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? ;-)