Wednesday, July 30, 2008

John de Bassolis contra Henry of Ghent

Here's a quote from Ioannes de Bassolis, one of the students of Scotus at Paris. No manuscripts of his writings survive, though his Sentence commentary was printed in the 15th or so century. It is believed to have been redacted around 1320. In the quote he will be arguing against Henry of Ghent's view in Quodlibet V q.1 in which he claims that the divine attributes are known by the divine intellect purely by knowing the divine essence, not by knowing creatures, as Godfrey of Fontaines and Thomas of Sutton claim in attacking Henry. Henry's view is that the divine attributes are in quasi potency, "in radice" in the divine essence, and the divine intellect, by "negotiando", somehow moving around the divine essence moves the perfections from potency to act. Henry also seems to posit the three acts of the intellect into the divine intellect, all the while protesting his adherence to divine simplicity and unity.

I. de Bassolis In I Sent. d.22 q.3 (f.138)

"Contra secundam opinionem arguo primo sic: quod attributa saltem omnia non distinguantur per intellectum, quia intellectus est quoddam attributum. Sed intellectus non distinguitur primo per opus intellectus, quia opus distinctum necessario praesupponit intellectum distinctum, aliquando actus distinguendi; ita bene est per essentiam et per bonitatem sicut per intellectum, quod est falsum. Similiter etiam est contra eos, quia si est per essentiam est ex natura rei talis distinctio, oportet ergo ibi ponere intellectum formaliter et distinctum ex natura rei. Non enim distincta potentia est originaliter per distinctum actum sed per distinctam potentiam et a distincta potentia est distinctus actus, quaere etc.

Translation: "Against the second opinion, I argue first so: that all the attributes at least are not distinguished by the intellect because the intellect is a certain attribute. But the intellect is not distinguished primarily by an operation of the intellect, because a distinct operation necessarioly presupposes a distinct intellect [and] some act of distinguishing; so it is as well as distinguished b goodness as by the intellect, which is false. Likewise against them, because if there is distinction through essence, the distinction is such from the nature of the thing, therefore it is necessary to posit there formally the intellect and it as distinct from the nature of the thing. For a distinct power is not orginally by a distinct act, but a distinct act is by a distinct power and from a distinct power, wherefore etc."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Angels on Pinheads

Although it does not seem that the scholastics ever actually asked how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, still it must be admitted that they do at times discuss questions which seem, at least from this distance, just as trite and ridiculous. Take, for instance, St Bonaventure's In IV Sententiarum Dist. VIII. Pars II. Art. I Q. II ob. 7-8, where someone in Bonaventure's class is worrying about the fact that in the words of consecration--"This is the cup of my blood"--the principle thing referred to, the Precious Blood, is, horror of horrors, declined rather than in the nominative case, that is, crooked obliquo rather than straight recto! I have to admit it's hard to see why anyone would think this is a legitimate problem, or why Bonaventure would deem it worthy of response. It should at least be recalled that Bonaventure's Sentences commentary is a revised record of actual classroom lectures, and that even silly questions might come up and be discussed in a classroom setting which an academic professional would not today include in his published work.

At the same time the present question is extremely interesting in a number of other respects. For one, it sheds light on the present-day "pro multis" controversy. Just a few objections after the frivolous declension ones, it is asked why the words of consecration are "pro vobis et pro multis", for you and for many, and not "pro omnibus," for all, given that the blood of Christ was in fact shed for all. Bonaventure replies that by "pro vobis" Christ meant the Apostles to whom he was speaking, and by extension the Jews, and that by "pro multis" he meant the gentiles; or, similarly, by "for you" Christ meant the priests, the ministers of the sacrament he was instituting, and by "for many" he meant those to whom the priests were to minister. So that "for you and for many" in fact means the same thing as "for all". In the body of the question Bonaventure ventures the opinion that the *exact words* of the Roman canon are not *absolutely necessary* for confecting the sacrament--for one thing they are not the words found in the New Testament--and that so long as the sense remains identical the words might vary without changing the sacrament's form: forma in illis verbis omnibus salvatur, et modica variatio verbi, salvo sensu, formam non mutat. So thanks to St Bonaventure we can dispense with that canard of today's Traditionalists.

In any case, the "for you and for all" translation in today's English mass was approved specifically by Rome. In this same Responsio St B also deals with the question of *why* the form of confection differs from any of the formularies found in scripture, and his response is simply that the Roman Church has declared that this is the form. He affirms Roman primacy--based of course on its founding by Peter and Paul the princes of the Apostles--in explicit and strong terms, as well as the priority of the unwritten Tradition handed down by the Apostles over the authority of Scripture, at greater length than I care to quote and translate.

So here we have an excellent demonstration of the awesomeness of the scholastic method. Right next to merely absurd grammatical quibbles and scruples--just making sure we leave no stone left unturned, thank you--we have an exposition and defense of some of the central doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, with immediate applicability to controversies very much alive today within that Church. Did I mention that St Bonaventure is great?


This has nothing whatsoever to do with the matter of this blog, coming merely from my extra-curricular reading, but it's so badass I have to point it out:

At one point General Weygand mentioned that the French might have to ask for an armistice. Reynaud at once snapped at him: "That is a political affair." According to Ismay I said: "If it is thought best for France in her agony that her Army should capitulate, let there be no hesitation on our account, because whatever you may do we shall fight on forever and ever and ever." When I said that the French Army, fighting on, wherever it might be, could hold or wear out a hundred German divisions, General Weygand replied: "Even if that were so, they would still hav another hundred to invade and conquer you. What would you do then?" On this I said that I was not a military expert, but that my technical advisers were of opinion that the best method of dealing with German invasion of the island of Britain was to drown as many as possible on the way over and knock the others on the head as they crawled ashore.

--Churchill, The Second World War, vol. II, 155.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bonaventure the Feminist

From In Sententiarum Lib. IV Dist. VII Art. III. Quaest. I:

Et primo, quod debeant excludi [usui sacramenti Confirmationis] mulieres, quia hoc sacramentum ordinat ad pugnam; sed mulieres excluduntur a bello: ergo debent excludi ab hoc sacramento. . . . [sed] quod conveniat omni sexui , videtur, et maxime muliebri, quia "omnes qui pie volunt vivere in Christo persecutionem patitur," ergo et sexus infirmus; sed infirmo, qui persecutionem patitur, sunt maxime necessaria arma fortitudinis: ergo, cum haec dentur in Confirmatione, videtur quod mulieres maxime indigeant hoc sacramento . . . Ad illud ergo quod obicitur de mulieribus, patet, quia, licet non competat bellum materiale, competit tamen spirituale. Multae enim in hoc bello strenues fuerunt, ut patet de sacris Virginibus quae martyrizatae sunt pro confessione et nomine Christi.

Now that's hardcore feminism.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Plantinga's "Does God Have a Nature?"

Well, dear readers, I just finished reading the book in the title line. I read it as part of my preliminary dissertation research as it deals with similar issues. I must say, I was a bit disappointed. He is a big name and all that. But it was a little book. Basically, I think the book suffered from two deficiencies. First, that he did not give his own determinatio but instead rejected the views of "classical theism" (simplicity...I bet our energetic easterners are right on board with him here, and perhaps through much of this little volume), nominalism, and the views of Descartes. Now, it was one of the Marquette Aquinas lectures so perhaps he had no space, and was contenting himself with an apophatic method. He said in the beginning that his view was that God had a nature, but was not identical to it.

My second complaint, and I think an actually philosophical one, is that he did not distinguish between divine simplicity and divine unity. Catholics are bound to hold divine simplicity by conciliar decree (i'm assuming this one...I can't name the council off hand); But Christians, Jews, and Muslims all are bound by the Shema, "Hear o Israel, the Lord your God is One". So God is one, but not simple. So what then is the distinction between simplicity and unity. Are God and his nature distinguised as res and res, as the scholastics would say? He rejected divine simplicity by giving a heavy-handed description of Aquinas' views on the subject from the Summa, that God isn't composed of substance and accident or potency and act, etc., and analyzed the view that God and his essence, properties and whatnot are all one without mentioning at all the famous (and confusing) dicta of St. Thomas that they are one but with some distinction founded in reality. Fine. But if we grant his refutation of Thomas, the question still remains: If God is not identical to his nature, how are they distinguished?

A further, minor complaint: In his description of Aquinas' views, he gave only a few brief quotes of his arguments. But Descartes got page and after page of quotation, and to top it off, they weren't arguments at all, only assertions Descartes made while writing letters that the truth of eternal truths is contingent on an act of divine will. Furthermore, he assumed that Descartes also rejected divine simplicity, and without any quotation to back it up. Yet Descartes was Catholic, and probably bound by the same councils as the rest of us Catholics who care about such things. I don't recall ever seeing Descartes talk about divine simplicity, but I have seen him go out of his way to detail how his philosophy can be applied to the Eucharistic mystery without heresy, so he clearly was concerned with keeping his views within Catholic orthodoxy. But perhaps someone will just say that was because he feared persecution; I suppose the only way to disprove that is ask Descartes himself in the beatific vision. No good.

All in all, an interesting and stimulating read. I'll probably read it again in the near future, just to make sure I followed all of it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Philosophy at Night

I've always resented my body's need for sleep. What a waste of precious hours when all is quiet and still!

What hath night to do with sleep?
Night hath better sweets to prove

These days I feel it even more keenly, now that I have children to care for throughout the day. Night is when they sleep, and so I would rather be awake during it! Reading is difficult when there are diapers to change, baths to give, meals to make, attention and affection to bestow; thinking almost impossible. Serious thinking requires either the collaboration of a likeminded Intelligence, or else silence and solitude. For me, then, philosophy can only happen late at night.

. . . Wisdom's self
Oft seeks to sweet retirèd solitude,
Where with her best nurse Contemplation
She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings,
That in the various bustle of resort
Were all to-ruffled and sometimes impaired.
He that has light within his own clear breast
May sit i' the center, and enjoy bright day,
But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts
Benighted walks under the mid-day sun;
Himself is his own dungeon.

--Milton, Comus

Since the light of Philosophy turns the night into a mental day, how could I want to squander it in sleep?


Let no one, especially my collaborator Faber, be surprised or offended at all the non-Scotistic poetry posts from me lately. Variety is a good thing. Besides, it's also good to remember--with one more extract from Comus--

How charming is divine philosophy!
Not harsh and crabbèd as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo's lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectared sweets,
Where no crude surfeit regns.

With the scholastics, unlike the moderns, it's the thought rather than the words that is musical as Apollo's lute. That's as it should be.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Word of the Day

Today's Word of the Day is..."nihilitates", (assuming I resolved the abbreviation properly) a gem of a term used, if not coined, by Petrus Thomae in his Quaestiones de modis distinctionum q.7 (Utrum ponentes attributa divina distingui sicut aliqua positiva vel sicut diverse formalitates habent ponere necessario quod ipsi distinguuntur sicut res et res). One can see why the humanists hated the scholastics, and perhaps also why Petrus Thomae does not seem to have been read after the 15th century. Here it is, in all its glory in its original context; note that it is one of the principal arguments at the beginning, and not necessarily one he endorses.

Praeterea tertio arguitur sic: realitas unicumque est simpliciter sua formalitas; et idem est res et sua formalitas, ergo impossibile est ponere plures formalitates quin ponatur plures realitates; ista enim attributa sive formalitates ut distinctae vel sunt aliquid et res vel nihil. Si sunt aliquid et res, propositum. Si nihil, ergo formalitates sunt nihilitates.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Shakespeare the Thomist

Or at least the "intellectualist". From A Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act II scene ii:

Content with Hermia! No: I do repent
The tedious minutes I with her have spent.
Not Hermia, but Helena I love:
Who will not change a raven for a dove?
The will of man is by his reason sway'd,
And reason says you are the worthier maid.
Things growing are not ripe until their season;
So I, being young, till now not ripe to reason;
And touching now the point of human skill,
Reason becomes the marshall to my will,
And leads me to your eyes; where I o'erlook
Love's stories written in love's richest book.

The irony here, of course, is that Lysander's will is not being led by reason at all but, unbeknownst to him, by Oberon's love potion. So perhaps it's Lysander that's the mistaken intellectualist and not Shakespeare. Of course the love potion violates the freedom and self-determination of the will, and so Shakespeare is not a voluntarist either.

Later in the scene Shakespeare shows why the Smithy has a tendency to rag on Thomists and Protestants:

. . . the heresies that men do leave
Are hated most of those they did deceive

Not, of course, that I consider Thomism a heresy.

Scotistic Abstractions

Here's a quote I've been meaning to post for a while, on different kinds of abstractions. The most interesting bit here is probably that of "ultimate abstraction," which we encountered a year or so ago when I posted that bit on Petrus Thomae from his Quaestio de distinctione praedicamentorum. So here it is: Reportatio IA d.5 pt. I q.1 n.16-20 [ed. and tran. Wolter 264]

"I say that abstractions are multiple; for one is the abstraction of an accident from its subject, another is the abstraction of the quiddit from a supposit.

Also, abstraction is from every thing of another kind[generis].

Also in relatives there is a double abstraction, that of an accident from its subject, and secondly of a relation from its foundation.

But then the ultimate abstraction is when a formal reason is considered precisely according to itself without anything else which is not included per se in its formal notion, as humanity is only humanity itself.

Proof: an adjective is never predicated as identical[with its subject], or never can it be predicated by an identical predication, because the way an adjective signifies is as 'informing', 'added to', and 'denominating' a nature or noun. Therefore if a predicate is predicated identically and not formally, it is predicated in a manner opposed to the very way it conceptualizes, and therefore it follows that such a proposition is false, because subject and predicate are taken under opposed conceptions. But that is not the case here when it is said: 'God is generating,' because 'God' is not taken in the sense of its ultimate abstraction, and therefore something is predicated of it that is not included in its per se formal notion."

On a related note, in his quodlibetal discussion in which he attacks Scotus' formal distinction, Hervaeus Natalis takes this notion of ultimate abstraction to be purely mind dependent. I think he misses the point, which is not spelled out here in this passage, that this ultimate abstraction is singling out a common nature; while the act of singling out is indeed an act of reason, the nature itself exists as such with less than numerical unity independent of the mind.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Members of P.A.A.L. Take Note

Vergil's second Eclogue is the lament of a shepherd who has a crush on another shepherd:

Formosum pastor Corydon ardebat Alexin,

and so forth. Spenser's "The Shepeardes Calender" is a series of Eclogues modelled to some extent on Vergil, one for each month of the year. "Ianuarie" has Colin Clout, Spenser's Arcandian name for himself, mentioning that another shepherd "Hobbinol" seeks his love as well. Fear not, however. This isn't what it sounds like. Spenser provides his own glosses to the "Calender," and the "glosse" to this stanza, after mentioning Vergil's second Eclogue, goes on:

In thys place seemeth to be some sauour of disorderly loue, which the learned call paederastice: but it is gathered beside his meaning. For who that hath red Plato his dialogue called Alcybiades, Xenophon and Maximus Tyrius of Socrates opinions, may easily perceiue, that such loue is muche to be alowed and liked of, specially so meant, as Socrates vsed it: who sayth, that in deede he loued Alcybiades extremely, yet not Alcybiades person, but hys soule, which is Alcybiades owne selfe. And so is paederastice much to be preferred before gynerastice, that is the loue whiche enflameth men with lust toward woman kind. But yet let no man thinke, that herein I stand with Lucian or hys deuelish disciple Vnico Arentino, in defense of execrable and horrible sinnes of forbidden and vnlawful fleshlinesse. Whose abominable errour is fully confuted of Perionius, and others.

P.A.A.L. also recommends the avoidance of Aspartame.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Odd bits and pieces

An anglo-saxon hagiographer weighs in on some philosophical controversies, miraculously decided:

Iterum ipsa mater quadam die stans in aecclesia stipata civibus, causa sanctam missam audiendi, sensit uenisse animam pueri, quem gestabat in utero, et intrasse in eum, sicut postea ipse sanctus, qui nasciturus erat, iam episcopus, gaudendo nobis narravit. Ex quo ostenditur eum electum Deo extitisse etiam antequam nasceretur, et animam hominis non a patre vel a matre uenire sed a solo cratore unicuique dari.

--Aelfric, Life of St. Ethelwold, in "Three Lives of English Saints," ed. Michael Winterbottom, Toronto Medieval Latin Texts 1, 1972.

"Again, one day his mother standing in the crowded church for the sake of hearing Holy Mass, felt the soul of the child she carried in her womb to have come and entered, as afterwards the saint himself who was to be born, now a bishop, related to us with rejoicing. From which it is shown that he was elect of God even before he was born, and [that] the soul of man comes not from the father or the mother but is given to anyone by the creator alone."

This short saint's-life, which I looked in to on a lark from Livy burnout last night, is full of awesome/funny stuff. For instance, this story of the bottomless cup of mead:

Venit ergo rex quadam die ad monasterium, ut edicifiorum structuram per se ipsum ordinaret; mensusque est omnia fundamenta monasterii propria manu, quemadmodum moruos erigere decreuerat; rogauitque eum abbas in hosptio cum suis prandere. Annuit rex ilico; et contigit adesse sibi non paucos uenientes ex gente Northanhymbrorum, qui omnes cum rege adierunt conuiuium. Letatusque est rex, et iussit abunde propinare hospitibus medonem, clausis foribus, ne quis fugiendo potationem regalis conuiuii deserere uideretur. Quid multa? Hauserunt ministri liquorem tota die ad omnem sufficientiam conuiuantibus; sed nequiuit ille liquor exhauriri de uase, nisi ad mensuram palmi, inebriatis Northanhymbris suatim ac uesperi recedentibus.

I'll leave that one for the real enthusiasts.

Finally, a health regimen from Chaucer, which, unattractive as it is to my own taste, we would all be wise to follow. From The Nonnes Preestes Tale:

"No deyntee morsel passed thurgh hir throte;
Nir diete was accordant to hir cote.
Repleccioun ne made hire nevere sik;
Attempre diete was al hir phisik,
And exercise, and hertes suffisaunce."

I suppose I can without "repleccioun" of "deyntee morsels" if I can have "hertes suffisaunce," which, as Chaucer recognizes, comes from books rather than food. But quotes demonstrating Chaucer's book-lust will have to come some other time.

Friday, July 4, 2008

H.A. Wolfson on the History of the Platonic Ideas

I just finished reading some background material for the dissertation, an essay by Harry Wolfson on the interpretation of the Platonic ideas from Philo to Christianity and Islam. He concluded with an amusing (or so I thought) summary modelled on the Biblical geneologies which he said had the best manner of showing historical processes. This is from "Extradeical and Intradeical Interpretations of Platonic Ideas", reprinted in Religious Philosophy: A Group of Essays by Harry Austryn Wolfson, 67.

"Now these are the generations of the Platonic ideas.
And Plato lived forty years and begat the ideas.
And the ideas of Plato lived three hundred years and begat the Logos of Philo.
And the Logos of Philo lived seventy years and begat the Logos of John.
And the Logos of John lived six hundred years and begat the attributes of Islam.
And the attributes of Islam lived five hundred and fifty years and begat the attributes of the Schoolmen.
And the attributes of the Schoolmen lived four hundred years and begat the attributes of Descartes and Spinoza.
And the attributes of Spinoza lived two hundred years and begat among their interpreters sons and daughters who knew not their father.