Saturday, February 25, 2017

St. Thomas: We Catholics Do Adore Images


Adapted from Francisco J. Romero Carrasquillo, "Aquinas’ Reception of John of Damascus’ Philosophy of Religious Worship," (forthcoming).  

You can download the original paper (draft) from my page.

Protestants have always accused Catholics of "worshipping images."  The standard response of Catholic apologists is simply to deny the charge, and instead respond that we really just 'venerate' the images.  This type of response is not only grossly insufficient, but actually runs afoul of the language of our tradition, as expressed in the writings of the saints.  For example, a Protestant can easily search through St. Thomas and find him saying that we do adore images.  When a Protestant brings this up to an untrained Catholic apologist, the apologist usually has nothing intelligent to say in reply.

In order to solve this puzzle, let's do what we do best: "Go to Thomas" (Ite ad Thomam).

According to St. Thomas, the first and most important of the exterior acts of religion (religio), i.e., of the virtue of worship (ST IIa-IIae, q. 81-100) is that of ‘adoration’ (adoratio).  The terminology here can be misleading.  We might be inclined to think of 'adoration' as simply being synonymous with ‘worship’, the kind of reverence that is reserved to God alone.  But Aquinas, who in this regard simply follows the received tradition, together with its complex and sophisticated theological language, already has a particular Latin term for divine worship, namely, látria (from the Greek, λατρεία, latréia).  Adoratio for Aquinas means concretely any kind of a physical humbling of the body, such as genuflections, prostrations, bowing down, etc., before something sacred or something that is worthy of respect or veneration.  As such, adoratio signifies primarily a physical act comprising a set of bodily postures.  Within the context of divine worship, these acts of adoratio are of course done as signs of an interior attitude of latria, but in themselves they are physical acts.  This is how it can be explained why we find St. Thomas saying that Catholics can and should 'adore' images.  

But the problem is deeper than that.  We actually find him saying that we should offer latria to images.  Yes, the worship due to God alone, should be given to images.  Why?

One of the most important practical points that St. Thomas makes in Christology is that Christ’s humanity, though in itself created, is deserving of the ‘adoration of latria’ in virtue of its Hypostatic or Personal Union with the Second Person of the Trinity: “the adoration of latria is not given to Christ’s humanity by reason of itself, but by reason of divinity to which it is united.”[i]  This is in contrast to the ‘adoration of dulia’, which is the kind of veneration given to the Saints and their relics, and that of hyperdulia, which is given to the Mother of God.

Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the humanity of Christ is not the only creature which is in some way deserving of latria.  There are other created things that are formally associated with Christ's humanity and thus are themselves deserving of latria (without this entailing the sin of idolatry): these are the true Cross of Christ—the actual historical instrument of Christ’s passion—as well as any image or icon of Christ.  By ‘icons’ or images we mean any pictorial representation of Christ, or of the Cross of Christ, whether in fresco form, or mosaics, “made of colors, pebbles, any other material that is fit, set in the holy churches of God, on holy utensils and vestments, on walls and boards, in houses and in streets,” in the words of the Second Council of Nicaea (AD 787), which addressed the issue of Iconoclasm, the anti-icon heresy that crept into the Church due to nascent Islam's hatred of religious imagery.[iv]

And interestingly, in another text, Aquinas relies again on St. John Damascene for a quote by St. Basil on this point. “Damascene quotes Basil as saying: ‘The honor given to an image reaches to the prototype,’ that is, the exemplar. But the exemplar itself, namely, Christ, is to be adored with the adoration of latria; therefore also His image.”[v]  What follows this quote is a remarkable text, where Aquinas uses Aristotelian semiotics as a basic premise to address to the issue on his own terms:

As the Philosopher says in the book De Memoria et Reminiscentia, there is a twofold movement of the mind towards an image: one indeed towards the image itself as a certain thing; another, towards the image insofar as it is the image of something else. And between these movements there is this difference; that the former, by which one is moved towards an image as a certain thing, is different from the movement towards the thing: whereas the latter movement, which is towards the image as an image, is one and the same as that which is towards the thing. Thus therefore we must say that no reverence is shown to Christ’s image, as a thing, for instance, carved or painted wood: because reverence is not due save to a rational creature. It follows therefore that reverence should be shown to it only insofar as it is an image. Consequently the same reverence should be shown to Christ’s image as to Christ Himself. Since, therefore, Christ is adored with the adoration of latria, it follows that His image should be adored with the adoration of latria.[vi]
In other words, we can think of an image in two ways: as a thing in itself, or as a sign.  When we think of it as a thing in itself, we do not necessarily treat it as we treat the object of which it is a sign, but when we do think of it as a sign, we treat it in the same way as we treat the object of which it is a sign.  For example, if I look at a picture of my wife, it is entirely reasonable for me to point to the picture and say “I love her.”  No one would think that what I mean is that I love the picture itself, qua inanimate object.  All of my affection in this case is directed at the person of my wife, almost as though the picture were not involved.  I do not give the picture itself a different kind of love from the love I give my wife.  To paraphrase Basil and Damascene, my attitude towards the image is directed at the exemplar.  Hence, it matters not whether I point to the picture and say “I love her” or actually point to my wife and say “I love her”: it is the same love that is expressed in both cases.  Aquinas is saying that similarly, in the case of religious worship, it matters not whether the latria given to Christ is given to Him directly or by means of an image or icon: it is latria all the same.  The worship given is not directed at the image in itself as a thing, but to Christ through the image, the latter being only a sign that leads the mind to Christ. 

Given this doctrine on the adoration of images, Aquinas has now the trouble of explaining why, even though in the Hebrew Scriptures the use of images was forbidden in worship, the prohibition nonetheless no longer applies since the coming of Christ.  He cannot simply claim that the prohibition is only of adoring images, and that Christians only venerate them, as many contemporary Christians would argue.  Rather, he is committed to the doctrine that images of Christ are deserving of latria.  His response focuses instead on the doctrine of the twofold movement of the mind towards an image, affirming that whereas in the case of Old Testament idolatry, the adoration of images was adoration of the gods of the gentiles, where since the coming of Christ the adoration of images is of God Himself made man.

[B]ecause, as was said above, the movement towards the image is the same as the movement towards the thing, adoration of images is forbidden in the same way as adoration of the thing whose image it is.  Therefore here we are to understand the prohibition to adore those images which the Gentiles made for the purpose of venerating their own gods.... But no corporeal image could be made of the true God Himself, since He is incorporeal; because, as Damascene says, “It is the highest absurdity and impiety to make a figure of what is Divine.” But because in the New Testament, God was made man, He can be adored in His corporeal image.[vii]

In other words, according to Aquinas, the great difference between the Judaism and Christianity in regards to the adoration of images is that in Judaism, God cannot be represented in imagery because God is strictly incorporeal, but in Christianity God is believed to have taken human flesh and it is therefore possible not only to represent Him, but also to worship him, through imagery.

A few points on the reception of this doctrine in later Catholic theology are in order here.  This analysis of the use of images in worship, which Aquinas shares not only with Damascene, but also with other prominent 13th Century sources such as Albert, Bonaventure, and the Summa Fratris Alexandri, is not standard within modern Catholic theology.  Later Catholic theologians such as Bellarmine, Bossuet, and Petavius taught that the proper attitude due to religious images is not that of latria, but a veneration along the lines of dulia.[viii]  And this latter opinion has become a commonplace in contemporary Catholic theology, catechesis, and especially apologetics.  And yet, rather inconsistently, John Damascene and Aquinas are still frequently used as reference points on the issue.  For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (AD 1992) teaches that “[t]he honor paid to sacred images is a ‘respectful veneration’ (reverens veneratio), not the adoration (adoratio) due to God alone.”[ix] Rather astonishingly, right after making this statement, the Catechism immediately quotes Aquinas' words for support:

The cultus of religio is not rendered to images as considered in themselves, as things, but insofar as they are images leading to God incarnate. Now the movement directed to an image insofar as it is an image does not stop at the image itself, but tends towards that of which it is an image.[x]

Although the quote in the Catechism ends here, the text of St. Thomas continues: “Hence neither latria nor the virtue of religion is differentiated by the fact that religious worship is paid to the images of Christ.”[xi]  Clearly, this text points to an account of the use of images in worship that is at odds with what the Catechism teaches in the preceding line, since the basic idea in this text of Aquinas is that the same latria is given to the image of Christ as to Christ Himself.

Some Thomists and commentators have used the language of ‘relative latria’, to describe the worship due to an image of Christ.  This terminology should not lead us to think that the latria offered to the image is of a different sort from the latria given to Christ.  The image is indeed being given latria in relation to Christ, Who is the terminus of the one movement of latria; but as Aquinas says, it is one movement of the mind that tends to both the image of Christ and to Christ Himself, one and the same latria being offered to both.

The take-home message is that we do adore images (i.e., we bow down to them, kneel before them, etc.).  But 'adoring' in this sense refers to just an exterior religious act.  The inner religious act that is expressed outwardly in adoration depends on what the image is of.  If the image is of Christ, then, yes, we give latria to the image; or more precisely, to Christ in the image.  We do not give latria to the image simply because it is an image, but because it is an image of Christ, the God-man.  And if the image is of a saint, then we give dulia to the image, or rather to the saint in the image.  And in the case of images of Our Lady, it is hyperdulia.  There is nothing wrong with doing this: it is the same movement of the mind that is directed to the image and to the person in the image.  Christ is thus deserving of the same latria, or worship, whether in person or in an image. To do otherwise would amount to a misuse of images.

So let us be traditional Catholics.  Let us not feel pressured by un-Catholic (ultimately Protestant) cultural sensibilities to miss the importance and value of Catholic iconography, religious sculpture, and sacred art in general.  Let us confidently adore Christ in our icons and statues.  And venerate our Saints in our images.  That is why these sacramentals fill our churches (or should fill them).   They are there as a powerful religious resource, and not as a 'mere symbol' or decoration.  The Church has so much confidence in them as powerful sacramentals, as "windows to heaven," that she dedicated a whole Ecumenical Council to defending them. 

The Eastern Churches have the beautiful tradition of celebrating this council, "The Triumph of Orthodoxy" as they call it, in their liturgies every year on the first Sunday of Great Lent by processing around their churches holding icons up high. It is quite a spectacle to behold.  Let us imitate them in defending the faith through these wonderful trophies of the Incarnation.


[i] ST III.25.2 ad 1: “Adoratio latriae non exhibetur humanitati Christi ratione sui ipsius, sed ratione divinitatis cui unitur.”
[ii] Ibid. s.c.: “Adoratio latriae non exhibetur humanitati Christi ratione sui ipsius, sed ratione divinitatis cui unitur.”
[iii] Ibid., c.: “Sed quia, ut dicit Damascenus, si dividas subtilibus intelligentiis quod videtur ab eo quod intelligitur, inadorabilis est ut creatura, scilicet adoratione latriae. Et tunc sic intellectae ut separatae a Dei verbo, debetur sibi adoratio duliae, non cuiuscumque, puta quae communiter exhibetur aliis creaturis; sed quadam excellentiori, quam hyperduliam vocant.” 
[iv] Second Council of Nicaea (Denzinger 302 [600]; Mansi 12, 377D): tam quae de coloribus et tessellis, quam quae ex alia materia congruenter in sanctis Dei ecclesiis, et sacris vasis et vestibus, et in parietibus ac tabulis, domibus et viis....
[v] ST III.25.3 s.c.: “Damascenus inducit Basilium dicentem, imaginis honor ad prototypum pervenit, idest exemplar. Sed ipsum exemplar, scilicet Christus, est adorandus adoratione latriae. Ergo et eius imago.” 
[vi] ST III.25.3c: Respondeo dicendum quod, sicut philosophus dicit, in libro de Mem. et Remin., duplex est motus animae in imaginem, unus quidem in imaginem ipsam secundum quod est res quaedam; alio modo, in imaginem inquantum est imago alterius. Et inter hos motus est haec differentia, quia primus motus, quo quis movetur in imaginem prout est res quaedam, est alius a motu qui est in rem, secundus autem motus, qui est in imaginem inquantum est imago, est unus et idem cum illo qui est in rem. Sic igitur dicendum est quod imagini Christi inquantum est res quaedam, puta lignum sculptum vel pictum, nulla reverentia exhibetur, quia reverentia debetur non nisi rationali naturae. Relinquitur ergo quod exhibeatur ei reverentia solum inquantum est imago. Et sic sequitur quod eadem reverentia exhibeatur imagini Christi et ipsi Christo. Cum igitur Christus adoretur adoratione latriae, consequens est quod eius imago sit adoratione latriae adoranda. 
[vii] ST III.25.3 ad 1: “Et quia, sicut dictum est, idem est motus in imaginem et in rem, eo modo prohibetur adoratio quo prohibetur adoratio rei cuius est imago. Unde ibi intelligitur prohiberi adoratio imaginum quas gentiles faciebant in venerationem deorum suorum.... Ipsi autem Deo vero, cum sit incorporeus, nulla imago corporalis poterat poni, quia, ut Damascenus dicit, insipientiae summae est et impietatis figurare quod est divinum. Sed quia in novo testamento Deus factus est homo, potest in sua imagine corporali adorari.
[viii] Cf. F. Cabrol, “The True Cross,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.    
[ix] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2132: “Honor sanctis imaginibus tributus est reverens veneratio, non adoratio quae soli Deo convenit.”
[x] ST II-II.81.3 ad 3: “Imaginibus non exhibetur religionis cultus secundum quod in seipsis considerantur, quasi res quaedam: sed secundum quod sunt imagines ducentes in Deum incarnatum. Motus autem qui est in imaginem prout est imago, non sistit in ipsa, sed tendit in id cuius est imago.”
[xi] Ibid.: “Et ideo ex hoc quod imaginibus Christi exhibetur religionis cultus, non diversificatur ratio latriae, nec virtus religionis.”

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Christianize your Greek Pronunciation: Say Your Greek Prayers the Traditional Way


As is well known, Ecclesiastical Latin has its own pronunciation--or family of pronunciations, if we include regional variants, the prevailing one being the italianate pronunciation.  This pronunciation is notably different from what scholars since Erasmus' De recta latini graecique sermonis pronutiatione (1528) have been telling us would have been the original, historical pre-Christian pronunciation of Latin (of the weni-widi-wiki variety).  Of course, we have no certainty about the way Latin was really spoken in classical times, simply because we have no audio recordings of it.  And the written clues the ancients left us only go so far.  The reconstruction is inevitably somewhat artificial.

Moreover, although few scholars would acknowledge it, the matter is significantly aggravated by the fact that English-speaking scholars are particularly bad at capturing the phonetic nuances of Mediterranean languages.  (You can make a Mexican laugh by asking one of these professors to sing "La Cucaracha" as best they can.)  Most native English speakers, no matter how smart, have no business trying to reconstruct what Latin would really have sounded like around the First Century AD.  The way their brain-tongue neurons connect is dramatically un-Mediterranean.

Most people in the Church are aware of these differences and have sensibly embraced the ecclesiastical pronunciation of Latin as being just the way Latin is realistically pronounced.  We speak Latin with the pronunciation we have gratefully received from our ancestors in the Faith.  It may not be historically rooted in Cicero, Virgil, or Ovid, but it is certainly what we have been handed down.  This is so much the case that, for Catholics who encounter Latin in the liturgy on a daily basis, using a 'classical' Latin pronunciation in Church would be laughable.  And of course in academic circles, these same Catholics use the ecclesiastical pronunciation, even when they are reading classical texts.  The revival of Latin that we have been witnessing in the Church is happily based on the received traditional pronunciation.

Yet what few Catholics, scholars or otherwise, realize is that Greek, too, is an ecclesiastical language.  Yes, there are Greek Catholics, Greek liturgies, with Greek prayers, and even Greek chant.  And no, it's not just the Eastern Orthodox who use these things.  It is all originally Catholic, and continues to be essentially Catholic.

And just like in Latin, in Greek there is a huge difference between the way it is pronounced in actual practice in the Church and the way Erasmus and his modern followers suppose it was spoken in classical and early Christian times.  One of the most notable differences has to do with the issue of iotacism (in ecclesiastical Greek ι, η, υ, ει, οι, ηι, υι are all pronounced |i|, like a iota, so you hear that sound a lot).  The phonetic details lie outside of the scope of this post, but the main point is that if you are exclusively familiar with one way of doing it, hearing the other way of doing it can be highly distracting, funny, and even annoying or simply unintelligible.

But if you call the Latin rites your liturgical home, and are blessed to have studied Greek (or at least the rudiments of it), chances are you are unaware of the ecclesiastical pronunciation.  You probably learned the "Erasmian" pronunciation; you pronouce Greek with the (purportedly) 'classical', bookish pronunciation of secular academics.  Even if you took courses in Biblical Greek, you were taught to use this half-made-up, half-historical, wholly-dead pronunciation. If you are a philosopher, you habitually talk about episteme, not realizing Greek philosophers actually pronounce it "eh-pis-tee-mee."  And perhaps most embarrasing of all, you were taught to pronounce Κύριε ελέησον (Kýrie eléison), as "Koo-ri-eh eh-leh-eh-son," despite your liturgical instincts telling you otherwise.  Something is clearly wrong.

So if the above paragraph describes you, then I have a challenge for you.  Christianize your Greek pronunciation.  Make it more Catholic.  Make it traditional.  Not historically accurate, or authentically ancient (or whatever).  But authentically Byzantine, the way it was handed down within the Byzantine Empire and up to our own day. In a word: traditional.

As is the case with the purportedly classical pronunciation of Latin, the 'classical', or rather Erasmian, pronunciation of Greek, is an artificial reconstruction and has no native speakers on the whole Earth who use it.  Much of it is still a matter of debate.  Modern Greeks speak modern Greek, which is grammatically distinct from Ancient, Koine, and liturgical Greek, and even when they pronounce their liturgical Greek prayers, they use the received pronunciation.  Yes, indeed, "there’s an entire country of people who speak Greek and can’t bear to listen to the awful linguistic barbarity known as Erasmian."  Just as no Catholic in their right mind would ever bear to hear chanted "Sal-way Re-gi-na" (even though supposedly that is the correct pronunciation, according to most Latin instructors) so a Greek, no matter how scholarly, would consider it an insult to God's ears to pronounce His revealed Word, originally penned in Greek, in this reconstructed, Erasmian invention.  The Catholic spirit is to embrace what one has reverently received.  So we sing Κύριε ελέησον (Kýrie eléison).

A good way to start Christianizing your Greek is by learning the Our Father, the Πάτερ ἡμῶν (Páter imón). Below is the text, and an audio recording of an entire Byzantine Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass).  Skip to 1:00:44 to hear the recitation of the Πάτερ ἡμῶν.  Repeat until you've memorized the text, understood the words, and internalized the beauty of the sounds of Ecclesiastical Greek.

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, 
ἁγιασθήτω το ὄνομά σου, 
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου, 
γενηθήτω το θέλημά σου, 
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ και ἐπι τῆς γῆς. 

Τον ἄρτον ἡμῶν τον ἐπιούσιον 
δος ἡμῖν σήμερον· 
και ἄφες ἡμῖν τα ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν, 
ὡς και ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν· 
και μη εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, 
ἀλλα ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπο τοῦ πονηροῦ.

Here are other decent examples, both recited and sung:

And if you try and just cannot get yourself to pronounce it that way, it's ok. Just, whatever you do, please do not pronounce it this way:

I hear that and I immediately imagine God the Father wincing from Heaven.

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.