Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

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A Handbook for Beginning Realists – Étienne Gilson

December 26, 2013

 

"It is not in Montaigne," wrote Pascal, "but in myself that I find everything I see within." And we can equally say here, "It is not in Saint Thomas or Aristotle, but in things, that the true realist sees everything he sees." So he will not hesitate to make use of these masters, whom he regards solely as guides toward reality itself.

“It is not in Montaigne,” wrote Pascal, “but in myself that I find everything I see within.” And we can equally say here, “It is not in Saint Thomas or Aristotle, but in things, that the true realist sees everything he sees.” So he will not hesitate to make use of these masters, whom he regards solely as guides toward reality itself.

The first step on the realist path is to recognize that one has always been a realist; the second is to recognize that, however hard one tries to think differently, one will never manage to; the third is to realize that those who claim they think differently, think as realists as soon as they forget to act a part. If one then asks oneself why, one’s conversion to realism is all but complete.

Most people who say and think they are idealists would like, if they could, not to be, but believe that is impossible. They are told they will never get outside their thought and that a something beyond thought is unthinkable. If they listen to this objection and look for an answer to it, they are lost from the start, because all idealist objections to the realist position are formulated in idealist terms.

So it is hardly surprising that the idealist always wins. His questions invariably imply an idealist solution to problems. The realist, therefore, when invited to take part in discussions on what is not his own ground, should first of all accustom himself to saying no, and not imagine himself in difficulties because he is unable to answer questions which are in fact insoluble, but which for him do not arise.

We must begin by distrusting the term “thought”; for the greatest difference between the realist and the idealist is that the idealist thinks, whereas the realist knows. For the realist, thinking simply means organizing knowledge or reflecting on its content. It would never occur to him to make thought the starting point of his reflections, because for him a thought is only possible where there is first of all knowledge.

The idealist, however, because he goes from thought to things, cannot know whether what he starts from corresponds with an object or not. When, therefore, he asks the realist how, starting from thought, one can rejoin the object, the latter should instantly reply that it is impossible, and also that this is the principal reason for not being an idealist. Since realism starts with knowledge, that is, with an act of the intellect which consists essentially in grasping an object, for the realist the question does not present an insoluble problem, but a pseudoproblem, which is something quite different.

Every time the idealist calls on us to reply to the questions raised by thought, one can be sure that he is speaking in terms of the Mind. For him, Mind is what thinks, just as for us the intellect is what knows. One should therefore, insofar as one can, have as little as possible to do with the term. This is not always easy, because it has a legitimate meaning, but we are living at a time when it has become absolutely necessary to retranslate into realist language all the terms which idealism has borrowed from us and corrupted. An idealist term is generally a realist term denoting one of the spiritual antecedents to knowledge, now considered as generating its own content.

The knowledge the realist is talking about is the lived and experienced unity of an intellect with an apprehended reality. This is why a realist philosophy has to do with the thing itself that is apprehended, and without which there would be no knowledge. Idealist philosophers, on the other hand, since they start from thought, quickly reach the point of choosing science or philosophy as their object.

When an idealist genuinely thinks as an idealist, he perfectly embodies the essence of a “professor of philosophy”, whereas the realist, when he genuinely thinks as a realist, conforms himself to the authentic essence of a philosopher; for a philosopher talks about things, while a professor of philosophy talks about philosophy.

Just as we do not have to go from thought to things (knowing that the enterprise is impossible), neither do we have to ask ourselves whether something beyond thought is thinkable. A something beyond thought may well be unthinkable, but it is certain that all knowledge implies a something beyond thought.

The fact that this something-beyond-thought is given us by knowledge only in thought does not prevent it being a something beyond. But the idealist always confuses “being which is given in thought” with “being which is given by thought”. For anyone who starts from knowledge, a something beyond thought is so obviously thinkable that this is the only kind of thought for which there can be a beyond.

The realist is committing an error of the same kind if he asks himself how, starting from the self, he can prove the existence of a non-self. For the idealist, who starts from the self, this is the normal and, indeed, the only possible way of putting the question. The realist should be doubly distrustful: first, because he does not start from the self, secondly, because for him the world is not a non-self (which is a nothing), but an in-itself. A thing-in-itself can be given through an act of knowledge. A non-self is what reality is reduced to by the idealist and can neither be grasped by knowledge nor proved by thought.

Equally, one should not let oneself be troubled by the classic idealist objection to the possibility of reaching a thing-in-itself, and above all to having true knowledge about it. You define true knowledge, the idealist says, as an adequate copy of reality. But how can you know that the copy reproduces the thing as it is in itself, seeing that the thing is only given to you in thought.

The objection has no meaning except for idealism, which posits thought before being, and finding itself no longer able to compare the former with the latter, wonders how anyone else can. The realist, on the contrary, does not have to ask himself whether things do or do not conform to his knowledge of them, because for him knowledge consists in his assimilating his knowledge to things. In a system where the bringing of the intellect into accord with the thing, which the judgment formulates, presupposes the concrete and lived accord of the intellect with its objects, it would be absurd to expect knowledge to guarantee a conformity without which it would not even exist.

We must always remember that the impossibilities in which idealism tries to entangle realism are the inventions of idealism. When it challenges us to compare the thing known with the thing-in-itself, it merely manifests the internal sickness, which consumes it. For the realist there is no “noumenon” as the realist understands the term.

Since knowledge presupposes the presence to the intellect of the thing itself, there is no reason to assume, behind the thing in thought, the presence of a mysterious and unknowable duplicate, which would be the thing of the thing in thought. Knowing is not apprehending a thing as it is in thought, but, in and through thought, apprehending the thing as it is.

To be able to conclude that we must necessarily go from thought to things, and cannot proceed otherwise, it is not enough to assert that everything is given in thought. The fact is, we do proceed otherwise. The awakening of the intelligence coincides with the apprehension of things, which, as soon as they are perceived, are classified according to their most evident similarities. This fact, which has nothing to do with any theory, is something that theory has to take account of Realism does precisely that and in this respect is following common sense. That is why every form of realism is a philosophy of common sense.

It does not follow from this that common sense is a philosophy; but all sound philosophy presupposes common sense and trusts it, granted of course that, whenever necessary, appeal will be made from ill-informed to better-informed common sense.

This is how science goes about things; science is not a critique of common sense but of the successive approximations to reality made by common sense. The history of science and philosophy witness to the fact that common sense, thanks to the methodical use it makes of its resources, is quite capable of invention. We should, therefore, ask it to keep criticizing its conclusions, which means asking it to remain itself, not to renounce itself.

The word “invention”, like many others, has been contaminated by idealism. To invent means to find, not to create. The inventor resembles the creator only in the practical order, and especially in the production of artifacts, whether utilitarian or artistic. Like the scientist, the philosopher only invents by finding, by discovering what up to that point had been hidden. The activity of his intelligence, therefore, consists exclusively in the exercise of his speculative powers in regard to reality. If it creates anything, what it creates is never an object, but a way of explaining the object from within that object.

This is also why the realist never expects his knowledge to engender an object without which his knowledge would not exist. Like the idealist, he uses his power of reflection, but keeping it within the limits of a reality given from without. Therefore the starting point of his reflections has to be being, which in effect is for us the beginning of knowledge: res sunt.

If we go deeper into the nature of the object given us, we direct ourselves toward one of the sciences, which will be completed by a metaphysics of nature. If we go deeper into the conditions under which the object is given us, we shall be turning toward a psychology, which will reach completion in a metaphysics of knowledge. The two methods are not only compatible; they are complementary, because they rest on the primitive unity of the subject and object in the act of knowledge, and any complete philosophy implies an awareness of their unity.

There is nothing, therefore, to stop the realist going, by way of reflective analysis, from the object as given in knowledge to the intellect and the knowing subject. Quite the contrary, this is the only way he has of assuring himself of the existence and nature of the knowing subject. Res sunt, ergo cognosco, ergo sum res cognoscens. [Things exist, therefore I know, therefore I am a knowing subject.] What distinguishes the realist from the idealist is not that one refuses to undertake this analysis whereas the other is willing to, but that the realist refuses to take the final term of his analysis for a principle generating the thing being analyzed. Because the analysis of knowledge leads us to the conclusion “I think”, it does not follow that this “I think” is the first principle of knowledge. Because every representation is, in fact, a thought, it does not follow that it is only a thought, or that an “I think” conditions all my representations.

Idealism derives its whole strength from the consistency with which it develops the consequences of its initial error. One is, therefore, mistaken in trying to refute it by accusing it of not being logical enough. On the contrary, it is a doctrine which lives by logic, and only by logic, because in it the order and connection of ideas replaces the order and connection between things. The fatal leap (saltus mortalis) that catapults the doctrine into its consequences precedes the doctrine. Idealism can justify everything with its method except idealism itself, for the cause of idealism is not of idealist stamp; it does not even have anything to do with the theory of knowledge — it belongs to the moral order.

Preceding any philosophical attempt to explain knowledge is the fact, not only of knowledge itself, but of men’s burning desire to understand. If reason is too often content with summary and incomplete explanations, if it sometimes does violence to the facts by distorting them or passing them over in silence when they are inconvenient, it is precisely because its passion to understand is stronger than its desire to know, or because the means of acquiring knowledge at its disposal are not powerful enough to satisfy it.

The realist is just as much exposed to these temptations as the idealist, and yields to them just as frequently. The difference is that he yields to them against his principles, whereas the idealist makes it a principle that he can lawfully yield to them. Realism, therefore, starts with an acknowledgment by the intellect that it will remain dependent on a reality which causes its knowledge. Idealism owes its origin to the impatience of a reason which wants to reduce reality to knowledge so as to be sure that its knowledge lets none of reality escape.

The reason idealism has so often been in alliance with mathematics is that this science, whose object is quantity, extends its jurisdiction over the whole of material nature, insofar as material nature has to do with quantity. But while idealism may imagine that the triumphs of mathematics in some way justify it, those triumphs owe nothing to idealism. They are in no way bound up with it, and they justify it all the less, seeing that the most mathematically oriented physics conducts all its calculations within the ambit of the experimental facts that those calculations interpret. Someone discovers a new fact and what happens? After vain attempts to make it assimilable, all mathematical physics will reform itself so as to be able to assimilate it. The idealist is rarely a scientist, more rarely still a research scientist in a laboratory, and yet it is the laboratory that provides the material which tomorrow’s mathematical physics will have to explain.

The realist, therefore, does not have to be afraid that the idealist may represent him as opposed to scientific thought, since every scientist, even if philosophically he thinks himself an idealist, in his capacity as a scientist thinks as a realist. A scientist never begins by defining the method of the science he is about to initiate. Indeed, the surest way of recognizing false sciences is by the fact that they make the method come first. The method, however, should derive from the science, not the science from the method. That is why no realist has ever written a Discourse on the Method. He cannot know how things are known before he knows them nor discover how to know each order of things except in knowing it.

The most dangerous of all the different methods is the “reflective method”; the realist is content with “reflection”. When reflection becomes a method, it is no longer just an intelligently directed reflection, which it should be, but a reflection that substitutes itself for reality in that its principles and system become those of reality itself. When the “reflective method” remains faithful to its essence, it always assumes that the final term of its reflection is at the same time the first principle of our knowledge. As a natural consequence of this it follows that the last step in the analysis must contain virtually the whole of what is being analyzed; and, finally, that whatever cannot be discovered in the end point of the reflection, either does not exist or can legitimately be treated as not existing. This is how people are led into excluding from knowledge, and even from reality, what is necessary for the very existence of knowledge.

There is a second way of recognizing the false sciences generated by idealism; in starting from what they call thought, they are compelled to define truth as a special case of error. Taine did a great service for good sense when he defined sensation as a true hallucination, because he showed, as a result, where logic necessarily lands idealism. Sensation becomes what a hallucination is when this hallucination is not one. So we must not let ourselves be impressed by the famous “errors of the senses”, nor startled by the tremen- dous business idealists make about them. Idealists are peo- ple for whom the normal can only be a particular instance of the pathological. When Descartes states triumphantly that even a madman cannot deny his first principle “I think, therefore I am”, he helps us enormously to see what hap- pens to reason when reduced to this first principle.

We must, therefore, regard the arguments about dreams, illusions, and madness, borrowed by idealists from skeptics, as errors of the same kind. The fact that there are visual illusions chiefly proves that all our visual perceptions are not illusions. A man who is dreaming feels no different from a man who is awake, but anyone who is awake knows that he is altogether different from someone who is dreaming; he also knows it is because he has had sensations, that he afterward has what are called hallucinations, just as he knows he would never dream about anything if he had not been awake first.

The fact that certain madmen deny the existence of the outside world, or even (with all due respect to Descartes) their own, is no grounds for considering the certainty of our own existence as a special case of “true delirium”. The idealist only finds these illusions so upsetting because he does not know how to prove they are illusions. The realist has no reason to be upset by them, since for him they really are illusions.

Certain idealists say that our theory of knowledge puts us in the position of claiming to be infallible. We should not take this objection seriously. We are simply philosophers for whom truth is normal and error abnormal; this does not mean it is any easier for us to reach the truth than it is to achieve and conserve perfect health. The realist differs from the idealist, not in being unable to make mistakes, but principally in that, when he does make mistakes, the cause of the error is not a thought which has been unfaithful to itself, but an act of knowledge which has been unfaithful to its object. But above all, the realist only makes mistakes when he is unfaithful to his principles, whereas the idealist is in the right only insofar as he is unfaithful to his.

When we say that all knowledge consists in grasping the thing as it is, we are by no means saying that the intellect infallibly so grasps it, but that only when it does grasp it as it is will there be knowledge. Still less do we mean that knowledge exhausts the content of its object in a single act. What knowledge grasps in the object is something real, but reality is inexhaustible, and even if the intellect had discerned all its details, it would still be confronted by the mystery of its very existence.

The person who believed he could grasp the whole of reality infallibly and at one fell swoop was the idealist Descartes. Pascal, the realist, clearly recognized how naive was the claim of philosophers that they could “comprehend the principles of things, and from there — with a presumption as infinite as their object — go on to knowing everything”. The virtue proper to the realist is modesty about his knowledge, and even if he does not practice it, he is committed to it by his calling.

A third way of recognizing the false sciences which idealism generates is by the fact that they feel it necessary to “ground” their objects. That is because they are not sure their objects exist. For the realist, whose thought is concerned with being, the good, the true, and the beautiful are in the fullest sense real, since they are simply being itself as desired, known, and admired.

But as soon as thought substitutes itself for knowledge, these transcendentals begin to float in the air without knowing where to perch themselves. This is why idealism spends its time “grounding” morality, knowledge, and art, as though the way men should act were not written in the nature of man, the manner of knowing in the very structure of our intellect, and the arts in the practical activity of the artist himself. The realist never has to ground anything, but he has to discover the foundations of his operations, and it is always in the nature of things that he finds them: operatio sequitur esse.

So we must carefully avoid all speculation about “values”, because values are simply and solely transcendentals that have cut adrift from being and are trying to take its place. “The grounding of values” is the idealist’s obsession; for the realist it is meaningless.

The most painful thing for a man of our times is not to be taken for a “critical spirit”. Nevertheless, the realist should resign himself to not being one, because the critical spirit is the cutting edge of idealism, and in this capacity it has the characteristics not of a principle or doctrine but of zeal for a cause. The critical spirit expresses, in effect, a determination to submit facts to whatever treatment is necessary so that nothing in them remains refractory to the mind. To achieve this, there is only one policy; everywhere the point of view of the observer must be substituted for that of the thing observed. The discrediting of reality will be pursued, if necessary, to its most extreme consequences, and the harder reality resists, the more determined the idealist will be to disregard it. The realist, on the other hand, should always recognize that the object is what causes knowledge and should treat it with the greatest respect.

Respecting the object of knowledge means, above all, a refusal to reduce it to something which complies with the rules of a type of knowledge arbitrarily chosen by ourselves. Introspection, for instance, does not allow us to reduce psychology to the level of an exact science. This, however, is not a reason for condemning introspection, for it seems probable that, the object of psychology being what it is, psychology ought not to be an exact science, not at least if it is to remain faithful to its object.

Human psychology, such as a dog knows it, ought to be at least as conclusive as our science of nature, just as our science of nature is about as penetrating as human psychology as known by a dog. The psychology of behavior is therefore very wise to adopt the dog’s outlook on man, because as soon as consciousness makes its appearance, it reveals so much to us that the infinite gulf between a science of consciousness and consciousness itself leaps to the eye. If our organism were self-conscious, who knows whether biology and physics would still be possible?

The realist must, therefore, always insist, against the idealist, that for every order of reality there is a corresponding way of approaching and explaining it. He will then find that, having refused to embark on a critique preliminary to knowledge, he is free – much freer than the idealist — to embark on a critique of the different branches of knowledge by measuring them against their object; for the “critical spirit” criticizes everything except itself, whereas the realist, because he is not a “critical spirit”, is continuously self-critical.

The realist will never believe that a psychology which in order to understand consciousness better starts by placing itself outside consciousness will give him the equivalent of consciousness; nor will he believe, with Durkheim, that the real savages are those found in books, or that social life consists essentially of prohibitions with sanctions attached, as though the only society we had to explain were the one described in Leviticus. Nor will he imagine that historical criticism is in a better position than the witnesses it invokes to determine what happened to them or discern the exact meaning of what they themselves said.

That is why realism, in subordinating knowledge to its objects, places the intelligence in the most favorable position for making discoveries. For if it is true that things did not always happen exactly as their witnesses supposed, the relative errors they may have made are a trifling matter compared to those our imaginations will embroil us in if we start reconstructing facts, feelings, and ideas we never experienced, according to our own notions of what seems probable.

Such is the liberty of the realist. We can only choose between deferring to the facts and so being free in thought, or being free with the facts and the slave of thought. So let us turn to the things themselves that knowledge apprehends, and to the relationship between the different branches of knowledge and the things that they apprehend, so that, conforming itself ever more closely to them, philosophy can progress once more. It is in this spirit, too, that we should read the great philosophers who have preceded us on the realist path.

“It is not in Montaigne,” wrote Pascal, “but in myself that I find everything I see within.” And we can equally say here, “It is not in Saint Thomas or Aristotle, but in things, that the true realist sees everything he sees.” So he will not hesitate to make use of these masters, whom he regards solely as guides toward reality itself. And if the idealist reproached him, as one of them has just had the kindness to do, with “decking himself out in hand-me-downs taken for truths”, he will have his answer ready: much better to deck oneself out in truths that others have handed down, as the realist, when necessary, is willing to do, rather than, like the idealist, refuse to do so and go naked.

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Hans Ur von Balthazar’s Objective Evidence 3 – Fr. Aidan Nichols O.P.

December 11, 2013
In 1600, soon after he had completed the first two canvases for the Contarelli Chapel, Caravaggio signed a contract to paint two pictures for the Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo. Caravaggio depicted key events in the lives of Sts Peter and Paul, the founders of the Roman See: The Crucifixion of St Peter and The Conversion on the Way to Damascus. The church has a special interest because of the works it contains by four of the finest artists ever to work in Rome: Raphael, Carracci, Caravaggio and Bernini.

In 1600, soon after he had completed the first two canvases for the Contarelli Chapel, Caravaggio signed a contract to paint two pictures for the Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo. Caravaggio depicted key events in the lives of Sts Peter and Paul, the founders of the Roman See: The Crucifixion of St Peter and The Conversion on the Way to Damascus. The church has a special interest because of the works it contains by four of the finest artists ever to work in Rome: Raphael, Carracci, Caravaggio and Bernini.

The third in a series from a chapter in Fr. Nichol’s introduction to the Hans Ur von Balthazar’s Aesthetics, The Word Has Been Abroad.

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Despite all that has been said so far about the hiddenness which hangs about the revelatory form, the dialectic of revelation and concealment is basically resolved in favor of revelation, for the hiddenness is now not the non-appearing depth of the being revealed, but the overwhelmingness of its totally open disclosure.

God’s incomprehensibility is now no longer a mere deficiency in knowledge but the positive manner in which God determines the knowledge of faith: this is the overpowering and overwhelming inconceivability of the fact that God has loved us so much that he surrendered his only Son for us, the fact that the God of plenitude has poured himself out, not only into creation, but emptied himself into the modalities of an existence determined by sin, corrupted by death and alienated from God. This [alone] is the concealment that appears in his self-revelation.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 461]

Jesus Christ Himself As Centre Of The Form
Which seems a good point at which to move onto Christ as the centre or mid-point of the revelatory form. Here Balthasar discusses such themes as the plausibility of the Christ-form, its measure and quality, power and uniqueness, and how its rejection or misapprehension can be explained theologically. Essentially, this section of the theological aesthetics is Balthasar’s engagement with other, conflicting Christologies; it contains some of his sharpest writing in this otherwise serene if passionate work, and notably his most acerbic remarks about the contemporary critical study of the Gospels.

For Balthasar Christ is the centre of the form of revelation: that is, he alone makes the total form of supernatural revelation coherent and comprehensible. The plausibility of Christianity stands or falls with Jesus Christ. To support such an edifice the foundation must be indestructibly solid: it cannot deal in mere probabilities, or in subjective evidence alone.

Despite the richness of his doctrine of the subjective evidence for revelation, here Balthazar is firm. The subjective conditions for the possibility of seeing an object for what it is must not be allowed to intrude on the description of that object’s intrinsic authority — in Balthazar’s terms the constitution of its ‘objective evidence’.

Even the scholastic axiom that ‘whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver’ is to be brushed aside in this context along with those of its modern variants which would have it that the object in question requires a categorical or existential prior understanding, some idea or some felt human need to which it can correspond. For, in a most important programmatic statement:

if Christ is what he claims to be, then he cannot be so dependent on subjective conditions as to be hindered by them from making himself wholly understandable to man nor, contrariwise, can man, without his grace, supply the sufficient conditions of receiving him with full understanding.”
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 465]

Here hermeneutics, whether cultural or philosophical, are sent packing, on the grounds that One who is both God and man cannot but draw what is universally valid in human life and thought to himself. Balthazar’s aesthetic Christology will consist in bringing out the form and content of Christ’s revelation as the New Testament presents it.

In the last analysis, Christ is the all-important form because he is the all-sufficient content, the only Son of the Father. The aim will be, first, to show the interior rightness and intrinsic power of this form — as we might ascribe that to a sovereign work of art or a mathematical formula of extraordinary precision as well is beauty, and secondly, to point up its power to transform all existence by its light.

Balthazar’s essential objection to much modern Gospel study is that by, for instance, bracketing the Trinitarian dimension of the unfolding form of the Redeemer, or its issue in the bodily resurrection, or by decomposing that form into, on the one hand, a Jesus of history and, on the other, a Christ of faith, it renders the rest of the New Testament – beyond the Gospels — unintelligible. As he remarks, each element is ‘plausible only within the wholeness of the image’. [Glory of the Lord I, p. 467]

And here, so as not to anticipate excessively the fuller Christological exposition of the final volume of Herrlichkeit, I shall simply sketch some of the aspects of the Christ-form which Balthasar regards as foundational. Under ‘measure and form’, for instance, he deals with the perfect concordance between Christ’s mission and his existence, something which is, he shows, not merely a Johannine theologoumenon but a given of the Synoptic tradition for which Jesus identified his existence with his divine mandate — which explains why without hesitation he could throw that existence onto the weighing-scales of history.

Moreover, as the identity between the divine demand and the human fulfillment he is the measure, the norm of right relations, first with God and then, since God wills it so, with neighbor: thus the Pauline identification of Jesus as the ‘righteousness of God’ is but the re-expression of the Synoptic testimony of how he claimed for himself an authoritative power, manifest according to his hearers in his words, and sovereignly communicated to his followers.

Punning on the German words for ‘to tune’ and ‘to be in tune’ as well as for a ‘pitch’ of music or of mood, and hence in the latter case, for ‘disposition’, as well as ‘harmony’ and ‘concordance’ — here Balthasar’s study of the Swiss Romantic theologian Gugler has stood him in good stead, he draws the theologically aesthetic conclusion that, by transference into the kingdom of the Word’s marvelous light ‘we already participate in the sphere where things are fundamentally right and attuned and where, therefore, if we so will it, things can be similarly right for us as well’. And, reverting to the language of measure, while addressing the issue of Jesus and his community, he writes:

With the appearance of Christ, the Church is already posited: that is to say, his appearance is the measure which God applies to the world, the measure God has already communicated to the world, bestowed on the world, as a measure of grace and not of judgment, as a freely conferred measure which no one can arrogate to himself but which is given in such a way that anyone so desiring can take it to himself.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 478]

According to Balthasar anyone with an ‘eye for quality’ can see the difference in this phenomenon as it unfolds. He notes, with Pascal, how the evidential power of this form does no violence to personal freedom and decision: since love is its content, it cannot impose but only testify to its own authenticity – this is where Balthasar locates the Marcan messianic secret and the Johannine hidden glory. He records the inner harmony of the form: no mistake in its construction or proportions is discernible.

The interrelatedness of the different aspects is such that, while each aspect, taken in isolation, could be considered questionable, nonetheless the balance that dominates the whole does not allow the definitive elimination of any one aspect
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 486]

This interdependence of aspects of the Four Gospels as, in their convergent totality, they left the hands of their final redactors, though frequently denied by historical-critical exegesis, accounts for the fascination of the Christ-form not only to ecclesial contemplation but also to academic exegesis itself which — Balthasar cunningly remarks — cannot turn away from its object even as it fiercely disputes it.

The complexity of this form does not, however, overthrow its unity, though Christ’s particular kind of unity requires a glance that traces a course back into the very mystery of God’, since he is both himself and another — the divine being. In the mystery of divine freedom, as in that of art, a supreme freedom can coincide with a perfect obedience or necessity. An aria by Mozart could hardly be other than it is, yet it has all of Schiller’s definition of beauty as erscheinende Freiheit, ‘freedom appearing’.

Balthasar links such ‘necessary freedom’ to what he terms the effortlessness of Jesus’ self-representation, his simplicity. It is a simplicity sought for by all the religions of Asia but never found by them since — disastrously — they seek it in technique as well as — fatally — aiming at God through bypassing man. In contrast, Christ’s simplicity is a lived sharing in the divine simplicity, from a centre (Balthasar is referring to the hypostatic union) where the duality of God and man is bridged and God’s Word has become indistinguishable from its human expression.

All of this makes the form of Christ both inherently powerful and unique. We sometimes note of a great work of art its power to touch and even alter the lives of those who come into contact with it. Such power, duanamis, Paul ascribes to Christ not only in his resurrection but also — already — in his cross. Taken by itself, the image of Christ would remain merely two-dimensional.

Only the power which the New Testament goes on to identify as ‘Holy Spirit’ gives that image plasticity and vitality so that it can form, transform, the lives of believers. Even if it is only in the Spirit of the resurrection and Pentecost that Jesus becomes Lord, as the Spirit bestows on form and on the gospel an interior vitality — the intrinsic power these need if they are to impress themselves (whether on the individual disciple in justification or on the apostolic preaching itself), nonetheless this same Spirit proceeds from Christ.

He is the dynamism which Christ radiates. Included in the objective evidence for revelatory form is, therefore, the existence of the Christian saints, for their enthusiasm — and here Balthasar distances himself from Ronald Knox’s pejorative use of that term in the history of spirituality — constitutes a precise response to the precision of the image of Jesus drawn by the Spirit.

But this form is not only powerful. It is also unique. Jesus escapes classification by any typology known to comparative religion, religious phenomenology or cultural anthropology. He differs from other religious founders who proposed to reveal a way by declaring himself to be the way, identifying himself with the ‘myth’ of the sacrificed but fructifying grain which he preaches. Whereas they underwent experiences of conversion, enlightenment, rapture, his teaching is identified with his entire existence. He achieves no divine apotheosis through the successful crowning of a human drama, but the drama of his human dissolution becomes the revelation of divine love.

In contrast to the other schemes of salvation on offer, he neither negates the being of the world for the sake of divine being nor restores some divine primordial principle of worldly being now obscured; instead he negates the decadent mode of the world’s existence in its alienation from God, lifting it up through the exercise of his sacrificial charity — thus simultaneously recognizing both the foundational goodness of created being and its radical need of redemption.

In disclosing the mystery of the Trinity, and its indissoluble yet unconfused union with humanity in his own person, he also solves the central problem of religious metaphysics, that problem of the One and the Many which has defeated all other religions, constrained as they are to remain midway between the One and the Many, as with Islam, or to abolish the Many for the sake of One, as in Asiatic mysticism, or to incorporate the One into the Many as in polytheism and pantheism.

At the same time, the Christ-form is not unique in such a fashion that it appears as a bolt from the blue, unrelated to all about it. On the contrary, it is related, through the Old Testament, to the treasury of natural religious forms found it human experience, related, then, to an overall order of which, however, it does not itself form part. Its uniqueness is all the more striking for being set within a general historical determinateness, and as Balthasar points out:

By fulfilling in himself Israel’s message of promise, Christ at the same time makes historical contact, through Israel, with mankind’s religious forms, and in this way, too, he fulfills not only Israel’s expectation but the longing of all peoples.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 498]

His form relates to itself ‘as the ultimate centre the comparative unique­ness of all other forms and images of the world’, whatever their source.

By now enough has been said to indicate how the misapprehension – the mistaking — of this form is feasible. As Balthasar puts it; ‘A whole symphony cannot be recorded on a tape that is too short.’ The ‘shortness’ may lie in our not making sufficient space for God’s almightiness, the range of his possibilities. It may lie in a premature decision not to attend to certain of the Christ-form’s interdependent parts (for Balthasar, heresy is the ‘selective disjoining of parts’). Or it may lie in erecting a screen which foreshortens the image cast by the divine Glory, owing to some prior methodological, conceptual or historic-religious commitment, or any combination thereof.

And behind all of these things there lies the mystery of iniquity, the ‘darkness which does not see, recognize or receive the Light’. The tone of the preacher, never wholly silent in Balthasar’s theology, returns with peculiar vigour at the close of his account of the objective revelatory form when he delineates, in conclusion, the figure of the apostate.

Through and through he remains branded by the image he rejects: with terrible power this image leaves its imprint on his whole existence, which blazes brilliantly in the fire of denial. Wherever the fugitive may turn his glance he is met by the ‘eyes like flames of fire’, he hears the ‘voice like the roar of mighty waters’, he feels the ‘sharp two-edged sword from his mouth’, and he hides in vain from the ‘face like the sun blazing with full strength’. (Apocalypse. I:14ff.)
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 4524-525]

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Hans Ur von Balthazar’s Objective Evidence 2 – Fr. Aidan Nichols O.P.

December 10, 2013
The Triumph of Galatea is a fresco masterpiece completed about 1514 by the Italian painter Raphael for the Villa Farnesina in Rome. Raphael did not paint any of the main events of the story. He chose the scene of the nymph's apotheosis (Stanze, I, 118-119). Galatea appears surrounded by other sea creatures whose forms are somewhat inspired by Michelangelo, whereas the bright colors and decoration are supposed to be inspired by ancient Roman painting. At the left, a Triton (partly man, partly fish) abducts a sea nymph; behind them, another Triton uses a shell as a trumpet. Galatea rides a shell-chariot drawn by two dolphins. While some have seen in the model for Galatea the image of the courtesan, Imperia, Agostino Chigi's lover and Raphael's near-contemporary; Giorgio Vasari, wrote that Raphael did not mean for Galatea to resemble any one human person, but to represent ideal beauty. When asked where he had found a model of such beauty, Raphael reportedly said that he had used "a certain idea" he had formed in his mind.

The Triumph of Galatea is a fresco masterpiece completed about 1514 by the Italian painter Raphael for the Villa Farnesina in Rome. Raphael did not paint any of the main events of the story. He chose the scene of the nymph’s apotheosis (Stanze, I, 118-119). Galatea appears surrounded by other sea creatures whose forms are somewhat inspired by Michelangelo, whereas the bright colors and decoration are supposed to be inspired by ancient Roman painting. At the left, a Triton (partly man, partly fish) abducts a sea nymph; behind them, another Triton uses a shell as a trumpet. Galatea rides a shell-chariot drawn by two dolphins. While some have seen in the model for Galatea the image of the courtesan, Imperia, Agostino Chigi’s lover and Raphael’s near-contemporary; Giorgio Vasari, wrote that Raphael did not mean for Galatea to resemble any one human person, but to represent ideal beauty. When asked where he had found a model of such beauty, Raphael reportedly said that he had used “a certain idea” he had formed in his mind.

The second in a series from a chapter in Fr. Nichol’s introduction to the Hans Ur von Balthazar’s Aesthetics, The Word Has Been Abroad.

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Yesterday’s post left off with the important corollary to Balthazar’s claim that revelation is necessarily revelation in hiddenness for the simple reason that it is a revelation in being. All knowledge, and not just the knowledge of salvation, begins with a kind of ‘natural faith’.

For the early apologist, Theophilus of Antioch, all human conduct depends on a certain trusting faith both in nature and in Providence. Similarly, against Eunomius, the Cappadocian Fathers argued that even the tiniest creature can be grasped only through its utterances, so hidden is even creaturely ousia. The conclusion is, in Balthasar’s words, that ‘a “supernatural” piety, ordered to God’s historical revelation, cannot be such unless it is mediated by a “natural” piety, which at this level presupposes and includes a “piety of nature” and a “piety of Being,” [Glory of the Lord I, p. 447] The critical history of metaphysics in volumes 4 and 5 of the theological aesthetics will bring this out.

But we still have to consider the second and third reasons why revelation is necessarily as much concealment as it is disclosure. The second is that revelation takes place in the Word, the free divine Word, which as such cannot be captured within the net of the created order. As Balthasar puts it: ‘Creaturely beings, thrown into existence, reveal themselves in obedience to a natural necessity; but God creates freely.’ [Glory of the Lord I, p 448] From which he draws the conclusion that while the contingency, the non-necessity, of the world has the positive effect of revealing God as the world’s free Creator, for nothing comes from nothing, by that self-same fact the world’s contingency conceals God more dramatically than it reveals him, since at no point can we make any firm deduction about the final meaning of his unique Essence.

What, then, one might object, becomes of the claim with which Balthasar opened the entire second part of Herrlichkeit I, with the help of Hebrews, that the form of creation is at all times radiant with God’s glory? His reply, along the lines of his earlier attempt to render the teaching of the First Vatican Council on the divine knowability more palatable to Karl Barth, is that

We will never be able to determine exactly the extent to which this splendor, given with creation itself, coincides objectively with what Christian theology calls ‘supernatural revelation’, which, at least for Adam, was not yet a specifically distinct revelation given in the form of words. A distinction is possible only from the standpoint of intention and in this sense the first word was directed to man as a creature that had come forth from God, and the second word addresses him personally as a child of God’s grace and calls him home to the heart of God.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 449]

Because, then, no creaturely form as such transcribes in straightforward fashion the meaning of God’s sovereignly free Word, a revelation which takes place in that Word must always be to some degree riddling. The revelatory Form will not so much leap to the eye as require strenuous discernment. And because the Word in which it comes to be as form is sovereignly free, the human percipient will not be able to follow the archetype in the image without the willingness to practice obedience. The concept of obedience, drawn from Paul and Ignatius Loyola, [See 'Introduction to Balthasar', above, for the Ignatian dimension.] is crucial to Balthazar’s theology in various of its sectors – not least here where, as he writes:

before [infinite Freedom] created reason must persevere in an attitude of primary obedience that is beyond all demands, longings, enterprises. This is the manner in which God’s Word really touches the creature at the most intimate point of its self-transcending being.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 456]

- what Paul calls the ‘obedience of faith’ (Romans 1:5).

The third and last reason why the revelatory form will necessarily be a form that hides as well as discloses is that it is a revelation in the human. If man is to become the language of God then the unique will have to appear in the ordinary, the super-significant in the insignificant. By and large, supernatural revelation, the revelation of grace in Old and New Testaments, is not so much the establishment of a new form in the world as it is a new manner of God’s presence in the form of the world.

In the Adamic state, Balthasar speculates, God’s speaking of this message – that man is now called to be the child of the Father – would have come purely through a locutio interna: God’s presence through grace would have resounded unmistakably in the voices of nature and of the heart. It is owing to the deafness of fallen humanity that the locutio Dei becomes a locutio externa, a word spoken from outside, for the Old Covenant in law and prophecy, for the New in the incarnate Word and its prolongation as the Word found in the Church.

There is then a penitential aspect to a revelation made through audible and visible human signs. That is so even though those signs are the outward expression of the interior inspiration of prophets and apostles and notwithstanding too the fact that by means of them God can lead human history, despite its self-inflicted chaos, to an even more wonderful fulfillment than that offered to Adam – by way of the glory that emanates from the sign of the cross.

God’s revelation takes place in man by in the first instance judging man. But that for Balthasar has not only a negative charge; it has a positive one as well. In judgment, God both manifests his sublime transcendence over against all that is worldly and at the same time makes known his immanence within the human which he sets out to fulfill by redirecting humanity to himself.

In conformity with the usual Balthasarian principle that, in divine matters, comparability and incomparability with the world develop in direct proportion to each other: the more God makes known his justice in the saints of Israel (the more, that is, he reveals himself), the more colossally unlike them he shows himself to be (and so the more he hides his face). As Balthasar puts it:

The whole ascending period of God’s revelation in Israel is also the time of an ever greater concealment of God, in spite of the ever greater evidence pointing to a revelation which is truly unique and different from all other religions.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 452]

And, illustrating this claim from the post-exilic period:

The return which appears to fulfill the promises is everything but fulfillment, and, while interiorly the Holy Spirit is bringing the canon of the Scriptures to maturity, externally the kingdom is disintegrating even before Christ’s coming, so that Yahweh’s faithful ones can understand themselves only as the ‘remnant’ which survives what spiritually has already fallen into decay.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 455]

The conclusion is that

while he is quite comprehensible in his revelation and even demands the understanding of faith, the God of Israel proves himself in history to be ever more incomprehensible and, as such, he exhibits himself ever more truly as who he is. And only the most living kind of faith, sustained by revelation, is capable of knowing him in precisely this form of revelation as the true and living God
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 456]

This is the pattern which is brought to perfection by the simultaneously consummate revelation-and-concealment of God in the man Jesus. Even without referring as yet to the passion of Christ, the incarnation of the Word – his embodiment as flesh – means the most extreme manifestness of God, for now God is explained to man not chiefly through words or instruction, but through his own being and life. In other words, he interprets himself to man by no other medium than himself.

And yet at the same time, the entry of the Godhead into its human creation is the most complete concealing imaginable. In language drawn, surely, from Kierkegaard’s treatise on The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle, Balthasar speaks of the Flesh-taking as the ‘translation of God’s absolutely unique, absolute and infinite Being into the ever more dissimilar, almost arbitrary and hopelessly relativized reality of one individual man in the crowd’. [Glory of the Lord I, p. 457]  The hiddenness of this individual lost in history would not be so scandalous as an expression of the Word if it were meant to represent the silence of the Word, God’s sheer concealment from all that is not God. But no, this hiddenness is to be the speech in which God eloquently makes known in a definitive manner what he himself is really like.

For Balthasar none of this is intelligible unless we approach the figure of Christ in a way determined by one ecclesial doctrine – that of the Trinity – and one philosophical doctrine – that of God as, in the fifteenth-century cardinal theologian Nicholas of Cusa’s phrase, the Non-Aliud, the ‘Not Other’, which is the positive aspect of his Being as the ‘wholly Other’, the non-competitiveness implied in his unconditional transcendence.

Readers of the Gospels will soon discover that Jesus was in simultaneous fashion extraordinarily humble and amazingly self-certain, that he was incredibly unassuming yet overwhelmingly exigent in his demands, lamblike in meekness yet leonine in angry zeal. For Balthasar these tensions may reveal polar aspects of Christ’s humanity, but they can be understood, and above all, resolved, only when considered as functions of the Trinitarian dimensions of his being. ‘Although only the Son of God is man, his humanity necessarily becomes the expression of the total triune essence of God; only thus can he be the manifestness of absolute Being.” [Glory of the Lord I, p. 458]

But because the Holy Trinity, as the concrete form of absolute Being, is not in competition with any of the forms internal to its own creation, God in Christ can reveal himself as both God and man — not alternatingly but simultaneously.

These complications of the dialectic of revelation and concealment in the sensory form of the incarnation are intensified, yet also cut through and simplified, by the passion and death of the incarnate one. For now we have to discover in the deformity of Christ, his Ungestalt — the ‘he had no comeliness that we might desire him’ of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:2) — a mystery of Uebergestalt, of transcendental form. His being made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) is, in a key statement of Baltharian theology, ‘understandable only as a function of the glory of love’. Thus precisely in the cross and the descent into darkness we have before us pure glory; the concealment now becomes a function of its opposite, the revelation.

Just as an art redolent of the precarious and fragmentary character of earthly beauty can move us to tears because it awakens in us a kind of eschatological hope, a hope aroused by the promise of splendor it seems to contain, so the form of the Redeemer takes the ways of being of a fallen world onto itself so as by redemptive suffering to give them new and unheard of value. Here, despite all that has been said so far about the hiddenness which hangs about the revelatory form, the dialectic of revelation and concealment is basically resolved in favor of revelation, for the hiddenness is now not the non-appearing depth of the being revealed, but the overwhelmingness of its totally open disclosure.

God’s incomprehensibility is now no longer a mere deficiency in knowledge but the positive manner in which God determines the knowledge of faith: this is the overpowering and overwhelming inconceivability of the fact that God has loved us so much that he surrendered his only Son for us, the fact that the God of plenitude has poured himself out, not only into creation, but emptied himself into the modalities of an existence determined by sin, corrupted by death and alienated from God. This [alone] is the concealment that appears in his self-revelation.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 461]

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Hans Ur von Balthazar’s Objective Evidence 1 – Fr. Aidan Nichols O.P.

December 9, 2013
Balthasar maintains that nature is most fully grasped, not with the combination of observation and quantification of the exact sciences, but by expressly including the dimension of mystery within the act of observing. In such a reading of form the fragment points to the whole.

Balthasar maintains that nature is most fully grasped, not with the combination of observation and quantification of the exact sciences, but by expressly including the dimension of mystery within the act of observing. In such a reading of form the fragment points to the whole.

A chapter from Fr. Nichol’s introduction to the Hans Ur von Balthazar’s Aesthetics, The Word Has Been Abroad.

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Revelation In Form
It might be thought entirely obvious that, if one is to have a religious world-view at all then some kind of objective revelatory form — some self-presentation of the divine in terms drawn from the world — is a necessity. And yet, as Balthasar points out, in principle a religious vision or system could dispense with objective revelatory form altogether. If for instance with advaita (non-dual) Hinduism, one considered that ultimately God and self are identical and only apparently separated by veils of illusion which account for the human experience of error, guilt and finitude, then the need for objective revelatory form disappears.

In point of fact, the call for an objective mediation of the divine Spirit, the requirement that revelation be concrete, though it may strike non-Christian or post-Christian readers as quite reasonable (whether they think such a form de facto available to perception or not), depends on presuppositions found within the body of the Church’s dogmata; and notably three which Balthazar now spells out. They are: creation, incarnation and Trinity.

1. The presuppositions of form
First, creation. A world which has been brought into existence gratuitously, as the act of an infinitely free subjectivity, namely God, is not a world where the human religious subject could ever be regarded as self-identical with the divine.
Moreover, because of God’s transcendence )f the world, and so of man, even were God to communicate purely interiorly with the human soul he could not dispense with some kind of spiritual form in which to communicate himself. A totally unmediated self-revelation of God to man is therefore unthinkable. Not that there is my need to think in terms of a purely interior contact between God and man anyway, for as the Creator, God has provided a general revelation of us glory in the creation — however much what Scripture says of him in his context, as, for instance, Paul in Romans, emphasizes the far greater dissimilarity between God and creatures. The glory of God is already seen, in general terms, in the form of the world.

Secondly, the incarnation is precisely the pouring out of God’s glory into the form of the world in one of its principal embodiments, humankind. kind. A form is thus taken up so that God may transfigure the whole of creation. This self-revelation of God in Christ is not a mere prolongation or intensification of the revelation given with the creation. The personal substance of the Father in his Word is now lavished on the world.

And yet, because the creation was from the beginning oriented towards its own supernatural elevation, and because too the incarnation, taken in the fullness of its unfolding, from the annunciation, through the resurrection 10 the parousia, entails the bringing together of everything in heaven and on earth under one divine — human Head, it follows that the self-manifestation of God in Jesus Christ brings the form of the world to its perfection, and in that way uncovers the fullness of its significance for the first time.

Thirdly, the Trinity: the form of the revelation in Christ is perceived as the unsurpassable perfecting of the form of the world only when it comes to be seen, by the eyes of faith, as the appearing of the triune God. What appears in Christ is, for Balthasar, the ‘becoming visible and experience-able’ of the divine Triunity. The glorious, transcendent quality which comes through in the figure of Jesus is not, as Balthasar puts it, the manifestation of a formless divine Infinite, but the ‘appearance of an infinitely determined super-form’.

The Trinity, as the ultimate source of Being, is infinite, yes, but not infinite in the negative Hellenic sense of to apeiron, that which has no boundaries and is therefore formless. God’s infinitude takes the form of the circling intercommunication of Father, Son and Spirit, the expression of which in the creation leads to the indefinite profusion of finite forms we find in the world. Of course what distinguishes the form of Jesus Christ from all other forms is that here, thanks to the hypostatic union, we are not dealing simply with an image produced by the Trinitarian super-form in impressing itself on created being.

For here in the God-man both image and the archetype of the image are available in one single being. The image does not stand over against the archetype, as with all other forms, but is of interest — that is, Jesus’ humanity is of interest — only inasmuch as in this image (and nowhere else) God really portrays himself in the fullness of his inter­personal, yet absolute being — making this form, Jesus Christ, what Balthasar calls

the crowning recapitulation of everything in heaven and on earth [and hence] the form of all forms and the measure of all measures, just as for this reason it is the glory of all glories in creation as well.
The Glory of the Lord, p.432

As the revelation of the free, creating and self-incarnating Triune God, then, revelation necessarily has an ‘objective form’.

Before going on to speak of Jesus Christ as the centre or midpoint of this form (and this is where Balthasar will make it most explicit that he is engaged in a Catholic version of Barth’s Christocentrizing revolu­tion of theology in the Church Dogmatics), a number of broader — and not only profound but also sometimes difficult — points remain to be made more widely on the topic of the Christological character of revelatory form at large.

2. The Christological Character Of Form
To begin with, under the rubric of the form ‘as fact’ Balthasar reminds us of the conclusions he has already reached, with the help of the philosophical concepts outlined in the first volume of his theological logic, on the way Jesus Christ originally strikes us with his revelatory claim. Here he recontextualizes those conclusions by reference to the incarnationalist and ultimately Trinitarian presuppositions which, whether they are adverted to or not, are the source of the insistence that revelation must have objective form, and give such insistence whatever validity it possesses.

Like any wonderful aesthetic form, Jesus is both the sparkling radiance of being, a light, and the imagistic representation of being’s non-apparent depth, a sign. This truth of theological aesthetics in its apologetic mood — that is, in its concern with subjective evidence — can now be re-expressed in dogmatic terms — that is, in terms of the objective revelatory form.

The ‘image and expression of God’ is the ‘indivisible God-man: man, insofar as God radiates from him; God insofar as he appears in the man Jesus.’ [Glory of the Lord I, p. 437] Balthasar offers an extended meditation on the opening text of the Letter to the Hebrews with its contrast of the ‘manifold and fragmentary ways in which God spoke of old to the fathers through the prophets’, and the fashion in which in these last days God has spoken to us by a son who is the ‘heir of all things’, ‘reflecting the glory of God’ and ‘bearing the very stamp of his nature’ (1:2-3).

Since he not only possesses historical facticity, as the human Jesus, linked to his forefathers by the biological and cultural continuum, but is at the same time God’s mighty Word, sustaining all creation, the Son can inherit both the words of the Old Testament and what the Greek Fathers called the logoi of creatures — the intelligibility bestowed on them with their concrete natures by the Creator and which Balthasar prefers to term the ‘individual words of Being’.

Creatures are such words of the Being that flows from God only because of the divine generativity or outgoingness whereby the Father from all eternity produced his essential Word, and similarly, they are a glorious manifestation of God in the creation only because the Word and Son is everlastingly the ‘radiant splendour of [the Father's] glory’ and the ‘im-pression and ex-pression’ of the Father’s reality as God — Balthasar’s paraphrase of a metaphor of sealing which deliberately accentuates the iconographic or at any rate aesthetic quality of the Hebrews formulation. And drawing on the conclusions of his study of St Maximus, Kosmische Liturgie, Jesus Christ could not be the ‘point of intersection of all partial words of history and of all individual words of Being if he were merely either the “factual” man Jesus or the supra-historical, all-sustaining Logos’.’

Taken in conjunction with the language of doxa, glory, in the opening affirmation of the letter, Hebrews, then, ascribes to Jesus Christ both flowing radiance and impressed form, the two complementing each other in giving expression to the primal Beauty, a primal Beauty which is identical with the man Jesus, who descends simultaneously from the prophets and fathers and from the Father whose Son he is.

For Balthasar the revelatory form is endangered whenever the unity of structure whereby the glory of God is seen in the face of Christ is tampered with, whether (as sometimes in Athanasius and Thomas Aquinas) by treating the humanity assumed as simply the ‘conjoined instrument’ of the Logos, or, Platonically or idealistically, by regarding the corporeality of Christ as at best a starting point for spiritual reflection, at worst a concealment which must be laid aside.

Picking up a concern of Karl Rahner’s in the early volume of his theological Schriften, Balthasar underlines the indispensability of the humanity of Christ even for the beatific vision.

The glory of God is nowhere, not for a single instant, separated from the Lamb, nor is the light of the Trinity divorced from the light of Christ, the Incarnate Son, in whom alone the cosmos is recapitulated and elevated to the rank of the bridal City.
[Glory of the Lord I, pp. 438-439; cf. K. Rahner, S.J., 'The Eternal Significance of the Humanity of Jesus for our Relationship with God', Theological Investigations I (E.t. London 1967), pp. 35-46]

Kierkegaard, taking up a theme of Luther’s Christology, had regarded the Son who was made not only man but ‘sin’ as being, in the humanity which was his in a fallen and guilty world, someone hidden sub contrario – beneath their own contrary. That entailed the ‘crucifixion’ of the senses of those who would have liked to perceive the glory of God in Jesus Christ in an appealing way.

But Balthasar takes just the opposite view. True, the sin of the world obliges God’s expressive image to adopt a particular modality — going down into the darkness of the passion, the death and Hades itself. But so far from abolishing the revelatory character of the sensuous image, the cross and its consequences intensify it, so that it becomes the supreme self-expression, to human perception, of God’s eternal life.

Anticipating not only the last chapters of the theological aesthetics but also the theological dramatics and its important extended footnote Mysterium Paschale, Balthasar finds in the final intensification of the form in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ the reason why surprise at the more seemingly improbable of the Church’s doctrines, such as the Eucharistic presence and the resurrection of the flesh, is out of place. All of this is, as he puts it: ‘already included in the self-commitment of God who with divine freedom, but also with divine consistency, has fashioned for himself in his creation a body through which to reveal his glory.’ [Glory of the Lord I, p. 441]

This is not to say, however, that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is something blindingly obvious. After all, not only in a Protestant setting Luther, but also in a Catholic one, the familiar and profound devotional lyric ascribed to St Thomas — the Adoro te — says of Calvary and the Eucharist, respectively: ‘on the cross thy godhead made no sign to men/ here thy very manhood steals from human ken’ (in Hopkins’ translation).

This is a revelation, certainly, but a revelation in hiddenness: nor is this concession anything to be wondered at, given the general ontology Balthasar regaled his readers with in the opening volume of his theological logic. For there we read that, though Being indeed appears, the worldly forms whose imagistic surfaces invite us to interpret the beings that are the words of Being, do not, for that very reason, make Being perfectly plain. Being appears in beings, and concretely, in the forms which we can read off from images in the world around us, but that is precisely to say that Being does not present itself to us in an immediate way.

Furthermore, the mediated self-presentation of Being is never done in such a manner that we can suck out from it Being’s exhaustive content. Part of the fascination of form lies in its pointing us towards depths that do not appear. What all this boils down to, therefore, is that in the very moment of its unveiling, its disclosure, Being also conceals itself.

Its self-revelation, just because it is the revelation of an inexpressible plenitude, necessarily comes over to us as a veiling, an enclosure. And if then there is some analogy between the revelation of Being in form, and the revelation of the glory of the Father in Jesus Christ, we are already prepared for Balthasar’s confession that Christian revelation is not only an all-illuminating fact but also, and equally, a revelation in hiddenness. ‘Truly, you are a hidden God, O God of Israel’ (Isaiah. 45:13).

In Herrlichkeit, three reasons are adduced by way of explanation of this cry of wonder from the Hebrew Bible. Only the first has so far been touched on — namely, that the revelation of God is a revelation in being. Balthasar takes the opportunity to deepen the analogy of disclosure and concealment in, respectively, revelation and the beauty found in nature and art. An artist will conceal himself in his work as well as reveal himself. Desiring to manifest the world as he has understood it, ‘his’ world or perspective on the world, Weltanschauung, he makes himself of little prominence.

Of course with God, every possible world that he may make will point to its author; and yet this thought is counterbalanced by another, that the distance in God between Creator and work is infinite. At this juncture we need an analogy with natural beauty in order to dispel any Deistic misunderstanding of the model of visual art: the world is not the canvas of a divine Rembrandt or the fugue of a divine Bach, a letter from God which once despatched becomes detached from him. Here it is better to think, rather, of the relation between the forms of nature, natura naturata, and the self-expressing life-principle, natura naturans, at work in those forms in a necessary, internal and living way.

And showing his debt to the dramatists, philosophers and poets of the age of Romanticism and Idealism in Germany, Balthasar remarks that ‘we are initiated into these mysteries [of cosmic forms] because we ourselves are spirit in nature, and because all the expressive laws of the macrocosm are at work in our­selves’. In the steps of Goethe’s morphology of nature, Balthasar maintains that nature is most fully grasped, not with the combination of observation and quantification of the exact sciences, but by expressly including the dimension of mystery within the act of observing. In such a reading of form the fragment points to the whole.

And this brings Balthasar to an important corollary of the claim that revelation is necessarily revelation in hiddenness for the simple reason that it is a revelation in being. All knowledge, and not just the knowledge of salvation, begins with a kind of ‘natural faith’.

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The Supernatural Life: A Goal Above Our Nature – Frank Sheed

November 14, 2013

The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose our natural habits. For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the supernatural life flows to us. A mortal sin -- a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God's -- breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of faith and hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why "the greatest of these is charity."

The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose our natural habits. For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the supernatural life flows to us. A mortal sin — a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God’s — breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of faith and hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why “the greatest of these is charity.”

“Eye has not seen nor has ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him.” So St. Paul tells the Corinthians, quoting Isaiah. Until we reach heaven, we shall not know what heaven is. But, in the inspired word of God, we are given glimpses. In heaven we shall know God in a new way, and love him according to the new knowledge.

We shall know, says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:12), as we are known. It is a mysterious phrase, more dark than light, but soliciting our own minds powerfully. We are not to know God with the same knowledge with which he knows us — for he knows infinitely and we are incurably finite — but with a knowledge similar in kind to his, different from our present way of knowing.

In the same verse, St. Paul makes another attempt to express the difference between our knowing here and our knowing there. “Here we see through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face.” St. John (1 John 3:2) says, “We shall see him as he is.” And we remember Our Lord saying of the angels (Matthew 18:10), “They see the face of my heavenly Father continually.” Seeing is the key to life in heaven.

We can approach the meaning in two steps. First, those in heaven shall see God, not simply believe in him as now but see him. Here on earth we do not say that we believe in the existence of our friends, we see them; and seeing them, we know them. But, second, we shall see God “face to face,” see him as he sees us.

The Church has worked out for us a first beginning of the meaning of this. Concentrate upon the way we know our friends. We have an image of them, a picture, so that we know what they look like. But also our knowing faculty, our intellect, has taken them into itself. How? By the idea it has formed of them. By means of that idea, we know them. The richer the idea, the better we know them; if there is any error in our idea of them, to that extent we do not know them as they are. This is the way of human knowledge, the “seeing through a glass in a dark manner” which is the kind of seeing proper to human nature. It is the nature of our intellect to know things by means of the ideas it forms of them.

Here below we know God like that, by the idea we have formed of him. But in heaven, our seeing will be direct. We shall see him, not “through a glass,” we shall know him, not by means of an idea. Our intellect will be in direct contact with God; nothing will come between it and God, not even an idea. The nearest we can get to it, perhaps, is to think of the idea we now have of God; then try to conceive of God himself taking the place of the idea.

That is why the very essence of the life of heaven is called the Beatific Vision — which means the seeing that causes bliss.

Just as our knowing faculty, the intellect, so our loving faculty, the will, is to be in direct contact with God, nothing coming between, God in the will, the will in God, love without detour or admixture. So it will be with every one of our powers — energizing at its very fullest upon its supreme object. And that, if you will think about it, is the definition of happiness.

But observe that all this is based upon doing something which by nature we cannot do. The natural powers of man’s intellect fall short of seeing God direct by a double limitation: as we have seen, our natural way of knowing is always by means of ideas, so that we cannot see anything direct; and God, being infinite, can never be within the hold of our natural strength, or the strength of any finite being whatever.

Putting it bluntly, the life of heaven requires powers which by nature we do not possess. If we are to live it, we must be given new powers. To make a rough comparison: if we wanted to live on another planet, we should need new breathing powers, which by nature our lungs have not got. To live the life of heaven, we need new knowing and loving powers, which by nature our souls have not got.

For heaven our natural life is not sufficient; we need supernatural life. We can have it only by God’s free gift, which is why we call it grace (the word is related to gratis). Sanctifying grace will be our next topic. Everything the Church does is connected with it, and it can be understood but cloudily if we do not grasp what it is.

Sanctifying Grace
When we come to die there is only one question that matters — have we sanctifying grace in our souls? If we have, then to heaven we shall go. There may be certain matters to be cleared, or cleansed, on the way, but to heaven we shall go, for we have the power to live there. If we have not, then to heaven we cannot go; not because we lack the price of admission, but because quite simply our soul lacks the powers that living in heaven calls for.

It is not a question of getting past the gate, but of living once we are there; there would be no advantage in finding a kindly gate-keeper, willing to let us in anyhow. The powers of intellect and will that go with our natural life are not sufficient; heaven calls for powers of knowing and loving higher than our nature of itself has. We need super-natural life, and we must get it here upon earth. To die lacking it means eternal failure.

We must look at grace more closely if we are to live our lives intelligently. Two things about it must be grasped. First: It is supernatural, it is wholly above our nature, there is not even the tiniest seed of it in our nature capable of growing, there is nothing we can do to give it to ourselves. We can have it only as God gives it, and he is entirely free in the giving. That, as we have seen, is why it is called grace; and because its object is to unite us with God, it is called sanctifying grace.

Second: Even the word supernatural does not convey how great a thing it is. It is not simply above our nature, or any created nature. It enables us to do — at our own finite level, but really — something which only God himself can do by nature; it enables us to see God direct. That is why it is called “a created share in the life of God.” That is why those who have it are called “sons of God”; a son is like in nature to his father; by this gift we have a totally new likeness to our Father in heaven.

Giving us this new life, God does not give us a new soul with new faculties. He inserts it, sets it functioning, in the soul we already have. By it our intellect, which exists to know truth, is given the power to know in a new way; our will, which exists to love goodness, is given the power to love in a new way.

We get the supernatural life here on earth. Not until we reach heaven will it enable us to see God face to face and love him in the direct contact of the will. But even on earth its elevating work has begun; it gives the intellect a new power of taking hold of truth — by faith; it gives the will new powers of reaching out to goodness — by hope and by charity (which is love).

Faith, then, does not mean simply feeling that we believe more than we used to; hope does not mean simply feeling optimistic about our chances of salvation; charity does not mean simply feeling pleased with God. All three may have their effect on our feelings; but they are not feelings; they are wholly real.

Even this first beginning is beyond our natural powers, the powers we are born with. “Unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God,” Jesus tells Nicodemus (John 3:3). The supernatural life in our souls is a new fact, as real as the natural life we have to start with. The powers it gives are facts too; they enable us to do things which without them we could not do. They are as real as eyesight, and considerably more important. Without eyesight, we could not see the material world. But without sanctifying grace we should not be able to see God direct, which is the very essence of living in heaven.

Not only that. Here below we should not be sharers of the divine life, sons of God, capable already of taking hold of God by faith and hope and charity, capable of meriting increase of life. This increase of life must be realized; one can be more alive or less, and our life in heaven will differ according to the intensity of faith and hope and charity in our souls when we come to die.

We shall go on to consider these three virtues in detail. Meanwhile concentrate upon one truth: grace is not just a way of saying that a soul is in God’s favor; it is a real life, with its own proper powers, living in the soul; and he who has it is a new man.

A soul with sanctifying grace in it is indwelt by God. Here the reader may raise a question. Since every created thing has God at the very center of its being, maintaining it in existence, surely all things whatsoever are indwelt by God. In what can God’s indwelling of the soul by grace differ from that?

That first presence of God by which we exist is not called indwelling, for this word means God making himself at home in the soul, and it is not merely fanciful to think that this can only be by invitation. About the first presence we have no choice; we did not invite God to bring us into being, and it is not because we ask him that he keeps us in being. The choice is wholly his. No request of ours would move him to withdraw his presence; in the depths of hell he is there, maintaining each spirit in existence. It is a fearful thing to have nothing of God but his presence, to have existence from him and nothing more, refusing all the other gifts that the creature needs and only God can give.

But the indwelling is by invitation. If we receive sanctifying grace in infancy, the sponsor extends the invitation on our behalf; as we come to the use of reason, we make the invitation our own. At any time we can withdraw it, and God’s indwelling ceases, leaving us only his presence. The God who indwells is the Blessed Trinity. Father and Son and Holy Spirit make the soul their home, acting upon the soul, energizing within it, while it responds to their life-giving, light-giving, love-giving energy. That essentially is the process of sanctifying grace.

Faith, Hope, Charity
By it the soul has new powers — the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity; the moral virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The first three are called “theological” because they have God not only for their end but for their object. It is worth our while to pause upon the distinction. All our actions should have God for their end or purpose; that is, they should be aimed to do his will, to praise him and thank him and bring us closer to him. But they cannot all have God for their object.

The organist plays for the glory of God, the cook bakes a cake for the love of God; God is the end of their action. But he is not the object. The object of one is the organ, of the other the cake; the organist who makes God and not the organ the object of his playing will produce strange noises; the cook who makes God and not the cake the object of her action will produce an inedible mess; neither will glorify God.

The moral virtues have God for their end, but for their object they have created things — how we shall best use these to bring us to God. But for the theological virtues, God is object as well as end. By faith we believe in God, by hope we strive towards God, by charity we love God.

God is their object. God is also in a special sense their cause. They are wholly from him. By faith we have a new power in the intellect, enabling us to accept whatever God reveals simply because he reveals it. We may see it as mysterious, we may feel that it is beyond us, we may not see how to fit it in either with some other of his revealed truths or with our own experience of life.

But we do not doubt that what he says is so. By faith the soul accepts him as the source of truth. And it does so, not by its own power but his. He gives the power, not our own reasoning. He sustains faith in us. Our hold upon anything we have arrived atfor ourselves can never be surer than the mental process by which we got to it. Our faith rests upon God who initiates and sustains it.

Faith is the root of the whole supernatural life. With it come hope and charity and the rest. The soul is alive with them. To its own natural life of intellect and will, there is now added this new and higher life. The new life, like the old, is actually in the soul, as the power of sight is in the eye. And it never leaves the soul unless we withdraw the invitation.

Next we shall look more closely at hope and charity, with a glance at sin, by which the invitation is withdrawn.

Faith is directed to God as supremely truthful, hope to God as supremely desirable, charity to God as supremely good. Faith we have already glanced at; it is the simple acceptance of God as our teacher.

Hope is more complex. There are three elements in it; it desires final union with God, sees this as difficult, sees it as attainable. The nature of hope comes out more clearly as we see the two ways of sinning against it, by presumption and by despair.

Despair will not believe in the attainability, the sinner seeing himself as beyond the reach of God’s power to save. Presumption ignores the difficulty, either by assuming that no effort on our part is necessary since God will save us whatever we do, or by assuming that no aid from God is necessary since our own effort can save us unaided. The answer to both is St. Paul’s “I can do all things in him that strengthens me.”

Charity is simple again. It is love of God. As a necessary consequence it is love of all that God loves, it is love of every image or trace or reflection of God it finds in any creature. Many writers prefer the word “love” rather than “charity.” But “love” has such a variety of meanings in daily speech — including lust!  – that its use can mislead. One might tell oneself that one is committing adultery through love.

Charity is less likely to lend itself to that kind of misuse. Whatever the soul in charity loves, it loves for what of God is in it, the amount of God’s goodness it expresses or mirrors. This is true love, since it means loving things or persons not for what we can get out of them but for what God has put into them, not for what they can do for us but for what is real in thent. It means loving things or persons for what they are, and it is rooted in loving God for what he is. (This we have already noted is the strongest reason for learning what he is — that is, for studying theology.)

Supernatural Habits
Faith, hope, and charity are called habits by the theologians, and this is not simply a technicality. If we think over our natural habits, we see that there is a real change in ourselves after we acquire them, something in our very natures leading us to act in certain ways — to drink cocktails, for instance, or answer back sarcastically. We say that a given habit grows on us. Really it grows in us, becomes second nature. The theologians apply the word to any modification, whether in body or soul, which disposes us either to do things we did not do before or to do more easily or competently things we did. The skill of a pianist is a habit.

It is in this sense that the theological virtues are habits. They are really in our very souls, and they enable us to do things which without them would be impossible for us. They differ from natural habits in the way we acquire them. A natural habit is acquired gradually, as we repeat some particular action over and over again; supernatural habits are given to us in an instant by God. They differ again in the way they are lost. To be rid of a natural habit — drinking cocktails again — we must make a long series of efforts; supernatural habits are lost by one mortal sin against them. But while we have them, habits they are, in the meaning just given.

The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose the natural habits. Our soul has the supernatural power to act towards God, but it has a natural habit of acting for self, ignoring God. It has the supernatural ability to make the unseen its goal, but a natural habit of being overwhelmed by the attractions of the visible. By steadily acting upon such natural habits as run counter to the supernatural we may, with our own efforts and God’s grace, bring our nature and its habits wholly into harmony with supernature and the habits that belong to it.

For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the supernatural life flows to us. A mortal sin — a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God’s — breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of faith and hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why “the greatest of these is charity.”

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
St. Paul 1 Corinthians 13

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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.

regress

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):

uncausedcause

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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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On the Distinction between Essence and Existence — Doug McManaman

November 4, 2013
The above diagram is merely a visual representation of a being whose essence is distinct from its existence, such as a human, or a dog, a carbon atom, etc. Now, recall that the definition of a thing expresses a thing's essence. Whatever belongs to a thing's essence belongs to it necessarily. A triangle is a three sided figure. Hence, a triangle is necessarily three sided. Man is a rational animal. Hence, all men, no matter who they are, are necessarily rational creatures. Whatever does not belong to the essence will not be included within the definition of the thing, and therefore will not belong to the thing necessarily, but contingently or possibly. Notice that metal, yellow, large, etc., is not included in the definition of triangle, even though some triangles are metal, yellow, and rather large. This means that a triangle is not necessarily metal, yellow, and large, but possibly.

The above diagram is merely a visual representation of a being whose essence is distinct from its existence, such as a human, or a dog, a carbon atom, etc. Now, recall that the definition of a thing expresses a thing’s essence. Whatever belongs to a thing’s essence belongs to it necessarily. A triangle is a three sided figure. Hence, a triangle is necessarily three sided. Man is a rational animal. Hence, all men, no matter who they are, are necessarily rational creatures. Whatever does not belong to the essence will not be included within the definition of the thing, and therefore will not belong to the thing necessarily, but contingently or possibly. Notice that metal, yellow, large, etc., is not included in the definition of triangle, even though some triangles are metal, yellow, and rather large. This means that a triangle is not necessarily metal, yellow, and large, but possibly.

Doug McManaman is a Deacon and a Religion and Philosophy teacher at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ontario, Canada. He is the past President of the Canadian Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.We liked his simple and straight forward introduction to Aquinas in this and the following posts. Reblogged from LifeIssues.net

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Although Aristotle takes matter more seriously than Plato does, it can be argued that St. Thomas Aquinas takes matter much more seriously than does Aristotle. For Aristotle, essence is, as it was for Plato, the form. But this is not so for Aquinas. If the essence was simply the substantial form, then matter is outside the essence of a thing. But am I not essentially a material kind of being? For Thomas, the essence of a material thing includes matter and form. A human being, an animal, a rock, are essentially material things.

But what accounts for the fact that a person is “human”? The answer is the substantial form, that is, the soul. What accounts for the fact that a human person can di.e.,? The answer is his matter. Form exists in matter, and matter is the principle of a thing’s potentiality. What accounts for a thing’s extension? The accident ‘quantity’. What accounts for one’s ability to laugh? One’s power of intelligence.

But what accounts for the very fact that a thing exists? There is nothing in the substance itself that requires it to be. Prime matter is the material cause, rendering a thing perishable, the substantial form determines the matter to be a certain kind of thing, i.e.,, rabbit, or gold. Quantity gives the rabbit or the gold parts outside of parts. Quality is the accidental form that qualifi.e.,s the gold in a particular way, etc.,.

But there is a distinction between what a thing is, and the very act of its existence. One can study “what something is” without knowing “whether or not it actually exists”. We can study certain frogs, that is, we can come to understand “what they are”, but that very knowledge does not enable us to determine whether or not those frogs actually exist. For St. Thomas, there is a real distinction between essence, which answers to the question “what is it?”, and existence, which answers to the question “is it?”. This is a departure from both Plato and Aristotle, for whom ousia meant essence or being.

For Aquinas, a being is a habens esse: that which has an act of existing. In other words, a being is not simply substance. A being is a thing that has an act of existing. This means that for St. Thomas, the whole substance is in potency to existence. It does not have existence by nature. You and I have a received existence. Consider that it is correct to say: you are human (you are your essence).

But it is not correct to say: you are existence (you are not your existence). Rather, one correctly says: you have existence. An existing being exists not by virtue of its substantial form, but by virtue of its esse, that is, its received act of existing. The substantial form is the act of matter, but the esse of a being is the act of being. The act of being is the act of the substantial form, as well as the act of the accidents. Without esse (the act of being), there is no being to speak of.

The above diagram is merely a visual representation of a being whose essence is distinct from its existence, such as a human, or a dog, a carbon atom, etc. Now, recall that the definition of a thing expresses a thing’s essence. Whatever belongs to a thing’s essence belongs to it necessarily. A triangle is a three sided figure. Hence, a triangle is necessarily three sided. Man is a rational animal. Hence, all men, no matter who they are, are necessarily rational creatures.

Whatever does not belong to the essence will not be included within the definition of the thing, and therefore will not belong to the thing necessarily, but contingently or possibly. Notice that metal, yellow, large, etc., is not included in the definition of triangle, even though some triangles are metal, yellow, and rather large. This means that a triangle is not necessarily metal, yellow, and large, but possibly.

So too, blond hair and blue eyes do not belong to the essence of man, otherwise all men would have blond hair and blue eyes, and anyone who does not is not a man. Hence, it is necessary that Mike be rational, senti.e.,nt, that he have a will, that he have the potentiality to walk, the power to see, remember, etc., but it is not necessary that he be tall, blond, German, etc. Moreoever, if the power to walk, see, or hear, etc., cannot be realized in a human person, it is not due to the person’s nature, but to some deformation rooted in poorly disposed matter, i.e., eye damage, oxygen deprivation to the brain, no legs due to an accident, etc.

And so whatever belongs within the blue area in the above diagram, belongs to the thing necessarily. Anything outside the essence belongs to it possibly or contingently.

But if existence were part of the “what” of Mike, that is, part of his essence (within the blue area), then Mike would necessarily exist (since whatever belongs to the essence of a thing belongs to it necessarily). In other words, it would be essential for Mike to exist. And just as a triangle cannot not have three sides, and a human being cannot not have the power to reason, and a bird cannot not have wings, Mike could not not exist. He would have always existed, exists now, and ever shall be. But we know this not to be the case. The act of existing is received. Mike came into existence. He is not existence, rather he is human. The act of existing is had.

Some Points on Epistemology
Aquinas agrees with Aristotle that “nothing is in the intellect that is not first in the senses.” But the passive intellect does not just become a form. The passive intellect receives the essence of the thing known. The essence receives a new kind of existence in the intellect. Outside of the mind, the essence is particular, in the here and now.

That tree has existence outside of the mind. It is there, now, actually green and brown, actually large, etc.,. And it is particular. But essence and existence are really distinct. The active intellect abstracts the essence from its individuating conditions, and after impressing the essence onto the passive mind, the essence acquires a new kind of existence (an intentional existence, or a logical existence).

The essence exists universally in the mind. The tree has not changed. The tree is still there, a composite of essence and existence. But the essence is existentially neutral (it can exist in the mind or outside the mind). It need not necessarily exist in any particular way. The intellect, in knowing things, gives the essence a new existence (an intentional existence). The essence is capable of existing universally, because the essence is a potency to existence. It receives a different kind of existence in the mind, an immaterial existence, a universal mode of existence, an abstract mode of existence, unlike its existence outside of the mind.

The Acts of the Intellect
The intellect apprehends, judges, and reasons. But there is a difference between them. The first act of the intellect is called simple apprehension. This act is the apprehension of the thing’s essence. Now the intellect apprehends essences, but essence is not existence. I can know what a thing is, but that knowledge is not a knowledge of whether it is or not. So, how does one apprehend existence? By a distinct act of the intellect. This is called existential judgement. This marks the second act of the intellect. And the third act of the intellect is called reasoning. When we reason deductively, for example, we draw a conclusion from two prior premises: All men are mortal, John is a man. Therefore, John is mortal.

I know what a thing is (essence) through simple apprehension. At the same time, I know that it is (existence) through judgement. The two activities occur simultaneously.

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