Friday, December 19, 2008

Prayers to the Saints

The issue arose between myself and some Protestants of whether it is a "Biblical" practice to pray to saints. I think there is an easy argument, first, for the acceptability of saints as models for our edification. I don't know how many would argue with that, as many such examples are clearly Scriptural with the Old Testament, or even in Jesus' parables.
As for prayers, what is the "cash-value" of denying that the saints pray for us? It might seem rather harmless, but I don't think there is a mistake in that the Nicene creed professes "I believe in the communion of saints." There are two ways, to my mind, to consistently deny that the saints pray for us: first, by denying that ANYONE whatsoever can pray for another person. This seems rather harsh even to most Protestants and clearly non-Scriptural according to the many times where people are called upon to offer prayers for each other in the Bible. The other tends to be the usual route among Protestants: denying that people in death "hear our prayers." This either means [1] they do not WISH to pray for us, [2] they CANNOT pray for us. The latter is even further divided into [a] inability from circumstance, or [b] inability purely speaking.
[1] seems rather easily denied, as we can fairly legitimately assume that, if the saints on earth cared for the needs of others, that they would wish to do so after death. Otherwise, they would seem to be uncharitable, with is impossible for the saint. [2]b seems impossible, as the saints could pray on earth and they would have to likewise be able to pray in heaven. Presumably, heaven is a place where the activity is mostly prayer and worship of God, so that it seems very difficult to deny that. [2]a seems to be a variety of the route most Protestants take; the dead cannot, by circumstance, hear prayers. But what does this imply? They seem to take it to mean that their souls do not persist, or that they are "unconcious" to some degree. If this is true, it seems to deny, on one hand, the immortality of the soul, or, on the other, the immediate judgment after death. The latter can also fairly clearly be shown to be false from examples like the parable of Lazarus. Some, however, do dispute that. The clearest proofs I can think of for the life of saints after death, apart from the obvious "eternal life" statements by Jesus, would be the statement, "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of the living, not the dead," as well as Revelation's picture of the prayers of the saints offered to God.
As a consequence, it seems fairly obvious that denying the existence of the saints and their prayers has rather problematic implications on the whole of Christian doctrine if it is denied. It requires a move that I'm not sure how many Protestants, if they understood this implication, would take. But then again, people amaze.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Another letter to the editor on fideism

This is another letter I wrote to the paper, but I'm not sure if it will be published yet:

I blush in writing another letter within the space of a few weeks from my last, but I read just recently a column titled “___” (____). Mr. H writes about religion as a phenomenon of divisiveness, hatred, and fear, one which “burns” and brings with it a great cost of suffering. His view of religion is neatly summarized when he says, “The primary issue is religion can be used to justify anything.” Can it? To the contrary, look up such people as “Bartolom√© de las Casas.” Some of his claims, though, are not in dispute - evil men exist within as well as without religion and have used religion as an excuse for their misdeeds. Granting all the evil in the world, that does not however justify his conclusion: religion is not thereby false. But, on a more important note, do religious people merely grasp for whatever a demagogue grants them as the word of the divine?
While I cannot answer this fully, I point to the recent "Regensburg address" of Pope Benedict and wish to refer to one particular phrase: “Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God.” There are religions that are fideist, much as Mr. H remarks, and these might well hold that the categories of the rational cannot be applied to God. However, not all or even most religions do. There are and have been religions that take as their founding principle the rationality of faith. While there have been those who stood by or even justified the killing of the Jews in the Holocaust, there was Dietrich Bonhoeffer and many others who went to the camps out of their religious conviction that every man is infinitely precious. While those who rammed planes into the WTC did so out of their twisted religious beliefs, slavery was overturned by religious who embraced non-violent resistance and rational persuasion. While there are those who declared reason to be anathema, there are likewise those who hold that the light which illuminates our reason is the same Word that became flesh in a small town in Palestine.
Saying that “religion is above ridicule” is just dishonest. If Mr. H presumes himself to be the first atheist, he is sorely mistaken. More disturbingly, attempts to bypass rational discussion of religion by calling its followers “idiotic” leads down the same bloody road as the fideism he pretends to abhor, and has led straight to the gulags in other notable places. I suspect that what Dostoyevsky said might quite well be true, that “without God, all is permitted,” as evinced by Mr. H's confusion between religious and moral claims. I fear even more that his explicit project to dispel the light of morality, let alone God, from society might indeed become successful. Then he, as well as I, shall regret that bloody darkness which comes when people reject morality as a “hindrance” to the march of the Volk.

Homosexual Marriage and the Real Issue

This is a letter I wrote in response to a column in my local universities' paper:

These past couple weeks, a recurring question has been that of homosexual "marriage." I appreciate attempts at objectivity by the editors of The _________, but I fear that the news story "____" (___) heavily favored one particular aspect of the debate.

The question at hand in same-sex marriages is not a question of whether or not to discriminate against homosexuals (all agree this is wrong). The issue, rather, is the nature of marriage itself. If the nature of marriage is tied to a certain kind of relationship that excludes same-sex relationships, it has nothing to say either way about the worth of anybody as a human being any more than a zoning prohibition would. The nature of marriage is a complex issue, but not to be confused with "merely" supernatural concern of the religious. The dispute over marriage lies squarely in knowledge available to all rational persons, connected with the deeper question of "What is a human being?"

The classical tradition, in which the Founding Fathers stand, holds that there are natural rights and laws which are prior to any societal determinations of their existence. Human relationships are, in this view, founded in rights and obligations that enable us to become perfect human beings - they are rights and obligations oriented "toward," and not for their own sakes. Sexuality, as a basic potential for relationship, is oriented toward that end of human life in two inseparable ways: union and potential to bring forth life. More simply, it is the potentiality to form a "household" - the basic foundation of society. Marriage, as the natural institution, is the formal "constitution" of that permanent sexual-unitive relationship. It cannot take place, by its very nature, where there is no potential to bring forth life in a stable relationship. Same-sex partners, not possessing this potentiality, cannot be considered to fulfill what that relationship in its essence means, let alone have a "right" to it.

Some endorse "civil unions" as an alternative, but this would be "charity" at the expense of truth. Homosexuals may seek these rights independently, but they cannot be granted to a marital union. These are "marital" rights - recognizing this relation as marital or granting equivalent rights to a "union" is to recognize this relationship as something it cannot be. While I have provided a justification of this view, it is to be noted that the burden of proof is entirely upon the advocate of these unions to prove: [1] the nature of marriage permits these unions, [2] that this is derived from a systematic picture of rights as a whole and [3] that this preserves, rather than undermines, the rest of our picture of rights. Otherwise, we have no reason to assent, even on the pain of being politically incorrect.

If society attempts to re-define or obfuscate the nature of marriage, it does so at its own peril. This position constitutes neither discrimination nor imposition of articles of faith, but a protection of natural rights and, ultimately, society itself.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Importance of Liturgy

I was recently reading excerpts from a book titled, "God is Big. Real Big!" by Peter Dresser. The man can't write for jellybeans, but I have to explain the context of my discovery. I was reading about the recent controversy in Australia over the South Brisbane church of St. Mary's and their having been threatened with excommunication by the archbishop-down-under. Personally, I'm quite happy to see people being informed that there are actions and beliefs that do, in fact, make you non-Catholic (such as using invalid baptismal formulae for dubious reasons). Those wonderful folks have a liking for this Fr. Dresser (I believe he is the associate pastor) and his ingeniously titled book which is supposed to make Catholicism, no joke, appetible for "educated Catholics" (I, speaking as a Catholic with a college degree, do not find anything that appeals to my "education" by condescending to me with platitudes about how "big" God is, as if He were some giant stuffed teddy bear).

Nevertheless, there was an important point in his book that I don't think Fr. Dresser understood quite well enough, and I will quote what he said:
"Praxis > Orthopraxis > Orthodoxy"

Of course, for Fr. Dresser, this means that he can do whatever he wants because his own actions don't need to be informed by any other standard. However, there is a deeper and more important, very Catholic, truth to be gleaned from that formulation. One word: liturgy.

There is a liturgical principle that "lex orandi, lex credendi" - the law of prayer is the law of belief. The liturgy is a cosmically important act which brings heaven down to earth and, almost more importantly, earth to heaven. The rites and significant actions performed symbolize and accomplish this very deed. They also speak to what the community believes. But is it a transference from belief to liturgy?

It think Fr. Dresser, amazingly, is on to something quite important - much like Caiaphas, but who's counting? Liturgy began not in creedal statements which became enmeshed in ritual, but in the praxis of Jesus Christ Himself. Even older, in the Jewish Law, the ceremonial precepts gave structure to life that arose out of the revealed words of God. While one shouldn't give precedence to praxis over doctrina, it is amazingly the case that both are indispensably linked. It is the same case as the sacramental principle of the Incarnate Word. As human beings, we encounter God through material media, through actions and ritual, and God Himself used these to encounter us when He took flesh.

The liturgy in the Catholic Church arose from the primal praxis of the apostolic community, who in turn received these rituals and practices from Christ. We already find a rich liturgical life in Acts of the Apostles, where the Apostles and their communities prays at fixed times and communally worship on Sundays. It is interesting to note that Scripture arose from liturgical usage; the Gospels were liturgical books to be read at communal worship, making Jesus present through the memoirs of the apostles.

The early Church Fathers had no qualms in refuting heretics by citing the ancient liturgies, where the words spoken at the Eucharist or other sacraments rebuked their errors. The earliest creeds we have for the Church began as statements of faith professed in the sacrament of baptism. The Eucharistic liturgy was the summit of early Christian life and worship, and we find similar statements in all of the earliest manuscripts. The secrets of the sacraments were jealously guarded so as to not profane what was most sacred.

But praxis went hand-in-hand with ortho-praxis and ortho-doxy. The praxis that took precedence was the praxis of Jesus, not the praxis of Joe Bagofdonuts. This remains the "rule" of the Church, leading to orth-praxis as it was passed on in apostolic succession as Tradition. Ortho-doxy was always tied to the praxis as the end or goal of that praxis - the enjoyment of eternal life with God. Praxis always contains a statement about the intent and content of its project, and the liturgy is no exemption.

This gives great meaning to the motto of Fr. Zuhlsdorf over at What Does the Prayer Really Say?:
Save the Liturgy, Save the World!

Could "energy" be the principle whose existence was intrinsic?

Could energy be the principle whose existence was intrinsic?

If we were to assume the conclusion of our opponents, that energy is an eternal entity, being eternal could not be a sufficient reason for this to be considered intrinsically existing.

If we wanted to admit only material principles, there would be at least three eternal principles: matter, energy, and space. Energy alone would not suffice.

The material principle in things could not suffice as a necessarily existent entity, as matter only exists as informed, being essentially potentiality to receive existence as a particular thing. The function of space is not clear. The reason to gravitate toward energy as the "efficient" principle of activity of matter in a void is necessary to some extent - why else would matter be moving instead of motionless?

"Energy," however, is a distinctly blurry concept in contemporary physics. It indicates any ability to do work, or activity in a material body. Derived from "energia," it can be related as a physical instantiation of the metaphysical "actuality."

Could energy itself be considered the principle which exists intrinsically and necessarily?

There are two issues: first, energy is an abstraction of many particular entities which possess energetic states. Energy is always found in a particular formed entity and as a state in a particular entity. In other words, it is not an existential explanation, per se. It requires a subject which has both formal and material characteristic before it can be an activity therein. As a consequence, energetic states are received and transmitted - they are not entities themselves if we were to refer to "energy" as the activity of a material body.

Second, this is a misplaced understanding of physical energy as an expression of actuality. Actuality as a metaphysical principle indicates existence in general, whereas physical actuality or activity is a subset of this general category. In a certain sense, "energy" would satisfy as a principle of actuality of material bodies, but it cannot satisfy for the existence of actuality as a whole - it can satisfy for their ability to do physical work, but does not account for their existence.

The most obvious way to illustrate this would be to consider again this question from the standpoint of the essence-existence argument:

If one were to suppose that this entity, "energy," was this necessary being whose essence was to exist, we would have to pluralize it only via three ways:
Formal differences, material differences, and reception in different instantiations

The first two are inadequate, as whatever would be a necessary being would be unable to be differentiated in those ways - it would have to retain the same essence without formal differentiation. In reality, energetic states inhere in formally different subjects as well as materially different ones. There is also no single, univocal sort of energetic state that could be said to be this unitary subject. Reception in different matter might seem to be the differentiation proper to this, as we might say that "energy" would constitute the various energy states. But again, then this would not be "energy" but various energetic subjects having received energy.

As a consequence, one might be tempted to see energy as received into various subjects from one subject of energy which is nothing other than pure actuality (in the existential, rather than physical sense). This would be precisely the way in which it would be possible to pluralize this "energy."

We would first have to abandon notions of physical energy and move to the level of existential actuality. Whether such an absolute subject of existential actuality exists, however, has not yet been proven. Given this distinction that is necessary between subjects which are formally constituted and yet receive "energy" or actuality from another, it becomes obvious that the energy states they have are not effect of "themselves" or what they are, but are instead "accidental" to their constitution. This leads one to posit that there need be an absolute subject of actuality, whose essence is "to exist" as pure act, in order to account for the extrinsic reception of the act of existing in various subjects. This would be to require the existence of God, understood as the necessarily existent being whose essence is nothing other than to exist. Only with this being the case could any entity - physical or otherwise - exist.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Heidegger on Truth and Being

I am working currently on my MA thesis involving the transcendental properties of being in the thought of Aquinas and Heidegger. As a consequence, a lot of my work is critical interpretation of Heidegger. I found this article by Maverick Philosophy W. Vallicella, Heidegger's Reduction of Being to Truth. As I have been reading Heidegger and attempting to understand the changes in his thought, I came to some of the same conclusions Dr. Vallicella did in this article. The problem I see with Heidegger is that his reduction of Being to aletheia makes Being in no real sense intrinsic to beings. Heidegger calls that sort of thinking metaphysics, but I think it truly is a case of the irrelevance of the question if we make the central question of Being unrelated to beings per se. There is a response to this criticism in the same place, which I have yet to read. I can anticipate certain responses from a Heideggarian, which it would be interesting to look at and consider. My own view is that Heidegger requires a theory of transcendentals and the co-related analogia entis in order to form a consistent "metaphysics" in the non-onto-theological sense. But we shall see...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Thinking within the analytic/continental divide

I have been reading Bertrand Russell's The Problems of Philosophy, but have been having some incidental thoughts related to the origins of both the analytic and continental traditions in contemporary philosophy. To my own taste, I find the analytic tradition very appealing in its rigour, as well as its devotion to truth and logical analysis - the likes of a John Haldane or GEM Anscombe remain highly appealing. On the other hand, I simultaneously find a great deal of interesting material within Heidegger and the possibility of reviving ancient and medieval metaphysical questions within the continental phenomenological bent of thought. To my own mind, I'm afraid I don't fall anywhere within these neat categories (nor, I suppose, SHOULD a person interested in essentially ancient and medieval philosophy of the Thomist variety). I think the problem which led to this divide needs to be analyzed in a particular sense: the anti-metaphysical strain of thinking on both sides of the contemporary divide has been what kept each side from talking past each other for the most part of the 20th century. What is necessary, in my humble opinion, is a reform and revival of metaphysics. But how to do this...therein lies the rub.

It brings to mind a quote from Emerson I just read elsewhere on the Internet: "Who in Concord cares for the first philosophy in a book? The woman whose child is to be suckled? The man at Nine-acre-Corner who is to cart sixty loads of gravel on his meadow? the stageman? the gunsmith? Oh, no! Who then?"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I got this schema from Scott MacDonald's article "The Esse/Essentia Argument, ect." in Thomas Aquinas: Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives - I thought this was cool enough to load right away. This is the schema of Saint Thomas Aquinas' argument in De Ente et Essentia 4 which argues for a certain metaphysical distinction he is known for (the "real" distinction), and thus proves the existence of God as esse subsistens or "an act of existing which subsits."
Key: "essence" is the principle that makes any entity be "that sort of" entity - it is "what" that thing is.
"esse" is the Latin word for "to be." It is the corresponding principle to "essence" in any entity and it causes that entity to exist.

Here's the schema of the argument:

  1. Whatever belongs to a thing and is not part of its essence either
    1. Come from without and effects a composition with the essence or
    2. Itself constitutes the entire essence
  2. No essence can be understood without its parts
  3. Every essence [except the Divine essence] can be understood without anything being understood about its esse
  4. A thing’s esse is not part of its essence
  5. Suppose that there is something [X] which is esse alone, as esse subsistens
  6. Pluralization occurs in one of only three ways:
    1. By the addition of some differentia,
    2. By a form being received in different matters, or
    3. By onething being absolute and another being received in something.
  7. Anything which is esse alone cannot receive the addition of differentia
  8. X cannot be more than one in virtue of F(a)
  9. Anything which is esse alone cannot receive different matters
  10. X cannot be more than one in virtue of F(b)
  11. If there is anything which is its own esse, there is at most one such thing.
  12. For any other thing besides this one, its esse is other than its essence.
  13. These Y entites are entities other than this esse subsistens.
  14. There is esse besides essence in Y entities
  15. Everything which belongs to something either
    1. Is caused by the principles of its nature or
    2. Comes to it from some extrinsic principle.
  16. A thing’s esse cannot be caused by the thing’s essence [ie, a thing’s esse is not accounted for by O(a)] because it is impossible that a thing produce itself in esse/
  17. It must be that every thing such that its esse is other than its essence has esse from another [ie, a thing’s esse is accounted for by O(b)].
  18. One cannot go to infinity in efficient causes.
  19. There is something which is the cause of esse for all things in virtue of the fact that it is esse alone.
  20. Everything which receives something from another is in potentiality with respect to what is received, and what is received is the actuality of the thing.
  21. All things [other than God] are in potentiality with respect to the esse which they receive from God.
  22. Potentiality and actuality are found in Y entities.

*Bold = conclusions

I want to come back and talk about the metaphysical underpinnings of this argument, analyzing its assumptions.



I'm just a philosophy graduate student, working on thinking out problems of metaphysics in a contemporary culture. I hope to bring in a little of everything and have a lucid/enlightened philosophical discussion on the Internet - which is a task enough.