Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Scholasticism, Thomism

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange on the Point of Culmination

Point of Culmination

Reginald Garrigou Lagrange Young“This point is found in the idea of self-subsistent being. This idea unifies the five ways as a common keystone unifies five arches. Five attributes appear, one at the end of each way, in ascending order thus: first mover of the universe, corporeal and spiritual, first efficient cause, first necessary being, supreme being, supreme directing intelligence. Now these five attributes are to be found only in self-subsistent being, who alone can say: ‘I AM WHO AM.’ Let us look at each of the five.

The prime mover must be his own activity. But mode of activity follows mode of being. Hence the prime mover must be his own subsistent being.

The first cause, being uncaused, must have in itself the reason for its existence. But the reason why it cannot cause itself is that it must be before it can cause. Hence, not having received existence, it must be existence.

The first necessary being also implies existence as an essential attribute, that is, it cannot be conceived as merely having existence, but must be of itself existence.

The supreme being, being absolutely simple and perfect, cannot have a mere participated share of existence, but must be of itself existence.

Lastly, the supreme directing intelligence cannot be itself proportioned to an object other than itself; it must itself be the object actually and always known. Hence it must be able to say, not merely ‘I have truth and life,’ but rather ‘I am truth and life.’

Here, then, lies the culminating keystone point, the metaphysical terminus of the road that ascends from the sense world to God. This ascending road ends where begins the higher road, the road of the wisdom which, from on high, judges the world by its supreme cause.

Thus again, at the summit of the universe reappears the fundamental Thomistic truth. In God alone are essence and existence identified. In this supreme principle lies the real and essential distinction of God from the world. This distinction reveals God as unchangeable and the world as changeable (the first three proofs for His existence). It becomes more precise when it reveals God as absolutely simple and the world as multifariously composed (fourth and fifth proofs). It finds its definitive formula when it reveals God as “HE WHO IS,” whereas all other things are only receivers of existence, hence composed of receiver and received, of essence and existence. The creature is not its own existence, it has existence after receiving it. If the verb ‘is’ expresses identity of subject and predicate, the negation ‘is not’ denies this identification.

This truth is vaguely grasped by the common sense of natural reason, which, by a confused intuition, sees that the principle of identity is the supreme law of all reality, and hence the supreme law of thought. As A is identified with A, so is supreme reality identified with absolutely one and immutable Being, transcendentally and objectively distinct from the universe, which is, essentially diversified and mutable. This culminating point of natural reason, thus precisioned by philosophic reason, is at the same time revealed in this word of God to Moses: ‘I AM WHO AM.’

Now we understand the formulation given to the twenty-third of the twenty-four theses. It rungs thus: The divine essence, since it is identified with the actual exercise of existence itself, that is, since it is self-subsistent existence, is by the that identification proposed to us in its well-formed metaphysical constitution, and thereby gives us the reason for its infinite perfection. To say it briefly: God alone is self-subsistent existence, in God alone are essence and existence identified. This proposition, boundless in its range, reappears continually on the lips of St. Thomas. But it loses its deep meaning in those who, like Scotus and Suarez, refuse to admit in all creatures a real distinction between essence and existence.

To repeat. According to St. Thomas and his school God alone is His own existence, uncaused, unparticipated self-existence, whereas no creature is its own existence; the existence it has is participated, received, limited, by the essence, by the objective capacity which receives it. This truth is objective, a reality which antecedes all operation of the mind. Hence the composition of essence and existence is not a mere logical composition, but something really found in the very nature of created reality. Were it otherwise, were the creature not thus composed, then it would be act alone, pure act, no longer really and essentially distinct from God.

Self-existent understanding is given by some Thomists as the metaphysical essence of God, as the point where the five ways converge and culminate. While we prefer the term self-existent being, self-existent existence, the difference between the two positions is less great than it might at first seem to be. Those who see that culminating point in ipsum esse subsistens, begin by teaching that God is not body but pure spirit. From the spirituality follow the two positions in question: first, that God is the supreme Being, self-existent in absolute spirituality at the summit of all reality; second, that He is the supreme intelligence, the supreme truth, the supreme directive intelligence of the universe.

On this question, then, of God’s metaphysical essence according to our imperfect way of understanding, the two positions agree. They agree likewise when the question arises: What is it that formally constitutes the essence of God as He is in Himself, as He is known by the blessed in heaven who see Him without medium, face to face? The answer runs thus: Deity itself, not self-subsistent existence, not self-existent understanding. Self-subsisting existence indeed contains all divine attributes, but only implicitly, as deductions to be drawn therefrom in order, one by one. But Deity, God as He is in Himself, contains in transcendent simplicity all these divine attributes explicitly. The blessed in heaven, since they see God as He is, have no need of progressive deduction.”[1]


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, Pg. 67-70

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Scholasticism, Thomism

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange on the Fundamental Validity of the Five Ways

Fundamental Validity of the Five Ways

Reginald Garrigou Lagrange“All these proofs rest on the principle of causality: Anything that exists, if it does not exist of itself, depends in last analysis on something that does exist of itself. To deny this principle leads to absurdity. To say “a thing contingent, that is, a thing which of itself does not have existence, is nevertheless uncaused” is equivalent to saying: A thing may exist of itself and simultaneously not exist of itself. Existence of itself would belong to it, both necessary and impossibly. Existence would be an inseparable predicate of a being which can be separated from existence. All this is absurd, unintelligible. Kant here objects. It is absurd, he says, for human intelligence, but not perhaps in itself absurd and unintelligible.

In answer, let us define absurdity. Absurd is that which cannot exist because it is beyond the bounds of objective reality, without any possible relation to reality. It is agreement between two terms which objectively can never agree. Thus, an uncaused union of things in themselves diverse is absurd. The only cause of union is unity. Union means a share in unity, because it presupposes things which are diverse, brought together by a higher unity. When you say: ‘Anything (from angel to grain of sand) can arise without any cause from absolute nothing,’ then you are making a statement which is not merely unsupported and gratuitous, but which is objectively absurd. Hence, we repeat: A being which is not self-existent, which only participates in existence, presupposes necessarily a Being which by nature is self-existent. Unity by participation presupposes unity by essence.

We have here presented the principle of causality, as St. Thomas does in question three, by the way that ascends from effect to cause. The same truth can be treated in the descending order, from cause to effect, as it is in fact treated later in the Summa. Many modern authors proceed from this second viewpoint, But the first order ought to precede the second.

To proceed. The denial of the principle of causality is not, it is true, a contradiction is immediately evident as if I were to say: ‘The contingent is not contingent.’ St. Thomas gives reason why this is so. In denying causality, he says, we do not deny the definition itself of the contingent. What we do deny is, not the essence of contingent, but an immediate characteristic of that essence. But to deny the principle as thus explained is as absurd as to affirm that we cannot, knowing the essence of a thing, deduce from that essence its characteristics. Hence to deny essential dependence of contingent being on its cause leads to absurdity, because such denial involves the affirmation that existence belongs positively to a thing which is not by nature self-existent and still is uncaused. Thus we would have, in one subject, the presence both of unessential existence and of non-dependence on any cause of its existence: a proposition objectively absurd.

But we find the denial of this principle of causality in ways that are still less evidently contradictory (in Spinoza, for example) where the contradiction is, at first sight, hidden and unapparent. To illustrate. Some who read the sentence, ‘Things incorporeal can of themselves occupy a place,’ cannot at once see that the sentence contains a contradiction. And still it is absurd to think that a spirit, which lives in an order higher than the order of quantity and space, should nevertheless be conceived as of itself filling place, place being a consequence of quantity and space.

Likewise there are contradictions which emerge only under the light of revelation. Suppose, as illustration, a man says there are four persons in God. Faith, not reason, tells us the proposition is absurd. Only those who enjoy the beatific vision, who know what God is, can see the proposition’s intrinsic absurdity.

If denial or doubt of the principle of causality leads to doubt or denial of the principle of contradiction, then the five classic proofs, truly understood, of God’s existence cannot be rejected without finding absurdity at the root of all reality. We must choose: either the Being who exists necessarily and eternally, who alone can say ‘I am truth and life,’ or then a radical absurdity at the heart of the universe. If truly God is necessary Being, on which all else depends, then without Him the existence of anything else becomes impossible, inconceivable, absurd. In point of fact, those who will not admit the existence of a supreme and universal cause, which is itself existence, and life, must content themselves with a creative evolution, which, lacking any raison d’etre, becomes a contradiction: universal movement, without subject distinct from itself, without efficient cause distinct from itself, without a goal distinct from itself, an evolution wherein, without cause, the more arises from the less. Contradiction, identity, causality, all first principles go overboard. Let us repeat. Without a necessary and eternal being, on which all else depends, nothing exists and nothing can exist. To deny God’s existence and simultaneously to affirm any existence is to fall necessarily into contradiction, which does not always appear on the surface, in the immediate terms employed, but which is always there if you will but examine those terms. Many of Spinoza’s conclusions contain these absurdities. A fortiori, they lie hidden in atheistic doctrine which denies God’s existence. Hence, agnosticism, which doubts God’s existence, can thereby be led to doubt even the first principle of thought and reality, the principle of contradiction.

Having thus shown the validity of the five ways to prove God’s existence we now turn to dwell on their unity, the point where they all converge and culminate.”[1]


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, Pg. 65-67

Fr. Cornelio Fabro, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Scholasticism, Thomism

Aquinas’s Five Ways & Biblical Commentary

Saint Thomas in Mystical EcstacyTo properly understand the Angelic Doctor’s cathedral of thought, he must be read as a mystic, a theologian, and then only after that – as a philosopher. To enter the cathedral of Aquinas by way of Aristotle, rather than Christ, is to enter the sanctuary incorrectly.

With that being said, I recently stumbled upon this section of an essay by Fr. Cornelio Fabro titled, The Proofs of the Existence of God. In this section Fr. Cornelio identifies a “complement to the five ways” in Aquinas’s biblical commentary on the Gospel of St. John.


“4. Critical Note on the Five Ways

The criticisms inspired by modern thought, though perhaps easier to understand, are not for this reason more satisfying. We can cite, for example, what may be the most common and specious objection: with the five ways, St. Thomas arrives at more than Aristotle’s unmoved Mover, who in fact is not the creator of the world, exercises no Providence regarding humanity, is not personal, etc. – the exact opposite of the Thomistic exegesis. St. Thomas, however, has not simply repeated the Stagirite’s principles, but has penetrated them ‘metaphysically’: in the spiritual climate of Christian creationism he has ‘recovered’ Aristotelian realism’s robust structure of the real, without its historical limitations.

An excellent complement to the five ways is a text which seems to me to be extraordinarily important; later than the Summa, it is still little known even among Thomists.

In the Prologue to his marvelous Lectura in Iohannem St. Thomas shows that philosophers have arrived at God in four ways. He presents them at the beginning of the great commentary on the Gospel of the Word to show how, in its best moments, philosophy was nourished by the Word Himself, turning to Him almost by an inner attraction. I will present their essential content here, as these ‘ways’ can correspond well to the five ways of the Summa, and because the text is unknown and certainly not used by the Thomistic school, though later than the Summa and marvelously explicit.

1) ‘Some attained to a knowledge of God through His authority, and this is the most efficacious way.’ This is the fifth way of the Summan, which here becomes the first: only an Intelligence which transcends the world can explain the finality and order which reigns in the phenomena of nature. ‘For we see the things in nature acting for an end, and attaining to ends which are both useful and certain. And since they lack intelligence, they are unable to direct themselves, but must be directed and moved by one directing them, and who possesses an intellect. Thus it is that the movement of the things of nature toward a certain end indicates the existence of something higher by which the things of nature are directed to an end and governed. And so, since the whole course of nature advances to an end in an orderly way and is directed, we have to posit something higher which directs and governs them as Lord; and this is God.’ The ‘some’ at the beginning of this passage are legion, i.e., all theistic philosophers and indeed all of humanity who, from the order of the world and from the aspirations of man, have always thought of a supreme Orderer to which everything tends and from which all are suspended, the heavens and nature, as Aristotle himself said.

2) ‘Others came to a knowledge of God from His eternity. They saw that whatever was in things was changeable, and that the more noble something is in the grades of being, so much the less it has of mutability. For example, the lower bodies are mutable both as to their substance and to place, while the heavenly bodies, which are more noble, are immutable in substance and change only with respect to place. We can clearly conclude from this that the first principle of all things, which is supreme and more noble, is changeless and eternal.’ This is clearly the way which corresponds most closely to Aristotle’s thought.

Two straightforwardly Platonic ‘ways’ follow; one is in fact attributed to the Platonists, the other to St. Augustine.

3) ‘Still others came to a knowledge of God from the dignity of God; and these were the Platonists. They noted that everything which is something by participation is reduced to what is the same thing by essence, as to the first and highest. Thus, all things which are fiery by participation are reduced by fire, which is such by its essence. And so since all things which exist participate in being (esse) and are beings by participation, there must necessarily be at the summit of all things something which is being (essence) by its essence, i.e., whose essence is its being. And this is God, who is the most sufficient, the most eminent, and the most perfect cause of the whole of being, from whom all things that are participate in being (esse).’ The emphasis and breadth of style show clearly the growing esteem in which St. Thomas held Neoplatonic speculation as the years progressed.

4) ‘Yet others arrived at the knowledge of God from the incomprehensibility of truth. All the truth which our intellect is able to grasp is finite, since according to Augustine, ‘everything that is known is bounded by the comprehension of the one knowing’; and if it is bounded, it is determined and particularized. Therefore, the first and supreme Truth, which surpasses every intellect, must necessarily be incomprehensible and infinite, and this is God.’ The Gospel of St. John gathers these four ways, each the fruit of human ingenuity, into an even greater height and breadth: ‘John’s contemplation was also full. Now contemplation is full when someone is able to consider all the effects of a cause in the cause itself, that is, when he knows not only the essence of the cause, but also its power, according as it can extend out to many things.’ The same can be said of the height and perfection of John’s divine knowledge, such that his Gospel embraces all of the sciences: ‘The Gospel of John contains all together what the above sciences [moral, natural, and metaphysics] have in a divided way, and so it is most perfect.’

It seems beyond doubt that St. Thomas considers all four of these ‘ways’ which today would more properly be called ‘methods’, to be valid and conclusive: he emphasizes arrived at, meaning, ‘they have concluded.’”[1]

– Fr. Cornelio Fabro, The Proofs of the Existence of God –


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] Selected Words of Cornelio Fabro: Volume 9 God An Introduction to Problems in Theology, Fabro, Pg. 88-90

Philosophy, Scholasticism, Theology

Eclectic Neo-Scholasticism

Saint John Paul IILast night at my FB page, a person asked me if I was “giving up” on St. Bonaventure and Bl. John Duns Scotus. This inquiry is justified given recent posts highlighted St. Thomas and the Thomistic tradition.

A short answer to this question is, no. I am not giving up on St. Bonaventure and Bl. John Duns Scotus. After studying the thought of these two masters, there is simply no way I could ignore the entirely positive impact the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition has had on my faith. However, despite immersing myself in Franciscan literature, I cannot ignore the manner in which St. Thomas and Thomistic thought enriches and strengthens my faith as well.

I have been moved by all three of these spiritual and intellectual giants of the Catholic Church.

And although my personality tempts me to be a ‘strict-follower’ of a single thinker, my heart, soul, and intellect will not allow it. As soon as I flirt with the idea of being a “Thomist” I immediately think, “What about Bonaventure?” And if I say to myself, “I will follow Scotus,” I immediately think, “What about Thomas and Bonaventure?”

This pattern could mean a couple of things; I am too eclectic in my thought and interests to be systematically organized and aligned with a single Scholastic master, or I have finally intellectually and spiritually matured beyond the single team mentality. And of course, this is not to say that those who are on but a “single team” are immature, I am only analyzing myself at this point.

A contributing factor for my inability to “commit” to a single tradition is the fact that even within traditions there are competing interpretations of what constitutes authenticity, or what features of a system should be emphasized over others. For example, to be a Thomist isn’t as simple as just following St. Thomas. There are at least 6 different Thomistic traditions within the one singular heading of following St. Thomas. Another example is that within the Franciscan tradition there are discussions regarding how united Bonaventure and Scotus are in their thought. I have read authors who argue that Bonaventure and Scotus, although not entirely separate in their development, each lead their own distinct Franciscan tradition – the Augustinianism of Bonaventure and the Aristotelianism of Scotus. I have also read Franciscan scholars saying that they are basically united with no substantial differences. Moreover, the original lineage of the Friars Minor will most often strongly identify with Scotus rather than Bonaventure, while the O.F.M. Capuchins have selected the “older school” of Bonaventure rather than Scotus.

It is also worth noting that the true position of Scholasticism isn’t necessarily Thomism, or better put, the Scholastic tradition cannot be reduced to the system of St. Thomas Aquinas. Historically speaking, this would be an inaccurate representation of the medieval period. It is true, however, that the Church, in all of her wisdom, has selected the Angelic Doctor as the Universal Doctor for the Mystical Body of Christ. And it is equally true that the Church has identified the ancient philosophical traditions of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Neo-Platonism as the most appropriate handmaidens to Catholic theology. Despite the explicit endorsements of St. Thomas Aquinas, it is important to keep in mind that the same Popes who selected Aquinas’s framework for the Church, and provided essential Thomistic principles for Catholic philosophical foundations, also praised the spirituality and the intellect of other Scholastic masters such as Bonaventure and Scotus. Moreover, many of the famous (infamous) Thomistic theses and positions Pope St. Pius X authoritatively identified directly overlap with various positions of Bonaventure especially. In my view, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure are allied brothers in their respective systems of thought despite nuances that might make their way to the surface. However, it is important to note that there are followers of St. Thomas making nuanced readings of the Angelic Doctor, which is why there are various Thomistic traditions within the single tradition. Thomists don’t simply disagree with the systems of the Seraphic and Subtle Doctors; they disagree with other Thomists as well. It is unfortunate that these nuances often cloud the enormous amount of genuine overlap occurring between these two towering Doctors of the Church – Bonaventure and Aquinas. It is equally unfortunate that academics are almost entirely committed to magnifying these little differences at the expense of advancing Catholic theology and philosophy beyond petty disputes for the purposes of bolstering career and cementing bygone rivalries for generations to come.

Another point for contemplation is how the Scotistic system, based in his own principles and spiritual discernment, gave the Church the Marian dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Almost entirely on his own, he stood against the Dominicans of his era and successfully defended this controversial view. Consider for a moment that Scotus was able to see and articulate what three other saints and doctors of the medieval era missed. St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, and St. Thomas all disagreed with Scotus on this eventual dogma of the Church. So it seems that there is obviously something worth considering and taking serious in the thought of the Subtle Doctor. Any theological movement claiming to be “Catholic” while simultaneously demonizing the figure that prophetically defended a future dogma of the Church is clearly motivated by something other than truth.

One last point on Scotus is the realization that his thought influenced some of the greatest saints in the Church. Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the great saint of Auschwitz, was a dedicated follower of Scotus. He also developed much of Scotus’s Marian thought and provided the Church with a glorious methodological consecration to the Blessed Mother. Although he is not a saint, Bl. John Henry Newman was also deeply influenced by Scotus’s articulation of the absolute primacy of Christ.

To singularly unite to a tradition is not as simple as it looks. Adopting a kind of intellectual tunnel vision, and focusing on theological conflicts, can lead to the detriment of missing out on the mystical wisdom of other Catholic traditions that have developed over the centuries in pursuit of the beatific vision. So I am not giving up on St. Bonaventure or Bl. John Duns Scotus. Instead of wasting my time squinting at the insignificant nuances creating faux-rivalries, I am committed to a Neo-Scholasticism that unites the best features of these traditions.


– Lucas G. Westman

Natural Theology, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saints, Scholasticism, Theology, Thomism

Natural Theology & the Thomistic Synthesis

RGL on Thomism

Natural Theology

That which is, is more than that which can be, more than that which is on the road to be. This principle led Aristotle and Aquinas to find, at the summit of all reality, pure act, understanding of understanding, sovereign and good. But Aquinas rises above Aristotle and Leibnitz, for whom the world is a necessary consequence of God. St. Thomas shows, on the contrary, the reason why we must say with revelation that God is sovereignly free, to create or not to create, to create in time rather than from eternity. The reason lies in God’s infinite plenitude of being, truth, and goodness, which creatures can do noting to increase. After creation, there are more beings, it is true, but not more being, not more perfection, wisdom, or love. “God is none the greater for having created the universe.” God alone, He who is, can say, not merely “I have being, truth, and life,” but rather “I am being itself, truth itself, life itself.”

Hence the supreme truth of Christian philosophy is this: In God alone is essence identified with existence. The creature is only a capability to exist, it is created and preserved by Him who is. Further, the creature, not being its own existence, is not its own action, and cannot pass from potency to act, either in the order of nature or in that of grace, except by divine causality.

We have thus shown how Thomism is an elevated synthesis, which, while it rejects unfounded denials, assimilates the positive tendencies of current philosophical and theological conceptions. This synthesis recognizes that reality itself is incomparably more rich than our ideas of that reality. In a word, Thomism is characterized by a sense of mystery, which is the source of contemplation. God’s truth, beauty, and holiness are continually recognized as transcending all philosophy, theology, and mysticism, as uncreated richness to be attained only by the beatific vision, and even under that vision, however clearly understood, as something which only God Himself can comprehend in all its infinite fullness. Thomism thus keeps ever awake our natural, conditional, and inefficacious desire to see God as He is. Thus we grow in appreciation of the gifts of grace and charity, which move us, efficaciously, to desire and to merit the divine vision.

This power of assimilation is therefore a genuine criterion whereby to appraise the validity and scope of Thomism, from the lowest material elements up to God’s own inner life. Economy demands that any system have one mother-idea, as radiating center. The mother-idea of Thomism is that of God as pure act, in whom alone is essence identified with existence. This principle, the keystone of Christian philosophy, enables us to explain, as far as can be done here below, what revelation teaches of the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the unity of existence in the three divine persons, the unity of existence in Christ. It explains likewise the mystery of grace. All that is good in our free acts comes from God as first cause, just as it comes from us as second causes. And when we freely obey, when we accept rather than resist grace, all that is good in that act comes from the source of all good. Nothing escapes that divine and universal cause, who without violence actualizes human freedom, just as connaturally as He actualizes the tree to bloom and bear fruit.

Let Thomism then be judged by its principles, necessary and universal, all subordinated to one keystone principle, not a restricted principle as is that of human freedom, but by the uncreated principle of Him who is, on whom everything depends, in the order of being and activity, in the order of grace and nature. This is the system which, in the judgment of the Church, most nearly approaches the ideal of theology, the supreme branch of knowledge.

– Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought


– Lucas G. Westman

Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saints, Scholasticism, Theology, Thomism

Catholic Theology & Philosophical Foundations

Saint Thomas Aquinas the Angelic Doctor Background“As we will see, Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et ratio strenuously upholds the tradition of giving priority to faith in the question of the relationship between faith and reason. To do otherwise, of course, would be to flirt with rationalism. Faith, however, must be understood; it is always, to borrow from St. Anselm, “seeking understanding,” What rational tools will one use to understand one’s Christian faith? Of the many philosophies that human culture knows and has known, which one ought to be chosen to aid in the comprehension of faith? Is every philosophy equal to this task?

As is well-known, St. Thomas chose the philosophy of Aristotle for this task. He found that Aristotle’s thought served the faith well; he found, most precisely, that the metaphysics of Aristotle provided a strong foundation upon with to “think the faith.” In light of this, and in light of Pope Leo XIII’s Thomistic revival, theologians began to ask if Catholic theology must be forever wedded to the philosophy of Aristotle. Many said no and attempted to change the philosophical foundations of Catholic theology – none with great success.

The University of Fribourg’s eminent philosopher, I.M. Bochenski, sets the stage for an answer as to why this was so. He explains that modern philosophy, that is, philosophy during the time between 1600 and 1900,

“came into being with the decline of scholastic philosophy. Characteristic of scholasticism is its pluralism (assuming the plurality of really different beings and levels of being), personalism (acknowledging the preeminent value of the human person), its organic conception of reality, as well as its theocentric attitude – God the Creator as its center of vision. Detailed logical analysis of individual problems is characteristic of scholastic method. Modern philosophy opposes every one of these tenets. Its fundamental principles are mechanism, which eliminates the conception of being as integral and hierarchical, and subjectivism, which diverts man from his previous concentration of God and substitutes the subject as the center. In point of method modern philosophy turned its back on formal logic. With some notable exceptions, it was characterized by the development of great systems and by the neglect of analysis.”

The mechanistic and subjectivist a prioris of modern philosophy, along with a whole set of reductionisms in contemporary philosophy, simply do not provide a solid enough grounding for Christian faith.”


– Lucas G. Westman

*Taken From The Sacred Monster of Thomism



Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Scholasticism, Theology, Thomism, Traditionalism

The Sacred Monster of Strict-Observance Thomism

RGL PhotoStrict-Observance Thomism

The first chapter of Helen James John’s The Thomist Spectrum is entitled “Garrigou-Lagrange and Strict-Observance Thomism.” She notes that the qualifier “strict-observance” was coined in “a half-joking fashion many years ago, but has now become a standard way of speaking about the Thomism taught in the Roman universities up to the Second Vatican Council”; it is a double-entendre – playing on the strict-observance faction present in many religious orders. In her judgment, St. Pius X’s condemnation of Modernism in Pascendi was the single-most important factor to highlight for the explanation of this type of Thomism because, in its wake, “the reaction against Modernism became the leit-motif for a total interpretation of the thought of St. Thomas.” Garrigou-Lagrange would become the leading proponent of Strict-Observance Thomism; and with the Sacred Congregation for Studies’ publication of its “Decree of Approval of Some Theses Contained in the Doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas and Proposed to the Teachers of Philosophy” on 27 July 1914, this version of Thomism “found a quasi-official formulation.”

To simply a host of issues, Strict-Observance Thomism is at great pains to protect the metaphysical foundations of Catholic theology; part and parcel of this ‘protection’ is a demonstration that the Aristotelian heritage in metaphysics has neither been transcended nor shown to be seriously wanting. In this section, we will examine the philosophical underpinnings of Strict-Observance Thomism; we will see that many of the issues that we explored in reference to Garrigou’s disputes with the philosophes of Henri Bergson and Maurice Blondel will come into clearer focus. Since Strict-Observance Thomism is most interested in combatting Modernism, the following insight is helpful in setting the stage for understanding Garrigou’s passionate engagement with the question:

“The philosophical aspect of Modernism lay in the position that the doctrines of faith must be regarded not as stable truths of the speculative order, but as ‘symbolic’ expressions of man’s religious needs, whose content required radical reformulation to adapt it to the changed circumstances of successive eras of Christianity. The import of this position, which retained the traditional expressions of faith while denying their truth, has been aptly, if flippantly, summed up in the proposition that ‘There is no God and the Blessed Virgin is His Mother.’”

Of utmost importance is that Strict-Observance Thomism holds that the truths of Christian faith are expressions of realities that transcend the religious longings of the human person. These truths are held to have been revealed by God: they are not accounted for by a mere inspection of the workings of the human heart. This point must be insisted upon: Strict-Observance Thomism, while employing what might today strike many as obscure philosophical concepts, places its priority squarely on revelation. There is no equivocation in its doctrine that God has revealed certain truths and that these truths cannot be known apart from the gratuity of divine revelation. While it is true that these truths can be rationally analyzed and can be shown to be ‘reasonable’ and can even be shown to respond to the deepest needs of the human person, they cannot be accounted for without reference to the God who has deigned to reveal them.”


– Lucas G. Westman

*Taken from The Sacred Monster of Thomism, Pg. 119 – 121

Apologetics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Scholasticism, Thomism

Ed Feser on Rejections of the Cosmological Argument

MetaphysicsTaken from Ed Feser’s essay, The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument:

III.2. Maybe the universe itself (or the Big Bang, or the multiverse, or indeterministic quantum events, or the laws of physics) is the uncaused, self-explanatory, or necessary being: This objection, often concomitant with the first, is raised in various forms by Dawkins, Dennett, Krauss, Rosenberg, and Stenger. And like the first objection, it completely misses the point of each of the versions of the cosmological argument we’ve considered. As we have seen, whatever one thinks of those arguments, there is no arbitrariness or special pleading in their denying that God requires a cause while insisting that everything other than God does. The difference is in each case a principled one. And the principle in each case gives an answer to the question why the universe, the Big Bang, etc. cannot be the terminus of explanation.

For the Aristotelian, any actualization of a potency requires a cause, while what is pure actuality, and only what is pure actuality, does not. But the universe is a mixture of actuality and potentiality, and the Big Bang involved the actualization of a potential, as would each stage in the evolution of a multiverse and each quantum event (indeterminism being irrelevant). The laws of physics are also by themselves merely potential insofar as they could have been other than they are. Hence none of these could be self-explanatory, necessary, or “uncaused” in the relevant sense of being the sort of thing that need not and could not have a cause.

Similarly, for the Neoplatonist neither the universe nor the multiverse could be uncaused, necessary, or self-explanatory, precisely because they are composite. Quantum events and laws of physics also lack the metaphysical simplicity that the Neoplatonist argues we must attribute to the first principle of all. Their contingency is one indication of this, insofar as the fact that they could have been other than they are entails a distinction between essence and existence. Leibniz, of course, would point out that the universe, Big Bang, quantum events, and laws of nature are all contingent rather than necessary and thus could not provide an ultimate explanation; while the defender of the kalam argument would point out that since his claim is precisely that the Big Bang and everything that came into being with it – the universe along with the laws of physics, including the laws of quantum mechanics, that govern it – require a cause, it simply begs the question against him to claim that any of these things might be the terminus of explanation.

Much more could be said. In particular, the metaphysical status of laws of nature is itself so vexed an issue that it is amazing that anyone could think a glib reference to the laws of physics might settle anything in this context. What is a law of nature? How does it have any efficacy? Is a law of nature merely a statement to the effect that such-and-such a regularity exists? In that case it isn’t an explanation of anything but merely a description of the very thing that needs to be explained. Is a law of nature a kind of Platonic entity? In that case we need an account of how the world comes to participate in such a law, and why it participates in the specific laws it does rather than others. And in that case too, laws cannot be ultimate explanations. Is a law of nature a shorthand description of the way a natural substance will tend to behave given its nature or essence? In that case the existence of laws is parasitic on the existences of substances themselves, and again cannot then be an ultimate explanation.

Naturally, the New Atheist might reject any of these views of laws of nature, along with the Aristotelian, Neoplatonic, Leibnizian, or kalam accounts of why the universe cannot be an uncaused cause or self-explanatory or necessary being. The point, however, is that the New Atheist has given no reason whatsoever to reject any of this. Merely to suggest that the universe, Big Bang, etc. might be the terminus explanation is imply to ignore the cosmological argument, not to answer it.


– Lucas G. Westman

Blessed John Duns Scotus, Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, Saint Bonaventure, Scholasticism, Seraphic Orthodoxy, The Franciscans

Saint Bonaventure & Bl. John Duns Scotus

saint-bonaventure-and-blessed-john-duns-scotusGiven my recent investigations into the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, I have naturally been reading as much literature by and about Saint Bonaventure and Bl. John Duns Scotus as I possibly can. While these two great figures have differing styles of writing and contemplation, I have noticed that the stylistic differences share a common Franciscan unity. My initial hunch has been that Saint Bonaventure, being the first intellectual master of the Franciscan tradition, initiated the process of thematically drawing out the spirituality of Saint Francis by developing a distinctive approach to Franciscan philosophy and theology. The Seraphic Doctor would eventually develop a robust system of thought that in my view, doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. Blessed John Duns Scotus would later inherit Bonaventure’s legacy, re-formulate it, and eventually become the primary intellectual force within the Franciscan tradition.

Consider this description of Saint Bonaventure’s use of analogy,

“While the notion of analogy is common among Scholastics, it has a unique tonality in Bonaventure who seems to stress the positive side more than the negative. ‘The created world is like a book in which is reflected, represented, and read the Creative trinity.’ While analogy, at one level, is a mode of predication, it is far more than this since our understanding of predication reflects our understanding of what constitutes the real order of things. If all creation springs from the triune God, then in some way creatures must reflect this fact. Bonaventure finds a universe that reflects the Trinitarian God in different degrees, from the most distant resemblance of the vestige to the highest likeness of the similitude. He finds triadic structures at virtually every significant level of concern. If the world, in its depth, is a vast symbol of the divine reality, then analogy is the key to unlocking the meaning of the universe. And for those who learn to read the analogies, the world becomes a path or a ladder that leads back to God.”[1]

Later, when discussing the hierarchical nature of Bonaventurian themes, a similar conceptual understanding of analogy associated with God’s relation to the created order can be identified,

“The levels of the hierarchy are not merely superimposed layers with no significant relation to one another. On the contrary, there are lines of interaction between the various degrees of hierarchies. There is a chain of mediation in which the higher members of the hierarchy pass on influences to those members immediately below them. Guardini compares the entire structure to a system of canals through which a common vital power streams. While the beings of the hierarchy have a mediating role to play in reference to one another, it is the influence of God that streams forth through the channels of this vast, living, organism, reaching into all areas of the spiritual life and brining forth the higher degrees of God-likeness in creatures.”[2]

In my view, these paragraphs describing Bonaventure’s views on analogy and God’s relation to the created order are entirely in line with the classical theistic tradition of the Catholic Church. And rather than abandoning the lead of the Seraphic Doctor, Scotus, the Subtle Doctor, will eventually draw out of these Bonaventurian themes a system of his own while staying true to the Franciscan heritage initiated by the spirituality of Saint Francis, the Seraphic Father of the order. To be sure, there are important philosophical differences between Bonaventure and Scotus, but the Franciscan charism motivating their work unifies the spirit of their systems.

Far from being a proto-modernist, the gifted Scotus advances the tradition inherited from the Franciscan forefathers,

“Bonaventure died in 1274, was canonized in 1482, and made a primary Doctor of the Church in 1588. He was succeeded in the chair of theology at Paris by Gilbert of Tournai, Walter of Bruges, John Pecham, Matthew of Aquasparta, and Richard of Middleton. Marcil points out that the thirteenth century theologians kept an independent style, but generally followed the Bonaventurian lead while departing on some points. Marcil has in mind Peter of Olivi and John Duns Scotus. But for the purposes of the narrative on Scotus, the caveat is that Scotus’ style may only appear to be more arid, and a digression from Bonaventure. Therefore, the critical question is: is Scotus’ thought a digression or a fuller explanation of what Bonaventure began? Upon close examination, Scotus does not represent a substantial change in approach to the nature of philosophy and theology. Rather, it can be argued that he gives a more rigorous analysis.”[3]

I am finding that my independent investigations support the contextual claims of the above paragraph. The unity of the Franciscan spiritual heritage allows a both/and approach to the systems of Bonaventure and Scotus.

The Newman-Scotus Reader provides this summary of the foundational elements of the Franciscan tradition (Pg. 77, 78):

There are four very important points that will be developed in the chapters ahead. They center on the Franciscan thesis which originates in St. Francis himself. It is the theory about the nature of the predestination of Jesus and Mary. Jointly they are prior to anything else willed by God for existence and not conditioned on the sin of Adam and Eve, a priority that is at the root of any possibility of redemption after sin. Exemplary causality includes their mediatory influence in the world, not only after sin, but before, in the human and angelic orders…

  1. First, familiarity with Scotus’ life, works, and some of his forerunners confirms the place of Scripture, Tradition, the Fathers of the Church, especially the Alexandrine School, Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, John of Damascene, the Victorines, and Anselm.
  2. Second, the Scotistic School is inseparable from the overall context of what is called the Franciscan School. Francis of Assisi wanted educated friars who did their theology on their knees. He was not a tenured theologian, but, in this sense, no less a theologian.
  3. Third, from this vantage point, there is no split between Bonaventure and Scotus, but rather a more exact mode of defining by Scotus that anticipates the future objections of Kant, and, anticipates the overall outline of chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium at Vatican II.
  4. Fourth, the thought of William of Ockham (d.1347) is often presumed to be the next generation in continuity after Scotus’ thought, but Ockham’s nominalism is more closely associated with agnosticism that fails to have scholarly verifiable purchase in Catholic philosophy.


UPDATE: During the scholastic era, one of the important areas of discussion concerned Augustinian illuminationism and the Aristotelian theory of cognition. Saint Bonaventure argued in favor of the Augustinian position. Saint Thomas’s view was a sort of middle ground between the two theories. Some scholars claim that Saint Thomas abandoned illuminationism, but I do not think that is the case. Aquinas is more Augustinian than some may be willing to admit. Blessed John Duns Scotus, however, ended up siding entirely with the Aristotelian theory, and eventually moves beyond Aristotle. Scotus argues that if the Aristotelian theory of cognition is adopted, an adjustment is required in the area of our understanding of being, that is, analogy of being would not be sufficient to derive concepts of God from the created order, at least without divine illumination. This is a primary reason why Scotus developed his theory of univocity of being, which gets you the benefits of illuminationism without some of the epistemic baggage, at least according to Scotus. And contrary to his critics, Scotus does not abandon analogy. He tries to show that if analogy is possible, univocity is always present in the schematic of being. As interesting as Scotus’s move might be, I find myself siding with the “old school” emphasis on analogy, participation, and illumination.


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] The Hidden Center: Spirituality and Speculative Christology in St. Bonaventure, Hayes, Pg. 15

[2] Ibid, Pg. 17

[3] The Newman-Scotus Reader: Contexts and Commonalities, Ondrako, Pg. 77

Augustinian Intellectual Tradition, Perfect Being Theology, Philosophy, Saint Anselm, Scholasticism

Anselm’s Ontological Argument

Saint AnselmSaint Anselm’s ontological argument:

“Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which nothing greater can be conceived. But obviously, this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.”

Descartes’s ontological argument:

“But from the fact that I cannot think of God except as existing, it follows that existence is inseparable from God, and that for this reason he really exists. Not that my thought brings this about or imposes any necessity on anything; but rather the necessity of the thing itself, namely of the existence of God, forces me to think this. For I am not free to think of God without existence, that is, a supremely perfect being without a supreme perfection…”

The ontological argument for the existence of God is one that is rarely loved, let alone even liked, and is most often maligned as religiously motivated sophistry.

I have always been intrigued by the ontological argument. And I must admit, contrary to many detractors, I find it to be convincing. Maybe, if I am completely honest, my favorable disposition for the ontological argument is based, quite heavily, on the fact that it is controversial. The premises of the argument are are completely loaded; Anselm makes the argument from the context of a faith already accepted, the argument posits the absolute supremacy of God, it is couched within the context of ‘perfect being’ theological methodology, the argument utterly ignores the culturally engrained modern notion of empirical verification, and champions the a priori over the a posteriori, which is anathema in our scientific age.

Indeed, what are often considered deficiencies of the argument, I consider its strengths. If a naturalist opponent were going to be honest about the context of their arguments, for better or for worse, they too have loaded premises. The arguments are made within the context of an epistemological scientism already accepted rather than critically examined, they posit the supremacy of the scientific method over that of revealed truths, they utterly ignore the a priori rational foundation of which their strict empiricism rests, all while explicitly mistaking method for metaphysics.

Saint Anselm’s ontological argument is found within the context of a prayer – faith seeking understanding. The naturalist’s argument is found within the context of a denial of prayer – faith seeking scientific verification.


– Lucas G. Westman