Dominic, priests, members of the Order or tertiaries, may, in the course of the centenary year on any Wednesday or the first free day of the week, celebrate Mass in honor of St. Thomas, as on his feast-day, with or without the Gloria and the Credo, according to the ritual of the day, and obtain a plenary remission of sins; those present at any such Mass may also obtain a like indulgence on the usual conditions.

33. In addition, a disputation shall be held in seminaries and other institutions for the education of priests on some point of philosophy or other important branch of learning in honor of the Angelic Doctor. And that the festival of St. Thomas may be kept in future in a manner worthy of the patron of all Catholic schools, We order it to be kept as a holiday and celebrated not only with a High Mass, but also, at any rate in seminaries and among religious communities, by the holding-of a disputation as aforesaid.

34. Finally, that the studies to which Our young people devote themselves may, under the patronage of Aquinas, daily yield more and more fruit for the glory of God and the Church, We append to this Letter the form of prayer which the Saint himself was accustomed to use and exhort you to see that it be widely published. Let any person duly reciting it know that by Our authority an indulgence of seven years and seven quarantines is granted him.

35. As an augury of divine favor and in testimony of Our paternal benevolence, We most affectionately grant you, Venerable Brethren, and the clergy and people committed to your care the Apostolic Blessing.

Given at Rome at St. Peter's on the 29th day of June, the feast of the Princes of the Apostles, in the year 1923, the second year of Our Pontificate.

Prayer of St. Thomas

Ineffable Creator, Who out of the treasures of Thy wisdom hast appointed three hierarchies of Angels and set them in admirable order high above the heavens and hast disposed the divers portions of the universe in such marvelous array, Thou Who art called the True Source of Light and super-eminent Principle of Wisdom, be pleased to cast a beam of Thy radiance upon the darkness of my mind and dispel from me the double darkness of sin and ignorance in which I have been born.

Thou Who makest eloquent the tongues of little children, fashion my words and pour upon my lips the grace of Thy benediction. Grant me penetration to understand, capacity to retain, method and facility in study, subtlety in interpretation and abundant grace of expression.

Order the beginning, direct the progress and perfect the achievement of my work, Thou who art true God and Man and livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Rommen: What is the "philosophia perennis"?

PHILOSOPHIA PERENNIS (a term seemingly coined by Steuchus in 1540, used by Leibnitz, and popularized by the Neo-Scholastic movement) denotes a body of basic philosophical truths that is perennial, enduring, abiding, permanent, eternal—a philosophy that “is as old and as new as philosophical speculation itself.” It is one whose “validity and truth content is not confined to any particular age or civilization but is absolute and enduring”(1). In other words, philosophia perennis is the accumulated fund of sure philosophical truths: “the eternal store of primordial philosophical truths which remains in spite of all evolutions and changes” (2); “a stock of fundamental truths which survive the change of time and prevail over and above the difference of systems”(3). It is in the main identified with the philosophy of Aristotle as purified, synthesized, developed, deepened, and enriched through the genius of St. Thomas Aquinas. Its leading traits are aptly summarized by Jacques Maritain: The “philosophy of Aristotle and St. Thomas is in fact what a modern philosopher has termed the natural philosophy of the human mind, for it develops and brings to perfection what is most deeply and genuinely natural in our intellect alike in its elementary apprehensions and in its native tendency towards truth.

“It is also the evidential philosophy, based on the double evidence of the data perceived by our senses and our intellectual apprehension of first principles—the philosophy of being, entirely supported by and modelled upon what is, and scrupulously respecting every demand of reality—the philosophy of the intellect, which it trusts as the faculty which attains truth, and forms by a discipline which is an incomparable mental purification. And for this very reason it proves itself the universal philosophy in the sense that it does not reflect a nationality, class, group, temperament, or race, the ambition or melancholy of an individual or any practical need, but is the expression and product of reason, which is everywhere the same; and in this sense also, that it is capable of leading the finest intellects to the most sublime knowledge and the most difficult of attainment, yet without once betraying those vital convictions, instinctively acquired by every sane mind, which compose the domain, wide as humanity of common sense. It can therefore claim to be abiding and permanent (philosophia perennis) in the sense that before Aristotle and St. Thomas had given it scientific formulation as a systematic philosophy, it existed from the dawn of humanity in germ and in the prephilosophic state, as an instinct of the understanding and a natural knowledge of the first principles of reason and ever since its foundation as a system has remained firm and progressive, a powerful and living tradition, while all other philosophies have been born and have died in turn. And, finally, it stands out as being, beyond comparison with any other, one; one because it alone bestows harmony and unity on human knowledge—both metaphysical and scientific—and one because in itself it realizes a maximum of consistency in a maximum of complexity, and neglect of the least of its principles involves the most unexpected consequences, distorting our understanding of reality in innumerable directions”(4).


1. K. F. Reinhardt, A Realistic Philosophy [Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1944], p. 17; cf. also pp. 18 ff.
2. Philosophia Perennis. Abhandlungen zu ihrer Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, herausgegeben von Fritz-Joachim von Rintelen [2 vols., Regensburg: Josef Habbel, 1930], I, ix.
3. Franz Sawicki, “Die Geschichtsphilosophie als Philosophia Perennis,” ibid., I, 513.
4. An Introduction to Philosophy, trans. by E. I. Watkin [New York: Sheed & Ward], pp. 99–101.

~Heinrich A. Rommen: from The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy (pp. 27-28, fn 21, with minor layout adaptation)  

Friday, July 4, 2014

Étienne Gilson: "Metaphysics"

METAPHYSICS is “the knowledge gathered by a naturally transcendent reason in its search for the first principles, or first causes, of what is given in sensible experience….As metaphysics aims at transcending all particular knowledge, no particular science is competent either to solve metaphysical problems, or to judge their metaphysical solutions.”

~Étienne Gilson: The Unity of Philosophical Experience.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rommen: Natural law, positive law and justice

ARISTOTLE wished to comprehend motion, development, becoming. To him, therefore, the essence, and the perfect expression of it in the individual, is also the telos, or end. The form is thus the efficient and final cause at one and the same time. Applied to the domain of ethics, however, this means that pure being or the pure essential form is likewise the goal of becoming for the man who is to be fashioned by education into a good citizen. From the essential being results an oughtness for the individual man. In this way, from the content of the primary norm, “strive after the good,” arises the norm, “realize what is humanly good,” as it appears in the essential form of man. The supreme norm of morality is accordingly this: Realize your essential form, your nature. The natural is the ethical, and the essence the unchangeable.

But a criterion of actions is thereby established. Some actions correspond to nature, and hence are naturally good; others are repugnant to nature, and hence are naturally bad. This settled, Aristotle advances to the distinction between what is naturally just and what is legally just. Both are objects of justice. Justice, however, taken in the narrower sense (for in the wider sense the virtuous man is the just man purely and simply) and distinguished from morality, is directed to the other, to the fellow man, whether as equal (commutative justice) or as fellow member of the comprehensive polis-community (distributive and, in the behavior of the member with regard to the whole, legal justice). It finds expression in the natural law and in the positive law. The latter originates in the will of the lawmaker or in an act of an assembly; the natural law has its source in the essence of the just, in nature. That which is naturally right is therefore unalterable. It has everywhere the same force, quite apart from any positive law that may embody it. Statute or positive law varies with every people and at different times. Yet the natural law does not dwell in a region beyond the positive law. The natural law has to be realized in the positive law since the latter is the application of the universal idea of justice to the motley manifold of life. The immutable idea of right dwells in the changing positive law. All positive law is the more or less successful attempt to realize the natural law. For this reason the natural law, however imperfect may be its realization in the positive law, always retains its binding force. Natural law, i.e., the idea and purpose of law as such, has to be realized in every legal system. The natural law is thus the meaning of the positive law, its purpose and its ethically grounded norm.

Recognition of the fact that no system of positive law is perfect brought Aristotle to the principle of equity. The law is a general norm, but the actual matters which it has to regulate issue from the diversity of practical life. Of necessity the positive law exhibits imperfections, it does not fit all cases. Equity thereupon requires that the individual case gets it right, i.e., that the imperfection of the formal law be overcome by means of material justice, through the content of the natural law. Thus Aristotle already viewed the judge’s function of filling up the gaps in the law as an attempt to apply the natural law—if indeed the positive law is rightly to bear the name of law at all. The gaps are consequently the gateways through which the natural law continually comes into play. In such cases the judge has to decide in accordance with the norm which the true lawgiver would himself apply if her were present; the true lawgiver of course is always assumed to will what is just. This is a celebrated formula which in these very words or in the form, “which he [the judge] would lay down as lawmaker,” still found its way into the great codifications of civil law undertaken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (e.g., the Austrian and Swiss Civil Codes).

~Heinrich A. Rommen: from The Natural Law, A Study in the legal and Social History of Philosophy.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014


"PERSON signifies what is most perfect in all nature─that is, a subsistent individual of a rational nature. Hence, since everything that is perfect must be attributed to God, forasmuch as His essence contains every perfection, this name "person" is fittingly applied to God; not, however, as it is applied to creatures, but in a more excellent way; as other names also, which, while giving them to creatures, we attribute to God..." 

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae I, Q. 29, A. 3.

"IT is a very significant fact that the idea of human personality and also the practical recognition of the dignity of human personality developed only during those centuries in which the dogmas of the Trinity and of the Incarnation were teaching Christendom the truths of divine personality."

~Jacques Maritain: Freedom in the Modern World.

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