Monday, 25 October 2010


Before the silver cord is snapped;
remember your Creator in the days of your youth.

Before the golden bowl is broken;
remember your Creator in the days of your youth.

Before the pitcher is broken at the fountain;
remember your Creator in the days of your youth.

Before the wheel is broken at the cistern;
remember your Creator in the days of your youth.

Before the dust returns to the earth as it was;
remember your Creator in the days of your youth.

Before the spirit returns to God who gave it;
remember your Creator in the days of your youth.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Modern Times

A bit out of date, but I just spotted this:

One sometimes feels that the best thing that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI could do for the United Kingdom would be to perform the rite of exorcism over it.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Grace and the Mysteries

Grace, by a secret instinct sets us at peace concerning our salvation and the intimate reconciliation in God of infinite justice, mercy, and sovereign liturgy. Grace, by this secret instinct, sets us thus at peace, because it is itself a real and formal participation in the divine nature, in God's intimate life in the very Deity, in which all the divine perfections are absolutely identified.

If we stress too much our analogical concepts of the divine attributes, we set up an obstacle to the contemplation of the revealed mysteries. The fact that these concepts are distinct from one another, like small squares of mosaic reproducing a human likeness, is why they harden the spiritual aspect of God for us. Wisdom, absolute liberty, mercy, and justice seem in some way to be distinct in God, and then His sovereignly free good pleasure appears in an arbitrary light, and not entirely penetrated by wisdom; mercy seems to restricted, and justice too rigid. But by faith illumined by the gifts of understanding and wisdom, we go beyond the literal meaning of the Gospel and imbibe the very spirit of God's Word. We instinctively feel, without seeing it, how all the divine perfections are identified in the Deity, that is superior to being, the one, the true, the intellect, and love. The Deity is superior to all perfections that are naturally susceptible of participation, these being contained in it formally and eminently without any admixture of imperfection. The Deity is not naturally susceptible of participation, either by angel or man. It is only by grace, which is essentially supernatural, that we are permitted to participate in the Deity, in God's intimate life, in as much as the latter is strictly divine. Thus it is that grace is instrumental in causing us mysteriously to reach, in the obscurity of faith, the summit where the divine attributes are identified. The spiritual aspect of God for us is no longer hardened. We do not see His countenance, but we instinctively feel it, and this secret instinctive feeling, in the supernatural abandonment of ourselves, gives us peace.

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P. in “Predestination”

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Oh Noes!

Last Pope Quote

Mining Benedict XVI's addresses certainly makes a blogger's life easier. Here's one to finish off with, giving an indication of the hard and painful road that may lie ahead of us in the UK.

I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power. The Church is at the service of another: she serves, not for herself, not to be a strong body, rather she serves to make the proclamation of Jesus Christ accessible...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

From Cofton Park

The beatification mass today...

Saturday, 18 September 2010


I've been struck by the sheer aesthetic beauty of the Holy Father's addresses during his visit to the UK; not simply in the theologically and politically sophisticated speeches either. Here he speaks to schoolchildren:

Not only does God love us with a depth and an intensity that we can scarcely begin to comprehend, but he invites us to respond to that love. You all know what it is like when you meet someone interesting and attractive, and you want to be that person’s friend. You always hope they will find you interesting and attractive, and want to be your friend. God wants your friendship. And once you enter into friendship with God, everything in your life begins to change. As you come to know him better, you find you want to reflect something of his infinite goodness in your own life. You are attracted to the practice of virtue. You begin to see greed and selfishness and all the other sins for what they really are, destructive and dangerous tendencies that cause deep suffering and do great damage, and you want to avoid falling into that trap yourselves. You begin to feel compassion for people in difficulties and you are eager to do something to help them. You want to come to the aid of the poor and the hungry, you want to comfort the sorrowful, you want to be kind and generous. And once these things begin to matter to you, you are well on the way to becoming saints.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Natural Law in the Public Forum

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This "corrective" role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

Benedict XVI live at Westminster Hall.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

From the Streets of Edinburgh

Sue & Martin went to see the Holy Father on Princes Street in Edinburgh today. Here's the world exclusive picture!

From Benedict XVI's First Speech in the UK

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a "reductive vision of the person and his destiny" (Caritas in Veritate, 29).

Benedict XVI


Oremus pro pontifice nostro Benedicto.

Et ego dico tibi, quia tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram ædificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portæ inferi non prævalebunt adversus eam.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Perturbed by Predestination?

If these thoughts [being disturbed by the idea of predestination] come to the mind, and only useless efforts are made to dispel them, they must end in causing us to abandon ourselves completely to God, assured that it is infinitely better to leave our salvation in His hands than to rely on our own strength. Only by thus doing shall we find peace. The whole doctrine of the divine Master's secret is that we must adore Him and not claim to fathom Him. We must lose ourselves in this impenetrable height and depth of divine wisdom and plunge ourselves as if lost in His immense goodness, though expecting everything from Him, without however relaxing our efforts, which He demands from us for our salvation.

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (quoted in “Predestination”, by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P.)

Sunday, 12 September 2010


"All that God does in time, He foresees and predestines from all eternity. He foresaw and predestined in detail all the means by which He had to inspire his followers with fidelity, obedience, and perseverance. That is what predestination means.

The benefit of this doctrine is to have us place our will and liberty in God's hands, asking Him to direct this will so that it may never stray from the right path, and thanking Him for all the good that it does and believing that He operates in it without weakening or destroying it, but on the contrary, elevating, strengthening, and granting it to make good use of itself, which is the most desirable of all good things.

We must not therefore, attribute the cause of salvation to him who wills or to him who runs, but to God who shows mercy. This means that neither their running nor their willing are the primary cause, and still less the only cause of their salvation; but this cause is the accompanying and preventing grace that gives them strength to continue until the end, and this grace does not act alone; for we must be faithful to it; and to accomplish this effect, it gives us the power to co-operate with it, so that we can say with St Paul: “Yet not I, but the grace of God with me”.

God is the author of all the good we do. It is He who brings it to completion, just as it is He who begins it. His Holy Spirit forms in our hearts the petitions He wishes to grant. He foresaw and predestined all that; for predestination is nothing else. In all this we must believe that no one perishes, no one is cast off as a reprobate, except through his own fault. If human reasoning finds a difficulty in this, and cannot reconcile all phases of this holy and inviolable doctrine, faith must continue to reconcile all things, at the same time waiting until God causes us to see everything in Him, the fountainhead.

The whole doctrine of predestination and grace may be summed up briefly in these words of the Prophet: “Destruction is thy own, O Israel; thy help is only in me. So it is. If we do not see the consistency in all this, it suffices for us that God knows, and we must humbly believe him. God's secret is his own."

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (quoted in “Predestination”, by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P.)

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Trinity in Aquinas

Oops. I seem to have disappeared for a couple of months; sorry about that!

Having completed the treatise on the One God over at the other place, I’ve been preparing to start on the Triune God. I found myself disappearing into a deep think about this as there were several metaphysical questions (and considerations of how the medievals approached these questions, and how these approaches differed from modern approaches etc. etc.) that I needed to get straight in my head. Something had to give, and it was this blog.

So, to get back underway here, let’s draw attention to Gilles Emery’s book “The Trinitarian Theology of St Thomas Aquinas” that has recently appeared in paperback. This seems to be the best introduction to the subject available in the English language. The hardback was prohibitively expensive, but this new edition is much more reasonable; highly recommended!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Jensen on St Thomas

I’ve been reading Steven Jensen’s new book “Good & Evil Actions: A journey through Saint Thomas Aquinas”.

It’s an excellent book, charting the technical difficulties involved in understanding the foundations of Aquinas’s moral theory and describing some of the various solutions to these difficulties that philosophers and theologians have arrived at in recent times. Here, as a taster, are a couple of paragraphs on how proportionalism misunderstands the notion of “the common good”.

Proportionalism can imagine that the common good justifies harming innocent human beings, then, only by a misperception, by supposing that the good is found not in sharing but in accumulating. To the contrary, the common good protects the innocent, for the common good is nothing other than sharing the good with these innocents. (Page 158).

Proportionalism imagines that we can act for the common good when we kill one person in order to save many others. In reality, by killing we do not act for the common good of any human community; we merely act for an aggregate of individuals. By subordinating one individual to others, we separate him and his good from the community, thereby rupturing the unity found in sharing the good. At most we create a new community, a community of our own, but we break up the community of shared goods that included the individual we kill. Although killing one person can produce a greater aggregate of individual goods, it inevitably does so by excluding a person from the shared good. Ultimately, by killing an innocent person we must be seeking some other good beside the common good. (Page 164).

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Benedict XVI on St. Thomas Aquinas

The Holy Father gave a series of three talks about St Thomas at his General Audiences recently. The full text has now appeared in English translation on the Vatican website.

Part I
Part II
Part III

The Holy Father quotes his predecessor Paul VI as saying:

All of us who are faithful sons and daughters of the Church can and must be his disciples, at least to some extent!

We might also recall the words of Pius XI in Studiorum ducem:

We so heartily approve the magnificent tribute of praise bestowed upon this most divine genius that We consider that Thomas should be called not only the Angelic, but also the Common or Universal Doctor of the Church; for the Church has adopted his philosophy for her own, as innumerable documents of every kind attest.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Pro multis

How the words “pro vobis et pro multis” should be rendered appears to be one of the more controversial changes in the new English translation of the mass. Let's have a look at this.

At the consecration of the precious blood, we hear:

Ordinary form: Accipite et bibite ex eo omnes: hic est enim calix Sanguinis mei novi et aeterni testamenti, qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum. Hoc facite in meam commemorationem.

Current Translation: Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me

New Translation: Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.

From the point of view of translation, this really is an easy one: if we inspect the Greek text of Matthew 26:28 (or Mark 14:24) the word used, “polloi”, means “the many” or “the multitude”. The Latin version reflects this and so, one might argue, should any further translation, especially if it is to respect the Latin text of the mass as a definitive prototype. Of course, one must note that “polloi” does not exclude the meaning “all”, but to translate it with a meaning that excludes “possibly not all” is to impose an interpretation.

The justification for the interpretation that would render “pro multis” as “for all” comes from texts such as 2 Cor 5:15 and 1 Tim 2:4, where it is affirmed that Christ died for all and that God’s will is that all should be saved. The question of the possibility of universal salvation has been argued about throughout the history of the Church. Although the idea has never been formally condemned, I don’t think that it is unfair to say that the more probable opinion is that it is incorrect considered as doctrine. However, there is a difference between believing that universal salvation is a fact and hoping that it may be true; in the catechism we read:

1821 We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere "to the end" and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God's eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for "all men to be saved." She longs to be united with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the glory of heaven:

(c.f. 1058)

Of course, by simply quoting the words of scripture, the catechism leaves ambiguous how these words are to be understood. But it would at least appear on the face of it that the catechism is teaching that we are justified in hoping for universal salvation even if we may not believe it to be true.

In order to understand how the Tradition has understood this problem, we might turn to St Thomas. In question 19, Article 6 of the first part of the summa theologiae, we find the universal doctor considering the question of whether God’s will is always fulfilled. The very first objection to this position is:

Objection 1 It seems that the will of God is not always fulfilled. For the Apostle says (1 Timothy 2:4): "God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." But this does not happen. Therefore the will of God is not always fulfilled.

After giving his answer that God’s will is always fulfilled, St. Thomas turns to answering this particular objection. The first two possibilities he offers may seem somewhat strained (but note that they are received in many parts of modern Christianity as true). The third, on the notion of antecedent and consequent will in Christ, seems to me to be much more convincing.

Reply to Objection 1: The words of the Apostle, "God will have all men to be saved," etc. can be understood in three ways.

First, by a restricted application, in which case they would mean, as Augustine says (De praed. sanct. i, 8: Enchiridion 103), "God wills all men to be saved that are saved, not because there is no man whom He does not wish saved, but because there is no man saved whose salvation He does not will."

Secondly, they can be understood as applying to every class of individuals, not to every individual of each class; in which case they mean that God wills some men of every class and condition to be saved, males and females, Jews and Gentiles, great and small, but not all of every condition.

Thirdly, according to Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii, 29), they are understood of the antecedent will of God; not of the consequent will. This distinction must not be taken as applying to the divine will itself, in which there is nothing antecedent nor consequent, but to the things willed.

To understand this we must consider that everything, in so far as it is good, is willed by God. A thing taken in its primary sense, and absolutely considered, may be good or evil, and yet when some additional circumstances are taken into account, by a consequent consideration may be changed into the contrary. Thus that a man should live is good; and that a man should be killed is evil, absolutely considered. But if in a particular case we add that a man is a murderer or dangerous to society, to kill him is a good; that he live is an evil. Hence it may be said of a just judge, that antecedently he wills all men to live; but consequently wills the murderer to be hanged. In the same way God antecedently wills all men to be saved, but consequently wills some to be damned, as His justice exacts. Nor do we will simply, what we will antecedently, but rather we will it in a qualified manner; for the will is directed to things as they are in themselves, and in themselves they exist under particular qualifications. Hence we will a thing simply inasmuch as we will it when all particular circumstances are considered; and this is what is meant by willing consequently. Thus it may be said that a just judge wills simply the hanging of a murderer, but in a qualified manner he would will him to live, to wit, inasmuch as he is a man. Such a qualified will may be called willingness rather than an absolute will. Thus it is clear that whatever God simply wills takes place; although what He wills antecedently may not take place.

If the third explanation, of antecedent and consequent will, appears a bit inaccessible, you may wish to refer to the commentary over at the other place.

So, the consequences of the words of scripture reproduced in the text of the mass are deep and profound. The new English translation’s rendering of “pro multis” as “for many” restores the natural meaning of the words in the Latin prototype (and in scripture) and hopefully will encourage catechesis on the meaning of this phrase and on the theology of God’s will for our salvation.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Mystery of Faith

I thought I might start a little series looking at a few details of the new English translation of the mass. The current English translation has been widely attacked as being inaccurate as a translation and has been widely defended for being accessible. I’d like to concentrate here on the theological aspects of the old and the new translations. In particular, I’d like to highlight places where the theological symbolism of the Latin original is obscured by the old translation and revealed by the new. I will also consider whether there are places where the new translation may “obscure by accuracy” compared to the old translation.

I thought that I’d start with “the Mystery of Faith”, just after the consecration of the precious blood in the ordinary form. Even in the Latin, there was some controversy when the ordinary form first came out, as the words “mysterium fidei” were moved from their position in the words of consecration. Compare the Latin of the older extraordinary form and the newer ordinary form.

Extraordinary Form: Accipite et bibite ex eo omnes: hic est enim calix Sanguinis mei novi et aeterni testamenti: mysterium fidei: qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum. Haec quotiescumque feceritis in mei memoriam facietis.

Ordinary Form: Accipite et bibite ex eo omnes: hic est enim calix Sanguinis mei novi et aeterni testamenti, qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum. Hoc facite in meam commemorationem.

New Translation of the Ordinary Form: Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, (the mystery of faith) which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.

I’ve inserted the phrase “the mystery of faith” in the translation of the ordinary form to indicate where it comes in the extraordinary form. Note that the Latin texts of the ordinary and extraordinary forms are the same apart from the final sentence and the moving of the mysterium fidei, so that the translation is good for both forms up until the final sentence.

The ordinary form continues (rubrics in red) with the new translation and with one of the choices of acclamation:

Calicem ostendit populo, deponit super patenam, et genuflexus adorat. Deinde dicit:
Mysterium fidei.

The Priest shows the chalice to the people, places it on the corporal, and genuflects in adoration. Then the Priest says:
The mystery of faith.

Et populus prosequitur, acclamans:
Quotiescumque manducamus panem hunc et calicem bibimus, mortem tuam annuntiamus, Domine, donec venias.

And the people continue, acclaiming:
When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.

The structure here is that the priest makes a proclamation “the mystery of faith” to which the people respond in acclamation (which is made clear by the rubric). There’s a clear sense of the people approving and applauding the proclamation of the priest. We might also note that “and the people continue” for “et populus prosequitur” is a bit weak; “prosequitur” better rendered with a sense of following or accompanying.

However, when we look at the old translation we find

Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:

Memorial acclamation of the people

When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.

The fragment “let us proclaim” is an invention of the old translation, not found in nor implied by the Latin original. We might also note that it is also somewhat inconsistent with the following rubric! The effect is to totally lose the proclamation-acclamation, priest-people, head of Christ-body of Christ structure. In the Latin and in the new translation, the priest has simply made the proclamation to which the faithful join in acclamation; in the old translation, the priest is inviting a joint proclamation with the faithful as though he had not already done it.

The general effect of the old translation here appears to be a weakening of the theology of the priest acting “in Persona Christi Capitis” (in the Person of Christ the Head) and therefore a weakening of the theology of the Church as the Mystical body of Christ. As such, the new translation is a welcome improvement.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Cycling to Rome

I'm not, but some friends of ours are! Please consider sponsoring them on their pilgrimage as they are raising money for two very good causes. You can find more details on their Facebook page, but here's a quote:

Mary’s Meals provides a staple, daily meal in schools for children in some of the poorest countries in the world, thus fighting poverty through tackling malnutrition and encouraging education. The Cardinal Winning Pro-Life Initiative provides non-judgemental practical, spiritual and emotional support for mothers in the UK, struggling with crisis pregnancy and the prospect of bringing up a child alone.

You might like to look at the some of the intricate planning that's gone into this project by looking at their proposed route map.

Update: They've now got their own blog!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Supernatural one more time

Time for one final quotation from Lawrence Feingold’s book, from the concluding chapter.

The natural desire to see God is something intermediate between the innate natural inclination for our connatural end (contemplation of God through creation), and the supernatural acts and habitual inclinations of hope and charity. A confusion of these tendencies, or a denial of any one of them, leads to grave theological errors. We can thus distinguish four states of the desire for God:

  • An innate desire for our connatural end - to know and love God through the mirror of creation - follows from the very nature of our spiritual faculties. This is not an act, but simply the relation of the spiritual faculties to their proportionate end.
  • In all his texts on the natural desire to see God, St Thomas demonstrates the existence of a naturally elicited desire for the vision of God's essence. It can be inferred that this desire is conditional without the aid of Revelation and actual grace.
  • And elicited and unconditional desire for the vision of God is made possible by knowledge of God’s promise in Revelation, together with the aid of actual grace. Such a desire is an act of theological hope, which presupposes faith.
  • There is the supernatural habitual inclination to the vision of God resulting from sanctifying grace, and consisting in the theological virtues of hope and charity. This inclination is present whenever a soul is in a state of grace; it is independent of knowledge and thus unconditional, and is based on the proportionality between grace and glory (for grace is the seed of glory).

pp. 432-3

Saturday, 12 June 2010

The new Antiphonale Romanum

As I mentioned a few posts ago, my most recent impulse purchase was of the new “Antiphonale Romanum II” from the monks of Solesmes.

One of the problems with the post conciliar Liturgy of the Hours is the lack of musical settings for the antiphons, which makes singing the psalms of the Hours somewhat problematic. The excellent Liber Hymnarius, covering the hymns of the office, came out nearly thirty years ago but there was a long wait until more music for the office came out in the form of the Antiphonal Monasticum, which started appearing in 2005. This new book pertains to the Roman office and is therefore, in a sense, more suited to the needs of parish life. This new volume contains all that is needed for the celebration of the office of Vespers on a Sunday, for every week of the year.

Reviews of the new Antiphonal Romanum have started appearing, for example at the New Liturgical Movement and at the CMAA. I’m not going to offer a full review here, but I’ll make a couple of observations. The first is that the book is beautifully produced and a joy to handle and look at. Also, there are a number of features that make the singers’ life easier:

the psalm texts are accented and have cadences indicated in bold text;

the Magnificat is given special attention to show how to fit the words in the different tones and in an appendix the text is given accented and bolded for each of the psalm tones.

However, as with the new Antiphonal Monasticum, Solemnes seems to have given up any attempt at rhythmic indications: so there are few dots and the episema and ictus have been banished. (There are some interesting comments about this in the Antiphonale Monasticum at the Gregorian Association’s website). This means more work for the musical director! This may be difficult on two levels: for the first, getting the rhythm from the text is often relatively straightforward to do in simple Gregorian settings, but antiphons not uncommonly contain florid melismata for which a bit of rhythmic indication would have been helpful; on the second level, there’s nothing like chant rhythm to start a punch-up between chantists, so the poor musical director will be caught in the middle!

Friday, 11 June 2010

The New Translation of the Mass

I’m starting to assemble some resources to support catechesis for the new English translation of the Missale Romanum (which, presumably, we in the UK should start using some time next year). In case any of this is useful to you, here’s what I’ve got so far.

One of the most remarkable things that I’ve found is how hard it is to track down the Latin text of the mass in an easily (i.e. on the web) or cheaply (i.e. book study edition) available form. As far as printed resources go (for the editio typica tertia) the only resources that I’ve found are the full altar edition (very expensive) and this study edition from the Midwest Theological Forum. Even this edition is expensive!

Online, we’re more fortunate. Probably the best version of the ordinary of the mass is available at the “Roman Liturgy” site. It’s not set up particularly well for printing off, but if you’re not afraid of a bit of html hacking, it can be turned into something quite presentable.

For the propers, the best site I’ve found is Bibliaclerus (which is useful for quite a lot of other things as well). You can get through to the missal by following the sidebar links to “missals and similar” (under "The celebration") and then “Missale Romanum 2002”, if you want to keep the frames intact, or you can go direct to here, if you hate frames!

The layout of these pages is pretty unfriendly, which is why I suggest using the “Roman Liturgy” site for the ordinary, extracting the propers (and full rubrics, if you like that sort of thing) from Bibliaclerus.

As for the new English text, the United States Bishops’ Conference appears to be ahead of us at the moment. They have an attractive site dedicated to the new translation and have quite a few helpful resources assembled there, including the approved version of the new translation of the ordinary of the mass.

For musical settings for the new translation, there is some material on ICEL’s site, but it seems to me that the best material is available from the Church Music Association of America, which you can find here. For the moment, one must assume that none of these musical settings have received any authoritative approval!

I’m not aware of any full edition of the mass propers being made available online yet. Please let me know if I’ve missed it! Also, if anyone’s got any more useful catechetical material, please share!

Thursday, 10 June 2010


It seems compulsory in blogland to post pictures of one's cat. So here goes...

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

More books!

My dear wife’s impulse purchase this week was of the book “English Catholic Heroines” edited by Joanna Bogle. (Mine was of the new “Antiphonale Romanum” from Solesmes, but more about that later.)

I was interested in this excerpt, written by Joanna Bogle, from the Introduction

Another issue raised by the topic of Catholic heroines is the whole matter of the role of women within the church. None of the heroines whose stories are told here - covering a great range of time from the Anglo-Saxon era to the present day - showed any signs of believing that women should be ordained as priests, nor did they assume that the Church denigrated the female sex or marginalized women and girls. On the contrary, they assumed - correctly - that Mother Church loves her daughters, takes pride in their achievements, and holds them up often as an example to men. There are more churches dedicated to women than to men, female saints have always been at the forefront of popular enthusiasm and devotion - from the early martyrs Agnes, Cecilia and Lucy through to Elizabeth of Hungary and Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena and beyond - and the roles of women in public life and in writing, teaching, and in the area of mystical and religious experience has always been central to the Catholic faith. I must take issue with the author of the section on Mary Ward when she writes that “Marginalization of women's experience within the church, based on the conviction that their access to God was of an entirely different order from that of men, led to a high degree of invisibility and inaudibility in spiritual and ecclesial matters. Women seeking to find a voice and a place in the public forum of the Church were not welcome...” This denies the centuries of female work and achievement, and the church’s honouring of this and upholding of it as exemplary. Mary Ward was not treated well, but many men have similarly endured injustices through church bureaucracy - think of John Henry Newman - and it is surely wrong to suggest that women were, or are, singled out for such treatment on the grounds of sex.

Living as we do in York, we are very aware of how some would assimilate anachronously some very modern concerns to the cause for Mary Ward’s canonization. A similar process appears to be happening with the cause for John Henry Newman. The strange thing is, especially with the latter, that such assimilations are clearly silly. It would seem that we have here examples of the anti-rational forces that are at work in the Church (and, of course, in the wider world); these are plays of pure power.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Chant Resources

There are some excellent resources available from the Church Music Association of America (CMAA) to support the singing of Gregorian Chant in parishes. Their resource page is available here.

Two things I’d especially draw your attention to are the “Parish Book of Chant”, a simply excellent collection of chant repertoire suitable for all parishes and the “Communio” collection of communion antiphons. Both of these are available for free download in pdf format, but hard-copy versions at reasonable prices are also available.

There is a lot more available, including reproductions of many of the older chant books. For example, the 1961 English-introduction-and-rubrics version of the liber usualis is available in pdf.

Beyond the resources page, it’s an excellent site for chant junkies to browse and there’s even a forum!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Reclaiming the Supernatural

Coming to the end of Lawrence Feingold’s book on the supernatural, I came across this passage on page 443:

Finally, one of the great pastoral problems of our time is that so many people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, take heaven for granted as something somehow due simply to natural goodness. This view debases heaven by naturalizing it. We have to discover ever again a radical wonder at the inconceivable dimension of the gift of our supernatural vocation, which carries with it a true divinization, enabling man to enter into the divine friendship, into a spousal relation with the Holy Trinity, into the beatitude proper to God Himself. We must continue to repeat with Isaiah and St Paul (1 Corinthians 2:9): “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared to those who love him.”

Beautiful in itself, this passage brought back memories from a few years ago of sitting in a small (Anglican) parish group, hearing a dearly loved old cleric say that he felt that Christians spent too much time thinking of Jesus as divine and too little time thinking of Him as human. I remember having to stop myself from falling off my chair at the time; how could it be possible to be so wide of the mark? What catechesis there was (and largely still is, it seems to me) focuses on the Jesus as human exemplar, the perfect man. I’m not sure, at that point, that I had ever heard anybody teaching about Jesus as divine: that is, any probing enquiry beyond simple creedal affirmation of what the consequences of His being divine would be.

Reconnecting with the supernatural is difficult. We live in a world where the common sense is of a vague atheistic materialism and where even educated Christians can often be unaware of the shifts of philosophical presuppositions that work to undermine their faith.

His Holiness John-Paul II showed great wisdom in setting new standards for priestly formation in philosophy (inter alia!) in Pastores dabo vobis. Perhaps now is the time for a similar lead in the formation of the laity?

Saturday, 5 June 2010

When I was Young

Back when I was young this was among the first (if not the first) CDs that I ever bought. It's still my favourite CD. My wife just put it on in the kitchen.

It's the way they tell 'em

If sacred persons or things are criticised precisely on account of their human or finite imperfections, real or alleged, the sin of irreverence is committed, when the criticism is prompted by malice or levity. No sin at all is committed, if one is stating facts with due respect for the character of the person or things spoken of. Examples: To call a Doctor of the Church an ignoramus out of anger at a theological opinion defended by him, would be of itself a serious sin of disrespect. To speak of a saint as a dirty tramp or idle visionary, if the intention is to insult, is also a serious sin of disrespect. But, if one were to say in joke that St. Peter was a baldhead, St. Chares Borromeo a big nose, the sin of irreverence would be only slight. No sin would be committed, if one, describing a religious painting from the artistic standpoint, called it an abomination.

McHugh & Callan, Moral Theology: A Complete Course, para 892 (b)

Phew! Saved by the final sentence…

Friday, 4 June 2010

On Authority V

I’m going to be tremendously lazy for today’s blog on authority and send you all away to read this essay on the manualist tradition by Fr. Joseph Fenton.

The reason I’ve put this in the series about “Authority” is that the theological manuals used to be widely considered as authentic interpretations of magisterial authority in the Church and hence practical sources of authentic teaching. In recent years, of course, they seem to have slipped into the shadows; but I get the feeling that this tradition is making a comeback as more and more of the faithful yearn for a deeper understanding of the deposit of faith handed on to the Church by Christ Himself.

Fr. Fenton’s article is useful in situating the manuals in the Christian tradition; but it is also very useful in pointing out particular sources for their strengths in particular areas. Many of the manuals cited are in Latin; however many of then have received English translations, so it's worth searching on the web around even if Fr. Fenton does not mention an English translation.

I must also, of course, mention again Dr.Feser’s “Scholastic’s Bookshelf” series both for its recommendations and for the links to the many online sources that are now available.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

On Authority IV

In the field of science that I work in it’s a lot of hard work to refute erroneous theories and studies once they get established in the literature. The fact that it is such hard work and that the kudos for demolishing false theories tends to be much lower than that available for creating new theories or buttressing established theories, tends to lead to the situation that rubbish is just left to die a natural death rather than being killed off promptly. Of course, reputations get established on the top of nonsense, and these erroneous theories often have to wait for the passing of their creators before they themselves get consigned to oblivion. The trouble is, when public health policy becomes involved, these erroneous theories lead to irrelevant or just plain damaging consequences. Bad science does kill people.

The same would appear to be true in dogmatic theology. Although, in principle, erroneous science would appear to be easier to refute (after all, to be optimistic for a moment, if it is irrefutable it cannot be science), errors in dogmatic theology are exposable and yet many theories seem to live on in a zombie existence long after they have been torn to shreds. One of the things that struck me very forcibly whilst reading Feingold’s book was how the huge problems of de Lubac’s theory of the supernatural were identified pretty much as soon as the ideas appeared. Why then does such a theory live on? One might make similar comments about Rahner’s idea of the transcendental existential. Perhaps it is simply due to the intrinsic seductiveness of the ideas and to the fact that few are intellectually equipped to actually understand the problems. Perhaps, as well, we are looking at the collapse of the idea of theological authority.

If one approaches a new idea from the point of view of the deposit of faith interpreted in the light of the perennial philosophy, then (and again, I’m being optimistic here) one might realistically hope that a deductive proof of the truth, falsity, fittingness or inconsistency of the new idea might be amenable. However, if hermeneutical principles are themselves disputed, then pretty much anything goes.

Ecclesiastical authorities rarely step in to theological disputes; and when they do these days there tend to be howls of indignation from those academic theologians who consider their intellectual freedom to be under attack. And yet perhaps in these days we do need the Magisterium to say more through its positive affirmation of the deposit of faith and through the condemnation of error. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask whether seemingly abstruse theological arguments actually have any effect on “ordinary people” at all and therefore why not just let erroneous theology fade into the sunset. But ideas have consequences; these erroneous ideas become simplified and popularized and they do influence ordinary folk. Lives are at risk with bad science but souls are at risk with bad theology.

Monday, 31 May 2010

De Lubac, Rahner and all that

I’m still traipsing through Lawrence Feingold’s book. I’m in chapter fifteen at the moment where Feingold focuses on whether de Lubac is consistent with the teaching of St. Thomas. The overall thrust here seems to be that where de Lubac is consistent he is incorrect, and where he is (possibly) correct, he is inconsistent. In particular, as his system developed (perhaps under pressure from Humani generis) it appeared to lapse into incoherence (or perhaps utter inconsistency with the metaphysical framework that it presumed).

I may at some stage put up a summary review here, but for the moment, this struck me as a particularly on-the-money quote:

In conclusion, de Lubac is in perfect harmony with St. Thomas and with the Catholic tradition in denying that our nature itself, as it actually exists, has the slightest supernatural element. However, this cannot ultimately be reconciled with his interpretation of the natural desire to see God as the expression of a supernatural finality imprinted on our nature in creation itself, prior to the reception of grace, determining us to an inevitable supernatural end. A choice must be made. Either the supernatural finality imprinted on our being must be recognised to flow from a supernatural element given with our constitution itself, as Karl Rahner seems to affirm with his “supernatural existential,” or one must reject altogether the thesis that a supernatural finality has been imprinted on our nature prior to grace, and maintain instead that an ordination to our supernatural end is impressed on our being first by sanctifying grace itself. Clearly the principles of St. Thomas and the Christian tradition demand the latter option.

(N.B. The emphases are in the text itself.)

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Singing the Chant

Not so long ago, I went to a Gregorian chant workshop in Middlesbrough. Now, this was the second such workshop that I’ve attended. A handful of years ago, I went to one in Lancaster, run by Mary Berry, that being a time when I lived over that side of the Pennines.

Two workshops and no regular singing of the chant was beginning to make me think that it might be a good idea to attempt to put this training into practice. Fortunately for me, Mike Forbester attended the workshop in Middlesbrough and suggested that I might like to join in the fun at English Martyr’s in York.

So, last Sunday saw me join the schola for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite for the Feast of Pentecost. Mike had warned me that there wouldn’t be many singers there, but I was slightly surprised when I arrived to find that “not many” equals “three”! To my great delight the other two singers were really strong and secure, so I found that blending in with them was much easier than I would have found blending in with a larger choir. I had practiced the ordinary of the mass (lux et origo) beforehand, but the rest of it was done on a couple of run-throughs.

I have to say that my Gregorian chant “début” was a wonderful experience (for me, anyway…) and I really would encourage anybody who fancies having a go to do so. From my experience it’s worth noting that

  • There are an increasing number of high quality workshops on Gregorian Chant available throughout the country. They are open to, and encourage, complete beginners.
  • If you are already a singer (up to the standard of an average church choir, let’s say), learning how to sing chant to an acceptable standard is not difficult.
  • If you can read conventional musical notation, learning four-stave square note notation is not difficult (in fact, I find it easier to sight read than conventional notation).
  • There seem to be an increasing number of opportunities to sing chant in a liturgical context.
  • There are lots of free resources (such as this) available to support singing the chant.

So, if it’s ever crossed your mind as something you might like to try, just do it!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Bede and the Eucharist

There’s been a lot of talk recently in the cave about the Eucharist and in particular about the discipline that surrounds the Eucharist (we are like that, I’m afraid, in this cave). Coincidentally, St Bede’s Ecclesiastical History is being read as part of our home education curriculum at the moment, and this recently sprang from the page.

When [King Sabert] departed for the heavenly kingdom he left three sons, all pagans to inherit his earthly kingdom. These were quick to profess idolatry, which they had pretended to abandon during the lifetime of their father, and encouraged their people to return to the old gods. It is told that when they saw Bishop Mellitus offering solemn Mass in church, they said with barbarous presumption: “Why do you not offer us the white bread which you used to give to our Father Saba (for so they used to call him), while you continue to give it to the people in church? The Bishop answered, “If you will be washed in the waters of salvation as your father was, you may share in the consecrated bread, as he did; but so long as you reject the water of life, you are quite unfit to receive the bread of life.” They retorted: “We refuse to enter that font and see no need for it; but we want to be strengthened with this bread.” The Bishop then carefully and repeatedly explained that this was forbidden, and that no one was admitted to receiving the most holy Communion without the most holy cleansing of Baptism. At last they grew very angry, and said: “If you will not oblige us by granting such an easy request, you shall no longer remain in our kingdom.” And they drove him into exile, and ordered all his followers to leave their borders.

St Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 2 Chapter 5.

It is fascinating to note the attraction that the Eucharistic species holds for the pagans in this story. Perhaps this is simply down to straight misguided superstition, or perhaps it displays some residual guilt on the part of those who have rejected the truth. Perhaps it is just a straight power play. We might even hope that it reflects an attraction residing in the objective nature of the Eucharist itself. But a second feature of the story lies in the presumption of those who may not approach the Eucharist; they still believe they have a right to do so. This story seems to be repeated down the centuries: why would those who reject the Church and all that it teaches wish simultaneously to approach it and receive nourishment from what the Lord has entrusted it to give?

Saturday, 22 May 2010


One of the questions that we covered at the York Aquinas Reading Group yesterday evening dealt with time, eternity and aeviternity.

Without going into any great depth we might say that time is associated with the change in substance and accidents that created beings undergo, in that it gives a measure of successiveness. This gives us the notions of “before”, “now” and “after”. Time is God’s way of stopping everything from happening at once as far as created beings are concerned. On the other hand, God, being pure act undergoes no change and therefore it makes no sense whatsoever to place Him in time, or even commensurate with time. Rather He is in eternity; we may even say that he is His own eternity.

However, there is also a half-way house between time and eternity: if eternity is associated with changelessness and time is associated with substantial and accidental change, we might inquire into what is associated with those created things that undergo only accidental change (and no substantial change) like the angels and (arguably) like the blessed in heaven after the general resurrection. This is aeviternity.

In Ia 10 a. 5 ad. 2 Aquinas states the quite astonishing fact that:

Aeviternity is simultaneously whole; yet it is not eternity, because "before" and "after" are compatible with it.

When we come finally to rest in Him, when we have attained our finality in the beatific vision, there is no substantial change in us. All that which perfects us in what we are will be present to us. Heaven will not be boring because it will not be one long endless round of harp playing!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

On Man's Ultimate End

…[U]ltimate felicity is to be sought in nothing other than an operation of the intellect, since no desire carries on to such sublime heights as the desire to understand the truth. Indeed, all our desires for pleasure, or other things of this sort that are craved by men, can be satisfied with other things, but the aforementioned desire does not rest until it reaches God, the highest point of reference for, and the maker of, things. This is why Wisdom appropriately states: “I dwelt in the highest places, and my throne is in a pillar of a cloud” (Sirach 24:7). And Proverbs (9:3) says that Wisdom “by her maids invites to the tower.” Let those men be ashamed, then, who seek man’s felicity in the most inferior things, when it is so highly situated.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, Ch. 50, para. 9. tr. Bourke.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Importance of the Supernatural

Thomas Aquinas contended that every rational creature has a natural desire for the beatific vision; that is, to know the very essence of God himself. As I’ve indicated before, the argument over the supernatural might be stated simply as whether this desire is an innate desire built into us by very fact of our creation or whether it is an elicited desire sparked by knowledge of God's existence from reason and/or revelation. Additionally, what did St. Thomas actually teach and what is implied by what he taught?

Why is this question important? As a stepping off point, let me quote from Lawrence Feingold:

At stake is the distinction between the natural and the supernatural orders, the corresponding distinction between natural and supernatural beatitude, and the gratuitousness of heaven.

One of the major theoretical arguments in favour of the idea of an innate natural desire lies in the following observation. If the desire for the vision of God was not part of our very natures, how could that vision of God be considered our true end? Therefore also why would the failure to achieve the beatific vision constitute the pain of damnation? That the final end of a creature is inherent within that creature seems to be part of any metaphysical system robust enough to support Christianity; how then can we deny it?

On the other hand, if one grants that natural desire for the beatific vision is innate then that would seem to endanger (or even to eliminate) the distinction between the natural and the supernatural orders; the whole idea that there might be an entirely natural end for man is revealed as a fallacy. However, if this were the case, how could we consider grace and the gift of final glory to be gratuitous? The existence of an innate natural desire to see God would seem to imply (following Baius) that God must necessarily offer us the beatific vision and that there could be no connatural or proportionate end of beings endowed with such a desire.

If we think in terms of act and potency, one might think of the teaching of the classical Thomist tradition in terms of denying that the rational creature has a natural (innate) potency to be elevated to the vision of God, but rather that this potency is a passive potency (often referred to as an obediential potency). Informally, there must at the very least be a God shaped hole in our natures that is filled by grace.

When we come to think of the fall and of the effect of original sin, Adam is seen as losing the state of grace prevailing in the Garden of Eden. For any descendent of Adam, the restoration of that state of grace involves faith; the restoration of the (full) desire for God upon the infused supernatural virtue of hope. In the case of an innate desire for the beatific vision, might the fall be seen as an obstruction of this desire and its restoration a matter of a removal of this obstruction allowing an elicited desire to flow from the innate desire in response to the call of the gospel? Or would a more radical damage and restoration be assumed?

At the heart of Feingold’s analysis of the dispute over the supernatural seems to be the claim that those who have identified the desire as innate have failed to distinguish carefully enough the following:

  • An innate natural desire of the will limited to what is proportionate to the very nature of the faculty itself. This is essentially an inclination of the will rather than an act of the will;
  • A natural elicited act of the will which will arise spontaneously before deliberation (sometimes referred to as voluntas ut natura); and
  • An act of the will subject to free choice after deliberation (sometimes referred to as voluntas ut ratio).

In particular, they confuse the first and the second.

So, for the moment, let’s leave the last word to Feingold:

Although innate inclination is limited to natural happiness, the elicited natural desire of a spiritual creature naturally steps beyond those limits. However, such natural desire fails to reach the level of efficaciousness, and remains an imperfect desire without the aid of grace. In other words, nature alone is incapable not only of achieving our supernatural end, but also of properly desiring it, which rightly occurs only with hope and charity. Grace transforms the natural desire to see God from an inefficacious desire into the efficacious movements of hope and charity.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

From Another Cave...

I've quoted quite a lot from the philosopher David Oderberg on this blog, for which I make no apology as he is unfailingly interesting. Here he is talking about the downward spiral of main stream journalism from the point of view of a philosopher who is also a quondam journalist.

"Appearance and reality: what Plato can teach journalists and the media."

Hat-tip to Edward Feser.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Fr Aidan Nichols Again

A little while ago I noticed that the website of the academic journal Nova et Vetera had had a makeover.

Although I don't subscribe to this journal, it does look a very interesting one, and is tempting in its Thomism. A little bit of wandering through the website will lead you to some sample articles.

Who should we find amongst the authors of these sample articles but our very own Fr. Aidan Nichols? He has produced an article entitled “What is Happening on the Intellectual Scene in England?” (pdf file).

Rather than having me attempt to précis Fr. Aidan’s fine article, let me commend a full reading of this short romp through the study of theology, philosophy and history in the intellectual life of our country and the connections between the intellectual and the Catholic. Fr. Nichols has a delightfully cultured way of adumbrating what I would describe simply as a shocking decline into mediocrity.

Here are a few choice words and phrases.

“It is typical of high culture in England to be allergic to the notion of an intelligentsia...”

“The formal study of philosophy and theology (unlike that of history) carries little kudos.”

“The word theological has attracted connotations of remoteness and impracticality, just as doctrinal and dogmatic have come to mean doctrinaire and carelessness of evidence. This suggests not only the anti-metaphysical bent of the culture but also the intellectual weakness of the historically dominant form of Christianity, Anglicanism, which, with some few exceptions, has been feeble in systematic thinking (though strong on historical theology).”

“Academic theology in English universities is on the defensive at the present time.”

“The lack of an adequate institutional base for Catholic theology in England is striking.”

“Among the general population there is an increasing vacuum where historical knowledge of England’s past should be.”

Thursday, 13 May 2010

More on the Supernatural

Having said that I was going to blog about why the controversy over the supernatural was important, I've been a bit indolent about getting down and doing it. It's on its way, I promise, but in the mean time why not take a look at what Fr. Guy Mansini, O.S.B. said about the controversy (pdf file) just a little while ago. This document is apparently the basis for his John-Paul II lecture at the University of Dallas and it appears that it will appear in some form in the Thomist in due course.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

New Teaching Document from E&W Bishops

I haven't seen much around the blogosphere about this new teaching document called Meeting God in Friend and Stranger (pdf file) from the Committee for Relations with Other Religions of the Bishops' Conference.

I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but my wife is going through it at the moment. I haven't seen any steam emerging from her ears yet...

UPDATE: I spoke too soon! The steam starting emerging when she read in Chapter 6 (para 183) that "The catechetical and adult educational structures in our dioceses are well placed to provide the theological and spiritual groundwork for this [i.e. formation in the Church's developed teaching on interreligious dialogue]." Having wandered around the country a while, seeing several dioceses, before settling at the cave this seems a quite astonishing statement.

Monday, 10 May 2010

A Riff on Essences

Every so often, I come across a sentence or a paragraph in a book that absolutely nails something that I have been thinking about in a sort of inchoate way. This is one of those paragraphs. Metaphysically we infer essences from properties; that is, from essential accidents as opposed to inessential accidents. However, when we come across what we think is a property which is in itself explained in some sense by some further feature of the property in question, what are we to make of this “deeper” explanation of the property? Do they provide a better stepping off point for inferring essences?

…there is a difference between what is constitutive of a thing and what constitutes it. Once we have located an object’s genus and specific difference, we have its essence – that which is constitutive of it. If we then find out that the object is constituted by something else, say by fundamental particles, what we discover is not its deeper essence but its material cause. Now the root material cause of all substances is prime matter, but since there is no matter without form, when we discover a thing’s constituents, whether fundamental or not, we discover proximate matter, i.e. its proximate material course, and this comes to us already packaged by form, as it were.

David Oderberg, “Real Essentialism” p 158.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Gregorian Chant in Middlesbrough

It takes a lot to drag me out of the cave these days, but the prospect of a Gregorian chant workshop in Middlesbrough yesterday was too much to resist. I’m now worn out after singing for a good part of the day! We sang mass IX (cum jubilo) with appropriate propers (the very twiddly bits), the litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, O Salutaris Hostia, Tantum Ergo, Regina Caeli, Laudes Divine, various bits and pieces appropriate to the mass and a four part Ave Maria of Victoria (though my copy of the music says “atribuido erroreamente” on it).

Our Director of Music was Eamon Manning, who had apparently come over from Northern Ireland especially for this workshop. If you ever get the chance to have Eamon lead you in a workshop, grab it immediately! He is a superb teacher, one of those rare folk who can lead novices through difficult material in such a way that every minute is enjoyable. Many thanks to Eamon.

Our generous host was Father William Charlton of St Alphonsus's Church, North Ormesby, who celebrated a truly beautiful mass and benediction at the end of the day. I’d like to offer my thanks to Father for his generosity in hosting this workshop. We couldn’t have been too much out of tune, as he suggested that we might like to do this again one day…

Friday, 7 May 2010

Augustine on Time

The philosophy of time has always fascinated me; the sort of fascination that one has with things that have to be thought about - but for which I am glad it is not me that has to do the thinking for a living. Here's one of the greatest of all thinkers ponderning time:

For what is time? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who can even comprehend it in thought or put the answer into words? Yet is it not true that in conversation we refer to nothing more familiarly or knowingly than time? And surely we understand it when we speak of; we understand it also when we hear another speak of it. What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know.

St. Augustine, Confessions, XI, 14.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Sacrosanctum Concilium

My dear wife read the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium all the way through for the first time today. When I came home from work, as I walked into the cave, I was met with:

"Good grief, how did we get from that to where we are today! I cannot believe it! I'm gob-smacked (isn't that the modern parlance?)"

and sundry other choice phrases.

Hee hee; knowledge is power...

My Poor Credit Card!

Dr. Edward Feser has posted the fourth installant of his "Scholastic's Bookshelf". Despite the title of this blog-post, this instalment may help in saving cash as Dr. Feser has very kindly assembled links to on-line versions of the texts he recommends.

(devil sitting on shoulder mode on)

Still, it's soooo nice having the actual book in one's hands, isn't it?

(devil sitting on shoulder mode off)

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Right on!

Hence anyone committed to the necessary existence of numbers, or of other logical or mathematical objects, must countenance the existence of God, moreover the necessary biconditional that God exists if and only if the numbers exist.

David Oderberg, “Real Essentialism” p 130

Monday, 3 May 2010


Every so often St. Thomas says something really simple but beautiful in the middle of some extended philosophical discourse. This is one of the things about him that I like most; he’s not just a dry, dusty academic, he’s filled with the full force of life. Here's an example:

When we speak metaphorically of a meadow as smiling we only mean that it shows at its best when it flowers, just as people show at their best when they smile.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, summa theologiae I.13.6

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Effect of Philosophy upon Theology

As a follow-up to the last post, I thought I'd reproduce the following little observation by Thomas Aquinas about an aspect of the relation between philosophy and theology that I recently stumbled across. (Sorry for the rough translation!)

Similiter etiam expositores sacrae Scripturae in hoc diversificati sunt, secundum quod diversorum philosophorum sectatores fuerunt, a quibus in philosophicis eruditi sunt.

"Similarly indeed, their exposition of sacred scripture has been diverse, according to which philosophical school they have been followers of, from whom they have been educated in philosophy."

Saint Thomas Aquinas, In II Sent. D. 14, q.1, a,2.

Aquinas implies that the content and quality of theology does depend upon the philosophical presuppositions that are brought to bear upon the analysis of the sources of revelation. Therefore, lousy philosophy will lead to lousy theology.

I wonder if anyone can think of any examples? ;-)

Thursday, 29 April 2010

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

This exposition of the relationship between philosophy and theology is taken from one of St. Thomas Aquinas’s lesser-known works, the commentary on Boethius’s De Trinitate (Q.2 a.3). Since I don't know of any better succinct treatment of this matter I thought it would be fun reproducing this in full here.

This translation is taken from this marvellous site, but it’s worth noting that it’s included in Ralph MacInerny’s excellent collection of Selected Writings.

I answer that it must be said that gifts of grace are added to those of nature in such a way that they do not destroy the latter, but rather perfect them; wherefore also the light of faith, which is gratuitously infused into our minds, does not destroy the natural light of cognition, which is in us by nature. For although the natural light of the human mind is insufficient to reveal those truths revealed by faith, yet it is impossible that those things which God has manifested to us by faith should be contrary to those which are evident to us by natural knowledge. In this case one would necessarily be false: and since both kinds of truth are from God, God would be the author of error, a thing which is impossible. Rather, since in imperfect things there is found some imitation of the perfect, though the image is deficient, in those things known by natural reason there are certain similitudes of the truths revealed by faith. Now, as sacred doctrine is founded upon the light of faith, so philosophy depends upon the light of natural reason; wherefore it is impossible that philosophical truths are contrary to those that are of faith; but they are deficient as compared to them. Nevertheless they incorporate some similitudes of those higher truths, and some things that are preparatory for them, just as nature is the preamble to grace.

If, however, anything is found in the teachings of the philosophers contrary to faith, this error does not properly belong to philosophy, but is due to an abuse of philosophy owing to the insufficiency of reason. Therefore also it is possible from the principles of philosophy to refute an error of this kind, either by showing it to be altogether impossible, or not to be necessary. For just as those things which are of faith cannot be demonstratively proved, so certain things contrary to them cannot be demonstratively shown to be false, but they can be shown not to be necessary.

Thus, in sacred doctrine we are able to make a threefold use of philosophy:

  1. First, to demonstrate those truths that are preambles of faith and that have a necessary place in the science of faith. Such are the truths about God that can be proved by natural reason—that God exists, that God is one; such truths about God or about His creatures, subject to philosophical proof, faith presupposes.
  2. Secondly, to give a clearer notion, by certain similitudes, of the truths of faith, as Augustine in his book, De Trinitate, employed any comparisons taken from the teachings of the philosophers to aid understanding of the Trinity.
  3. In the third place, to resist those who speak against the faith, either by showing that their statements are false, or by showing that they are not necessarily true.

Nevertheless, in the use of philosophy in sacred Scripture, there can be a twofold error:

  • In one way, by using doctrines contrary to faith, which are not truths of philosophy, but rather error, or abuse of philosophy, as Origen did.
  • In another way, by using them in such manner as to include under the measure of philosophy truths of faith, as if one should be willing to believe nothing except what could be held by philosophic reasoning; when, on the contrary, philosophy should be subject to the measure of faith, according to the saying of the Apostle (2 Cor. 10:5), “Bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ.”

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

I Love Philosophy, Slight Return

I conclude that although God could not create a grin that never belonged and never will belong to any cat, still, by direct intervention in nature and suspension of its operation, he could deprive the grin of its cat.

David Oderberg, “Real Essentialism” p 156.

Monday, 26 April 2010

I Love Philosophy

A hole in the ground is not a presence but an absence…this does not mean you cannot fall into a hole, or that when you do you are only falling into a logical construction!

David Oderberg, “Real Essentialism” p 105.

Sunday, 25 April 2010


Over on in hoc signo vinces, madame evangelista asks “what you believe hell to be?” I must admit that it’s not something I think about very often and so my answer is probably going to be a little inchoate. But let’s start with Joseph Ratzinger at the start of chapter seven of the second edition of his “Eschatology

No quibbling helps here: the idea of eternal damnation, which had taken ever cleared shape in the Judaism of the century or two before Christ, has a firm place in the teaching of Jesus, as well as in the apostolic writings. Dogma takes its stand on solid ground when it speaks of the existence of Hell and of the eternity of its punishments.

When we look for definitive dogmatic teaching from the magisterium, there is surprisingly little (showing an awareness, perhaps, of the latitude of interpretation possible of the data of revelation). De fide, we know that it is the consequence of unrepented grievous sin; that it involves some form of punishment that lasts for all eternity. From the Athanasian Creed we learn that all those who have done evil will “go into eternal fire” and from Benedict XII (in the dogmatic constitution Benedictus Deus) we learn that the damned will be “tormented by the pains of hell”.

So, whatever it is, it is not pleasant. However, it is important to note that the language used in magisterial teaching using images of torment is rarely defined (in the dogmatic sense). For example, the idea of eternal fire is lifted straight from scripture; but we must be aware that the form that such eternal fire takes has to be metaphysically consistent with the state of existence of the damned in hell. Before the last judgement the occupants of hell are separated souls (i.e. pure forms); after the last judgement they have resurrection bodies (the form of which is itself a matter of much theological speculation). To see some of St. Thomas’s opinions on how this effects what “eternal fire” could be, take a look at what he writes in the summa contra gentiles about “How incorporeal substances may suffer from bodily fire” and at the section from the supplement to the summa theologiae on “The punishment of the damned”.

My own views follow the scholastic analysis that identifies the “pain of loss” (poena damni) and the “pain of sense” (poena sensus), with the first being the primary agony of hell. As the catechism puts it (para 1035) “The chief punishment of hell is the eternal separation from God”. As our supernatural end is the beatific vision of God, the eternal frustration of that end barring our way to actualizing us as we should be, what our hearts long for, is a truly awful prospect. About the poena sensus, I really have very little to say other than it exist and that to downplay it is probably mistaken; but much seems to be speculation to me.

Saturday, 24 April 2010


The sun is shining brightly on the cave this morning, slowly burning away the early mist and dew; there is promise of a glorious day ahead. What better circumstances could one wish for to start a new heresy?

David Oderberg, in chapter 5 of his excellent “Real Essentialism”, considers some of the standard criticisms against the metaphysical definition of human beings as rational animals. (Where “animal” is considered the genus and “rationality” provides the specific difference that defines the species). What then would we make of the discovery of a rational parrot? What would we make of the discovery of rational alien creatures (which Oderberg refers to as “ranimals”)? Would we have to revise our understanding of what it is that makes us human?

After going through the problems associated with what one might consider the obvious solutions, Oderberg arrives at the striking answer that we should consider such ranimals to be human beings. He points out that our initial resistance to such an idea derives from being used to thinking of biological classification in terms of historical evolution. What is really required is to think in metaphysical terms rather than biological terms. I can’t really do justice to his argument here, but thinking about striking up a conversation with a parrot might lead one to consider that what Oderberg argues is quite reasonable. After all, a lengthy conversation with a parrot about whether Wayne Rooney is really going to be fit for the world cup may convince one (Turing test style) that one is addressing a human being (especially if the physical characteristics of said parrot were disguised).

Would such ranimal human beings be subject to the consequences of the fall? Of course, all creation is subject to the fall, but I’m referring here to the consequences associated with man. At its fifth session, the Council of Trent taught that the sin of Adam was transmitted to the whole human race (among whom, presumably, we must now count ranimals). Moreover, the Council taught that this one sin was transmitted by propagation (propagatione, non imitatione transfusam omnibus). How then might we understand the “propagation” of original sin from Adam to non homo sapiens human beings? Perhaps the creation account in Genesis can be taken as ruling out the possibility of ranimals. Likewise, the constant teaching of the church against polygenism makes the idea of a ranimal problematic (see Humani generis, 37)

But are there ways of understanding the deposit of faith that do not do violence to the understanding that the Church has of that deposit, but which allow for and explain the salvation history of ranimals?

(n.b. If this speculation is heretical, the likelihood of it being a new heresy is small; there is nothing new under the sun.)

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Thought for the Day

What right believing Christian can doubt that in the very hour of the sacrifice, at the words of the Priest, the heavens be opened, and the quires of Angels are present in that mystery of Jesus Christ; that high things are accomplished with low, and earthly joined to heavenly, and that one thing is made of visible and invisible.

Pope Gregory the Great, Dialogues, Quoted in David Hiley, “Gregorian Chant”.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

On the Supernatural

So what is the controversy over the supernatural about? Famously, St Paul tells us that “Ever since the creation of the world His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made.” (Rom 1:20). So God is knowable to us and should be known by the light of natural human reason. Indeed, Thomas Aquinas starts his great summa theologiae with such a rational metaphysical demonstration of God’s existence and of His attributes knowable to such natural theology.

So, it is quite uncontroversial to say that humans can infer some notion of the divine from the created world. If we add to that the message of revelation then it is quite clear that, as far as the intellect is concerned, we are aware of our ultimate end in the beatific vision. As all things are ordered towards their end by the very nature of things, we can infer that humans can have a natural desire (of some sort) for the supernatural.

The big question is: what is the nature of this natural desire for the supernatural? What I’ve described so far is often called the elicited natural desire for the supernatural. Our intellects, informed by reason and revelation, become aware of our supernatural end and this intellectual knowledge elicits a natural desire for that end. However, might it be possible that this natural desire for our supernatural end is also innate within us? Is it of our very natures, our essences, to be ordered to the supernatural prior to any knowledge of the supernatural?

The answer to this question has divided theologians for the best part of a millennium. We find illustrious names lined up supporting the notion of an innate natural desire for the supernatural: Duns Scotus; Durandus; Domingo de Soto; Bellarmine; Jansenius; and recently, Henri de Lubac. On the other side, claiming that our natural desire for the supernatural is elicited but not innate is a long list of those who would identify themselves as Thomists such as Banez, Suarez, Vasquez, the Salmanticenses and, in the twentieth century such famous figures as Maritain and Garrigou-Lagrange.

The flash point in the twentieth century was the publication of Henri de Lubac’s “Surnaturel” in which he defended the idea of an innate natural desire for the supernatural. What made the debate so acrimonious was (among other things!) that de Lubac claimed that the Thomist tradition itself had misunderstood St. Thomas and that the latter had taught that the desire was innate. Consequently, the Thomist tradition stood accused of dividing the natural and the supernatural orders in a completely artificial way. This did not go down well (and still doesn’t).

Why should this seemingly arcane question be so important? Why should the relationship between the natural and the supernatural orders matter so much? That it was so considered is witnessed by the teaching of the encyclical Humani generis of Pius XII. In it, the pope warned those “others [who] destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order, since God, they say, cannot create intellectual beings without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision”. Was “modernism” coming back to life after all the efforts of previous popes? We’ll discuss this in the next exciting episode of “surnaturel”!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Some decisions just take time

Having mentioned the de auxiliis controversy in connection with the controversy over the supernatural, I was reminded about what eventually happened. From the Catholic Encyclopedia

Clement VIII died 5 March, 1605, and after the brief reign of Leo IX, Paul V ascended the papal throne. In his presence seventeen debates took place. The Dominicans were represented by Diego Alvarez and Tomçs de Lemos; the Jesuits by Gregoria de Valencia, Pedro de Arrubal, Fernando de Bastida and Juan de Salas. Finally, after twenty years of discussion public and private, and eighty-five conferences in the presence of the popes, the question was not solved but an end was put to the disputes. The pope's decree communicated (5 September, 1607) to both Dominicans and Jesuits, allowed each party to defend its own doctrine, enjoined each from censoring or condemning the opposite opinion, and commanded them to await, as loyal sons of the Church, the final decision of the Apostolic See. That decision, however, has not been reached, and both orders, consequently, maintain their respective theories, just as any other theological opinion is held.

The decision was reserved to the Apostolic See (to the offices of the Holy Inquisition, I believe), a decision which we still await. I have this picture in my mind of generations of monsignori slaving away in the deepest basement office of the CDF, charged with producing failed draft after failed draft of a dogmatic solution to the controversy. As each monsignor comes to the end of his life a bright new assignee to the Vatican is introduced into the office with a cheery “here’s your next assignment; you might be here for a while…”

Beats me why the Molinist position wasn’t condemned, but there you go…

Monday, 19 April 2010

For all those having a mental block today...

Sharply intelligent people who grasp a principle can immediately grasp its implications, whereas people who are less bright have to have each conclusion explained to them.

St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I.12.8

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The Natural Desire to See God

A little while ago, I mentioned a couple of books that I had spotted concerned with the twentieth century controversy over Henri de Lubac’s thesis on the supernatural.

I couldn’t resist, and these books have now arrived from over the seas (unfortunately, Sapientia Press doesn’t appear to have a UK distributor, so they have to be ordered from the US). I have already thrown myself straight into the first one as it looks utterly fascinating.

Lawrence Feingold, "Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters" 2nd Edition. Sapientia Press.

The first edition of this book is already famous for the controversy that it has reignited. For example, John Millbank described it as “arch-reactionary” in his interesting, but sadly shallow, “The Suspended Middle

I don’t pretend to be qualified to offer an adequate review of this book, but I thought I might offer a few reflections on some of the themes it discusses as I come across them. Like the controversy de auxiliis of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the controversy over the supernatural is bound to run and run! I’ll start in the next post with a general introduction to what the controversy is about.