Saturday, August 29, 2009

More Formalist Matters

Ever wonder just what the heck Scotus means by the phrase "ex natura rei" or "esse ibi formaliter"? Me too. Wonder no more, for Scotus himself tells us in an illuminating passage in Reportatio IA d.45 q.1-2 nn.18-20 (ed. Wolter-Bychkov 544):

"...respondeo ad quaestionem et expono duo verba posita in quaestione: quid intelligo per ea, scilicet quid per 'esse aliquid in divinis ex natura rei,' et quid per 'esse ibi formaliter'?

Quantum ad primum dico quod illud est in alio ex natura rei quod est in re, non per aliquem actum comparativum cuiuscumque potentiae: nec per actum intellectus negotiantis nec voluntatis comparantis.

Secundo dico quod illud est in alio formaliter, sive est in aliquo formaliter tale, quod non est in altero potentialiter (ut album est in subiecto nigri potentialiter), nec virtualiter (ut effectus in causa et passio in subiecto), nec confuse (ut extrema in medio et miscibilia in mixto) -- sed dico hoc esse 'tale formaliter' et esse 'formaliter' in alio, quod est in eo actualiter, determinate et distincte, et secundum suam rationem quiditativam, circumscripto omni actu cuiuslibet potentiae comparativae, -- et isto modo dico voluntatem Dei esse in sua essentia formaliter et ex natura rei."

And the translation for the differently abled:

"...I respond to the question by explaining two expressions used in this question: what do I understand by the expressions 'for something to be in the divine from the nature of things' and 'to be there formally'?

As far as the first is concerned, I say that for something to be in something else from the nature of things' means for it to be there really, and not as a result of some relational act of some potency: neither through the processing act of the intellect nor [through] the relating [act of the] will.

[Regarding the] second, I say that for something to be in another formally, or to be in something formally 'such', [first of all] means that it should not be in that other potentially (as white is potentially in the substrate of [something] black), nor virtually (as an effect is in a cause or an attribute in a subject), nor confusedly (as extremes are in the mean and components in a mixture). On the contrary, for something to be 'formally such' or [simply] 'formally' in another is for it to be in it actually, determinately and distinctly, as well as according to its quidditative principle, apart from every act of any relating potency--and it is in this way, I say, that the divine will is in his essence formally and from the nature of things."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tolkien and the Modern Church

From Fr. Z's blog

A letter of Tolkien from 1967:

"‘Trends’ in the Church are…serious, especially to those accustomed to find in it a solace and a ‘pax’ in times of temporal trouble, and not just another arena of strife and change. But imagine the experience of those born (as I) between the Golden and Diamond Jubilee of Victoria. Both senses of imaginations of security have been stripped away from us. Now we find ourselves nakedly confronting the will of God, as concerns ourselves and our position in Time. ‘Back to normal’ – political and Christian predicaments – as a Catholic professor once said to me when I bemoaned the collapse of all my world that began just after I achieved 21. I know quite well that, to you as to me, the Church which once felt like a refuge, now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go! (I wonder if this desperate feeling, the last state of loyalty hanging on, was not, even more often than is actually recorded in the Gospels, felt by Our Lord’s followers in His earthly life-time?) I think there is nothing to do but pray, for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves; and meanwhile to exercise the virtue of loyalty, which indeed only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it.

There are, of course, various elements in the present situation, which are confused, though in fact distinct…The ‘protestant’ search backwards for ‘simplicity’ and directedness-which, of course, though it contains some good or at least intelligible motives, is mistaken and indeed vain. Because ‘primitive Christianity’ is now and in spite of all ‘research’ will ever remain largely unknown; because ‘primitiveness’ is no guarantee of value, and is and was in great part a reflection of ignorance. Grave abuses were as much an element in Christian ‘liturgical’ behavior from the beginning as now. (St. Paul’s strictures on eucharistic behavior are sufficient to show this!) Still more because ‘my church’ was not intended by Our Lord to be static or remain in perpetual childhood; but to be a living organism (likened to a plant), which develops and changes in externals by the interaction of its bequeathed divine life and history – the particular circumstances of the world into which it is set. There is no resemblance between the ‘mustard seed’ and the full-grown tree. For those living in the days of its branching growth the Tree is the thing, for the history of a living thing is part of its life, and the history of a divine thing is sacred. The wise may know that it began with a seed, but it is vain to try and dig it up., for it no longer exists, and the virtue and powers that it had now reside in the Tree. Very good: but in husbandry the authorities, the keepers of the Tree, must look after it, according to such wisdom as they possess, prune it, remove cankers, get rid of parasites, and so forth (with trepidation, knowing how little their knowledge of growth is!). But they will certainly do harm, if they are obsessed with the desire of going back to the seed or even to the first youth of the plant when it was (as they imagine) pretty and unaffected by evils.

The other motive (now so confused with the primitivist one, even in the mind of any one of the reformers)” aggiornamento: bringing up to date: that has its own grave dangers, as has been apparent throughout history. With this ‘ecumenicalness’ has also become confused. I find myself in sympathy with those elements that are strictly ‘ecumenical,’ that is concerned with other groups or churches that call themselves (and often truly are) ‘Christian.’ We have prayed endlessly for Christian reunion, but it is difficult to see, if one reflects, how that could possibly begin to come about except as it has, with all its inevitable minor absurdities. An increase in ‘charity’ is an enormous gain."

Tolkien's grandson, Simon on his grandfather:

"I vividly remember going to church with him [J.R.R.] in Bournemouth. He was a devout Roman Catholic and it was soon after the Church had changed the liturgy from Latin to English. My grandfather obviously didn’t agree with this and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but my grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right. He inherited his religion from his mother, who was ostracised by her family following her conversion and then died in poverty when my grandfather was just 12. I know that he played a big part in the decision to send me to Downside, a Roman Catholic school in Somerset."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thomistic Meditations; Or, A Scotist Looks at Vatican II

This post will be of interest only to our catholic readers. On today's "The catholic thing" blog, Ralph McInerny wrote the following, about the publication of some letters of Maritain:

"In the post-Conciliar years bumptious readers of the Council documents have declared that the hegemony of Thomas Aquinas is over, that Thomism no longer plays a favored role for the Catholic philosopher and theologian. Nothing in the documents supports this claim, nor do the repeated endorsements of the popes, but that scarcely matters to a certain kind of Catholic. Having lived through the decades of this condescension toward Thomas, it is refreshing to turn to the letters of two men for whom Thomas Aquinas was the major inspiration and whose work developed ever new lines of relevance between the Thomistic text and modern times."


"The Church’s centuries old and reiterated preference for Thomas Aquinas is sometimes looked upon as an untested hypothesis, a promissory note that might or might not be redeemable. That is why the concrete efforts of those who followed the Church’s advice and produced work of lasting interest is important. Here is variegated proof of the fruitfulness of turning to Thomas Aquinas as one’s principal guide in philosophy and theology."

This is of course old hat. Thomists have long claimed that Thomas Aquinas enjoys a pre-eminence, is a higher authority, than other catholic thinkers. This goes for theology and philosophy. There are a number of things I have never understood about these sorts of claims. For example, does this mean knowledge of Thomas is necessary for salvation? Or at least to hold opinions contrary to Aquinas is to fall into heresy, say, to maintain Scotistic univocity in the church of today? Does the Church have the authority to dictate philosophy? I have seen some Thomists from pre vat. 2 days claim that Thomistic philosophy and theology is binding on the faithful, save in those areas where the thomistic commentary tradition itself is divided as to the meaning of Thomas.

That Thomas has been recommended by many Popes is not at issue (though the claim that the Summa theologiae sat next to the Bible on the altar at the council of Trent is a thomist myth). But Duns Scotus has also been recommended by many popes, as has the "old" franciscan school comprised of those who follow Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, etc. Indeed, representatives of both franciscan schools were present at Trent and the Tridentine decrees were worded so that franciscan theologian opinions would not be excluded.

But when we look around at the recent history of the church it is clear that these claims by thomists were given an appearance of truth by the fact that everyone prior to vatican two were thomists or neo-thomists (excepting the very few genuine modernists and other groups such as the Novelle theologie). One would expect then that this critical mass of thomists was the result of some victory of the thomist school in the past, some famous disputation in which the Augustinians, Scotists, old franciscans, Albertists, and the Nominalists were all present and clearly refuted. But the historical record does not contain evidence of such a momentous event. What we have instead is the apparent collapse of scholasticism as a force in the universities sometime around the beginning of the 18th century. In the church, there were all sorts of doctrinal factions, much like there was in the 13th century, and much like today. But some were opposed to this, and began studying Aquinas on their own, often discouraged by the church hierarchy. Eventually this movement culminated in Leo XIII's encyclical Aeterni Patris which initiated the neo-thomistic revival. Make no mistake; though Leo generally mutters out of the side of his mouth "...and the other great scholastics" he gives pride of place to Aquinas. They ruled for a time, times, and half a time, until they were overthrown after Vatican II. Now I agree here with McInerny; there is nothing in the council documents to support the upset. But it seems true de facto. It was just plain dropped as part of the general heady revolutionary fever of the times that produced also the travesty of the new mass (NB: I am not a SSPXer, and fully admit the validity of the new mass and the church's authority to promulgate it). The origins of this revolution seem easy to explain; the thomist hegemony ruled the church with an iron hand, suppressing a great deal of discussion and persecuting those who did not agree with them. The revolution was a revolution not against the tradition of the church, nor even against "post-tridentine" catholicism, but against the neo-thomistic revival.

According to hearsay, the "Vatican" Commission charged with editing Scotus' opera omnia thought Leo XIII's endorsement of Thomas to be a huge mistake, and that Scotus should have been proposed instead. Indeed, I largely agree with them, and would add that in my opinion, Aeterni Patris was the biggest mistake in the modern history of the church; if, however, there had been a Scotist party in existence at the time (there certainly was critical scholarship on Scotus, but that is not the same thing), I doubt they would have behaved much differently (I assume, then, as I see myself as a loyal son of the Church, that Aeterni Patris was not a magisterial declaration, but a disciplinary directive). No, the problem as I see it was giving power to any one of these traditional viae (ie., thomism, scotism, albertism, nominalism), as much of their traditional behavior during the middle ages was the defense of their own via against all comers, which in the 14th and 15th centuries often took the form of legislating each other out of existence at various universities (ie, by university statue one would have to hold nominalist positions; Cologne was unique in that the viae all existed side by side at the same university) that were then coming into being.

To return to McInerny's statements and the larger questions they bring, if we grant them, does this mean all of Thomas is authoritative? Even the part where he denies the immaculate conception, advances the Aristotelian embryology, or holds to geo-centrism? Clearly not. So there must be some common doctrine embedded within the thought of the common doctor; could we go so far as to say this doctrine is common to all the scholastics? Is the common doctrine those points where there is unanimous agreement? But what then do we do with the church recommending both Scotus and Aquinas? Can we tolerate, at least on the level of church politics or theological dialogue, or whatever, a sort of relativism in which both their opinions and say, Rahner and von Balthasar's are permitted while still affirming that there is only one Truth? Or will we rather, as Scotus says in his question on the Filioque, remain lovers of our own opinions?

[NB: I am fully aware that everything I have been trained in and the critical editions and scholarship I read owe their being directly to Aeterni Patris. It was the Thomists that first returned to manuscripts.]

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Salutary Warning

Mos partium et factionum ac deinde omnium malarum artium Romae ortus est otio atque abundantia earum rerum quae prima mortales ducunt. Nam ante Carthaginem deletam populus et senatus Romanus placide modesteque inter se rem publicam tractabant. Neque gloriae neque dominationis certamen inter cives erat; metus hostilis in bonis artibus civitatem retinebat. Sed ubi illa formido mentibus decessit, scilicet ea quae res resundae amant, lascivia atque superbia, incessere. Ita quod in adversis rebus optaverant otium postquam adepti sunt, asperius acerbiusque fuit.


Etre un philosophe

I begin by declaring to my reader that, by everything good or bad that I have done throughout my life, I am sure that I have earned merit or incurred guilt, and that hence I must consider myself a free agent. The doctrine of the Stoics, and of any other sect, on the power of Destiny is a figment of the imagination which smacks of atheism. I am not only a monotheist but a Christian whose faith is strengthened by philosophy, which has never injured anything. . . .

Man is a free agent; but he is not free if he does not believe it, for the more power he attributes to Destiny, the more he deprives himself of the power which God granted him when he gave him reason.

Reason is a particle of the Creator's divinity. If we use it to make ourselves humble and just, we cannot but please him who have it to us. God does not cease to be God except for those who consider his nonexistence possible. They cannot suffer a greater punishment.

--Casanova, History of My Life, Preface

Friday, August 14, 2009

On the Intelligibility of Matter

Back to our regular programming. Here is a passage from the Parisian Reportatio on the intelligibility of matter. The context (since I care about such matters) is a series of arguments against Aquinas' position in the Summa that higher degrees of immateriality include higher degrees of intellectuality. Perhaps one could also put it by saying that intellectuality is rooted in immateriality. Scotus makes some interesting arguments against the Thomistic view that the human soul is the lowest type of knower, that it stands midway on the continuum from material things to God in its intellective capabilities. And finally the passage about matter:

Reportatio IA d.35 q.1 a.1 n. 22 (ed. Wolter-Bychkov 356-7):

Contra hoc quod dicitur quod ratio intelligibilis in actu est immaterialitas, arguo sic: si ens in quantum ens et secundum se acceptum sit per se intelligibile et primum obiectum intellectus, impossibile est quod sit aliqua condicio entis per se, quin habens illam sit secundum illam per se intelligibile quantum est ex se. Materialitas autem est una per se condicio ipsius entis, aliter ens materiale non esset per se ens. Ergo ens materiale in quantum materiale est ens per se intelligibile quantum est ex se et per se cognoscibile. Unde materialia et singularia sensibilia ab intellectu omnia intelligente secundum gradum suae entitatis ita perfecte cognoscuntur sicut immaterialia quantum est de perfectione actus, sed non ab intellectu nostro nisi per abstractionem a phantamatibus et singularibus. Sed hoc non est ex incognoscibilitate eorum, sed ex imperfectione intellectus nostri qui nec suprema nec infima cognoscit secundum modum cognosiciblitatis eorum.

Translation by the same:

Against the statement that the nature of the intelligible in its actualized state is immateriality I argue as follows: if one accepts that being qua being is of itself intelligible and the first object of the intellect, it is impossible that there be some condition of being qua being, which, if it were present, would prevent it from being intelligible of itself. Now materiality is one of such very own conditions of being itself: otherwise material being would not of itself be being. Therefore, material being, [even] insofar as it is material, is being that is of itself intelligible and knowable, [precisely] by its own very nature. Whence material things and singular sensibles are as perfectly known by an intellect that understands all things according to the degree of their entity as are immaterial things, if one speaks of a perfect act [of understanding]. However, [they are] not [understood] by the human intellect except by abstraction from the images in the imagination and from singular things. This is however, not because they cannot be known, but bccause of the imperfection of our intellect, which is able to cognize neither highest nor lowest realities according to their mode of intelligibility.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Clarity at last

I often wondered what they thought about who pseudo-Denys really was. Here's the answer:

"Of course, I don’t believe that the writer of The Divine Names, Mystical Theology, etc. is a Pseudo-Dionysios 5th Century writer coming from historical textual criticism from 19th century German scholars, but rather St. Paul’s actual convert in Acts as we hymn in the liturgy. That’s a seperate matter though, but it is an important one.


I guess he must have taught Proclus then, or else close textual parallels are purely coincidental. And yet its us latins that have been corrupted by Platonism.