Apologetics, Culture, Holy Scripture, Theology

Against the Errors of Charismatic Pentecostals

Against the Errors of the Charismatic PentecostalsPentecostalism is being reported as the fasted growing religious denomination in the world. While many other denominations are in decline, the charismatic movement is gaining momentum, and can even boast of having influences within the Catholic Church.

The speed at which a false religious sect is growing can be a cause for concern, but it is the influence this false religious sect is having on the one, true, Catholic Church that is alarming.

I first encountered Pentecostalism in the Catholic Church when I shared with a priest my transition out of the charismatic movement during my days as a Protestant. When he heard that I used to be a Pentecostal, he asked with noticeable excitement, “Can you speak in tongues!?!?” Another instance is when I was speaking to a girl in my parish about her recent trip to the youth conference at Steubenville. She said it was great, and at one point everyone started speaking in tongues. These two brief occasions were not the only times I encountered Pentecostal sympathies in the Church. I have now met people who actively promote this movement arguing that the charismatic “revival” has always been recognized as legitimate within the Church, and have even been told by a Catholic that it would be beneficial to have a very “pentecostally” prayer session with this sect of Protestantism.

These interactions are truly perplexing.

How could the Catholic Church unite herself to a movement that not only began outside of the Church, but is also intimately associated with the flamboyantly heretical health, wealth, and prosperity gospel of the word of faith movement? How could a uniquely Protestant theology, invented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, promoted by charlatans such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Gloria Copeland, Jesse Duplantis, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Joel Osteen, Victoria Osteen etc., make its way into the Mystical Body of Christ?

One word provides the answer – ecumenism.

The promoters of Pentecostalism and the prosperity “gospel” would vociferously rebuke the mendicant orders of the Scholastic era started by Saint Dominic and Saint Francis. According to the heretical doctrines of this false gospel, God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and have a great career. If you do not have these things – health, wealth, and a prosperous career outlook – then you not only lack true faith but also do not have the blessings of God on your life. How does this teaching square with the evangelical poverty of the mendicants? How does the teaching of true faith being united to bodily health work out in light of the ailments Saint Francis of Assisi was afflicted with, such as blindness late in his life? The mystically received stigmata Saint Francis carried on his body would most certainly be rebuked by any one of these false prosperity peddlers named above, and yet, their theology is being welcomed with open arms into the Mystical Body of Christ, the true Church.

It is also worth noting that there are Protestants exercising more wisdom on this matter than Catholic clerics. Protestants are sounding the alarm against these false teachers while the true shepherds of Christ willingly allow wolves into the fold.

The wrecking ball of modernism truly knows no bounds.

Instead of swallowing the lie, it is our duty as faithful Catholics to expose this error so that others might see the truth; not only so that Catholics might guard their souls against these heresies, but also, that Pentecostals might be rescued from damnable error and enter into the Church where Christ is truly encountered in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass.

There are multiple errors within the Pentecostal sect, but two of them are quite prominent. The most popular false doctrines of Pentecostalism are second baptism (baptism of the Holy Ghost), and glossolalia (speaking in tongues). To be sure, these errors stem from foundational errors such as the rejection of the magisterial authority of the Catholic Church, the adherence of ‘Bible alone’ theology, and private judgment. And to justify their autonomous private judgment (as St. Augustine cringes looking down from heaven), the oft-repeated phrase “the Holy Spirit has laid it upon my heart” is quickly utilized when cautious minds inquire into these teachings. When I started asking questions about the credibility of Benny Hinn’s theology, for example, I was allegedly being informed by the “spirit of doubt” and not really concerned with finding truth on this matter.

In order to reveal the destructive nature of Pentecostalism, let’s focus on the errors of second baptism and speaking in tongues, and how they are derived from incorrect scriptural exegesis resulting in a man-made doctrine.

Part I: Second Baptism

St. Paul the Apostle says,

“Therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, beseech you, that you walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called. With all humility, and mildness, with patience, supporting one another in charity, careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. One body, and one spirit: as you are called in one hope of your vocation. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.”[1]

Despite the fact that St. Paul refutes second baptism in the above passage, this error rises and falls on a single verse, which is most often taken from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible:

“He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.”[2]

The word “since” is used in two different ways – “because” or “from”. The verses that use “since” as “because” are 1 Corinthians 15:21, 2 Corinthians 13:3, and Colossians 1:4. An example of using “since” as “because” can be demonstrated in this sentence, “Can you pay for me this time since/because I paid for you last time.” The verses that use “since” as “from” are Matthew 24:21, Mark 9:21, Luke 1:70, Luke 7:45, Luke 16:16, Luke 24:21, John 9:32, Acts 3:21, Acts 24:11, Colossians 1:6 and 9, Hebrew 9:26, and 2 Peter 3:4. An example of using “since” as “from” can be demonstrated in this sentence, “I’ve been sick since/from last week.”[3]

The charismatic Pentecostals are attempting to divide the above passage through the introduction of separately distinct periods of time in the life of the believer by changing the interpretation of a single word. The correct way to read this passage is by its interconnectedness from the aspect of when a person believed because they have received the Holy Ghost.[4]

Pentecostals use the KJV to support the false doctrine of second baptism, sometimes referred to as second blessings, by using this verse in an incorrect way. This is accomplished by using the wrong definition of “since”. The error persists because “since” is used as “from” rather than “because” as demonstrated above.[5]

The correct way to read this passage would be, “He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since/because ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.”

The Douay-Rheims commentary on Acts 19:2 affords further clarification,

“S. Paul first inquires of them, if they have received the Holy Ghost by confirmation. There answer is probably not to be interpreted with rigor; since they must have heard something of the Holy Spirit, so often mentioned in the Old Testament, by whom the prophets are said to speak of. They meant, they did not know there was in the Church, any means of communicating this Spirit to the faithful.”

The incorrect way to read this passage, that is, the Pentecostal way of reading this passage would be, “He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since/from when ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” This reading, when compared to the correct interpretation above, is being used to justify the Pentecostal idea that a person can believe without receiving the Holy Spirit, and then later be baptized in the spirit by way of spiritual “slaying.” Being “slayed” in the Spirit means to have a Pentecostal minister lay their hands on you or pray over you so that the Holy Spirit will baptize you into receiving the gift of tongues. When this gift is allegedly received, the person will usually crumble to the ground in a dramatic manner and remain paralyzed by the experience. This of course usually takes place after a couple of hours of emotional prompting through “musical worship” in order to muster the appropriate level of emotional expectation.

The basic problem in assuming Acts 19:2 is speaking of two distinct periods of time (initially believing, and then receiving the Holy Spirit later in the life of the believer) is that in order to do so, two nouns must be used in such a way that believing is not correlated with receiving the Holy Spirit. “You received” and “The Holy Spirit” are syntactically connected; as the Holy Spirit is the direct object of received, so they cannot be two separate events.[6] This leaves “believing” as a stand-alone participle to describe the event of initial belief. In order to interpret these as two events, this would have to be an attendant circumstance participle, which would make these events coordinate.[7] It is not ever intended for the second action to happen sometime eventually, that is to receive the Holy Spirit later in the future or possibly not at all in an attendant circumstance participle, which would be the best hope of supporting this false doctrine.

Part II: Glossolalia

I Corinthians 14 of the KJV provides more ammunition for this false doctrine by adding the word “unknown” in front of “tongue” when in reality this word is not found in the Greek. The context bears this out in verses 6-9 and is epitomized here: “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.”[8] This doctrine is completely negated by going back to Acts 2, where speaking in tongues initially took place, “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance… every man heard them speak in his own language.”[9] God gave the Apostles the supernatural ability to breach the language barrier in order to preach the Gospel to all nations.

The false doctrine of speaking in tongues as espoused by charismatic Pentecostals is a novelty of the 19th century, as the unanimous testimony of the fathers indicates:

– St. Augustine –

“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. And when the sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed, and marvelled, saying one to another, Are not all these which speak Galilæans? and how heard we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Armenia, and in Cappadocia, in Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the regions of Africa about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews, natives, Cretes, and Arabians, they heard them speak in their own tongues the wonderful works of God.”[10]

“If that night began after the Lord’s ascension, how was it that the apostles wrought so much? Was that the night when the Holy Spirit came, and, filling all who were in one place, gave them the power of speaking in the tongues of every nation?”[11]

“But “the Spirit was not yet given;” that is, with that abundance of spiritual grace which enabled those assembled together to speak in every language”[12]

– Clement of Alexandria –

“The apostle thus speaks: “So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue a word easy to be understood, how shall ye know what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.” And, “Let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.””[13]

– St. Gregory of Nazianzen –

“XV. They spoke with strange tongues, and not those of their native land; and the wonder was great, a language spoken by those who had not learnt it. And the sign is to them that believe not, and not to them that believe, that it may be an accusation of the unbelievers, as it is written, With other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people, and not even so will they listen to Me saith the Lord. But they heard. Here stop a little and raise a question, how you are to divide the words. For the expression has an ambiguity, which is to be determined by the punctuation. Did they each hear in their own dialect so that if I may so say, one sound was uttered, but many were heard; the air being thus beaten and, so to speak, sounds being produced more clear than the original sound; or are we to put the stop after “they Heard,” and then to add “them speaking in their own languages” to what follows, so that it would be speaking in languages their own to the hearers, which would be foreign to the speakers? I prefer to put it this latter way; for on the other plan the miracle would be rather of the hearers than of the speakers; whereas in this it would be on the speakers’ side; and it was they who were reproached for drunkenness, evidently because they by the Spirit wrought a miracle in the matter of the tongues.”[14]

– St. John Chrysostom –

“Ver. 1. ‘Yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts; but rather that ye may prophesy.’

Ver. 2. ‘For he that speaketh in a tongue, speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth; but in the Spirit he speaketh mysteries.’

Ver. 3. ‘But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, and exhortation, and comfort.’

At this point he [St. Paul] makes a comparison between the gifts, and lowers that of the tongues, showing it to be neither altogether useless, nor very profitable by itself. For in fact they were greatly puffed up on account of this, because the gift was considered to be a great one. And it was thought great because the Apostles received it first, and with so great display; it was not however therefore to be esteemed above all the others. Wherefore then did the Apostles receive it before the rest? Because they were to go abroad everywhere. And as in the time of building the tower the one tongue was divided into many; so then the many tongues frequently met in one man, and the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues, the Spirit sounding within him: and the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak divers languages.”[15]

The evidence presented against the two most prominent errors of the charismatic Pentecostals is devastating to their most important positions. In order to justify the heretical doctrine of second baptism they incorrectly interpret the Sacred Page by driving a temporal wedge between a person’s believing and receiving the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the abuse of speaking in tongues is justified only by ignoring the context of Acts 2 and the testimony of the Church Fathers. Instead of babbling incoherently, the Apostles were given the miraculous gift of speaking in the intelligible languages of other nations. Our Lord commissioned the Apostles to baptize the nations, and it makes sense that in order to accomplish this mission, they might need the ability to preach in the native languages of the people they would encounter during their missionary journeys.

Most importantly is the fact that these errors cannot be attributed to a move of the Holy Spirit, that is, a new 20th century Pentecost where God is inflaming the hearts of those outside of the salvific ark of the Church. To the contrary, the Spirit of Truth has nothing to do with heresy.

 

– Lucas G. Westman & Tyson Carter


Appendix

Part I – Extended Exegesis

Once the synonym is used in place of “since” in the verse, this becomes completely obvious, as it becomes an incoherent idea. This is easily demonstrated first by examining the passages where the KJV translates a word or phrase in Greek meaning “from”, always have either a preposition or a pronoun, or both, modifying the noun. It is never understood with the participle as alleged in Acts 19:2. In addition to the absence of a prepositional phrase, the fact that it is a participle is also a problem, since the participle functions as a noun or adjective, despite being a verb. The noun in the syntactical structure preposition + pronoun + verb (from (since) + the time + [I] entered) is the pronoun “the time/which time”. The verb in the example phrase above from Luke 7:45 is aorist indicative active, not a participle. This is because there is a requirement to have a pronoun understood in the verbal phrase in order for it to make sense, which is normally not a problem when the prepositional phrase “from when/since” precedes a noun (Matt 24:21). The syntactic structure of this phrase is not consistent with the use of the prepositional phrase “since”, but rather consistent with the conjunction “since”. In truth neither are present in this passage in the original Greek, but the relationship between the aorist participle, and the act of receiving the Holy Spirit, are conditional upon each other, which is shown by the conditional conjunction εἰ.

“Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,” (Colossians 1:4, KJV 1900)

Εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ …. ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

We give thanks to God … Hearing the faith   our   in Christ Jesus

εἰ πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐλάβετε πιστεύσαντες

if Holy Spirit you received believing

The semantic relationships between “We give thanks to God” and “hearing of our faith in Christ Jesus” (Col 1:3-4) are identical to “you received the Holy Spirit” and “believing”. The verbal phrase is conditional upon the participle. This means that “We give thanks to God” is conditional upon “hearing of our faith in Christ Jesus”, just as receiving the Holy Spirit is conditional upon believing. In the case of Acts 19:2, the aorist participle of “believe” functions as an adverb and modifies the previous clause “If you received the Holy Spirit”. This will generally answer when, where, how, or why of a proposition. This syntactical structure clearly points to the use of “because” rather than the prepositional phrase “from when”, as this is how these questions are answered. You receive the Holy Spirit when you believe, or more appropriately, because you believe.

“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,” (Ephesians 1:13, KJV 1900)

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,” (Ephesians 1:13, NIV)

πιστεύσαντες ἐσφραγίσθητε τῷ πνεύματι τῆς ἐπαγγελίας τῷ ἁγίῳ

The syntactical structure of this phrase is identical to the last two examples, it is a conditional phrase made up of a verb, the direct object of that verb (a nominal phrase), and the adverbial participle that represents the condition of the verbal clause (i.e. You received/were sealed with the Holy Spirit). This participle can actually be characterized as: temporal, manner, conditional, and result. The first two answer the questions: when and how, conditional carries the sense of “if”, and the result shows what the verb accomplishes. At what point are we saved? When we believe. How are we saved? By believing. We are saved if we believe, and the result of believing is being saved.

In addition to this, Pentecostals also try to use the “baptism of John” argument using Acts 18:25, 19:3-4. This is a false dichotomy wrought by poor exegesis, as the same phrase is used in Matt 21:25, Mark 1:4, 11:30, Luke 7:29, 20:4, and Acts 1:22, before the Holy Spirit had even come down on the Apostles. This is another example of reading one’s presuppositions back into the text and coming out with a meaning not intended by the author. This is also made obvious by St Paul in the previously quoted passage in Ephesians 4. This immersion (baptism) of repentance (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 13:24, 19:4) is also found in the Jewish Mishnah (Kippurim 8:9A & I), showing it to merely be a Jewish tradition that was later adopted by the Church as a sacrament.

One receives the Holy Spirit through water baptism (Acts 8:36-38), which saves us (1 Pet 3:21), which is a necessary part of believing in Christ, as we are buried with Him in baptism in which we are also raised together with Him through faith in the working of God (Col 2:12). Unlike what other Protestants will try to claim, believing in Christ requires we believe in everything He taught, and not just a small part of it, as the above-cited passages (and many others) show.


[1] Ephesians 4:1-6

[2] Acts 19:2, KJV 1900

[3] Here is the fragment in question in Greek, and then word-for-word directly into English underneath:

εἰ   πνεῦμα ἅγιον   ἐλάβετε           πιστεύσαντες

if     Holy Spirit       you received   believing

The εἰ in this context makes the statement interrogative, which in turn changes the translation of the aorist second person singular conjugation of “receive” (you received) to “have you received?”. The nominal phrase “Holy Spirit” is in the accusative case, which means it is the object of the verb. Thus, the phrase “εἰ πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐλάβετε” should be translated “have you received the Holy Spirit?” which is fairly uncontroversial.

[4] The controversial aspect of this short passage upon which so much doctrinal error is based is the role of the aorist participle of “believe”.

[5] See appendix for further explanation

[6] Aside from this, the Holy Spirit is a noun and does not make sense without the utilization of a verb, which would also not make much sense without a direct object (unless the verb is intransitive, which it is not).

[7] While many of the requirements for an attendant circumstance participle are met, it is not possible for these participles to be read this way. For example, “Rise and take the child” (Matt 2:13), “Go and learn” (Matt 9:13), “came and bowed” (Matt 9:18), “Go quickly and tell his disciples” (Matt 28:7), “They left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11), Go and show yourself” (Luke 5:14), “Sit down and write fifty” (Luke 16:6), and many more of these types of participles all have one thing in common, you never have the participle occur and not the verb. The angel was not telling Mary and Joseph to rise, and then maybe take the child sometime in the future, or possibly not at all. If it were possible to have one half of the attendant circumstance participle construction to occur and not the other, then the message “Rise Peter, kill and eat” bears no significance to the abandonment of Levitical dietary practices, if “rise” is not without “kill and eat”. Likewise, the Great Commission “Go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19) would merely be a suggestion, if “Go” was not immediately connected to “make disciples”. Were “go” and “tell the disciples” (Matt 28:7) not inextricably connected, one with the other? Like all of the other examples, the participle that is coordinate with the next verb is always in immediate succession. It is not ever intended for the second action to happen sometime eventually, or possibly not at all in an attendant circumstance participle, which would be the best hope of supporting this false doctrine. This is the closest one could get to Acts 19:2 teaching the doctrine of second blessings, to interpret the participle in one of the other ways would either be so absurd as to not make sense, or is not constructed appropriately either morphologically or syntactically. But abusing grammar in this way causes theological problems elsewhere, in addition to being exegetically irresponsible.

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:10, KJV 1900

[9] Acts 2:4, 6, KJV 1900

[10] St Augustine of Hippo, Against the Epistle of Manichæus Called Fundamental

[11] St Augustine of Hippo, Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John

[12] St Augustine of Hippo, Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John

[13] Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata

[14] Select Orations of Saint Gregory Nazianzen

[15] Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians

 

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Creation, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Theology

Saint Thomas Aquinas on Creation

Saint Thomas Aquinas on Heretical Ideas About Creation

The Connection Between the Following Considerations and the Preceding Ones

“I meditated upon all Thy works: I mediated upon the works of Thy hands” (Ps. 142.5).

[1] Of no thing whatever can a perfect knowledge be obtained unless its operation is known, because the measure and quality of a thing’s power is judged from the manner and type of its operation, and its power, in turn, manifests its nature; for a thing’s natural aptitude for operation follows upon its actual possession of a certain kind of nature.

[2] There are, however, two sorts of operation, as Aristotle teaches in Metaphysics IX: one that remains in the agent and is a perfection of it, as the act of sensing, understanding, and willing; another that passes over into an external thing, and is a perfection of the thing made as a result of that operation, the acts of heating, cutting and building, for example.

[3] Now, both kinds of operation belong to God: the former, in that He understands, wills, rejoices, and loves; the latter, in that He brings things into being, preserves them, and governs them. But, since the former operation is a perfection of the operator, the latter a perfection of the thing made, and since the agent is naturally prior to the thing made and is the cause of it, it follows that the first of these types of operation is the ground of the second, and naturally precedes it, as a cause precedes its effect. Clear evidence of this fact, indeed, is found in human affairs; for in the thought and will of the craftsman lie the principle and plan of the work of building.

[4] Therefore, as a simple perfection of the operator, the first type of operation claims for itself the name of operation, or, again, of action; the second, as being a perfection of the thing made, is called making so that the things which a craftsman produces by action of this kind are said to be his handiwork.

[5] Of the first type of operation in God we have already spoken in the preceding Book of this work, where we treated of the divine knowledge and will. Hence, for a complete study of the divine truth, the second operation, whereby things are made and governed by God, remains to be dealt with.

[6] In fact, this order we can gather from the words quoted above. For the Psalmist first speaks of meditation upon the first type of operation, when he says: ‘I have meditated on all Thy operation’; thus, operation is here referred to the divine act of understanding and will. Then he refers to mediation on God’s work” ‘and I meditated on the works of Thy hands’; so that by ‘the works of Thy hands’ we understand heaven and earth, and all that is brought into being by God, as the handiwork produced by a craftsman.

That the Consideration of Creatures is Useful For Instruction of Faith

[1] This sort of meditation on the divine works is indeed necessary for instruction of faith in God.

[2] First, because meditation on His works enables us in some measure to admire and reflect upon His wisdom. For things made by art are representative of the art itself, being made in likeness to the art. Now, God brought things into being by His wisdom; wherefore the Psalm (103:24) declares: ‘Thou hast made all things in wisdom.’ Hence, from reflection upon God’s works we are able to infer His wisdom, since, by a certain communication of His likeness, it is spread abroad in the things He has made. For it is written: ‘He poured her out,’ namely, wisdom, ‘upon all His works’ (Eccli. 1:10). Therefore, the Psalmist, after saying: ‘Thy knowledge is become wonderful to me: it is high, and I cannot reach it,’ and after referring to the aid of the divine illumination, when he says: ‘Night shall be my light,’ etc., confesses that he was aided in knowing the divine wisdom by reflection upon God’s works, saying: ‘Wonderful are Thy works, and my soul knoweth right well’ (Ps. 138:6, 11, 14).

[3] Secondly, this consideration [of God’s works] leads to admiration of God’s sublime power, and consequently inspires in men’s hearts reverence for God. For the power of the worker is necessarily understood to transcend the things made. And so it is said: ‘If they,’ namely, the philosophers, ‘admired their power and effects,’ namely of the heavens, stars, and elements of the world, ‘let them understand that He that made them is mightier than they’ (Wisd. 13:4). Also it is written: ‘The invisible things of God are made: His eternal power also and divinity’ (Rom. 1:20). Now, the fear and reverence of God result from this admiration. Hence, it is said: ‘Great is Thy name in might. Who shall not fear Thee, O King of Nations?’ (Jer. 10:6-7).

[4] Thirdly, this consideration incites the souls of men to the love of God’s goodness. For whatever goodness and perfection is distributed to the various creatures, in partial or particular measure, is united together in Him universally, as in the source of all goodness, as we proved in Book I. If, therefore, the goodness, beauty, and delightfulness of creatures are so alluring to the minds of men, the fountainhead of God’s own goodness, compared with the rivulets of goodness found in creatures, will draw the enkindled minds of men wholly to Itself. Hence it is said in the Psalm (91:5): ‘Thou has given me, O Lord, a delight in Thy doings, and in the works of Thy hands I shall rejoice.’ And elsewhere it is written concerning the children of men: ‘They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Thy house,’ that is, of all creatures, ‘and Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure: for with Thee is the fountain of life’ (Ps. 35:9-10). And, certain men, it is said: ‘By these good things that are seen, ‘ namely, creatures, which are good by a kind of participation, ‘they could not understand Him that is’ (Wis. 13:1), namely, truly good; indeed, is goodness itself, as was shown in Book I.

[5] Fourthly, this consideration endows men with a certain likeness to God’s perfection. For it was shown in Book I that, by knowing Himself, God beholds all other things in Himself. Since, then, the Christian faith teaches man principally about God, and makes him know creatures by the light of divine revelation, there arises in man a certain kind of likeness of God’s wisdom. So it is said: ‘But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image’ (II Cor. 3:18).

[6] It is therefore evident that the consideration of creatures has its part to play in building the Christian faith. And for this reason it is said: ‘I will remember the works of the Lord, and I will declare the things I have seen: by the words of the Lord are His works’ (Ecclus. 42:15).

That Knowledge of the Nature of Creatures Serves to Destroy Errors Concerning God

[1] The consideration of creatures is further necessary, not only for the building up of truth, but also for the destruction of errors. For errors about creatures sometimes lead one astray from the truth of faith, so far as the errors are inconsistent with true knowledge of God. Now, this happens in many ways.

[2] First, because through ignorance of the nature of creatures men are sometimes so far perverted as to set up as the first cause and as God that which can only receive its being from something else; for they think that nothing exists beyond the realm of visible creatures. Such were those who identified God with this, that, and the other kind of body; and of these it was said: ‘Who have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon to be the gods’ (Wis. 13:2).

[3] Secondly, because they attribute to certain creatures that which belongs only to God. This also results from error concerning creatures. For what is incompatible with a thing’s nature is not ascribed to it except through ignorance of its nature – as if man were said to have three feet. Now, what belongs solely to God is incompatible with the nature of a created thing, just as that which is exclusively man’s is incompatible with another thing’s nature. Thus, it is from ignorance of the creature’s nature that the aforesaid error arises. And against this error it is said: ‘They gave the incommunicable name to stones and wood’ (Wis. 14:21). Into this error fell those who attribute the creation of things, or knowledge of the future, or the working of the miracles to causes other than God.

[4] Thirdly, because through ignorance of the creature’s nature something is subtracted from God’s power in its working upon creatures. This is evidenced in the case of those who set up two principles of reality; in those who assert that things proceed from God, not by the divine will, but by natural necessity; and again, in those who withdraw either all or some things from the divine providence, or who deny that it can work outside the ordinary course of things. For all these notions are derogatory to God’s power. Against such persons it is said: ‘Who looked upon the Almighty as if He could do nothing’ (Job 22:17), and: ‘Thou showest Thy power, when men will not believe Thee to be absolute in power’ (Wis. 12:17).

[5] Fourthly, through ignorance of the nature of things, and, consequently, of his own place in the order of the universe, this rational creature, man, who by faith is led to God as his last end, believes that he is subject to other creatures to which he is in fact superior. Such is evidently the case with those who subject human wills to the stars, and against these it is said: ‘Be not afraid of the sings of heaven, which the heathens fear’ (Jer. 10:2); and this is likewise true of those who think that angels are the creators of souls, that human souls are mortal, and, generally, of persons who hold any similar views derogatory to the dignity of man.

[6] It is, therefore, evident that the opinion is false of those who asserted that it made no difference to the truth of the faith what anyone holds about creatures, so long as one thinks rightly about God, as Augustine tells us in his book On the Origin of the Soul. For error concerning creatures, by subjecting them to causes other than God, spills over into false opinion about God, and takes men’s minds away from Him, to whom faith seeks to lead them.

[7] For this reason Scripture threatens punishment to those who err about creatures, as to unbelievers, in the words of the Psalm (27:5): ‘Because they have not understood the works of the Lord and the operations of His hands, Thou shalt destroy them, and shalt not build them up’; and: ‘These things they thought and were deceived,’ and further on: ‘They esteemed not the honor of holy souls’ (Wis. 2:21-22).

– Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles – 


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Apologetics, Philosophy

Fides et Ratio & Modern Philosophical Errors

Fides et Ratio on Modern Philosophical Errors1. “The first goes by the name eclecticism, which is meant the approach of those who, in research, teaching and argumentation, even in theology, tend to use individual ideas drawn from different philosophies, without concern for their internal coherence, their place within a system or their historical context. They therefore run the risk of being unable to distinguish the part of truth of a given doctrine from elements of it which may be erroneous or ill-suited to the task at hand. An extreme form of eclecticism appears also in the rhetorical misuse of philosophical terms to which some theologians are given at times. Such manipulation does not help the search for truth and does not train reason – whether theological or philosophical – to formulate arguments seriously and scientifically. The rigorous and far-reaching study of philosophical doctrines, their particular terminology and the context is which they arose, helps to overcome the danger of eclecticism and makes it possible to integrate them into theological discourse in a way appropriate to the task.”

2. “Eclecticism is an error of method, but lying hidden within it can also be the claims of historicism. To understand a doctrine from the past correctly, it is necessary to set it within its proper historical and cultural context. The fundamental claim of historicism, however, is that the truth of a philosophy is determined on the basis of its appropriateness to a certain period and a certain historical purpose. At least implicitly, therefore, the enduring validity of truth is denied. What was true in one period, historicists claim, may not be true in another. Thus for them the history of thought becomes little more than an archeological resource useful for illustrating positions once held, but for the most part outmoded and meaningless now. On the contrary, it should not be forgotten that, even if a formulation is bound in some way by time and culture, the truth or the error which it expresses can invariably be identified and evaluated as such despite the distance of space and time.

In theological enquiry, historicism tends to appear for the most part under the guise of ‘modernism.’ Rightly concerned to make theological discourse relevant and understandable to our time, some theologians use only the most recent opinions and philosophical language, ignoring the critical evaluation which ought to be made of them in the light of the tradition. By exchanging relevance for truth, this form of modernism shows itself incapable of satisfying the demands of truth which theology is called to respond.”

3. “Another threat to be reckoned with is scientism. This is the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive science; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy. In the past, the same idea emerged in positivism and neo-positivism, which considered metaphysical statements to be meaningless…Regrettably, it must be noted, scientism consigns all that has to do with the question of the meaning of life to the realm of the irrational or imaginary.”

4. “No less dangerous is pragmatism. An attitude of mind which, in making its choices, precludes theoretical considerations or judgments based on ethical principles. The practical consequences of this mode of thinking are significant. In particular there is growing support for a concept of democracy which is not grounded upon any reference to unchanging values: whether or not a line of action is admissible is decided by the vote of a parliamentary majority. The consequences of this are clear: in practice, the great moral decisions of humanity are subordinated to decisions taken one after another by institutional agencies. Moreover, anthropology itself is severely compromised by a one-dimensional vision of the human being, a vision which excludes the great ethical dilemmas and the existential analysis of the meaning of suffering and sacrifice, life and death.”

5. “The positions we have examined lead in turn to a more general conception which appears today as the common framework of many philosophies which have rejected the meaningfulness of being. I am referring to the nihilist interpretation, which is at once the denial of all foundations and the negation of all objective truth. Quite apart from the fact that it conflicts with the demands and the content of the word of God, nihilism is a denial of the humanity and of the very identity of the human being. It should never be forgotten that the neglect of being inevitably leads to losing touch with objective truth and therefore with the very ground of human dignity. This in turn makes it possible to erase from the countenance of man and woman the marks of their likeness to God, and thus to lead them little by little either to a destructive will to power or to a solitude without hope. Once the truth is denied to human beings, it is pure illusion to try and set them free. Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery.”

– Pope Saint John Paul II, Fides et Ratio – 


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Saints, The Blessed Virgin Mary, Theology

Jesus Christ is the Last End of Our Devotions

Saint Louis de Montfort on Devotion to the Blessed Lady

“Jesus Christ our Savior, true God and true Man, ought to be the last end of all our other devotions, else they are false and delusive. Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, of all things. We labor not, as the Apostle says, except to render every man perfect in Jesus Christ; because it is in Him alone that the whole plentitude of the Divinity dwells together with all the other plenitudes of graces, virtues and perfections. It is in Him alone that we have been blessed with all spiritual benediction; and He is our only Master, who has to teach us; our only Lord on whom we ought to depend; our only Head to whom we must be united; our only Model to whom we should conform ourselves; our only Physician who can heal us; our only Shepard who can feed us; our only Way who can lead us; our only Truth whom we must believe; our only Life who can animate us; and our only All in all things who can satisfy us. There has been no other name given under Heaven, except the name of Jesus, by which we can be saved. God has laid no other foundation of our salvation, our perfection or our glory, than Jesus Christ. Every building which is not built on that firm rock is founded upon the moving sand, and sooner or later infallibly will fall. Every one of the faithful who is not united to Him, as a branch to the stock of the vine, shall fall, shall wither, and shall be fit only to be cast into the fire. Outside of Him there exists nothing but error, falsehood, iniquity, futility, death and damnation. But if we are in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ in us, we have no condemnation to fear. Neither the Angels of Heaven nor the men of earth nor the devils of Hell nor any other creature can injure us; because they cannot separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ. By Jesus Christ, with Jesus Christ, in Jesus Christ, we can do all things; we can render all honor and glory to the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost; we can become perfect ourselves, and be to our neighbor a good odor of eternal life.

If, then, we establish solid devotion to our Blessed Lady, it is only to establish more perfectly devotion to Jesus Christ, and to provide an easy and secure means for finding Jesus Christ. If devotion to Our Lady removed us from Jesus Christ, we should have to reject it as an illusion of the devil; but so far from this being the case, devotion to Our Lady is, on the contrary, necessary for us – as I have already shown, and will show still further hereafter – as a means of finding Jesus Christ perfectly, of loving Him tenderly, of serving Him faithfully.”

– Saint Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary – 


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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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

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Saint Bonaventure, Saints, Theology

The Seraphic Doctor

Saint Bonaventure PrayingThe Seraphic Doctor

The title by which St. Bonaventure is most readily known was given him while he was still alive. And it is apt for several reasons. His thought is entwined with love; it quickly springs to seraphic or angelic heights. As a teacher, he gives intellectual expression to the life of the Seraphic Saint, St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis pursued a way of life that kept reaching out to God with the fullness of an ardent nature, the sternness and intensity of a logic that looked at things reduced to ultimate simplicity, and the color of a rich emotion. Everything spoke to St. Francis of God because its very nature is made by Him. Everything pointed to the Sacred Humanity of Christ, and in return the Sacred Humanity shed its glow on everything.

St. Bonaventure saw all created things as flowing in a necessary way from God: not that creation is or was necessary, but creation, once decided upon, had to mirror the perfections of God. Each part of creation according to its dignity is either a shadow, a trace, an image or a similitude of God.

Since in Christ all the stages of creation are contained as in a perfect exemplar, there is no true knowledge, understanding or wisdom if He is left out. “In Christ are contained all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge of the hidden God, and He is the medium for all knowledge.”

To St. Bonaventure Christ is therefore necessary for any full philosophy. There is no such thing as a philosophy based completely on reason. Faith has to enter in and present Christ as the Supreme Exemplar of all creation. If you leave out this centerpiece of creation, then not only would theology be empty, but philosophy would be weakest where it should be strongest. St. Bonaventure’s philosophy rests squarely on faith and on reason.

St. Bonaventure was by no means opposed to the arts. He has, however, said that you cannot judge them rightly unless you look at them in the light of higher values. St. Bonaventure therefore turns to the Incarnate Word “as the touchstone at which to measure the human enterprise.”

The great value of this system is that learning can proceed in the spirit of devotion. In this way, there is less chance for reason to drop into the pitfalls of rationalism, to run to the extremes of empty intellectualism. The proud spirit of man is kept more humble as it learns by tasting “in the darkness of faith” as well as by seeing in the light of reason.

“Taste and see that the Lord is sweet.” This is the invitation of St. Bonaventure to all who would delve into the secrets of the universe. You can taste “in the darkness of faith” and come to a surer knowledge than by seeing in the light of reason. When it comes to ultimate, important truths, you cannot judge by reason any more surely than you can tell whether an object is sweet or bitter by looking at it. You must taste it.

St. Bonaventure “made every truth a prayer to God and a praise of God.” He has been called “the totally religious soul.” “Multifarious, infinitely diverse and subtly shaded, his thought is but an ever-active charity, whose whole movement strives toward objects which escape our view or toward unknown aspects of those things we do in part perceive.”

Sometimes we read in the lives of holy people that they had a knowledge of natural science and of human nature that amazed learned men. The usual assumption is that this knowledge was preternaturally infused. Perhaps this knowledge was not so much infused as naturally developed from using the system of St. Bonaventure, letting faith and reason work together.

It has been said that St. Bonaventure rejected Aristotelianism. It may be more true to say that he used it as part of his eclectic system. He used it as far as he could, and then passed beyond it. He could see no sense in riding in the buggy of pure philosophy when he had the strong chariot of Christian wisdom to carry him faster and further forward – a wisdom already refined through centuries of thought. To St. Bonaventure, philosophy is a good as far as it goes, but it is too obscure on the most important questions.

St. Bonaventure has been placed on an equal footing with St. Thomas Aquinas by two different Popes. Yet he has not found general acceptance even among Catholic philosophers. Compared to St. Thomas, he remains practically unknown as a philosopher. In the future this may be different.

“What the Seraphic Doctor’s ultimate ranking as a Christian philosopher is to be, must be left to a generation which will again experience the speculative and pragmatic necessity of Christ as the center of philosophy.”

“The oft-repeated phrase is well-known: ‘Thomas is the Christian Aristotle; Bonaventure, the second Augustine.’ But this difference must not be stressed, for the two complement each other in an admirable way: Thomas is the angel of the schools, Bonaventure the master of the practical life; Thomas enlightens the intellect, Bonaventure elevates the heart. Sixtus V justly places both side by side, and grants Bonaventure the same ecclesiastical honors as Pius V granted Thomas. ‘They are,’ he says, ‘the two olive trees and the two shining lights in the house of God, who by the plenitude of their love and the light of their erudition illumine the entire Church. By the special providence of God, they are similar to two stars appearing at the same time. During their earthly pilgrimage they were intimately united by the bond of a true friendship and by the intercourse of holy labors. With equal step did both hasten toward their heavenly fatherland, that both might at the same time enter the joys of Heaven.”

– The 35 Doctors of the Church – 


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Catechism, Saint Robert Bellarmine, Saints, Theology

Catechism of St. Robert Bellarmine: Chapter III – Part II

Saint Robert Bellarmine & CrucifixExplanation of the Creed, that is, the twelve articles 

Explanation of the Second Article 

S. Tell me now about the second article, namely, “And in Jesus Christ, His Son, Our Lord.”

T. God Almighty, about Whom the first article treats, has a true and natural Son, Whom we call Jesus Christ. So that you might understand how God begot this Son, take the similitude of a mirror. When someone gazes into a mirror, an image is immediately produced that is so like him that he cannot discover any difference, in as much as it not only reflects his countenance, but even represents individual movements, so that the image moves exactly in the way the man does. Such an image is so like the man without any labor, without time, without instrument yet it is formed suddenly and in a moment in the flash of an eye. Consider in the same arrangement that when God gazes upon the mirror of the God head with the eye of the intellect, immediately He forms an image similar to Himself, and because God directs His whole essence and nature to this image (which we cannot do by gazing), therefore this image is the true Son of God, even if our own image which we behold in the mirror is not our son. For that reason you have to gather how the Son of God is God, in the same way as the Father is God and the same God with God, because He is/has the same substance with the Father. Next, the Son is not younger than the Father, but was always just as the Father always was. Accordingly, He advanced from the only vision of God, and God always saw and regarded Himself at length, the Son of God was not begotten in time from the cooperation of a woman, nor from the vicious lust, or from other related imperfections, but only by God, only, as was said, from his vision and by the most pure eye of the Divine Intellect.

S. Why is the Son of God called Jesus Christ?

T. The name of Jesus means Savior, while Christ, because it is the last name, means High Priest and King of Kings, as we touched upon the explanation of the sign of the Cross, that the Son of God became man to redeem us in His blood and to restore us to eternal salvation. Therefore, after He became man, He took this name of Savior to himself, to show that He came to save man. He was also given the title of High Priest and Supreme King by the Father, all of which this name Christ designates, and by such a name we are called Christians.

S. Why do we remove our hat or genuflect whenever the name of Jesus is said, but we do not do this after we hear the name “God”?

T. The reason is because this name is proper to the Son of God, since all the rest are common; likewise, we are taught by this name how God, by becoming man for our sake, humbled Himself. Furthermore, we genuflect in an Act of Thanksgiving when we hear this name. Not only do we men genuflect, but even the angels of God in heaven, and the demons in hell, on account of this name the former from voluntary love, the latter are compelled by fear. God also willed that all rational creatures should genuflect in the presence of His Son, seeing that He Himself so bent Himself and humbled Himself even to death of the Cross.

S. Why is Jesus Christ called Our Lord?

T. Because He, together with the Father, created us, therefore He is our Patron and Lord just as the Father. More to the point, He freed us from the power and Captivity of the devil by bitter torments and His Passion, which we will speak of in a little while.

The Catechism of St. Robert Bellarmine: Chapter I

The Catechism of St. Robert Bellarmine: Chapter II

The Catechism of St. Robert Bellarmine: Chapter III – Part I

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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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

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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

 

 

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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

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