Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Aquinas: We Can't Know Perfectly Even the Nature of a Single Fly (and Related Texts)


St. Thomas famously says that we cannot naturally know what God is directly as He is in Himself, but only what He is not, and only through His effects, etc.  This is a commonplace in discussions among Thomists.

Interestingly, he also speaks of our significant limitations in our ability to know the essences of created things.  We don't really know what the essential principles, substantial forms, specific differences (differentiae), or even the true nature of the properties of ordinary sensible things are.  We remedy this ignorance by citing accidental properties.  That is why we speak of the difference between humans and other animals as being one between 'quadrupeds' and 'bipeds', which are quite accidental features of being a human or an animal.  St. Thomas goes so far as to say that we cannot perfectly know the essence of a single fly (!)   

For your convenience and future reference, here are the texts in question.  (The 'not-a-single-fly' text is at the end.)  If you know of a text that is missing from the list, please comment below.

This group of texts should represent a generously dosed "humility pill" for us philosophers.

From St. Thomas' De ente et essentia, Ch. 5:
Et quia in istis substantiis quiditas non est idem quod esse, ideo sunt ordinabiles in praedicamento, et propter hoc invenitur in eis genus et species et differentia, quamvis earum differentiae propriae nobis occultae sint. In rebus enim sensibilibus etiam ipsae differentiae essentiales ignotae sunt, unde significantur per differentias accidentales, quae ex essentialibus oriuntur, sicut causa significatur per suum effectum, sicut bipes ponitur differentia hominis. Accidentia autem propria substantiarum immaterialium nobis ignota sunt; unde differentiae earum nec per se nec per accidentales differentias a nobis significari possunt.94. And because quiddity in these substances is not the same as existence, they are orderable within a predicament. And this is why they have a genus, a species, and a difference, although their proper differences are hidden from us. For even in the case of sensible things, the essential differences themselves are not known; whence they are signified through accidental differences which rise out of the essential ones, as a cause is signified through its effect; this is what is done when biped, for example, is given as the difference of man. But the proper accidents of immaterial substances are unknown to us; whence their differences cannot be signified by us either through themselves or through accidental differences.

From St. Thomas' Quaestiones disputatae de veritate, q. 4, a. 1, ad 8 ("Can there be a word, properly speaking, in God?"): 
Ad octavum dicendum, quod nomen dicitur ab aliquo imponi dupliciter: aut ex parte imponentis nomen, aut ex parte rei cui imponitur. Ex parte autem rei nomen dicitur ab illo imponi per quod completur ratio rei quam nomen significat; et hoc est differentia specifica illius rei. Et hoc est quod principaliter significatur per nomen. Sed quia differentiae essentiales sunt nobis ignotae, quandoque utimur accidentibus vel effectibus loco earum, ut VIII Metaph. dicitur; et secundum hoc nominamus rem; et sic illud quod loco differentiae essentialis sumitur, est a quo imponitur nomen ex parte imponentis, sicut lapis imponitur ab effectu, qui est laedere pedem. Et hoc non oportet esse principaliter significatum per nomen, sed illud loco cuius hoc ponitur. Similiter dico, quod nomen verbi imponitur a verberatione vel a boatu ex parte imponentis, non ex parte rei.8. A name is derived from two sources: from the one who uses the word or from the thing to which it has been applied. A word is said to be derived from a thing in so far as it signifies that by which the notion of the thing is completed, that is, the thing’s specific difference; and this is what a word principally signifies. But, since we do not know essential differences, sometimes, as is said in the Metaphysics, we use accidents or effects in their place, and name a thing accordingly. Hence, in so far as something other than the essential difference of a thing is used as the source of a word, the word is said to be derived from the one who uses it. An example of this is the word lapis (stone) which is derived from its effect, laedere pedem (to bruise the foot). Now, this effect should not be taken as that which the word principally signifies, but merely as that which takes the place of what is signified. Similarly, verbum (word) is derived from verberatio (a disturbing) or from boatus (shout) because of those who use it—not because of the thing it signifies.

From St. Thomas' Quaestiones disputatae de veritate, q. 10, a. 1, ad 6 ("Is the mind... the essence of the soul or one of its powers?"): 
Ad sextum dicendum, quod secundum philosophum in VIII Metaph., quia substantiales rerum differentiae sunt nobis ignotae, loco earum interdum definientes accidentalibus utuntur, secundum quod ipsa accidentia designant vel notificant essentiam, ut proprii effectus notificant causam: unde sensibile, secundum quod est differentia constitutiva animalis, non sumitur a sensu prout nominat potentiam, sed prout nominat ipsam animae essentiam, a qua talis potentia fluit. Et similiter est de rationali, vel de eo quod est habens mentem.6. Since, according to the Philosopher, we do not know the substantial differences of things, those who make definitions sometimes use accidental differences because they indicate or afford knowledge of the essence as the proper effects afford knowledge of a cause. Therefore, when sensible is given as the constitutive difference of animal, it is not derived from the sense power, but the essence of the soul from which that power comes. The same is true of rational, or of that which has mind.

From St. Thomas' Commentary on Aristotle's De anima, Book 1, Lect. 1, no. 15:
Consequenter etiam cum dicit videtur autem ponit difficultates, quae emergunt quantum ad illa quae sunt in adiutorium definitionis animae. Quia in definitione oportet non solum cognoscere principia essentialia, sed etiam accidentalia. Si enim recte definirentur et possent cognosci principia essentialia, definitio non indigeret accidentibus. Sed quia principia essentialia rerum sunt nobis ignota, ideo oportet quod utamur differentiis accidentalibus in designatione essentialium: bipes enim non est essentiale, sed ponitur in designatione essentialis. Et per eas, scilicet per differentias accidentales, devenimus in cognitionem essentialium. Et ideo difficile est, quia oportet nos prius cognoscere quod quid est animae, ad cognoscendum facilius accidentia animae: sicut in mathematicis valde utile est praeaccipere quodquid erat esse recti et curvi et plani ad cognoscendum quod rectis trianguli anguli sint aequales. E converso etiam accidentia, si praeaccipiantur, multum conferunt ad cognoscendum quod quid erat esse, ut dictum est. Si quis ergo assignet definitionem, per quam non deveniatur in cognitionem accidentium rei definitae, illa definitio non est realis, sed remota et dialectica. Sed illa definitio per quam devenitur in cognitionem accidentium, est realis, et ex propriis, et essentialibus rei.15. Next, at ‘Now it seems’, he states the difficulties that arise with regard to those accidental qualities which contribute to a definition of the soul. These are relevant here because a definition ought to reveal a thing’s accidental qualities, as well as its essential principles. If indeed the latter could be known and correctly defined there would be no need, to define the former; but since the essential principles of things are hidden from us we are compelled to make use of accidental differences as indications of what is essential. Thus to be two-footed is not of the essence of anything, yet it helps to indicate an essence. By such accidental differences we are led towards knowledge of the essential ones. It would indeed be easier to grasp even What is accidental to the soul if we could only first understand its essence, just, as in mathematics, it is a great help towards understanding that the angles of a triangle are equal to (two) right angles to know first what is meant by straight, curved and plane. Hence the difficulty of our present position. On the other hand a prior examination of the accidental factors is a considerable help towards knowing the essence, as has been said. if, therefore, one were to propose a definition from which no knowledge of the accidental attributes of the defined thing could be derived, such a definition would not be real, but abstract and hypothetical. But one from which a knowledge of the accidents flows is a real definition, based on what is proper and essential to the thing.

From St. Thomas' Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, Book 7, Lect. 12, no. 1552:
Et ideo, quia habenti pedes accidit habere alas, non est dicendum, dividendo differentiam, quod habentis pedes aliud est alatum, aliud non alatum, si homo bene velit dicere divisionem differentiarum. Sed tamen quandoque aliquis dividens differentias facit hoc ut scilicet dividat per ea quae sunt secundum accidens, propter hoc quod non potest invenire proprias et per se differentias. Aliquando enim necessitas cogit, ut utamur, loco per se differentiarum, differentiis per accidens, inquantum sunt signa quaedam differentiarum essentialium nobis ignotarum.1552. Therefore, since it is accidental to a thing having feet to have wings, it must not be said, in dividing the difference, that among those things which have feet, one kind is winged and another wingless, if a man wants to express correctly the division of the differences. Yet when someone in dividing differences “does this,” in such a way that he divides it by means of those attributes which are accidental, this is why he cannot find proper and essential differences. For sometimes necessity compels us to use accidental differences in place of essential differences inasmuch as accidental differences are the signs of certain essential differences unknown to us.

From St. Thomas' Quaestiones disputatae de spiritualibus creaturis, a. 11 ad 3 ("Are the powers of the soul the same as the essence of the soul"):
Ad tertium dicendum quod formae substantiales per seipsas sunt ignotae; sed innotescunt nobis per accidentia propria. Frequenter enim differentiae substantiales ab accidentibus sumuntur, loco formarum substantialium, quae per huiusmodi accidentia innotescunt; sicut bipes et gressibile et huiusmodi; et sic etiam sensibile et rationale ponuntur differentiae substantiales. Vel potest dici, quod sensibile et rationale, prout sunt differentiae, non sumuntur a ratione et a sensu secundum quod nominant potentias, sed ab anima rationali, et ab anima sensitiva.As to the third, it must be said that because substantial forms in themselves are unknown but become known to us by their proper accidents, substantial differences are frequently taken from accidents instead of from the substantial forms which become known through such accidents; as, for example, "biped" and "able to walk" and the like; and so also "sensible" and "rational" are put down as substantial differences. Or it may be said that "sensible" and "rational", insofar as they are differences, are not derived from reason and sense according as these are names of powers, but from the rational soul and from the sentient soul.

From St. Thomas' Summa contra gentiles, Book 1, ch. 3 ("On the way in which divine truth is to be made known"):
Adhuc idem manifeste apparet ex defectu quem in rebus cognoscendis quotidie experimur. Rerum enim sensibilium plurimas proprietates ignoramus, earumque proprietatum quas sensu apprehendimus rationes perfecte in pluribus invenire non possumus. Multo igitur amplius illius excellentissimae substantiae omnia intelligibilia humana ratio investigare non sufficit.[5] The same thing, moreover, appears quite clearly from the defect that we experience every day in our knowledge of things. We do not know a great many of the properties of sensible things, and in most cases we are not able to discover fully the natures of those properties that we apprehend by the sense. Much more is it the case, therefore, that the human reason is not equal to the task of investigating all the intelligible characteristics of that most excellent substance.

From St. Thomas' Exposition on the Apostle's Creed, prologue:

Sed dicit aliquis: stultum est credere quod non videtur, nec sunt credenda quae non videntur. Respondeo. Dicendum, quod hoc dubium primo tollit imperfectio intellectus nostri: nam si homo posset perfecte per se cognoscere omnia visibilia et invisibilia, stultum esset credere quae non videmus; sed cognitio nostra est adeo debilis quod nullus philosophus potuit unquam perfecte investigare naturam unius muscae: unde legitur, quod unus philosophus fuit triginta annis in solitudine, ut cognosceret naturam apis. Si ergo intellectus noster est ita debilis, nonne stultum est nolle credere de Deo, nisi illa tantum quae homo potest cognoscere per se? Et ideo contra hoc dicitur Iob XXXVI, 26: ecce Deus magnus, vincens scientiam nostram. Secundo potest responderi, quia dato quod aliquis magister aliquid diceret in sua scientia, et aliquis rusticus diceret non esse sicut magister doceret, eo quod ipse non intelligeret, multum reputaretur stultus ille rusticus. Constat autem quod intellectus Angeli excedit magis intellectum optimi philosophi, quam intellectus optimi philosophi intellectum rustici. Et ideo stultus est philosophus si nolit credere ea quae Angeli dicunt; et multo magis si nolit credere ea quae Deus dicit. Et contra hoc dicitur Eccli. III, 25: plurima supra sensum hominum ostensa sunt tibi.“The Evidence of Things that Appear Not.”—But someone will say that it is foolish to believe what is not seen, and that one should not believe in things that he cannot see. I answer by saying that the imperfect nature of our intellect takes away the basis of this difficulty. For if man of himself could in a perfect manner know all things visible and invisible, it would indeed be foolish to believe what he does not see. But our manner of knowing is so weak that no philosopher could perfectly investigate the nature of even one little fly. We even read that a certain philosopher spent thirty years in solitude in order to know the nature of the bee. If, therefore, our intellect is so weak, it is foolish to be willing to believe concerning God only that which man can know by himself alone. And against this is the word of Job: “Behold, God is great, exceeding our knowledge” [Job 36:26]. One can also answer this question by supposing that a certain master had said something concerning his own special branch of knowledge, and some uneducated person would contradict him for no other reason than that he could not understand what the master said! Such a person would be considered very foolish. So, the intellect of the Angels as greatly exceeds the intellect of the greatest philosopher as much as that of the greatest philosopher exceeds the intellect of the uneducated man. Therefore, the philosopher is foolish if he refuses to believe what an Angel says, and far greater fool to refuse to believe what God says. Against such are these words: “For many things are shown to you above the understanding of men” [Sir 3:25].

Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017 Sacred Liturgy Conference


New video ad for the 2017 Sacred Liturgy Conference
Medford, Oregon (July 12-15):

Join me, along with Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Sample, Bishop Vasa, Fr. Saguto, FSSP and other presenters for a three-day immersion in the Church’s sacred liturgy and its living musical heritage, hosted by Sacred Heart Church in Medford, Oregon. The theme of the 5th annual conference is “The Voice of the Bridegroom,” and will focus on sacred liturgy, Church history, and the role of Gregorian chant. Cardinal Burke will give a lecture and celebrate a Solemn Pontifical High Mass assisted by priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter.

Keynote presentations:

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke (Rome)
Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta 
 - "Liturgical Law and the Mission of the Church."

Archbishop Alexander Sample (Portland) 
 - "The Prayers of the Fathers: Exploring Summorum Pontificum."

Bishop Robert Vasa (San Francisco)
 - "The Heart of the Liturgy: Essential Dogma and Belief."

Fr. Gerard Saguto, FSSP (Elmhurst, PA)
North American District Superior of FSSP 
 - "The Offertory: Prelude to Sacrifice."

I will also be giving two presentations: "St. Thomas and Divine Liturgy" and "Natural Law and Worship," and will lead one of the chant workshops, "Chanting the Ordinary."

Please share the video above, visit the website, view the schedule. You might want to registersoon, since already more than one hundred people have registered.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Quaeritur: What is the Importance of Hypothetical Christological Questions?


Quaeritur: I'm reading the first few questions of the IIIa Pars, and it seems many of these questions are on hypothetical scenarios having to do with whether God could have assumed human nature in this or that way, other than the way it actually happened. 

For example: in IIIa, q. 1, q. 3, he asks whether God could have become man had Adam not sinned; in aa. 5 and 6 he asks whether it would have been better for Him to become Incarnate at the beginning or at the end of the world.  And then in q. 3 he asks more hypothetical questions, such as whether a different Divine Person, or multiple Divine Persons could have assumed human nature; and whether the Word could have assumed many individual human natures.  Also in q. 4 he asks whether the Word could assume a different nature besides human nature, whether he could have assumed a human person, or a man, or an abstract human nature, or all individual human natures, or a different human nature not related to Adam.  

It seems that many of these questions ask the basic idea of whether God can perform this or that, which in light of the attribute of omnipotence, the majority of the time, the answer is "yes" to anything that God desires.  There are only a few times when the answer is negative, and it seems these limited cases boil down to the whole question of: "Can God build a rock that is too heavy for Him to lift?"

So given that the answer is nearly always affirmative--unless it involves contradiction that is--it almost seems like these questions are a bit repetitive.  They are highly speculative and maybe not so important... or dare I say, “useless,” a waste of time?

Alas, my modern sensibilities are not yet perfectly attuned to St. Thomas’ wisdom, despite decades of study, and I cannot quite see the point of going into so much detail about what God could have done but didn't.  

Why is St. Thomas so eager in this futile search, concerning which nothing for certain can ever be known, other than that God could have done anything He wanted except contradictions?  What are your thoughts?    

Respondeo: Excellent question, and thank you for your honesty.  I agree that sometimes it is not evident why St. Thomas considers it important to consider a given question, especially when it involves a hypothetical, counterfactual scenario such as whether God could have become incarnate otherwise than the way He actually did.

But I'd be more careful with questions regarding Divine Omnipotence.  I don't think questions about whether God can do x or y are so easily answered in the affirmative simply because of God's omnipotence. As you point out, there are meaningful questions about God's power which in fact have negative answers; but they do not always boil down to trivial contradictions. 

Questions about whether God can or cannot do x or y ultimately do boil down to whether x or y involve a contradiction in themselves, a mutual "repugnance" of terms; but that repugnance of terms is not always self-evident, and often we can learn a lot about the terms themselves that involve a contradiction. The "rock that God made too heavy for Him to lift" is surely an example of something that involves a contradiction in itself.  It is also a somewhat silly and trivial example at that.  But there are more serious, meaningful, and educational examples of things that God in His divine omnipotence cannot do, because they involve a contradiction in terms, such as the following: God having potency, being affected by a creature (undergoing passion), God learning, changing His Mind, ceasing to be God, ceasing to be omnipotent or generally losing any of His attributes, lying or sinning in general, creating a creature that can create, etc.

Thus, the answer to questions regarding whether a Divine Person can assume this or that nature, many natures, two Persons in the same nature, etc., do not automatically default to affirmative answers because of God's omnipotence.  In fact, if these hypothetical acts of Divine Persons assuming other natures somehow affected the Divine Nature itself, changing it in any way, they would be impossible for God to do.  St. Thomas has to show first that these acts do not affect the Divine Nature before he can conclude that they would be possible for God to do them.  Conversely, if the question were whether the Divine Nature itself could become human, thereby ceasing to be divine (or eternal, or simple, or immutable, etc.), the answer would have to be: "No." Clearly, then, not every question about God's power---even outside of the heavy rock example---is simply to be answered in the affirmative owing to Divine Omnipotence.

And obviously St. Thomas himself didn’t think these hypothetical questions were useless, given that the Summa was written precisely in order to remedy a pedagogical problem in his time, the growing number of theological works written for beginners which engaged in a “multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments.” He tells us in the prologue to the work, that: 

“We have considered that students in this doctrine have not seldom been hampered by what they have found written by other authors, partly on account of the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments.... Endeavouring to avoid these and other like faults, we shall try, by God's help, to set forth whatever is included in this sacred doctrine as briefly and clearly as the matter itself may allow.” 
St. Thomas has parsimony and economy of questions in mind when he writes the Summa. He must, therefore, think that these hypothetical questions regarding what God could have assumed, or how God could have become man, must be significant for our understanding of Christ.

So as faithful students of St. Thomas, we must refuse to fall into the temptation of thinking of these questions as though they were mere useless speculations, as though St. Thomas were engaging in mere theorizing-for-the-sake-of-theorizing. 

In fact, given our 'modern sensibilities, as you say, it shouldn’t surprise us that he does this, especially if we reflect on our own modern modes of thought.  Especially in analytical philosophy and in ethics within the Anglo-American tradition we do much of the same types of thought experiments, such as our ‘black boxes’, our ‘Chinese rooms’, our ‘Schrödringer’s cats’, our ‘trolley problems’, our ‘veils of ignorance’ and our ‘lifeboat ethics’. These thought experiments posit scenarios which are abstract, overly simplistic, unrealistic, and even impossible, and yet we use them as illustrations that help us answer important questions. They filter out the irrelevant details of a question, and isolate what is at stake in the problem; they enable us to encounter the limits of what can and cannot happen in reality, but without the distraction of other confusing elements that reality usually comes with. 

In the same way, St. Thomas is here illustrating for us through his own ‘thought experiments’, as it were, the true meaning of the Incarnation: by showing us what can and cannot happen, we are gradually being led by this wise Doctor to understand more precisely what a Divine Person is, what an assumed nature is, what the term of the assumption is, the infinite extent of the divine power as it is exercised in the Incarnation, the limits of creatures’ passive potency, the purpose of the Incarnation, and of course the limits of our language.

Sacred Liturgy Conference in Medford, Oregon with Card. Burke (July 12-15, 2017)


Join me, along with Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Sample, Bishop Vasa, Fr. Saguto, FSSP and other presenters for a three-day immersion in the Church’s sacred liturgy and its living musical heritage, hosted by Sacred Heart Church in Medford, Oregon. The theme of the 5th annual conference is “The Voice of the Bridegroom,” and will focus on sacred liturgy, Church history, and the role of Gregorian chant. Cardinal Burke will give a lecture and celebrate a Solemn Pontifical High Mass assisted by priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter.

Keynote presentations:

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke (Rome)
Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta 
 - "Liturgical Law and the Mission of the Church."

Archbishop Alexander Sample (Portland) 
 - "The Prayers of the Fathers: Exploring Summorum Pontificum."

Bishop Robert Vasa (San Francisco)
 - "The Heart of the Liturgy: Essential Dogma and Belief."

Fr. Gerard Saguto, FSSP (Elmhurst, PA)
North American District Superior of FSSP 
 - "The Offertory: Prelude to Sacrifice."

I will also be giving two presentations: "St. Thomas and Divine Liturgy" and "Natural Law and Worship," and will lead one of the chant workshops, "Chanting the Ordinary."

Please share the attached poster, visit the website, view the schedule. You might want to register soon, since already more than one hundred people have registered.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Research Starting Points (External Links)


After years of absence, our "Link Library" is back! When Blogger switched to the "new" Blogger years back, our massive link library, which we had on our sidebar, got seriously distorted. Moreover, the sheer number of individual links made it impractical for us to keep them updated, and so a good percentage of them ended up being dead links. Ultimately, we decided it was better to take the whole thing down. 

In the years since, we have received emails from readers who said that they missed the link library because they used it as a starting point for their own research.  Our goal is for Ite ad Thomam to become a regular hub for traditional Catholic researchers.  We are honored that you would use our site as a starting point for your own research, and we would like again to live up to that expectation.  

So we decided to put our Link Library back up, both on the sidebar and as a stand-alone page (see tabs above); it is in a significantly reduced, and therefore more manageable, form, and has new formatting (updated html code).   We will be working on it on an on-going basis, but we're glad to have at least the most basic part of it back.  Eventually we will add a section on valuable pdfs that are available across the internet.

Please feel free to email us links to include.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Quaeritur: On the Eternal Destiny of Aborted Babies


Quaeritur: I have entered into a (friendly) debate on abortion and someone asked me what the Catholic Church teaches about the eternal destiny of the souls of aborted babies. I'm a recent convert, so I wanted some help before I reply. Grazie!

Respondeo:  Most Catholics today sadly just canonize the souls of aborted babies, assuming that since they never sinned, they automatically go to Heaven. But they either forget original sin and the necessity of Baptism, or gloss over these problems by citing God's mercy as the demonstrative proof that they are in fact in Heaven, regardless of what God may have revealed on the matter. But in fact, there is a sharp discrepancy between these new theological tendencies (promoted by the nouvelle theologie) and what the sources of Revelation have to say on the matter. 

The sources of Revelation all point to the concept of the 'Limbo of Children' (limbus puerorum)---to be distinguished from the 'Limbo of the Fathers' (limbus patrum), which is where Christ descended after his death. Limbo itself is not a dogma (i.e., not de fide, but only sententia certa or even a doctrina catholica); but it it is derived from other revealed doctrines that are de fide definita, such as the impossibility of salvation for those who die in original sin. 

First of all, it is a defined dogma that souls of those who die in the state of original sin but without having committed actual sins (this includes generally those who die without Baptism and before the age of reason) cannot enter Heaven. However, they do not suffer the bodily pains of hell either. 

Pope Gregory X, in the 2nd Council of Lyons, declared: 

“Now, the souls of those who depart in mortal sin, or only with original sin, immediately descend into hell, but to be punished differently” (Denzinger 464 [858]). 

This doctrine was infallibly defined and ratified by Eugenius IV, in the Concil of Florence (cf. Denzinger 693 [1306].)  This dogma, that souls with original sin only are punished differently from those which die in mortal sin, is the basis for the constant teaching of the theologians on Limbo. You can read a pretty thorough theological defense of Limbo that cites the authority of the theological sources, including the Magisterium and the consensus of approved theologians throughout the centuries, here.

Now, this is not to say that Limbo is a third eternal destiny, in addition to Heaven and Hell, as is often erroneously supposed. This hypothesis, that Limbo is a distinct state besides Heaven and Hell, was actually condemned: at the end of time, only two states will remain: Heaven and Hell. (Oddly, I've heard and read fallacious arguments that try to refute the existence of Limbo by citing the condemnation, thinking that what is condemned is Limbo itself. But in reality what is condemned is the claim that Limbo is a third state distinct from Heaven and Hell; see Pius VI, Auctorem Fidei; Denzinger 1526 [2626].). No, Limbo is in fact part of Hell. It involves the eternal loss of the Beatific Vision, which is the essence of Hell, even if it does not involve the horrible physical sufferings that we usually associate with Hell and which are only an accidental aspect of the latter.

St Thomas Aquinas specifically distinguishes in hell the punishment or 'pain' of sense (poena sensus) from the punishment of separation or loss (poena damni), which is not really 'pain' at all: souls with actual mortal sins suffer both, but souls with original sin only, are only subject to the latter: they do not see God face-to-face, but they do enjoy a natural sort of happiness where their natural powers (intellect, will, etc.) and body are fulfilled to their natural capacities. And this is known to the faithful by the term 'Limbo' (from the Latin, limbus, border), and was popularized in Catholic imagination by Dante, who wonderfully describes Limbo as the 'first circle' of hell.  (See Summa theologiae Ia-IIae, q. 87, a. 4; IIIae Supp., q. 97, a. 5.)

That's the traditional teaching, but as you can see, it is considered to be a bit harsh for modern sensitivities and so there has been a push within contemporary theology, especially within the nouvelle theologie to replace it with a more 'merciful' view (sound familiar?). Some contemporary theologians theorize that just as there can be a 'baptism of desire' on the part of adult catechumens who die without Baptism, and we thus hope for their salvation, so there could be a sort of 'vicarious' baptism of desire for those babies who die without Baptism but whom the Church desires to baptize. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is steeped in the nouvelle theologie, somewhat dodges the issue (and fails to teach the traditional doctrine of Limbo) in paragraph 1261. In the immediately preceding paragraphs it is noticeably 'soft' on the necessity of Baptism for salvation (as compared to the Catechisms, encyclicals, doctors, theologians, etc. of the previous millenia). And in this context it goes on to state that the Church entrusts the souls of those who die in original sin only to the mercy of God:

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them" (Mk 10 14; cf. 1 Tim 2:4), allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.
These hypotheses are problematic. At heart they seem motivated by a characteristically modern (and partly erroneous) idea of divine justice and of the gratuitousness of salvation; and in the case of some theologians, even perhaps an implicit denial of the reality of original sin. Modern minds find it inconceivable that God would deprive an 'innocent' baby of Heaven. After all--they claim--these babies have done nothing wrong, so why would God deprive them of what they were made for? Wouldn't it be unfair for God to damn them in Hell? 

But, you see, lurking behind the scenes here are two very erroneous assumptions: (a) original sin doesn't really take away these souls' innocence; and (b) God owes it to them to save them, because presumably salvation is what a soul deserves by nature, by default, so long as it does not lose this right by sinning. But of course, these presuppositions are false and heretical. (Most theologians would not dare to state them explicitly; but naïvely the general population does buy into them.) Despite our sensibilities to the contrary, Catholic dogma tells us that these souls are not innocent, but bear the stain of sin and are thus unworthy of the glory of Heaven. Morevoer, God does not owe Heaven to anyone anyway; salvation is a free gift and no one really deserves it (or merit it de condigno). And, what's more, rather than there being some sort of 'unfairness' by assigning to them this eternal lot, God is in fact being merciful towards these souls. God is not punishing them for something they didn't do, but is mercifully granting them an eternal and superabundant natural happiness that they do not deserve. Divine justice, original sin, the gratuity of salvation: we may not like these doctrines, but it's what God revealed. If we really believed in them, we would not find shocking the doctrine of limbo that is widely taught to us by the Catholic tradition throughout the ages, and we wouldn't need to replace it with some vain 'hope' devised to fit our un-Catholic sensibilities.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Quaeritur: What is the Status of a Catholic Who Dissents from the Magisterium?


Quaeritur: I was having an online discussion and we all agreed with the statement that "a Catholic cannot dissent from the traditional teaching of the Church's Magisterium."  But I had further questions about that statement.  Would you say that the word 'cannot' in the statement is to be taken in the strong, descriptive sense of "isn't able to", or merely in the prescriptive sense of "shouldn't"? In other words, is it the case that it is impossible for a Catholic to have a belief that is contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium, or merely that a Catholic shouldn't have beliefs contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium? If someone holds a belief that is contrary to the Deposit of Faith or the teaching of the Magisterium, does it render that person no longer Catholic, or just a bad (disobedient) Catholic?

Respondeo: It depends on the level of the Magisterial teaching in question. Some teachings have been defined dogmatically, for example, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the virginity of Mary, and many, many others; such that believing in these teachings is part of the definition of what it means to be Catholic. And if someone obstinately denies even the least of these, then they no longer meet the requirements for the definition of what it means to be Catholic. There is no such thing as a Catholic who denies the divinity of Christ---or for that matter a Catholic who denies that the sacramental accidents of the Eucharist continue to exist without a subject in which to inhere. This includes moral teachings that form part of the Deposit of Faith but are nonetheless commonly rejected by many so-called 'Catholics' today: the indissolubility of marriage, the immorality of sodomy, contraception, abortion, etc.  If you reject any of these dogmatically defined teachings, then you're not Catholic. It doesn't matter if you are baptized, a priest, or a bishop.  I admit the issue has its complexities: there are important nuances such as whether the denial is obstinate, and in the case of the pope there are further complications.  But the basic principle is that part of the definition of being 'Catholic' is accepting defined Catholic teaching.

So there are people who dissent from defined Church teaching but nonetheless think of themselves as ‘Catholics’ simply because they were baptized, or because they have been raised in the Catholic Church, or because they hold some position in the hierarchy. But in reality these people are not Catholic, because none of those criteria are sufficient conditions for being Catholic.  In order to be really Catholic one must also believe in the Catholic faith and preserve it whole and entire.  This is required by the Church's mark of unity: the Church is 'one' in doctrine, worship, and government.  If someone separates himself from the Church's unity of doctrine, worship, and government, then he no longer is in the Church.

On the other hand, if someone denies a teaching that is not dogmatically defined, or especially one that is not directly part of the Deposit of Faith, but is simply a theological conclusion or common teaching of the ordinary Magisterium, then this would be different. You wouldn't cease being Catholic by denying it.  

I'm speaking, for example, of the case of a Catholic who for some reason would deny that Our Lady is the Mediatrix of all Graces---a doctrine that hasn't yet been defined. The same is true of teachings that are logically or theologically derived from defined dogma, but which are themselves not defined. These are known as theological conclusions, and theologically are considered distinct from the dogmas from which they are derived.  For example, the Christological perichoresis (the close union between Christ's two natures) is a theological conclusion that is derived from the dogma the Hypostatic Union (the union of each of His two Natures to the Person of the Word).  The latter is a defined dogma, but the former is not.  Regardless of concrete examples, I'm speaking theologically of the lower notae theologicae, i.e., of statements that are not yet de fide, but are rather at the level of sententiae proximae fideisententiae certae, etc.1 

In any case, it is not permissible to deny these: such a denial is an act of disobedience towards the ordinary Magisterium, and thus a sin.  But you are not excommunicated, nor cease to belong to the Church for doing so. If you deny them, you may be a bad Catholic, but you're still Catholic.... until the Church elevates them to a dogmatic level, that is.

So we must be careful not simply to hand out excommunications to people who deny this or that teaching, especially if we do not know exactly what the nota theologica of that teaching is. Many doctrines of the Magisterium that we hold dear have not been defined; they are true and certain, but for one reason or another the Church has not exercised its charism of infallibility in teaching them. So just calling everybody who denies any teaching a heretic is a dangerous tactic.  There are many levels of theological censure (censurae theologicae), only the first one of which is 'heresy'; other theological censures include: error in fide, sententia haeresi proxima, haeresim sapiens, sententia temeraria, error theologicus, etc.  And we must be very savvy about these and sufficiently nuanced when assessing theological errors.  This is especially the case when assessinng the claims of the practitioners of the Nouvelle Theologie (from De Lubac, Von Balthasar, Rahner, etc. to Popes John Paul II, Benedict, etc.), who were thoroughly trained in the traditional theology that preceded them and are therefore usually very careful not to fall into 'heresy', strictly speaking, when proposing a novel theological idea.  Otherwise, if every theological error were a heresy, sedevacantism would be inescapable, and in fact few hierarchs in the world would be Catholic. But fundamental theology is much more complex than that.

(1) Cf. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (St. Louis: Herder, 1955), pp. 9, 161, 212, 453.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Quaeritur: Do Angels Undergo Motion?


Quaeritur: If by motion we understand the passing from potency to act, what does the motion of the angels consist in?  It is probably not locomotion, which is circumscribed within space.  I know that in angels there is a distinction between potency and act (because otherwise they would be Pure Act, that is, God, or pure potency, prime matter, which is an ens rationis, if I’m not mistaken).  But what would the actualization of their potencies consist in?  Can an angel learn?  On the other hand, with respect to local motion, as far as I understand there seem to be testimonies in Scripture and in the writings of the saints where angels seem to be have a certain trajectory in space when they interact with corporeal beings.  How is this possible?

Respondeo: First of all, as you say, in angels there is in fact a composition of potency and act.  They are not pure act, as is God, or pure potency, as is prime matter (see St. Thomas, De ente et essentia, Ch. 4).  A separate issue is whether they can move from potency to act.

Further, motion can occur per se within three genera or categories: quality, quantity, and place.  Properly speaking, only mobile being (i.e., material being) is the subject of motion.  But motion can also be understood analogically in reference to incorporeal beings where there is a composition of potency and act.  This applies to both angels and souls. 

However, angels, being incorporeal, do not have quantiative parts, so they can only undergo motion qualitatively (as you say, if they learn), or in place, by assuming different places.  But all this is true only analogically, as compared to the way we ascribe motion to bodies.

St. Thomas, in fact, explicitly ascribes place, and hence motion, to angels, but does so ‘equivocally’:

Summa theologiae Ia, q. 56, a. 1:

Whether an angel can be moved locally?

Ad primum sic proceditur. Videtur quod Angelus non possit moveri localiter. Ut enim probat philosophus in VI Physic., nullum impartibile movetur, quia dum aliquid est in termino a quo, non movetur; nec etiam dum est in termino ad quem, sed tunc mutatum est, unde relinquitur quod omne quod movetur, dum movetur, partim est in termino a quo, et partim in termino ad quem. Sed Angelus est impartibilis. Ergo Angelus non potest moveri localiter.  Objection 1: It seems that an angel cannot be moved locally. For, as the Philosopher proves (Phys. vi, text 32,86) "nothing which is devoid of parts is moved"; because, while it is in the term "wherefrom," it is not moved; nor while it is in the term "whereto," for it is then already moved; consequently it remains that everything which is moved, while it is being moved, is partly in the term "wherefrom" and partly in the term "whereto." But an angel is without parts. Therefore an angel cannot be moved locally.
Praeterea, motus est actus imperfecti, ut dicitur in III Physic. Sed Angelus beatus non est imperfectus. Ergo Angelus beatus non movetur localiter.  Objection 2: Further, movement is "the act of an imperfect being," as the Philosopher says (Phys. iii, text 14). But a beatified angel is not imperfect. Consequently a beatified angel is not moved locally.
Praeterea, motus non est nisi propter indigentiam. Sed sanctorum Angelorum nulla est indigentia. Ergo sancti Angeli localiter non moventur.  Objection 3: Further, movement is simply because of want. But the holy angels have no want. Therefore the holy angels are not moved locally.
Sed contra, eiusdem rationis est Angelum beatum moveri, et animam beatam moveri. Sed necesse est dicere animam beatam localiter moveri, cum sit articulus fidei quod Christus secundum animam, descendit ad Inferos. Ergo Angelus beatus movetur localiter.  On the contrary, It is the same thing for a beatified angel to be moved as for a beatified soul to be moved. But it must necessarily be said that a blessed soul is moved locally, because it is an article of faith that Christ's soul descended into Hell. Therefore a beatified angel is moved locally.
Respondeo dicendum quod Angelus beatus potest moveri localiter. Sed sicut esse in loco aequivoce convenit corpori et Angelo, ita etiam et moveri secundum locum. Corpus enim est in loco, inquantum continetur sub loco, et commensuratur loco. Unde oportet quod etiam motus corporis secundum locum, commensuretur loco, et sit secundum exigentiam eius. Et inde est quod secundum continuitatem magnitudinis est continuitas motus; et secundum prius et posterius in magnitudine, est prius et posterius in motu locali corporis, ut dicitur in IV Physic. Sed Angelus non est in loco ut commensuratus et contentus, sed magis ut continens. Unde motus Angeli in loco, non oportet quod commensuretur loco, nec quod sit secundum exigentiam eius, ut habeat continuitatem ex loco; sed est motus non continuus. Quia enim Angelus non est in loco nisi secundum contactum virtutis, ut dictum est, necesse est quod motus Angeli in loco nihil aliud sit quam diversi contactus diversorum locorum successive et non simul, quia Angelus non potest simul esse in pluribus locis, ut supra dictum est. Huiusmodi autem contactus non est necessarium esse continuos. Potest tamen in huiusmodi contactibus continuitas quaedam inveniri. Quia, ut dictum est, nihil prohibet Angelo assignare locum divisibilem, per contactum suae virtutis; sicut corpori assignatur locus divisibilis, per contactum suae magnitudinis. Unde sicut corpus successive, et non simul, dimittit locum in quo prius erat, et ex hoc causatur continuitas in motu locali eius; ita etiam Angelus potest dimittere successive locum divisibilem in quo prius erat, et sic motus eius erit continuus. Et potest etiam totum locum simul dimittere, et toti alteri loco simul se applicare, et sic motus eius non erit continuus.  I answer that, A beatified angel can be moved locally. As, however, to be in a place belongs equivocally to a body and to an angel, so likewise does local movement. For a body is in a place in so far as it is contained under the place, and is commensurate with the place. Hence it is necessary for local movement of a body to be commensurate with the place, and according to its exigency. Hence it is that the continuity of movement is according to the continuity of magnitude; and according to priority and posteriority of local movement, as the Philosopher says (Phys. iv, text 99). But an angel is not in a place as commensurate and contained, but rather as containing it. Hence it is not necessary for the local movement of an angel to be commensurate with the place, nor for it to be according to the exigency of the place, so as to have continuity therefrom; but it is a non-continuous movement. For since the angel is in a place only by virtual contact, as was said above (Question [52]Article [1]), it follows necessarily that the movement of an angel in a place is nothing else than the various contacts of various places successively, and not at once; because an angel cannot be in several places at one time, as was said above (Question [52]Article [2]). Nor is it necessary for these contacts to be continuous. Nevertheless a certain kind of continuity can be found in such contacts. Because, as was said above (Question [52]Article [1]), there is nothing to hinder us from assigning a divisible place to an angel according to virtual contact; just as a divisible place is assigned to a body by contact of magnitude. Hence as a body successively, and not all at once, quits the place in which it was before, and thence arises continuity in its local movement; so likewise an angel can successively quit the divisible place in which he was before, and so his movement will be continuous. And he can all at once quit the whole place, and in the same instant apply himself to the whole of another place, and thus his movement will not be continuous.
Ad primum ergo dicendum quod illa ratio dupliciter deficit in proposito. Primo quidem, quia demonstratio Aristotelis procedit de indivisibili secundum quantitatem, cui respondet locus de necessitate indivisibilis. Quod non potest dici de Angelo.  Reply to Objection 1: This argument fails of its purpose for a twofold reason. First of all, because Aristotle's demonstration deals with what is indivisible according to quantity, to which responds a place necessarily indivisible. And this cannot be said of an angel.
Secundo, quia demonstratio Aristotelis procedit de motu continuo. Si enim motus non esset continuus, posset dici quod aliquid movetur dum est in termino a quo, et dum est in termino ad quem, quia ipsa successio diversorum ubi circa eandem rem, motus diceretur; unde in quolibet illorum ubi res esset, illa posset dici moveri. Sed continuitas motus hoc impedit, quia nullum continuum est in termino suo, ut patet, quia linea non est in puncto. Et ideo oportet quod illud quod movetur, non sit totaliter in altero terminorum, dum movetur; sed partim in uno, et partim in altero. Secundum ergo quod motus Angeli non est continuus, demonstratio Aristotelis non procedit in proposito. Sed secundum quod motus Angeli ponitur continuus, sic concedi potest quod Angelus, dum movetur, partim est in termino a quo, et partim in termino ad quem (ut tamen partialitas non referatur ad substantiam Angeli, sed ad locum), quia in principio sui motus continui, Angelus est in toto loco divisibili a quo incipit moveri; sed dum est in ipso moveri, est in parte primi loci quem deserit, et in parte secundi loci quem occupat. Et hoc quidem quod possit occupare partes duorum locorum, competit Angelo ex hoc quod potest occupare locum divisibilem per applicationem suae virtutis sicut corpus per applicationem magnitudinis. Unde sequitur de corpore mobili secundum locum, quod sit divisibile secundum magnitudinem de Angelo autem, quod virtus eius possit applicari alicui divisibili.Secondly, because Aristotle's demonstration deals with movement which is continuous. For if the movement were not continuous, it might be said that a thing is moved where it is in the term "wherefrom," and while it is in the term "whereto": because the very succession of "wheres," regarding the same thing, would be called movement: hence, in whichever of those "wheres" the thing might be, it could be said to be moved. But the continuity of movement prevents this; because nothing which is continuous is in its term, as is clear, because the line is not in the point. Therefore it is necessary for the thing moved to be not totally in either of the terms while it is being moved; but partly in the one, and partly in the other. Therefore, according as the angel's movement is not continuous, Aristotle's demonstration does not hold good. But according as the angel's movement is held to be continuous, it can be so granted, that, while an angel is in movement, he is partly in the term "wherefrom," and partly in the term "whereto" (yet so that such partiality be not referred to the angel's substance, but to the place); because at the outset of his continuous movement the angel is in the whole divisible place from which he begins to be moved; but while he is actually in movement, he is in part of the first place which he quits, and in part of the second place which he occupies. This very fact that he can occupy the parts of two places appertains to the angel from this, that he can occupy a divisible place by applying his power; as a body does by application of magnitude. Hence it follows regarding a body which is movable according to place, that it is divisible according to magnitude; but regarding an angel, that his power can be applied to something which is divisible.
Ad secundum dicendum quod motus existentis in potentia, est actus imperfecti. Sed motus qui est secundum applicationem virtutis, est existentis in actu, quia virtus rei est secundum quod actu est.  Reply to Objection 2: The movement of that which is in potentiality is the act of an imperfect agent. But the movement which is by application of energy is the act of one in act: because energy implies actuality.
Ad tertium dicendum quod motus existentis in potentia, est propter indigentiam suam, sed motus existentis in actu, non est propter indigentiam suam, sed propter indigentiam alterius. Et hoc modo Angelus, propter indigentiam nostram, localiter movetur, secundum illud Heb. I, omnes sunt administratorii spiritus, in ministerium missi propter eos qui haereditatem capiunt salutis.  Reply to Objection 3: The movement of that which is in potentiality is the act of an imperfect but the movement of what is in act is not for any need of its own, but for another's need. In this way, because of our need, the angel is moved locally, according to Heb. 1:14: "They are all [*Vulg.: 'Are they not all . . . ?'] ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who receive the inheritance of salvation."