Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017 Sacred Liturgy Conference


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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?


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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)


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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)


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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


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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?


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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?


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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."

Friday, January 13, 2017

Quaeritur: Difference Between Formal and Total Abstraction


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Quaeritur: What is the difference between so-called ‘total abstraction’ and ‘formal abstraction?  If total abstraction consists in abstracting the universal from the particular (e.g., abstracting from a concrete man the universal ‘man’), and formal abstraction consists in abstracting the form from the matter-form composite (e.g., I suppose that from a concrete man, we could abstract his formal ontological structure, that is, his substantial form ‘man’), which places a given being in its species, and which would be similar to the universal---or am I mistaken?  Aren’t they ultimately the same thing?

Respondeo: The difference between these lies in that total abstraction consists, as you say, in abstracting the complete nature of the individual in question (e.g., if we look at a particular tree and abstract the nature of ‘treeness’, or the tree’s proximate genus ‘plant’, or its ultimate genus ‘substance’), whereas formal abstraction consists in isolating, not the whole nature, but merely some partial aspect of the individual, prescinding from its sensible qualities that depend on matter for their definition (as for example, taking the same tree, we can abstractly conceive its geometric shape or figure).  These two types of abstraction, according to modern scholasticism, correspond to natural science and to mathematics, respectively.

Here is a nice explanation from Klubertanz’s Introduction to the Philosophy of Being (2nd Ed.):



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Our Lady's Breasts, Pope Francis' Comment, and the Iceberg of Catholic Culture


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First of all, I'd like to apologize for this post, which is really just a rant.  It's not on a speculative theological matter, so I cannot just rely on the scholastic method to deduce a solution to the problem.  It's a faith-based reflection on a real life problem that I have encountered in my journey as a traditional Catholic.  Most of my conversations with traditional Catholics, or with people who are just beginning their love affair with the traditional Mass, naturally tend to focus on doctrinal and liturgical matters.  Sadly, many 'trads' understand the concept of being a traditional Catholic in doctrinal and liturgical terms, and never see that, in the end, becoming a traditional Catholic is so much more than that, and has to do with culture.  As a philosopher, theologian, and scholar, I am used to deductive, demonstrative reasoning and I therefore often struggle to communicate this non-scholarly, existential idea in a convincing way to people.  

But a recent papal comment and the ensuing discussion in social media became an occasion for me to address this problem among traditional Catholics.  I must say that from time to time Pope Francis says or 'tweets' something that does resonate with me.  If this ever happens, it is usually on some very practical matter, not a doctrinal issue.  One example is his recent remark during a baptism on breastfeeding in church: "[S]ince the ceremony is a bit long, [and] someone cries because they are hungry... if so, you moms go ahead and breast-feed them without fear and as usual, just like Our Lady breast-fed Jesus."  

Granted, this is not a serious moral issue, like that having to do with the reception of Holy Communion by those in adulterous unions.  But to me, it is symptomatic of a much deeper problem.

Moreover, I must also admit that it is a prudential and culturally-contingent issue, so it is not easily settled through the science of ethics or moral theology. Although I stand firmly as a defender of traditional morality, the natural law, and moral objectivity---both in my teaching and in everyday conversation---I do think, with Aristotle and Aquinas, that not all concrete moral situations are settled by the first principles of practical reasoning.  There are some cultural and prudential matters that can only be decided on by letting the various circumstances, even cultural circumstances, seriously inform your choice.

So, this issue will inevitably be seen differently by people in different countries, and in different circles within the same country.  And because in practial matters there may be many correct ways of acting, even opposing views on the issue may be found to be reasonable.  

In this case, in Latin America for example there is a very strong sense among the general Catholic population---even many traditional Catholics---that breastfeeding is completely out of place in Church, that it is disrespectful, even indecent; whereas for example among traditional Catholics in the US, especially large families attending a TLM, no one would bat an eye over a mom nursing her baby, especially if done with a nursing cover.  Non-traditional Catholics in the US and Europe tend to lie somewhere in the middle.

Social media is abuzz over this issue, with lots of people, notably from Latin America, disapproving the practice as well as the Pope's remark.  Why would some Catholics, especially in some cultures, be so strongly opposed to this statement of the Pope, and generally opposed to the practice of nursing a baby in church? I think ultimately it is because they have let an anti-Catholic culture dominate their minds, perhaps without realizing it.  Culturally they have become unaccustomed to life, to the natural family, to the growing family.  

We often do that: we allow a new way of thinking creep into our minds, and unconsciously let it dictate how we think; not necessarily at the level of dogma, or at the level of first moral principles, but we let it influence our unexamined attitudes and sensibilities.  I have noticed this happen in other areas of life.  For example, in the last twenty years it is easily noticeable there has been a profound shift in the way people think about homosexuality.  I'm not talking about people who now are pro-homosexual marriage.  I'm talking about faithful Catholics who are against it, but who have nonetheless allowed the surrounding culture (or lack thereof) transform their attitude towards homosexuals.  They reject homosexual marriage, but their attitude towards homosexuals is now entirely different from the way it was twenty years ago: before, they thought of homosexuals as mentally-ill, perverted, and even dangerous people---nearly everybody did.  But now that homosexuals have fully revealed their social revolutionary agenda, and the media has campaigned in their favor, these people now have passively agreed to think of homosexuals in entirely different, primarily positive terms.  They drank the Kool Aid without realizing it.  


Yet homosexuality is just another issue among many that are symptomatic of a crisis in the Western view of marriage and the family.  It is an important issue, a grave problem to be sure, but it is by no means the only one.


The deeper crisis is that the culture (or lack thereof) that we have been imbibing in the West since at least the mid-20th century is against every natural aspect of the family as God intended it to be, especially as it concerns the nature of womanhood. Feminism has pressured the West to think that women flourish only by emancipating themselves from the chains of motherhood and engaging in professional work.  Feminism has forced us to believe that women are to have at most two children, and thus having a child is an exceptional event in an adult woman's life.  Feminism has made us think that once a woman has given birth, it is her duty to detach her baby from herself as soon as possible, so that she may return to 'normal' life, i.e., professional work.  This often means either weaning the baby as soon as possible or not breastfeeding at all; it means switching to formula and bottle-feeding so that others can care for the baby and she can leave to work.  

And this brings with it other problems.  Because fertility returns soon after the baby is weaned, this creates a false urgency for contraception.  Recall that nursing on demand usually is a natural way of spacing births.  Not all women are like this, but it does work in most cases. It is the way God intended for mothers to be able to focus on their babies and bond with them without having to deal with the discomfort of another pregnancy while their baby is still very young.  In the case of many women, they become infertile for a year or two while the baby is exclusively fed mother's milk, directly from the breast, and strictly on demand.  But this natural order is disturbed when the baby is not nursed on demand, but nursed on a schedule, or bottle-fed, or given formula, etc.  So weaning, formula and bottle-feeding, women in the workplace, contraception: it all goes hand-in-hand. 

Because this way of seeing things is so ingrained in the minds of some Catholics, especially in some cultures like Europe and Latin America, a child being nursed has become a rare event.  In Europe especially, even just seeing children is rare; let alone a child being nursed in public.  Most children are fed formula from a very young age, so people in general have grown completely unaccustomed to seeing children being nursed in public.  Not just in church, but anywhere.  


Because they don't use them, these people have strangely forgotten what breasts are for. And as a result they have by default attached an exclusively sexual meaning to them. Hence the perceived indecency of nursing in public.

If, on the other hand, a woman decides to be so counter-cultural that she chooses to rear her child in a thoroughly natural way, the way God designed things, she has no option but to do things that people around her will consider odd.  She cannot choose when the child will want to eat.  The baby cries and whines when he wants milk, and it is at that moment that she must feed him---both for the baby's sake and her own, and those who are around her.  It is greatly inconvenient for her to leave the church to do this, especially if there is no cry-room (a very American phenomenon, by the way, which is relatively rare in other countries).  In some cases, not being able to nurse at church means she cannot attend Mass.

This sort of cultural clash can be violent.  It is not at the level of dogma, so there is no clear-cut way for the traditionally-minded woman to be vindicated by Church teaching.  And even though the issue touches on Catholic morality, the immediate issue of where a woman may nurse her baby is a prudential matter that is not dictated by Catholic moral principles.  Despite feminist pressures she is heroically embracing her femininity and following her maternal instinct in feeding her baby when he needs it, even if this means subjecting herself to the criticism of others.  It is sad to see these valiant mothers have to suffer through this.

These painful experiences are a sign that a good number of Catholics drank the cultural Kool Aid of the West and see the human body, especially the female body, in a hyper-sexualized way, so that they think of women exclusively as sexual symbols and can no longer admire and respect the beauty of motherhood.  Breasts inevitably mean sex.  They are not for children, because children drink formula.  They are just sexual play things.  As a result, we have lost sight of the beauty of a nursing mother, and have no other way of looking at nursing but as something indecent, disrespectful, or demeaning, which is definitely not a Catholic attitude.

In order to illustrate this last statement in a powerful way, I have included in this post several pictures of the Blessed Mother nursing the divine Child.  If any of the images I have shared here disturb you, then very likely you have been the victim of non-Catholic (or anti-Catholic) cultural sensibilities creeping into the way you see reality.  You may be thinking that because it is the Blessed Mother, it is very different from the case of an ordinary mother nursing her child in church.  But I think that if Our Lady can be so portrayed without damaging her purity, then a fortiori an ordinary mother nursing her child should not shock us.  They did not portray her nursing the Child because of some supernatural privilege that she had over all other women to show her breasts.  On the contrary, she is the supreme model of feminine modesty and purity.  That is, if the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose purity sacred art has taken such great pains to defend, is portrayed in this way, it is only because traditionally Catholic artists in past ages have seen nursing as just a natural, motherly act, and the Blessed Mother doing it will not be seen as anything immodest, indecent, or demeaning.

In fact, not only are Catholic artists traditionally comfortable with pictorially portraying the Blessed Virgin's breasts. Catholics throughout the ages have constantly celebrated the "blessed... paps that gave Thee suck" (Luke 11:27) in liturgical texts and song.  

For example, in the pre-1960 Roman Divine Office, every day, every priest and cleric had to praise the breasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the end of every one of the liturgical hours:


VBeata viscera Mariae Virginis, quae portaverunt aeterni Patris Filium. 
REt beata ubera, quæ lactaverunt Christum Dominum. 

Translation: 



V. Blessed is the womb of the Virgin Mary, that bore the son of the everlasting Father.
R. And blessed are the breasts which gave suck to Christ the Lord.

This text and its variants have become part of the corpus of our sacred music. 


You may be wondering by now where I am going with all this.  The moral of the story is this: Being a traditional Catholic is not just about the Latin Mass, or just about upholding traditional dogma.  It is about Catholic culture as well.  It's about not drinking the cultural Kool Aid, and instead finding a way of immersing oneself as much as possible in the Catholic culture that we did not naturally receive through our upbringing.  It is not enough to know the old Mass by heart, to be able to quote Denzinger from memory, and to recite the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary faithfully throughout the week.  Being a traditional Catholic means letting Catholic culture thoroughly influence us.

And culture influences us deeply indeed. It permeates every aspect of our minds, from our religious beliefs, to the way we talk, dress, and interact with others, including our assessment of aesthetic values and our affective responses to the world.  It especially has a way of affecting our unexamined beliefs, attitudes, and sensibilities.  That is to say, our beliefs as Catholics are not just in the Trinity and the Incarnation.  Or in pastoral practices concerning the relationship between marriage and the reception of Holy Communion.  All of that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Our Catholic culture permeates our psyches somewhat like this: 


Our Catholic formation goes much deeper than doctrine and morals, and reaches down to our human formation, to our unquestioned, unexamined attitudes, sensibilities, dispositions, behaviors.  

If you are deeply immersed in a non-Catholic (or anti-Catholic) culture, chances are that even if you persevere and keep the faith, some of your unexamined sensibilities will suffer alterations in ways that run afoul of Catholic tradition.  You may make it to heaven, and you may even become a great saint, but you will not be able to understand or appreciate other, often more Catholic perspectives on certain things.  Even if you have a superior theological, moral, and liturgical formation, you will perhaps not be as Catholic (or Catholic-minded) as people in other traditionally Catholic countries or in other more thoroughly Catholic ages when the social Kingship of Christ was in place.  Concretely, if you live in one of many English-speaking countries, which are historically or demographically Protestant, such as the United States, England, Australia, etc., this will inevitably happen, even if you are unaware of it.  You become aware of it only when you suddenly encounter a Catholic practice, custom, or perspective which---though hallowed by time and by the endorsement of centuries of Catholics, of saints, and popes---is deeply contrary to your unexamined sensibilities. 

You are a traditional Catholic to the extent that you strive to immerse yourself in traditional Catholic culture in all its aspects.