Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category


Balthasar and the Beautiful 4 –Aidan Nichols, OP

February 6, 2014
The Trinity 1635, Jusepe de Ribera. Beauty…dances as an uncontained splendour around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another. Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness. No longer loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face like a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face which threaten to become incomprehensible to man. We no longer dare believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order to more easily dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past – whether he admits it or not – can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.

The Trinity 1635, Jusepe de Ribera. Beauty…dances as an uncontained splendour around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another. Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness. No longer loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face like a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face which threaten to become incomprehensible to man. We no longer dare believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order to more easily dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past – whether he admits it or not – can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.

We continue exploring the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar with Fr. Aidan Nichols. See previous post, Balthasar and the Beautiful 1 for full intro.


The Relation Of Apologetics To Dogmatics
One important corollary of Balthasar’s estimate of the respective roles of the subjective and objective evidence for Christian revelation is a shift — for those inclined to accept his approach – in the relation of apologetics to dogmatic theology. These are two of the most important branches of Christian thought, so this is no bagatelle. Through his theological aesthetics, Balthasar seeks to modify the currently understood picture of apologetics by presenting apologetics as incipient dogmatics. For Balthasar, investigating the motives of credibility — the ways in which revelation commends itself to us on the ordinary rational level – is constantly on the point of trembling into loving prostration before the figure of the Word incarnate.

Here a bit of background may be useful. There were Christian apologists from the first generations of the Church after the apostles. But the first Catholic theologian to treat the issue of apologetics in a fully systematic fashion is usually reckoned to be the thirteenth-century German Dominican St Albert the Great. His `antecedents of the act of faith’, antecedentia fidei, include the most important theses of what we now call fundamental theology.

They concern especially the metaphysical presuppositions of divine revelation, the fact of such divine revelation in Christ, and the character of Scripture as the witness to that revelation. One question Albert did not settle clearly was the relation of these `antecedents’ to the certainty aspect of faith. The problem of the kind of certainty produced by apologetic argumentation and its relation to the free and supernatural character of the act of faith was one that long troubled the Schoolmen.

Some masters of the early High Scholastic period — such as William of Auxerre, William of Auvergne, and Philip the Chancellor — admitted two sorts of faith. The motives of credibility were said to produce `intellectual faith’ (other terms were also in use), which, said these thinkers, should be distinguished from faith in the full theological sense of the word.

Merely intellectual faith, precisely because it rested on the rational force of arguments, had neither the religious nor the moral value of the virtue of theological faith — properly Christian faith — in the strict sense. That virtue is virtuous precisely because it has the character of an unconditional response to God as the `First Truth’, Prima Veritas, made possible by sharing in a more than natural light — by sharing a light, in fact, that is the light of supernatural faith proper, called by the Scholastics the lumen fidei.

It is noteworthy that both Albert and Thomas are disinclined to give what the cathedral masters called `intellectual faith’ or some synonym thereof the title of `faith’ at all. The motives of credibility — such considerations as the Savior’s miracles and his fulfillment of prophecy, the sublimity of his teaching and his ethical perfection — may make people certain in some kind of adhering to the bearer of revelation (such adhering was sometimes known as certitude adhaesionis, `certainty of adhesion’). But this is not as yet the recognition of Jesus Christ as the very Word of the Father.

Over against, in particular, early Deist thinkers, Catholic writers from the sixteenth century onwards stressed the importance of the rational motives of credibility. Though in the later part of that century, owing to the challenge of Protestantism, a section `on the Church’, de Ecclesia, was customarily added to Catholic treatises on apologetics, the main content of Catholic apologetics for divine revelation did not differ greatly from that treated by their Protestant counterparts.

The classic Catholic representatives of this stream undertook to prove the principles of both natural and revealed religion, moving through an account of natural theology and natural law to treatment of the possibility, utility and necessity of supernatural revelation, and the features of miracle and fulfilled prophecy which (especially) enable one to recognize a divine mission in act, the whole thing ending up with a discussion of the claims of the Church and the principles of Catholic faith. From the mid-eighteenth century on, this structure remains largely constant up until the manuals in use in the 1920s and beyond.13

This was so even if in another way these treatises were always being modified, pouring into the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century mould discussions with such thinkers as Kant, Hegel, Schelling, Darwin, the history-of-religions school of empirical scholarship, Liberal Protestantism and Modernism. But by the time Balthasar was setting out to begin his lifelong study of Christian thought, in the 1920s and 1930s, some Catholic philosophers and theologians were declaring a degree of dissatisfaction with the entire approach.

Why might that be? The main criticism, and one Balthasar largely shared, was that such treatises claimed to establish the fact of divine revelation without ever envisaging the meaning of its content. Painting with broad brush-strokes: in these works the relation of supernatural truth to human realities was not manifest. And while that relation wholly exceeds what human beings could ever expect, so Balthasar would want to add, the wonderful character of that excess was not brought home.

Presumably the Gospel offers an intelligible message — something we are meant to understand, even if this `something’, by its grandeur, also stretches our powers to a point where only the gracious enhancement of our capacities can serve our turn. (Where the appropriate paradigm of knowledge is love, then understanding and mystery will develop together, in direct proportion to each other.)

But such was the emphasis on the proof of revelation by arguments external to itself that this intelligibility (even if it were an intelligibility with a depth of mystery to it) failed to make a proper appearance in justifying revelation’s claims. Hence the critical epithet ‘extrinsicist’ applied to these schemes: the supernatural order seemed to be externally added on to the natural as an autonomous supplement, rather than fully integrated with the natural and suitably interiorized there.

Where Catholic apologetics was concerned, the single most influential dissentient voice was the French philosopher and lay theologian Maurice Blondel.  Without disputing that some place should be given to the considerations adduced in early modern apologetics, Blondel proposed to give the lion’s share, in any commendation of revealed religion, to an account of how the internal logic of the act of faith corresponds to the `logic’ of the highest kind of human activity we know: namely, when we set out to discern meaning — and (especially) the fullness of meaning — in human life at large.

It is not enough to adduce arguments to show the fact of divine attestation to Jesus. The mystery of Christ must be presented as throwing light on the whole human condition. The question is not so much to prove by miraculous facts the rights of Jesus as divine legate (though this is certainly not illegitimate, and can even be called necessary), but, in Balthasarian terms, to discern in the `figure’ of Jesus, his acts and destiny, a divine-human presence penetrating and transforming our sense of relation with God, with the world, with other persons and indeed with ourselves. In so doing, the Revealer, so we discern, confers on human history the weight of eternity.

Naturally enough, this cannot be done without treating the content of revelation from within, rather than simply the fact of revelation from without. What Balthasar is attempting in the Theological aesthetics coheres with much of this Blondelian programme, though his manner of pursuing its agenda is entirely is own. Certainly, Balthasar had no desire to replace an extrinsicist apologetics with an apologetics of natural immanence. As he wrote:

[T]he tradition never set the criterion for the truth of revelation in the centre of the pious human subject, it never measured the abyss of grace by the abyss of need or sin, it never judged the content of dogma according to its beneficial effects on human beings. The Spirit does not reveal himself,- he reveals the Father in the Son, who has become man. And the Son never allows himself to become re-absorbed in the human spirit

How then does Balthasar proceed? His first step is to show that beauty is a possible vehicle for divine self-manifestation. As we have seen, considered ontologically, beauty is not just a property of all created things qua created. What appears in the beauty of created forms is the radiance of being, der Glanz des Seins. Beauty thus speaks of the meaning of that which transcends and yet inheres in all existents.

Secondly, Balthasar treats beauty as the vehicle of the actual revelation of God in Christ, a revelation made when the eternal manifests itself in a concrete, material form, breaking into this world, as beauty does, numinously (for beauty, in words Balthasar liked to quote from Rilke’s Duino Elegies, is the beginning of the terrible). In the case of revelation, this means the eternal breaking in with the glory that truly inheres in the form of Jesus Christ.

The epiphany of this form is not just sheerly overwhelming, however, for exploration of the career and fate of Jesus shows it is an intelligible history. This form is a narrative form, and the meaning of the story is divine love. Here the content and the form are one since both are wonderful. The content is as marvelously beautiful as is the form, and Balthasar’s explanation for this is that both content and form reflect love. Love shares the structure of beauty. It confronts us with the mystery of the otherness of some other and calls forth a corresponding wonder and admiration.

Thirdly and finally, Balthasar develops his theological aesthetics in two parts that are, however, strongly unified as well as distinct. And this two-in-one exposition spans the separate treatises of (early modern and modern) apologetics and dogmatics. This is so because Balthasar’s aesthetics is not only an epistemological investigation of the kind of `seeing’ involved in faith. It is also a doctrine of what he terms `ecstasy’. There is `ecstasy’, first, in the going out (in Greek, ek-stasis) of the Godhead in weakness into the world as the manifestation of the love that is interior to the divine glory.

There is `ecstasy’, secondly, in the way the believer is seized by the divine glory in this revelation in Jesus Christ and is taken up thereby into a share in the life of God himself. Ecstasy, so understood, contains in principle all the main themes of dogmatics — the Trinity, Christology, the doctrines of justification and sanctification, as well as of the sacraments, the Church and eschatology, the Last Things. Faith is a response to the radiance of what St Thomas calls the bonum promissum, the beautifully ordered whole of salvation that is offered to us, exceeding any such `whole’ that exists within the world.”

So what we have here is a tendency to elide, without however ever completely denying, the distinction between apologetics and dogmatics just because Balthasar wants to elide, without however ever completely denying, the distinction between what the Schoolmen called `certainty of adhesion’ and the virtue of theological faith properly so called — the faith that, corresponded to in loving conversion, justifies and saves.

Balthasar can proceed in this direction because he doesn’t think that what explains the act of faith is simply rationally available materials plus an elevation of human judgment by supernatural light. In his view, there is not only God’s gracious supplying of more light with which to judge materials accessible to any reasonable person supplied with appropriate historical data about Jesus and arguments to back up those data. There is also, he maintains, a `light’ that shines forth from those materials themselves in their beautiful ordering in Jesus’ person, life and work.

The act of faith needs both kinds of light: light from within where God can affect my powers of knowing and willing internally, since as my Creator he is closer to me than I am to myself, and light from without — light striking one from Jesus Christ himself as a figure in history who is made palpable to me in the preaching and Liturgy of the Church. On the one hand, the glory of the divine self-emptying in Jesus Christ can be seen only by `eyes of faith’ when God has prepared me interiorly to be receptive to Christ. On the other hand, the `eyes of faith’ can only see when the light of faith falls on them from the divine form that Jesus is. What the eyes of faith see when this interplay of light works as it should is the opening of the divine heart in love, the self-disclosure of the Trinity.

Conclusion On Aesthetics
It is in the lives of saints and mystics that the inspired seeing which animates the Christian life in general and theological aesthetics in particular is most fully in act.
Balthasar identifies its key as humility, which is the readiness to accept the gift of the divine love as it is, to appreciate the necessary and rightness of the form of the divine revelation as we are given it.

Much of Balthasar’s celebrated concern with the practice of holiness as precondition of fruitful theologizing belongs here; adoration and obedience follow from humility, and draw good theology in their train. Henri de Lubac once contrasted Balthasar’s theology with Hegel’s. Whereas Hegel called his own thought `speculative Good Friday’, de Lubac calls Balthasar’s a `contemplative Holy Saturday’.

Evidently, I note in passing, de Lubac was not `phased’ by Balthasar’s theology of the Descent into Hell which turns, of course, on the events of the first Holy Saturday: perhaps he realized that for Balthasar while the Descent is, unlike for most of Catholic tradition, the end-point of the mysteries of Christ’s humiliation, it is also, in keeping with Catholic tradition, the starting-point of the mysteries of hi exaltation.

The useful phrase `contemplative Holy Saturday’ in the wider meaning de Lubac intended for it, brings out the degree to which Balthasar’s material dogmatics are informed by his fundamental theological insight into the nature of faith a contemplative seeing, as well as the extent to which his theology  centers on the self-emptying of the Son of God which reached full term in the Descent into Hell.

It also reminds us that the final volumes of the theological aesthetics consist in a reading of the Old and New Testament. Balthasar at the close of this massive work turns again to the Bible in the hope that, now we grasp what is at stake in theological aesthetics, we can read the Scriptures with new eyes. If we do so, we shall see how though the New Testament’s amazing consummation of the Old, the mystery of all creation, man included, received its definitive interpretation as the hidden presence of Absolute Love, to which, in its luminous, bountiful and exuberant character, beauty’s qualities of clarity, integrity and proportion, by analogy, belong.

See too how the recipients of God’s self-revelation — ourselves — receive thereby the call to make the divine visible in charity, the specifically Christian love of God and neighbor, the intended moral outcome of Balthasar’s entire work. These statements are not only conclusions drawn from his theological aesthetics. They are also anticipations of the message of his theological dramatics and theological logic as well.


A Note on God as Unmoved Mover — Douglas McManaman

November 8, 2013
Carl Bloch The Entombment of Christ. Danish artist Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890). Bloch was commissioned to produce 23 paintings for the Chapel at Frederiksborg Palace. These were all scenes from the life of Christ which have become very popular as illustrations. The originals, painted between 1865 and 1879, are still at Frederiksborg Palace. The altarpieces can be found at Holbaek, Odense, Ugerloese and Copenhagen in Denmark, as well as Loederup, Hoerup, and Landskrona in Sweden. Carl Bloch died of cancer on February 22, 1890. His death came as "an abrupt blow for Nordic art" according to an article by Sophus Michaelis. Michaelis stated that "Denmark has lost the artist that indisputably was the greatest among the living." Kyhn stated in his eulogy at Carl Bloch's funeral that "Bloch stays and lives."

Carl Bloch The Entombment of Christ. Danish artist Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890). Bloch was commissioned to produce 23 paintings for the Chapel at Frederiksborg Palace. These were all scenes from the life of Christ which have become very popular as illustrations. The originals, painted between 1865 and 1879, are still at Frederiksborg Palace. The altarpieces can be found at Holbaek, Odense, Ugerloese and Copenhagen in Denmark, as well as Loederup, Hoerup, and Landskrona in Sweden. Carl Bloch died of cancer on February 22, 1890. His death came as “an abrupt blow for Nordic art” according to an article by Sophus Michaelis. Michaelis stated that “Denmark has lost the artist that indisputably was the greatest among the living.” Kyhn stated in his eulogy at Carl Bloch’s funeral that “Bloch stays and lives.”

Often people ask: “If God created everything, then who created God?”  Of course no one created God. For if God was created, He’d be a creature (created), and so He wouldn’t be God. His creator would be God. But then who created His creator? If He too was created, then He isn’t God, but a creature of God.

To be God is to be the creator of all creatures. So God is not Himself a creature. He is uncreated.  He always existed. He cannot not exist. And so He did not come into existence, nor will He go out of existence.

But I can’t imagine that! How is that possible?  It is true that you and I cannot imagine that. For everything in our experience has had a beginning. And our imagination is limited to what can be imagined, and what can be imagined are material things and their movements.

Material things have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But God is not a material and created thing. And so He cannot be imagined. And as for your second question (How is that possible?), it is impossible for it to be any other way. There must be a First, uncreated and uncaused cause of all other things. Let me go over a concept first employed by Aristotle and later developed by St. Thomas Aquinas, the proof from motion.

St. Thomas begins by pointing out that nothing moves itself from potency to act, except by something already in act. For instance, a piece of chalk on a slate will not move itself to another position on the slate except by something already in the act of motion. The piece of chalk is actually stationary, but potentially moving. It is potentially in another place on the slate. In order for the chalk to acquire that new position, it will have to be moved to that new position by something already moving.

Another way of putting this is to say that ‘nothing can give to itself what it does not possess’. If the piece of chalk is at rest, it is not moving. It does not have motion. If it does not have motion, it cannot give itself motion. It must receive motion from another that is actually moving. Note: Living things do not move themselves in a primary way. A living thing, as a whole, does not move itself from potency to act. Rather, one part moves another part, and in this way the whole thing moves.


Now, St. Thomas points out that there cannot be an infinite or unlimited series of causes.  Consider the arrow above.  The arrow is finite.  When it moves, it moves a finite distance in a finite time.  But if the arrow was infinite, it would move an infinite distance in an infinite time.  Every movement of it would cover an infinite distance, and every movement would occur in an infinite duration of time.  Moreover, an arrow that is infinite could not acquire more distance.  It would not have the potentiality to move further ahead of itself.

Consider now the series of movers in color above.  The red ball (extreme left) is moved by the green, but the green in turn received its motion from the blue ball, and the blue ball received its motion from the purple (fourth from the left), etc.,.  The red ball on the left could represent anything, such as a dry leaf blowing in the wind that comes to rest at your feet on a fall day.  The motion has come to an end, the leaf is at rest next to your left foot.

Hence, its movement is terminated.  It has come to an end.  It is finished, or finite.  If the series of causes preceding the motion of the leaf is infinite, then the motion of the leaf or red ball on the left would never be terminated (finished, finite).  The leaf moved by virtue of the motion of certain atoms in the air, and those in turn are moving by virtue of the motion of something else, etc.  The series must be finite.  Why?  Because the motion of the leaf came to an end (finished).

First, if the series of movers were infinite, the series would stretch back to infinity.  Now, since all the things moved and moving are necessarily bodies, they must form a single moving object, the parts of which are in contiguity (in contact, or touching) or continuity.  But if the whole single series is infinite, then when it moves, it moves an infinite distance in an infinite time.  But it is impossible to move an infinite distance.

Think about this for a moment.  To move is to acquire something, such as a new location.  But an infinitely long stick, for example, cannot move forward to acquire a new location, since it covers an infinity.  There is nothing ahead of it to acquire, for it occupies every location ahead of it.

But the red ball has moved a finite distance and its movement has terminated.  It moved a finite distance in a finite time.  No matter how long the series preceding it is, if it is finite, it moves a finite distance in a finite time.  But if it is infinitely long, it moves an infinite distance in an infinite time.  But this is absurd.  The very fact that the motion of the leaf has come to an end shows that the series is finite.

A Series of Essentially Subordinated Movers
Let’s consider this from another angle.  There are two types of series of movers.  The one is a series of essentially subordinated movers.  The other is a series of accidentally subordinated movers.  Let’s take the latter first.  In a series of movers that are only accidentally subordinated to one another, an actual infinity is possible.

For example, a chicken comes from an egg, an egg from another chicken, and the other chicken from still another egg.  There is no reason why such a series, stretching backward through the past, cannot be unending.  In this kind of a series, the movers are operating in succession, not together.  And so a parent chicken need not be here and now influencing the hatching of an egg.  It may in fact be dead.

This is not the kind of series St. Thomas is referring to.  He is referring to a series of essentially subordinated movers.  In movers essentially subordinated to each other, one mover is here and now influencing another, like the hand moving a piece of chalk.  Without the causality of the first, there is no movement in the second. 

Note the color series above.  This represents a series of essentially subordinated movers.  A series of essentially subordinated movers cannot be infinite for the reasons given above.  Treating it as a single thing, it would cover an infinite distance in an infinite time.

Also, the red ball received its act of motion from the green, which in turn receives its act of motion from the blue, and so on.  If this “and so on” proceeds ad infinitum, then the red ball will never receive the act of motion. The red ball is moved by the green, the green receives its actual movement from the blue, etc.  The moved effect and the mover, in any motion, are simultaneous.  The hand moves the stick, which moves the eraser on the slate, which moves the chalk on the slate, and as soon as the hand stops moving the stick, the stick stops being moved.  When the carpenter stops bulding the house, the house stops being built.

Now, yellow moves teal, and teal moves red, and red moves brown, and brown moves green, and as soon as yellow stops moving, teal ceases to be moved.  If teal moves red, then as soon as teal stops being moved by yellow, red stops being moved by teal.  In a series of movers, however long, all of the members must be operating in some kind of simultaneity.  As strictly physical and hence dependent on quantity, our series of causes must be stretched out so that one is outside the other, like the stick that is touched by the hand and in turn touches the eraser.

Physical causes are in contiguity with each other.  Now whatever is quantified is hemmed into itself and cannot influence other things without contacting them directly or through a quantitative medium.  An infinite series of physical causes, one placed outside another, would fill an infinity of space.

But finite causes cannot be strung together to form an infinityNumber is only potentially infinite, not actually infinite (there is no actually infinite number).  And more, if our series of physical causes were truly infinite, the causality would take an infinite time to “pass” through it from one member to another into infinity.  Hence, the leaf would not move, or the red ball would not move.  In fact, no thing on the series would move, if it is preceded by an infinite series.

Hence, the series must be finite.  It follows that there must be a First Mover.  But this First Mover must be unmoved, otherwise we are back to positing preceding causes.  But this cannot go on to infinity, so there must be a First Unmoved Mover, if anything in the universe moves.

Now, since motion is an act that is received by something potentially moving (but actually stationary), the Unmoved Mover must have no potentiality to receive anything, but can impart the act of motion.  As we will see later, this can only mean that the Unmoved Mover is God, who is Pure Act, without any admixture of potentiality.

We can even look at this vertically (below):


Why is it that if the series (green “causes”) was infinite, the meteor would never have been moved? Because the cause of its motion, i.e., another meteor (the green “cause” just above it), would never have been moved. The reason is that it would take an infinity to move the meteor. The series prior to it is infinitely long, and the causes would churn for infinity. The effect would never reach the meteor.


God as Ipsum Esse Subsistens 2 — Douglas McManaman

November 7, 2013
After his death at Lunéville in 1652, La Tour's work was forgotten until rediscovered by Hermann Voss, a German scholar, in 1915; some of La Tour's work had in fact been confused with Vermeer, when the Dutch artist underwent his own rediscovery in the nineteenth century. In 1935 an exhibition in Paris began the revival in interest among a wider public. In the twentieth century a number of his works were identified once more, and forgers tried to help meet the new demand; many aspects of his œuvre remain controversial among art historians

After his death at Lunéville in 1652, La Tour’s work was forgotten until rediscovered by Hermann Voss, a German scholar, in 1915; some of La Tour’s work had in fact been confused with Vermeer, when the Dutch artist underwent his own rediscovery in the nineteenth century. In 1935 an exhibition in Paris began the revival in interest among a wider public. In the twentieth century a number of his works were identified once more, and forgers tried to help meet the new demand; many aspects of his œuvre remain controversial among art historians

More reasoning from St. Thomas:


God’s Knowing is the Cause of Being
11.  If God’s knowledge is His Existence, then it follows that God’s knowledge is the cause of whatever is.  A thing exists because God knows it (and of course wills it into being).  Existing things exist independently of our knowing them, but this is not the case for God.  Whatever exists, exists because He knows it.  If He stopped knowing something, it would cease to be.

God is Omnipotent
12.  Since God is the First Existential Cause of whatever has existence, it follows that God has complete dominion over being.  You and I might have dominion over the fish, the animals, the trees, etc.  But we don’t have dominion over being.  We cannot impart being (bring something into being from nothing).  Now, since there is nothing outside of being, and God has dominion over being, it follows that He has unlimited power.  Hence, God is omnipotent.

God is Infinite
13.  If God is His own Act of Existing, then it follows that God is infinite (without limits).  God is His own Existence, and outside of existence is non-existence (or nothing).  Hence, there is nothing outside of God to limit Him.  Hence, He is infinite.

God is Supremely Good and cannot do evil.
14.  Whatever is, is good.  Goodness is a property of being.  Thus, to exist is good.  That is why things struggle to perpetuate their existence.  Evil is a lack of due being, a lack of something that should be there.  And so it follows that if God is His own Act of Existing, then God is Supremely Good, or perfect Goodness.  God cannot do or will evil.  Whatever God does is good insofar as He does it.  

Whatever happens to those who love God, He permits for their greatest good
15.  If God is omnipotent, and if God is perfect Goodness, then it follows that whatever happens to you and me in our lives is permitted by God ultimately for our greatest good.

Omnipotence means that He can do whatever He wants, and perfect goodness implies that He wants only what is best for us.  The two together imply that God wills our greatest good and is able to bring it about — if we allow Him to.  Hence, whatever He allows to happen to us in our lives is permitted by Him ultimately for our greatest good.

God is Subsistent Beauty
16.  Every perfection that exists in God is identical to God’s Act of Existing.  Beauty is a perfection.  It follows that God is Subsistent Beauty.  Hence, whatever is beautiful – a beautiful sunset, beautiful scenery, the beauty of the stars, or a beautiful face, etc– is an imperfect reflection of God’s perfect  and infinite beauty.  And if the human person has a natural desire to behold the beautiful, he has a natural desire to see God.

God is Justice
17.  Justice is a perfection (an unjust man is not regarded as a perfect man), therefore, in God, justice is identical with His Act of Existing.  Thus, God is justice.  Hence, we can conclude that ultimately, injustice is temporaryGod cannot allow injustice to endure.  Nor is it possible for God to ever be unjust.

God is Truth
18.  Truth is the conformity between what is in the mind and what is (in reality).  But what is, exists by virtue of being known by God and being willed into existence (as we said above).  God’s knowledge is the measure of reality, not vice versa.  God is thus the measure of truth.

Therefore, God does not have the truth, rather God is Truth.  And so it follows that whoever loves truth, ultimately loves God, just as whoever loves justice — and not everybody does, certainly not the majority–, such a one ultimately loves God.

God alone satisfies the will perfectly
19.  The object of the will is “the good”.  Whatever a person wills, he sees it as good.  This is true because the good is “that which all things desire”.  Joy is the state that results from the satisfaction of the will, which is the possession of the good.

Now, if God’s goodness is His Act of Existence, and if the object of the will is the good, then to see and know God as He is in Himself is to experience the perfect satisfaction of the will, which is joy.  And since we don’t see the Supreme Good (God) directly while in this earthly state, it follows that the joy of knowing God as He is in Himself is simply unimaginable.  To possess that joy eternally is heaven.  To miss out on that joy eternally, by virtue of our own choices, is hell.

Making God the end of all your efforts is eminently reasonable
20.  Love means to will the good of another (benevolence).  Goodness is a property of being.  Hence, to be is good.  God’s act of creating (bringing things into being) is an act of love, that is, a willing that the goodness of existence be enjoyed by the creature.

Now, man is an intelligent being whose highest activity is to know and to love.  Therefore, man’s highest and greatest possible achievement is to know and love God.  It follows that it is reasonable to spend every ounce of one’s energy towards the attainment of that goal.  A reasonable life is one directed ultimately towards the possession of God in knowledge and love.  Any other goal is simply irrational.


God as Ipsum Esse Subsistens 1 – Douglas McManaman

November 6, 2013
Georges de La Tour (March 13, 1593 – January 30, 1652) was a French Baroque painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which was temporarily absorbed into France between 1641 and 1648. He painted mostly religious chiaroscuro scenes lit by candlelight

Georges de La Tour (March 13, 1593 – January 30, 1652) was a French Baroque painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which was temporarily absorbed into France between 1641 and 1648. He painted mostly religious chiaroscuro scenes lit by candlelight

God is that being whose essence is identical to His existence. God’s essence is to be.  Hence, it follows that Ipsum Esse cannot not be. Ipsum Esse (God) is His own to be, and therefore exists necessarily. Many other things flow from the above as St Thomas recorded:


1. God is One:
There cannot be two beings whose essence is to be. What would distinguish the one from the other? It would have to be something outside of what they are in common. What are they? Being Itself, that is, two beings whose essence is to be. Outside of Being Itself is non-being (nothing). Hence, nothing distinguishes them. They are not “they” (plural), but one.

2. God is not material:
If God is His own Act of Being, then God is Act. If His essence is not in potency to existence, but is His existence, then God is pure Act without any admixture of potentiality. Therefore, there is no prime matter in God, for prime matter is potentiality.

Nor is God made up of any secondary matter (extended substance). For what is secondary matter (substance) is in potentiality to certain accidents, ie, quantity, quality, when, where, etc.,. But there is no potency in God.

3. God is not a quantity, nor does He have quantity:
For quantity is divisible, and Ipsum Esse cannot be divided into two, as was shown above. Also, note the word divisible (able or potentially divided). But there is no potentiality in God. Also, what is Act is immaterial. Also, what is extended has parts outside of parts. A block of gold has parts outside of parts, for example the part on the left is outside of the part on the right, yet both parts share in the nature of gold. The nature is found whole and entire in every part.

But if God is His own Act of Existing, He cannot have parts. Consider, this part of God is not that part of God. If this part of God is Being, then there cannot be anything outside of that part, for outside of being is non-being. If there are no parts outside of this part, then there is no “this part”. This part is so only in relation to that part. Hence, there are no parts in God.

4. God is outside of time:
What is in time is subject to time, that is, actualized by time (time is an accident, it actualizes the substance in an accidental way). But a Being who is His own Act of Existing cannot be in potency or be subject to anything. For there is nothing outside of Being, and He is Pure Being.

Therefore God is eternal. What is eternal is not something that endures forever, time without end. What is eternal is simply present without a before and an after. In other words, all of human history is present to God; there is no future, no past, only present.

5. God is not in place, therefore God is not in the universe nor outside of it:
To be in place, that is, subject to place requires quantity and figure. God has no quantity, as was shown above.

6. That God is present everywhere:
If God alone imparts the act of existing (esse) on contingent beings, then God is intimately and immediately present to anything that is. There cannot be anything between God and a contingent being. To impart being means to bring something into being from nothing, not from something mediate.

Therefore, wherever there is something, God is more intimately and immediately present to that something than anything else could possibly be. In other words, God is more immediately present to Jean Paul Sartre than his own mistress, and even more present to Sartre than Sartre was to himself or to us than we are to ourselves. Wherever there is being, there is God. Hence, God is everywhere without being subject to place.

7. That God has Intelligence:
A thing is known in so far as it is in act. For example, we know the essence of a thing when the intellect abstracts the form from the material conditions of the thing. The passive mind becomes actualized by the form, which is knowledge. If God is pure Act, then God is perfectly intelligible to Himself.

Also, act is perfection, for a thing is perfect in so far as it is in act. But God is pure Act of Existing. Therefore God is perfect. He cannot lack any perfection; for otherwise He would be in potency to further act. Thus, He would not be pure Act. Now, of all the perfections found in beings, intelligence is considered preeminent; for intellectual beings are more powerful than those without reason. Therefore God is intelligent.

8. That God’s knowledge is His Existence:
God is entirely simple, that is, entirely without composition. There is nothing in God that is distinct from His Existence. God’s knowledge is not distinct from His Existence, otherwise there would be composition in God. Now, there is nothing outside of God’s Act of Existing (outside of Ipsum Esse is non-being).

Hence, God’s knowledge is His Being. Also, if there was knowledge in God, and this knowledge was not His Act of Existing, then it would be related to His Act of Existing as potency is related to act. But there is no potentiality in God, as was shown above. Hence, God’s knowledge is His Existence.

9. All other perfections in God are identical to His Existence:
Any other perfections, such as love, justice, wisdom, power, beauty etc., are found in God, but they are identical to His Existence for the reasons stated above.

10. That there is will or volition in God.
If God knows Himself (He cannot not know Himself) or understands Himself, Who is perfect and therefore supremely good, then it follows that He necessarily loves Himself. For the good is that which all things desire, and all things desire first and foremost their own perfection, that is, their own act. If God is pure Act without any admixture of potentiality, then God is unlimited Good (potentiality is the source of limitation in things).

What is supremely Good without limits is, if known, necessarily loved. God is His own Act of Being, therefore He is perfectly knowable to Himself. His Self-Knowledge is His Existence. Therefore He loves Himself necessarily. And since love operates through the will, there is will in God. Moreover, God’s will is identical to His Existence; for God is entirely simple, as was shown above.

Also, God’s willing and God’s knowing is not a power or potency that can be actualized. God’s knowing and willing are eternally act, for His willing and knowing are identical to His Act of Existing. So God always knows Himself and loves Himself.

He imparts existence on contingent beings not out of necessity, but through His own will. Whatever is, He knows, for it is His knowledge and will that cause other things to be. Hence, God does not learn as we learn, God does not discover as we discover. God does not move from potentiality to actuality, that is, from potential knowledge to actual knowledge. Anything that is, exists by virtue of God’s knowledge and will. If God does not know it, it does not exist.


Contingency and the Third Way of St. Thomas — Douglas McManaman

November 5, 2013


Everything in the universe that exists is a contingent being. If one does not accept this, but argues that not everything is a contingent being, then the argument becomes much easier. For we are trying to prove just that, namely, that there is a non-contingent being besides contingent beings.  So the question at this point is that if everything that is is a contingent being, a possibility made actual, what is it that accounts for the reduction of all these beings from potentiality to actuality? What brings things into being?

Everything in the universe that exists is a contingent being. If one does not accept this, but argues that not everything is a contingent being, then the argument becomes much easier. For we are trying to prove just that, namely, that there is a non-contingent being besides contingent beings. So the question at this point is that if everything that is is a contingent being, a possibility made actual, what is it that accounts for the reduction of all these beings from potentiality to actuality? What brings things into being?


Let’s begin by defining our terms. First, the word “contingent”, from the Latin “com” and “tangere”, (‘to touch upon’). Contingent means “that which need not be the case”, or “something which just happens to be the case”. A contingent being is a being that need not be.

It is not necessary that the oak tree in your backyard be. It was planted by your grandfather, perhaps, but he need not have planted it. It just happens to be the case that he planted it. You can also purchase an ax and cut it down tomorrow. Hence, it need not be. It came into being at one time, and it can cease to be at one time.

You and I are contingent beings. It is not true to say that “you cannot not be”. If that were the case, you’d have always existed. In other words, you and I are not “necessary beings” or non-contingent beings.

Now we’d like to know if there is a non-contingent being that exists. Just defining it does not show that it actually exists. So, we begin by assuming that everything that exists is a contingent being. In the diagram above, the circle represents a contingent being. A contingent being is a composite of essence and existence. It is “what” it is (represented in blue), but it “has” an act of existing (represented in green).

The circles above, then, will represent every contingent thing that had existence, has existence, and will have existence (consider them all in the present). The question is whether we need to posit anything else besides contingent beings..

Now, as was said above, a contingent being has existence. That is, it has an act of existing (esse). This act of existing does not add anything to the nature or essence of the thing. For example, you and I can come to understand the nature of an atelopus exiguus (a type of frog) without knowing whether or not such a thing actually exists. Should the frog be discovered to actually exist, its being will not add anything to the nature of the frog as you understand it already.

And so a contingent being that actually exists is a composite. A composite of what? A composite of “essence” and an “act of existing” (essentia et esse). That is why knowing what a thing is does not tell me whether or not it is, and knowing that a thing is does not tell me what it is. For example, some of those contingent beings represented in the diagram above are presumably entities that we have never encountered before. We can know that something exists on Mars by certain effects, for example, without knowing what it is specifically. In other words, essence and existence are really distinct.

At this point, recall what an analogy is. For example, consider the following analogy: cat is to meow as dog is to ______. The answer, of course, is “bark”. Or, 2 is to 4 as 3 is to ______. The answer is clearly “6″. Now think of the following analogy: Essence is to existence as potentiality is to actuality.

What this means is that a contingent being is a potential being that has been reduced to an actual being (it has an act of existing). 200 years ago, your oak tree did not exist. Now it actually exists. It has an act of existing. Now, one cannot say that it was impossible for the oak tree to exist. It exists now, in your backyard, which proves that it was possible for it to be. The oak tree is a possibility that has become an actuality. It is a unity of potency and act, or essence and existence. We can know what it is (essence), and we can know that it is (existence). Consider the analogy:

  • what is to that as essence is to existence as potentiality is to actuality

Now the act of existing is an act. The essence is related to the act of existing as potentiality is related to actuality. The atelopus exiguus does not actually exist any more. It is extinct. They were a potentiality to be, and as actually existing beings they were composites of essence and existence.

As a composite of essence and existence, this particular frog is now a potentiality not to be (it can cease to be). To prove this, note that the atelopus exiguus is now extinct. They no longer have actual being. So too, your children do not exist. At this point, they are a potentiality to be.

Consider now the diagram above. Everything in the universe that exists is a contingent being. If one does not accept this, but argues that not everything is a contingent being, then the argument becomes much easier. For we are trying to prove just that, namely, that there is a non-contingent being besides contingent beings.

So the question at this point is that if everything that is is a contingent being, a possibility made actual, what is it that accounts for the reduction of all these beings from potentiality to actuality? What brings things into being?

There are three possibilities:

  1. A contingent being brings itself into being.
  2. Contingent beings bring contingent beings into being.
  3. A non-contingent being brings things into being.

We can rule out the first two possibilities.

1. A contingent being brings itself into being. This is not possible. If a being does not have an act of existing, then it isn’t a being. It is merely a potentiality. But a potentiality without an act of existing does not exist. It is nothing. And nothing brings itself into existence. In order to bring oneself into being, one would have to exist before one exists. But this is absurd. And if a thing does not exist, it cannot do anything.

2. Contingent beings bring contingent beings into being. Contingent beings cannot impart the act of existing. That is, contingent beings cannot reduce a being from potentially existing to actually existing. It is not possible for you or I to bring something into being from nothing. All we can do is bring something into being from already existing material. Even reproduction, for us, is not creation. We do not create our children. We reproduce. We provide our kids with their genetic material, but we don’t create them from nothing. We receive them. So, whatever contingent beings do, they must first exist in order to do it, and whatever contingent beings act upon must first exist in order for them to act upon it. Hence, contingent beings do not impart existence.

So it is reasonable to ask: “What accounts for the existence of contingent beings?” Contingent beings do not account for the existence of contingent beings. In other words, contingent beings do not cause existence. Whatever they do, they must first exist in order to do it, and whatever they act upon must first exist in order for them to act upon it.

Now a contingent being did not cause itself to be, rather, it was caused to be. Its existence was caused. A contingent being can cause, but it does not impart existence. So as a cause, a contingent being is a caused cause. For example, a carpenter causes the house to be, and so a carpenter is a caused cause. But no contingent being causes being or existence.

Hence, only a non-contingent being causes being, that is, only an uncaused cause causes existence. Only a non-contingent being can account for the existence of contingent beings. A non-contingent being is not a possible being, but a being that cannot not be. A non-contingent being is a being whose essence is to be. It is his nature to exist.

In order to have a universe of contingent beings, there must be an uncaused cause. An uncaused cause does not have existence. Rather, an uncaused cause is his own existence. This uncaused cause is what we mean by God. For the uncaused cause is eternal, never came into existence, is the cause of the being of all other beings, and can only be one.

Possible Objections and Replies

Possible Objection:

  • Matter cannot be created or destroyed. So matter is not contingent.

Reply: This is not quite true. We cannot create or destroy matter. But matter, as the world of science understands it, is contingent. We speak of kinds of matter. The nature of matter is distinct from its existence. This is especially clear when we are dealing with the elements. We can know what a particular element is, and this knowledge does not tell us whether or not that matter actually is. All matter is a composite of essence and existence. If it was not, it could not be multiplied. Its essence would be to exist, and so it would be pure actuality. What is pure actuality, that is, pure act of existing, can only be one, not plural, as we will explain later.

  • Logically, the assumption that we have not always existed does not mean we aren’t necessary now. Spiritually, how can we know that it is not necessary for God’s plan for us to be here?

Reply: The very fact that you did not always exist is enough to show that you are not non-contingent, at least absolutely. You are not eternal. You have a received being.

  • Contingent beings couldn’t create themselves so a non-contingent being must have. But your logic works equally well on a non-contingent being. If it didn’t exist how did it get there in there first place?

Reply: The non-contingent being does not have a received being. Its nature or essence is to be, whereas your nature is to be human. Its nature is not distinct from its existence. If it were, it would be contingent, and we’d still have the giant question mark hanging over us.

  • And if it was always there, a contingent being could have been always there, too.

Reply: Even if we suppose that a contingent being always existed, the explanation for its “existence” is not contained in itself, that is, in its nature. Its being is still received. Its essence is still distinct from its existence (otherwise it would be non-contingent). So it would still need an explanation. We could still ask: “What is the cause of its being?”.

  • Interesting that it went from an it to a him.

Reply: The ‘him’ is just generic. It is appropriate because “him” refers to a principle of a generation (fatherhood), whereas her refers to woman, to whom it belongs to receive and nurture new life in the womb. But since this non-contingent being does not receive existence, but imparts it (as the man imparts his seed, and the woman receives it), it is for the most part appropriate to use “he” instead of “her”. Creation is more accurately referred to as her.

  • Another flaw I see is that you are assuming just because it is something’s nature to exist, it does. It was that extinct frog’s nature to exist, but it doesn’t.

Reply: Actually, it isn’t the frog’s nature to be, otherwise it would still be. It was its nature to be a frog, to croak, swim, etc. What belongs to a thing’s nature does so necessarily. For example, if I know that you are human, because someone told me, then I can say that you are necessarily rational, risible, and sentient, etc.

But I can’t say that you necessarily exist. You might have died a year ago, and it is your brother who is telling me about you. If you do exist, and you are human, you are necessarily rational. Just like a triangle necessarily has three sides. But it isn’t necessarily yellow. Yellow does not belong to its nature. And blond hair does not belong to the nature of man, otherwise we’d all be blond, or those of us who are not would not be essentially human. Existence does not belong to our nature, if it did, we’d necessarily be (we’d be non-contingent). So if a thing’s nature is to be, then it necessarily is.


Edward Feser, David Bentley Hart, and Natural Law — Steven Wedgeworth

April 28, 2013
One can claim that religious faith goes all the way down and claim that basic reason is objective and capable of compelling public persuasion. This is because people do not have to know how or why something is true to still know that it is true. Most self-evident truths operate efficiently apart from self-reflection. The Christian natural philosopher and natural-law thinker is not denying the comprehensive nature of faith, but he is saying that this faith can be rationally demonstrated as a good and necessary thing. Additionally, he claims that basic morality is not only helpful and attractive but inescapable, and it is so on absolutely reasonable grounds.

One can claim that religious faith goes all the way down and claim that basic reason is objective and capable of compelling public persuasion. This is because people do not have to know how or why something is true to still know that it is true. Most self-evident truths operate efficiently apart from self-reflection. The Christian natural philosopher and natural-law thinker is not denying the comprehensive nature of faith, but he is saying that this faith can be rationally demonstrated as a good and necessary thing. Additionally, he claims that basic morality is not only helpful and attractive but inescapable, and it is so on absolutely reasonable grounds.

Yet another point of view I would like to feature here on the Feser/Hart dustup. So much of what the two have written is for master or doctrinal classes in theology and philosophy. Steven Wedgeworth is the editor of The Calvinist International. He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS. A Presbyterian pastor and classical school teacher, Steven lives in Jackson, MS. He recently weighed in with an opinion that helps us interpret and learn from the exchange.


Edward Feser administers a much-needed corrective on the subject of natural philosophy and natural law in this response to David Bentley Hart. Before Dr. Feser’s article, the original piece from Dr. Hart was mostly applauded by other noteworthy names like Rod Dreher, Alan Jacobs, and Peter Leithart. We will not reproduce all of Dr. Feser’s argument, but we will highlight a few key points to show how he demonstrates that these critics are actually confused about the basic points of the natural law position. And in their confusion, these critics end up furthering the modernist cause they seek to defeat.

Dr. Feser begins by pointing out the existence of two schools of natural law: the classical (or “old”) natural-law theory and the “new natural-law theory.” These two schools hold some ideas in common, but they disagree on some important fundamentals. Dr. Feser summarizes:

What the two approaches have in common is the view that objectively true moral conclusions can be derived from premises that in no way presuppose any purported divine revelation, any body of scriptural writings, or any particular religious tradition. Rather, they can in principle be known via purely philosophical arguments. Where the two approaches differ is in their view of which philosophical claims, specifically, the natural law theorist must defend in order to develop a system of natural law ethics.

The “old” natural law theorist would hold that a broadly classical, and specifically Aristotelian, metaphysical picture of the world must be part of a complete defense of natural law. The “new” natural law theorist would hold that natural law theory can be developed with a much more modest set of metaphysical claims – about the reality of free will, say, and a certain theory of practical reason – without having to challenge modern post-Humean, post-Kantian philosophy in as radical and wholesale a way as the “old” natural law theorist would.

Both sides agree, however, that some body of metaphysical claims must be a part of a complete natural law theory, and (again) that these claims can be defended without appeal to divine revelation, scripture, etc.

The problem with Dr. Hart’s critique, among other things, is that he conflates the two schools. He seems to affirm the truth of the “old” natural-law theory, but then he uses modernistic assumptions, those held by the “new natural-law theory,” to explain why the old theory, while still true, has no persuasive power. In doing so, however, he must grant that some of the new positions are also true, or at least true enough not to publicly contest, which is all very strange and self-contradictory.

Dr. Feser explains how Dr. Hart’s practical skepticism is itself incoherent:

[He] supposes that even if our nature directs us to certain ends that constitute the good for us, reason could still intelligibly wonder why it ought to respect those natural ends or the good they define. But this implicitly supposes that reason itself, unlike everything else, somehow lacks a natural end definitive of its proper function, or at least a natural end that we can know through pure philosophical inquiry. And that is precisely what classical natural law theory denies.

In the view of the “old” natural law theorist, when the metaphysics of intellect and volition are properly understood, it turns out that it cannot in principle be rational to will anything other than the good.  The fusion of “facts” and “values” goes all the way down, without a gap into which the Humean might fit the wedge with which he’d like to sever practical reason from any particular end. Hart simply assumes that this is false, or at least unknowable; he doesn’t give any argument to show that it is. And thus he has offered no non-circular criticism of the classical natural law theorist.

Here we see that so many of the new classicists, many of whom write for First Things and Pro Ecclesia, are themselves still thorough-going modernists. Individual reason, even if only for the sake of criticism, is the one thing privileged enough to critique contextualization.

Thus the criticisms of Hume and the alternatives of Kant are mostly accepted. But then, in modernism’s wake, classical philosophy and theology are held up as an aesthetically-attractive anchor to the subjectivist dilemma, but, importantly, one still subjective in nature. In other words, these Christian philosophers choose to hold to classical positions, but they acknowledge that this is a subjective value whose utility is only truly discernible after the fact.

This leads to very pressing problems, namely a basic relativism and its apocalyptic solution which is invariably utopian and violent. Dr. Feser explains how the first dilemma results from an equivocation:

Sloppy popular usage aside, “supernatural” is not a synonym for “metaphysical” – as Hart himself implicitly acknowledges with the phrase “supernatural (or at least metaphysical),” quoted above. What is supernatural is what is beyond the natural order altogether, and thus cannot be known via purely philosophical argument but only via divine revelation. Metaphysics, by contrast, is an enterprise that Platonists, Aristotelians, materialists, idealists, philosophical theists, atheists, and others have for millennia been engaged in without any reference to divine revelation.

The classical natural law theory asserts a specific metaphysical framework, to be sure. And it acknowledges that this is controversial, as Dr. Feser also does. But it does not acknowledge, and has not acknowledged, that the project of metaphysics itself is wholly “supernatural,” dependent on some sort of apocalyptic intervention into the normal order of things.

To do so would make metaphysics dependent upon special revelation, which would make it non-rational and subjective at bottom. Such a position fits perfectly within postmodernism, but it is directly at odds with the earlier tradition. That tradition said that certain metaphysical truths were self-evident and necessary for all other rational discourse. “The contrary” was, to borrow a phrase from other Christian transcendentalists, “impossible.”

Certain truths have to be the case in order for reason to be coherent, and since reason itself is necessary to dispute reason’s coherency, those truths’ existence is itself necessary or self-evident. Thus objective truth is itself self-evident and capable of being appealed to. For Dr. Hart to consign metaphysics to supernatural revelation is to forfeit this claim of objective reality.

Dr. Feser does not miss the fact that this postmodern Christian philosophy is itself a product of secularist advances. He writes, “Notice also the rich irony of a thinker who urges us to trust in divine revelation rather than natural reason, and who appeals to a secularist philosophical argument in order to make his case!”

Instead of defeating secularism, which Dr. Hart has claimed to at least attempt, the result is actually a furtherance of the secularist foundation. The practical result is actually more identity politics with the claim that “Christians” or “religious people” are a class-in-miniature who have something rich to offer the larger market of ideas.

One will see this same phenomenon replicated in Neo-Orthodoxy, Radical Orthodoxy, and certain forms of “worldview” thinking. Instead of argument, we will see appeals to “apocalyptic” transformation through a sort of event-metaphysics.

All of this leaves us with the hopeless contest of competing ultimate worldviews. While it is true that only persuasion will bring a person from one competing position to another, reason has traditionally been the vehicle, or at least one of the primary vehicles, which enables persuasion to be compelling. Apart from it, we are left with fideism or, worse, coercion. Dr. Feser illustrates the futility of the “apocalyptic” methodology:

And then there is the question of why anyone else should accept the revelation – of the missionary activity that, as I’m sure Hart would agree, the Christian is called to. If you are going to teach an Englishman Goethe in the original, you’re going to have to teach him German first. If you’re going to teach him algebra, you’d better make sure he already knows basic arithmetic. And if you’re going to preach the Gospel to him, you’re going to have to convince him first that what you’re saying really did come from God, and isn’t just something the people you got it from made up or hallucinated.

That’s why apologetics – the praeambula fidei, the study of what natural reason can and must know before it can know the truths of faith – precedes dogmatics in the order of knowledge, and always will. The theologian who thinks otherwise is like the Goethe scholar who screams in German at his English-speaking students, telling them what idiots they are – and deriding those who would teach them German as engaged in a “hopeless” task.

All one can say to this is Amen. John Warwick Montgomery made the same point in his essay “Once Upon an A Priori.” Without some inescapably common reason, call it what you will, all we are left with is a shouting match. Or perhaps, as in the current case, what we’ve got is simply marketing.

We will have much more to say about this topic in later essays. For now we will leave our Christian readers with this reassurance. One can claim that religious faith goes all the way down and claim that basic reason is objective and capable of compelling public persuasion. This is because people do not have to know how or why something is true to still know that it is true. Most self-evident truths operate efficiently apart from self-reflection. The Christian natural philosopher and natural-law thinker is not denying the comprehensive nature of faith, but he is saying that this faith can be rationally demonstrated as a good and necessary thing. Additionally, he claims that basic morality is not only helpful and attractive but inescapable, and it is so on absolutely reasonable grounds.


Spirit by Frank Sheed

December 21, 2012
Sebastiano Bombelli:The Dove of the Holy Spirit

Sebastiano Bombelli:The Dove of the Holy Spirit

Frank Sheed had a distinguished career as evangelist, publisher, lecturer and writer. He and his wife, Maisie Ward, founded Sheed & Ward, the publishing house in London, introducing such Catholic giants as Dorothy Day, Jacques Maritain, François Mauriac and G.K. Chesterton to the world. The man never wrote a bad sentence and his power as an apologist was a parade of scholarship: “he wrote simply but never simplistically, in the clarity of thought which is the thought of the Church.”


Spirit Knows, Loves, Is Powerful
When I was very new as a street-corner speaker for the Catholic Evidence Guild, a questioner asked me what I meant by spirit. I answered, “A spirit has no shape, has no size, has no color, has no weight, does not occupy space.” He said, “That’s the best definition of nothing I ever heard.” Which was very reasonable of him. I had given him a list of things spirit is not, without a hint as to what it is.

In theology, spirit is not only a key word, it is the key word. Our Lord said to the Samaritan woman: “God is a spirit.”  Unless we know the meaning of the word spirit, we do not know what he said. It is as though he had said “God is a  – .” Which tells us nothing at all. The same is true of every doctrine; they all include spirit. In theology we are studying spirit all the time. And the mind with which we are studying it is a spirit too.

We simply must know what it is. And I don’t mean just a definition. We must live with the idea, make it our own, learn to handle it comfortably and skillfully. That is why I shall dwell upon it rather lengthily. Slow careful thinking here will pay dividends later.

We begin with our own spirit, the one we know best. Spirit is the element in us by which we know and love, by which therefore we decide. Our body knows nothing; it loves nothing (bodily pleasures are not enjoyed by the body; it reacts to them physically, with heightened pulse, for instance, or acid stomach; but it is the knowing mind that enjoys the reactions or dislikes them); the body decides nothing (though our will may decide in favor of things that give us bodily pleasure).

Spirit knows and loves. A slightly longer look at ourselves reveals that spirit has power, too. It is the mind of man that splits the atom; the atom cannot split the mind, it cannot even split itself, it does not know about its own electrons.

Spirit Produces What Matter Cannot
Mind, we say, splits the atom and calculates the light-years. It is true that in both these operations it uses the body. But observe that there is no question which is the user and which is the used. The mind uses the body, not asking the body’s consent. The mind is the principal, the body the instrument. Is the instrument essential? Must the mind use it to cope with matter? We have evidence in our own experience of mind affecting matter directly. We will to raise our arm, for example, and we raise it. The raising of the arm is a very complicated anatomical activity, but it is set in motion by a decision of the will. And as we shall see, the direct power the human mind has over its own body, mightier spirits have over all matter.

This mingling of spirit and matter in human actions arises from a fact which distinguishes man’s spirit from all others. Ours is the only spirit which is also a soul — that is to say, the life principle in a body. God is a spirit, but has no body; the angels are spirits, but have no body. Only in man spirit is united with a body, animates the body, makes it to be a living body.

Every living body — vegetable, lower animal, human — has a life-principle, a soul. And just as ours is the only spirit which is a soul, so ours is the only soul which is a spirit. Later we shall be discussing the union of spirit and matter in man to see what light it sheds upon ourselves. But for the present our interest is in spirit.

We have seen that in us spirit does a number of things; it knows and loves, and it animates a body. But what, at the end of all this, is spirit?

We can get at it by looking into our own soul, examining in particular one of the things it does. It produces ideas. I remember a dialogue one of our Catholic Evidence Guild speakers had with a materialist, who asserted that his idea of justice was the result of a purely bodily activity, produced by man’s material brain.

Speaker: How many inches long is it?

Questioner: Don’t be silly, ideas have no length.

Speaker: O.K. How much does it weigh?

Questioner: What are you doing? Trying to make a fool of me?

Speaker: No. I’m taking you at your word. What color is it? What shape?

The discussion at this point broke down, the materialist saying the Catholic was talking nonsense. It is nonsense, of course, to speak of a thought having length or weight or color or shape. But the materialist had said that thought is material, and the speaker was simply asking what material attributes it had. In fact, it has none, and the materialist knew this perfectly well. Only he had not drawn the obvious conclusion. If we are continuously producing things which have no attribute of matter, it seems reasonable to conclude that there is in us some element which is not matter to produce them. This element we call spirit.

Oddly enough, the materialist thinks of us as superstitious people who believe in a fantasy called spirit, of himself as the plain blunt man who asserts that ideas are produced by a bodily organ, the brain. What he is asserting is that matter produces offspring which have not one single attribute in common with it, and what could be more fantastic than that. We are the plain blunt men and we should insist on it.

Occasionally a materialist will argue that there are changes in the brain when we think, grooves or electrical discharges or what not. But these only accompany the thought; they are not the thought. When we think of justice, for instance, we are not thinking of the grooves in the brain; most of us are not even aware of them. Justice has a meaning, and it does not mean grooves. When I say that mercy is kinder than justice, I am not comparing mercy’s grooves with the stricter grooves of justice.

Our ideas are not material. They have no resemblance to our body. Their resemblance is to our spirit. They have no shape, no size, no color, no weight, no space. Neither has spirit, whose offspring they are. But no one can call it nothing, for it produces thought, and thought is the most powerful thing in the world — unless love is, which spirit also produces.

Spirit Is Not in Space
We have now come to the hardest part of our examination of spirit. It will have much sweat and strain in it, for you, for me; but everything will be easier afterwards.

We begin with a statement that sounds negative, but isn’t. A spirit differs from a material thing by having no parts. Once we have made our own the meaning of this, we are close to our goal.

A part is any element in a being which is not the whole of it, as my chest is a part of my body, or an electron a part of an atom. A spirit has no parts. There is no element in it which is not the whole of it. There is no division of parts as there is in matter. Our body has parts, each with its own specialized function; it uses its lungs to breathe with, its eyes to see with, its legs to walk with. Our soul has no parts, for it is a spirit. There is no element in our soul which is not the whole soul. It does a remarkable variety of things — knowing, loving, animating a body — but each of them is done by the whole soul; it has no parts among which to divide them up.

This partlessness of spirit is the difficulty for the beginner. Concentrate on what follows: a being which has no parts does not occupy space. There is hardly anything one can say to make this truth any clearer; you merely go on looking at it, until suddenly you find yourself seeing it. The most any teacher can do is to offer a- few observations. Think of anything one pleases that occupies space, and one sees that it must have parts; there must be elements in it which are not the whole of it — this end is not that, the top is not the bottom, the inside is not the outside. If it occupies space at all, be it ever so microscopic, or so infinitesimally submicroscopic, there must be some “spread.” Space is simply what matter spreads its parts in. But a being with no parts at all has no spread. Space and it have nothing whatever in common; it is spaceless; it is superior to the need for space.

The trouble is that we find it hard to think of a thing existing if it is not in space, and we find it very hard to think of a thing acting if it has no parts. As against the first difficulty we must remind ourselves that space is merely emptiness, and emptiness can hardly be essential to existence. As against the second we must remind ourselves that parts are only divisions, and dividedness can hardly be an indispensable aid to action.

As against both we may be helped a little by thinking of one of our own commonest operations, the judgments we are all the time making. When in our mind we judge that in a given case mercy is more useful than justice, we hardly realize what a surprising thing we have done. We have taken three ideas or concepts, mercy, justice, and usefulness. We have found some kind of identity between mercy and usefulness; mercy is useful. This means that we must have got mercy and usefulness together in our mind.

There can be no “distance” between the two concepts; if there were, they could not be got together for comparison and judgment. If the mind were spread out as the brain is, with the concept mercy in one part of the mind, and the concept usefulness in another, they would have to stay uncompared. The concepts justice and usefulness must similarly be together and some identity affirmed between them, the judgment made that justice is useful. That is not all. All three concepts must be together, so that the superior usefulness of mercy can be affirmed. The power to make judgments is at the very root of man’s power to live and to develop in the mastery of himself and his environment. And the power to make judgments is dependent upon the partlessness of the soul — one single, undivided thinking principle to take hold of and hold in one all the concepts we wish to compare.

One further truth remains to be stated about spirit. It is the permanent thing, the abiding thing.

Spirit Is Always Itself
As we have seen, a steady gaze will show us that a being which has no parts, no element in it that is not the whole of it, cannot occupy space. Continue to gaze, and we see that it cannot be changed into anything else; it cannot by any natural process be destroyed. We have at last arrived at the deepest truth about spirit — spirit is the being which has a permanent hold upon what it is, so that it can never become anything else.

Material beings can be destroyed in the sense that they can be broken up into their constituent parts; what has parts can be taken apart. But a partless being lies beyond all this. Nothing can be taken from it, because there is nothing in it but its whole self. We can conceive, of course, of its whole self being taken out of existence. This would be annihilation. But just as only God can create from nothing by willing a being to exist, so only God can reduce a being to nothing by willing it no longer to exist; and for the human soul, God has told us that he will not thus will it out of existence.

A spiritual being, therefore, cannot lose its identity. It can experience changes in its relation to other beings — e.g., it can gain new knowledge or lose knowledge that it has; it can transfer its love from this object to that; it can develop its power over matter; its own body can cease to respond to its animating power and death follows for the body — but with all these changes it remains itself, conscious of itself, permanent.

The student to whom all this is new should keep on thinking over these truths, turning back to them at odd moments — on the way to work, for instance, or in periods of insomnia. He should keep on looking at the relation between having parts and occupying space till he sees, really sees, that a partless being cannot be in space. He should keep on looking at the relation between having parts and ceasing to exist, till he sees as clearly that a partless being cannot ever be anything but itself.

We should try to bring together, to see together, all these separate truths about spirit. One way is to concentrate upon our own soul, the spirit we know best — wholly itself, forever itself, doing each thing that it does with its whole self. Yet the human soul is the lowest of spirits. The least of the angels is unimaginably superior in power (those baby angels, all cute and cuddly, which disfigure our children’s books, have nothing whatever to do with angels).

The philosophers tell us that angels could, so powerful are they, destroy our material universe if the mightier power of God did not prevent them — as that same power will prevent man from destroying it until God wills that it should end.

It is not enough to have learned what spirit is. We must build the knowledge into the very structure of our minds. Seeing spiritual reality must become one of the mind’s habits. When it does, we have reached the first stage of maturity. Materialism, however persuasively argued, can no longer take hold on us. We may not always be able to answer the arguments, but it makes no difference.

Materialism is repulsive; all our mental habits are set against it. It is as if a scientist were to produce arguments in favor of walking on all fours: we should find the idea repulsive; all our bodily habits would be set against us. That indeed is no bad comparison. The man who knows of the universe of spirit walks upright, the materialist hugs the earth.


Sacred Scripture And Sacred Tradition — Fr. Peter Joseph

November 9, 2012

The Listening Room

I have broached this topic before here  and here but thought this was a concise and clear exposition of it. Pope Benedict on the topic here. The following is taken from the classic high school text which was used to teach for more than four decades the Faith to generations of English speaking Catholics around the world: Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine. Traditional, solid Catholic apologetics and unique in presenting the Faith in a clear, persuasive and understandable manner — much like the apple presented above. Since its demise in 1962 after selling nearly 500,000 copies, no other textbook in English has repeated Cardinal Sheehan’s successful presentation of the Faith. The new edition has been updated by Fr. Peter Joseph, of Wagga Wagga, Australia, and is fully endorsed by Cardinal Archbishop Pell, Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic and Sydney’s archbishop. God bless the Aussies. Cardinal Sheehan was the Irish theologian and scholar (books on linguistics and botany) who served as Archbishop of Sydney from 1922-1937.


In contrast to the Protestant position of “Scripture alone,” the Catholic Church regards Scripture and Tradition as equally important fonts of the one Revelation given by Christ and entrusted to the Apostles. The Council of Trent declared, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with His own lips first proclaimed the Gospel, promised beforehand through the prophets in the Sacred Scriptures; then through His Apostles He commanded it to be preached to every creature as the source of the whole of both saving truth and code of morals.

Recognizing that this truth and code are contained in written books and in unwritten traditions which have come down to us, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or handed on as it were by the Apostles themselves at the dictation of the Holy Spirit: the Council, following the example of the orthodox Fathers, accepts and venerates with like sentiment of devotion and reverence all the books of both the Old and New Testament, since the one God is the author of both, as well as those traditions concerning both faith and morals, as either orally from Christ, or dictated by the Holy Spirit and preserved in continuous succession in the Catholic Church.” [DS 1501]

What Each One Is. “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as put down in writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit; while Sacred Tradition transmits integrally to their successors the word of God entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit”. [Dei Verbum, article 9] “Tradition” can have two meanings: the act of transmitting the Revelation from God, and the content of that Revelation.

Scripture Is Inspired; Tradition Is Protected From Error. Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit; Tradition is not inspired, but by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the Church, which is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth”, [1Timothy 3:15] is guaranteed against error in her exposition of Tradition. Hence, Scripture must always be read and interpreted `in the Church’, not outside or against the Church; and Tradition must always be expounded in conformity with Scripture and never contrary to it.

What They Form Together. “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a deposit of the Word of God, entrusted to the Church”. [Dei Verbum, article 10]

Through Tradition, Scripture Is Known. “By means of the same Tradition, the complete canon of the Sacred Books is made known to the Church”. [Dei Verbum., article 8] Without Tradition, we could not know of inspiration, nor identify the inspired books, nor know of the characteristics that come from inspiration, such as inerrancy. In this sense, we can say that the Bible is a part of Tradition and a product of it.

Through Tradition, Scripture Is Understood And Applied. “By means of the same Tradition … the Sacred Scriptures themselves are more deeply understood and constantly made operative in the Church” [Dei Verbum., article 8] Many things in the Bible cannot be understood, apart from Tradition, which provides norms of interpretation and an equally binding rule of faith.

Tradition Can Be Known Through The Fathers And The Life Of The Church. “The sayings of the holy Fathers attest the life-giving presence of this Tradition, whose riches are infused into the practice and life of the believing and praying of the Church. ” [Dei Verbum, article 8]

Scripture Remains An Inviolable And Irreplaceable Rule Of Faith. Since apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books. was to be preserved in continuous succession until the end of time,” [Dei Verbum, article 8] the Church remains always bound to the Holy Bible as a rule of faith and can never contradict it or discard it.

Not Everything Can Be Known With Certainty By Scripture Alone. “The Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths through Holy Scripture alone.” [Dei Verbum, article 9] St Augustine says, “There are many things which the universal Church holds, and therefore rightly believes to have been taught by the Apostles, even though they are not found written down.” [On Baptism, V, 23 & 31]

Common Origin And Purpose; Close Relations. “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are tightly connected and mutually related. For both e them, issuing from the same divine well-spring, somehow coalesce into one, and tend towards the same goal.” [Dei Verbum, article 9] It is impossible for one to contradict the other, and hence unlawful to attempt to set up one against the other.

Both Are Necessary. “Hence, both must be received and venerated with like sentiment of devotion and reverence.” [Trent: DS 1501]


Mythopoeia and Me – Derek Jeter

September 18, 2012

Mythopoetic thinking approaches cosmic reality first through a sure instinct that there exists a spontaneous accord between our spirit and that reality, then through the very quality which allows our spirit to grasp reality, not only from one specific and superficial viewpoint, but by means of a deep sympathy with its inner structure and its fundamental evolution.
Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought

I have a favorite poem that echoes experiences of mine. Did I have the experiences and recognize them in the poem or did I read the poem and then view my experiences through its powerful lens? Does it matter?  The verses I recall are part of a reverie on death written by Conrad Aiken many years ago. I met Mr. Aiken when I was 14 or so (also many years ago) and became familiar with his story thanks to my best friend’s father, the poet Charles Philbrick. Mr Philbrick has passed some 40 years ago but many of my fondest summer memories of my youth were spent at his house on Blackfish Creek in South Wellfleet MA, growing up as the fifth boy in his family.

His son Steve had asked him to tell us the story again of Mr. Aiken and I recall his watching me as the tale unfolded. While I recall the overall narrative, the son finding his mother dead, shot by his insane father, the telling was punctuated by the words “Shot dead” and delivered in such a manner that in the stunned silence that followed there was great appreciation for the story teller who had mesmerized us with the telling. Steve was immensely proud of his Dad and I know that I had completely fallen under his powers, which tickled his fancy further. See, he seemed to be saying: This is what poets do. Some forty years ago and I can still recall the moment.

Meeting Mr. Aiken some time later was anti-climactic and finding some of his poems in my 20s was another byproduct of my youth. Tetélestai was a poem I memorized and could speak from memory. I read it at my father’s funeral, although it had little to do with us and more with my own darkness and sense of abandonment and despair.

Listen! …It says: ‘I lean by the river. The willows
Are yellowed with bud. White clouds roar up from the south
And darken the ripples; but they cannot darken my heart,
Nor the face like a star in my heart! …Rain falls on the water
And pelts it, and rings it with silver. The willow trees glisten,
The sparrows chirp under the eaves; but the face in my heart
Is a secret of music… I wait in the rain and am silent.’
Listen again! …It says: ‘I have worked, I am tired,
The pencil dulls in my hand: I see through the window
Walls upon walls of windows with faces behind them,
Smoke floating up to the sky, an ascension of sea-gulls.
I am tired. I have struggled in vain, my decision was fruitless,
Why then do I wait? with darkness, so easy, at hand?
But tomorrow, perhaps… I will wait and endure till tomorrow!’…
Or again: ‘It is dark. The decision is made. I am vanquished
By terror of life. The walls mount slowly about me
In coldness. I had not the courage. I was forsaken.
I cried out, was answered by silence… Tetélestai!

I recalled it again when I read C.S. Lewis’ comments on mythopoeia: myths are ‘lies, he had thought and therefore worthless, ‘even though breathed through silver’. No,’ said Tolkien. ‘They are not lies.’ At that moment, Lewis later recalled, there was ‘a rush of wind which came so suddenly on the still, warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We held our breath.’ Tolkien resumed, arguing that myths, far from being lies, were the best way of conveying truths which would otherwise be inexpressible. We have come from God, Tolkien argued, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbor, whereas materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to the abyss and to the power of evil.

Breathed through with silver… Rain falls on the water And pelts it, and rings it with silver. The willow trees glisten,The sparrows chirp under the eaves; but the face in my heart is a secret of music… I wait in the rain and am silent… At some point we realize with Lewis: “Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’.

Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a ‘description’ of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.”

Is this not when, slowly, inevitably, we begin to read Scripture spiritually – in the sense of “in the spirit” – and then comprehend the “totality of the one Scripture,” as Benedict XVI calls it, not merely the mass of details contained in the Bible, but precisely the Gestalt-like pattern that it expresses itself in, and constitutes all such details. This pattern, in and through its details, is meant to illumine and transform our lives — as if every word of the Bible were written for us personally.

“Myth is a narrative or story, but it is no mere fable or expression of infantile consciousness. Its referents are objective reality and the innermost experience of man’s subjectivity. Myth moves in both of these ultimate directions at once as it narrates the sacred history of the origin of the world and of man. How stories can convey truth in ways that elude ordinary rational thought is a question worthy of great wonder and meditation. But if stories in general have this power, myth is characterized by stories that deliver truth in the most refined and compact narrative form. There is therefore no tension between myth and truth.

As John Paul II writes, “Following the contemporary philosophy of religion and that of language, it can be said that the language in question is a mythical one. In this case, the term “myth” does not designate a fabulous content, but merely an archaic way of expressing a deeper content. Without any difficulty we discover that content, under the layer of the ancient narrative. It is really marvelous.”

It really comes about because human consciousness is fundamentally oriented to seeing ultimate reality as a unified whole and as essentially personal. The myth of the Fall is like this:  much great imaginative literature is merely an articulation and ramification of this myth, deepening our understanding of its meaning and of ourselves as well as regards the qualities and the condensation of the truths contained in it. It took me a long while, all the way through my 20s, 30s, 40s and 50’s before I came to see that the poetry and stories I so deeply loved was the same stuff of scripture.

The new age nitwit in me had challenged scripture with some impossible to satisfy historical critical standard that held its existence as fact in abeyance while not understanding what mythopoeia actually was. When I finally linked the two, I became me, a Christian man fully alive in Christ. I think differently now. Still the same stupid brain, I guess, but one that stands alongside a bend in the river as the rain pelts my umbrella, transfixed by the face like a star in my heart.


Faith: A Perspective From Hebrews 11 – Derek Jeter

September 17, 2012

David is a life-size marble sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The sculpture was part of a commission to decorate the villa of Bernini’s patron Cardinal Scipione Borghese – the Galleria Borghese – where it still resides today. It was completed in the course of seven months from 1623 to 1624. The subject of the work is the biblical David, about to throw the stone that will bring down Goliath, which will allow David to behead him. Relating to earlier works on the same theme, it is also revolutionary in its implied movement and its psychological depth.

Hebrews 11 is a discussion of faith with citations from the Old Testament of those who served as exemplars of the faith.

The opening statement of Hebrews 11:1 is used often as a definition of faith “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” “Assurance” elsewhere translated as the “substance” of things hoped for, connotes that the faith in a believer’s soul, a gift of God’s grace, actually brings this reality into his existence for him. The things hoped for are all of those blessings, temporal and eternal, that make up the inheritance of the faithful, the deposit of faith that rests with the Church: fides quae creditor, the objective content of faith.

The “conviction of things not seen” is one of the recurring themes of Hebrews 11 as “the invisible.” The creation was made of things “invisible”; Noah was warned of “things not seen as yet”; Abraham’s inheritance was invisible at the time he went out; the eternal city is invisible. So it was also for the blessings of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, as conveyed in succession to their sons, and always with regard to things invisible; and here it is recorded that Moses’ epic adventures of faith were achieved by means of a faith in the invisible God.

Thus, this roll-call of faith is presented for the primary purpose of showing the means of their triumph, faith in the invisible, which is but another way of saying faith in the supernatural. The modern Christian too is confronted with exactly the same challenge: Christ is invisible The result of Moses’ faith in the invisible God was that the king of Egypt no longer inspired him with fear, thus proving that the more people fear God the less they fear any man, however powerful.

The “conviction of things not seen” are also echoed in these words from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:6-13 about the wisdom of eternal life:

“The true wisdom of eternal life is the contemplation of the profundities of God, which the Spirit of God alone knows and of which, through faith and in faith, God causes a mysterious knowledge to come down upon us when we have reached the perfect age of the Christian.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

‘No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him’
But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”

John Paul II in Fides et Ratio comments on a twofold order of knowledge that the gift of faith creates within us, this “mysterious knowledge” that Paul was speaking of previously:

“The First Vatican Council teaches then, that the truth attained by philosophy and the truth of revelation are neither identical nor mutually exclusive: “There exists a twofold order of knowledge, distinct not only as regards their source, but also as regards their object.

With regard to the source, because we know in one by natural reason, in the other by divine faith. With regard to the object, because besides those things which natural reason can attain, there are proposed for our belief mysteries hidden in God, which, unless they are divinely revealed, cannot be known. Based on God’s testimony and enjoying the supernatural assistance of grace, faith is of an order other than philosophical knowledge which depends upon sense perceptions and experience and which advances by the light of the intellect alone.

Philosophy and the sciences function within the order of natural reason; while faith, enlightened and guided by the Spirit, recognizes in the message of salvation the “fullness of grace and truth” that echoes from John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

There follows in Hebrews 11 a number of citations beginning with a reference to creation and then moving in verse four to a consideration of Abel. In this and all subsequent references to the Old Testament exemplars the words are intoned “By faith…” I read a commentary on Hebrews 11 that reviewed not only what was in Hebrews 11 but on what was left out, “the glaring omission of the name of Adam, the mighty progenitor of the human race.”

God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening and called, “Adam, where art thou?” And where is he? He is lost, disinherited, sentenced to eternal death, tortured by the knowledge of what he should be haunting his pitiful consciousness of what he is. It is not of Adam that we speak, but of his race. “Where art thou?” The words live forever, calling people to consider, to view their hopeless estate, and to move toward that reconciliation that is possible through Christ.”

Our peril, and the peril of our race, is that the human intellect is free to either destroy itself or to reject God’s grace as the pitiful Adam did by trying to hide.  There is a great deal written about the relationship of faith to reason. My favorite, G.K. Chesterton, begins by telling us that

“Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought.” I would submit that we are part of several generations now that does precisely that; witness how our current secular orthodoxy embraces the relativism of the age.

Chesterton saw this happening, too, in his time. He pointed out that “It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a skeptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, “Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? Aren’t they both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?” The young skeptic says, “I have a right to think for myself.” But the old skeptic, the complete skeptic, says, “I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all.”

In Verse 6 the author of Hebrews 11 states “And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that seek after Him.” In Pensées 781, Pascal notes that in Isaiah 45:15, the prophet speaks of a hidden God: “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel.” Pascal explains the Hidden God concept in Pensées 149:

“If God had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened he could have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence, as he will appear on the last day with such thunder and lightning and such convulsions of nature that the dead will rise up and the blindest will see him. This is not the way he wished to appear when he came in mildness.

Because so many men had shown themselves unworthy of his clemency, he wished to deprive them of the good they did not desire. It was therefore not right that he should appear in a manner manifestly divine and absolutely capable of convincing all men, but neither was it right that his coming should be so hidden that he could not be recognized by those who sincerely sought him. He wished to make himself perfectly recognizable to them.

Thus wishing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart, he has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not. There is enough light for those who desire only to see and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.”

Peter Kreeft in his commentary on Pascal elicits three answers as to why God is not more obvious:

  1. He wants to give us time to repent. Scripture says this in several places, Luke Chapter 13: 6-9: “Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He (the gardener) replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
  2. He wants to effect a true relationship with us, not one merely of intellectual belief but of personal faith, hope, love and trust. Dulles’ says that the principal act of Faith is to believe. Here is a thought from Kreeft that I love: “The propositions of lovers are different from the propositions of syllogisms.” So, you see it’s not all Reason in some sort of scientific, philosophical or logical sense. Romano Guardini tells a story of a friend to whom he would turn for help when being challenged by a scriptural passage or caught up in trying to understand his faith. The friend would tell him: “But Love does such things!” and they would both laugh, because they knew they were back to the truth.
  3. God is both love and justice; if he manifests himself truly it cannot be without love or without justice. His love led Him to save all who will have Him, and his justice led him to punish those who will not have Him. Thus He respects our free choice. He deprives the damned only of the good they do not desire. Hell is contained in God’s claim that “you will find me when you seek me with all your heart” [Jeremiah 29:13] This claim is not refuted or fairly tested if we do not fulfill our part of the experiment by seeking.”

    More than anything else, God wants us to care. It may be even more important than to know, “For it is the only way to know the most important things: yourself, your soul, your identity, your purpose, your destiny and your immortality. If we are indifferent instead of seeking we simply will not find, that is, we will not be saved.” I submit to you with all my heart an observation I just absolutely know to be true: Hell is not populated by passionate rebels but by very nice, bland, indifferent, respectable people wearing tasseled loafers and pants suits who simply never gave a damn.


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