Archive for January, 2010

Logos [1-26-10]

January 26, 2010 1 comment

“The Christian sense of God and the world was elaborated in the metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas.  He speaks of God as ipsum esse subsistens and describes all other beings as existing through a participation in esse.  Aquinas thinks of being in a context very much different from the final context Aristotle and Plato and other pagan philosophers acknowledged; Aquinas thinks of beings over against their sheer nonexistence, over against the nonexistence of the world or the whole, whereas pagan thinkers thought of things as being or not being within the whole.  Aquinas considers the existence of things to be an actuality, an actuality determined by what the thing in each case is.  Any given thing is not a sheer actuality, but an actuality of a special kind.  The kind or essence lets the actuality occur, but it also confines the actuality to existing only in its particular way.  The essence, as a potentiality to exist, allows something to be this sort of thing, but it also allows it to be only this sort of thing.  Any particular being is actual and therefore has the perfection of existing, but it can be actual only because it must be contented to be within certain limits.  Each thing is allowed to have its perfections because it is what it is, but the very possession of such perfections is at the same time the exclusion of the perfections of other kinds of things: a tree is not and cannot be a man, a dog is not and cannot be a diamond.  This exclusion is characteristic of all ‘limited’ beings.  Their act of existence, their esse is confined by what they are, by their essence, to being only this kind of existent.

“But God is the sheer act of esse subsistens, the sheer act of existing.  He is not confined to being this kind of thing as opposed to that kind.  He is not a ‘kind’ of thing at all, only sheer esse.  Does the unqualified act of esse exclude the act of existing as a man?  Or the act of existing as an animal?  Or the act of existing as a tree?  In the Thomistic understanding this kind of question is inappropriate.  Between God and creatures there is no exclusion like th exclusion among finite beings.  Creatures each exist in a certain way, whereas God is pure existence.  Whatever goodness or greatness occurs in creatures occurs therefore in an eminent way in God.  Hence after creation there are more beings but not more perfection of esse.”
-Fr. Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason

A lucid and brief overview of the Thomistic perspective essence and existence in reference to God and man.

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Logos [1-15-10]

January 15, 2010 Leave a comment

“The point and the justification of leisure are not that the functionary should function faultlessly and without a break-down, but that the functionary should continue to be a man–and that means that he should not be wholly absorbed in the clear-cut milieu of his strictly limited function; the point is also that he should retain the faculty of grasping the world as a whole and realizing his full potentialities as an entity meant to reach Wholeness.

“Because Wholeness is what man strives for, the power to achieve leisure is one of the fundamental powers of the human soul.  Like the gift for contemplative absorption in the things that are, and like the capacity of the spirit to soar in festive celebration, the power to know leisure is the power to overstep the boundaries of the workaday world and reach out to superhuman, life-giving existential forces that refresh and renew us before we turn back to our daily work.  Only in genuine leisure does a ‘gate to freedom’ open.  Through that gate man may escape from the ‘restricted area’ of that ‘latent anxiety’ which a keen observer has perceived to be the mark of the world of work, where ‘work and unemployment are the two inescapable poles of existence.’

“In leisure–not of course exclusively in leisure, but always in leisure–the truly human values are saved and preserved because leisure is the means whereby the sphere of the ‘specifically human’ can, over and again, be left behind–not as a result of any violent effort to reach out, but as in an ecstasy (the ecstasy is indeed more ‘difficult’ than the most violent exertion, more ‘difficult’ because not invariably at our beck and call; a state of extreme tension is more easil induced than a state of relaxation and ease although the latter is effortless); the full enjoyment of leisure is hedged in by paradoxes of this kind, and it is itself a state at once very human and superhuman.  Aristotle says of leisure, ‘A man will live thus, not to the extent that he is a man, but to the extent that a divine principle dwells within him.'”
-Josef Pieper, Leisure, The Basis of Culture

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Logos [1-13-10]

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment

“Some metaphysicians claim it is never possible to exclude other metaphysical systems or visions of the whole, hence not possible to reach any metaphysical truth, only more or less high probability.  Hence metaphysical systems belong more to the order of esthetics, of beauty, like works of art, than of genuine knowledge or explanation.  There is a kernel of truth in this, just as there is in simplicity and beauty as indications in science of which is the most fruitful hypothesis, the one most likely to be valid.  Still, I think, with St. Thomas and many others, that one can quite often achieve genuine metaphysical truths that exclude the opposite, though sometimes not.  And there is one decisive difference between a work of art and a metaphysical explanation.  Works of art do not compete with each other; cone can never exclude another as the only possible work of beauty on a given subject–that does not make sense.  But metaphysical systems do.  They always try to show why in some way there is no other reasonable alternative solution to this problem or way of seeing the world, or at least that theirs is the most illuminating and fruitful one, whereas the other competitors are all significantly deficient in some way.  In a word, metaphysical systems compete; works of art do not.”
-Rev. W. Norris Clarke, S.J.

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Logos [1-12-10]

January 12, 2010 Leave a comment

“The study of Christian Culture is of unique importance, first, because it is necessary for the understanding of our own past and our own traditional form of culture, and secondly, because of the exceptional wealth of material that is available for study.  We not only possess an unparalleled wealth of religious documents dealing with the development of Christianity for nineteen centuries, we also have a continuous historical tradition through which these documents can be situated in place and time to a degree that hardly exists in the case of other great cultures.  In India, for example, we have also a great wealth of religious writings, but we often have not, at present, detailed knowledge of the past history of Indian cultures.  In other cases we have a full historical tradition, but there are gaps in the religious records, so that our knowledge of Christian culture is both deeper and wider than that of the other contemporary world cultures.

“Above all owing to the progressive expansion of Christian culture, first by the conversion of the Roman and Roman-Byzantine empires, secondly by the conversion of Northern and Western Europe, and thirdly by its extension to the New World and its association with the progress of world exploration and scientific discovery, it has acquired a universal worldwide extension such as no other civilization has ever possessed.  It is true that the full development of these world tendencies has been post-Christian rather than Christian, but the modern ideological world movements–the Enlightenment, Liberalism, Democracy and Socialism are none of them comprehensible without a knowledge of the Christian culture which underlies them all.  It is a very complex field of study.”
-Christopher Dawson, The Formation of Christendom

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Logos [1-11-10]

January 11, 2010 Leave a comment

“The other star of sanctity that traced a luminous path across that dark period of history was Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of the King of England.  Endowed with the keenest of minds and supreme versatility in every kind of knowledge, he enjoyed such esteem and favour among his fellow-citizens that he was soon able to reach the highest grades of public office.  But he was no less distinguished for his desire of Christian perfection and his zeal for the salvation of souls.  Of this we have testimony in the ardour of his prayer, in the fervour with which he recited, whenever he could, even the Canonical Hours, in the practice of those penances by which he kept his body in subjection, and finally in the numerous and renowned accomplishments of both the spoken and the written word which he achieved fro the defence of the Catholic faith and for the safeguarding of Christian morality.  A strong and courageous spirit, like John Fisher, when he saw that the doctrines of the Church were gravely endangered, he knew how to despise resolutely the flattery of human respect, how to resist, in accordance with his duty, the supreme head of the State when there was question of how things commanded by God and the Church, and how to renounce with dignity the high office with which he was invested.  It was for these motives that he too was imprisoned, nor could the tears of his wife and children make him swerve from the path of truth and virtue.  In that terrible hour of trial he raised his eyes to heaven, and proved himself a bright example of Christian fortitude.  Thus it was that he who not many years before had written a work emphasizing the duty of Catholics to defend their faith even at the cost of their lives, was seen to walk cheerful and confident from his prison to death, and thence to take his flight to the joys of eternal beatitude.”
-Pope Pius XI, Homily at the Canonization of John Fisher and Thomas More.

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Logos [01-06-10]

January 6, 2010 Leave a comment

“In the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, there is a fundamental idea by which almost all the basic concepts of his vision of the world are determined: the idea of creation, or more precisely, the notion that nothing exists which is not creatura, except the Creator Himself; and in addition, that this createdness determines entirely and all-pervasively the inner structure of the creature.

“As regards the ‘Aristotelianism’ of St. Thomas Aquinas (‘Aristotelianism’ is a highly dubious term, to be applied with caution), we shall completely miss the significance of his turning to Aristotle, unless we consider it from the point of view of this fundamental idea, worked out to its logical consequences: namely, that all things are creatura, not merely soul and spirit, but also the visible world.

“It may appear natural enough, scarcely worth discussion, and in any case not at all surprising, that the conceptual thinking of a theologian of the Middle Ages should be dominated by the notion of creation, even in his philosophical explanation of reality.  What might cause wonder is the extent to which it is here a question of an unexpressed assumption, an opinion not explicitly formulated, that has, as it were, to be read between the lines.  Did not Thomas develop fully and explicitly a doctrine of creation?  That naturally is true and quite well known.  None the less, it is equally true, though not so well known, that the notion of creation determines and characterizes the interior structure of nearly all the basic concepts in St. Thomas’s doctrine of Being.”
-Josef Pieper, The Silence of St. Thomas

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Logos [01-05-10]

January 5, 2010 Leave a comment

“Every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why he is right not to sacrifice himself.

“Some still have hopes of a favorable outcome to their case and are afraid to ruin their chances by an outcry.  (For, after all, we get no news from that other world, and we do not realize that from the very moment of arrest our fate has almost certainly been decided in the worst possible sense and that we cannot make it any worse.)  Others have not yet attained the mature concpets on which a shout of protest to the crowd must be based.  Indeed, only a revolutionary has slogans on his lips that are crying to be uttered aloud; and where would the uninvolved, peaceable average man come by such slogans?  He simply does not know what to shout.  And then, last of all, there is the person whose heart is too full of emotion, whose eyes have seen too much, for that whole ocean to pour forth in a few disconnected cries.”
-Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Volume I Part I

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